PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI (PFM):
STORIA DI UN MINUTO (RCA Italiana ND 74059) 
PER UN AMICO (RCA Italiana ND 71784) 
PHOTOS OF GHOSTS (RCA Italiana ND 71785) 
L’ISOLA DI NIENTE (RCA Italiana ND 717820 
THE WORLD BECAME THE WORLD (BMG/Dischi
Numero Uno 743214 979525) 
LIVE IN U.S.A. (COOK) (RCA Italiana ND 71838) 
CHOCOLATE KINGS (RCA Italiana ND 71781) 
JET LAG (RCA Italiana ND 75244) 
PASSPARTU (RCA Italiana ND 75245) 
SUONARE SUONARE (RCA Italiana 74321 100812) 
COME TI VA IN RIVA ALLA CITTA (RCA Italiana 74321 100802) 
PERFORMANCE (RCA Italiana 74321 100822) 
MISS BAKER (BMG/Dischi Ricordi 74321 441552) 
10 ANNI LIVE 1971-1981 (RTI Music 0217-2) 
ULISSE (RTI Music 1146-2) 
WWW.PFMPFM.IT (IL BEST) (RTI Music 92002) 
PFM were relative latecomers to the Italian music scene, making their debut in 1971, opening for Yes on their first Italian tour. Paolo Barotto, in his The Return of Italian Pop, says that they “simply ‘rehashed’ old pieces of King Crimson and other bands, reproducing them with amazing fidelity.” From recorded evidence they covered mostly King Crimson and Jethro Tull.
A quintet, they consisted of four members of a “beat” group, Quelli – Franz Di Cioccio on drums, Giorgio Piazza on bass, Franco Mussida on guitar and Flavio Premoli on keyboards – plus ex-Dalton violinist and flautist Mauro Pagani. All had considerable experience as studio session men as well and were capable of playing in a variety of styles. This was at once their strength and their weakness.The group released their first album early in 1972, “with the help of Mogol,” as Barotto puts it. Mogol was then a major songwriter and producer, whose work with Formula Three (reviewed elsewhere here) was of considerable importance. STORIA DI UN MINUTO is a short album (34½ minutes), but richly melodic in a then-fresh way. Barotto feels that the album “displayed on vinyl their great expressive capacity, even though there were still some foreign influences. It was defined as rock music with a classical vein, spiced with Mediterranean influences, or simply ‘spaghetti rock.’” (The term, “spaghetti rock,” was coined by PFM’s international label, Manticore, in ads and promotional materials. It was probably intended as a parallel to “Krautrock,” the term the British music press coined for German rock in the early ’70s. Many now find “spaghetti rock” an offensive term.) “After just a few months the quintet became extremely popular. Today their first album is defined as one of the landmarks of Italian pop. It was quickly considered an example by many other Italian groups,” Barotto adds.
In other words, PFM’s first album hit
What was most significant about PFM’s music was its structure. Few of the group’s early pieces – almost all of them collaborations between Mussida and Premoli – were simple songs. Pop songs adhere to a basic structure in which an 8-bar musical statement is repeated for the second 8 bars, the third 8 bars is the “bridge” (a different statement or melody, usually inferior to the first), and the original 8 bar statement is again repeated. The full 32 bars is called a “chorus” and can be the entire song. (Blues consist of a 12-bar statement, repeated as often as the performer wishes.) Early classical music, which was often formal (court) dancing music, followed similarly simple patterns. But in the last three or four centuries classical music has evolved significantly, inventing more sophisticated structures. Melodies were treated – canonically, via fugues and inversions – to create variations. The variations were strung together to create longer forms, creating the large symphonies.
Many rock groups, especially those in Europe, have made use of these compositional devices, as well as specific themes and riffs borrowed from, say, baroque music. PFM wrote “rhapsodies” – music which flowed, seamlessly, from one melodic statement into another, each piece containing as many as half a dozen complete melodies. Sometimes these melodies offered contrasts with each other within the larger piece and sometimes they seemed to evolve from each other. The effect was richly melodic, but it could also lead to the listener wondering whether all of these melodies were interchangeable modules, capable of being arbitrarily arranged together in any order. It is entirely to PFM’s credit that these were all good melodies, fresh to the listener’s ear and evocative of many moods. It is PFM’s melodic invention which gave them such popularity and influence.Later the same year, 1972, PFM released their second album, PER UN AMICO. It was, if anything, more accomplished, if a few seconds shorter (at 34:11). Premoli’s use of the Mellotron gave PFM a rich orchestral sound which was counterbalanced by sections in which Pagani’s flute played baroque figures against Premoli’s harpsichord.
Barotto: “In 1973 they ‘exploded’ (as did all the Italian pop movement); Mussida and partners – after having reached the top of the Italian hit parade – tried to succeed abroad, publishing an album titled PHOTOS OF GHOSTS. It’s the English version of the best pieces from the first two albums. Unbelievably PHOTOS OF GHOSTS entered the hit parade of the
What had happened was that PFM had come to the attention of
Basically, PHOTOS OF GHOSTS uses all of PER UN AMICO, and one track (completely re-recorded) from STORIA DI UN MINUTO. That track is “
There is one new piece on PHOTOS OF GHOSTS, however. “Old Rain” is an instrumental by keyboardist Premoli, newly recorded for the album. Barotto overlooks this.
PHOTOS OF GHOSTS was released worldwide by Manticore (distributed in the U.S. by Atlantic Records and elsewhere by WEA Records – “WEA” standing for “Warner Elektra Atlantic” and being the international arm of the Warner empire) and was the beneficiary of ads in Rolling Stone (in which the term “spaghetti rock” was introduced to U.S. audiences) and favorable reviews and writeups in Rolling Stone and other rock publications. It was the album which introduced me to PFM.It also began a kind of dual-release situation in which PFM’s albums continued to be released in Italian versions (on the Numero Uno label, a subsidiary of RCA Italiana and now owned by BMG) while English-language versions were released elsewhere by Manticore. Thus L’ISOLA DI NIENTE was released first in 1974 in
L’ISOLA DI NIENTE’s “L’Isola di Niente” becomes “The Mountain” on THE WORLD BECAME THE WORLD; “Dolcissima Maria” becomes “Just Look Away;” “La Luna Nuova” becomes “Four Holes in the Ground” and “Via Lumiere” becomes “Have Your Cake and Beat It.” That last track was an instrumental; the title change does not strike me as an improvement. The added track on THE WORLD BECAME THE WORLD – the title track – is a remake of “Impressioni di Settembre” from the first album. It’s almost a minute shorter than the original piece was, but “Four Holes in the Ground” is more than a minute longer than its Italian counterpart. The other pieces vary only a little or not at all in length.
Both versions of the album open with the same piece, a stunning use of choral voices by the Accademia Paolina di Milano choir – a virtual tour de force for choir – which marks the last hurrah of PFM’s grandiose orchestral approach. It was also at this point that Giorgio Piazza left the group to be replaced on bass by Patrick Djivas (ex-Area). Both LP versions of the album have almost identical covers, showing what appears to be an island emerging (with vegetation) from the ocean – but the Italian version is die-cut, the actual picture of the island printed on the inner sleeve. When that sleeve is removed, a different picture is revealed, printed on the inside back of the outer sleeve. The Manticore version is not die-cut, but the second picture is printed on the paper inner sleeve.PFM’s international popularity, bolstered by the two Manticore albums, led to a tour of
But by now Manticore was having difficulties. ‘COOK’ was distributed for Manticore by Motown, not Atlantic, and would be the last of PFM’s American releases on the Manticore label. And things were changing for PFM, too. In 1975 they acquired Acqua Fragile’s lead singer, Bernardo Lanzetti, in the wake of that group’s breakup. Lanzetti had a big voice and filled a need for PFM, but he accompanied and accentuated a change in the group’s sound.This was obvious on that year’s CHOCOLATE KINGS. Barotto thinks the album “was boycotted in the
The music on CHOCOLATE KINGS is thinner, sparer in approach, lacking the rich orchestral qualities of PFM’s earlier albums. The title refers to
By now PFM were touring the world. In 1975 that took them to
Gregory Bloch took over violin for the next album, 1977’s JET LAG. This album, like the one to follow, was released in
And this was to be the last PFM album with English lyrics (all but one track), written again with Marva Jan Marrow. It was a weak album, flirting with both fusion jazz and real pop music in spots. But Premoli played some remarkable solos on his synthesizer which sounded uncannily like a soprano sax.When PASSPARTU was released in 1978, PFM had utterly changed. Bloch’s violin was also gone – without replacement. Added to some tracks were PFM’s original producer, Claudio Fabi, on keyboards, and Ultima Spiaggia’s Roberto Colombo (whose solo album, SFOGATEVI BESTIE, was released in 1976 but has never appeared on CD) on Polimoog, as well as additional percussionists. But the music totally had lost touch with PFM’s prior identity. This was mainstream popular Italian music, no longer even faintly “progressive.” The lyrics were in Italian by songwriter Gianfranco Manfredi. PFM had turned its back on the rest of the world. Barotto notes sadly, “musically the album is very disappointing.” Early in this piece I said, “All had considerable experience as studio session men as well and were capable of playing in a variety of styles. This was at once their strength and their weakness.” Here it was their weakness. PFM had become glib.
Barotto continues: “In 1979 the group played live with Fabrizio De Andre in an ‘historical’ concert.” This concert was released on both LP and CD; it’s a 2-CD set on Fonit Cetra (CDM 2043):
By 1980 the transformation was complete. Although Lucio Fabbri had joined on violin, restoring a part of the group’s potential sound, SUONARE SUONARE (back on Numero Uno) was not a return to the music of the past. The album, as Barotto puts it, “caught the interest of a younger generation. Their rock was no longer only ‘music,’ but dealing with the problems of living in large cities.” Perhaps so, lyrically, but musically this was fluff. It strikes me as a cynical effort to achieve commercial success – and makes me wonder if their “progressive” works were only an earlier and no more sincere effort in the same direction, a pose they found easy to shed when it appeared to be no longer in style. In any event, PFM was now writing pop songs, with superficially catchy hooks but without real distinction.
This was equally true of 1981’s COME
PERFORMANCE – this one recorded in 1981 in front of and for their new Italian audience. It placed its emphasis on their new songs, like “Maestro Della Voce,” “Suonare Suonare” and “Come Ti Va,” but a few of the old songs cropped up, like “Impressione Di Settembre” (which was interpolated for a few bars in “Si Puo Fare,” one of their newer songs), “Il Banchetto” and “Celebration” – but in unfortunate new arrangements which robbed the music of its original character. “Afterwards they did some low profile work up to their last released LP, MISS BAKER, much more dance-oriented, with the introduction of the horns,” Barotto notes.
That “low profile work” included a 1984 album not yet on CD, PFM? PFM! There were no PFM albums after that until 1987’s MISS BAKER, named after Josephine Baker, the expatriate African-American dancer.
At that point PFM seemed to become a part of
The album is handsomely and unusually packaged in an 8 x 5 x ¾ inch slipcased box with a 46-page booklet and the CDs mounted on each side of two flip-out arms. The booklet (entirely in Italian) includes a “family tree” which details the personnel of the group, where they came from and where they subsequently went. Violinist Bloch, for example, had previously played in a late version of the American band, It’s A Beautiful Day, and in the British Marc Almond Band, and left PFM to play in the Gato Barbieri Band.In 1997 Franz Di Cioccio, Franco Mussida and Flavio Premoli reformed PFM with Patrick Djivas and made a new album for RTI, ULISSE. While by no means a return to the vintage music of the ’70s, the album was more mature than the vapid pop stylings of the ’80s. It was in some respects reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s later albums: not “progressive” but solid. This was followed a year later by WWW.PFMPFM.IT (IL BEST), a two-CD live set which mixes “hits” like “Suonare Suonare” with the “classics” of the early ’70s, performed by the same quartet augmented by three additional musicians who play saxes, flute, woodwinds, keyboards, drums and percussion, guitars, violin and mandolin.
These performances of the older material are much truer to its original spirit than were those of PERFORMANCE, but have the feeling of material too often played. PFM have been booked for the 200l NEARfest in
For what it’s worth, WWW.PFMPFM.IT (IL BEST) contains within its title an actual website address for PFM (leave out “(IL BEST)”). The site reveals that on September 15, 2000, a new album, SERENDIPITY, was released. I have not yet heard it.
I strongly recommend the first six albums (up through LIVE IN
In addition to the Italian CD releases listed above, some of these albums were also released in
UPDATE: Shortly after posting this piece I received the following news from NEARfest:
“Late last week we were informed by PFM drummer and band leader Franz DiCioccio that PFM must unfortunately cancel their NEARfest 2001 performance as well as other European dates. Keyboardist Flavio Premoli has suffered ruptured discs in his back, and requires vertebral surgery and extensive rehab that will not be completed until well into the summer. He has tried to ‘play through the pain’ but it was not humanly possible for him. Please keep Flavio in your thoughts for a speedy recovery.”
NEARfest 2001 was fortunately able to book Banco as the second-day headliner to replace PFM. The band successfully headlined at last year’s ProgFest in
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I welcome feedback on these pages. I can be reached directly at twhite8 AT cox DOT net. Let me hear from you. --Dr. P