Lino Vairetti of Osanna

Dan: So Osanna reformed at the end of the last decade, along with a bunch of other big-name Italian Prog bands. What’s it like playing in this new millennium compared to the 70’s?

Lino: You can definitely feel that prog music is making a real comeback, in stark contrast with the low artistic and cultural standards of so many current musical productions. Many prog bands of every generation have been regrouping and releasing albums with the sheer joy of making great music. However, while their demanding, informed audience is still keenly interested in the music produced in the first half of the Seventies, and expects a nearly faithful reproduction of those vintage sounds – therefore almost wholly rejecting anything modern – the musicians (especially those who were part of the original prog scene) feel the need to express their musical, technical, cultural and artistic development by experimenting with new sounds and expressive modes – all the while producing music of a high level of quality, far removed from any forms of easily digested ‘crossover’. We, the ‘pioneers’ of Seventies prog, are trying to walk the fine line between past and present, to find the right balance between what we were at the time and what we have become today. The number of fans and collectors looking both for CDs and vinyl LPs is steadily growing. All this interest bodes well for a successful comeback of the genre, though I believe that the heights scaled in the ‘70s will never be equalled. In any case, that glorious season (which is still an object of research and appreciation) will remain in the annals of musical history and, just like the great classical composers, become a reference point to everyone. In early November, a great event will be held in Rome to celebrate the 40th anniversary of progressive rock. Bands like PFM, Banco, Osanna, Le Orme, The Trip (with renowned international artists as special guests) and many other Italian acts who have got back together in the past few years will perform on the same stage – a very positive sign that prog is still alive and well. I am of the opinion that there is still a lot to be said and done.

Dan: You guys have released a few albums since reforming, and these albums mostly seem to consist of re-recordings of old material with some new songs thrown in. Just out of curiosity, why choose to work like this in particular?

Lino: After having been away from the music scene for almost 20 years, it was imperative for the new Osanna to offer new versions of the band’s most representative output to fans both old and new. Since Osanna had all but dropped off the radar after such a long absence, it was essential for us to remind people of the band without indulging in mere nostalgia. This is how Taka Boom was born. Released in 2001, the album was a collection of our most important ‘70s songs (though with new arrangements), together with unreleased material like the title-track, and new versions of songs like “Ce Vulesse Ce Vulesse” (originally “Cevulesse”, featured on 1978’s Suddance) and “Ho Scritto una Canzone” (originally “Fog in My Mind”, featured on 1974’s Landscape of Life). However, Taka Boom did not show the new Osanna at their best, so I decided to re-record our older material with the addition of David Jackson’s saxophone. This became our 2009 release, the CD/LP Prog Family, of which I am very proud. It is an excellent album that shows Osanna’s new, strong line-up at its best.

Dan: I think the results worked out very well for last year’s release “Prog Family”. You guys played with such great intensity and showed a lot of passion playing some of your old songs in interesting ways. Some of the highlights of this album for me were “Animale…” and the cover of “Theme One”. What about you guys? What were some of your highlights?

Lino: I think Prog Family sounds great as a whole, since it blends vintage sounds with more modern ones. “Theme One” is a tribute to Van Der Graaf Generator and the great David Jackson, and all the tracks contain references to other Osanna compositions. Though I find “Animale Senza Respiro” particularly effective, “Il Castello dell’Es”, “Mirror Train”, “There Will Be Time” and “Medley Formentera” also sound great, even in a live setting.

Dan: An interesting thing about Prog Family, which is mentioned in the title and credits of the album itself, was that it was done with Van Der Graaf Generator legend David Jackson. I think his inclusion definitely lended the album some of his trademarked manic energy and eclectic style. This was probably the point. What’s your take on this? What was it like working with Mr. Jackson in general? Was he difficult? Was he happy to go with what you guys wanted?

Lino: David Jackson has always been one of my idols, and Van Der Graaf Generator one of my favourite bands. When I invited David to guest on Prog Family, he came to Naples and loved our new band so much that it was easy for him to fit into our day-to-day working schedule. Everything went very smoothly, thanks to the sheer amount of energy and enthusiasm involved, so we decided to continue playing together in this new line-up that we called Osanna & David Jackson. David has become a true member of the band, not just a special guest, in a partnership that is both stimulating and a lot of fun. He is a fantastic musician and a great human being, and is happy to be with us – he even feels as Neapolitan as we are! And all of us are overjoyed at being able to play with him. It’s a wonderful experience.

Dan: You guys had some other guest stars on the album, such as David Cross (formerly of King Crimson) and Gianni Leone (of Balletto Di Bronzo) and Sophya Baccini (solo musician). What was it like working with these people, and all of the others you had on the album?

Lino: Gianni Leone and I have been friends for as long as I can remember, and in the ‘60s and ‘70s also played together in Volti di Pietra and Città Frontale. It was great working with him because he is very talented, especially on the Hammond organ. Gianni always plays live with us, both in Italy and abroad. Sophya Baccini is also a good friend of ours – she’s also from Naples, and you can hear her lovely voice on the song “’A Zingara”. On the other hand, David Cross, TM Stevens and Solis String Quartet collaborated as special guests with great enthusiasm and professionalism. Prog Family also saw the return of Osanna’s original bassist, Lello Brandi, who played on “Il Castello dell’Es”.

Dan: How did you guys get in touch with David Jackson specifically and the other guests in general?

Lino: All those contacts originated from Afrakà Rock Festival, an event I have been organizing for years in the town of Afragola, near Naples. The festival sees the participation of many musicians, so I spoke with some of them and invited them to contribute to our album.

Dan: How do you guys see the finished project? Were you satisfied with how it turned out? Are you satisfied with how the press and prog community have reacted to it?

Lino: I am very happy with the way Prog Family was performed and recorded. It is indeed an excellent album that has gained a lot of appreciation in the small world of prog music. However, this has been just the beginning of a new journey, which will see the 2011 release of a completely new album, 40 years after our first LP, L’Uomo (1971). The new album will be called Palepolitana.

Dan: So I read on your Myspace that Osanna recently did a show in Seoul with David and Gianni. What was that show like? Does Osanna do much touring in general?

Lino: Our gigs in Japan and Seoul were fantastic, and very successful as well – the audiences greeted and cheered all our performances with great enthusiasm. Next year we will embark on a tour of Mexico, Chile and Europe.

Dan: Is there a chance Osanna might play at NEARFest like some other big-name Italian prog bands have in recent years?

Lino: I don’t know what to answer. We would have to be asked first in order to participate. However, I’d be very happy to play at NEARfest. Do you have any contacts? Can you ask the organizers to get in touch with us?

Dan: I have been asking a lot of Italian prog bands this question lately, because I find it to be a very interesting phenomenon. Why do you guys think there has been a resurgence of Italian Prog in recent years? In the sense that there are both a lot of new bands like Il Bacio Della Medusa, Malibran, etc, and old bands releasing new albums such as Osanna, Le Orme, Latte e Miele, Delirum, PFM, etc.

Lino: Italian prog is very much appreciated all over the world. While historic bands such as PFM, Banco, Osanna, Le Orme, Latte e Miele, Delirium and Area are obviously excellent, there is also a lot of talent to be found in the bands of the new prog generation. We would need to build an extensive network of contacts in order to give Italian music the worldwide exposure it deserves.

Dan: What are some of Osanna’s influences in general? Have those influences changed from when the band had just begun till now? Has Osanna been influenced at all by contemporary Italian Prog bands?

Lino: Osanna had many different influences, as each band member had his own musical favourites. I loved the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Van Der Graaf Generator, but also Italian and Neapolitan music. Elio D’Anna loved jazz and R&B, Danilo Rustici loved Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Pink Floyd, Massimo Guarino loved King Crimson and The Beatles, Lello Brandi loved Genesis and Yes. Now, in 2010, I am very much into Radiohead. However, I believe that many modern prog acts love bands like Osanna.

Dan: Osanna is a very good band to ask this question, because you are one of the rare few that has personally worked with a member of Van Der Graaf Generator. VDGG happens to be one of my favorite bands, but I always wonder… why were they so incredibly popular in Italy in the 70’s? They certainly aren’t very “accessible”. What’s your take on this?

Lino: It is a great honour for me to be able to play with David Jackson of VDGG, a band whose music is very challenging, even difficult – as cerebral as their leader, Peter Hammill. The main reason for their success in Italy lies in our country’s great cultural heritage, which makes it easier for people to see into the depths of an artist’s soul. Peter Hammill wrote the foreword to our book Naples in the World (published in 2001), and performed with us in Naples on December 2, 2001, on the occasion of Osanna’s 30th anniversary concert, as featured in the Uomini e Miti DVD.

Dan: Is Osanna working on anything at the moment? Perhaps a new album? Perhaps a new collaboration with a famous musician? Something with Hugh Banton, perhaps? Hehe.

Lino: As I have previously said, Osanna are now working on their new album, Palepolitana, which will be released in 2011. A Live in Japan album and a live DVD of our concert in Savona (Italy) are also in the works – as well as a DVD recorded at Prog Exhibition, the event that will take place in Rome on November 5-6, 2010, with the participation of PFM, Banco, Osanna, Le Orme, The Trip, R.R.R., and special guests such as David Jackson, Gianni Leone, Ian Anderson, David Cross and John Wetton.

Dan: I think I’m done with my questions, is there anything else you would like to add?

Lino: It is a great honour for me to be able to play with David Jackson of VDGG, a band whose music is very challenging, even difficult – as cerebral as their leader, Peter Hammill. The main reason for their success in Italy lies in our country’s great cultural heritage, which makes it easier for people to see into the depths of an artist’s soul. Peter Hammill wrote the foreword to our book Naples in the World (published in 2001), and performed with us in Naples on December 2, 2001, on the occasion of Osanna’s 30th anniversary concert, as featured in the Uomini e Miti DVD.

Dan: Is Osanna working on anything at the moment? Perhaps a new album? Perhaps a new collaboration with a famous musician? Something with Hugh Banton, perhaps? Hehe.

Lino: As I have previously said, Osanna are now working on their new album, Palepolitana, which will be released in 2011. A Live in Japan album and a live DVD of our concert in Savona (Italy) are also in the works – as well as a DVD recorded at Prog Exhibition, the event that will take place in Rome on November 5-6, 2010, with the participation of PFM, Banco, Osanna, Le Orme, The Trip, R.R.R., and special guests such as David Jackson, Gianni Leone, Ian Anderson, David Cross and John Wetton.

Dan: I think I’m done with my questions, is there anything else you would like to add?

Lino: Yes! My history and my love for prog music. Having lived through that particular historical period, I see prog as the natural evolution of the rock and beat music of the ‘60s. This happened mainly because of social and cultural factors rather than artistic and musical ones. I grew up with the hippie culture and philosophy of the ‘60s, and gladly embraced such values as peace, love, freedom, the civil, ethical, religious and sexual revolution against the prevailing bourgeois mentality, hypocrisy and any form of repression. The music produced by hundreds of British and American bands; large-scale events such as Human Be-In, Woodstock, the Isle of Wight; the Beat Generation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Dylan, our own Fernanda Pivano; movies like Easy Rider and Zabriskie Point – all of these things had captivated my soul and that of my contemporaries. That urge to socialize, live together in communes, share every moment of life had spread like wildfire through the younger generations, in a form of cultural globalization that brought East and West, North and South, black and white, men and women together without any discrimination. All that turmoil, which had roused a sense of fear and doubt in political and economic milieus, ended up being exploited by those in power and turned into little more than a passing fad, until the fundamental tenets of the hippie movement lost any real meaning and became mere utopia. From this stemmed the ’68 revolution, when the younger generations gained a new awareness, and those threatened values acquired a new dimension, with a stronger intellectual and political bent. Through the sharing of those same values, music developed a more definite intellectual content, as well as more ‘staying power’, so to speak. The standard song form gave way to long, elaborate suites, while concept albums and much more demanding lyrics became widespread. Prog was a new proposition that challenged the simpler rock and beat forms of the previous years, all the while drawing from the same cultural and musical sources. I believe that prog developed directly from ‘60s rock, while being very open to many diverse musical and cultural contributions. Certainly, the introduction of keyboards such as the piano and Hammond organ, and subsequently such important technological innovations as the Mellotron and synthesizers, brought about a change in the sound of many bands whose line-ups was originally based on the traditional rock instrumentation of bass, guitar and drums, and who adopted a more distinctly symphonic and/or classical direction. An essential element in the rhythmic structure of the compositions was the use of odd time signatures and the sometimes obsessive repetition of musical themes. Osanna had adopted and developed those basic features of prog when they were still called Città Frontale, with Gianni Leone on the Hammond organ. After Gianni left and Elio D’Anna (a classically- and jazz-trained musician) joined the band, Osanna once again turned to a rawer, rockier sound – as shown by their debut album, 1971’s L’Uomo. However, in order to regain that broader, more symphonic dimension that we found so fascinating, I started handling keyboard duties (Mellotron, Arp 2600 synthesizer), as well as 12-string acoustic guitar, recreating – together with Elio’s sax and flute and Danilo Rustici’s guitar – those typical prog soundscapes that were foreshadowed in Milano Calibro 9 and brought to fruition in Palepoli. Massimo Guarino and Lello Brandi’s masterful use of odd time signatures completed the picture. Unlike most canonical prog, though, my lyrics dealt with social and political issues rather than mythological or fantasy themes, and also made frequent use of the Neapolitan dialect.

Prog Sphere would love to thank to Raffaella Berry for translating this interview from Italian.

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