Today, we’re going to travel back in time. Not way before Marty Mcfly did, but still, 1972 was 44 years ago. At that time in Italy, and specifically in Rome, an incredible band was being formed: I’m talking about Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso.
We in Italy love history, folklore, and all sorts of underdog tales. The story of this band begins with one of this sort of non-written-only-narrated tales, exactly in 1969, when Vittorio Nocenzi, who was only 17 years old -I’m feeling bad at the moment!- had an audition with the label RCA. He was so talented that the producers decided to give him a chance even though he didn’t have a proper band. So this young boy started choosing his band companions and a rehearsal room, found in a literal cowshed, where they kept the amplifiers and part of the drum-set they were not using.
A nice beginning, don’t you think?
After a limping start Vittorio found himself an incredible singer, one of the most famous and recognizable voices of the prog-scene in Italy. Of course I’m talking about Francesco di Giacomo, with his presence on stage (he was about 120 kilos of a man!), his clean, soothing voice made Il Banco on top of the prog rock scene in the 70’s.
What I want to review today is the album I’m most bound to, and their first album: the self-titled Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso.
I want to annoy you with the story of how I got to know this album. I was in Petra, Jordan, standing on a rock with a stunning view upon the valley and one of my father’s friends said:
“Da qui, messere, si domina la valle” (“From here, sir, we overlook the valley”).
And my father answered : “Oh, il Banco. That were incredible times for a musician to be born.”
This phrase was in the opening of Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, and as soon as I got back home I asked my father if we had this album in our library, and not only we had it, but we had the original vinyl record.
The album begins with a narrating voice, in “in Volo”, tuned in with a simple acoustic guitar, which introduces the theme of the first song, which is the holy war. In fact the lines of the lyrics are taken from a medieval poem by Ludovico Ariosto, “Orlando Furioso”. The chorus, the majestic crescendo of keyboards in the end leads into the first actual song of the album, “R.I.P. Requiescant In Pace”(Rest in Pepperoni wasn’t invented yet).
The rhythm section of this song put us into the middle of a confused and furious battle between Christians and Muslims. Even though the tempo is pretty simple, the first part of this song is a tribute to jazz sounds, the guitar mixes a little distortion with the warm sound of the neck pick up (I would really like to know what they were using, because the result was incredible, so warm, yet so aggressive) until we arrive at the keyboards/piano solo. Here the distortion of the guitar kicks in and begins one of the best keyboard solo I have ever heard. Vittorio Nocenzi dragged into BMS his brother Gianni, who played the piano in the band. In this solo keyboards and piano of the two brothers mix together to perform a frantic two minutes solo, like it was New Orleans again in the ’70s near Rome.
After this frantic musical genius, the song calms down. The warrior we were following dies. What is left of his life? Only a knife in his heart and all the pain and sorrow he brought to the world, not greatness, nor glory or a place in heaven.
After the battle the next song is “Passaggio”, which is a passage, for something different, but not completely (we are not here to quote Monthy Phyton). In one and a half minute time Vittorio Nocenzi shows us his talent even with harpsichord.
The next, more impressive track is “Metamorfosi”. This is a classical British styled prog song in which the instrument are the main characters, the voice is only a secondary player that comes in only at the end. With continuous changes of time signature and guitar riffs, keyboard and piano follow each other until the end of the song in a very orchestral way, where brasses are played by the keyboards and strings by the guitar.
The second to last track is “Il Giardino del Mago”, a prog suite in the most classical English fashion, an 18-minute epic divided quite clearly in 4 different movements. Through all the song we face the story of the ones that are wanting to escape reality and refuge themselves in a magical garden suspended in time, where only love could exist. A “topos” found various time in Italian literature, this song like “In Volo” and “R.I.P.” is in fact inspired by the book of our classical writer, Ludovico Ariosto. Musically there’s a little to be said, because the composition’s a masterpiece. The song mixes different tempos, starting from the oneiric lento at the beginning to introduce us to the dream that is this enchanted garden, switching to faster riffs in the middle parts of the songs here to underline the choice between staying forever in the garden, or trying to face our problems. Still, this song is less jazzy than “R.I.P.” and more of a classical rock set of sounds, distortion on guitars, a deep and powerful voice on the drums and aggressive use of keyboards sounds.
The last song is “Traccia” just a minute of piano, played by Vittorio Nocenzi. It just closes the album in its whole and create a symphony that will be prosecuted in the next album of Il Banco.
I’m talking about the first prog album that came to my hearing, the first big thing that made me love prog rock & metal. Listening to this album, understanding it, made me realize that prog is not another way to say complicated-nerd-like music. Prog is experimentation, is inspiration, is stretching with your technical knowledge to reach something higher.
This album is one of the best dishes our music has to offer, even thought is relatively unknown. Like a good dish it has many good ingredients in it: talented musicians, jazz music, good literature, rock music, they mix in a very balanced way, and every single one of those elements cannot exist without the others, to reach a perfect ear-gasmic result. Like is in visual art so it is in music: we have this romantic conception that the only things that are worth are the things that make us feel something, but the entire history of critique is telling us that it’s not exactly like so. If something is well made we must recognize that is just well made, even if we don’t like it. And it’s the case of Il Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. Simply, it’s too well written and played to not acknowledge that it is one of the best product of the ’70s.
And I’m not talking only of the Italian prog scene, but of the worldwide prog scene.
- In Volo 2:14
- I.P. 6:33
- Passaggio 1:19
- Metamorphosi 10:53
- Il Giardino del Mago 18:27
- Traccia 2:11