Why Newsnight host will front prog awards
By night Gavin Esler presents one of the BBC’s hardest-hitting current affairs shows. Later that night you might find him relaxing by listening to Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull or maybe even Testament.
But there’s one night he won’t be doing either. On September 5 he’ll be hosting the inaugural Progressive Music Awards at London’s Kew Gardens, run by our sister title Classic Rock Presents Prog.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Esler tells the Guardian. “For me, prog has always been essentially British – it combines all our great and eccentric genius. It’s time our quiet little secret was shouted about a bit more.”
The journalist started with the BBC in 1977 and in the following decade he was in charge of the corporation’s coverage of news in North America. He won a Royal Television Society Award for his work, and later received a Sony Gold Award. He’s interviewed a number of world leaders and he’s the author of five novels.
He shares his life with violinist Anna Phoebe, a former Jethro Tull collaborator and Classic Rock columnist; but his interest in prog music goes back to childhood.
“Murray Sim lived near me on the outskirts of Edinburgh,” Esler recalls. “When I was about 13 he told me he had bought an amazing LP, Piper at the Gates of Dawn by some people with a really weird name: Pink Floyd.
“My music tastes at the time were fairly wide – they still are – but this Pink Floyd thing was different. I wasn’t very enthusiastic at first. ‘That’s because you’re not really listening to it,’ Murray said. After a couple more plays I was hooked. It was my entry into the world of King Crimson, Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum and many others.”
He believes prog music is a world for those who “are not hung up on categories” and who prefer instead to embrace artists who “break the mould, challenge us and make us think differently.”
Esler, 59, stops short of describing himself as an expert, despite having followed prog for decades. “The music sounds as fresh as ever,” he says. “I still find new things to love. I saw the Von Hertzen Brothers in London a few months ago, and Tull in Germany. Ian Anderson is as entertaining and humorous as ever – he’s also become a good friend.
“Newish bands such as the Von Hertzen Brothers, Gazpacho and Touchstone suggest the inventive spirit I first came across in Murray’s front room is not dead, and not forgotten.
“I’m extremely honoured to be hosting the first-ever Progressive Music Awards.”
Public voting has now closed for this year’s awards. Full details will be revealed in the September 26 edition of Classic Rock Presents Prog.