70's Italian Prog Rock bands: Banco del Mutuo Soccorso


One of the most important progressive rock bands from Italy, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (BMS), along with Le Orme and PFM are regarded as the big three of the Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI) genre. This is not only because of their longevity, musicianship and the level of success they achieved in their own country, but also because each were able to make considerable inroads abroad, something which didn't happen for most of their contemporaries. They were very popular in the 1970s Italian prog scene and they continued making music in the 1980s and 1990s. They are still active, playing live in 2001 and 2008 at NEARfest.


HISTORY

Despite not releasing their first album until 1972, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso actually were formed in 1969. Inspired by progressive rock acts from England, in particular Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, keyboardists Vittorio Nocenzi and his brother Gianni Nocenzi founded the band in Rome. The early line-up fluctuated with various members coming and going before any recorded output was released, including drummer Franco Pontecorvi replaced by Mario Achilli, bassist Fabrizio Falco and guitarist Gianfranco Coletta (ex Chetro & Co) later replaced by Claudio Falco. Some of these musicians had previously played with Gianni Nocenzi in Crash. This early incarnation of the band did, however, record some material but this wouldn't surface until 1989 in the Donna Plautilla album. Joining the Nocenzi brothers for a more stable line-up in 1971 was ex-Fiori di Campo guitarist Marcello Todaro and three members of Le Esperienze, vocalist Francesco Di Giacomo, drummer Pier Luigi Calderoni and bassist Renato D'Angelo. Right from the start the most striking features of their sound was the complex texture provided by the piano, Hammond organ and synthesizers played by the Nocenzi brothers, plus the original vocals di Francesco Di Giacomo. A careful balance of electronic and acoustic instruments, plus the use of reeds (played by some of the members of the band, in addition to their usual instrument), made the sound of BMS increasingly original and innovative, with a blend of rock, jazz and classical music which did not however forsake the Italian melodic tradition. Their eponymous debut album released in 1972, was a remarkably mature piece of inventive symphonic progressive rock with classical influences, featuring excellent musicianship and the emotionally charged vocal delivery of Di Giacomo. The album, housed in a large money box shaped cover, is still one of the most representative examples of the Italian prog, with classical influences based on the twin keyboards interplay and the original voice of Francesco Di Giacomo. R.I.P. (Requiescant in Pace) and Il Giardino del Mago are among their best tracks ever, and Traccia has always been a live classic. Their live activity was constant and they supported the likes of Curved Air and Rory Gallagher when touring Italy, developing a large and dedicated following.

Il Giardino del Mago

Traccia


The first album was quickly followed up by the equally highly regarded Darwin! in 1972. It's a concept album based on the mankind evolution (a recurring theme in many prog albums of the time) and keeps the same high level of the first album, with nice tracks like the long L'Evoluzione and La Conquista della Posizione Eretta.

L'Evoluzione


La Conquista della Posizione Eretta

In 1973, their third album and another milestone in their production, Io Sono Nato Libero, was released. It has a shaped gatefold cover with a lyric booklet stapled in. Non mi Rompete and La Città Sottile, both from this album, were also released as a single and all these albums entered the top 10 charts being highly successful at the time. The first three albums of BMS are forming a trio of LPs that are essential for the Italian prog genre

Traccia II


A change of guitarist followed shortly after the recording of Io Sono Nato Libero, when Marcello Todaro (guitar) left to join Crystals and was replaced by Rodolfo Maltese (guitar, trumpet, French horn), formerly of Homo Sapiens. Around this time the band attempted to break the international market and released the English sung Banco (1975) on ELP'S Manticore label (together with Premiata Forneria Marconi), still distributed in Italy by Ricordi. In reality the album was largely a compilation, as it consisted of re-recorded songs from their first three albums with the exception of one track, the unreleased L'albero del pane. To promote it they toured the USA and the UK with limited success. Banco was followed in 1976 by Garofano Rosso, a completely instrumental album, soundtrack to the film of the same title, and though the voice of Francesco Di Giacomo is missing, yet the record keeps the distinctive BMS sound, like in the long Suggestioni di un Ritorno in Campagna.

Lasciando la Casa Antica


Another album was released in the same year, Come in un'Ultima Cena (1976), based on the Last supper biblical theme. It was the last album with strong classical influences and some good tracks like Il Ragno and Quando la Buona Gente Dice. This album was also released outside Italy with the English title As in a last supper. 

Quando la Buona Gente Dice


1978 saw the release of another all instrumental album, ...di Terra, this time incorporating the use of an orchestra, the Orchestra dell'Unione Musicisti di Roma. It's a very good album, although not representative of BMS's style. The band also simplified their name to Banco.

Nel Cielo e Nelle Altre Cose Mute


Canto di Primavera (1979) saw bassist Renato D'Angelo being replaced by Gianni Colaiacomo, and after this the band entered a period in the 80s which is of little interest to prog fans, moving in a light commercial pop direction that is distant from their first works. Due to the limited success they had outside Italy with their albums with English lyrics and also due to the shutdown of Manticore in 1977, Banco decided to exploit Di Giacomo's remarkably vocal gifts with more marketable songs. In 1983, Gianni Nocenzi left the band for a solo career and he's never rejoined the band, that kept on playing live, despite a limited record production. The following years saw the coming and going of a number of musicians through a series of critically slated albums, at least amongst the prog community. 

Sono la Bestia


In the 1990s, BMS returned to their prog roots performing live unplugged versions of their 70s tracks and re-recording their acclaimed first album and Darwin! in 1991. In 1994, however they released the lightweight pop rock Il 13. In 1997 a double live CD, Nudo, brings the group to new Italian and international tours, even in Japan. No studio albums have appeared since then, but the band continued with sporadic live activity and released a number of live albums. Perhaps the most interesting of these and the best is Seguendo le Tracce (2005), which captures a stunning concert in Salerno from 1975. In 2002 the band celebrated 30 years since their first album with a great concert in Rome, with Vittorio Nocenzi's brother, Gianni rejoining the band after so long, and a handful of dates, including some unplugged ones, to promote Vittorio's solo album Movimenti. The live CD No Palco, released in 2003 is taken from the Rome event, with the presence of many guests, including Mauro Pagani. The 40-year career of BMS, with the group still playing live, was celebrated by Sony with a box set including a remastered version of the 1972 debut album, a second album with unreleased recordings and an illustrated book. The current line-up consists of vocalist Francesco Di Giacomo, Vittorio Nocenzi on keyboards, guitarists Rodolfo Maltese and Filippo Marcheggiani, drummer Maurizio Masi, bassist Tiziano Ricci and on sax, flute and clarinet Alessandro Papotto

R.I.P. (Requiescant in Pace) live: Festival Avanguardia & Nuove Tendenze, 
Roma 1972 



DISCOGRAPHY
Studio albums

1972  Banco del Mutuo Soccorso
1972  Darwin!
1973  Io Sono Nato Libero
1975  Banco (English versions of songs from the previous albums)
1976  Garofano Rosso (soundtrack)
1976  Come in un'Ultima Cena
1976  As in a Last Supper (English version of Come in un'Ultima Cena)
1978  ...di Terra (with Orchestra dell'Unione Musicisti di Roma)
1979  Canto di Primavera
1980  Urgentissimo
1981  Buone Notizie
1983  Banco
1985  ...E Via
1989  Donna Plautilla (previously unreleased pre-1972 material)
1989  Non Mettere le Dita nel Naso (under the name Francesco Di Giacomo)
1991  B.M.S. (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, 1991 version)
1991  Darwin (1991 version)
1994  Il 13


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