The British Disease

This month sees the release of Steven Wilson’s latest solo album ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase’, and the keyboard warriors of the prog world have sharpened their virtual knives in readiness.  You see Steven Wilson has offended the progerati by committing the cardinal sin of ‘having some commercial success’.  Of course he’s nowhere near Phil Collins levels of imagined heresy, but releasing a record which is now being reviewed rather favourably in the mainstream press with expectations of sales over the 100,000 mark are factors not consistent with the underground sensibilities of today’s prog world.  The most embittered prog dinosaurs have temporarily stopped curating their 1968-1973 prog museums to take to the internet to deride the infidel who dares to bring the genre into the spotlight once again.

Let’s put this into context, it’s taken 28 years and more than 30 albums for Steven Wilson to get the sort of mainstream recognition that the average pop starlet gets on the day they released their first single after spending less than 5 mins in a recording studio, but the progerati are a tough crowd.   They cry ‘He’s sold out’, ‘He’s making pop music’,  ‘There’s nothing original in this new album’.   They whine endlessly that he copied Pink Floyd or that he uses computers to make music, or that the magazines constantly promote him to the point of overexposure.  The fact is everyone who is making or is a fan of ‘weird’, independent progressive rock music should be jolly grateful that he’s finally managed to find a way out of a very dark cave and allowed some oxygen to fan the last dying embers of the classic band nostalgia mongers.  The mentality of an underground genre has been disturbed, prog has finally become cool again.   Of course Wilson is not the only contributor or innovator, but at some stage in any expedition it’s good to have someone at the front who knows what they are doing.

The British in particular have a real problem with success.  They love to build the little guy up but when he looks like he might be in with a chance of making a go of it, they slap him back down for fear of losing their ownership and control of him. “Yeah, Wilson was great on those early Porcupine Tree albums, it was real then, man.”  Phil Collins paid a heavy price for straying so far out of the genre that even the fact that he was one of the greatest rock drummers in one of the greatest prog bands ever, couldn’t save him from the perpetual sneers of the prog crowd.  Peter Gabriel somehow escaped the abuse, maybe because he did weird ‘New world music things’, but now there is a new emerging target.

Throwing the incendiaries are the same people that derided the X factor, poured scorn on The Brits and worst of all, the same people sitting in dim studios for thousands of hours, making ‘weird progressive music’ for no other reason than it pleases themselves, just like Steven Wilson did all those years ago.   Success for a one man writer/ producer that doesn’t need an army of ghost writers to make a record, or a million dollar marketing budget, or a celebrity partner who got millions of hits on Youtube for the size of their backside.  Heaven forbid that someone makes a record that is successful just because the sheer craft of the music and production is staggering and impeccable.

They just can’t bear it that their own music didn’t make it, that they have to work long hours in a shit job and that they never get any press coverage.  They bleat that they are entitled to be heard, to have success.  Well here’s the rub, you, like me and thousands upon thousands of people making music in the world today are entitled to precisely nothing.  We have no right to be heard, no right to earn a living from our art and certainly no right to success.  For the mere mortals, these things have to be earned, slogged at, and when some little successes arrive, appreciate them.

The truth is, that making a record now has never been easier.  Making a record that people will listen to got harder, much harder.   When someone makes a record that people are falling over themselves to listen to, in a genre of music that’s similar to yours, be bloody inspired, I know I am…


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18 Responses to The British Disease

  1. Torbjörn Janson Wednesday 4th March 2015 at 21:56 #

    Very well said Robin! Thanks!

    • michael skytta Saturday 4th April 2015 at 19:58 #

      staying focused on ones objective I.E. the music is all that matters. Success is fleeting but very elusive. Enjoy the moment !

  2. Richard Wednesday 4th March 2015 at 22:08 #

    Great stuff … agree with all that.

    • gary Thursday 5th March 2015 at 20:18 #

      bang on robin bang on.

  3. Javier Jones Wednesday 4th March 2015 at 23:08 #

    Thank you, my deepest and sincere thank you for this article . I have similar feelings about this but at the end i am inmensely happy for the success in a time like this for an artist like Steven Wilson.

    I wil share this post because it is honest and awesome.

    And finally, i love The Man Left in Space.

    Javier Jones
    Medellin, Colombia

  4. David Mayer Thursday 5th March 2015 at 00:56 #


    • Mike Davis Thursday 5th March 2015 at 06:05 #

      totally correct. And it’s a great album as well!

    • John Thursday 5th March 2015 at 06:12 #

      Simply haven’t seen any of this sniping about Steven Wilson. I’ve seen people saying they don’t love the music, but not begrudging the man his success, which as you say is hard-earned. The trope of the British decrying success is a bit of a hackneyed one. I think there is a healthy skepticism in us that wants to see the goods before we buy, but the outpouring of enthusiasm for the London Olympics once it was occurring after the general murmuring about the security/brand fascism in the run up shows that Brits actually love a bit of success. Perhaps you have some anecdotal evidence for your point, but I can’t identify a trend.

      • Lee Farrow Thursday 5th March 2015 at 15:50 #

        I agree, I’ve never heard any of those comments directed specifically at Steven Wilson or his new album. All the “Prog” fans I know appreciate what he is doing and even if they aren’t fans of his music recognise the commercial success he is finally getting.

        However that isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of dinosaurs in the Progressive Music world!! Read any of the forums and there are vast swathes of Progressive Music who love the genre to death… Provided it is from the 1970s!

        Hardly a “progressive” attitude but they are the ones who are seriously missing out on some wonderful new and inventive music. Still, that is their loss and not mine.

  5. Andrew Thursday 5th March 2015 at 01:56 #

    Well said sir

  6. Harry Blackburn Thursday 5th March 2015 at 02:03 #

    An articulate and impassioned article, Robin. Well said…

  7. Karl Wilding Thursday 5th March 2015 at 21:32 #

    I couldn’t agree more with the blog. I sstruggle a bit with the whole ‘the 70s were #peakprog’. I’d venture to say that some of the music coming out in the last couple of years is on a par with, and arguably better, than the so-called greats of the 70s.

    In fact, there’s so much good stuff out there that’s new and interesting and just well, good, that I struggle to keep up. Robin, I’ve only briefly heard your stuff but in terms of listening and purchasing you’ve now moved to the top of the list.

    Finally, Hand Cannot Erase is really good. I love the pop moments like the title track, but the proggier bits like Regret#9 are brilliant. What with Lonely Robot’s Please Come Home a week before, it’s been a great few days for music.

  8. Laurence Stevenson Friday 6th March 2015 at 01:53 #

    i’m on both sides of the fence with this specific record. I feel like he’s spinning his wheels with this one. Snippets of Yes/Floyd etc abound and the songs are similar in style to many he has written before. Guthrie Govan gets quite a bit of space but only the ‘slide’ solo really makes you pay attention.
    That being said, there is one song, the final cut on the deluxe edition when he lets Ninet Tayeb have her head that the disc becomes truly exceptional. Good song, hair-raising singing. Makes the whole thing worthwhile. You don’t across that level of talent every day at all.

  9. Tony Newboult Friday 6th March 2015 at 13:25 #

    Well said that man!

  10. warrenb Friday 6th March 2015 at 14:16 #

    I have heard people grown about the almost single success of SW from this still rather elite post-prog genre but I think him along with Big Big Train are producing awesome music regardless of what label you put on it and by getting into them I have discovered many obscure little prog bands who otherwise I would not have heard in my lifetime. The SW effect has a very positive ripple to the rest and they we should all celebrate.

    That said 100,000 sales compared to Sam Smith is still rather miniscule so lets get some perspective haha!

  11. Marcel Safier Friday 6th March 2015 at 23:40 #

    Well put Robin! In Australia we most commonly use the expression “tall poppy syndrome” to describe that phenomenon of derision when someone dares to become successful or popular. How great it that people continue to get off their arses to do something worthwhile despite the naysayers. Prog artists need to transcend the “prog audience” who are all too often incredibly insular and intolerant. How many “prog fans” do you know who think music begins and ends with their exclusive prog genre (trying going onto a prog forum and admit to liking perhaps Abba, Pink, Beyonce or country music and just wait for the jeers)? They may think they are liberal by admitting to liking The Beatles or Kate Bush etc. and think Steven had a “momentary lapse of reason” doing a version of an Alanis Morrisette song (I quite like Jagged Little Pill and saw her in concert with Taylor Hawkins later of The Foo Fighters on drums). I am pleased to see the bigger picture and listen to and enjoy a wide gamut of music. I applaud Steven for recording in a multitude of styles and settings even if I don’t necessarily like everything or buy ever album by other artists that he has rejigged. The deluxe version of Hand. Cannot. Erase has just arrived in the post and I look forward to chilling and listening to it for the first time this fine Saturday in Brisbane while browsing the book. 🙂

  12. Warren Monday 21st March 2016 at 22:23 #

    Well Robin, who really cares what the progerati say? I’m thrilled that somebody like Steven Wilson can gather up an audience in the age of X Factor. To hell with the tall poppy hackers. I have a friend to thank for introducing me to Steven, and thereby dispelling the gloom I’ve felt about music for such a long time: i.e., whose releases will I look forward to when all my favourite dinosaurs are finally extinct? It’s a long story, but Steven Wilson led me to you (and others) and I’ve now discovered a whole new world of music out there, hiding in plain view. I wish you every hard-won success, all whilst applauding your humility, and your lack of expectations and entitlement. Now excuse me please while I head back over to Amazon to give my credit card a beating.


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