It's a good thing Alan Parsons is a classic rock legend, because he's a lousy salesman...

"The live show is going to be remarkably unimpressive," he answers when asked what audiences can expect from his upcoming summer shows.

Wait! Music fans, don't rush for those refunds... Parsons is not referring to the music or quality of performance here. Instead he's talking about mere spectacle.

"We normally have a super light show," he enthuses. "But we're on at 3pm in the afternoon so..."


Parsons is coming to New Zealand as part of a powerhouse triple bill that includes Total Eclipse of the Heart singer Bonnie Tyler and Aussie new wave rockers Icehouse.

For this music writer at least, it's the easy pick of the summer festival line-up.

Parsons is the draw. It's the first time the chart topping prog rocker and legendary album producer has ever played here.

"The only time I've been was to promote albums and at that time we weren't playing live," he says. "We didn't start playing live until 1995. So, I'm looking forward to it, I must say."

The afternoon sun may have put an end to his usual lasers and lights but Parsons promises plenty of musical fireworks.

"There's nothing worse than going to see a band and all they play are obscure tracks that you've never heard. I actually walked out of a Steely Dan show because I didn't know any of the songs," he laughs.

"People want to hear the hits so that's what we give them."

The Alan Parsons Project is fairly unique among their prog rock peers in that, conceptual as their albums are, they also actually have hits. Plenty of them. Eye in the Sky, Breakdown, Games People Play, Time and of course, the all-conquering instrumental Sirius.

Their record I Robot spent an astonishing 53 weeks in the New Zealand album charts, peaking at number 2, while Eye in the Sky hit number 3 here, settling in for an extended 29 week stay.

It's fair to say that Kiwis know Parsons' music well. So why has it taken until now for Parsons to play here?

Two reasons. Firstly, Parsons' songwriting partner Eric Woolfson just wasn't interested in playing live. Despite being named after Parsons, the Project was a collaboration between the two. Secondly, the technology to recreate Parsons' studio wizardry just wasn't there. In both their minds the Alan Parsons Project was entirely a studio based band.

"The subject never even came up in the early years," Parsons tells me. "There was no expense spared making the albums as extravagant as we liked, orchestration, layers, overdubs, getting in as many musicians as we wanted... Playing live never even came up."

"I can't even believe that I'm playing and singing live now," he laughs. "I never thought that would happen.... I'm a lot more confident now then I was back then."

The pair based albums around varied concepts and themes. Stuff like Edgar Allan Poe's writing (Tales of Mystery and Imagination), industrial science (Ammonia Avenue), gambling addiction (The Turn of a Friendly Card) and the power of femininity (Eve).

But what came first, I ask, the concept or the songs?

"Our modus operandi was finding a concept and then writing songs that fit into that concept," Parsons explains. "It was a very trendy and cool thing to do back then. It became a little out of fashion, but at the time it was the right thing to do.

"Sometime the theme changed," he admits. "We started making Pyramid with a view to basing it upon witchcraft. But that went out the window when we decided that pyramid power and the history and mystique of the pyramids was a really good subject."

Concepts, themes, instrumentals... for many this is why prog is a dirty word.

"It's become a clean word again now!," Parsons says. "It's undergoing a renaissance.

"In our beginnings the punk movement was starting. In fact, it directly coincided with us. But I wasn't in the least worried that we would be overshadowed by punk. It was fun times for music. Music was coming at you in all directions in all different styles. Punk was not something that interested me and I don't think it interested our audience either."

Yeah, I say, there's a vast difference between a four chord blast of punk and the intricately constructed, musically complex grooves of prog I say.

"They used as many as four chords did they?" he laughs. "Wow!"

Who: The Alan Parsons Live Project
What: Summer tour with Bonnie Tyler and Icehouse
When: Queenstown, Jan 21, Taupo, Jan 28 and Whitianga, Jan 29