Underground Spanish Prog Albums From The 70s And 80s, Part 1
Sometimes we find things in our archives that are too good to leave them there. Here is another of Erik Neuteboom's specials, writing about some Spanish prog-rock albums that you might not have heard of, originally published in 2009. Andy Read and Jerry van Kooten have added some new information about the albums or bands, where applicable. Dive into this wealth of information and see what you have been missing out on!
In the world of the progressive rock, Spain is an under-explored and often overlooked country.
My personal story with the Spanish prog-rock scene started when I read about bands like Asfalto, Atila, Crack, Ibio, Iceberg and Tarantula in various USA prog-rock mail order catalogues (especially Laser's Edge and Syn-Phonic) in the late eighties.
I noticed in the short descriptions that the sound of many Spanish formations is not obviously inspired by the Classic Prog bands, but pretty unique with frequent regional ethnic influences (not flamenco only from Andalusia but also from Catalonia to Basque).
In the early nineties I stumbled upon an advert in a Spanish prog-rock magazine named Sirius that I had bought in order to improve my school Spanish. Spanish prog-head Angel Romero (now living in the USA) wanted to sell his entire LP collection. I wrote him a letter and very soon I got a letter back. He explained that because of his increasing dust-allergy, he had to get rid of his LPs, including lots of Spanish prog-rock albums. How sad for him but how lucky I was!
It turned out that we shared both a love for Spanish prog and a hatred of bullfighting, so we had plenty to talk about. In those days I worked for SI Magazine / SI Music, Angel was very interested in the SI Music releases that I got for free as a reviewer. We decided to exchange SI Music releases (like Shadowland, Collage, and Ywis) for Spanish prog-rock LPs. In the end I received LP's from Azahar, Cai, Blogue, Vega and Toti Soler. I was in Spanish Progrock Heaven!
From that moment, the Spanish progressive rock scene became one of my most precious categories and I started to search for more obscure and rare albums.
Here I am going to share my thoughts on the results of that search. A compilation of early Spanish progressive rock, mainly from the 70s along with some from the early 80s.
updates by Andy Read and Jerry van Kooten
Abedul — Nosotros
This band was formed in the year 1979 by Albert Aranega (keyboards), Narcis Baiges (vocals), Pedro Castro (bass), Jose L. Pérez (guitar), and Luis Visiers (drums) in the city of Barcelona.
Abedul released only one album, entitled Nosotros. It is almost impossible to find. A CD version came out on an Asian label, but reports of a poor sound quality suggest the label never had access to the original tapes.
If you can get hold of a copy, the music sounds very melodic and harmonic. It ranges from rock and jazz, to soul and symphonic rock.
The eight compositions are very tastefully arranged, but you have to be up to the very distinctive and emotional vocals that often sound close to soul; not always my cup of tea. The interplay between the musicians is good and the omnipresent vintage keyboards (organ, synthesizers, string-ensemble) sound very delicate. My conclusion is that this wonderful music deserves more attention.
There is not a lot of information on this album, even though it was released on Columbia Records (in Spain only, though). If you're interested you can try and find some related bands. Bass player P. Castro's full name is Pedro Castro Bruque, who also played in Tigres and Bruque. Drummer Luis Visier also played in Los Burros and Los Rápidos. Guitarist José Luis Pérez Ginés was also in Los Burros and Los Rápidos, and can be found on recordings by Sergio Makaroff, El Ultimo de la Fila, and Sau. Our quick search did not give us any more results on keyboard player Albert Aránega and singer Narcis Baiges.
Asfalto — Al otro lado
Spanish outfit Asfalto were born in 1972, when rock band Tickets decided that a change of moniker was needed. By 1975 a stable version of the band had settled in the shape of José Luis Jiménez (vocals, bass), Julio Castejón (guitar, vocals), Enrique Cajide (drums) and Lele Laína (guitar, vocals).
This is a very popular band that has received recognition outside of Spain. Their absolute highlight was a gig in the famous London venue of The Marquee. Between their eponymous debut album in 1978 and the early 90s, Asfalto released many records. I consider their third effort entitled Al Otro Lado (1978) as their best.
Their sound here is unique. It's rock-oriented but with a lot of variety and all the compositions contain frequent use of a wide range of vintage keyboards. From powerful Hammond and fat Minimoog synthesizer flights, to swinging grand piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano, we also have soaring string-ensemble, topped by lots of fiery electric guitar solos and inspired Spanish vocals.
One moment it's pure rock and roll with heavy guitar, swinging piano and fluent Moog solos, the next it's dreamy with acoustic guitar and warm vocals, then another moment the climate delivers swinging rhythms with great work on piano and organ or alternating tracks with strong musical ideas.
My highlight is the long final composition Al Otro Lado. After an exciting Hammond organ intro, we can enjoy great interplay and a wonderful vintage keyboard sound (from string-ensemble and Grand piano to Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer). The sound of the guitar and organ reminds me of early Focus.
This is one of the most overlooked Spanish prog-rock albums in my opinion, check it out!
After releasing ten albums the band decided to call it quits in 1995. However, band leader and sole remaining forming member Castejon decided to reform Asfalto in 2008. This slightly revamped line-up has released three studio and two live albums. DPRP has previously reviewed one of their releases: Más que una intención 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. Last year the band completed their 50th anniversary tour.
Atila — Intención
Atila was formed in 1973 and made three LPs: The Beginning Of The End (El principio del fin) (1975, basically featuring one live 30-minute track), Intención (1976, containing a 15-minute version of the suite from the first album) and Reviure (1977). At the end of 1978, the band split but in 1999 they reformed. That year Atila did a reunion-concert, playing the songs of their second and third albums. The remastered second album, Intención, and the aforementioned 1999 concert were then put together on a CD entitled Atila: Intención + Reviuvre.
Most progheads consider Reviuvre as the band's best most mature and elaborate effort, but I am more pleased with the raw energy and pure Hammond and Moog sound on Intención. Their sound on this second album has elements of Vanilla Fudge, Cream, The Nice and ELP but in general, it's Atila.
The whole thing is a treat for the lovers of vintage keyboards (Hammond, Moog, Mellotron) with some mind-blowing moments featuring swirling organ and fat Moog runs. But the guitar work is also worth listening to. It is a bit harder-edged but very inventive, and at some moments with a lovely Spanish flavour. And the interplay with the keyboards is very compelling and exciting, typically early 70s when the fiery electric guitars often battle with the powerful Hammond organ sound, resulting in captivating music.
Despite some weaker moments when Atila lose direction in their music, or it sounds too experimental for me, I am often carried away to Vintage Prog Heaven when listening to this album!
The Intención album was reissued on CD a couple of times, most notably in 2007 in a version that contains a bonus track. That same version got a reissue in Japan in 2019. Note that the confusingly titled Intencion + Reviure release (2002) does not contain the Reviure album, but the 1999 live versions of all four songs from that album.
A 2009 compilation CD Intención And Reviure does contain both the second and third album but does not include the bonus track. If you see the resemblance between Erik's review here and the text that is used in this digipak, it is because Erik's text was used for the CD, and not the other way around. Not that anyone cared to ask Erik, though.
Azabache — Días de luna
As a fan of the Spanish flamenco-inspired band Azahar, I was curious to encounter their off-shoot named Azabache, with their debut-album entitled Dias de luna. After a first listening session I concluded that the music has echoes from Azahar but with more polish and less of a Spanish-flavoured atmosphere.
In fact, I was a bit disappointed at first. When I gave it another chance, I started to appreciate it more and more. The compositions sound melodic and often accessible but the arrangements are very tasteful, with the beautiful colouring of the keyboards (piano, lush strings, short synth solos) and guitar work (some great howling solos).
The vocals are distinctive, sometimes a bit high-pitched, but they sound warm and inspired. The "magnum opus" on this CD is the composition Algun dia with lots of changing climates, from mellow acoustic guitars to bombastic and propulsive, with echoes of The Gates Of Delirium by Yes. We also have more excellent guitar soloing (from bluesy and rock to fiery).
Overall this is a wonderful and elaborate prog-rock gem from Spain.
Founded in Madrid, Spain in 1978, Azabache released one more album, No, Gracias, in 1980 before disbanding a year later.
This album, as well as the band's second album, have been released on CD in the mid 2000s. Once in Spain and once in Japan, so it might still be a bit hard to find a copy.
Bloque — Musica para la libertad
Bloque is one of the better known bands that represented the unique Spanish prog-rock sound. Their albums (four between the late 70s and early 80s) were easily available outside Spain in comparison with most other Spanish prog-rock bands from that era. In the early 90s, I purchased this highly acclaimed LP entitled Musica para la libertad.
The first two tracks, Pesadilla de vivir and El poder de la libertad are tasteful, mid-tempo rock songs with strong vocals and nice work on guitar. The third, Anoranza is very beautiful, featuring a kind of bluesy symphonic rock with warm Spanish vocals and wonderful choir-Mellotron waves.
The final song on side 1, entitled Camino del universo, sounds pleasant and catchy, delivering delicate and varied work on keyboards and fine rhythm guitar.
Side two starts with the catchy track Tau Ceti featuring a tight and propulsive rhythm-section, lots of powerful and fiery electric guitar runs and some beautiful choir-Mellotron. What a captivating combination! Then Detinido De La Materia, an alternating piece with strong electric guitar work along powerful Spanish vocals, fiery saxophone and wonderful keyboard sounds.
The group split in 1983. A live album was released in 1999 and the group has reformed a couple of times for special live shows.
(Eduardo) Bort — Eduardo Bort
Eduardo Bort Garcera is a Spanish guitarist/composer who recorded two LPs of progressive psychedelic art rock in the mid 1970s. His self-titled album from 1974/75 went mostly unnoticed, though in Spain it did get some due credit. It is now receiving more acclaim. The other record, Sylvia, was released independently in 1983 and is harder to find.
On his eponymous debut album guitarist/singer Eduardo Bort has invited many musicians playing instruments that range from Minimoog and Mellotron, to flute and electric contrabass. The sound in the five compositions (between three and nine minutes) is a varied blend of rock, psychedelia and folk.
At some moments a bit without direction but at other moments very interesting and compelling, with tasteful work on acoustic and electric guitars and the use of exciting vintage keyboards like the Mellotron (in Pictures Of Sadness and especially the final track Yann — goosebumps!). The Hammond organ and Minimoog synthesizer are both used in captivating interplay with some fiery guitar work. An adventurous album.
Bort continued to perform and tour in Europe, Latin America, and Japan. In 2012, he released the album Charly Buffalo, in honour of his friend Vicente Ausina. Bort died of lung cancer in Valencia in 2020, aged 72.
Cal — Cal
This four-piece formation hailed from Andalusia (Sevilla). The sound on their one and only album is firmly rooted in the Prog Andaluz tradition, especially Alameda comes to my mind but also Cai and of course Triana.
The seven songs are melodic and accessible with often swinging rhythms, jazzy-inspired guitar solos, a pleasant keyboard colouring (sparkling piano, fluent synthesizer runs, warm string-ensemble sound and Mellotron) and good interplay between guitar and keyboards.
In some songs we can enjoy typical flamenco elements like castanets in Mujer del sur and palmas (handclapping) in Mi Sevilla (their hometown). All songs clock at about four minutes except the long, alternating and pretty adventurous final composition Colgao (in two parts). It starts with a slow rhythm featuring sensitive electric guitar, strings and synthesizer runs, then howling guitar and emotional vocals, before an experimental part with an atmospheric sound and ending in a pleasant, dreamy climate.
A fine album that will please the Prog Andaluz aficionados.
There is very little information about this band available. The musicians are credited as: Alberto Toribio (piano, e-piano, Mellotron, synth, vocals), Pepe Fernández (guitar, vocals), Paco Muñoz (bass, vocals) and Juanjo Muñoz (drums, vocals). They split after the release of this album, never to be heard of again.
If you want to find out more about this band, check out Cal at the Spanish Progressive Rock Encyclopedia. Alberto Toribio later founded jazz-fusion band Goma. Pepe Fernández's real name is José Fernández De Andrés, and he played in Tapiman, Tubos de plata, and Vértice. The one and only Cal album was only released in Spain in 1980, on vinyl and cassette. And there seems to be a Japanese bootleg of the album doing the rounds.
Canarios — Ciclos
Founded in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain in 1964 (initially as "The Canaries"), they played soul and R&B-influenced music from the beginning, singing mostly in English. They released an album Libérate! 1970 and a live album in 1972. They disbanded in 1974.
Ciclos is their third studio album, and it is their final album and only prog-rock album. It is a very ambitious work to transcript Vivaldi's The Four Seasons into progressive rock music. It is worldwide one of the most-praised Spanish prog-rock efforts. The lion's share of the music on Ciclos is based upon powerful interplay between the keyboards (lots of exciting fat-sounding Minimoog synthesizer runs) and electric guitar, fueled by a dynamic rhythm section.
We have four epic tracks, split into six to nine sections. The four compositions deliver many shifting moods with a wide range of instruments from vibraphone, acoustic guitar and opera-like vocal contributions, to the unsurpassed sound of the Mellotron. This is unique and very adventurous prog-rock!
The album must have been quite a hit. It was released in several European countries on cassette and 2LP, and even in Japan on 2LP in late second half of the 70s. Several reissues followed in Spain on vinyl and CD - Sony Japan even did a useless 2CD version. It should not be hard to find a copy, although vinyl copies could be a bit expensive.
Crack — Si todo hiciera Crack
This Spanish quintet band came from Gijon, the northern part of the Iberian peninsula. This is their only album and is one of the jewels of the Spanish progressive rock.
It contains seven tracks, all with a beautiful harmony between keyboards, guitar and flute. There are hints of early Genesis (sensitive piano chords and moving Mellotron waves) and Jethro Tull (flute) but the typical Spanish climate and the elaborate compositions makes this album to an enthralling and emotional experience. Highly recommended!
The members were Alex Cakrul (bass), Alberto Fontaneda (guitar, flute and vocals), Mento Heria (keybaords and vocals), Manda Jimenez (drums) and Rafael Rodriguez (guitar). They disbanded in 1980.
The album has had various re-releases on CD and vinyl, the most recent being in 2019. Unusually, there is a wonderful website dedicated to this album by members of the band, with the full story behind the album plus lyrics, tracks and videos (link above).
Franklin — Life Circle (Discografia completa y rarezas)
Franklin II — Life Circle: Beginning (4.33), Soft Landing (3.30), Dies Irae - Part 1 (2.50), Dies Irae - Part 2 (7.25), Take Off (3.32), Renaissance (6.06), Intro For Cosmic Body (8.32), Caos-Deconstruction (4.27), End Of The Beginning (2.32)
Franklin was one of the first Spanish underground bands and existed in two line-ups between 1970 and 1975. The sound of Franklin I was in the vein of the legendary USA band The Allman Brothers Band (blues-rock with twin-guitars and Hammond organ). One of the two guitarists/singers was Antonio Garcia de Diego, who later made the Spanish prog-rock classic Ciclos with the band Canarios (see above in this same article).
After the release of two singles (Satisfaction / Border Song in 1971 and What's Wrong? / Lasidore - Mifamire in 1973), guitarist/singer Pablo Weeber disbanded Franklin I and founded Franklin II with a completely new line-up featuring drummer Terry Barrios (later Topo and Asfalto). In 1975, Franklin II recorded a concept album, but in the end the project folded and the album was never released.
In the second half of the 70s, Pablo Weeber joined German prog-rock band Hoelderlin on the albums Rare Birds (1977) and Traumstadt (1978).
Fortunately, this was not the end of the story because El Cocodrilo Records retrieved the master tapes of the band's complete output, including the unreleased album, along with the two singles and some unreleased live tracks. They compiled it and released it all on CD and a limited double LP edition (only 500 copies were made) in 2007.
Disc 1 contains the Franklin I recordings, but I want to talk about the other disc.
Listening to that long-lost album, Life Circle, on disc 2, it's wonderful to hear that Franklin II are making a genuine progressive rock journey in the spirit of the late 60s and early 70s. We have a varied and adventurous sound. Sometimes a bit too experimental or fragmented for me, but mostly wonderful and very compelling.
The climates range from spacey and psychedelic to 60s rock, symphonic prog and avant-garde. A good example of their great musical ideas is the first track, Beginning. It starts with a psychedelic sounding organ, then the organ blends with propulsive drum beats and in the end we can enjoy twanging acoustic guitar and Moog flights.
The composition Caos-Deconstruction delivers a totally different sound. First fat Moog runs, then experimental interplay between piano, fiery guitar and a dynamic rhythm-section, and then in the final part even some violin-Mellotron; indeed close to chaos.
But for me the most interesting progressive element on Life Circle is the very pleasant colouring by an array of classic vintage keyboards in the compositions Take Off (jazzy Fender Rhodes electric piano solo and swirling Hammond organ work), Renaissance (great work on Hammond and violin/choir-Mellotron and strong interplay between guitar and organ), and the highlight Intro For Cosmic Body (lush Hammond, dreamy piano, intense Mellotron and fat Moog flights).
The final track, End Of The Beginning, starts with dreamy piano and organ waves, then a slow rhythm featuring a fine blend of Moog synthesizer and violin-Mellotron, concluded with a mellow atmosphere delivering twanging electric guitar and a pleasant Moog synthesizer sound. In those compositions we can enjoy a unique symphonic rock sound with that typical early 70s flavour.