With the imminent arrival of Pink Floyd’s The Endless River — either a collection of outtakes from The Division Bell sessions or an idea of what the band would have been like had Richard Wright had a chance to lead the band — prog rock is at the top of the news cycle.
And what better way to become reacquainted with prog rock than by listening to La Villa Strangiato, CHUO FM 89.1’s dedicated timeslot to celebrate the past, present, and the future of progressive rock? I had some time in June of this year to sit down and talk with the erudite DJ of that show, Gregory Kampf, and it was fantastic. As someone who appreciates prog rock, but is not a fanatic, it was fascinating to listen to Greg expound on the history of prog rock, what prog rock means in the digital age, and what prog rock means for the present and the future.
I went to school with Greg’s wife Helen and I have been friends with her and Greg since those days. Even though Greg and I had not had an in-person conversation with each other in about 14 years, we still knew what we were up to through our regular Facebook updates. So this interview was really more of a friendly conversation, and it shows. I hope you enjoy it.
Part 1: Where did La Villa Strangiato come from?
Can you give me some background on La Villa Strangiato. When did you start?
Hmmm. I’ll even go back prior to that. I’ve long enjoyed progressive rock music. It was introduced to me by my mother Lynn back in the early 90s. She basically pulled out her King Crimson, her Yes, her Jethro Tull LPs from back in the day and said, “Listen to these,” because at the time I was just getting into Rush, the great Canadian progressive-rock power trio.
Then I went off to university and I was spinning the dial one night on the FM band in the fall of 1997. I stumbled upon 89.1 FM, which is the community radio station at the University of Ottawa, CHUO, and I heard something that sounded very familiar. I think it was something by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, or Jethro Tull — one of the great English “Big 6” bands. I was like, “Oh my god, this is prog rock and it’s actually being played on the radio! What is this?”
And I just kept listening. And lo and behold, it was actually a radio broadcast on a Sunday evening by a francophone host who was doing a show called La Villa Strangiato. His name was Yann Grenier and he was working with a fellow by the name of François Laflamme. The two of them were hosting this program that they founded in 1996 and that I kind of found by chance one night on the FM dial.
By 1999 François had left and Yann was looking to move onto other things. He offered me a chance to actually host it and that’s where I came into the mix. I became a volunteer at CHUO that April.
Now when you did that, what was the format of the show? Was it any different than it is now?
It was a little bit different. Today it’s an hour and a half show. Back then, it was also an hour and a half show, but one thing that those guys liked to do, a tradition that they had established and that I continued was having an album of the week, which they called L’albume vedette. So the first sixty minutes of the 90 minute program would be basically a melange, a hodgepodge of different tracks, but the last thirty minutes would be dedicated to featuring a number of tracks, or a suite of songs from one album in particular that was highlighted, so that’s something that I continued. But that fell by the wayside as I passed the torch on to another host when I left for Japan, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.