A taste of 60s psyche led to a predilection for the avant-garde. Now they’ve got a full-blown prog addiction.
Words: Will Simpson
Ross Hossack takes a deep breath before explaining how six school friends with a shared interest in 60s psyche dived into deeper, darker musical waters to emerge at the forefront of the current prog revival. “The band really came out of us all being musical obsessives,” the Diagonal keyboardist says. “We’d bump into one another in record shops, poring over the same sections, or go round to each others’ houses with a stack of records.
“At first it was the big names like Yes and Van Der Graff Generator, but over the last couple of years, especially with the way the internet has opened up your ability to research, we’ve gone further into the more obscure stuff – Eastern European, Italian and French, all sorts.”
Prog is a dangerous elixir. You start off thinking you can handle a little King Crimson, then before you know it you’re nursing a Magma addiction. In their voyage of musical discovery, Diagonal traversed roads young men have not navigated for generations, like classical and even that most maligned of genres, jazz rock (see boxout).
It’s all the more surprising, then, to discover that the Brighton-based band’s self-titled debut album was produced by Liam Watson, the analogue guru better known for twiddling knobs for garage bands.
“We recorded a single at Toe Rag last year and got a feel for each other,” says Ross. “We didn’t know what it would be like working in a stripped-back analogue studio. But we enjoyed it, so we went back and did the album there. Liam’s great. He was really really enthusiastic about everything.”
That debut album is an essential purchase for anyone curious about the direction 21st-century prog is taking, but tracks like the 11-minute Semi-Permeable Men-Brain (on this month’s CD) beg the question: do Diagonal have a concept album up their sleeve?
“Actually we did sit down about a year ago and tried to come up with an elaborate concept track,” Ross chuckles. It was going to be ridiculously long – a good 25 minutes – and it involved… dragons.
“Eventually we just looked at each other in the practice room and decided, ‘This isn’t really us’. But I admire any band who can do that sort of thing. It’s like any art, isn’t it? It’s always good to lose yourself and go off on a bit of a fantasy.” WS
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“A lot of jazz rock is really intense,” says Ross. “I don’t think you can just jump straight in without building up to it. Certainly the first port of call for me was Mahavishnu Orchestra’s The Inner Mounting Flame. It’s brilliant. I think a lot of people can listen to it. It’s a good starting point if you want to discover jazz rock.”