I have just torn myself away from a thread on the Facebook Big Big Train page, where a healthy debate is underway on the pros and cons of that strange many-horned beast that has risen from the murky depths: the Prog Cruise.
There are few of these now; the Yes-curated Cruise To The Edge, Progressive Nation At Sea, The Moody Blues Cruise, Melloboat, Rick Wakeman’s Submarine To Yalta, etc etc. I may have made that last one up!
I can think of a few reasons why these trips are most assuredly not for me, some are a personal thing as I’m not a fan of cruises per sé. For this piece I will concentrate on a reason not to indulge in “prog en mer”, and one not considered by those drooling at the prospect of being cooped up with their musical heroes, and that is the elitist insularity of it all.
On the face of it these cruises might seem good value; Cruise To The Edge for example starts at $550 per person for 4 full days on the boat, calling at Isla da Roatan, Honduras, and Cozumel, Mexico. The problem is, if you live more than a couple of hundred miles from the departure and arrival point of Miami USA, there is the added cost of getting there by air.
However, all that is irrelevant if you happen to be a young prog fan, say in your mid-twenties, who is not fortunate enough to be in high paid employment, or failing that you do not have a well-heeled Dad who can take you, or pay for your passage. Our young fan might well be enthralled at the prospect of seeing the Cruise To The Edge bill over four days and nights, but he has more chance of being invited to be lead singer with Yes than he has of ever affording the ticket.
And let’s not forget that even among the predominantly male, predominantly middle-aged prog audience, those that can afford these cruises are almost certainly in a minority anyway.
The cruises are a boon for the top prog bands, most of whom are at least ten years older than the fifty-something audience they attract generally, and specifically on these sea-borne charabancs. They get paid their fees and have none of the hassles of life on the road, something a band whose average age is late 60s no doubt appreciates. The promoters must be rubbing their hands with glee too, as the tickets fly out of the box office to land in the inbox of some overpaid financial services consultant in Virginia Water/Old Westbury (insert expensive suburb of choice of chosen metropolis).
One can well imagine those “Meet and Greet” sessions they advertise descending into farce as a bunch of middle-aged blokes swap numbers of divorce lawyers and where to buy the best motability scooter in Henley-on-Thames. I jest, hopefully, but the only conclusion I can draw from this is that these cruises are elitist, and the bands and their managers are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot. The “Prog Cruise” can only alienate that very thing prog needs in order to survive beyond the lifespan of the auditory senses of those of us who are, shall we say, well past the first flush of youth; a young audience.
Some might say that prog dying out would be a good thing, and there will always be an audience for progressive and forward thinking music. Me, I couldn’t possibly comment!
Then there is the insularity I mentioned earlier. Unlike a festival on terra firma over a few days where you will get a wide variety of bands encouraging healthy debate, here, in order to keep the fans of the lead bands happy, and no doubt to sell tickets to their predominantly conservative demographic, as they are the ones with the money, the rest of the bill has to “fit”, even if loosely. The audience will be all of a similar mind and wallet, and it all becomes too cliquey for me. Now, if they had thrown in a couple of bands that were a bit edgy, a bit different, say miRthkon and Magma, to pluck two names at random from the CDs piled up to my right, then the bill would no doubt get my vote from an aesthetic point of view. As it is, it seems to be a case of a nice safe love-in, where you will no doubt get the louder passengers boasting about the size of their pay packets, mostly metaphorically, but literally in some cases, I’ve no doubt.
All in all, the Prog Cruise is a cash cow, but will turn out to be a temporary thing that in the long term can only harm the very scene it purports to promote.
This has been your intrepid reporter Roger McNasty, hiding under the tarpaulin of lifeboat 3C, in fear of his life and sanity.