James R. Turner Talks To David Palfreyman and Nicholas Pegg about ‘Decades’

A chat across the Decades with Nicholas Pegg and David Palfreyman.

Further to James’ review of ‘Decades’ he sat down with Nicholas and David to talk about the album and quite a lot of other things:

How did you two meet & where did the idea for ‘Decades’ come from?

Nicholas Pegg: David and I have known each other since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Or possibly longer. We can never quite remember exactly when we first met, but we know that it was something to do with a certain TV show that we both loved as kids.

David Palfreyman: Yes, Nick and I met through our mutual admiration for Doctor Who, back in the grainy, 16-millimetre days of the mid-1980s. I was running a Doctor Who fan group at the time, and I think that Nick may have come along to one of the meetings.

Nicholas Pegg: Or else we met at a Doctor Who convention somewhere, queuing up for Jon Pertwee’s autograph. Wherever it was, we’d have been about 16 or 17 at the time. Just two teenage Doctor Who fans, our memories now lost in the vortex.

David Palfreyman: It remains a mystery, waiting to be uncovered in a long-lost compartment of the mind. Actually, that’s a great idea for a concept album!

Nicholas Pegg: Ha! But getting back to your question, the idea for ‘Decades’ came initially from David. He’s the songwriter on the album, and he came to me one day with a pile of demos, and he asked me if I’d like to write a story to link the songs together. And three years later, here we are. Essentially, Dave wrote the songs and I wrote the story, but that’s a bit of a simplification. It was a very organic process from start to finish – we both creatively interfered with each other’s work in the most positive way, so the end result is a true collaboration between the two of us.

You have a fantastic cast of musicians, singers and actors involved, were the parts written specifically for the actors, or did you have the story in mind before you approached the individuals?

David Palfreyman: The basis of the story was already there before any of the actors and the majority of the musicians came on board. The whole thing then blossomed, grew and branched off in all directions, achieving different bursts of energy and sunlight as it went along on its journey.

Nicholas Pegg: That’s a lovely way of putting it! Yes, the initial ideas were in place before we started thinking about specific artists, but by the time I was actually writing the script, I certainly had some of the actors already in mind. When I’m writing dialogue, I often find it helpful to imagine a particular actor playing the role, just in my head – it helps to create a consistency of tone in the character you’re creating, even if you later end up casting a completely different actor. But on this occasion, we were lucky enough to attract the actual people I’d imagined, which was a fantastic bonus. I wrote the main part of Kelver Leash very much with David Warner’s voice in my head, so I was thrilled when he said he’d like to do it. The same goes for Jacqueline Pearce. I absolutely wrote that part for her, so again it was a magical moment when she said yes. I knew I was writing for Richard Coyle and Edward Holtom as well. The other actors were simply a case of getting the casting right, and fitting the right people to the right parts. Exactly the same principle with the musicians – fitting the right singers to the right songs.

What inspired Kelver’s story?

Nicholas Pegg: I suppose there are countless inspirations. We came up with a lot of detail that you don’t hear on the album, because the scenes themselves are deliberately impressionistic. It was always our intention to create something quite nebulous and elusive, which we hope will resonate with the listeners’ imaginations. Dave and I know the full story – or rather, we know our version of it, but we’re very happy for people to bring their own interpretations to ‘Decades’. It’s not as if it’s a crossword puzzle with a single correct solution. What’s that line from Douglas Adams? ‘What we demand is rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!’ I love that. As for the story itself – well, I wrote the script, but right from the beginning Dave already had the basic notion that he wanted a story about a man looking back on his life.

David Palfreyman: My initial idea behind ‘Decades’ was actually an idea for a short film I had been kicking around for a few years. A guy who has everything, a great life full of beauty, vibrant colour and conversation. However, cracks begin to appear, and the ‘reveal’ at the end is that he is sitting slumped in a stupor surrounded by empty wine bottles and takeaway wrappers. A damning juxtaposition to the glorious life he had been daydreaming about. Now of course, ‘Decades‘ has not ended up quite like that, and it has far more depth in storytelling since Nick came on board, but that was the spark that lit the flame. I’m not really sure what inspired that, but maybe I was writing about myself.

Nicholas Pegg: I was certainly writing about myself in places. Not in a direct autobiographical sense – ‘Decades’ is certainly not the story of my life, that’s for sure – but in terms of certain philosophical ideas that interest me, and certain preoccupations, and things that trouble me, and things that amuse me too. Some of what unfolds on ‘Decades’ is quite close to home, so it’s been lovely when people have come up and said that a particular line or a particular scene strikes a chord with them. Gosh, I’m making it sound terribly po-faced. Some of the subject matter ‘Decades’ is pretty grim, but I think it’s actually quite a funny album as well. You’re allowed to laugh!

Are you pleased with the reaction the album has received?

David Palfreyman: We have had some amazing reviews, quotes and accolades from all over the world. Websites, online magazines, Record Collector, people posting on the album’s Facebook page, and even the Irish Sun newspaper! Long may it continue. Absolutely wonderful stuff. Yes, we are chuffed to pieces.

Nicholas Pegg: Yes, people have been very kind. A lot of love has gone into ‘Decades’, so we’re thrilled that it’s getting such a positive reaction.

Nicholas – as an actor/writer, is moving into working in music something you always wanted to do?

Nicholas Pegg: All my life I’ve been dipping my toes into the music world in one-way or another. I’ve written song lyrics for theatre shows, and I play a couple of instruments, not with any great virtuosity, and I’m a pretty decent singer. I’ve sung on stage professionally on many an occasion and, as far as I know, nobody ever asked for their money back! I’ve also been heavily involved in writing about popular music for a long time – among other things, I’m the author of a great big book about David Bowie. So music has always played a big part in my professional life. But you’re right, in terms of actually co-writing and co-producing a rock album; this is new territory for me. I’ve loved every minute of it. Another great treat has been directing the videos for ‘Decades’ on location and in the studio – what a joy. I’ve directed plenty of other stuff before, but never a music video. The first day on location with Sarah Jane Morris and the crew for ‘We All Fall Down’, I was like a little boy with a new train set. Pure delight!

David, did you have the musical ideas before Nicholas got involved, or did the songs come together as part of the story?

David Palfreyman: When Nick first started to work on the drama segments, I think I initially sent him around 15 songs or so. And as Nick kept working on the script, I kept on sending new songs. I can’t remember how many tunes we eventually had in the ‘pool’, maybe 30 or 40, but I thought it best for Nick to choose which ones would fit within the story, as otherwise I would have used everything. It would have been a triple album! Giving Nick the final choice of track listing worked really well, as the songs fit in with his script seamlessly.

Any thoughts of performing ‘Decades’ live?

David Palfreyman: We are about to perform two songs from the album with Jessica Lee Morgan, one of our vocalists, in a live session for the Vintage TV channel. We’re recording that in November. As for performing ‘Decades’ as a whole – oh yes, I would love to do a stage version of it. In my mind, that’s always been the plan. Followed by a film. We managed to get the album done, which has been a huge undertaking. Anything else should be a piece of cake!

Any plans for a sequel?

David Palfreyman: I already have around 100 songs to sift through for the sequel. I’m ready. Nick? Niiiick?

Nicholas Pegg: This man can’t stop writing songs, you know. They pour out of him. Do you know the amazing statistic about Turner, that he left something like 400 oil paintings and 30,000 watercolours, which means that he must have averaged about two paintings per day? Well, Dave is like that with songs. Okay, Dave, here’s the deal. Just give me a couple of weeks’ holiday. And then we’ll get going…

You can order ‘Decades’ here:

decadesthealbum.com

 

Interview with Karl Groom of Threshold – by Progradar

This year legendary British prog-metal stalwarts Threshold released their 11th album ‘Legends Of The Shires’ on the 8th September.

I interviewed founding member, songwriter and guitarist Karl Groom about the new release and a few other interesting questions came about…

Progradar – I think ‘Legends of the Shires’ is your best album yet but, as you wrote it, what are your thoughts?

Karl – All musicians think that their latest album is their greatest but, for me, it does have a real completeness in terms of both music and lyrics. It’s a concept album, not just lyrically (which is often the case) but musically and we tied the whole thing together. For me, that’s very satisfying, when you can listen from the first track on the album, The Shire 1, and got through to the last, Swallowed, and feel the music has the right dynamics to follow from one song to the other.

You just feel that there’s a completeness to that arrangement, and that, for me, is very satisfying. The only other album that came close to that was ‘Subsurface’. I can always find a good song or two that I really think are stand out songs on most albums but I want the whole thing to seem like a complete album, and that’s what stands out on this one.

P – I agree definitely. I’m 50 this year, ready for the pipe and slippers and it’s time to be a grumpy old man. What I think is a problem with a lot of the mainstream music nowadays is that it’s based around singles, they’re just picking one song. I want the album to be a journey.

K – Exactly, that’s the thing, it’s come back a little bit like it was back in the 80’s. Bands would front-load their album and say which are the best songs and just put them in that order. By the time you’re getting to the end of the album you’re thinking ‘oh my god!’ Even if they are all good songs, it sounds a bit jumbled and uncoordinated, you need that coordination and the album needs to be as important as the individual songs on it.

P – When you first started out, young and wide-eyed, in 1988 did you envisage releasing your 11th album over 20 years later?

K – We didn’t even set out to get signed to be honest. My wife was listening to some of the demos we made before we got signed and she wondered how the hell we managed to get signed! It was absolute tosh, it was dreadful. We were a covers band when we made those, learning to play guitar and so on, sort of bumming our way through a few Van Halen songs and Ratt and Whitesnake, whoever was in at the time. We made our way playing those and didn’t think about it at all, we just wrote a few songs, I think it was three, which were sort of within what we would call Threshold now.

Basically, because two of us loved metal and one love prog music, we accommodated everyone with that. A king of prog-metal as a meeting of the two musical styles rather than what you’d see as Prog-Metal now, which is a genre in its own right. We just mixed what our influences were and started writing songs. The guy from SI Music in Holland heard them and thought they were really good, he put one out on his compilation album through the magazine that he published at the time and said he was going to sign us the following year and we’d release an album. In the meantime, someone else heard it, which was Thomas Waber from InsideOut, he had another label in the UK called GEP and said we’ll sign you to that label.

So we signed to Giant Electric Pea and they didn’t expect us to sell any more than 500-1000 albums, so even at that stage we weren’t thinking about whether we’d made it or not. Within a month or so that first album had sold 15,000 so I think it was, at that stage, that we realised that things had taken off a bit more than we thought. We started thinking maybe we are a serious band and we’d better sort ourselves out and learn how to play live. We never, ever chased a deal, we naturally moved to InsideOut from GEP and when that contract came to an end Nuclear Blast approached us and said they’d like to offer us something. To be honest, we’re happy to stay there now and have signed the new contract to stay at Nuclear Blast for another three albums.

P – What do you put your longevity down to? Is it just luck or…

K – We were interested in playing music but we’re typical Brits who are very self-critical and don’t really think of ourselves too seriously. We just wanted to make music and hadn’t thought that someone else would want to hear it. Once that did come true we were thinking it was great, we can write albums and people will actually listen to them and we can release them, it was a gradual realisation. It gradually grew and now, I suppose, it feels normal. My greatest privilege is just to be able to communicate with people through the medium of music, it’s something that I always wanted, you know? If someone can take something from one of our albums or if it means something then it’s a real privilege to be able to do that.

P – The new album is described as ‘A colossal double concept album’, is there a quick way of telling us what the concept behind the album is?

K – It’s about how we find our place in the world, on a political or personal level, and how we relate to each other. To that end it’s really a dual concept album which is what gave us such inspiration to write the lyrics, or Richard anyway. As a political side you could take it as a country or a nation finding its way in the world and all the difficulties that come with that. England’s place in Europe was  vaguely an inspiration, I suppose, from all that happened last year.

On a personal level, it’s much the same sort of thing but looking at your thoughts of things you wish you hadn’t done, just a journey through life, someone finding their way in the world. That was able to give us a lot of scope all the way through the album, in terms of finding the concept. You see that demonstrated in the Small Dark Lines video which we’ve done and which partly illustrates what the album’s about, painting the lines on the people with black paint which represented their regrets in this case.

The small dark lines in the song also represent the borders between countries and how those are a little bit blurred these days. Those are many subjects we can touch on and it was really great to be able to demonstrate that in the video and find a way of doing it, to which end we put out an appeal to fans who wanted to be in the video. We got people travelling from as far away as Sweden, it was really successful, there must have been at least nine people in the video.

The only thing I will say is that, originally, we didn’t plan on torturing them, it wasn’t the idea to give them cold showers but there was only cold water available! It was in a warehouse near Manchester, it was freezing cold and raining on that day and their faces tell the story when they get hit by the water!

P – To me, and to other people I’ve spoken to who’ve heard the album, there seems to be more focus on the songs. Was that your intention when you originally got together to write the album?

K – As I’ve mentioned before, ‘Subsurface’ was my favourite album until now and that was because of that complete nature of the composition from beginning to end. Richard and I got together and on the last albums we’d had contributions from other band members, we wanted that, everyone was always welcome to write. For this one, they didn’t really come forward with anything, apart from Steve who wrote On the Edge, so it was a lot easier to control the whole dynamic of the album, the sound of it.

We got together when we were both ready to start writing, we were inspired, and we got to about an hour’s worth of music. I make complete demos of music and send them to Richard who then adds melodies and lyrics. We got to this stage where we’d finished that, around sixty minutes and I’d said that I’ve still got plenty of ideas, I don’t feel like I’m finished. Richard said that was good because he was building this really interesting concept and needed more music for that.

We just let it go naturally until we had about an hour and eighteen minutes. We didn’t have The Shire Part 1 or 3 at the time and developed those later. We ended up with an hour and twenty-three minutes of music which came as a natural situation at which point Richard mentioned that the label had said that if we were going to make an album they wanted to split it onto four sides of vinyl. I said we could probably just do but I’d want the songs to be in the correct order because we’re thinking about a concept.

I don’t want to take what would be okay on a CD and jumble it up to make it fit on four sides of the vinyl because you can only do twenty two minutes per side. Luckily it fitted in the correct order and that was it for us, there was one other thing that happened at the end when we were doing the lyrics that really convinced us that this was 100% right. We discovered that each song begins with L, O, T or S which is an acronym of Legends Of The Shires and we were amazed by that, it’s just a confirmation that this album is falling into place.

I love it when an album is musically, as well as lyrically, a concept, it may be a bit old fashioned and people may have forgotten about concept albums since the 70’s but I really love it when there’s a whole story and your drawn into it and you can turn the lights out and listen to the music late at night. I still do that with my wife sometimes, like teenagers, with some wine or beer out and just concentrating on music instead of having it as this background effect.

That’s the most important thing, there are a couple of Mike Oldfield albums we listen through from beginning to end and think ‘wow, that feels great’ and I wanted that experience. You’re drawn completely into the music, you forget where you are and what you’re doing, it’s all about the music. You’re drawn into the story and the atmosphere, you feel one thing is happening after another and that’s what special about this kind of album for me.

P – I think Legends is much more progressive than your recent releases, harking back to Dead Reackoning, was it a conscious decision when you were writing it to get that more progressive sound & feel, especially as it was going to be a concept album?

K – I think there’s a natural leaning with Threshold, I don’t know if it’s exact, that seems to be that we do a more straight ahead album followed by a more progressive album, it seems to alternate. ‘Dead Reckoning’ was a little more straighter after ‘Subsurface’ and then ‘March of Progress’ was quite involved. The last one (‘Fro The Journey’) was a bit more stark sounding and now ‘Legends’ is very much warm and progressive.

I don’t know if it was intentional but we always just let songs go and build themselves, we don’t say that we need a ten minute song. In fact I think that Richard would tell you that The Man Who Saw Through Time was nowhere near ten minutes when we started with the first idea. It just developed as it went on and that’s always been the case, I do like the progressive elements. It was Nick and I who liked the metal side of music and Jon Jeary (the original bass player) that liked progressive.

He’s the one that got us into that music but, after I found out about it, I really did get to enjoy Genesis albums and, through that, the freedom to express myself in the way of arrangement so you’re not locked into verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus or whatever. They kind of go where the song needs to go and they don’t sit and worry about the details, they let the song lead itself. You don’t think and worry about the arrangement, it happens and if it happens to be a three minute song, that’s fair enough if it works that way and if it’s longer, it’s longer.

I suppose you get used to writing longer songs so you know what it takes but we do like to mix that up and, particularly once we’d got to 60 minutes and we were still writing, there was a feeling from Richard and I that we wanted this to be a more progressive album as we wanted it to be a concept. We did lean towards that, in some ways, without thinking about it too much. We already had The Man Who Saw Through Time and Lost In Translation at that stage, those songs were already there. If you’ve got 22 minutes on two songs then you’re already on your way to something progressive, aren’t you? You can’t avoid it.

P – You’ve still got some shorter, harder rocking tracks like Small Dark Lines on there, you get a really good mix between them all, it all seems to flow really nicely.

K – I think Snowblind is one of my favourites as well, it’s got harder moments and it’s almost like a microcosm of Threshold on this album. It involves the hard, the heavy, the delicate and the emotional sides of the music, all combined into one song and compressed into 7 minutes. It was really interesting to create that sort of thing all into one track, it just sort of came together in the right way. I’m really looking forward to trying to play that one live!

PWho influenced your career at the start and who’s music would you spend your own money on now?

K – Before we were together, my wife really liked My Dying Bride and I’ve really got into them because of her. I’d never considered listening to it because doom metal’s kind of alright when it’s Candlemass or whatever but it just wasn’t my thing. When I heard them I completely got it the first time I listened to it, I just understood the atmosphere and the music and when I found out where they came from I thought you could feel it in the music. You can envisage the moors and the cold, dank nights and the misery and I loved the way that they painted the picture through their music and the way the sound sort of envelops you.

That’s been something I’ve really been into more recently and love Mike Oldfield because of the electronic side of the music and the way he’s able to build layers. I know it’s a different style of music to Threshold completely but it taught me how you could make music interesting instead of just coming back to a verse again. Why not have something different, maybe an extra layer or something, it’s the way he builds the songs so carefully. It sounds simple but there’s a huge amount involved in it and I learned from that electronic music what was so important about layering music and making it interesting in the arrangement.

From the beginning it was just metal, particularly Testament from the album ‘Low’ and beyond. I suppose if I listened to guitarists it was melodic guitarists, Dave Gilmour and Steve Lukather. I never liked those bands in the 80’s who would write a song where you’d be listening to it and then you’d fall off the edge of the song into a bunch of scales and the solo would have nothing to do with the song. You’d think why did he do that? I know people want to play fast but what’s the point? When I listen to ‘Toto IV’, even though it’s not a favourite Toto album of mine, I noticed that the guitar solos were so melodically driven, so brilliantly worked out and I thought that that’s what I want to do, I want to make a solo that’s got a relation to the song.

To that end I started writing guitar solos by putting the guitar down and taking the music out into the park on headphones and singing it onto a Dictaphone for either a keyboard or a guitar solo, whatever we want. I just start humming it or singing it and that would create the basis for the solo and you wouldn’t fall into the normal pattern where you start playing your guitar and you have certain patterns under your fingers that you always gravitate to, you can’t help it and that means all your solos ended up sounding the same. I now just ignore that and come back and add any technical bits later.

It’s about getting the basics right so someone who’s not a musician can enjoy your work as well. My little girl is only three and she listens to some of these albums we have on and when it comes to the solo she’ll go “advert! advert!” like the song has finished for her, she thinks it’s an advertisement in the middle of the song and then she’s waiting for the chorus to come back. I don’t want to be that, I want to be in a band where bits of the solo relate to the melody in the verses or the chorus and it’s a melody in its own right which keeps people interested, not some excuse for someone to go a bit crazy and play their fastest scales. That’s where that developed from, to keep that as a coherent part of the song and then you don’t feel like you’ve wasted maybe 10% of the album.

P – Just touching on progressive rock again, Steven Wilson has come out and said that being labelled ‘Prog’ has probably held his career back, do you think the ‘Prog-Metal’ label has affected Threshold in a negative way?

K – I don’t think that were so big that we could be held back by anything! How many times do you hear people talking about the revival of prog? Sometimes it’s a positive, sometimes it’s a negative. There are so many people willing to put down the prog fans and categorise them as anoraks that are in their 50’s or 60’s and have no interest in life. Why would you do that? I think they’re an incredibly loyal fanbase that are well-educated, which means you can actually write lyrics that mean something and they will understand them!

It’s a real bonus in my book to find those people and they tend to be there all the way through your career. You can have a pop band that will be gone in a year or two, I love having a fanbase that we can go to and they’re waiting to hear your next album. It’s a privilege, it shouldn’t be something you put down at all and I don’t think it’s held us back in any way.

P – That’s probably why you are onto your 11th album…

K – Threshold are good at what we do, if we tried to become commercial or try and follow some trend, we’re not going to as good as the other bands that do it. You’ve got to forge your own way, be creative and have your own sound, not somebody else’s. I think it’s great if someone hears the track Small Dark Lines on the radio and knows it’s Threshold, to me that’s a good thing. It’s like when I hear a Pink Floyd song and I know it’s them, it should be your own identifying stamp. I think it’s a brilliant thing and that’s what happens within prog.

P – Glynn Morgan has returned and replaced Damian Wilson on vocals, any particular reason why?

K – I can tell you what happened, we never wanted to make a statement because we’re not in the business of trying to put Damian down or anything, he’s a really valued member of the band and he did a fantastically good job. However, in October, after we’d played Prog Power Europe I was giving him a lift home to Oxford and he said to me “what sort of singer do you think would replace me?”, I didn’t really pay much attention and he gave me a few names and we left it at that and I said good night.

A couple of weeks later he turned up when I was working on something in the studio and said that he’d decided to leave the band and it was then that I realised that I’d missed that, I’d missed him telling me that he was leaving the band completely! He gave me names of these people that he thought might replace him and I never want to be in the position of chasing people to be in the band. As I’ve said, I feel privileged to be able to play music to the people who want to listen to it and I wouldn’t want to put him in a position where we’re chasing him.

Threshold is something that’s special to me and if he’d come to the point where he felt he’d got other things to do or you don’t want to be in the band then that’s great, he’s done a brilliant job and we’ll move on. When I spoke to Richard later, I said to him that Damian had decided he was moving on and I don’t really want to take on one of these people he’s suggested, what do you think if we ask Glynn again?

I know he wanted to rejoin the last time Damian had come back. He’d found out afterwards that Mac had left and he was interested but it was too late then. In 2008/2009 we did some work with him on our ‘Paradox’ singles boxset on a couple of the tracks and it was great. I’d always loved Glynn’s voice and the three singers we’ve had are the singers I’ve wanted so if Damian leaves and, unfortunately, Mac is no longer available, it would be brilliant if Glynn came back.

Richard had been in contact with him not long before that and when we spoke to him he was over the moon and, as he said in his statement, he really wanted to get involved again. I thought that his enthusiasm was something you just can’t turn down. As the story goes, Damian changed his mind a few weeks later and wanted to come back to the band. I never really got a satisfactory answer as to why he wanted to leave or come back, he rang Richard this time and said he wanted to come back.

He actually did come back to start recording the new album but he didn’t finish it and we didn’t have any dates from him to come back. We did a show in Switzerland and the atmosphere in the band was just different, we knew he’d wanted to go and then he sort of came back but didn’t want to do certain dates that we’d tried to book to finish the album, he wasn’t available for those. It just seemed like we were in competition with something else  and I said to Richard we would have to find someone who wanted to do what the four of us wanted to do, the rest of the band.

We want to do things, we don’t want to be inactive, we’re not that young that we can be sitting around for years doing nothing. We told Damian we’d have to move on and I don’t know if he wanted to leave or not or whether he didn’t like the idea of looking bad on social media. I’m not sure whether he really wanted to come back or not, I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t really a good fit once he’d decided he wanted to leave and we just thought that, even though we don’t want to fall out with Damian we need to move on.

He still wants to meet up and chat again, we’re not on bad terms. I don’t know if he was expecting it or not but we said, in the light of what had happened, we’re going to move on and we’re going to find someone who wants to be in the band all the time and it worked out, it fits Glynn perfectly, with the extra power he has, on this new album and it works well.

P – Talking about people coming back, Jon (Jeary) makes an appearance on The Shire (Part 3), how did that come about?

K – I’m still in contact with Jon often, we meet as families, with his children and mine, and we’re still great friends. I know he loves Threshold because he bought some of the albums until he told me and I started giving him some, he still likes the music. He didn’t want to be involved in touring back then and I always wondered if I could drag him back in.

We’d demoed every other song on the album with female vocals, we got Richard’s wife to do it as she’s a really good singer and that stops us getting boxed in with any particular vocalist when we’re writing. When we did The Shire (Part 3) she wasn’t available to do the vocals so Richard did it himself and I thought it sounded a bit like Jon. I wondered if I could convince him to sing on it and Richard said good luck with that one so I contacted him and asked him if he’d consider doing this vocal for us and sing it how he feet.

I Think he was flattered as he was the original singer for Threshold when we were a pub band and coming back as a singer was very different to coming back as the bassist. He really enjoyed it, he came after work one night, put the vocals down and it went brilliantly, it was really good to be connected back with Jon. He was such an important formative part of Threshold, he wrote the majority of the lyrics for the first six albums, titled the albums and even came up with the band name.

Even though he didn’t like the touring and what that entailed, he always loved the music. The next step is, if we ever get to playing that track live, to maybe drag him up to London to sing on it, let’s see what he thinks about that one!

 

P – I really appreciate you talking to me Karl, the last question, what’s next for Threshold and yourself? Are you already thinking of the next album?

K – When I get back from the back of beyond (Serbia) I’ll be getting ready for our tour , planning things for Glynn such as what bits of guitar he might play on the tour in November and December. We’ve started arranging festivals for next year and then we’ll see what comes.

Richard and I have always left writing the music for a new album to the point when we’re actually ready to do it, rather than setting a date for it. It’s hard enough to make an album which works, you never feel fully in control of what’s happening, even with the best of intentions and being fully inspired, it might not go exactly as you want it to.

I always feel you have to be completely 100% ready and you’ve got to put everything into it to make it special otherwise why would you bother? We always wait until it’s a natural process, by the time we’ve finished the touring process for an album we’re ready to start thinking about a new one and you get inspired again.

You can order ‘Legends Of The Shire’ in various formats from Nuclear Blast here

Here’s my original review of the album:

Review – Threshold – Legends Of The Shires – by Progradar

 

 

The Fierce And The Dead’s Matt Stevens Talks RoSFest

The legend that is Matt Stevens took time this Sunday morning to talk to me about The Fierce And The Dead’s appearance at the recent RoSFest, North America’s premier progressive rock festival.

Among other things, we talk about the tedious process of getting an artist visa, what it’s like playing in a different country, American prog fans and beer, strong beer!

(Featured image of Matt by Jose Ramon Caamano)

An Interview With Rikard Sjöblom – by Progradar

On the early May Bank Holiday Monday Rikard Sjöblom of Gungfly, Big Big Train and (formerly) Beardfish took the time to have a chat with me about the new Gungfly album ‘On Her Journey To The Sun’ and we also discussed ‘Grimspound’, the new Big Big Train release, the demise of Beardfish and lorry driving.

Listen to the full audiofile here:

You can also read Kevin Thompson’s excellent review of (and find a link to order) the new album here:

Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – On Her Journey To The Sun – by Kevin Thompson

 

 

Interview With Teddy-James Driscoll of Telepathy – Kevin Thompson

Recently I had the privilege of talking to TEDDY – JAMES DRISCOLL from TELEPATHY, a band who are generating a fair bit of interest from the Press, with new album Tempest’ (which I also had the opportunity to review for Progradar) and the single from it, Celebration of Decay.

Hi Ted.

Hi Kev, great to talk to you.

Things seem to be going quite well for the band at the moment with the new album garnering favourable reviews, the single release and with some upcoming tour dates to promote them you must be feeling quite pleased?

Yes absolutely, the band have had a good team behind them since before I joined in 2015 and we all have a lot more experience now. Various people do a great job of handling our press and promotions for UK & Europe, plus we are on a great label who are very responsive to what we need and want to do. We are pleased the album and single have had a good reception so far.

Reading the blogs you seem to thrive on touring, are you the sort of band that feeds off the audience rather than shoe gazing as you play?

Yes, we tour as much as possible, between day jobs. We obviously would like to do more gigs and it to be a full time thing. We like the immersive experience live, and have great crowds who always come to see us afterwards for a chat and it’s important to connect with them.

I notice that you have stayed over in some unusual places whilst touring, a converted meat freezer and an old bank/squat? It beats sleeping in the van but are these the most unusual places you have stayed and any odd incidents?

Last tour we did in Belgium, Pete, a tattoo artist, put us up in the squat, it was really nicely done up. It’s occupied by a left wing activist cooperative and they were really nice to us, although we have no political leanings and stay away from it with our music. We were in the vault and it was very cosy but a bit weird as it still had the huge vault door and we wouldn’t have wanted to get locked in. The next night we were put up in an old meat locker that has been re-purposed in Antwerp, with bunk beds and kitchen. You could still tell it was an abattoir but it had been cleared out and done up with a shower block upstairs.

Beats sleeping in our van that we tour in, nicknamed ‘Pumba’. The Turek brothers’ Dad usually does the driving for us, with Rich’s Girlfriend doing the Merch stand and my brother as roadie.  But it will be just the band on these upcoming dates, all the gear squeezed in ‘Pumba’ with us. We are precious about the sound but at the moment tend to use house PA systems whilst trying for the best sound possible and it’s usually pretty good. We understand with the complex sound we need it as clear as we can and would like own sound guy eventually.

How do you find the audiences here and abroad, is it a wide age range, are they more male than female?

It tends to vary in regions rather than countries, an audience in London for instance may tend to be more serious than one up North where they like to have a bit of fun.  In Europe, again it is different for various areas in each country as well. The audiences do tend to be predominantly male but we are starting to notice more females  watching with a range of ages.

What happens on tour stays on tour, but who’s the ladies man out of you all?

All of us have girlfriends except Peter, we call him Mr December as he’s our calendar model, He’s such a good looking guy so definitely him. He always stands out when we have a photo shoot, but he’s no lothario and always a gentleman.

There is plenty of information on line but it seems to neatly sidestep personal details about you, is this a conscious effort on your parts to keep it separate and do you feel a need to retain a certain amount of privacy?

I didn’t realise there wasn’t more information on our site, I will check it out. We don’t feel we are big enough, for the amount of interest in us at the moment to be to be an issue. We don’t really mind people knowing about us, I hadn’t really thought about it until now and myself I’m quite an open person. We don’t tend to get asked those sort of questions usually just the generic press ones.

Outside of the music do any of you find time for hobbies or interests?

We all have day jobs, I work in a call centre which I enjoy. I go to kick boxing and have quite a busy social scene that takes up my time. Rich focuses his attention on the band out of work whilst Albert and Peter love their motorbikes. We don’t rehearse every day but it tends to build up in intensity more, nearer gig dates. Before the CD was released we spent the whole six months prior on the band. We are all focused and know where we want to be with the band and the level we want to achieve.

In your busy lives do you get time to listen to any other music and do you have a guilty music pleasure?

Good shout, I saw two gigs by ‘Everytime I Die’ before Xmas and love ’em. In the gym or car I tend to play metalcore & deathcore, bands like Killswitch Engage. That sort of music was popular when I was at college and I grew up with that sort of thing. The lads like to rib me about it. Guilty pleasure? We have Cyndi Lauper’s greatest hits in the van and have a good sing-along as a bit of light relief when we’re touring.

So how did you get together with the band and why this style of music?

I had my own business, a cafe which didn’t work out, was off looking for a new job and saw Rich’s message on a Facebook group looking for a bassist. I’d played guitar and though ‘F*** it’ I’d give it a go. I didn’t own a bass at the time so borrowed gear off a friend, rehearsed a few times learnt the first album. I tried out  and it just clicked then we were straight into doing the new album. ‘Celebration’ was the only one already fully written when I joined so I had to learn it. The rest of the tracks were written as a band thing, all four in a room and we are all so opinionated. Peter is always writing riffs and I have a few riffs but the one in ‘Smoke From Distant Fires’ is my only one on this album.

We do it as a collaborative effort and all have our different ways, I tend to sit back and feed off the others. Having played guitar before, bass is a totally different discipline and I have had to teach myself, incorporating my own style into it. I like to emulate Geezer Butler he’s one of my main influences. I’m quite good at arranging so say my piece when we are doing this and that is probably where I am most involved, in the arrangements. There is more space on Tempest than on the previous album, which allows it to breathe and expand. It’s designed as a soundscape.

There has always been a need to categorise the style of music played, into genres and you describe yourselves as ‘furiously played progressive sludge, intricate soundscapes and a bucket-load of riffs’. Do you think labelling your style restricts you and the prospective audience as whilst I agree with most of the sentence, I wouldn’t call your sound ‘sludgey’?

Aw, thanks Kev. Thing is with us, I know it’s an old cliché but we don’t like labels. We get called post metal a lot among other titles and we definitely have that sort of influence, but try to put lots of different genres in, to me it’s ‘InstruMetal’ our own style.

On listening to the album I personally felt the absence of vocals (negating those briefly in the background of  Echo of Souls) added rather than detracted. It allowed me to focus on the complex melodies. Did you plan to be an instrumental group?

When the band first started they were going to get a vocalist but things evolved and they felt one wasn’t needed. I did vocals on Echoes, for an effect and we may use vocals in future if it serves a specific song. I’m open to it if it works but if not leave it out. When I first watched the band before joining I thought vocals would be good, but now I’m in the band it feels more and more like they’re not needed.

How did the concept of the album come about?

When I first came into the writing process a few names for songs had been kicking around.  We started writing and three or four songs in after demoing them we began to establish a theme in our minds and discuss what the music made us think of. Two themes in particular stood out water and earthquake ruins. We developed the story from that, with each new song bringing a new part of the story.

Peter played what became the intro to the album whilst we were working on tracks and we thought it would be a great start. As if someone woke on a beach to all of the devastation and go from there. You can get your own storyline from the music seeing it differently to the band. That’s the beauty of it being instrumental you can paint your own pictures.

You must all have dreams and ambitions but put on the spot where’s the one venue you would most like to play and why?

I have loads, but I would feel I’d made it if I could play Brixton Academy, headlining. We are happy for our progress to go up in small increments, start at small venues and sell them out, then build up hopefully.

I know you supported Raging Speedhorn and they are fans of yours, given the chance what other act would you like to play on the bill with and do you know of any other famous fans you have? 

If I could chose from any bands,  Mastadon, Gojira, or Tool. No famous fans that I know of other than Raging Speedhorn, their Bass player Dave wore a Telepathy t-shirt for one of their gigs we felt really honoured.

Are you technologically minded and gadget freaks or are you straight instrument and amps guys?

Pete and Rich have vast pedal boards with all kinds of effects, I wouldn’t even try to tell you what they do. I keep it simple with a tuner and distortion pedal, but I trigger samples between songs as well, as we don’t like to leave silence between tracks. The continuity is important to tie the tracks together. For the most part with the music sounds we generally use big distortion, wind and atmospheric noises, waves, birds etc.

Albert’s drumming makes it sound intense, without him we would sound totally different, he’s awesome. He doesn’t talk a big game but when you see us live everyone watches him, I know, I used to when I watched the band.

So what would you say has been your greatest extravagance to date?

Love to be able to tell you we’d trashed penthouse suites in hotels and partied all night, but we are just happy to get beers and food on our rider. We don’t have a lot of luxuries as a band  as it is still very grass roots. It’s the kindness of others that gives us the extravagances like when we were given an apartment in Germany for one gig, fully stocked, next to the venue just a few steps away. It was really nice having our own space, in Tilburg.

We went out and bought 30 beers after the gig and drank them outside and that’s about as extravagant as we get. The generosity of others keep us going. Everyone has been so nice and helpful at the moment including the press. Yours is the best review I’ve ever seen, it’s cool that you really got what we are trying to do with the album.

So, to the the most important question of the day before we wrap up our chat, yoghurt and fruit or full English breakfast?

Oh, full English 100%, given the choice, every time. Especially on tour, continental breakfast just doesn’t fill you, definitely full English.

Well it’s been great talking to you Ted, thanks for taking the time out to chat with me. I hope all goes well with the release party and touring the new album. Who knows, I could be interviewing you in ten years time, with multi-platinum album sales after selling out Brixton Academy.

That would be awesome and if we’re up North, you must hook up, come to see us live and catch up, thanks Kev.

And with that we ended our chat. Ted’s a lovely bloke and I wish he and the band all the best in the future. I will certainly make the effort to try and see them live as well as meeting the rest of the band. Who knows, in ten years time….. Mind you, by then I don’t know if my zimmer frame will fit back stage.

‘Tempest’ is released on March 31st and you can pre-order it from Golden Antenna here.

You can read Kevin’s great review of the album below:

Review – Telepathy – Tempest – by Kevin Thompson

 

Progradar’s Interview With Matt Page of Dream The Electric Sleep

Ahead of their first ever London show at The Black Heart in Camden on February 8th, I got together with Dream The Electric Sleep‘s Matt Page.

Vocalist and guitarist Matt formed the band with Joey Waters (drums), and Chris Tackett (bass) in Lexington in 2009.  After two self-produced, independent releases, “Lost and Gone Forever” (2011) and “Heretics”(2014), Dream the Electric Sleep’s third album, “Beneath the Dark Wide Sky,” marked a clear shift in the band’s songwriting style and sonic quality which Prog Magazine hailed as ‘monumental’.

  1. You formed in 2009, how did you guys get together initially?

Joey, our drummer, and I are cousins and have played together for over 20 years so DTES has been in the making for a while! We played in other projects and kept trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our sound, our direction and the sorts of songs we wanted to write. We heard Chris Tackett was moving to town and he was a in a band we loved (Chum) from many years earlier and he contacted us to see if we wanted to try and put something together. After the first rehearsal we knew it was the sound we had been looking for and DTES started 🙂

  1. Which bands were the early influences on your style of music?

We each have some similar influences but also some very different ones. I think all three of us would agree Pink Floyd and Zeppelin would be the core set that we as a band constantly look back to, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg. I grew up on Rush, Metallica, Tool, U2, Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchel etc… that was where I came from. Chris was into Swans, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Queen, and Neurosis and Joey loved all of the above plus Soundgarden, Pantera and Alice in Chains.

  1. And who do you listen to now?

Its all over the map! St. Vincent, Beach Boys, The Life and Times, Gorgoroth, Buried at Sea, Dragged Into Sunlight, Tom Petty, Janis Joplin… no continuity as you can see! We try to let all these things come in and find a place in what we do. It makes this project so much more interesting to see how sounds will collide!

  1. You released your third album “Beneath the Dark Wide Sky” last year, how would you say this record differed from your earlier releases “Lost and Gone Forever” and “Heretics”?

I would say it is more deliberate. It was the first time we worked with a producer, and that was a great experience for us. Nick Raskulinecz was another lens to see the music through and he helped us tighten up the vision we had for the album. The earlier releases are more experimental, which I like and I think we will return to, but this time we wanted more focus to see what that would do to us, our writing, and the final product.

  1. I believe “Beneath The Dark Wide Sky” is about a historical moment in the US called the Dust Bowl? What inspired you to write about this?

“Beneath the Dark Wide Sky” is inspired by photographs taken of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s by American photographer Dorothea Lange. Lange worked for the United States Works Progress Admiration and hoped her photographs could be used to educate the masses (via photo essays in major news publications and magazines) to the poverty and desperate living conditions of thousands of farming families and migratory workers who lived and worked in the drought-struck American Great Plains. Lange believed photographs had the ability to shine an objective light on issues of social justice and environmental degradation and could be used to persuade and motivate social and political change.

Much of what motivated Lange motivates me as the lyricist of the band. How does art inform the way we understand the world we live in and can it motivate us to challenge and change our assumptions? I am not sure there is an easy correlation, but I am very interested in those who try to bridge the gap between art and life.

  1. Prog Magazine described the album as ‘monumental’, do you actually consider yourselves to be a prog band?

That is a good question. I think progressive music has MANY definitions and we fit some of them but not all of them. I never set out to be in a particular genre and because of that, many influences found their way in. This diversity of sound made it harder to define the band and that pushed us further into the progressive community. That particular community wants music that at its core is difficult to define but also music that is searching for something and I would say we fit that bill. We see ourselves as coming out of the spirit of bands like Floyd or Zeppelin or Peter Gabriel or Queen. Those bands are loved by the progressive community and outside it… that is the space I think we are trying to occupy.

  1. Do you think there has been a resurgence in progressive music over the last couple of years?

I do. I think people are craving substance again in music. They want to hear an artist struggle, a reaching for something beyond their grasp, for artists invested in asking questions, thinking about the world, searching and seeking. I think progressive artists are more likely to be engaged in these frameworks and that is where the resurgence is coming from.

  1. Your gig at the Black Heart is your first ever London gig, how much are you looking forward to it?

It is something we have looked forward to for a long time! Most US bands hope to go meet their supporters in other countries and most of the time it never happens. For us to be able to go to London and meet our supporters face-to-face and shake their hands is a big honor. These are the people that have supported us for years and I want to personally thank them! I just want it to be fun for everyone in the room. Live music is a celebration and that is what I am doing, celebrating that moment together, band and supporters united!

  1. Who are your favourite live artists and what is the best gig you’ve ever been to?

I will speak personally here. For me seeing Roger Waters perform the Wall was a big one as well as Peter Gabriel on the 25th anniversary tour of SO. I know Joey recently went to see Devin Townsend and loved it as well as Ghost.

  1. With the advent of the internet, streaming and illegal downloads is recorded music being devalued and are live performances now the best way of connecting with your fans?

Really our best way of connecting with fans has been the internet and releasing albums in that way. In the US the live market is just terrible. I won’t get into the details, but its tough over here. To be able to reach into other parts of the world so easily, it made it possible for us to build a niche of support within the prog community that is spread out all over the globe. Live performances have been way less effective in getting this project where it is. That being said, I am hopeful we can find a way to utilize live performances to reach more people and this current tour is a test of that. We will see if it yields positive momentum!

  1. Do you consider Dream The Electric Sleep to be mainly a live band or a recording band?

I think we have always wanted to be both but as I said in the last response, the US live market is really anemic and scattered right now, at least for us. Because of this we have spent most of our time writing and recording albums as this seems to have been the most productive thing we can do to move the project forward.

  1. What advice would you give to new up and coming artists?

I would tell any band getting started to see this is a long haul process. Finding ways of building a sustainable project should be high on the list. Progress is made inch by inch.

  1. What’s next for the band?

After the tour its time to write again! I hope to take a little bit of a break to reflect on this project and what it needs to be going forward. We have poured every ounce of extra energy we have into this project and over time, you learn more about what you want out of it.

See Dream The Electric Sleep live at The Black Heart on Wednesday 8th February – Free Admission.

You can buy ‘Beneath The Dark Wide Sky’ direct from the band here

 

Leo Trimming Interviews Adrian Jones of Nine Stones Close for Progradar

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Leo:  Hi Adrian – it’s been a few months since the release of ‘Leaves’ on Bad Elephant Music.

What has been the reaction so far in terms of critical reaction and interest from fans?

Adrian: It’s been interesting. Critically we have received mostly positive reviews across the board, there seems to be an appreciation of what we are doing musically, as in not standing still. It would have been easy to have followed up ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ with a similar sounding and style of album, but that’s not very interesting, is it?

I don’t write to formula, or sit down to write something in a specific style, I just write what comes naturally to me at the time and ‘Leaves’ is a statement of where my mind was when the songs were written. I know for sure we have lost some fans with this album, and a few have openly said in public and to myself that they really don’t like the change of singer, but that was out of my hands. Obviously those line-up changes have driven some of that – Aio (Adrian O’Shaughnessy) is a very different singer to Marc (Atkinson) and he brings something new to the sound. His range is fantastic, as you can hear on the album. On the flip side I also had messages from people saying that they really love the new singer and album. Overall, I think we lost some fans but maybe gained a few new ones along the way. For me writing and recording is about progression, development of yourself as a writer and artist, exploring new territories. I do think ‘Leaves’ is a natural progression of Nine Stones Close.

Leo:  What is the origin of the band name?

Adrian: It’s named after an ancient stone circle in Derbyshire, England near where I grew up. I visited the place earlier this year with my brother and my son, a kind of pilgrimage. It took us bloody hours to locate it. Google maps is no help at all ! We found it in the middle of a farmers’ field on Harthill moor. It’s a beautiful spot, very peaceful.

Leo:  Can you describe the creative song writing process for you and the band?

For instance, do the music or the lyrics come first?

Adrian: I generally start just noodling around on whatever guitar I happen to pick up and then see what flows musically. I never really learned to play anyone else’s songs, only the odd riff, phrase etc, so I start just messing around rather than playing anything specific. Usually an idea flows fairly quickly. I never had any guitar or music lessons so I don’t really follow any musical rules, which probably helps me be more creative. Sometimes it can be a guitar effect that triggers and idea, or a drum loop or beat. I also bought a GR55 guitar synth unit a couple of years ago for the ‘Jet Black Sea’ project and that helps me create ideas in new ways too. Once I have the idea I can run with it and usually write the whole thing on the fly very quickly, afterwards properly shaping it can take some time. I like to layer guitars with harmonic chords and lines, sometimes quite a lot of them, much to the annoyance of our producer (laughs). The track ‘Spoils’ had about 95 tracks, I think, when we came to mix it. I pretty much always write the lyrics at the end – it’s the hardest part for me. I tend to make notes, write down the odd line that comes into my head and then start to expand on the idea. The music inspires the lyric in a way as well.

Recently I have been working more with Christiaan (Bruin) during the writing sessions and it’s been great to be able to bounce ideas back and forth interactively with someone, but more often than not I write alone.

Leo:  You can certainly hear the multi-layering on ‘Spoils’ – it sounds so intricate, intriguing and wonderful – a real ‘grower’.

What do you prefer? Writing or recording?

Adrian: Writing. Definitely. Recording is fun too, but the initial creation of the song, is where the excitement really is for me –  that creation of something from nothing. I do think I am lucky in that I seem to be able to write every time I pick up a guitar. The ideas just seem to flow. There is a joke in the band that if they are late arriving for a session in the studio I will have written at least one more song before they arrive (laughs). Actually, thinking back, the song ‘Complicated’ happened exactly like that.

I also write the additional guitar parts on the fly and I am terrible at writing things down, so I often have no idea what I played afterwards. I am trying to get better at writing that stuff down as it does become a problem when you have to relearn something to play it again live or in rehearsal. Over 2 hours of material was written for ‘Leaves’, and at one point a double album was discussed. However,  what we put out was my vision of a cohesive album. A couple of songs were even dropped very late on after I decided that they didn’t fit, and I really don’t like long albums anyway. 40 odd minutes is still a good length for an album in my opinion, so we overstretched that yet again, probably because we had 4 years making it. My hard drive is full of unused ideas and almost finished recordings which may never see the light of day due to lack of time.

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Leo:  Is there an overarching theme to the album, and why is it called ‘Leaves’?

It seems clear you like to maintain some ambiguity in your lyrical ideas but a few clues as to the background of the songs may be interesting!

Adrian: It’s not a concept album, but there is definitely a theme.  It encompasses many things about modern life – what we are doing to the world we live in and to ourselves … and Lies of all kinds.

When I started writing the lyrics I was in quite a dark place, personally, for a number of reasons. I think we live in very dark times right now, but many people are totally oblivious, blinded by the mainstream bought and sold media, and so buried in iPhones, Netflix and other materialistic stuff that the world could be ending and they wouldn’t really notice. It’s a kind of enforced escapism, I guess.

In the end I decided to call the album ‘Leaves’ after the lyric I wrote for the title track. It’s a very ambiguous word and covers many of the themes that the album deals with.

You are right, I do like ambiguity, and I purposefully write lyrics in that way, I like the listener to be able to derive their own meaning from the songs. I remember in a review of the previous album someone mentioned that the song ‘The Distance’ was about the complete breakdown of a relationship … well, it is and isn’t, but you can certainly read it that way.

Leo:   I’ve been listening to this fascinating album again repeatedly recently and cannot help feeling how ‘dark’ much of it feels in tone, lyrical content and atmosphere.

Are the songs largely based on personal reflections of your personal experiences or feelings, or are they more detached manifestations of your imagination?

Adrian: A bit of both, I think. It’s definitely dark. As I mentioned, I was in a pretty dark place when writing much of this album. I am really happy with the overall atmosphere that we created musically. I think it has a very definite “feel”. Some of the lyrics were easier to write than others. ‘Complicated’, for instance, was very easy to write lyrically, it just flowed. It’s theme is the Lie we present to the outside world, and reflect back onto ourselves. If all of our thoughts were visible and openly accessible to everyone else, would we be able to cope with that?

Other songs, like ‘Spoils’, went through several lyric re-writes to try to avoid being too obvious, to create a mood without saying “This song is about blah blah blah”. See, I am not going to tell you what it is about even now (laughs).

Tone wise, the album is definitely heavier, more heavy guitar driven, than previous albums. That just happens to be how it turned out. There were some songs that we didn’t use which were too close to the feel we had on the ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ album, and didn’t really fit where I wanted to go with ‘Leaves’.

Leo:  You really don’t want to give too much away about the lyrics, do you?!

Probably just as well – the listener can interpret and feel it in their own personal way – much more intriguing and engaging.

On this new album you ambiguously described epic song ‘Goldfish’ as:  about a new world sociopath and others might think it is about …. something else …’.

Any further clues as to what that actually may mean?!!

Adrian: No!!  One reviewer described it as being about “media brainwashing”, one said it was about the “short attention span of the internet generation”, another said it was about something completely different. Looks like my ambiguous lyric is working!

It was actually written from the perspective of a “new world sociopath” (whatever that is, I just made it up), but it does also have a deeper meaning.

BEM023 cover

Leo: Antonio Seijas has done some wonderful artwork for Marillion and Gazpacho. How did you connect with him and why did you choose Antonio for the album artwork?

How does he come up with his artistic ideas in relation to your music – do you give him visual ideas upon which to work?

Adrian: I love working with Antonio, he did an amazing job for ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ and the ‘Jet Black Sea’ project album. Antonio creates the art work based on the music and the lyrics and puts that into the concept. What he came up with for ‘Leaves’ is a perfect fit for the music and words –  it’s stunning. I connected with him initially via Frans Keylard, a good friend, when I was looking for artwork for ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’, obviously I was already aware of his artwork for other bands. I think he has a really unique style and he’s a lovely person too.

Leo:  That’s interesting, because it was through Frans Keylard that I first heard your music. He played your album ‘Traces’ on his old podcast ‘Rogues Gallery’ on the Dividing Line Broadcasting Network about 6 years ago, and I was immediately VERY interested in Nine Stones Close. ‘Traces’ is another wonderful album. I miss those podcasts from Frans, and he ALWAYS played at least one Marillion song on every show!

To bring things up to date, there have been some significant personnel changes in Nine Stones Close for this album. I expect fans will be particularly interested to know why former vocalist Marc Atkinson (of Riversea) is no longer involved, and why Brendan Eyre (also Riversea) is no longer on keyboards?

Adrian: Marc decided to leave the band after ‘One Eye On the Sunrise’ for his own personal reasons, there was nothing I could say to change his mind. Everything else is about commitments, timing, etc etc. Everything got a little twisted after ‘One Eye….’ I wanted to push on, get another album out within a year or so and I also started to line up potential live dates. That really didn’t fit with everyone else’s perspective and possible commitment, and it led to a fracture in the whole Nine Stones Close journey. I guess I can be blamed for being over ambitious and I also made a few mistakes there. Everyone else involved has other bands or projects as well, and families, jobs, etc etc, so it is difficult to align commitments to getting an album made, never mind a tour. I sincerely hope to create some new music with Brendan Eyre in the near future, time allowing, as I think we have a great mutual musical understanding. He has been working on some great stuff too with Tony Patterson, and there is another Riversea album in the pipeline. Everyone who worked on ‘Leaves’ will be involved in the next album.

Leo: Thanks for your openness. It really can’t be easy trying to pull these things together whilst everyone involved has other projects and ‘real lives’ in which to make a living and survive. I agree with you about Brendan Eyre’s work with Tony Patterson – their album ‘Northlands’ is genuinely outstanding. I am also greatly looking forward to the new Riversea album.

It’s good news that you’re working with the same line up that played on ‘Leaves’ for the new album as I’m fascinated where the Nine Stones Close journey will go next with such a talented band.

How did you find new band members and why did you choose them in particular?

Adrian: As I mentioned, it was a difficult time after ‘One Eye On The Sunrise’ came out. I was on a bit of a high  – I thought we had created a really great album and we had a chance to really take it to the next level, but it simply didn’t work out. Almost immediately after the release Marc left the band and I spent a long time looking for another singer, and that massively delayed the new album. We tried a couple of people, but it didn’t work. I wanted someone with a different voice, who could bring something unique and new to the band, to me there was no point playing safe and finding someone with a similar style to Marc. Aio came on board after being recommended to me and flying in for a session. We connected straight away and his voice brings a new edge to the sound and I think really fits the new songs perfectly. We recorded the vocal for ‘Complicated’ in the very first working session together. Christiaan I met through Pieter (van Hoorn), we had a rehearsal session in Arnhem and hit it off instantly. He is great to have around and is always full of enthusiasm and great ideas for music. Peter Groen came on board later when we were nearer the final recording stages of the album – he is also great to have around in the band.

Studio

Leo: The excellent new album ‘Leaves’ seems to be a very clear change in tone / direction after ‘One Eye…’.

Was that related to the personnel changes and the different sounds / styles they bring to the band, or was that a clear change from your perspective as band leader?

Adrian: Great to hear you are enjoying the album. I never stand still musically. The three previous albums are all very different from each other too. Aio is an element of that new sound but the material was written before he came on board so the change in sound was already progressing. I am always moving forward, musically, and can guarantee the next album will be different again. Of course, the new singer brings a change to the band’s sound, as does any change of singer. It’s so up front and obvious, of course. Christiaan and Peter both bring their own sounds and approach to the music, and that too changes the overall sound of the band.

Leo:    Are there any plans / aspirations for playing as a live band, either on tour or at Prog festival events like ‘Summers End’?

Adrian: We would love to, hopefully someone will invite us to play!

The problem is the logistics of where everyone lives, available time, family commitments, work commitments and finances. So far it’s just not worked out for a combination of all those reasons. Hopefully in the future it will work out. We are currently working on a possibility for 2017, I hope that we can make it happen this time.

Leo: I really hope Nine Stone Close can make it to the live stage at some point.

Many artists ‘self release’ these days. How did your working relationship with David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music develop, leading to the release this  album?

Adrian: I started out with self-release myself with the ‘Lie Big’ album then ‘St Lo’ and ‘Traces’. We are still best friends with the local post office staff in Leiden! I had known David informally for a while though The Dividing Line Network. I also met with Matt Stevens a few times for a beer and he was always telling me how Bad Elephant were doing a great job for his band, The Fierce and The Dead. The real introduction though was via my mate Brendan Eyre who linked me up with David and Martin (Hutchinson) for a discussion about finding a home for the release of ‘Leaves’. Fortunately, after hearing the album, they were still interested (laughs). It’s been great to work with such an open, realistic, and enthusiastic label, long may it continue.

Leo:   They are certainly an eclectic and supportive label who seem to genuinely have the interests of the artists and the music at the heart of what they are doing.

Whom is your favourite / most influential guitarist/ musician, and what are the main artists that you feel have influenced you as a musician and song writer?

Adrian: It’s almost impossible to choose just one. I listen to a LOT of music. I think Jimmy Page has to be up there. Not just as a guitarist, but as a producer, writer, performer, guitar orchestrator, he was a complete package. Those Zeppelin albums still stand up today. Obviously, as a guitarist, I have been influenced by many other great players : David Gilmour, Steve Rothery, Andy Latimer from the progressive world, but equally Jerry Cantrell was a huge influence. Then there are Kim Thayil, Ty Tabor, Alex Lifeson, Tony Iommi, Trevor Rabin, Zappa, Adrian Belew; way too many to mention. In terms of artists, Talk Talk were a phenomenal band in terms of their progression and output, Pink Floyd, obviously, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, King’s X, Kate Bush, …. I could go on for ages.

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Leo: On ‘Leaves’ you skillfully used violinist, Annelise Rijk, and cello player, Ruben van Kruistrum on the great song ‘Lie’.

Are there any other particular artists with whom you would like to collaborate in future, possibly on your next album?

Adrian: Yes, they did a fantastic job on ‘Lie’. Christiaan also has to take the credit for the string arrangement on that part of the song. Katy Bell provided beautiful cello on the last album too, and Matt Stevens provided some crazy guitar work.

I think there are always other artists I would like to work and collaborate with. I am always open to offers to play on other artists’ material too. I love to do that – it’s a nice challenge which is very different to writing and performing on my own material. I recently provided some slide and lead guitar for the track “Kindest Eyes” on Tony Patterson’s latest album. That was a pleasure to do and it turned out great, I think. Hopefully there will be more  collaborations in the future. Anyone interested should feel free to contact me!

Leo:   Progressive or ‘Prog’ music fans can be remarkably conservative at times, which does sound contradictory to the concept of progression.

How would you describe Nine Stones Close as a band, and what is your view on how some fans may find it difficult dealing with changes in your band’s style and personnel over time?

Adrian: I have phrase I came up with recently, “progression has collateral damage, prog doesn’t”.

I do agree with you that some ‘Prog’ fans can be very conservative these days. For me ‘Prog’ is very different to ‘Progressive’ in meaning these days. ‘Prog’ is more of a style thing now, you know: “sounds like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson or Pink Floyd, must have widdly widdly bits, long songs and huge amounts of time changes”.

If you look at bands that have truly progressed, they have changed, lost fans, gained fans, always moved forward regardless of any fashion or commercial success. It’s fine for fans of our previous albums not to like what we are doing now. It’s perfectly natural. You see that music divides opinion like that. Some people for instance, refuse to listen to any post Peter Gabriel Genesis album, whereas I think they made their best albums after he left. Some people feel the same way with Marillion, for example. Music does polarise opinion. Personally, I want to move forward and not create the same thing over and over again just because some people might like it. There is no money to be made from doing this – it’s purely an artistic outlet, so what is there to lose? I might as well do whatever I want to do. I have no pressure to be an AC/DC type band, effectively churning out the same sounding album year after year. Where is the fun in that? If I am not enjoying making music and run out of ideas and things to say, then I will stop. Nine Stones Close music comes from my heart and soul, I pour everything into it, I hope that some of that comes across to the listener.

Leo:  A really interesting response – I particularly like the phrase “progression has collateral damage, prog doesn’t”I may nick that!

More seriously, it is very clear that you have poured your heart and soul in to the Nine Stones Close albums. They are not formulaic or repetitive, and certainly have engaged this listener.

I know you’ve only recently released ‘Leaves’ but are there any embryonic ideas to the direction of the next Nine Stones Close album, and possible timescales?

Adrian: Yes, actually, there is. I had some discussions with our producer about what I want to go for on the next album. It will be different again, especially in terms of overall sound and feel, I want to take it somewhere new again. It will be a challenge to do that, but hopefully what I have in my mind we can somehow get out onto a CD. Working with Paul van Zeeland (producer) is great, because he has such a deep understanding of sound and how to translate that into a recording and mix. I recently started writing and working on arrangement ideas with Christiaan and we have some great ideas on the go already. The plan is try to record the album somewhere in 2017, but that is all dependant the usual work, family, time commitments. It will definitely not take 4 years this time, if it does then it will never see the light of day! I can’t go through that again.

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Leo: One last silly question.

We’ve recently had the Olympics and Paralympics. If there was an Olympics for Music which 3 albums would you give Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and why?

Adrian: Oh, that’s a very difficult question for a throwaway last question (laughs). Music is always a very personal thing for the listener as well as the musician trying to convey something. I grew up in a house where there was always new music available. My father used to work as a sales rep for various record labels over the years and there were promo copies of albums and singles coming through the door pretty much on a daily basis as I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I used to  play almost everything that came into the house and quickly learned about different styles and genres and also what spoke to me. I have a huge music collection at home, so choosing a top 3 would be impossible. If I had to choose 3 off the top of my head, like now, hmm.

Here are 3 that grew my love of music and made me the writer I am today …

Bronze

Led Zeppelin – ‘The Soundtrack From The Film The Song Remains The Same’

This is the reason I picked up a guitar. I went to see a re-showing of the movie shortly before my 16th birthday with some school friends. Despite my love of music I had never really thought about actually playing an instrument myself, and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity back in those days, we were not well off as a family. I remember just being totally blown away watching Zeppelin perform, and immediately after I got home I asked my parents for a guitar for my birthday. They scraped together some money from somewhere and managed to get me a starter classical guitar, not exactly the Les Paul I had in mind, but it was still amazing to have a guitar and it set me on my own musical journey. The version of No Quarter on this is fabulous, Jimmy’s solo is sublime. I know everyone thinks it is not a great representation of how amazing they were live, but I love it.

Silver

Alice In Chains – ‘Dirt’

I still remember the day I bought this album. It’s left such a lasting impression on me. I was with a friend shopping for stuff in Bristol and went into one of my favourite record shops. It had just been released, and having heard the earlier stuff I was interested to see where they were going. To say it blew me away is an understatement. I remember getting home and cracking open some beers and putting it on the hifi.  About 8 hours later we were still listening on repeat and still drinking beer. The first listen was such a shock, we ended up sat in silence the whole album just taking it in. Jerry Cantrell is a massive influence for me, the way he plays, what he plays, how he writes, hugely underrated in my opinion. Layne had one of the best voices rock has ever known and his combination harmonies with Jerry were just sublime. If you listen to the album I made with my previous band Lie Big – “Severed”, you will hear how big an influence this band had on me. If you only try one track from ‘Dirt’ then listen to ‘Rain When I Die’. What an incredible and inventive song. Frankly there are no weak moments on the whole album, it’s a true classic and it still gets played regularly today.

Gold

Talk Talk‘Spirit Of Eden’

I was always a Talk Talk fan from day one. I remember having the promo of their first single from my dad and thinking the singer was fantastic and that there was more to them than the single. In this case no one really know how much more. I can’t think off-hand of another band who progressed as far as they did over just 5 albums. The Colour Of Spring was an incredible album, but nothing prepared me for this one. I remember first hearing it and just not getting it, I was thinking “Where are the songs? What are they doing?”.

Over time it grew and grew with repeated plays until I became totally obsessed with it for a while. The production is amazing and they absolutely captured the mood of those sessions. This is easily in my top albums of all time and certainly in my most played. 28 years later and this is still regularly on the hifi. If you haven’t heard it then you definitely need to.

Leo:  I don’t know Alice in Chains or ‘Dirt’ so I’ll have to track that one down as you recommend it so highly. I remember seeing that Led Zeppelin film at the cinema and loving it – just one of THE great bands. Love your choice of ‘Spirit of Eden’ and had similar reactions to you when it came out – it’s ageless. Fascinating and varied choices – a real insight into your development and influences.

Thank you Adrian for taking the time to do this interview with Progradar – it’s been really interesting for me and I am grateful for your openness and the thought you have given your answers.

I hope your current excellent album ‘Leaves’ continues to receive the attention it deserves, and I wish you all the best for the next project.

‘Leaves’ was released on 13th may 2016 and can be bought from the Bad Elephant Music bandcamp site:

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

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(Leo Trimming)

Interview with David Longdon – Pt1 from 6th March 2016 – by Progradar

Real World me David and Rikard

Before I get round to reviewing ‘Folklore’, here is my first interview with David Longdon, recorded on 6th March 2016.

Martin – Good morning David, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

David – That’s fine Martin..

M – This actually came out of the blue, a friend of mine called Kevin Thompson, another one who has been into Big Big Train for a long time, had bought two copies of ‘Wild River’ by mistake (which I’m sure you won’t mind!) He advertised it on facebook and said “does anybody want it”. I’d had it in my mind about getting your solo album for quite a while, so I thought, if it’s there, I’ll definitely have it. I put it on and listened to it for the first time and I was really impressed with it. It reminded me of Lee Maddison, a north-east musician and I see it almost modern folk music?

D – That’s exactly what it is. It was musically aimed at the acoustic roots scene because I was searching for a genre that would allow me to make the music that I could hear in my imagination. I’d always liked acoustic music and experimental music so, ‘Wild River’ encompassed a little bit of both of those, there’s also some elements of prog in there too. Over the years, I’d been writing and recording with bands, working alongside a music publisher, band management, record companies and A&R people. I’d also gone through the Genesis saga too so, when it came to making ‘Wild River’, I wanted to make an album that I would like to hear. I was writing songs and getting into the whole recording process just to s see where it took me. I didn’t force a note which was possibly why Wild River took about seven years to make.

M – The title track, to me, I think it encompasses everything that you’ve just said. It’s got a bit of Prog, a bit of rock in it and it’s also got some of that modern folk in there as well, it’s just a really good song. You said it took seven years to make? You were obviously doing that among all the other bits and pieces then?

D – That was right, I’d gone though a divorce during that period and then I’d eventually rebuilt my life, met someone else and then became a parent. It’s interesting because all the people who are playing on ‘Wild River’ are old friends and people I knew from a specific point in my life. It’s a time capsule. It was also the time of moving from the 20th Century into the 21st, so the ‘Millennium blues’ were happening at that time too.

M- Were the songs written of actual experiences of yourself?

D – I was writing music and using different ways of writing. Some of the songs were based on events that had happened in my life. Falling Down was based on a conversation that I had with my father one day. Loving and Giving was autobiographical. Vertigo is about the disorientation that comes when a close relationship is coming to an end and it draws from several episodes that had happened to me. The song About Time was a stream of consciousness lyric – the lesson there was to leave the lyric rather than edit it into something more controlled. I have no idea who Turpentine is – but one day I’ll write a song about her. So the album is a mixture of influences and different subject matter.

I had spent lots of time in recording studios over the years but I’d always worked with an engineer. On ‘Wild River’ I was the engineer and I learnt how to do it as I went along. I recorded Wild River on a  Roland VS8-80. It enabled me to be able to record audio at home for the first time and I found it hugely liberating. For the first time, it wasn’t costing me money to record and I could record when i had the opportunity to be able to do so. I recorded the music on the VS8-80 and a friend of mine called Michael Brown digitally transferred it into E Magic/Logic.

M – It seems to be quite an intricate, devil’s art being an engineer…

D – It takes time and experience to learn the craft. There are lots of errors on the album. On Joely,  and I was recording Beth Noble the violinist and we were layering her violin and viola parts to make it sound like a string section. My inexperience as a sound engineer meant that I bounced some of the violin parts with the reverb, which means that the reverb is now entirely committed to the track. I can’t take it off. But it was a learning process.

There are many things like that, which you learn by doing them. I wanted the album to take the listener on a journey. I recorded the material and arranged the album to flow from track to track. The album revealed itself over time.

With Niall Hayden Kings Place Rehearsal Simon Hogg

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M- Touching on the ‘no-no’ subject of ‘Bard’ in the BBT forum and the re-mastering of that album, would you go back and redo ‘Wild River’ or, are you happy with it as it is?

D- That’s interesting because we have spoken about, possibly, reissuing it as a Big Big Train back pages thing, both ‘Bard’ and ‘Wild River’. With ‘Wild River’, its initial pressing is now gone, that’s it, the original run has sold out. The temptation is to go – ‘I want to rerecord everything’ but I don’t want to do that with Wild River. I have some good live recordings and demos taken from that time which may be of interest. I may record some acoustic versions as additional tracks to accompany the re-issue. But Wild River is what it is and I am happy to leave it at that.

We (BBT)are going to revisit at least one track from ‘Bard’ on ‘Station Masters’.

Before I met Big Big Train, I sent a copy of Wild River to Greg (Spawton) and Andy (Poole), they listened to and liked it because it showcased the acoustic side to what I do. They also liked my songwriting. We did think, at one point, of re-recording the title track with Big Big Train. That’s another option.

M- I think that would be awesome because, going back to the track, it’s even got bits of blues and soul in it as well…

D- I nailed my colours to the mast with that track! It is about the death of my father. My Dad died of leukaemia and I have felt very bitter about it over the years. I feel that he  was taken too soon. He missed too much. The chorus line, “Life is a wild river, not a long, calm stream..”  acknowledges that there are circumstances in life that will rip you up. My emotions are very raw on this track. As I have become older, I think it is how we come through these challenges that life throws at us, that makes us who we are.

M- To me, doing the Wild River track with Big Big Train would be really good…

D- That was just an idea and may or may not happen.

M –You’ve probably got enough stuff to keep you going for the next decade without thinking about anything else!

D – Yes, we’ve got some interesting stuff coming up. We are looking at least four recording projects deep into the future now. That’s a good amount of work. It’s a steady process.

M – So, getting onto ‘Folklore’ and ‘Wassail’, was it a conscious decision to go down that, shall we say,’folk inspired’ route. Everyone calls you ‘Pastoral Progressive Rock’ so, would you say it is a bit of a move away from that, to a certain extent? Or was it just the way the songwriting took you?

D- I am fascinated with the themes within folk music, not so much folk music itself. I like the ideas and structures. If you listen to folk music, it has all manner of odd time signatures within it, much like progressive rock does.

It had been a while since BBT had released a studio album because we had been focussing on Stone and Steel and also the live shows which were both expensive project and also time consuming.  I had started writing  Wassail which I played to Greg down the phone and he liked it. We had a conversation about what we’d been writing individually and eventually a direction emerged. We decided on the title Folklore because it pulled all these musical ideas together as a whole.

Folklore the track, is a song about how folklore came about, how it has been passed on through our human existence. Word of mouth, then words evolving and the written word. Evolving straight through to the digital realm and the internet and social media. We are still making our folklore.

Acoustic Quartet Simon Hogg

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M – You said you were surprised a bit by the success of Big Big Train recently, would you say that’s down to the digital age and things like facebook etc.?

D – Yes, it’s a fantastic Facebook group that we’ve got. People gather there because of a shared musical interest in the band but there’s much more to it than we could ever have designed. It’s a true community of BBT fans who call themselves Passengers. Big Big Train fans are a loyal bunch, they are demanding in the sense that they expect great things from us. They expect excellence and we fully aim to deliver.

M – I’m a member of quite a few facebook groups and there isn’t one that’s the same as Big Big Train. One question that everyone asks, new members that come to it say, it’s the most active facebook groups that they’ve ever been in and it hardly ever talks about the band it was set up to support!

D – When we’ve got something to say, we say it, when we haven’t we will still chip in now and again. People ask about  stuff and we answer it and it’s great. I love the fact that there’s no longer the wall between artists and fans. One of the best things about the Kings Place shows was being able to meet with the fans after the concerts. We are more than happy to do it and we want to talk with the fans. Those shows were our time with them and their time with us. It is a two way thing and that’s important because we value the people that buy our albums and support the band. We couldn’t have done the gigs without our fans wanting to see us play our music live. We can’t make that sort of stuff up and it is a genuinely amazing thing really.

M – Getting back to ‘Wild River’, have you thought about the possibility of a follow up, another solo album?

D – Yes, I have thought about a follow up. I have certain songs that I’ve written that I would like to see the light of day at some point. Uncle Jack was a solo song that I offered to BBT when they asked me if I would like to submit something for the band. Not your typical BBT song but that is part of my role within the band. I am a singer and songwriter, I have my own style and way of doing things which is quite rightly different from Greg’s. The contrast seems to have worked for us as a band and we think that it broadens our appeal.

Make Some Noise, which sometimes gets some stick from some fans because it was unlike anything the band had done before or since. We were finishing off recording some of the ‘English Electric’ drum tracking sessions and we had some down time in the studio. So Greg said to me have you got a solo thing you fancy bringing in to work on? I brought Make Some Noise in. Nick D’Virgilio had recorded the drums put the drums down on it, and as we worked on it Rob Aubrey was in the control room, talking with Greg and Andy, said that it is a single.

I’ve made it very clear about the origins of Make Some Noise, It was originally a solo track and the music is supposed to sound like a young band who are just kicking off and getting really excited by the power of the music that they’re playing with their mates when they were teenagers. Actually it is not as simple as it first seems.The music reflects those bands that I listened to as a teenager.

At that time, we’d been thinking about doing a video because we had been a studio based band and the video would give a sense of what we might look like as a live band. The notion of making a video for something as long as  Victorian Brickwork would be a costly thing to do. Make Some Noise is short and to the point and, rightly or wrongly, it got absorbed into Big Big Train and it became a single and a video for us.

We were not trying to have a hit single in any sense as some have suggested. That would be a preposterous notion because it is far too retro in it’s sound. Some kindly soul mentioned that we were selling out but who exactly were we selling out to? There is no big money machine hyping BBT. We are independent and we do it ourselves. So the prospect of Make Some Noise storming the charts was so off radar that it was never even considered.

M – It’s not Big Big Train but it is?

D – Yes, it is not typically Big Big Train but it is. It nods it’s head to bands like Queen, Pilot, Be Bop Deluxe, those classic rock singles. Big Big Train is a broad church, so it seems, I’m not saying we can do anything, don’t go expecting a rampant disco album anytime soon. If it suits the song subject matter and it works, we do it. We serve the music and go where it takes us.

But what would a David Longdon solo album be like?  I really don’t know.

M –  It needs to be something that’s more signature to you…

D- Exactly. So do I stockpile material for a solo album? If I don’t do another solo album for five years or so, will I still be interested in the material I had written five years ago? So, the answer is yes, I will probably do another solo album at some point. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For the time being Big Big Train is all encompassing. There are only twenty four hours in a day. if you want to hear  David Longdon you’re going to find me with Big Big Train.

Real World -Glassart

(Picture copyright Glassart Photography)

M – How did you get involved with the Martin Orford album?

D – Martin was bowing out from IQ and his progressive rock career. He was very cut up about the way that the internet had impacted on sales. He was also getting nasty emails from people when he approached those that had uploaded his music and he just couldn’t see a future in continuing. That’s what his song Endgame is about.

Martin was recording his swan song and about to hang up his cape. I was reading an article about Martin and he has  a very sharp sense of humour and he’s a very interesting guy. I called Giant Electric Pea one afternoon and left a message, telling them who I was and a little bit about what I’d done. I mentioned the Genesis story and at that point he picked up the phone. We started speaking. At the end of the call he said “I’ll tell you what,  if you want to do it, there are a couple of tracks that I’d like you to have a go at singing. If you can sing them better than him, they’re going on the album!”.

I drove down to Southampton one morning to Aubitt studios and Rob Aubrey was the engineer. That’s how we all met. After I’d gone, Rob was on the phone to Greg saying that I think I’ve got a singer that could be right up your street. That was the beginning of my involvement with Rob, Greg and Andy.

M –And also thanks to you for having the gonads to pick the phone up and leave a message..

D – At that time I was teaching music technology and I was in that cycle of being a parent, getting up at 5 a.m. nappy changing and I thought right, if I’m going to do this music thing, I need to do it on a bigger scale than I have done it previously. I had released ‘Wild River’ to mass indifference.  To be honest, it was dead in the water. Joining BBT was a game changer for everyone involved with it.

M – You hinted on the Genesis thing, would you mind expanding on that a bit more? Was that an audition set up because they wanted a new singer and they advertised or was that through connections?

D – I have a friend called Gary Bromham, who, at that time, was in a band called The Big Blue and they were signed to EMI. We’d met when I was signed to Rondor Music Publishing and we shared the same management company. Gary was working at The Farm, where Genesis record, in Surrey. He was also working with Nick Davis who was Genesis’ producer at that time. Nick told Gary that now Phil had said he was off, they had decided to look for another singer. Gary, bless him, thought about me and said to Nick that he had a recording of someone who he thought would be good for that.

Gary called me and said “Dave, I hope you don’t mind but, I think I might have got you an audition with Genesis!” I thought he was winding me up because he has a great sense of humour but, he told me what had happened and how Nick had taken my tape to Tony Banks who liked it. There was a song on there of mine called Hieroglyphics of Love, it’s been a very lucky song for me, it got me a publishing deal and the audition with Genesis. Tony waited for Mike (Rutherford) to get back from touring with The Mechanics so he could play it to him. Mike got back off tour and liked it so the next thing is to get me down for an audition and that got the ball rolling.

I went down and did the audition, they had these mixes called ‘Top Of The Pops’ mixes because there was a musicians union rule that states that the music had to be performed live so, for example, if you had a track like No Son Of Mine, you’d have the track from the album and the producers would prepare these mixes by taking the lead vocalists voice off. Then, If they did it on Top Of The Pops, Phil could add a live vocal and that would satisfy the Union’s live element of the performance. They had a few Top Of The Pops mixes of their hits and I sang Mama, No Son of Mine, Land Of Confusion, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight, Throwing It All Away, I Can’t Dance and I did a live version of Turn It On Again, they didn’t have a Top Of The Pops track for that. They asked me if there was anything I wanted to sing and I said I’d like to do In The Cage from ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’.

Tony and Mike were very friendly and spent a lot of time just talking to me because, unlike Ray Wilson who had put records and video’s out with Stiltskin, they knew very little about me. They had to get that information out of me. The next time I was down they asked me to come and jam with them. They were playing excerpts of material that would end up on ‘Calling All Stations’ and I just had to jam along to it. Then they gave me a few songs to work on and write with them. I gave them a few ideas back. I also had to perform a live set with my band so they could see me perform in a live situation.

I never met Ray Wilson at all through the entire process. We’ve never corresponded with each other either. It was rumoured that they may go with a two singer approach, like Mike And The Mechanics but the fact that they had not introduced Ray and I to each other got my spider-senses tingling.  As we know, they eventually decided to go with Ray and why not? It’s a long time ago now and I’ve been a bit busy since then (said with a chuckle). As I’ve said before, Big Big Train is the Mothership and my musical home.

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(Picture copyright Neil Palfreyman)

M – Just one final question, where do you see the future for you and the band. Cast your eye over a crystal ball, where do you think you will be in ten years time?

D – There’s lots of variables that can happen between now and then. I’m 50 now so I’ll be 60 in ten years time, I hope I’ll be in good health and be able to sing in the way that I do at the moment, I hope my voice and my health stands the test of time. Big Big Train is its own muse, it is its own thing. It’s strange, when a new album starts coming together, we are write songs and build tracks and you wonder where it is all going. Greg will add something, Danny will send something in and Dave Gregory will provide a guitar part and suddenly, bang!, you go, yes, it’s Big Big Train! The good thing about the band is we are not frightened to throw in some unusual elements.

M- More live performances?

D- Definitely, we loved the live shows, they were amazing events. It was such a fantastic experience for all of us. We want to keep the shows special, we want them to be cherished as moments that people will look back on and think yes, that was something special!

M – I think I speak for the majority, if not all of, the people when I say it wasn’t just a gig. It was part of a whole weekend, people took time out to not just go and see the band live, they were coming from all over the world, it was the build up to it and the gig was just the highlight. It was more of a complete experience than just a show.

D – On the Saturday afternoon I was down in the foyer talking to the guys on the merch table. There was one man and his son who came down the escalator and saw me.  They came over to talk to me and they’d come from Bolivia! He said they’d walked, they’d been on a bus and a train. They’d also been on a plane to get to these shows in London and I’m so pleased that I met them. It was just the three of us talking in the foyer and I was thinking that to come all this way from Bolivia, it’s just incredible.

Folklore Launch

(Picture copyright Simon Hogg Photography)

M – I don’t think I can top that anecdote!  It was quite an experience, speaking for myself, I joined the ‘Train’ just after ‘The Underfall Yard’ and it didn’t resonate with me when I first heard it. I hate to say it but I did walk away from Big Big Train but, when I heard the ‘English Electric’ albums I thought they were absolutely stunning and went back to ‘The Underfall Yard’ and then it made sense!

D – I suppose, in many ways, people say that Greg tends to write the big, more progressive tracks and I tend to write the shorter songs. We don’t contrive the way we write, we just write what we write and then what we’ve got is what we’ve got.  We then talk about it and we come with the next direction of where we are going. We go with what’s right at the time,

Big Big Train has been an amazing experience for all of us involved and it’s given us a lot of pleasure. It is a fantastic vehicle to be working within. I like the fact that you say you came back to ‘The Underfall Yard’ having discovered something later. I guess, when we put Folklore out there may be someone like your good self who heard Hedgerow and thought it was insane, something may hit them and they may go back and discover Hedgerow again and even ‘The Underfall Yard’. You’ve got people listening to the early albums as well, you have ‘Gathering Speed’ or ‘The Difference Machine’, which is great. It’s all good.

M – For me, the song that nailed my colours to Big Big Train’s mast was Curator of Butterflies. Mike Morton of The Gift and I came to the Saturday performance and were on the front row. It’s been a song that we both find quite emotional and we just turned to each other and were in tears at the beauty of it all. The same with Victorian Brickwork, the thing that gets me about that track now is the brass at the end, I can’t understand now why I didn’t like it at first. The brass at the end just makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

D – We’ve been listening to 5.1 mixes from ‘Stone & Steel and we’ve got Victorian Brickwork on there from the London shows. In Blu-Ray high definition with the band kicking and the brass going, it hits home hard. It’s a massive noise and it can be quite overwhelming.

When I first started with Big Big Train I received these lyrics which in addition to poetic moments, consisted of technical, almost industrial, language. I wondered how I was going to approach singing them. I decided to split the lyrics into lead vocal lines and backing vocal parts. Because if I split them up, it would give me more time to deliver and they could overlap each other. I would deliver the lead vocal lines over the gorgeous music beneath and that was the key to it. I also sing them like my life depends on it – like it is the most important thing in the world. It’s not only the words, it is very much the emotional delivery of them.

M  –  I think you’re right, what a lot of people picked up from the Kings Place performances was that you were not just singing the words, you were almost living them.

D – Yes, I am completely in the moment. It’s been an amazing journey.

I’d like to thank David for taking the time to talk to me.

Coming next will be my review of Big Big train’s ‘Folklore’ album and then my second interview with David which we conducted after the release of ‘Folkore’ and the release part at Real World Studios.

 

Interview with Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter (reproduced with kind permission of Jeff Milo)

Matthew - Sam Holt

This is a complete transcript of an article featured in The Ferndale Friends, reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Jeff Milo.

All photos are by Graham Stead and Sam Holt.

Words by Jeff Milo

There is a distinct relationship between artist and audience, bands and listeners. There is an opportunity to instill inspiration, to offer escape, to alter preconceptions. That power and that connection are the biggest reasons local singer/keyboardist/producer Matthew Parmenter has contnued to write, record and publish music for almost 30 years, now, as both a solo artist and, notably, as the frontman for the symphonic-prog band Discipline.

“Any musical offering is an act of faith”, said Parmenter. “It is always rewarding to hear fellow humans say they found something palliative or profound in the work.”

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(Discipline 2015)

Back before the World Wide Web dominated the distribution, consumption and business mode of recorded musical art, Discipline formed in 1987 in a Royal Oak high school. The band features Jon Preston Bouda on guitar, Matthew Kennedy on bass, Paul Dzendzel on drums and Parmenter on vocals and keyboards.

“We dabbled a bit with Punk while in high school,” recalls Parmenter, “but it didn’t take.” They excavated treasures from Sam’s Jams (formerly where Rosie’s now operates) and Flipside (up in Clawson), including seminal prog-rock records that the late 80’s mainstream radio stations were ignoring, like Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson and more.

“Doing ‘art-rock’ in Detroit made us feel a bit like a lone-wolf around town,” recalls Parmenter. But they kept at it, developing a mailing list, with actual snail-mail and allying with comparable prog-stylists in the region like Hope Orchestra and Granfalloon. In fact, it was another local goup, Tiles, who showed Discipline a lot of support over the years. Tiles’ guitarist Chris Herin eventually took the spot of Jon Preston Bouda on guitar.

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Discipline have evolved over the decades, through several records released through their own label Strung Out Records, a beautiful blend of operatic-pop, post-punk theatre and a baroque-tinged electronic ambience, primarily experimenting with a genre known as progressive-rock (or prog-rock). Some of their compositions spanned 15 minutes or longer, particularly on their dazzling 1997 odyssey ‘Unfolded Like Staircase’.

“As a songwriter,” Parmenter said, “I have become less inclined to embark on epics. I rarely write songs running more than 15 minutes any more, and 25 minutes is right out. I am still drawn to create a narrative space that exposes some particular observed tension and which, ideally, reaches an emotional summit.”

Matthew 2 - Sam Holt

On stage, Discipline embody this captivating, Morpheus-ian grace in blending psychedelic performance art with elements of classical, jazz and Brit-pop. Parmenter points to The Beatles, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel as influences for the more rock and pop sides of Discipline, while also including jazz and classical icons like Miles DavisThelonius MonkIgor Stravisnky and Béla Bartok. The experimental rock of Van der Graaf Generator was a notable influential touchstone.

“In live performance, we have learned to allow, and even to foster, a sort of intentional imperfection,” said Parmenter, “Not to say that we ever played perfectly. Rather, in the early days accuracy and being precise seemed more important. Later on, rough edges and spontaneity came to matter more. Then the performances started to breathe, get human, have soul. Too much polish…can become boring.”

Go online and you’ll find various zines, blogs and sites devoted to ‘prog’ music sending substantial love towards Detroit’s Discipline. There is truly a galaxy full of bands edging their own nuanced composites of this genre, with acknowledged pioneers such as Yes, King Crimson and Genesis.

“If progressive rock were an iceberg, most people would recognise it only by the tip they can see sticking out of the water,” Parmenter observes.

Discipline are finishing up a new album while Parmenter celebrates the release of his third solo album ‘All Our Yesterdays’ (through Bad Elephant Music) on March 11th.

US and Canada Pre-orders of ‘All Our Yesterdays’

UK and Europe Pre-order of ‘All Our Yesterdays’

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Interview – Fedor Kivokurtsev of Echoes and Signals

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I like a bit of instrumental progressive rock and it was my pleasure to review Russian trio Echoes and Signals November 2014 release ‘V’ earlier this year.

Further to this excellent album the band have announced that they will be opening for their heroes Pain of Salvation on the two Russian dates that they are playing.

I caught up with guitarist Fedor Kivokurtsev to find out more about himself and the band…..

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Progradar: Fedor, how long have you been a musician, what started you on that path and who influenced in your early days as a musician?

Fedor: Well, it’s been a million years since my first attempt to play a guitar but, if we are to talk about something music-like, first band etc. it all started when I was 15. Now I’m 26, so…                  

To talk about main influences – it was a weird combination of some metal bands, sci-fi & fantasy books and, a bit later, another ton of classical books. Reading is still one of my favourite things to do on this planet.

Progradar: How did Echoes and Signals get together in the first place?

Fedor: I got together with my friend Alex, our bass player, and our first drummer Vladimir just to play some music. We decided that we wouldn’t have any plans, any style boundaries and would play anything we felt like at that moment. We were all going through period of certain changes in our lives and it was the starting point.

Progradar: Echoes and Signals are an instrumental rock band, why just instrumental and do you think you will ever write any songs with lyrics?

Fedor: It was not intentional but, suddenly, we found that, in 95% of cases, the instrumental form was perfect for what we wanted to express. This means that we will have some songs with lyrics in the future, but not so much. It should go naturally, sometimes words are useless, but sometimes they mean a lot. 

Progradar: Do you think it is easier writing tracks with no lyrics and how do you go about writing your songs, what inspires you guys as a band?

Fedor: No, it’s definitely not about “easier or harder”, it’s about the right feeling. All our songs are inspired by personal experience, particular situations and feelings. So, life itself is the main source of inspiration, but other forms of art – great music, books and films are always near.

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Progradar: Does being a musician in Russia differ from more recognised countries like the UK and USA? Do you have a big following in your home country?

Fedor: Well, one thing that is very different is distances, it’s okay to drive 10 hours from city to city when you tour Russia. By “okay” I don’t mean that it feels great though 🙂  

In all other aspects I guess we all face the same problems as musicians. I never thought that location can solve the problems of a man.  All our problems and difficulties live inside our heads. 

About the audience? – it’s not so big, but very dedicated.

Progradar: How do you feel about illegal downloading of your music?

Fedor: All our music is free (or pay what you want) at the moment, so it feels ok. I mean we cannot avoid downloading and everyone who uses torrents knows that.

There are some pros and some cons but I prefer to think about the good side. It’s good promotion at least.

Progradar: Do you think that, eventually, all music will be cloud based and even digital music files stored on a computer will become a thing of the past?

Fedor: This is where it is, subscription based streaming services etc. it’s not only about digital music, but also about any digital content, software etc. However the transition will not be that fast.

The bad thing here is that the value of each piece of art is decreasing. You don’t have to go to another town to buy CD in an exclusive shop or ask a friend who has a collection of rare music… all you have to do now is just type the relevant keywords in a search bar, with all the relevant consequences. 

Progradar: You have recently announced that you will be opening for Pain of Salvation on the two Russian dates of their tour, how did that come about?

Fedor: Seriously, we just wrote a big and touching letter to the concert agents who booked PoS in Russia. They then sent our videos and music to the headliner and we’ve been confirmed. 

It was a very impulsive act since I really love PoS as a band, I love their music, energy and message. I feel some kind of a resonance. Well, every fan feels the same, don’t they? 🙂

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Progradar: Knowing that you guys are big fans of the band, how do you feel about it?

Fedor: We feel awesome. No, haha. Words are just words, it’s hard to describe this emotional lift that we feel. I wish I had a chance to say all I think about this in person!.. After all, one of my dreams came true. That’s it! I wrote a big post on our facebook page trying to catch my thoughts.

Progradar: Do you prefer playing live to recording and why?

Fedor: Both, there was a moment in my life when I decided to be a studio nerd, because it’s perfect for composing, this isolated atmosphere… but, after some very important gigs, after this storm of emotions that I felt, I changed my mind.

So, both things are awesome, it’s all about the balance. Sometimes you have to spend some time alone, trying to understand what you want to express. But we should not forget that the most important thing in our life is to give something to someone. Gigs are perfect for this.

Progradar: Who inspires you musically and generally in this day and age?

Fedor: Oh, the hardest question for me!.. Right now I’m really into 70s singer-songwriter stuff, Joni Mitchell, Linda Perhacs etc. 

In general any good music inspires me!, any genre, any style. Talking about modern bands, I really love Icelandic and Japanese music, Agent Fresco and Mono for example.

Progradar: Where would you like to play live most of all in the world?

Fedor: It will be a long list! Everywhere 🙂 Portugal, France, UK, Iceland, Argentina, Japan. Why?.. Just a random selection. The world is so big and beautiful!!!

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Progradar: If you could give up the ‘day’ job and be a full time musician, would you?

Fedor: Well, a short answer will be ‘yes’ but, if we will dig and see what ‘full time musician’ means and how many sacrifices people who can call themselves so make, it can lead to a new thread of discussions. In this life we need to try, we need to make mistakes and we need to make the right decisions.

Progradar: What is next for Echoes and Signals and where do you see yourself and the band in five years time?

Fedor: The next big steps that we need to do are two tours. Russia first, as a complete tour and then Europe. We will work hard to make it happen. Also at the moment we are writing a lot of new music, a lot of ideas flying in the air… So it will definitely lead to the new release.

In five years I wish that we will still be together, strong, writing great music and touring. Life is about the simple things, right?

Progradar: Name 3 albums that you own that you think everybody else should have?

Fedor: 

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of The Moon

Pain of Salvation – Be

Paul McCartney & Wings – Band on the Run

Progradar: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Fedor: Thanks everyone reading this!!!!!! And thanks Martin for the questions.

Don’t forget – if you like the music, support the artists. By support I don’t mean money, I mean sharing with friends, good words, friendly messages, facebook status updates, all these things are a perfect reward!

An excellent up and coming band, catch Echoes and Signals live and download the album here : Echoes and Signals – V