Interviews

Soul Survivor… The P. P. ARNOLD Interview

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Patricia Anne Cole, better known as P.P. Arnold, took the opportunity to escape an abusive teenage marriage by joining The Ike n Tina Review, arriving in London just as The Swinging ’60s were igniting. Encouraged by Mick Jagger to break away from what had become another exploitive situation, she embarked upon a successful solo career, garnering her own hits and working with a veritable Who’s Who of ’60s (and subsequent) movers and shakers. The Nice, rightly revered as the inventors of Prog Rock, were formed to serve as her backing band. A by-no-means exhaustive roll call of other collaborators includes Steve Howe, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, The Small Faces, three quarters of Led Zeppelin, The Bee Gees, The Move, Rod Stewart, Nick Drake… and she was an intimate confidante of Jimi Hendrix.

I was fortunate enough to meet P.P. Arnold in November 2003 when she was guesting on that year’s tour by The Manfreds, alongside Alan Price and Colin Blunstone. Shortly after that I interviewed her (regrettably over the phone rather than in person) in Spain, where she had recently made her home… not on the Costa Del Crime though arguably she risked arrest, so comprehensively had she stolen the show on that Manfreds tour…

(tape starts rolling) … I’m in the process of filling in a lot of blanks because I’m in the process of writing my own book.

I’m looking forward to that…

Yeah. me too. I’m looking forward to getting to it. I’ve done a lot of work but I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m looking forward to speaking to a lot of different people because I want it to be really objective, I want to meet a lot of people that were there and pick everybody’s memory banks to put together a really honest, objective, real true story… warts and all!

Should be quite a story.

It will be!
So, how did the recent tour with The Manfreds go?

The tour went great, fantastic as far as all the gigs, the audiences, the fans… that was all great. There’s always the politics of the business that sometimes make us all wanna stop doing what we do but you can’t stop. I can’t, anyway, because I was born to do this and I’ve been doing it all my life. God has left me with my health and strength so I hope to be able to keep doing it… for the right reasons, you know, not just to be out there and be a celebrity. I always think that the gift … and it is a gift… that God has given me… I think of myself as a healer. As a singer I’m healing, so when I’m singing my objective is hopefully to be able to touch the hearts and the minds of people and help lift them, elevate things and do my bit for love, peace and happiness.

Your voice is such a beautiful instrument on record but when I saw you with The Manfreds I was really struck by the sheer power of it and I guess this must be a legacy of your Gospel background…

Most definitely… it’s also the legacy of being out on the road for 40 years, y’know? That’s gospel, that’s soul, that’s R’n’B. My first years were with Tina, she’s my teacher as far as learning to project and reach out and just let go, really. It’s time that does that and even though I haven’t been able to do my own solo bit, as a result of the politics of the industry, I’m always working with different people. I’ve never stopped making records and recording. I have so much unreleased material, it’s not funny. I’m gonna do something with a lot of the stuff I have… yeah, I’ve never stopped.

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Do you think the record business just doesn’t know what to do with you?

I think so, that’s part of it… and then there’s all the prejudice. Right now I guess I’m dealing with ageism. I’m not 21, I’ve had a lot of experience and the wool can’t be pulled over my eyes that easily anymore. It’s a lot of different things… in the industry, “When you’re hot you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not” and sometimes when you’re not it might have a lot to do with your own personal life. I’ve been through a lot of personal tragedies as well as all the exploitation in the industry so people are kind of scared of that. I’ve found that when things were really hard for me, people just did not want to know. I’m quite a sensitive person so I don’t know how to do that hard, cold-blooded hustling thing. I think that’s been a lot to do with the fact that I haven’t found  anybody prepared to just believe in me and do what has to be done to get me projected as an artist… y’know, it’s a business and the music is only a small portion of it, these days. It’s all about The Biz and you have to find people who are prepared to work really, really hard so you have a chance to get placed and … it’s like Catch 22. I have the support of all the musicians but I don’t get a chance to work with really good producers because I don’t have a record label and now record companies want you to do all the work before you actually sign, you to have have everything in place for people like me before I could get a deal. I don’t have management and I’ve tried doing that whole thing of dealing with my own management and that’s hard. Not only am I a woman, I’m a black woman…

… and you’re a strong-minded, independent woman…

First of all I’m a recording artist, I was a recording artist before I was a performing artist so that’s my love, recording, but I can’t perform because I don’t have any records out there and you need management to be out there in the arena of what’s going on today… I don’t know what’s going on out there.

There are lot of manufactured puppet acts out there …. the executives are happier dealing with those people.


I think there are but for a long time, the companies didn’t really want to pay artists so DJs became the artists of our time, the DJs were being paid to be producers and the singers were just glorified… I stopped doing sessions because people were treating me like a glorified session singer and they wanted me to sing behind people who couldn’t even sing. I turned on Top Of The Pops and there was somebody miming to my voice on The KLF’s 3 Am Eternal. I even did records… it’s not just pop, it could even be gospel… I worked with The London Gospel Community Choir then I turned on the TV and they had some young girl miming to my voice, I mean, nothing is sacred in the industry. The whole thing about having to sing behind people who don’t have talent, well, I’ve been out here too long and I take a certain pride in myself. People might say: “Who does she think she is? She needs the money, why isn’t she doing session work?” The answer is, I got tired of people just prostituting my sound, they want me to go in and do demos, to  give my sound away, which can’t be done because – thank God – my sound is distinctive. It can’t be copied, but people try to and I think: “Well wait a minute, I’m not finished yet!” I’m not gonna give my sound away so that when I’m getting ready to do something people say: “She sounds like someone…” who’s sounding like me! It’s just ridiculous…

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Being a child of the ’60s I kinda thought for a while there I was quite revolutionary about what was going on, then when I did stuff with The Beatmasters, like Burn It Up, I couldn’t get a record deal, there I was in the Top Ten and I couldn’t get a record deal and all those guys who worked on the record were being given record deals, I was the only live element on the record and I couldn’t get a deal so I just thought: “OK what am I gonna do? I’m gonna get my own record company!” So I did that, I formed Full Circle Productions and Full Circle Records and I wrote this song after Burning It Up called Dynamite, with the late Kenny Moore who used to play keyboards for Tina and The Beatmasters produced it for me. I went out there and tried to do it myself, without any backup and basically I couldn’t compete, I couldn’t afford to give records away to record shops which is what the record companies were doing so I just couldn’t compete. I had a video and everything, on the underground scene the record did really well but I couldn’t get the support I needed to cross that record over to the Top 40 where it needed to be.

At one point I believe there was an attempt to turn you into a punk star!?!

They wanted to, I rebelled against that and sometimes I think I should have gone along with it, gone out there and established myself a bit more. That was right after I worked with Barry Gibb. There was so much politics going on with that…

What was the story of why that stuff never came out?

Well, the Bee Gees split up so they had their own internal politics. I’m an artist that’s always tended to be produced by other artists so if you’re working with somebody who’s got internal politics like the Bee Gees had at that time, you get caught up in those politics and Barry wasn’t with Robert Stigwood. My relationship was more with Barry than it was with Stigwood, who didn’t know what to do with me, basically. He had signed me because Barry was producing me and Ahmet Ertegun said: “Wow!” Barry and I did a little acoustic set at a dinner party Ahmet was at and Ahmet turned to Stigwood and said: “Stiggy – why haven’t you got this girl signed up?!?” and Stigwood told him: “We’re getting all the paperwork together and we’re signing her next week” which he did, because he realised that Ahmet was interested, but he didn’t sign me for the right reasons, to give me direction. My relationship with Immediate and Andrew Loog Oldham was a proper management relationship, direction orientated…

Immediate sounds like it was a real family thing…

It was a real family thing, it was really sad when all that broke up behind the greed and drugs and all the other politics that went down there. It’s really funny, Andrew waited too late to kind of own up and fix things, there. I’ve been in touch with him in recent years… it’s a pity not only for all the artists but for him as well because he really knew what to do.

You were really tight with The Small Faces…

Yeah, we were just like the brother and sister group of Immediate, we were the babies, all the same age and all like mates. My relationship was really with Steve, he was like my brother, my soul brother, y’know what I mean, we were all that same age and Immediate also had the whole thing that was going on there… I had always been inspired by the whole Motown thing and we were all into that concept of having so many great artists on one label, the idea was for people to write for each other and produce each other and record together and that’s what we were doing. We were all friends, we use to do all these great tours together and just work together really closely.

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People like Oasis, Paul Weller and Ocean Colour Scene are fans of that music and certainly in the case of Oasis they’re trying to be what the Small Faces would have called “ravers”… bad boys, but without any of The Small Face’s charm and certainly nothing like their talent… is there any comparison in your mind between these acts and what was going on in the ‘60s? How do Oasis, e.g. compare with The Small Faces?

They don’t. Neither does Ocean Colour Scene. Paul Weller’s got his own thing, but to me, neither does Paul.

I agree.

I had a horrible, nightmare experience with Ocean Colour Scene. I don’t think I’ll talk about that now, I’ll save it for the book. Basically a lot of intimidation and stuff went down, there were a lot of egos going on and I wasn’t impressed. A lot of promises went down and they all wanted me to be there for them but when it was time for them to be there for me, they weren’t, so… same old story. There’s the real deal but there’s a lot imposters out there as well.

Tell us something about what happened when Immediate went on the rocks…

We were all so young, we were just kids, you know? I really didn’t know the inner working of the business, who Andrew Loog Oldham was, when I first came over here as an Ikette. I knew nothing about the music scene here in England, I knew nothing about the past history of pop music in London so I just put my trust in Andrew and Mick Jagger, really. Mick was the whole reason I stayed here, he wanted to produce me. I was working with Mick and Andrew at Immediate then The Stones split from Andrew so there I was with Andrew and The Stones were off making more money somewhere else…

You knew nothing about the British scene but you arrived slap-bang in the middle of it at its creative zenith…

Exactly, which is why I think if I do stand a chance at regenerating my career it will be for that reason, because of the work that I did at that time… exactly what happened, being a part of all that. There weren’t too many female artists out there and the ones that were out there weren’t on the same scene that I was on. I was on the road with the whole rock’n’roll side of everything, even though I was recorded as a pop artist and the songs were mostly pop hits… First Cut Is The Deepest and Angel Of The Morning rather than R&B, but my stage act was always an R&B, soul, pop, rock crossover thing, I was doing that long before Tina started doing it which probably gave Tina a lot… I mean Tina’s Tina, I couldn’t give her anything but I think after being an Ikette I  broke away from that and was able to make it on a solo level without any history behind me, which probably had a lot to do with motivating her to cut loose and get away from Ike. I wouldn’t be surprised if the thought did cross her mind a couple of times. I mean, she wasn’t allowed to see me after I left, she would come back to England but Ike tried to keep everybody away from me because I was a bad example for an Ikette…

So it was as bad as portrayed in the movie…

Oh yeah it was as bad as that but there was a lot of good things that didn’t get portrayed in the movie…

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Ike was such a talented guy…

He was, Ike was like one of the young blues men and a real trend setter for what was to come…

He made the first rock’n’roll record, Rocket 88, but never got the credit for that because he was a black guy…

Well hey, let’s be honest, even Chuck Berry… he got what was due to him eventually, but look at everything he had to go through in the meantime. That’s how it went and how it still kinda goes unless you’re really strong and you do the whole independent thing. I’ve been on the independent trail for a long time which is why I’ve got all this unreleased material. I’ve recorded so much. You know a guy called Chas Jankel?

…of Blockheads fame? Sure!

Well, we’ve got an album’s worth of material that we’ve written, recorded live with great musicians… some technology but mostly real live stuff. I’ve also done a lot of stuff with a guy called Tony Remy, he’s played with a lot people… he’s just been on the road with Annie Lennox. He did all the guitar stuff for Craig David, he’s worked with Phil Collins, he’s a great guitarist, just this young Jamaican guy who’s got this great feel. I’ve done a lot of stuff with him. Chip Taylor and I have tried to do an album but its just so hard to do when you don’t have the facilities right now. I’ve got a whole production package together that I want to get in the studio and do right now, I’ve been trying to do this album for the last two years and suddenly everybody’s doing a classic soul album. It’s gonna happen and hopefully it’s gonna happen this year, I’m just getting down and getting this book finished because I know the book, I need the book.

Will there be more touring?

I always wanna tour, I always wanna work. The reason I’m not touring at the moment is not because I don’t want to but I’m stuck in Catch 22… I can’t tour if I don’t have a record out and I can’t put a record out if I don’t have a record deal so I dunno, this whole year is about breaking chains. Chip has actually written me a great song called Break These Chains and that’s what I’m working on this year, breaking those chains…

Are you still writing yourself?

I am. I haven’t been writing songs lately because I’ve written so much stuff that’s backed up. I’m really concentrating on the book and I’ve been touring a lot, I’ve been on the road with Roger Watters since 1999, the only year I didn’t tour with him was the year I moved to Spain and was studying Spanish and renovating this house, then I did the tour with The Manfreds at the end of last year.

Does Waters live up… or down… to his “difficult” reputation?

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He’s fantastic! I’ve heard a lot of stories about Roger, but all I can go on is my experience of him. He’s a great man as far as I’m concerned… very professional, his standards are very high and that’s where they should be. He’s very generous, I have no problems whatever with Roger… I don’t have really have problems with anybody because everybody has their own personality and what people feel about his personality, that’s up to them. It’s like people always asking me what I know about the inside story of Ike and Tina’s personal life, whether Tina’s a lesbian or whatever and I just say: “Look, I don’t know that part of them, I just work with people.” I have always been my own entity, since I was 17 years old when I went on the road, I had a child and was involved in an abusive teenage marriage. I had two kids, I have my own life, I love what I do, I’m good at what I do and I like working with people who are also good. I like working with great artists and musicians and Roger is a great artist.

Back in the Ike and Tina days, did you have any connection with Phil Spector?

I never got to know Phil Spector… the Ikettes and I were really young girls, like Maxine Knight, who had been with Joe Cocker… Gloria Scott… y’know, we were the personification of teen girls of our time. We knew all the hot moves, we were at the start of the whole “go-go girl” scene and we were really naive, very green and had never been out on the road. We were behind Ike and Tina, we never got invited to any special parties or introduced to anyone or anything. I never even had a conversation with Phil Spector.

We hear that The Stones treated the Ikettes better than Ike and Tina did…

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Well you know, Mick was great. Mick knew that I was really unhappy when we came to do that tour, he and I became really close friends. We were lovers for years, a lot of people know that but they don’t really know the whole story, which will go in my book one day. We were just friends, he used to make me laugh… when I first saw this guy at the Albert Hall, trying to dance and sing the blues, that was just the funniest thing I had seen in my life. We used to laugh at The Stones, they used to laugh at us, they were in the back, you know, watching the… OK, the booty, but we were all young, we were just kids having fun. Mick was my friend before he was my lover and he really, really helped me, he saw something in me that I hadn’t even seen in myself. If it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t ever have been a solo artist, it was his idea for me. Andrew had the record label and he would produce half the album, so I should stay in England. After I stayed we were seeing each other and Ike was pissed off over that, because he didn’t have any control over me, so he was fining me for everything and I decided I was going to leave anyway. I had been with him for two years, had definitely seen enough there… I couldn’t deal with all the violence that was going on, that was really affecting me because I already had a history of that myself. I love Tina dearly and I couldn’t stand all of that heaviness so I mentioned to Mick that I was gonna leave when I got back to The States and the next thing I knew, he made me this proposition for me to stay in England and become a solo artist…

Was he a real, “hands on” producer or was that just some kind of honorary job description?

No, he was my producer… he opened up my whole creativity. I had never even thought about writing a song! He came back early from meeting the Maharishi to produce our track and I really appreciated that because everybody had gone away, the Beatles and The Stones, to meet the Maharishi… not in India, I think it was in Ireland somewhere.

It was Bangor in Wales…

… in Wales, right…

That was round about the time that Brian Epstein died…

That’s right and we went in that studio and we didn’t have a clue what we were going to do so everything we did, it was done with Mick producing and he encouraged me to write. He produced and got it all together, yes he was a “hands on” producer.

You were asked to sit down and write songs and I think the first one you came up with was Though It Hurts Me Badly… I mean, that song could have come out the Bacharach and David songbook, quite an achievement for a young girl writing her first song.

Well those were my influences y’know? I mean, Aretha Franklin first and foremost, who was influencing me back when I was singing in Church… the first thing she did, Never Grow Old, that was one of my first solos when I was a little girl… but also Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Martha And The Vandellas, Mavis Staple… that’s me, that’s the heart of me, they were my influences. Dionne Warwick… I love Dionne. From my own experience, that song was about my relationship with Mick. It was my first inter-racial relationship and that’s what that song is all about, so all of those things went in there. I don’t know how to do this thing in a contrived way… if you sit in a room with the right people and the right energies come up out of the ether then something good is always gonna happen so yeah, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing… I still don’t (laughs) but I love collaborating with people because for a long time I didn’t believe that I was a musician, until I came to the realisation that my voice is this instrument, and that all of the melody that I hear in my head is what it’s all about.

Somebody that you never collaborated with, but I know you used to hang out with, was Jimi Hendrix…

We hung out all the time. Jimi was my brother, he lived right around the corner and we were both came to England at the same time. Jimi was like a strong support for me as far as my identity in the middle of everything that was going on… we were kinda like a support system, identity wise, for each other. I just participated in a documentary about Jimi and it was the first time I ever spoke about my relationship with him… it was very strong and powerful and it helped me to stay grounded during that period. He helped me… unfortunately I wish I could have been more help to him. I think I was, to a degree, but he was just bombarded, you know…

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He helped you to stay grounded but ultimately he couldn’t stay grounded himself…

It was easier for me being a girl I was quite shy and very withdrawn, even though I was out there… it’s a very different thing. I’ve never been a party girl, y’know, I did my fair share of partying but partying to me was work. I’ve always been in clubs so being in a club is no big deal, it’s just like being at home but I’ve never been one of those bad party girls and I had my own responsibility just being an artist myself and I didn’t know anything about that. I didn’t really go after it, I didn’t have an ambition to be a solo singer, I didn’t have any ambition to be a secular singer either, I mean… one day in my life changed my direction, the day I met Tina Turner. It was a freaky day when that audition came up, I never planned to be in show business…

You went to that audition just to support your friends, right?

I went to help them out yeah and at the same time time I needed some help out of the situation I was in… and that’s what the Universe sent me to save me from that and looking back on it now, that’s how I see that and it was the same thing with Jimi… but Jimi knew more about what he was doing, he had gone after this plus he was, you know what I mean… he was The One! So everybody wanted to be with Jimi, all the girls and all the boys, too… the Stones, Eric Clapton… everybody wanted to be around Jimi and Jimi Hendrix had to come round to my house to get some peace and quite and drink a cup of tea and rest up because his house was always full!

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He was bombarded, plus he was older… those guys were all like 4-5 years older than me, I was the baby with the Small Faces, me and Steve Marriott were the babies.

You said you were shy, but in Keith Emerson’s autobiography he says that he was really bashful about meeting you because you had some kind of front and having met you, I know exactly what he means…

Yeah, I was shy but I would pretend not to be. What I was doing then was just a front, to protect myself really. I didn’t know what was going on, I really didn’t have a clue. When everything fell apart at Immediate, I was lost but they all knew what they were doing, that they were moving towards certain things in themselves and certain ambitions within the industry and they knew how that industry worked.  

Was it only in retrospect that you realised what a Golden Age you’d been living through and working in?

Well of course I realised that a lot was going on because I was an American woman in the middle of this sort of musical revolution that was happening in England and at the same time the civil rights movement and all that stuff in Vietnam was going on so I was aware but at the same time, y’know, when you’re young you tend to take things for granted, you think everything’s going to last forever. I don’t think anybody really knew what was going on in the business that much, it was a new scene going on but we didn’t know what it was, we just loved the music and we were playing that music and sort of moving with the times. What was going on business-wise, nobody knew… that’s why we all got ripped off!

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I had a vision of me… I mean that Kafunta image of me, that we put out there on the cover of my second album, was where I was going, culturally, within myself. I had to get to grips with my roots in England, in The States, that whole Afro identity thing was going on in America and I was over here in England trying to grow up and realise who I was and at the same time doing this whole thing being in the music industry and like you said, being right in the middle of it all with two children. I had my babies with me which, I think, saved my life, my kids saved me really because I couldn’t go that whole drug route that everybody else was going on, that whole party scene, I couldn’t do that because I had to work and look after my babies…

Just looking at the cover of Kafunta… what an amazing image. What is the story behind that?

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Well, there was this famous hairdresser at the time called Leonard’s of London and this was Andrew’s idea, he got this guy over from Leonard’s and put that together, the whole thing with the hair…

Was any of it photographic trickery? It looks at least like you’ve got major lash extensions going on there…

Oh, that took hours, we had ostrich feathers for eye lashes, that was a whole make up deal. I remember we had done it for Top Of The Pops and we had forgot that this was before colour so all that colour in my hair showed up white and looked awful! I think it was at the time that we had a showdown with Billie Davis, it was a question as to who would take it higher.

When The Nice went out on their own and became such an influential band in there own right, did it make you proud that they used to be your backing band?

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I was always aware of how good they were… I went home to get my kids and when I got back, Andrew had stolen my band… but they were always their own entity. If I had wanted to get all political about it I would have registered the name and kept it because it was my name which I gave to them but it was OK… they were great and they had their own thing and that was fine.

We hear different versions of the story of how that name came up and who came up with it…

It was definitely from The Nazz, Lord Buckley’s The Nazz which we all used to listen to… Steve and The Small Faces, we used to hang out and listen to Lord Buckley and there was also the whole thing of everyone saying “Nice one!” It was the combination of all that and I just said: “Why not call them the Nice?” Some people day that Steve told me to call the band The Nice but that’s not right, it was my idea but Steve and the influence of The Nazz and “nice one” was part of it. There are a couple of people who know that, that’s one of the great things that you keep meeting people who remember stuff… you can’t remember everything.

Another future prog rock luminary that you worked with was Steve Howe…

Oh, Steve worked with me on when I opened up for Eric and Delaney and Bonnie… he was in my band along with Ashton, Gardner and Dyke. He’s a sweetheart. I did a track with him recently, an unreleased Bob Dylan tune. I’d like to get that track for my anthology. We did it for his last solo album, on which he used lots of different singers… Portraits Of Bob Dylan… and Steve was as lovely as ever. Some people never change and he’s one of them… lovely guy!

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You did that performance with The Nice that people still talk about, at the Windsor festival in 1967…

That was when they released the doves for peace… yeah, that was a great day, I remember it well. The Cream were on and I remember that Ginger Baker was totally out of it (laughs.)

Eric Clapton actually produced some material for you, didn’t he.

He did and I am trying so hard to get my hands on that stuff! I saw Eric recently for the first time in many, many years because you try to get to people and everybody is protecting them from people who they think want something off them because of their celebrity. I mean, I haven’t seen Mick in years either. There’s no way that people can just forget me, though when I saw Eric at the Albert Hall I also saw Rod Stewart and he tried to pretend he didn’t know who I was! That’s a big joke… people who are so full of their own self that they can’t see what’s right in front of their face…

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It’s said that when Jagger produced sessions of you singing with Rod Stewart, Rod just couldn’t keep up with you…

That’s the last time we actually saw each other, because that session… the whole thing with Rod and I should have been really great. I was actually going out with Rod at that time and Mick produced the session on my insistence, because I knew Rod… Mick had us doing the Wilson Pickett song, Come Home Baby and when a guy and a girl get together, you’ve gotta get the key right because otherwise one will be too too high, the other will be too low. Anyway, Rod kept changing the key to find one that he sounded good in, he could have cared less about whether I sounded good or not. But I was comfortable in all of them and that really annoyed him. The track came out OK but I’m just singing in this really high key and yeah, we just fell out after that. I was fed up with Rod by this time anyway, because he’d always been very arrogant and self-centred but he got me good, because the next thing I knew when I was in LA in 1977… this was the year that I lost my daughter… and I tried to contact Rod in LA and he just fobbed me right off and he got the bigger hit with First Cut Is The Deepest, so I guess he figured that he got me back for that night…

Yeah, but your version is way better…

Yeah, but he made the money and he never, ever mentioned me or gave me any kind of credit at all, I mean right now that song we did has been released on so many albums of his but it hasn’t been released on any albums of mine yet and on the albums of his, if I get a mention it’s like, “featuring” P.P. Arnold, it’s not mentioned as a duet. He could make that clear and help me out, y’know, but it’s like in the 70’s people became stars and now it’s all like a celebrity circus so if you’re not up there and you’re not out there on that financial level… I mean I’m still out there on an artistic level now, but like they say, money talks and bullshit walks…

You worked with Nick Drake, whose profile has risen so high since his death…

It has. I remember doing the session… or was it sessions? I didn’t really know him beyond that session. I did so many sessions in those days and you were doing your own thing but you were in demand because you had your own authentic sound… me and Madeline Bell, Doris Troy as well, Lesley Duncan and even Linda Lewis. I got that gig through Doris Troy. I mean, I’m a Libran, so I know what it’s like to be intimidated by people, but Doris Troy would have intimidated anybody.

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What a talent…

What a talent and what a leader, Doris taught everybody how to get their money, you know, she was a New York girl and she knew how to do that. Not only that, she was like a mother figure, really encouraged everybody and helped them believe in themselves.

How do you feel about your work in the musical theatre compared to doing your own shows?

Well it’s all different stuff, as you know. I’ve never stayed in the musical theatre that long because I like doing a show where you can go in and do things that have never been done before. I like doing really innovative things so when I did Catch My Soul that was fun, I like the rehearsal period then after the second month I’m ready to move on because I’m getting bored. It’s just like too technical and I’m a soul singer. It’s fun, I love being part of the creative process of something that’s never been done, I love that. It was the same with Starlight Express… that was a big thing for me because that was when I moved back to England after doing some TV work in Hollywood and I came back in to the industry on roller skates… I skated back into the business! It was a great show and it was something that’s never been done before, a great cast of people and it was just fantastic but after the first year that was it. The theatre is really hard work, they want you to work real hard and it doesn’t pay that well so you’re doing 8 shows a week and it’s really really hard work plus you really have to fight for your money. Basically, after the first year of Starlight Express they didn’t really want to pay you anymore, it’s all the politics again and there I am with no manager. From that time on I’ve been out here with no management and nobody likes doing business with an artist, especially a woman and definitly not with a black woman…

You appeared with P. J. Proby in Catch My Soul…

Yep, I did…

Is he as much of a nut as people make out?

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Yes he is, he’s a nutter. We didn’t get along at all, because P. J. is from The South, you know and he’s a real red-neck and I am like revolutionary about all that stuff so we didn’t get along at all. He was in his heavy, heavy drinking period. Working with him was hard… first thing in the morning you have to work with somebody and he’s already drunk on wine, and I was Bianca, they beefed up the role of Bianca for the show because in the play, she’s not a major part. We fell out over his idea of how he wanted to deal with my character, he was seeing me as a black wench and he had that whole heavy thing going on… at one of the rehearsals for the fight scene he hit me and said it was an accident, but I wasn’t so sure and it created a big scene with the whole company because there were a lot of black people in it. Anyway, enough said about P. J. … I hear he’s back on the retro ciruit as well.

Didn’t Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones both work on your records?

John Paul yes, he did the arrangement for Angel Of The Morning and of course I knew him from being out here but Jimmy Page… I didn’t really work with until recently. Who’s the other guy from Led Zeppelin that he reunited with?

Robert Plant.

Yeah, they did an album recently and I sang on that, the last album they did.

Walking Into Clarksdale?

Yeah, Walking Into Clarksdale… thanks for reminding me, now I can tell the PRS! (laughs)

You’re more than worthy of your own anthology or box set or whatever…

I wanna do it… I tell you, this is the year I’m gonna break these chains so, y’know, I’m definitely going to try to do it.

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Categories: Interviews | Leave a comment

Another Film Worth Watching: AN INTERVIEW WITH LORENZO DE STEFANO.

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If you read my recent rave about Californian prodigy Rachel Flowers… or discovered her (as I did) through her astonishing clips on Youtube… however you discovered this musical phenomenon, I imagine you’ll have been anticipating Lorenzo DeStefano’s documentary about her, Hearing Is Believing, as keenly as I have. A review of the film follows shortly on this blog but in the meantime, I had the great pleasure of interviewing its director…

Lorenzo, thanks for talking to theozymandiasprogject. How did the recent premiere of Hearing Is Believing go?

The June 9, 2016 advance screening in Ventura went amazingly well. 2 screens. 400 people. Tremendous response. Much warmth, many tears, and a whole lotta love for the film and for the family that inspired it. The audience responses were just incredible… (* a sampling of them reproduced at the end of this interview – Oz.)

Those are some pretty impressive testimonials there… for anybody who isn’t yet aware of the phenomenon that is Rachel Flowers, what would you tell them about her?

Rachel’s given abilities and the music that is her inspiration make her a talent that cannot be ignored. She’s a survivor who is fast maturing into a consummate musical artist.

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How did you first encounter Rachel’s music, then the lady herself and her family?

I was introduced to Rachel by Hans Ottsen, a prominent Ventura jazz  guitarist and friend. He said he had a new trio and that I should drop in and hear Adam Clark on drums and a young woman named Rachel Flowers on keyboards, flute and vocal. That was January 18, 2014 @ Squashed Grapes here in Ventura. Hans had told Rachel & Jeanie that I was a filmmaker whose work he admired. They weren’t actively looking for a film to be made, though I did learn that several people had approached them over the years but none had followed through, leading them to believe it would never happen or that film makers talk a good game but don’t deliver. For their own reasons they agreed, two months after we met, to discuss the possibility of a film. Before 3 months had elapsed we were filming, so I guess it was meant to happen when it did. 53 days and 21 months of filming later we’d completed production on the film, which had an editing schedule of 12+ months and over 300 hours of material to go through. At this point, some 30 months after we met, we consider each other very close friends as well as allies on a mission. “Team Rachel”, as it were. Everyone on that team believed she was fully deserving of the imaginative and insightful film that we have made about her. There’s a closeness that comes from having collaborated on something very special, a vehicle that will not only have its own life as a film but fuel Rachel’s rise to prominence on the international music scene.

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I imagine it was a no-brainer from the word go that you’d want to make a film about her?

It was a non-brainer that she was a very special musician. How special a person she is and the dynamics of her family life came later. This has been a very big effort for such a little person, a “neighbourhood girl”. But then Rachel always seems like a huge presence to me.

You’ll see from the new trailer ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDcUT00zBek ) that we’re trying to orient the audience by putting Rachel and her story in the context of this fucked-up world we live in, i.e. that there’s room for something else on our radar, not just the horrors, the noise out there. We’re counting on that, along with some inside politicking by us and our supporters, to get this on the radar of film distributors and music labels in the weeks and months ahead.

How did you go about funding it?

Over 150 contributors worldwide, from $10 to $40,000 at the high end, people who’ve known of Rachel for years via Youtube, new recruits to what we’re calling “Team Rachel”, and friends and longtime supporters of mine. $122,000 raised to date (in 2 years) out of a projected budget of $300,000. Never had a project click like this before. Probably never will again. Amazing support system based on love for Rachel and trust in me. It doesn’t get any better. It puts a lot of pressure on me to deliver, but that’s been a good thing. Now I feel we need to fulfil Rachel’s dreams and help her launch a major musical career. She and Jeanie will need professional and hopefully first rate representation & booking help to get there. Clearly the film and Rachel will proceed side by side for all time, which is a good thing.

Will Hearing Is Believing be playing at any festivals?

We just completed the film so it’s out now to domestic and international festivals for consideration.

Please tell us about the participation in it of people like Dweezil Zappa and Keith Emerson…

Both Dweezil & Keith knew about Rachel before I showed up, Keith especially. He let her play his rebuilt Moog before he even did, which was amazing. It’s sad he isn’t around to see her blossoming on film and in life. I was days away from sending him a cut of the film when March 10, 2016 came around and Keith was gone. The Emerson Tribute Concert in LA in May, as you know, put Rachel in front a whole new crowd, audience & musicians, and did she shine or what? Keith would’ve been smiling wide.

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Dweezil had heard about her incredible covers of Inca Roads, Peaches en Regalia & Zoot Allures. He didn’t actually meet her until NAMM 2015, where we filmed their first encounter and where he invited her to play with Zappa Plays Zappa any time she liked. It was four months later, on April 25, 2015, when we shot the amazing sequence at the Brooklyn Bowl in Vegas, where she plays keyboard on Inca Roads and does a fierce guitar duel with Dweezil on “Montana”. Got the audience chanting “Rachel, Rachel, Rachel”. That was pretty incredible. She was stunned, as we all were.

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What sort of a distribution is the film is going to get?

As first-rate as we can get, both theatrical, VOD, DVD, and all the related ancillary markets, domestic & foreign. It’s a long road to get a film like this to the public. There are lots of obstacles along the way. But, as Jeanie so wisely says in the film, “It’s marathon not a sprint”. People should stay in touch with our website & Facebook pages for updates on screenings, distribution, music gigs, etc.

<http://www.rachelflowersfilm.com/

<http://www.facebook.com/HearingisBelievingFilm>

HEARING IS BELIEVING CROWDFUNDING VIDEO (2:53)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjXfY43bEI0

https://www.facebook.com/RachelFlowersMusic/

Please tell us something about your previous music-themed films, Los Zafiros – Music From The Edge and Talmage Farlow..

Los Zafiros were “The Cuban Beatles” during the ’60s. My film reunited the two surviving band members, Manuel Galban and Miguel Cancio, and told their story to a backdrop of archive newsreel footage depicting life in Cuba at the height of The Cold War. The intention was to introduce them and their music to a whole new audience which I believe they deserve.

Tal Farlow was expected to follow his father into a dead end job in the textile industry in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was born in 1921. Instead he taught himself guitar, listening to the jazz greats on the radio and worked his way up through dance bands till he was playing with the likes of Buddy DeFranco, Artie Shaw and in the Red Norvo trio with Charles Mingus. In 1958, at the top of his game, Tal retired from the music scene to become a sign painter in Sea Bright, New Jersey, a lovely East Coast beach town with a view of Manhattan. When asked why, the explanation he offered was: “It didn’t suit my temperament, I guess.”

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This is the most fascinating thing about Farlow, isn’t it… that he just walked away from his glittering musical career?

I’m a failed jazz guitar player from Honolulu and Tal was one of my heroes along with Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel, Johnny Smith, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, et al.

God, I love Grant Green…

Tal always seemed to be the most unusual musically, the most daring, a guy who hung it all out over the edge without fear of failing (though I found out later, in the filming, that he did indeed have a high degree of anxiety, especially during the “comeback” after the film came out in ’81.) When I first asked him if I could make a film he politely turned me down, said he didn’t think there was anything there to film anyway. Typical genuine modesty on his part, but from my POV, inaccurate. Then I met him at the Concord Jazz Festival in ’78 and he agreed to let me try and raise some dollars, probably thinking I never would or could. While I was trying to put some funding together in ’79 I spent 3 weeks in Sea Bright with Tal and his then-wife, Tina, who was previously married to the very successful Austrian composer Frederick Lowe of Lerner & Lowe. I wrote the outline for the film during this time, did preliminary interviews with Tal, and got to know more about the man behind the myth, as it were. From there we regrouped in 1980 and started filming, on a budget that ended up in the region of $100,000. Making the film, my first long-form project, was really gratifying, the mission to let the public know about a guy whose legendary status was obscured by his early retirement in ’58 (he was only 37.) The 20 years of friendship with him was the real payoff. He asked me to be best man at his wedding to Michelle Hyk in ’98, just months before his death. That was a real honor. And he left me one of his Gibson Tal Farlow models, which I wish to hell I could play.

Could you envisage the situation in which Rachel, after being so intensely involved in her music for so long, could decide that she wanted do something else with her life?

I can’t even fathom what else she would do. As Jeanie says, “Music is her heart”. Check back with me in 20 years…

Thanks, Lorenzo.

Thank you, John.

… and further thanks to Lorenzo for the opportunity to catch a preview of Hearing Is Believing. It totally lived up to my expectations, a beautiful piece of work which I’ll be reviewing here soon.

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* As promised, a selection of audience responses to the World Premiere of Hearing Is Believing in Ventura, 09/06/16…

“Just saw preview of a superb Oscar calibre documentary, ‘Hearing is Believing’. Look out for this unforgettable film.”

“Many congratulations on a superbly moving film. You knocked out the audience tonight. The blood sweat and tears you put into it shone dazzlingly through.”

“The movie was brilliant. Two sold out theatres, the back wall packed with people standing. Director Lorenzo DeStefano asked, ‘Do you think there’s a place in the world for this movie?’ Yes, I do.”

“Wonderful film. Amazing story.  Moving connection with Rachel and her music from the very beginning.”

“Great story, watching Rachel Flowers play is really amazing. She reaches out with music and all you have to do is listen and you’ll know the beauty of sound.”

“Lorenzo DeStefano has directed an extraordinarily sensitive and moving film. I’d see this film again and will recommend it. Not to be missed.”

“The film was really incredible.  It was so empowering.  I was tearing up one minute and then giggling right along with Rachel the next.”

“I enjoyed your film immensely. Thank you, Rachel Flowers, for the music that you make. Hard to put into words the impact of the purity of your composition, but you somehow channeled the soundtrack for life.”


FYI, Lorenzo recommends the following NY Times obit on Tal Farlow

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/28/arts/tal-farlow-77-jazz-guitarist-rooted-i

and advises us that the entire archive for the his Farlow documentary is at Duke University in N. Carolina, preserved for researchers into the indefinite future –http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/farlowtalmage/.

Categories: Interviews | 2 Comments

Return Of The Prog Prodigal… IAN McDONALD Interviewed In 2004

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Forced into the army by disciplinarian parents, Ian McDonald (born 25.06.46, in Osterley) spent The Summer Of Love square-bashing but was out in time to co-create the influential dark psychedelia of King Crimson in 1969. Having answered the obligatory ad in Melody Maker with girlfriend and sometime Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, he became a member of Giles, Giles And Fripp in time to appear in a Dunlop commercial with them (as “groovy guys.”) Shortly thereadter, G,G&F metamophosed into King Crimson, the Prog pioneers whose light burned twice as brightly and half as long. Leaving the band at the climx of a hugely successful U.S. tour in December ’69, McDonald worked as a highly respected session man (for artists as diverse as T. Rex and Centipede) and was a founding member of Foreigner, as well as releasing his underrated solo album Drivers Eyes in 1999. When we spoke in May 2004 his career had just come full circle, with his involvement in The 21st Century Schizoid Band, an impressive collection of Crimson alumni…

Ian, I’m so grateful that you could take the time out to talk. I really enjoyed seeing Schizoid Band last Saturday night in Rotherham and also at the Stables Theatre in Milton Keynes last year…

That was our first gig!

What, the very first one?

Well, the first proper one. We did previously play the Canterbury festival but that didn’t count as a proper gig, it was just running on and running off again

If I was to play the devils advocate, can you tell me what value there is in reassembling these players and reviving this repertoire at this moment in time?

Well, for one thing this group of players has not played together before as a group, we’ve all played at various times in various configurations and its a great opportunity for us to work together, you know, I mean obviously you are aware of your contemporaries and it’s a great opportunity to work with one another but in terms of the material, much of it hasn’t been played for many many years and in some cases it’s never been performed live. It’s a great opportunity to perform these pieces for the public and for ourselves as well, you know it sounds fresh to me, it’s not as if we are reviving old material that has been done over and over again, so its great and I think its valid to do it and the audience are really enjoying it.

Who was the prime mover in  getting the band together?

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Well the idea really was Peter Sinfield’s, the original idea was to put some kind of big extravaganza together, all ex-King Crimson members playing at big venues, going right through the history of the group and that sort of thing, but that original idea got distilled down a bit and became The Schizoid band. Rather than starting out on a big scale we’re starting out with a core group of musicians and building it, allowing it to grow from there. It was originally Peter’s idea though, that’s where it came from.

Will Peter be collaborating with you in the Schizoid Band?

I hope so, yeah, part of the idea of the group is not just to do the same material as the Crimson in the 60’s and 70’s etc, but to bring new, original material to the repertoire and that’s what we’d like to do, in fact next year our hope is to record an album of new material and I would very much like Peter to be involved in the writing of it and I think he would too… so yeah, definitely.

I very much liked the track Catleys Ashes, which sounds good as a studio extra on your “Live In Italy” CD but really takes off live…

That’s an original composition by our singer / guitarist Jakko, yeah a very good piece and that’s the kind of thing we want to bring in. That’s new material, and we do one relatively new song of mine and Peter Sinfield’s called Lets There Be Light from my solo album Drivers Eyes and we do want to record an album or original material, as I said we’re treating this like a real band… it’s not about nostalgia or a “tribute band” or anything… I wish I hadn’t said that, I really hate that whole “tribute band” thing…

It’s more of an organic thing…

Yeah, we’re all original members, every piece that we play, one or more of us was directly involved in the original version of that… its the real thing!

History has repeated itself, with Michael Giles leaving the band at a very early stage…

Yeah…

So what happened there?

Well, that’s a complicated question, but to answer it, he had trouble with the touring and also making the commitment to the band which was very upsetting at the time because everybody else was committed to the group… but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because Ian Wallace who, as everyone knows, has also played drums in King Crimson is now in the group and it’s just gone really well and as I say, it turned out to be a blessing because morale is now that much higher, the musicianship is developing, it’s a really good band and it’s turned out for the better.

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The thing that struck me strongly the other night in Rotherham, in comparison with your show at The Stables, was that Jakko was really stepping out much more as a guitar player… at the earlier gig he was playing and singing well but he was leaving most of the lead stuff to you and Mel Collins,  now he seems to have stepped out of the long shadow of Robert Fripp…. do you think that’s a fair comment?

I suppose so, you’d probably have to ask him how he feels about that… I’m very pleased to see Jakko really stepping out, he just goes form strength to strength. I have an awful lot of admiration for him because either singing vocals or playing guitar on these songs is no easy matter, but to do both at the same time is really quite remarkable. Were very lucky to have him at the centre of the band, up front, he’s also done an incredible amount behind the scenes as well in terms of the organisation, using his contacts and that sort of thing. He’s been invaluable.

When the band was being put together, before you settled on Jakko, was anybody else in the frame for guitar and vocals?

Not really, Jakko’s name came up through Mike Giles…

… who I understand is his father-in-law…

Yeah, Mike suggested Jakko to me in the first place, I wasn’t that familiar with his work but as soon  as we got together for a trial run it worked just great.

Going back to your departure from the original King Crimson, I  just wondered how you felt about it now, and how your thoughts about it have changed over the course of 30-odd years…

Yeah well, you can’t change history. I’ve always said, many times, that it was an impulsive decision. Perhaps I should have given it a little more thought. It was rather an immature thing to do, I wasn’t quite aware of how good the band was at the time and what it was I was leaving, I was a bit sort of cavalier about it, and impulsive. In hindsight perhaps yes, I should have stayed at least for the second album but there’s not much can be done about that and this group, the Schizoid Band, in a way is a little bit of a redemption for me, because we are playing a fair amount of that material which the original band did…

You play all of the first album except Moon Child…

Yes and we do later material from In The Wake Of Poseidon and Red and Islands… and Lizard, so that brings the conversation full circle, yes I feel slightly redeemed playing in this band. It was probably an unfortunate decision to leave, but with hindsight I realise how important the band was…

They say that the candle which burns twice as bright only burns for half as long…

OK, it certainly was like that, it was an odd mixture of personalities and it did burn very brightly for a very short while…

What do you think of the archive releases that Fripp is putting out? Do you have any say in whether they come out or not, or how they are presented?

When anything like that is coming out all of the relevant members are informed, we all sort of stay in touch in that regard and we generally approve of these releases.

Has Fripp made any pronouncement on the Schizoid Band?

I don’t think he’s seen the band live. He certainly supports it, which is nice, you know… support is nice wherever it comes from, but it’s gratifying that he does approve.

I wonder if you had any memories of your guest appearance on the Crimson album Red, which one gleans was recorded at yet another turbulent point in the band’s  history… do you remember it being a particularly difficult session?

I remember doing the session, as far as what was going on around it I wasn’t that aware of the internal politics of the band or what was going on… it certainly took me by surprise and I think John Wetton and Bill Bruford were taken by surprise too, when Robert disbanded the group so suddenly, because I had just agreed to rejoin…

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Wetton / McDonald

I wondered how solid that was, I mean were there any rehearsals with you in that line up?

No, there were no rehearsals… I believe it was in the recording studio after I’d done my solo on One… what was it called?

One More Red Nightmare.

… One More Red Nightmare, right, and Robert asked if I would be interested in touring with the group. I said yeah, John and Bill were really in favour of that, of going out as a four-piece then Robert for his own reasons, I don’t know…

… he was supposed to have experienced some sort of spiritual epiphany or something.

I don’t know about that, it was a difficult time for everybody, I don’t know and I don’t want to guess but it was all a big surprise and a great disappointment, really…

… for all of us. When Sid Smith talks about the album Red in his book about Crimson he says, of the track Starless, something like: “it’s a fantasy King Crimson featuring both Ian McDonald and Mel Collins, imagine how cool that would be” and here you are of course now, both playing horns in the Schizoid Band…

Yeah (laughs)

So what’s it like, playing off Mel?

Oh its great, and again it reinforces the idea of this being a legitimate group, playing this material… I’m really enjoying playing with Mel, we’ve known each other for many years but never actually played together… our contributions to Starless were recorded separately… he’s great to work with.

He seems like a really shy person.

He’s not as shy as me, actually.

Well, you seem pretty shy, too.

Don’t be fooled by that, though.

Well, you’ve got to judge people by what they achieve, and your track record is beyond dispute.

Oh, that’s nice

It’s a fact… speaking of Sid Smith’s book, did you like it? Did you think it gave a balanced picture of what went down?

I did enjoy it, I think it was very fair and well written, yeah… it’s not easy to write about music but he made the albums sound very interesting and actually made me want to listen to them again. He’s a great guy, actually.

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Signing Sid Smith’s In The Court Of King Crimson with J Wetton and M Giles (sidsmith.blogspot.co.uk)

Listening to the material recorded by Giles, Giles & Fripp, both before and after you joined the group, I’m always amazed that that band never got anywhere…

Yeah, perhaps it was a little quirky for the time, I mean they were probably a hard group to market. When I joined with Judy Dyble it was going through a transitional period which turned out to be the transition into King Crimson, so the original trio of Giles, Giles And Fripp wasn’t around for that long in that form. I don’t know if the record company ever really got behind them.

I also think that the album which you made with Michael Giles stands up very well. What do you think of that album in retrospect, and is there any possibility of you and Michael making another?

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The chances of us making another one are very very slim at the moment, but you never know… I don’t know how to describe it really, it’s very much of its time. There was some very good writing on it and I was really glad of the opportunity to remaster it. When the album originally came out there were all sorts of time and budgetary constraints which meant we didn’t really have the chance to put the finishing touches to it. I was happy to go into the studio and just trim it up a bit here and there, now there are some really subtle editing and timing changes, little changes in the silences and that sort of thing… to me it sounds much better now than the original. I’m proud of Birdman as a piece of writing, it’s pretty good, even though I do say so myself.

Presumably you’d agree that the legacy of King Crimson has been criminally underrated, if you consider the influence the band exerted over the likes of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music… Tony Blair recently cited 21st Century Schizoid Man as his favourite song ever, which you might have mixed feelings about…

Oh yeah…

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Is the problem that “Prog Rock” has become such a reviled term?

That’s a big question and it’s hard to answer from the inside, you know… we never really thought of ourselves as “Prog Rock” it’s not the kind of label we’d apply to ourselves and I don’t particularly care for it. The definition of it has sort of narrowed into something medieval with very flowery lyrics… on Court Of The Crimson King, Peter Sinfield deliberately wrote in this stylised, colourful language but the lyrics were actually very current, commenting on the state of things at the time, it was just sort of phrased in this way, but most “Progressive” bands and writers then tried to emulate that style. This applies to the music as well, “Prog” has become a very narrow term whereas originally the idea was to be expansive, more inclusive of other styles of music rather than just the same old “two guitars, bass and drum” rock band format, so we included classical and jazz elements… you’ve got me going on this “Prog rock” thing, now! Going back to your original question, King Crimson obviously have influenced people but whether it’s been for the best or not, I don’t know. I’m proud of what we did and if people are inspired by it then I’m really happy about that, but we never decided to form a “Progressive Rock” band together, it was just the times…

… the Zeitgeist…

Exactly! The opportunity was there, groups were given more freedom in the studio, we were able to produce our own album, you know… The Beatles had a lot to do with what was going on, this idea of using the studio as an instrument and just being free to make the music that they wanted, that impacted on the rest of the music business for a while… after a few years record companies started demanding more control over producers and budgets and that sort of thing again, but there was a time there when bands had a lot more freedom to express themselves in the studio. We weren’t given a lot of time though, I must add the first album was done very, very quickly, eight days from beginning to end I believe, including the mixing.

As opposed to somebody like Boston, who shipped a load of albums and were then given four years or something to record the follow-up.

(laughs) Yeah, that’s what happened later.

We haven’t said anything about Peter Giles yet, he comes across on stage as the joker in the pack…

Oh well, I really don’t know how to respond to that, whether to agree or disagree… but he’s a wonderful bass player and I’m sure that he is really enjoying this opportunity to play in the group. It must have been difficult for him in the beginning when Giles, Giles & Fripp became King Crimson and he was no longer a part of it… I’m sure it must be very satisfying for him to be able to go out and play this music. It’s great having him in the group and I hope he uses the opportunity to really go for it and at the same time take this group really seriously in terms of being a professional, creative endeavour.

The oft-touted reformation of the original King Crimson never happens, is this largely down to the apparent animosity between Fripp and Greg Lake?

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Peter Sinfield keeps Fripp & Lake apart in 1970

As we mentioned earlier it was a very odd mixture of personalities… that hasn’t changed (laughs) and has possibly even got worse as the years go by. I never say never but again, it’s very unlikely that it will ever happen… for a number of reasons. The Fripp and Lake thing might be part of it, there are also other members who might not want to work with each other, it’s a very difficult thing… and I think the Schizoid Band is equally important in a way… I don’t really want to make a categorical answer because stranger things have happened, but it’s really unlikely.

What’s in the immediate future for the Schizoid Band?

Definitely more touring, it’s being set up right now for us to tour The States in the spring, which I’m really looking forward to, then hopefully we can get in the studio that summer and record an album, then tour again… more shows are being organised all the time, and I can’t stress enough that this isn’t merely a one-off, its an ongoing undertaking. We’re going from strength to strength at the moment, morale is good, energy levels are really high and everybody is really relishing this opportunity to play together, to play this wonderful material and to develop, to write new material and we’ll treat it as a viable band, y’know, because that’s what it is.

It’s been a great pleasure speaking to you.

It’s my pleasure, too. I appreciate your interest.

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The Zombies Resurrected… COLIN BLUNSTONE and ROD ARGENT interviewed in 2004

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Few musical careers have proven as paradoxical as that of The Zombies: working class St Albans lads who got lumbered with a toffee-nosed image, they scored the second US number one (She’s Not There) by a British act after The Beatles and topped the Billboard charts again with Time Of The Season, though by that time they’d broken up due to lack of commercial success. Their swan song album, Odessy and Oracle (a psychedelic milestone made without the aid of drugs) failed to sell on its release but is now regarded as an all-time classic. Despite the band’s critical stock continuing to rise in every successive year since the split, Singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist / composer Rod Argent have stubbornly resisted every inducement to return as The Zombies… until now (2004). Touring heavily to promote the new album, As Far As I Can See, with a kick-ass band that includes long-time Argent associate Jim Rodford on bass, his son Steve on drums and Keith (brother of Don) Airie on guitar, Colin and Rod took time out to set the record straight.

Why revive the venerable name of The Zombies at this time?

CB) I know that Rod has thought this through very deeply… the most obvious reasons are that for the first time we’ve got the hit writer from the bad writing specifically for the person who did the lead vocals… we’ve also got a real band identity going, having played with these guys for two and a half years, now… also, when the new tracks were played back there seemed to be a thread linking them with the past, so it seemed like the right time. I’d been resisting the use of the Zombies name ever since we split up, but it suddenly seemed honest to acknowledge that connection. In some melodic terms and in terms of harmonies and chord structures, there were all these resonances from the early days. We try and make it very clear that this is our version of The Zombies, which is why own names also appear on the album cover.

Were any of the other founder members pissed off by this move?

RA) I was most concerned about Chris White, who did a lot of writing, particularly on Odessey And Oracle. I was very careful to explain to him what we were doing, he seemed OK with it and sang on three tracks. When the album came out he wasn’t happy about the way it was presented, but we’ve smoothed things over now. This hasn’t been a contrived thing, it’s very much to do with new material and the way the band has developed and the pleasure of being on the road with them. This is our take on The Zombies, just as Chris has his own take when he put together a different version of the band some years ago… the really sad thing is that our original guitarist, Paul Atkinson, passed away a couple of days ago.

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The original zombies “were the unluckiest band in rock history”. Discuss…

CB) It’s obviously very difficult for us to judge our own position in the hierarchy of rock or whatever, but sometimes I do think there were so many occasions when we were unlucky … for instance, My Girl had been a big hit for the Temptations in America and we were very well aware of it because we were spending a lot of time there and we used to do it on stage. It had never been a hit here and we did a demo of My Girl, we were taking it to our producer Ken Jones when we put the car radio on and Otis Redding’s version of the song came on the radio so that was the end of that. Nobody’s ever been able to find that demo, whenever they’re putting together these complications and box sets, that’s one track they can never find.

RA) I think it’s an overstatement to say that we were unlucky. In some ways we were really lucky. When our first record – She’s Not There – came out, the timing was absolutely impeccable, just after The Beatles had kicked open the gates of America. We just trotted in behind them. George Harrison happened to be on Juke Box Jury when it came out and he loved the record. Stuff like that was extraordinarily lucky, but we should have been managed in a much better way.

CB) We were definitely unlucky when we toured, we weren’t particularly well advised. I could talk to you for hours about The Philippines, it was so weird. We were pretty much kept captive there, which was very unpleasant, playing to huge audiences… we’d agreed to do it, not knowing that we had about half of the records in the Philippines Top 10 at the time. We played to forty-odd thousand people for ten nights. Of course we were getting a pittance, and even though we were very young we could see that somebody was making a killing.

The Zombies’ problems are more usually attributed to what went on in the studio.

CB) Well, we came back from The Philippines to discover that we had a single out called Going Out Of My Head, and the mix on that had been done while we were away. It was really… what can I say? Substandard…

RA) Many of our records had the balls taken out of them in the mixing. We had a very good but very misguided producer, Ken Jones, who was just brilliant on the first session we did, Summertime and She’s Not There. Being of the old school, he tried to analyse what had made it successful and in his mind it was the breathiness of Colin’s vocals. Thereafter he emphasised that above everything else, rather than taking every song on its merits and getting the best out of it. When we tried to get in on any of the mixing sessions, he blew his top. Frustrating, but that’s the way the contract was set up.

CB) We had a manager, who was also our agent… if he’d planned more for the future, he’d have made more money too in the end, but he made a lot of very short term decisions, just took any work that was offíered, and as you say there was the lack of control in the studio. When we started in this business we were so young, I was only 19 when She’s Not There came out. Ken Jones was forever trying to recreate that first, million-selling single, but times had changed, so had we and we were growing up. Ultimately we reached a position where we could produce ourselves, Rod and Chris White were producing…

… and when you finally got off the leash you came up with what is now regarded as an all-time classic album, Odessey And Oracle.

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CB) We went into Abbey Road, we were the next band in after the Beatles had recorded Sgt Pepper, and we worked with the same engineers, Peter Finch and Geoff Emerick. The very studio was like hallowed ground, it was just magical recording there. We used studio 3 and the Beatles had mostly used studio 2, but we were using a lot of the advances in technology that they had instigated, it was a very fortunate time to find ourselves there.

RA) Paul Atkinson and I saw the lash-ups the tape machines… as I recall it was two four-tracks that had been lashed together, one of the tracks was used as synch so it would basically have been a seven track machine. Immediately our eyes lit up, we said: “We’ll have a bit of that” and they were like: “Oh no, we’ve just been through all this for months!” Eight track machines already existed in the The States, we were way behind, but we definitely took advantage of the technical advances that had been worked out for Sgt Pepper.

You must wonder what you could have come up with then if you’d had the benefit of today’s technology.

RA) You use what’s there and sometimes the limitations themselves can be quite stimulating. For the first time we had control and we were the proverbial kids in the sweetshop, but everything had to be done very quickly. Even though we went into the sessions very well rehearsed… for instance on Changes, one of Chris’s songs, we did it as rehearsed and immediately on playback I heard all these extra harmonies in my head. These extra tracks immediately enabled to us to whizz back into the studio and put a whole counter-line onto it.

Is it true that you got the album down on a budget of just £1,000?

RA) A grand, yeah, but when we delivered it to CBS, who weren’t particularly excited about it, they said: “OK but you need a stereo mix to go with it.” Stereo was just emerging as a big deal in popular music, so we said we’d go back and do it, but we were told we’d used up our whole budget so Chris and I had to fork out another £200 for the stereo mixes. Even though it was a very long time ago, it still wasn’t a lot of money, I can tell you.

Odessey and Oracle is now regarded as some kind of psychedelic milestone, though I gather it was made without the aid of any psychotropic substances at all.

RA) Completely! The timing of everything is always very interesting with The Zombies… we recorded that album in 1967, and I had heard of LSD but only just. Dope was around but still very underground. Both of those things only became ubiquitous in the two or three years after The Zombies split, and Argent didn’t get going until 1970 when all that stuff had peaked.

CB) The album had a psychedelic cover, painted by our friend Terry Quirk, that in retrospect became kind of iconic for those druggy times, but in fact I never saw any drugs at all. We were a million miles away from that culture. The most decadent thing we ever did while recording it was to nip out to the pub at lunchtime for steak & kidney pie, mashed potatoes and a couple of pints! None of which is very good for your voice…

Colin, we’ve already mentioned that you’re renowned for your “breathy / delicate / intimate” singing voice… is any of that compromised during live performance by the need to project into the auditorium?

CB) I have fewer problems now than when I was younger. I’ve been working with a coach called Ian Adams who’s helped me to build up the strength of my voice, and you need that to sing for two hours, night after night. I mean, She’s Not There is written in A minor but on the top notes you’re sustaining an A, for like… forever1 In concert we acknowledge our history, including the Argent catalogue and some of those are quite tough rock and roll tunes so, you know, I have to really go for it on things like Hold Your Head Up and God Gave Rock And Roll To You.

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Rod, we’ve talked about The Zombies being unlucky, but Argent have become a very neglected band… long overdue due for a critical reappraisal, I think.

RA) I really hope so, I think that Ring Of Hands for instance, the second Argent album, is as good as anything the Zombies ever did, but the ’70s are still not as fashionable as the ’60s. Also, The Zombies had a lease tape deal so the rights reverted back to us. Carol Broughton manages our catalogue, she’s constantly licensing and relicencing stuff. Unfortunately the Argent stuff is owned in perpetuity by Sony or CBS as it was… there’s not the same sort of cottage industry, hands-on approach that enables things to be built up lovingly over the long term. I don’t have any communication with Sony at all.

When Kiss covered God Gave Rock And Roll To You on the soundtrack of the second Bill & Ted film, how come they got co-writers’ credits with Russ Ballard?

RA) They cut Russ’s line ‘”love Cliff Richard but please don’t tease”, which I particularly like, and substituted something of their own, just changed those few words around and awarded themselves writing credits.

I thought that stuff went out with Chuck Berry!

RA) It still happens, you know?  I won’t name names because I don’t want to fall out with people but they’re in a powerful position, they know the writer needs the financial benefit of them covering the song.

It was interesting to hear what Carlos Santana did with She’s Not There… it’s been suggested that The Zombies would have been more successful with a more upfront guitar sound.

RA) I never thought we could have gone that way, we were what we were… we were up against stuff like You Really Got Me, which has a more immediate impact, but our sound seems to have given us a great longevity. Every week I hear some young band saying something flattering about us and Rolling Stone recently voted Odessey and Oracle the #80 album of all time… it only charted at 92 when it came out!

CB) I think the success we had was down to Rod’s keyboards. Hopefully I contributed something, and we had two prolific and talented songwriters, but without Rod’s keyboards we would have sounded very ordinary.

Apart from guitar bands in the 60’s, the other thing that was in vogue was angry young men from the working class…

CB) They still are!

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But you were lumbered with this image of being a bit “posh”…

CB) When we had our first record out, we went to to meet somebody in the Decca press office and I’m sure the poor bloke thought: “What am I going to do with this lot? They’ve just left school, they’ve done nothing!” so he went on about how many “O” levels we had…

RA) Half the population had the same amount of “O” levels… we were just working class boys, we all came from council estates. That story came out when we had our first hit but in this country we never had another hit, so the story just followed us around and around…

CB) The “O” levels just aren’t very important in the scheme of things… it’s like this other myth, about me being in and out of the industry, I mean I’ve spent about 18 months out of the industry in the last forty years! You asked if we’d have done better as a guitar based band, in fact the one thing I would like us to have done differently is for us to have had more control over our image. Some of the early photos that went out were just awful and they kept coming back to haunt us, no matter how hard we tried to retrieve them from photo agencies.

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Despite the “O” levels you still managed to misspell the word “Odyssey” in the title of your masterpiece…

CB) Well Rod, Chris and Terry Quirk were mostly involved in the album sleeves, I really didn’t have any input at all and for years they told me that the misspelling was on purpose. It was only about 18 months ago that they owned up and told me it was a mistake… I was flabbergasted that they’d gone to all this trouble, I mean I wouldn’t have had a clue how to spell it!

So much for “O” levels… the band’s name proved to be rather prescient one considering that you had your biggest hit “from beyond the grave”, so to speak.

RA) It’s funny how things happen, you know, they often turn on one little incident. Time Of The Season came out in the States and was getting zero airplay, there was just this one guy, a DJ on a little station in Boise, Idaho or somewhere who kept playing it and over six months he worked it up into what became our biggest ever single, selling two million copies in America. In fact although it never did anything over here, it became a big hit pretty much everywhere in the world and despite that and the critical praise for Odessey And Oracle, the album never sold… its highest chart position in America was only about number 92! But 15 years after we broke up, for some odd reason, it gradually started to sell and now, year in year out, that album along with the rest of the zombies stuff, on compilations as well, sells really substantially. Which is bewildering but lovely because it gives us the financial cushion to go out and do what we want to do now.

CB) I know Rod feels we’d come to the end of our creative cycle and it was time to end the band but I think it would’ve been nice to have ended on an up rather than a down. When we finished it was very amicable but it was inevitable that we felt we finished at… not one of our most successful points, whereas if we’d managed to keep the project afloat for another year or 9 months, perhaps we could’ve finished on a big “up” with Time of the Season. By then everyone had got involved in different projects, it was never really ever considered to get back together which I think a lot of people find very difficult but it was just the way it was you know, people were just too involved in other things.

When Time Of The Season became a big hit in The States and internationally, The Zombies were no longer around to capitalise on it and you were faced with the same situation that Fleetwood Mac once encountered, i.e. bogus line-ups of the band going on tour…

CB) I used to have this clipping from Rolling Stone where they asked the manager of the bogus Zombies what was going on and he said that the lead singer of the Zombies – me – had been tragically killed in a car crash and they we’re trying to honour his memory. How weird to read that about yourself!

RA) I didn’t lose too much sleep about it. Some of the other guys got very upset though, particularly Paul Atkinson who resorted to litigation in the end.

CB) It’s very difficult to do that when these bands are on the move all the time. I think all the bogus Zombies just seemed to peter out at the end of the ’60s, although in the late ’80s there was another bunch of English guys touring America, pretending to be us.

RA) That’s why why Chris White put together his own New World Zombies or whatever it was called… I couldn’t be bothered, I think these things always get found out .

CB) With hindsight, we probably should have just let them truck on, because they were obvious impostors. In fact the story goes that they were so bad, a guy pulled a gun on them backstage and threatened to kill them. Apparently that was what made them stop, where all our litigation had failed. So perhaps the gun is mightier than the writ, after all.363552.jpgIn his book on you, Claes Johansen postulated that The Zombies’ unique sound was a result of you aiming for jazz when you began the band but not quite having the chops to carry it off… according to him the result was that you evolved this very sophisticated rock sound instead.

RA) It’s an interesting take on us but I don’t agree with it, actually… I never thought for one moment that we were trying to incorporate Miles Davis influences into what we were doing, I just thought we were a rock and roll band and we just played what came out… 

He did say very sophisticated rock and roll…

RA) I just wanted to be excited, I was caught up in the whole wave of rock and roll, basically, when we started the band. I’d always loved improvising and when we got to the solo on She’s Not There it was just a very natural thing for me to do, not one per cent of me was trying trying to emulate Miles or any jazz I’d ever heard, it just felt right for me on that record at that time. Back in the ’70s I went with Jon Hiseman to see Pat Metheney, who was just emerging as this incredible talent. We were introduced to Pat by Jeff Berlin, who had never heard of me and there was no reason why he should have, but he was amazed when Pat told me: “Oh man, She’s Not There, that’s the record that made me feel like I could go ahead and do whatever I wanted to do.” He was talking about the modal influence I’d had on him and I was thinking there’s nothing modal on She’s Not There but when I went back and listened to what I’d thought was a very simple A minor to D chord sequence, I found the way I’d actually played over those chords was indeed done in a very modal way. I hadn’t thought about it for one second but it probably was listening to all the Miles stuff, along with everything else, that made me fashion it in that way. That’s the way the influences came through, I think. I grew up liking classical music, the pop music of the time was people like Perry Como and when I heard Elvis sing Hound Dog my world was turned around but I didn’t stop listening to classical music and very soon after that, when I was about 14 years old, I bought Milestones and discovered Miles Davis, then the Beatles came along but I never stopped listening to or loving Elvis.

And allegedly the feeling was mutual…

RA) Allegedly… when we were promoting the Zombies box set in about 1998, I did an interview with a DJ in Ireland and I told the story from 1965 when we knocked on Elvis’s door and his dad answered and said he was filming but he would be really sorry he’d missed us because he liked our music and I thought that was just Southern hospitality, because he was a sweet guy and he showed us around the house and everything but I thought it had no more substance than that. But when I was telling this story to the Irish guy he stopped me and said: “Listen, I’m an absolute Elvis freak, and I can’t believe you didn’t know this but Elvis had all your singles on his home juke box”… absolutely amazing!

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You also had a brush with film stardom, scoring and appearing in Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is missing… alongside Laurence Olivier and Noel Coward, no less.

CB) Preminger was a very interesting character but he was a bit of a… he was quite aggressive towards us, but we treated it like water off a duck’s back, really. I did notice that he was an absolute terror to the people he was working with, I saw two or three of them in tears. He was a real shouter but we didn’t take that much notice because he wasn’t really in a position to influence our career very much… certainly an interesting character, though.

RA) I remember Otto Preminger being a complete bastard actually, which was really quite amusing in a way but I could see that he was screaming and shouting at people who depended on him for their income so they had to put up with it, nobody ever challenged him. I was thinking: ” I don’t have to kow-tow to this guy.” I remember one day, we’d endured a recording session that he’d come along to and spent being rude to us so the next day we were filming and when he started I stood up and said: “Don’t ever speak to me like that again, I don’t have to sit here and take all this shit from you” and there was a stunned silence. He jut smiled and he was fine after that, although there was only about another day of shooting left.

CB) The irony is that although we filmed for two very long days, we’re in the film for all of about 30 seconds. I still refer to the time when dear Larry and I were in a film together, we often crack that gag on stage but as I remember it, my face is on the TV in a pub and Olivier walks across the room and turns the TV off… he obviously didn’t think very much of us! 

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www.thezombiesmusic.com

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The Purple Piper Picks A Peck Of Crimson Pepper… PETER SINFIELD Interviewed In 2004

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Having just about invented Prog Rock with King Crimson (in which band he pioneered the role of the non-performing member), Peter Sinfield further refined that much-maligned musical genre by his collaborations with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, taking time out to produce Roxy Music’s landmark first album and their ground breaking, hit single Virginia Plain, then record his own, unjustly neglected solo effort Still. To confound the critics who dismissed his lyrics as airy fairy, obscurist acid casualty stuff, he spent the ’80s and ’90s writing smash hits for the likes of Bucks Fizz, Five Star, Barry Manilow, Cliff Richard, Cher and Celine Dion (the zillion-selling Think Twice). No wonder he was supping champagne during the following exclusive interview.

After his parents divorce, Sinfield (born 27/1/43 in Putney) was brought up in a distinctly bohemian atmosphere by his eccentric, bisexual mother. Blessed with what Robert Fripp would no doubt call “a liberal education for a young man”, Sinfield was eventually faced with a choice between his growing creative aspirations and the dreaded day job…

I left school after my GCE’s and started work as a trainee travel agent. I naively imagined that would enable me to see the world. Since it didn’t I found a job in computers, where, among other things, I got to check the printouts from Pye Records revealing the money made by e.g. the Emile Ford record What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For? i.e. a hell of a lot of money for such a piece of nonsense. It’s possible that planted a seed though it was certainly not the main reason I became a songwriter. Time passed and 5 years later I was auditioning people for my band. Ian McDonald came along. I thought I’d found… Mozart! He could play anything. You might call it luck, but of course I prefer to think I put myself in the position to be lucky.

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Out of the ashes of Giles, Giles and Fripp, King Crimson just exploded onto the scene… what were the factors behind that, and were they the same factors that led to the band imploding shortly afterwards?

(laughs) Wow… they were the same. Rarely have five such talented and interesting people found themselves coming together with such power and such ambition. Later, the same power and ambition caused the break-up of the band, which I mainly put down to Michael Giles. Giles, Giles & Fripp had been good, but they needed Greg Lake and they needed me…. they needed a voice and something to say, to go with the incredibly sophisticated music that they were capable of playing. King Crimson were like nothing anybody had heard before. They’d heard bits of it, in The Moody Blues, in Ornette Coleman and whatever, but never all together in a rock band… with a dash of Donovan on top! As a live act, the cliché is that Crimson people blew people’s minds, and that’s exactly what happened.

Although you were a non-playing member, it’s said your lighting played as much a part in the improvisations as any of the instruments…

It’s half true. I started off roadying and amused myself by building a lighting rig. I did it so well that some people were convinced the music was cueing the lights. I was the one sitting there at the controls and if I thought an improvisation was dragging, I would flick a green light or a blue light and they would take the music to green or blue… sounds strange, but that’s how it worked.

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In the second touring incarnation of Crimson you used the VCS3 synthesiser to treat Boz Burrell’s vocals and Ian Wallace’s drums… were they happy with that?

Nope! Not at all. Ian put up with it. Sometimes that worked very well indeed, usually on Mars, and other times it didn’t. Unfortunately most of the recorded instances are in the latter category. There were much better and funnier ones. Of course Eno later did something very similar with Roxy Music.

He was also a non-playing member of that band, recalling the role that you had in Crimson…

Yeah, but Eno did it with feathers!

Were you amused or horrified when Tony Blair cited 21st Century Schizoid Man as his favourite song?

What he actually said was that Schizoid Man contains his all-time favourite guitar solo, and it is indeed an extraordinary solo. I wish he had said it was his favourite song, because he’s obviously never listened to the words, which are about… justice and injustice. Even the pop hits that I wrote in the ’80s and ’90s had this edge of social comment to them…

… like Heart Of Stone…

 … exactly, thank you! Even The Land Of Make Believe… “Something nasty in Your Garden / Waiting to steal your heart” is my feeling about the political climate of that time.

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Bucks Fizz are considered a bit naff now but they made some beautifully polished pop singles.

Some of my work I can’t listen to, but oddly enough I find the Bucks Fizz stuff holds up really well: You And Your Heart So Blue I like a lot… I Hear Talk, which was ahead of its time with the invasion of privacy thing. I like them. I had to write in the style of Bucks Fizz, and they had some great tunes, big productions…

Your co-writer Andy Hill also produced those records, didn’t he?

Yes. He is magic. I’ve a theory that many good producers and songwriters are mediocre but often anarchistic musos, which enables them to ignore the rules.

Going back to Crimson, you stuck with it through various personnel upheavals, then Robert Fripp announced that he didn’t want to work with you any more…

I was never sacked from King Crimson, because I owned 50% of it. Fripp rang and said one of us had got to go, and of course with a U.S. tour lined up, it was never going to be the guitarist. If I’d been more business-minded or bloody-minded I could have got a 3% override on everything, but at this point I was tired, you know, I just said OK, let it go. Fripp wasn’t happy that I’d been pushing for the music to go in a different direction… something a little softer, warmer, more Mediterranean.

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Something like PFM, the Italian band you later produced?

Exactly! I love PFM!  They’re wonderful players, almost as good as the Crimson guys and they have that great feeling of joie de vivre. Producing them was an excellent experience for me, though we had to do a lot of work on the vocalist’s English.

What did you think of Sid Smith’s book about Crimson?

It was good, though it verged on becoming a list of occasions. I personally wish he’d got more behind the characters, which would have given more clarity to the series of events… to understand Ian McDonald’s situation, for instance, how his parents forced him to join the army, in which he was deeply unhappy for 5 years. All of that pain played a large part in making Ian the person that he is, and I don’t think that comes across in the book. I mean, virtually none of the many characters that have participated in King Crimson, be they good, bad or indifferent, have been uninteresting. And Fripp, of course, is uniquely, forever Fripp…

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Sinfield, Fripp and some Ladies Of The Road

Was it a tense situation making your solo album Still in the same studios where the new Crimson were making Lark’s Tongues In Aspic?

The sessions might have overlapped by a day or so, but I really didn’t notice because I was so busy that I just didn’t have time to notice anything else in the world except trying to finish the bloody album. I had to do everything, at the end of it I just collapsed with exhaustion.

There are some digs at Fripp on Still, and it’s said that the Crimson track Great Deceiver is a bit of tit-for-tat…

The stuff on Still is my How Do You Sleep… it’s pathetic, really. I’m flattered to think that Robert would even have bothered write Great Deceiver about me. Ha! I hope it’s true…

How do you feel about Fripp since your split?

Although initially, in my opinion, he made some naive mistakes – business rather than musical – I have to admit that he’s persevered, learnt and done many good things on behalf of KC, past and present. He’s always been peculiar and I’ve mostly admired that. He’s a good band leader, though he always says he isn’t one… methinks he protesteth too much! He took the band in that urban, metallic direction epitomised by tracks like Red through to the stuff with Adrian Belew. I’m bemused and delighted that the 21st Century Schizoid Band continue to play what he chose to leave behind.

What do you think of the archive releases that he’s putting out?

I have quibbles with some of the covers but it does gives people who never experienced the band an opportunity to hear what all the fuss was about and they do get some value for money. Also, we get paid – not very much, because they don’t sell millions, but it’s a very interesting collection of work that should be heard.

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Original Crimmers…

One gathers that a reunion of the 1969 band is never going to happen.

No, the nearest we got was… after seeing a one-off concert at the Barbican by Gary Brooker, who used to be a neighbour of mine, playing Procul Harum songs with an orchestra and a choir, I mooted the idea that we should take as many members of Crimson as we could get, do the same sort of thing and record it. That got taken over by Mike Giles, who decided to put together a sort of retro King Crimson which became 21st Century Schizoid Band. Fine, except for the fact that Mike annoyed everybody so much… he’s the most brilliant drummer, but he’s not the most diplomatic of band directors. He wouldn’t let me go to rehearsals, I was banned because I’m a troublemaker, famously so… I understood his point of view.

Now that he’s been replaced by Ian Wallace, are you likely to collaborate more actively with The Schizoid Band?

Insofar as it’s possible, yeah. I speak to them all the time and Mel Collins attended my 60th birthday party. The problem is they live all over the place and they don’t collaborate properly with each other, let alone me. Most of them are in their fifties, so they’re not computer literate. If they were they could swap music files around… it’s a logistical problem. It might get solved.

Presumably you got the job of producing the first Roxy Music album through the EG connection.

Exactly. Bryan Ferry had allegedly auditioned unsuccessfully for Crimson and would have got on with David Enthoven and John Gaydon of EG management, who had this public school background. They told me: “You’ve got to work with these chaps, their ideas are amazing”. We had considerable problems making the album. I was at the rehearsals and we had to sort a lot stuff out. They weren’t that experienced but Paul Thompson was wonderful, rock solid, and a band can only be as good as its drummer. They were exploring but we had so little time we just had to bang it down as best as we could. I dunno if Bryan specifically wanted that Crimsonesque sound but that’s how it turned out. The album is messy but it’s very atmospheric, because I love atmosphere and texture. They learned a lot from me – I’d been making albums for three years – then they went to Chris Thomas to get this crystal-clear poppy sound they wanted. That wasn’t my bag.

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Emerson, Sinfield, Giger, Palmer, Lake… this photo not approved by PETA.

Did you read Keith Emerson’s autobiography?

No, I’m still waiting for him to send the signed copy he promised me.

One thing that emerges from it is that there wasn’t much love lost between him and Greg Lake…

Two huge talents, two huge egos… it couldn’t have happened without Greg and he had his spots in the act, but really it was Keith’s band with Greg and Carl. Greg will hate me saying that. But lots of fights, yes, they fell out all the time just for the hell of it, as a sort of continual power struggle, wasting fortunes along the way. I put some of the blame on ELP’s manager, Stewart Young, who should have said: “You cannot take a 60 piece orchestra around, it will cost you millions!” He should have stopped that before it started, it was always going to bankrupt them and somebody should have noticed. Those were the days of indulgence… bands had their own labels and it was just like vanity publishing. They had a lot of opportunities to waste their own money.

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Is it true that you wrote the lyrics of Pirates while riding the Disney roller coaster over and over with Greg Lake?

No, not true, we just watched a lot of Errol Flynn movies! The idea was pirates as an allegory for a rock band on tour. When I read up on the subject it soon become obvious that pirates weren’t at all romantic, they were reprehensible people… like the Kray Twins at sea! Keith’s music was very Gilbert & Sullivan, it was extraordinarily difficult to get the true nature of piracy into it, and I wrote most of it in Montreux, perhaps the least piratical place on Earth. I had to write to music that was already fixed and I only had 20 minutes to unfold this epic narrative. It should have been at least twice as long.

Nevertheless, it still stands as one of the true epics of Prog Rock. Are you happy with the legacy of Prog, whose detractors usually cite you as one of the main culprits?

I should hope they do. The thing is, no matter how Dylanesque some of us were… and my mother brought me up, railing against injustice… the musicians were full of bombast and ego as well as, it has to be said, great playing skill. Those are the things that came to the fore. But I’m proud of my involvement in Prog Rock. Some of it sounds archaic now, some of it still comes across as very relevant to the times we’re living in. Epitaph, for instance, which started life as a poem and which I’ve turned back into a longer poem… it was labelled pretentious at the time, y’know, but pick up any newspaper and you’ll see that it’s more pertinent than ever.

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Go Focus Yourself… The THIJS VAN LEER Interview

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The initial plan was to post an interview with Thijs Van Leer (or part of it) that originally appeared in #136 of Record Collector magazine but then, incredibly, a previously unpublished interview from November 2008 came to light in the Boot Room archives… and here it is. The occasion was 27.11.07 and Focus’s gig at The Picturedome in Holmfirth, the breath-takingly beautiful chunk of Yorkshire where they film The Last Of The Summer Wine. Birdman, my boon companion and I, were honoured to be received by Thijs in his hotel room and as dusk settled over the dales (a truly magical setting) he discoursed freely on all things Focus. First on the agenda was wunderkind guitarist Niels Van Der Steenhoven, who had recently replaced Jan Dumee in the line-up.

So, Thijs… how is Niels settling into the band?

Too good… it’s not just that he’s learned it, it’s that he totally understands our thing. We already knew that he was a virtuoso, but it’s really amazing that he’s glued in so well.

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You’ve had young guitarists like Jan Dumee, Menno Gootjes and Eef Albers in the band before… were all these guys really steeped in the history of Focus?

I must say that a lot of them took Focus as their model of how to approach music and the reason we could find so many beautiful young guitarists was that they all agreed that Focus compositions are timeless. That’s not what I say, that’s what they say and why they take it so seriously.

I agree. I listen to a track like Anonymous 2 all the time and it’s still revealing fresh things to me…

Yep…

It doesn’t age at all and in that sense it’s more like classical music than “pop” music. It’s more like jazz, too. I mean, something like Anonymous 2 makes much more sense when listened to with Bitches Brew as a reference point rather than the more usual comparisons that are made with Genesis, Yes…

Of course… what it’s got is a very horizontal form of improvisation, chord wise… a lot of Anonymous 2 is only one chord. Maybe also the intensity of it, which people didn’t perhaps expected from these cold musicians (laughs)… the alertness, the tension, everyone being completely there, this is what I saw in all of Miles’ groups, not only the Bitches Brew period but also with Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley and also the beautiful quintet with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, they all adhered to that law of total concentration, total devotion… yeah, let’s call it devotion…but also as a group member to be able to listen to the others, to make space for them.

People criticised the Mother Focus album for allegedly taking this abrupt jazz turn, but in fact…

… the jazz was always there, yes, although we don’t use the triplet of mainstream jazz, but there’s always that 16-to-the-bar thing. That’s what all the jazz rock guys also did… Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, everybody. Actually, I think rather than Miles Davis it was Larry Coryell who really started jazz-rock…

… with Eleventh House…

… yeah. I don’t actually like the compositions all that much, but I do think he’s the godfather of the whole jazz-rock thing. I was very influenced by Weather Report for a while there, I even exchanged my Hammond organ for a Fender Rhodes at one point but now I’m back playing the Hammond.

What happened with Jan Dumee… did he just want to go and do his own thing?

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Jan was a good friend, I was very pleased with his musicality, his compositions were pretty good (we still play one of them, Tamara’s Move) but I really wanted more of a challenge on stage. I said to him we’re an instrumental group, there’s no lead singer and certainly no sex symbol to please the eye of the audience, so we need something else. I wanted more of a challenge from him on stage, for him to really put some fire under my butt, so that there is battle whose resolution is the music and the audience becoming united as one thing. Jan said: “ Yes, I’m gonna work on that”, but it just didn’t happen so six months later I asked him one last time…

There always has been a lot of physical interactivity between the members of Focus on stage…

Yes, I need contact with my fellow musicians. I have it with Pierre. just one little look and we’re off. Sometimes we don’t even have to look…

Pierre is such a great drummer, but it’s said that his crisis of confidence was a big part of the band’s decline in the 1970s…

He didn’t doubt himself. He doubted that he was getting the credit he deserved. He had a very long working relationship with Jan, going back to when he was 13…

… in Johnny &  His Cellar Rockers…

brainbox-net copyYes, so they had a very long and pure relationship, then suddenly their was this  friendship between Jan and me which was probably a difficult thing for Pierre to swallow. We shared a sense of humour, including dirty jokes which is something Pierre doesn’t care for, so that was it… I was always laughing my ass off when Jan was telling jokes and Pierre would be silent so maybe I was the disturbing factor in their friendship, I don’t know… then Pierre was the first to leave. Later on I asked Jan to leave the band because he didn’t want to play my music anymore, but that was much later…

That was on the eve of Focus’s 1976 UK tour… you had Philip Catherine joining the band with two days notice and you suffered a dope bust as soon as you arrived in the country… turbulent times!

Yeah (laughs)… that was terrible. I really didn’t know that I had these two tiny pieces of hash in my bag, and it was discovered by a guy who must have had a third eye…

… or good sniffer dogs…

No, no dogs, just the guy!

Maybe somebody tipped him off..

I had a very quick trial, I had to stay at the police station and somebody from the record company bailed me out. I kept saying that I did not know it was in my bag… and I really didn’t know… otherwise they wouldn’t have let me enter the country anymore.

We can’t have that! There’s an apocryphal story that ran in the music papers, saying that before one college gig you were huddled around a juke box in the bar, playing Hocus Pocus over and over so that Philip could learn it…

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No, that’s not true. What happened was that the day before we arrived in the UK I wrote down all the guitar parts, 14 pages, and he played on stage at Cardiff, reading all these parts that were glued to a chair… note perfect! The tour was very successful but when it ended I didn’t want to continue with that band. I asked Akkerman to come back, three times, but three times he refused. His no was no… OK, I can understand that.

But you made an album together in 1985…

The blue one,  just called Focus

Presumably you were getting on better then?

Yes, we thought we would do it as just a duet, no hassle anymore with the rhythm section people and we just had a Linn Drum behind us… the record company was initially very enthusiastic about that record but when they heard the results they though there was no hit single, so every penny of promotional money was withdrawn… the project was killed.

But if something like House Of The King can be a hit, why not King Kong from that album?

I thought so… I like that, also.

Speaking of rhythm sections, as we were, Jan Akkerman told me that original Focus bassist Martijn Dresden was a very eccentric guy… is that how you remember him?

He was a guy with vision. He was the son of the guy who was conducting an orchestra in which my father was the first flute player and I was the piccolo player. Martijn’s father had an inferiority complex because his own father was the self made man behind the Amsterdam Conservatory and he was always putting down Martijn’s father, who was a beautiful cello player. So what did Martijn’s father do to him? Exactly the same, always putting him down. So Martijn had many problems, he was already on hard drugs when he was 15 or 16 and we didn’t know, it was a total secret.

He sang the song Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) on your first album…

Yes, I asked him to sing it because I thought he had more experience of that kind of thing than the rest of us. He sang it very well, also Black Beauty, which we now do as an instrumental… but not tonight.

What about Anonymous, which is one of the really signature Focus pieces?

We rehearsed it but we’re not playing it on this tour, I don’t know why… probably because it’s too long. We’re leaving it out again…. but we will be playing Round Goes The Gossip, which we always avoided before because it’s a very difficult tune to play, totally uncommercial and that’s the first song off a double album that went gold in America… how is that possible?!? Those were different days!

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Focus appeared out of the blue in the early ‘70s and just took the world by storm… any memories of those times, e.g. the legendary Whistle Test appearances and your memorable turn at the Reading Festival?

You must remember that there were two factors that were already helping us a lot. One is that we were signed to Radio Luxembourg, the only legal pirate station in Europe, and they had English language programmes presented by people like Kid Jensen. They were playing us already every hour at least once, so the English audience was already familiar with some of our tunes… you could then talk about a red carpet kind of situation. The other thing was that the first time we came to England there was a big power strike and no band could play  for lack of electricity… even the traffic lights in London were out! We were afraid to go, we thought in England they have so many stars already in pop and rock… they’re chauvinistic also, so what do they care about a Dutch band? You know… but our management had the idea to send us over here with our own generator. So we performed and the very fact that we played got the audience on our side from the off, not even the music… it was like we were pioneers, you know? That made it for us. And then I must say the skill… the band consisted of musicians with a certain kind of virtuosity and originality. We were not afraid of using classical elements… not just quoting them, like some of the other “Prog” bands did, but of composing our own in a manner reminiscent of Brahms or Bach or Mozart. We made a big impression with such things as the timing of Jan Akkerman and Pierre Van Der Linden together, a very black feel, don’t forget that, another things was we were also open to… all kinds of folk music from all over the world, so it was like a total amalgamation of styles and I must say I’m very happy that people accepted what we were doing and that we could even make a name for ourselves and get a lot of coverage. We also wanted to spread the news that there was a possibility of making that tasteful kind of mixture of styles, while retaining a unique sound that could be recognised as that of Focus.

A totally new sound…

Yes, like what Mendelssohn called “songs without words”, that was the principle of it.

The Shadows set the precedent for this in popular music, with Hank Marvin’s guitar taking the vocal line…

Ah, he was a big influence, of course. He covered Sylvia, have you heard it?

No (I have now – Oz).

It’s beautiful, well done Hank. A little different from the way that Akkerman did it, but really nice. But in the early ‘70s we were the only instrumental band having hits…

… and from an “unfashionable” country…

Mariska 3Well some Dutch bands did have hits… Golden Earring with Radar Love, Maggie McNeil with Hello, How Do You Do? We had Tea Set and of course, Shocking Blue (above) … she just died, the girl who sang on Venus… Mariska Veres… I went to her funeral and I played the flute as the coffin went down, just a flute solo. I was just about to do an album of Hungarian songs with her…

Another missed opportunity… Focus is a band that’s never recorded two consecutive studio albums with the same line up. Have you sought constant change with the idea of keeping everybody on their mettle, or is there a version of the band that you would really like to have held together?

I was very satisfied at the time when we had Bert, Jan and Pierre in the band. It’s not me who wanted to change that at all. Now, finally, after all these years, I can say again that I do not want to change the current line-up. Niels isn’t just great, he’s absolutely amazing and Bobby is not only the bottom, he’s also a good writer and a very good producer. He co-produced the album. And of course Pierre… forget about it, he’s phenomenal! And we now have three generations in the band, with Niels who’s 28, Bobby is 42 and Pierre’s even older than I am, though he looks much younger. It’s music that makes this possible, age doesn’t come into it.

When I spoke to Jan Akkerman he was really quite dismissive of Bert Ruiter as a player…

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Sic…

Really? Burt brought a lot of r’n’b to the band because he came out of that kind of group, having played in Full House in Utrecht, he played with jazz people, he came out of a very warm bed, you know. He was playing very basic, like the tuba part, but with Jan Akkerman and me playing so many notes it was very welcome to have somebody who wasn’t playing busily, high  on the neck like Stanley Clarke does…

Noel Redding filled exactly the same role in the Jimi Hendrix Experience… is it true that you considered Mitch Mitchell for the drum stool when Pierre left the band, before you decided on Colin Allen?

Oh yeah, he’s a guy I’ve still got a lot of admiration for, he’s inspired me a lot. You could maybe compare him also a little bit to Pierre.

Focus and Jan Akkerman are both touring constantly these days… is there any sense in which you’re checking each other out, spurring each other on to top each other?

No, I’m flattered and honoured that he still plays my material but that’s it, and I’m not checking anything. Sometimes I meet people who attend his concerts and ours and some comparisons are made, but that’s just a pleasure for me.

When I saw the reformed Focus you played Hocus Pocus and I thought that’s pretty hot, then I saw Akkerman and he played it better, then I saw you again and you topped his version…

It’s different, he plays it with no yodelling, in fact I think he even calls it “Hocus Pocus: No Yodel”. Vanessa Mae recorded a cover version with her violin taking the yodelling part… did you hear it?

Yeah, it’s pretty good.

I like it a lot. I met her once and I proposed to her… ha ha, proposed to her that we collaborate on a version of Hocus Pocus to be released as a single. She was very keen to do it too, but when I spoke to her management, it was: “We’ll let you know”, you know…

As you get older is it harder to do these amazing vocalisations that the fans have come to expect?

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No, only the high voice has gone. My falsetto – in fact it used to be a castrato – went round about the time I turned 50, but I gained an extra register below… it grew downwards (laughs.) But now in the hall it’s the public who yodel the high bits for me…

It’s nice that you’ve had Akkerman, this guitar god in the band, but the fans still accept new, younger people like Jan Dumee and Niels and don’t give them a hard time.

You know why they accept them? Because they’re so good!

I know, but in other bands no matter how good the new guy is, the fans will never forgive him for not being the old guy.

I can imagine. You know, what Akkerman did in Focus was unprecedented, but I do think that he needs a good composer next to him. It doesn’t have to be me, but you know when Akkerman has a counterpart, I think he’s at his best. I’m not saying that he’s a bad composer, but when he had another composer to work with, it gave him another thing. I’ve always said as much to him and it’s always made him angry.

You set him up beautifully, for instance, at some points on the Hamburger Concerto album and he steps up to the plate and delivers these beautiful guitar solos…

We always complimented each other very well. I listen to this stuff now and, for instance, Focus II from the album Moving Waves always brings me to tears, not only what Jan was playing but what Pierre was doing as well.

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He always complains: “Ah, but the drums are too soft on that track” and I reply: “I’m just listening to what you were playing there”, it was so far ahead of its time, so symphonic, and the timing… you’ll hear it tonight, we play Focus II and it only grew. It’s better now so it’s unbelievable for me and I’m so thankful. The thing is, all the years that I didn’t do Focus material it was because of what people in the business, people like Mike Vernon and Seymour Stein, said to me. I met Mike in London and I met Seymour in Cannes and showed them some material and they said they were only interested in it if Jan was on board again, then they would put some backing into it, and that kind of influenced me to believe that I couldn’t do it by myself. I was not interested in doing Focus anymore because I thought, of course, I have to believe the people who made a lot more money than we did ourselves. Seymour Stein made his first million dollars on Focus… we didn’t, he did! I don’t regret that, but it’s true.

People like that saying they were only interested in that partnership, this influenced me for years… it was only young people like Bobby Jacobs, Jan Dumee and Ruben Van Roon, those three started to rehearse the old material just because they thought it was timeless music and then they asked me to join the group, I didn’t know what they were rehearsing. Bobby phoned me on a rainy day and said: “Please come 120 kilometres, bringing your Hammond organ” and I said no. I was having one of my very rare moments of down time and I was in the house just surfing channels on the TV but no, he said: “You’ve gotta come now” and he kept on phoning so finally I went there with the Hammond organ, drove there and through the closed door I heard some of the old material (gestures signifying an upsurge of emotion) and it was not just the material, but the way they were playing it, as a guitar trio. I immediately unpacked my Hammond and there it was. We started off as a band called ‘Hocus Pocus – A Tribute To Focus” and we wanted to play in cafes and little clubs and then this mad manager came along called Willem Hubers and he said: “What I’m hearing is Focus. If you want me to manage you you have to re-baptise yourselves into Focus again” then we had a gathering with the four for two and a half minutes and said yes, then we went immediately to Brazil and now we are very big there and in Mexico… we never went there in the old days because it was too dangerous, in the sense that you wouldn’t get paid but nowadays you can do better deals. So now we do go there and in places like Rio, San Paolo, we are hot and again we’ve been asked to headline a massive rock festival in Mexico….

House Of The King has always been used a lot on British TV… but everybody still thinks it’s Jethro Tull!

They always do…

What happened during the Hamburger Concerto period? The music changed a  bit, you had Colin Allen in the band…

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Many people regard that as their favourite Focus album… it’s very Spanish. Much more Spanish than Eruption. I think the title track, the Concerto itself, is maybe too much a replica of Eruption but it was heavily influenced, especially what Jan Akkerman contributed, by Joe Walsh. We played nine gigs co-headlining with Joe in Texas and he was playing major chords (Thijs vocalises the riff to “Rocky Mountain Way”). We had been playing only minor chords, doric scales… what they call “jazzy”, but it’s just a minor bluesy scale. Suddenly Jan said: “I think the new thing is major chords” and he admitted that this was the influence of Joe. And so Hamburger Concerto started – the introduction is by Hayden you know, the Hayden variations on Brahms. That’s very major, but in the middle parts again it’s very Spanish. But Hocus Pocus is also very Spanish… it’s all very Spanish!

Jan will do a solo album were he’s trying to sound like Z Z Top, then he’ll do another one where he wants to sound like Django… he seems to go through this succession of phases where he’s enthusing about something or other.

I cannot judge. I know that he idolised Z Z Top and I can understand that because it’s a real r’n’b thing, a real rock’n’roll feel that we all like. I agree with Jan that it’s smoking… sulphurous… this indefinable swing that starts to suddenly swell up.

So, where did it start to go wrong with Colin?

You know he was playing some of the places we just played, I think he started Stone The Crows again (in fact at this time Colin was playing in the British Blues Quintet with Maggie Bell, Zoot Money, Colin Hodgkinson and Miller Anderson – Oz). That’s where he came from. You know Maggie Bell lost her husband Les Harvey, he was electrocuted on stage, Colin left the band and then he was free to join Focus… but it’s not true that Focus deteriorated because Colin joined the band. Listen to his playing on something like Harem Scarem… it really cooks!

Colin seemed to have integrated into the band really well but then there seemed to be an abrupt parting of the ways…

Jan took him out, he sacked him from the band.

Jan told me that you sacked Colin Allen.

Fuck him! No, no, it’s not true… no, Jan was really fed up with Colin, there was some kind of personal thing going on between them.

Jan told me that he only recently realised what a good drummer Colin was because when he was in the band, he (Jan) was obsessed with getting Pierre back.

I don’t know, it’s possible, I can’t make a judgement for him, you know? Colin’s a lovely man, great character and he knows a lot about rock and roll history as well. I’d love to see your interview with him. I would like to see him again. The only guys I’ve seen recently, being in London very briefly, were Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. It was a Chick Corea concert together with his banjo player and one of the people in the audience was John McLaughlin… I’m very good friends with Chick, he’s stayed at my home and Chick wanted to produce my Latin mass, which I wrote and called Dona Nobis Pacem. Chick wanted to do that in his home studio in LA but I had already done that with two Chilean guys. Even Chi Coltrane wanted to do that with me, she wanted to sing some English over the Latin words. That is, I think, my best work.

Everybody says that, but it’s really hard to track down… (I’ve got a copy now and it’s frickin’ sublime – Oz.)

It was never going to sell well, something like that, but it is definitely my best work.

What happened with the short lived Focus line-up of the late ‘90s, which included Bert, Hans Cleuver and the young guitarist Menno Gootjes? (Menno pictured above… he would replace Niels Van Der Steenhoven in the Focus line up shortly after this interview – Oz.)

We played just one gig and that was it. That came about because Bert said to me, I’m going to go with you to my attic to record 23 songs… most of them were my compositions, because Bert said that I was the soul of the band, the composer and so on. I felt flattered so I went to his house and we worked for months on a concept with what I thought was strong material and Hans Cleuver, the original Focus drummer, was interested to join with us… he has a drum school in Den Haag that is flourishing but he was keen to play again, so we auditioned for guitarists and we found Menno…

Wasn’t he a schoolmate of Bobby’s?

He was the teacher of Niels! He played a very good part. In the end there was already posters made and everything and we were on the verge of going on tour and making a record… suddenly Bert Ruiter himself said we are not mature enough to do it, it needs at least half a year more. So I said: “Sorry, fuck you!” and that was the end of our friendship. We were real friends, but that was the end of it…

He had stuck with you through many line-ups…

Burt was so positive about doing it and suddenly he pulled out. Was he afraid? I don’t know… he didn’t want to go to America, he didn’t feel we were strong enough, the material and the way we were playing it. Maybe he was right… anyway, this band died very quickly.

Did any of that material appear on your comeback albums Focus 8 or New Skin?

Yeah, the title song from Focus 8 was totally prepared by Bert and me and I still like the song very much, though we’re not going to play it here tonight.

Do you have any contact details for Bert?

His wife was the singer in the band Earth & Fire and now she’s the head of the big cultural assembly in Holland, she’s a very important person and also on the jury of Holland’s Pop Idol show… hey, you should give some credit to our tour manager Geert Scheijgrond, whom I always introduce as a non-playing member of the band… in fact he plays guitar like Jeff Beck and he’s the only one of us who looks “rock’n’roll”…

Thijs, I don’t believe you could go anywhere in the world and not be regarded as “rock’n’roll”… anyway, is Introspection still the biggest selling album in Holland?

In the days of LPs it was, but I think there are now a few classical CDs that have outsold it. I sold about two and half million LPs in Holland, which is a lot.

Finally, any amusing anecdotes about Focus’s time as the house band for the original Amsterdam production of the musical Hair? That must have been pretty wild…

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The wild thing was that there were naked people on stage very night we played, which was unheard of… girls… there were boys too, but we were only interested in the girls. The thing was for us it was the first reason to live, the first money we made, being the nucleus of a nine piece orchestra and it also gave us the opportunity to rehearse our own stuff every afternoon because we didn’t have to pay rent and the gear was there in this big circus tent where the production took place in Amsterdam. And Victor Spinnetti was there as producer, the dead guy, he did Magical Mystery Tour with The Beatles. We had so much fun…

At this point Thijs was called to the soundcheck and took us along. Round Goes The Gossip… Sheer Prog Heaven! And then there was the gig…

http://www.focustheband.com

This piece previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog.

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Profondo Simonetti… The Goblins’ CLAUDIO SIMONETTI Interviewed

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For those of us fixated on the twin ’70s worlds of Prog Rock and Italian Horror cinema there are two points on the graph at which our obsessions meet and snuggle up. Firstly, there’s the recently deceased and sadly missed Keith Emerson, of The Nice and ELP notoriety, who also scored movies for Dario Argento (Inferno, The Church) and Lucio Fulci (Murder Rock). Alongside Emmo’s flirtation with Pasta Paura, there’s been an ongoing contribution from one band. That band is, of course, The Goblins… or just plain old Goblin, depending on which record cover or film credit you believe. To mark what now seems to be a never-ending world tour by this legendary combo (which currently constitutes keyboard whizz Claudio Simonetti plus whoever else he’s managed to round up in time to rehearse), we’re reviving a Simonetti interview from the fabled Freudstein vaults. Since it was taped, the Goblin saga has mutated into something approaching the Julio-Claudian family tree in terms of complexity, with more personnel changes than Spinal Tap and more competing rival line-ups than Bucks Fizz. Simonetti has also toured the Goblin repertoire with a more Goth / Death Metal-orientated band, Daemonia. Over to you, Pete Frame…
Half Brazilian (like future collaborator Dario Argento), Claudio Simonetti was born (19/02/52) in Sao Paolo, the scion of an eminent musical family, his father Enrico being a noted pianist and conductor. By the time the Simonettis had relocated back to Italy, Claudio was an accomplished keyboard player. During his national service he befriended guitarist Massimo Morante, who shared Simonetti’s passion for such heavyweight British Proggers as ELP, The Nice, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Gentle Giant. “Yes, I started playing in bands covering the material of those guys”, remembers Simonetti: “I think everybody in the world was influenced by that music. It was obviously the big influence on the band I formed with Massimo, though subsequently we found our own voice.”

Demobbed in the early 70’s, Simonetti and Morante began recording demos with a mob of collaborators from which Fabio Pignatelli (bass) and Walter Martino (drums) emerged as fully paid-up band members. Martino had given way to Carlo Bordini and American vocalist Clive Haynes was recruited before the band (initially named Picture Of Dorian Gray, later The Oliver) travelled to London in 1974 in a misfiring attempt to hook up with Yes producer Eddie Offord.”Eddie had expressed an interest in working with us and we brought over some demos to play to him, but he was very busy at this time, he was on a world tour with The Yes, so we never get together with him” sighs Simonetti: “We stayed in London for about two months, played a few gigs and recorded some more demos, then it was back to Italy and we resumed recording in Rome.” Returning, deflated, to home soil, these Olivers – like their Dickensian namesake – were hungry for more.

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Their fortunes took an upward swing when the Cinevox label signed them to record an album, on condition that they change their name to Cherry Five, possibly to avoid confusion with the execrable soundtrack outpourings of Oliver Onions, i.e. the De Angelis brothers. Cherry Five’s 1975 self-titled debut album (on which Tony Tartarini had replaced Haynes as front man and Martino returned to replace Bordini on skins) has now been issued as a Cinevox CD and emerges as a surprisingly confident outing, albeit instantly recognisable as the work of a bunch of Yes obsessives (the harmonies, the tricky time signatures, Pignatelli’s pastiche of Chris Squire’s trebly bass sound … )

Cinevox, of course, were a label chiefly concerned with releasing soundtracks, and it was through this connection that the boys encountered Dario Argento, who was having problems scoring his giallo masterpiece Profondo Rosso / Deep Red (1975). Claudio remembers it like this … “Giorgio Gaslini had written the music but Dario wanted it played by a rock band and was searching for one which would be up to the job. He signed us after hearing the Cherry 5 album. After ten days of recording it was decided that we should come up with more of the music ourselves. Dario and Gaslini had been having disagreements about the music, also Gaslini had a very heavy schedule of concert work … he was a very famous jazz player… so Dario said: ‘OK guys, you’re on your own’. That was our big break, we did the main title music and other themes in the picture. The A-
side of the soundtrack album is the music that we composed, the B-side is Gaslini stuff arranged and played by Goblin” (as the band, minus Tartarini and concentrating on instrumental material, would now be known.)

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“We were glad to have been granted this great opportunity, we were very young and very full of ourselves …. ” So, to Gaslini’s famous lullaby theme The Goblins added (among other bits of business) the equally celebrated, much re-released and remixed title piece, a stunning interplay between acoustic guitar-picking and church organ grandiloquence which makes me suspect that, while in London, The Goblins must have been tuning into classic Granada TV documentary series World In Action. During the Deep Red sessions drummer Martino left yet again to be replaced by Agostino Marangolo, whose brother Antonio also contributed additional keyboard parts. On the soundtrack to Mauro Macario’s 1976 picture Perche Si Uccidono, attributed to II Reale Impero Britannico, four of the eleven tracks are The Goblins’ interpretation of music written by Fabio Frizzi, no less… the guy who went on to score most of Lucio Fulci’s zombie epics. Antonio Marangolo gave way to Maurizio Guarini for the band’s other 1976 effort Roller, whose title track continues the big organ (ooh-er, missus!) sound of Profondo Rosso, though here in tandem with Morante’s soaring electric lead. Elsewhere those Prog influences are very much in evidence. Dr Frankestein (sic) emulates ELP and the eponymous Goblin runs the gamut from Genesis to jazz-rock, while Snip Snap hints at the funky shape of things to come.

Roller remains one of only two non-soundtrack albums that were ever put out under the Goblin banner, though cuts from it were subsequently pillaged for the soundtracks of other films, notably Wampir (the 1979 Italian release of George Romero’s Martin), Luigi Cozzi’s colourised re-issue of the original Godzilla and Argento’s tenor tour-deforce Suspiria (1977 … Aquaman and Dr Frankestein appear on the original soundtrack album though not in the film itself). Goblin did however deliver plenty of original material for Suspiria, their dissonant cacophony of whispers, screams, strangulated synthesiser and found percussion providing the perfect accompaniment to Argento’s all-out visual, visceral assault. Just as the witches’ murderous daggers are wielded in close up by the director’s own skinny hands, so it is Simonetti’s voice that can be heard throughout the picture, muttering lines from the folk poem “Three Witches Sitting In A Tree.” It has gone down in fear-film folklore that Goblin completed the scoring of Suspiria before a frame of film was shot, and that the actors rehearsed and played their parts while listening to it. The truth is that this provisional score was completely revamped in postproduction. Another persistent rumour has it that the band Libra, whose relentless, percussion-driven score accompanies Dario Nicolodi’s accelerating mental disintegration in Mario Bava’s final feature Shock (1977), are actually The Goblins, working incognito for contractual reasons. In fact the connection was a very tenuous one, Libra comprising original Goblin drummer Walter Martino and transient members / fringe figures Maurizio Guarini, Alessandro Centofanti, Carlo Pennisi and Dino Cappa.

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In the same year the genuine Goblins scored Enzo Castellari’s cop saga La Via Della Droga.There was no doubt about who scored George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead aka Zombie, coproduced by Argento in 1978. With Antonio Marangolo contributing sax parts, Goblin turned in what is undoubtedly their strongest soundtrack album. The others invariably boast a strong title theme but also a certain amount of straight filler and tend to peter out into lots of “creeping around corridors” stuff that doesn’t necessarily do much for the listener without its accompanying visuals. The band came up with several compelling themes for Dawn, and their characteristic staccato unison riffing, a la King Crimson / Mahavishnu Orchestra, has never been this tight and telling. Argento wisely beefed up the band’s soundtrack presence on his punchier cut of the movie, released in Italy.

Like any self-respecting Prog band, Goblin were obliged to release the dreaded “concept album,” which also appeared in 1978 with the Kafka-esque title II Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark (“The Fantastic Voyage Of Mark The Bug”). This was full-on Prog with a distinctly Italian flavour, the vocals (courtesy of Morante ) delivered at times in the hectoring tone of a Roman market trader. “It’s a story about this beetle called Mark and his travels through the insect world, but it’s like … how to say? It’s a human story, but told in the insect world … an allegory!” An autobiographical allegory of certain members’ drug problems, it was later confessed! Perhaps those problems contributed to the band’s split later in 1978, apparently at the height of their powers. It’s also possible that there was friction with Argento, who has had well-recorded spats with Ennio Morricone, Giorgio Gaslini and Keith Emerson. Simonetti, however, offers a more prosaic explanation …” I think at that point, after all those years of collaborations, that we had nothing more to say. A lot of other bands from that era were also calling it a day round about this time … Prog Rock was finished, the new era of dance music was arriving.”

Indeed, when sundry Goblins reconvened four years later to record the soundtrack of Argento’s Tenebrae, the results were distinctly disco-flavoured, with vocoder heavily to the fore on the main theme’s infernal toccata-and-frug, and drum machine throughout, complimenting the musicianly efforts of Pignatelli-Simonetti-Morante. Thus they were billed, as by now Cinevox owned all rights to the name Goblin, under which Zappa looky-likey Pignatelli was simultaneously recording Volo, an album of TV themes, utilising a rotating crew of collaborators, either with or without Simonetti and / or Morante. Pignatelli had taken on scoring duties for a succession of Italian genre pictures which generally lack the zip and zing of golden age Goblinry, their sequenced keyboard progressions coming across as leaden and predictable. Among the better ones are those for Joe D’ Amato’s 1979 outrage Blue Holocaust, with its pulsating main theme, and Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980), whose genuinely epic title piece contains some of the niftiest mellotron work ever executed outside The Court Of The Crimson King. The rest of the album features several cuts filched from D’ Amato’s picture. The weirdest is undoubtedly that for Bruno Corbucci’s Squadra Antigangster (1979), a comedic crime-slime vehicle for Tomas Milian’s ever popular “Monnezza” character. This one boasts Chinese disco, the S/M droolings of demented dominatrix Asha Puthly on a track entitled The Whip and, bizarrest of all, the funk fiasco Welcome To The Boogie, in which guest vocalist “Charlie Cannon” not only welcomes us to said boogie but also invites the bemused listener to “wiggle his woogie” before delivering further astonishing non sequitur lines about, among other things, “funky” (or are they “spunky”?) donkeys!

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Meanwhile Simonetti’s solo scores were often the most entertaining features of exploitation pictures such as Enzo Castellari’s The New Barbarians (1982), Lucio Fu1ci’s Conquest (1983) and several Ruggero Deodato efforts. In collaboration with ethereal vocalist Pina Magri, he also contributed the pulse-pounding title piece for Argento’s much-panned Phenomena (1984, also collaborating on some tracks with Pignatelli) and the rather more lyrical main theme for Opera (1987), book-ending his Herbie Hancockesque electro contributions to Argento and Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) and gothy dabblings on its inevitable sequel, Demons 2 (1986). Simonetti’s contributions to all of these nestled cheek-by-jowl with a grab bag of contemporary rock tracks, Argento’s magpie “now that’s what I call hit-and-miss” scoring system an ill-advised attempt to drum up extra soundtrack album sales. When it came to Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989), producer Argento was ready for something more refined, dividing scoring duties between Keith Emerson and the axis of Pignatelli, Simonetti and Morante, who performed the looping cadences of Philip Glass’s compositions for the film.

Argento’s directorial career marked time during the ’90s as the Spag Horror legend turned in a succession of misconceived mediocrities. 2001’s Non Ho Sonno aka Sleepless was a return to the giallo genre and a partial return to former glories. To stoke up expectations that he was back on track, Argento asked Simonetti to reform the classic Profondo Rosso / Suspiria line-up of Goblin for its soundtrack. “I met him in Barcelona at a festival in the late ’90s … ” remembers the keyboard wizard ” … and he said why not reform the band for my next film. So I contacted my friends and they agreed.” Although Goblin / Argento enthusiasts raved over the results (the predictably lush title piece has more than a suggestion of Profondo Rosso about it), ” .. .it was very hard to work together again,” confesses Simonetti, ” … because we hadn’t played for 22 years and we are now so different from each other. Every one of us likes different types of music. I think we were not ready to play together again.” Indeed, Non Ho Sonno could well prove to be the final hurrah. “That will probably be the last collaboration of that classic line-up of Goblin …. ” sighs Simonetti: ” … it’s not easy to play together and stay together.”

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“A marriage is easier to keep together than a band” drummer Marangolo muses during an MPEG that appears on certain video-enhanced Cinevox editions of the band’s CDs. The company has diligently kept all of the band’s work available since the early 80s, and released an ongoing series of “greatest hits” and “rarities” packages including such oddities as Chi? (the band’s 1976 performance of a popular TV programme’s theme tune), Yell (Pignatelli and the Marangolo brothers’ 1978 theme for another TV series, which was resurrected for The Goblins’ re-scoring of Richard Franklin’s Patrick) and Pignatelli, Marangolo and Pennisi’s contributions to the score of Armenia Balducci’s 1979 effort, Amo Non Amo. The proliferation of Cinevox “Best Of” compilations and bonus “tracks / alternate” takes on their new editions of original albums made for a certain degree of duplication, but in 2000 the company excelled themselves with The Fantastic Journey Of Goblin, Volume 1 (no sign of Volume 2 at the time of writing). This collection serves up the expected Argento collaborations, but with a bonus disc comprising material that had recently been discovered in the Cinevox vaults, a concert recording of the band (Simonetti, Morante, Pignatelli and the Marangolo brothers) delivering live renditions of tracks from Roller and Bagarozzo Mark, together with the inevitable Profondo Rosso theme. “I can’t imagine where they discovered that material” confesses Simonetti: “”We were a really good live band, it’s a great shame there are not a lot of concert recordings and absolutely no video” (in fact a bootleg DVD exists, documenting Goblin’s appearance at the San Remo Festival in 1978. I might even get round to reviewing that one in a future posting – Oz.) Cinevox have also released Volume 1 of a remixes collection and Simonetti himself has continued to tinker… on his Simonetti Horror Project video there’s a dance version of the Profondo Rosso theme, with a black DJ rapping over the top to startling effect. The Goblin legacy continues to thrive, much to the delight of Simonetti: “Prog Rock was very popular in the’ 70s. Now it is completely out of fashion, yet there is still such strong support for the music of Goblin over so many years. We couldn’t have imagined that this would happen. It makes us very surprised … and very, very happy!”

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http://www.simonetti.org

http://www.goblinofficial.com

This feature previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog, also on houseoffreudstein.wordpress.com … the world’s greatest Horror and Exploitation Cinema blog!

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In And Out Of Focus… COLIN ALLEN Interviewed in December 2008

While delving though the Boot Room archives in search of something to amuse and inform you, Ozymandias has unearthed some material intended for an unrealised Focus project. Firstly, it’s our great pleasure to present this 2008 interview with Colin Allen…

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Colin Eric Allen (born 09.05.38, Bournemouth) has drummed for Dylan, Donovan, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Georgie Fame, Stone The Crows, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band and, more recently, The British Blues Quintet. In his youth he took drum lessons from legendary jazzer Philly Joe Jones and has backed such luminaries as John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim and Solomon Burke. He’s written songs for Wings (a band not exactly bereft of quality song writers!), Fleetwood Mac, Mick Ronson and Lulu, as well as several Swedish acts. Most pertinently for the purposes of this blog, of course, he joined Focus after the acrimonious departure of Pierre Van Der Linden, playing on and touring their Hamburger Concerto (1974) album. It was this line-up of the band that Ozymandias saw at the Liverpool Empire on 22.05.74.

So Colin, how did you got the Focus gig?

That one come right out of the blue. Mike  Vernon called me one day & the rest is history. Fortuitous, to say the  least… I didn’t have a gig at the time & didn’t know what I was gonna do, but that’s the music biz. I had know Mike for some time. He produced the John Mayall album Blues From Laurel Canyon,  which I played on. So I said yes, I was  interested. Shortly after that I flew to Holland to meet the guys and eventually I got the thumbs up. It all happened pretty quickly.

Were you aware of the band before joining them?

Yes, I was aware of them. I had seen them play at The Speakeasy, and thought they were good but what really got my attention was Jan’s guitar playing. I had also done a gig with Stone The Crows, I think it was maybe Exeter University, where Focus were also on the bill.

It’s said that they were also looking at Mitch Mitchell and Aynsley Dunbar…

The subject of other candidates for the job was not  mentioned. I was very good friends with both Mitch & Aynsley…I still consider Aynsley to be just about the best British drummer from that period.

So the audition must have gone well…

I don’t remember too much about the audition, but I know it was at this kind of country manor (Dutch style) that the band often used for rehearsals. It was just down the road from Queen Juliana’s castle. I do remember lots of very attractive hippy-type birds ligging  about. Basically I just jammed around with the guys. I remember Bert saying he had always wanted to play with the drummer who was on the Mayall  track (I’ve Been Living With) The Bear… so I made at least one dream come true.

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Did they have any ideas about how they wanted the drum sound to change after the departure of Pierre Van Der Linden?

I really had no idea what Jan & Thijs were  looking for. I just said: “I’m an R & B drummer who has also played a little jazz as a semi-pro – if you like it, fine.” There was no  mention of how they wanted the music to progress. I don’t think they sat around pondering that kind of thing, they just wrote musical  pieces that developed into whatever, once the other players  became involved. The guys in Focus were … and still are … really  fine musicians. Thijs couldn’t fail to be so, because his father was a  music teacher. Jan was just blessed with this great talent. I wasn’t at all surprised when he stole Clapton’s crown in the Melody Maker poll. Bert was a very  good bass player. I really liked Bert as a person. Most of the time it was he and I hanging out while the dramas between Jan and Thijs were being resolved. They were the creative forces in the band.

You must have some great memories of playing with them…

Yeah, I fitted in pretty quickly and I kinda liked the idea that I was in what was, essentially, a pop band. They were a brave band – I remember one time we opened the show with… I think it’s called Focus or Focus 1, a slow melodic piece  in 3/4 time… I often think of  that. Most bands would go on stage & hit the audience  between the eyes with some ballsy, up-tempo piece. I also remember when we went  to Japan, coming out into the reception area – it was full of kids with Focus placards. We then did a press reception, it was just like the old stuff you see of the  Beatles – four guys each with his own mic. We played some great gigs in some  wonderful locations. I saw Jan sit in with Sam & Dave’s backing band in a small club somewhere in The States. I remember playing a gig somewhere when the metal rod that goes down through the centre tube of the drum stool and supports the seat had come loose & slid down and hit the floor – thud! Oh Jeez, now what? I don’t know how I did it but I managed to stay balanced on the seat and get through  the number. The show must go on! Another incident that sticks in my mind… If I  remember rightly, it was in Berlin. For some reason Akkerman threw a wobbler and walked off stage, leaving the rest of us to carry on. I don’t remember which number we were doing but the three of us just kept playing –  anything – and after about 10 or 15 minutes, Jan decided to  reappear & I guess we just took up again where we had left off. I don’t remember what that was all about, but it happened.

One gathers that the atmosphere inside the band was generally pretty fraught…

The writing was on the wall, for the  demise of the band. As I said before, there was always underlying stuff going on between Jan and Thijs, and that was sure to continue… it’s  just the way it was between those two, a clash of personalities that was  both positive & negative.  About a year after I got kicked out, they split the band. It was inevitable, really. I believe the previous drummer, Van Der Linden, had left due to the constant strain of dealing with two divas.

How did Bert deal with it?

I don’t know what Bert had to do with the  politics of the band. I would imagine he had quickly learnt to accept the situation, not get involved & just look after  himself. I did like Bert, be sure to say Hi to him from me. (Note – Bert Ruiter rebuffed all my attempts to contact him. Apparently he can’t bear to talk about his experiences in Focus! Oz.)

When Mother Focus, the lack-lustre follow-up to Hamburger Concerto came out, you were only on one track… Bert’s distinctly odd number, I Need A Bathroom…

Mother Focus… that must have been the last sessions I did, in Brussels. I remember very well the whole situation that led to my exit. I know for sure that Jan had gone off to his country place in Friesland for a day and I’m pretty sure Thijs was also absent. Bert and I started recording the bass and drums for the, as you say, peculiar I Need A Bathroom. I was even thinking about some new lyrics for that track, but it stayed as it was. In the absence of the other players we were using a drum machine to keep things really steady. Obviously tales of our little experiment had been relayed to Jan and for some reason he was pissed off, ‘cos the next day he walked into the studio, directed some kind off angry statement at me, relating to drum machines or metronomes and tossed a drum machine onto, I think it was a couch. From then on, it was all downhill for me. I think the American engineer we were using thought they could do better than me and the guy who took my place was a friend of his, a guy who had played with Sly Stone. Not sure whether Thijs or Jan took the decision to kick me out… the latter, I suspect but the bottom line is only they know. One should bear in mind also, that Jan used to joke about  his 13 personalities, so any one of those could have been active at the  time. (Personality mode #13, below… Oz.)

Jan Akkerman... personality #13

 

 

 

 

 

 I don’t hold anything against them whatsoever, it’s just the way it was. Within a short time I was off on the road with Donovan, opening for Yes all over Europe and The States. Focus was history for me, but would always remain a memorable part of my musical life. Financially though, it was a bit of a joke. I used to  get the odd cash advance while on tour, a couple of hundred quid here and there, but one didn’t really need too much money because everything  was paid for, apart from meals and some of those were provided by the promoters after the gig. We also got the odd present from them now and again. You flew around, got limo’d to the hotel, did the gig and then same again the next day.When I finished with the band and met with the powers that be, imagine my surprise when I was told I owed them between ten and fifteen thousand pounds! I don’t remember quite how much but most of the royalties due me went to paying off this debt. It was a few years before I received any royalties but they never amounted to very much. I’m sure it was an expensive proposition transporting us around, plus eleven Leslie cabinets, two tympani and a huge gong (none of which I actually wanted), plus all the other usual stuff…  roadies, managers, etc. I think it’s possible that a lot of money went on  keeping Jan and Thijs happy on the road and I guess I paid for some of that. Anyway, I didn’t get into the business to get  rich, I just liked being a muso. That’s about it.

What are you up to now, Colin?

Just now I’m a member of The British  Blues Quintet which was more or less born out of the fact that my Stone the Crows bandmate Maggie Bell had returned to the UK from Holland after living there for about  20 years and basically needed to earn a  living. I suggested the line-up and a few months later we were doing  our first gig in Wolverhampton… that’s just over 18 months ago now. We’ll continue to work, as and when the various members are available. We recently released a  CD, Live in Glasgow, which has received really good reviews, likewise the gigs. Even now, when I’m touring with The BBQ, I get asked to sign Focus album covers. I enjoyed  playing with those guys and will always remain proud to have been a member of Focus. I couldn’t forget Bert, Jan and Thijs, even if I wanted to…CA _ STC.jpg

Shortly after this interview I had a brief conversation with Jan Akkerman, who offered this perspective on Colin’s ousting: “Colin got sacked by Van Leer in his eternal wisdom, because the band needed a more American approach in his opinion. Actually, I recently saw a show from those days, the Don Kirschner show or something, where Colin Allen played the drums on Hamburger Concerto and I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard, there was some really heavy, balls-to-the-wall drumming… great! I never complimented him because I was still so heavily into Pierre’s playing but now I realise that was Mickey Mouse’s balls compared with what I heard Colin playing there. So, I know this is a little late, but Colin… thanks, mate!”

Special Boot Room thanks to Dantalion himself, the immortal Zoot Money for facilitating this interview. Colin quit active service in 2012. Here’s wishing him a long and happy retirement in Stockholm, where he’s lived with his Swedish wife since 1985.

 

The Colin Allen interview previously appeared on the now defunct Bootroom Of Ozymandias blog.

 

Categories: Interviews | 1 Comment

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