JWS: Yes I’m fine as well, let’s talk about your new album (‘Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn’). I’ve heard it and I think it’s great, a bold reimagining off a truly classic album, reworked for the modern times.
JL: Thank you very much, I tried to stay true to the emotion of ‘Days of Future Passed’ but with a twist for 2023. Hopefully people can relate to it, especially the younger fans. Hopefully they will wonder what the original version was like.
JWS: Well, I went back to the original and compared the two versions. I really enjoyed going back and hearing it again but I also liked the new version as well. I especially liked the way your bass was more prominent.
JL: When we made the original, we recorded it with two four-track machines. Now, of course, we have far more technology available to use so we were able to get the sound we’d originally envisaged for it. We were able to give the sound for the bass more room and, indeed, all the instruments were given more space, their own space.
JWS: Well I think it’s worked well, it’s a great idea. You’ve not just taken an album, you’ve not merely replicated it, you’ve reimagined it and made it sound more modern and contemporary.
JL: Well that was what I was hoping for, I’m glad you like it.
JWS: I also like that you have Jon Davison of Yes singing Tuesday Afternoon on the new version, I think he sounds really great.
JL: John is a good guy, a great singer writer and a great guy as well. I know him from 2017 and the Royal Affair tour I did with Yes and Asia where I joined them for an encore of John Lennon’sImagine. Jon joined me for a version of Ride My See Saw, which Jon has done on several occasions very memorably.
JWS: I also liked that you managed to get Graeme Edge involved with his poetry,
JL: Yes I asked Graeme if he be willing to be involved and he said that he’d love to as he’d never read his own poetry before. So Graeme and I went into the studio in Florida where he recorded his poetry, sadly he passed the next week, so he never got to hear the finished recording. but at least I was with him near the end.
JWS: You were big friends with Ray Thomas as well?
JL: Yes I first met Ray when I was 15 and we’ve worked together ever since. I do a song in his memory in my show, Legend of a Mind, in his honour. He was a remarkable man really, I miss him dreadfully .
JWS: It’s good that you uphold their memory in such a manner.
JL: Well I want keep these songs alive otherwise they will fade away! They don’t get played much, unless it’s in a medley, and they deserve more than that really.
JWS: Well I have both of Ray’s albums, and both of Graeme’s, on my shelf. I was listening to some of your back catalogue recently, including a set on the ‘TimelessFlight’ boxset of the ‘Blue Jays’, live from Lancaster University. You had the Trapeze boys with you on that show.
JL: Yes, Dave Holland, Terry Rowley and Mel Galley, fabulous chaps one and all! I produced their ‘Medusa’ album, they were a great band.
JWS: Listening to your albums, as I have been doing over the past few days, has given me a fresh appreciation for just how ground-breaking you were as a band. The music on those first six albums was beautifully crafted, intelligent and well thought out. I think people simply failed to recognise that beauty.
JL: I’m glad you said that because I feel that way as well. People tend to overlook that, I don’t think the media ever gave us a fair chance really but we were pushing the boundaries of where music was.
JWS: I used to love the sleeve artwork as they told the story as well, with their imagery and artwork supporting the music in a complementary manner.
JL: Well that’s what I’m so glad that vinyl is making a comeback. This new album is being released on vinyl in November, I’ve just had the masters from Germany, and it sounds great.
JWS: I think kids today miss the sheer joy of trawling through crates of vinyl, discovering stuff for themselves.
JL: That’s the issue I have with streaming, they dictate what you hear so, say Lennon’s Imagine, you only get to hear certain songs and omit songs like Jealous Guy.
JWS: Well John, my time has gone so I’d better let you go, but thank you for talking with me about things, I really enjoyed it and appreciate your tim.
JL: Well, thank you as well John, I’ve enjoyed talking with you too.
‘Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn’ was released 22nd September, 2023.
I took the opportunity to talk with the ever affable, Huddersfield based, guitarist about his forthcoming new album release ‘Quadrivium’.
JWS: Good afternoon Nick, how are you doing?
NF: I’m doing very well thank you!
JWS: So let’s talk ‘Quadrivium’, What’s it all about Nick?
NF: Well the album which is fully instrumental with no vocals this time (due in part to be unable to locate vocalists who could sound right for the albums themes), it’s based upon Plato’s four noble arts, Mathematics, Astronomy, Geometry and Music. This album, ‘Quadrivium’, links three of those; Astronomy, Mathematics and Geometry, under the overall one of music, as the whole album is, in effect, music.It may be a lofty concept yet I feel it is a valid one.
JWS: It is definitely an interesting one and I found it interesting that drummer AnikaNilles hardly appears on the opening track and then her presence is strongly felt thereafter.
NF: Yes, that was a deliberate decision to ease her in gently, I think it works?
JWS: Yes, I agree, how did that tie up come about?
NF: It’s a long story so I’ll give you a shortened version of it, I was going the see JeffBeck but the tour got cancelled because of the pandemic. It was rescheduled, which also got subsequently cancelled as well. When it was rescheduled once again, I couldn’t get a ticket, however, a friend of mine told me I’ve got tickets but we can’t go, do you want them for half price?
Well, I almost bit his hand off to get them, this was in May 2022 and when the band came onstage I was surprised to see that Vinnie Colaiuta was not amongst them, instead this young girl was on drums. I thought, what!? As I really like Vinnie as a drummer but, with the first songs, I could see why see was there (those first songs were Rumble and Isolation, the latter with Johnny Depp on guitar).
After the concert I looked her up online and got in touch to see if she would play on my next album. I heard nothing for a while and I thought she’s probably busy or not interested, so forgot about it. Then, out of the blue, I got an email saying “Hi Nick, sorry for the delay in replying but I was checking you out and, yes I would love to play on your album.”
I was gobsmacked I can say, so we talked and shared the music and Anika did her parts in Germany where she is based (in Berlin) and the results can be heard on the album. Anika has all the skills I was after, she can go from a whisper to a scream within the same track, she is a percussive powerhouse. I am very proud of the parts she played for this album, she is a phenomenal talent and I am proud to introduce her to the world on this album.
JWS: She is joined by some familiar names like Dave Bainbridge and Tim Harries, Along with your regular collaborator Caroline Bonnett who, along with being the producer, also provides keyboards.
NF: Yes, I’ve known Dave since we were both 19 and Caroline from my earlier career as a session musician for mainly Christian music artists like Dave Bilbrough and Martin Joseph, amongst others.
That Jeff Beck concert was fantastic, Jeff was a totally unique player with his own identifiable sound and style, he was a master of his art and it almost made me want to give up playing as he was so good!
JWS: I saw Jeff in Birmingham in 1982, his concert was like a guitar masterclass really, totally remarkable. He’s start a solo and something new would come out of it or that’s how it seemed to me. So, on to the new album then…
NF: Yes, well it begins with a track that is referenced in the last track of my previous album, ‘The Cloud Of Unknowing’ and the latter part of that album’s last track The Paradox Part 2, which is reprised on this album in the opening track, A Wave On The Ocean Of Eternity. In addition, The Fifth Parallel uses repeated harmonics within the track.
The album takes you on a journey through life to death, from the earth to the outskirts if the solar system. It is a journey best undertaken in a single setting so that various soundscapes can be fully heard and appreciated fully. You will find all of the styles I employ, fast, emotive, soft and heavy, although you won’t hear any whammy bar effects as I don’t use those, nor do I use any tapping techniques. I feel that this lick is a trademark of mine, it hopefully marks me as being different and yet still, hopefully, I remain interesting to listen to.
The album changes moods often within the same track and my collaborators have made this album a worthwhile listening experience.
JWS: I’d have to agree, it’s a wonderful release and one of the albums of the year, many thanks for talking to me and all the best.
NF: Thank you John, I much appreciate the comments, look after yourself.
‘Quadrivium’ was release don 15/9/23 and you can order direct from Nick’s website here:
JWS: You’ve just come back from South America haven’t you?
SH:Yes, we’ve done three weeks over there and spent the last week back here recording. In fact, I’m putting the finishing touches to a new album this very day.
JWS: What is that going to be?
SH: It is a new rock album.
JWS: So any nice long tracks for me to enjoy on this?
SH: Well I am trying to link it all together so it’s a continuous journey. I was actually talking to Jo about that earlier, about how much space do we leave between things. There a short guitar instrumental that I think my mother will like, it’s only short but it has the trill of the guitar that makes it exciting, There was a guy I was playing with in South America called Luis Fernandes and his band Genetics, I’d call him a jazz rocker really, we were trading solos, it was a lot of fun.
I was playing with my Fernandes (guitar), I have two of them, one was Gary Moore’s but I think mine is actually sounding better than his at the moment. These things change as guitars sound different every day. It’s very strange how it changes from day to day and, you know, I can tell the difference. Others say it sounds like it normally does but I can tell when it’s responding differently, some times its the electricity but other times it something else but I can tell.
I’ve just had to get my Iron Man pedal refined, it had stopped working, so I’ve had it rebuilt. It’s actually more of a treble booster that gives you a bit of an edge to your sound and it’s all good now after failing in South America.
JWS: So I’ve heard the new ‘Foxtrot at 50’ live album, I have to say it sounds really good, very clear sounding with good clarity to the vocals too.
SH: Well that’s because we had it mixed by Chris ‘Lord-Alge’ to get that clarity of sound. I’ve not heard the Blu-Ray of the concert yet though, I’ve seen it but not heard it properly. That’s all up in Norfolk at the moment but I’m expecting it to sound equally as good though.
JWS: We saw that tour in Buxton at the Opera House and we thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as it is such a great little venue, very old and very intimate.
SH: Yes that is a great venue, as is Holmfirth in Yorkshire, where they filmed ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’. That is similar to Buxton, plus Buxton is easy for my brother John to join us as he lives in Sheffield.
JWS: I think John was with you when we saw you.
SH: Possibly, I am very pleased for how things are working out so well for him at the moment, his band, The John Hackett Band, are getting more recognition and getting good reviews, he deserves it and they are an excellent band musically too.
JWS: Actually my wife and I got married in part because of you.
SH: Really, why’s that?
JWS: When we first met we were talking and she asked what I did in my free time and I said I write music reviews and do interviews. Then I told her that I had spoken to you and she said the exact words my brother had said, “Steve Hackett fromGenesisrang you!”
Then, when you did the first Genesis Revisited 2 shows in Manchester, we came along and she was overwhelmed by it all. She was very emotional, especially for Firth of Fifth, and the guitar solo reduced her to tears of happiness and joy, it was such an emotional time for her, she really enjoyed it so much.
SH: See, my mother says that I think the guitar solo does that to her, it seems to get to people, it’s a lovely melody to play as it sounds a little bit like Erik Satie. Of course, Tony Banks wrote it on piano and it has a kind of eastern melody a million miles away from what it sounds like on the guitar. It’s almost like an adagio where the guitar functions like a voice, it takes me back to my Quiet World days.
That solo seems to do things to people so a german, two French people an English guitarist and an English man came up with the whole thing. When I play that solo I feel quite secure in knowing that it’s a really good piece of music. With a nod to Bach and Erik Satie and even Ravel in the piano solo!
JWS: Anyway Steve, I think my time has gone so I’ll say thank you for your time, we’ll speak again soon I hope, keep well.
Progradar: So here we are with Matt and Kev from The Fierce And The Dead ahead of the release of (new album) ‘News From The Invisible World’ in July, so guys, first question, why vocals?
Kev (Feazey): Funnily enough, we get asked this quite a lot recently! I think that anybody who has followed us knew that the thing about not having vocals was never an idealogical stance, we never sat in a room and said that. We just got together and we played a lot of the stuff that was around when we were kids, a lot of rock music, from the kind of underground ‘Don Caballero’ kind of world, it wasn’t a huge leap to NOT have vocals, it just suited.
Then it was never like, literally, “We need to do something different with this album…”, we got these ideas and we mucked around for quite a few years after (previous album) ‘The Euphoric’ with vocal samples but it just never felt quite right. With this one it was literally like, “Shall we stick some vocals on that…”, and that was it, we thought, “Yeah, we’ll give it a go…” and we did and it worked!
Matt (Stevens): I think that, with the ‘The Euphoric’ album, we had done the best instrumental album that we could, we took that as far as we wanted to take it and then it was just a question of trying new things. It’s just not repeating yourself, doing things that are exciting to you and, hopefully, other people will be interested and, if they’re not, at least you’re doing what YOU want to do and you’re enjoying doing it, that’s the main thing.
Progradar: The only lyrics we’ve had on a TFATD release before were “Palm Trees!”
Matt: I remember our good friend Spike (Worsley), who is sadly no longer with us, coming up with those lyrics at a gig, Spike was a diamond. It was just a question of developing it really and this was the way to do it.
Kev: We were very keen because it was an experimentation to see how they would fit and we had a lot of discussion about how they’d present. We trusted each other implicitly, that’s one good reason why this band works, we can work on stuff and bring it back. There are no egos in this band, people play different instruments on recordings, it doesn’t matter.
The one thing that we all agreed on was that the vocals needed to sit in somehow, they needed to be part of the whole thing. The way we write music is still relatively similar, it was just really important that they (the vocals) sat inside of that and didn’t disrupt it.
Progradar: You guys know my opinion, it’s seems natural to me, the way the band should go forward. I think it’s a fantastic album, the vocal side of it is brilliant. It’s not majorly out there yet but you’ve had some feedback from the three singles you’ve released, what’s the feedback from your, shall we say, regular fanbase, has it been, on the whole, positive?
Kev: Yeah, I’d say, overall, it’s been really positive. Matt made a point the other day, you can see at what point people ‘got on the bus’ with us. If you’ve followed us all the way through, whilst it always sounds like us, ‘Morecambe’ and ‘The Euphoric’, if you listened to them both out of context then they wouldn’t sound like they came from the same band. It’s a case of this is where we are right now, this is what we’re writing and this is what we are going to do.
I think some people got on at certain points and might have a perception of us as a certain thing and have tied their flag to that mast, so to speak, they might not get it. Overall, though, we are over the moon really, we put it out there and most people have loved it. Matt said the other day that we seem to attract a lot of very broad-minded people.
Matt: It’s self-selecting, it’s a sort of filter. If you look into our Facebook group, the people who are there are open-minded about stuff. There are always going to be people for who the vocal sound doesn’t work and that’s totally cool. Certain vocalists just don’t connect with people and that’s not them being close-minded, it’s just that it doesn’t do it for them. The most commercial thing we could have done would have been to have made Truck ten times because that was our most popular song.
We could have gone around and played stoner rock festivals for the rest of eternity and had a lovely time doing that but, in the end, the reason we didn’t do that was because we wanted to do new things with it. What the music industry tends to be, and what the algorithms on Spotify want you to do, is make one song and then make that same song over and over again so you build a massive audience. At the end of the day, some people just aren’t into that and that’s fine. So far, in terms of our audience, they seem to be enjoying the tracks and the reviews that have come out so far have been positive. Ask me in two months time, it might be a different story. So far so good is probably the best answer I can give, to be honest.
Progradar: Do you think the new album will attract new fans to the band?
Matt: What tends to happen with The Fierce And The Dead records is that people get on and get off. There are people who loved ‘Spooky Action’ and didn’t like ‘The Euphoric’, there’s people who liked ‘The Euphoric’ and won’t like the new one. There’s people who liked the first E.P, the really long song we did, that haven’t liked anything we’ve done since because it’s not proper ‘post-rock’!
We’ve always lost and gained people, there’s people who came in when we played ArctTangent and from us supporting Hawkwind. There’s people who came in from Cardiacs and my solo stuff. They come and go all the time and I think that’s healthy. If you look at all the bands that changed radically sound-wise, it’s happened to all of them, hasn’t it? I still think there’s an attitude and a spirit that’s come from where we were to where we are now and we’re having a lovely time doing it.
It’s about building a community over making money and things, we are rubbish at making money for the band but we’re good at building a community around the band! The priority for me is to build the audience and to try and treat people really well, make it a nice thing to be part of and show how much we appreciate that audience. Hopefully we can continue to grow it, that’s always been my concern, it’s never been about making money. Just trying to make it better, nicer, make the shows bigger, just to keep it going really.
Kev: I’ll just add to that that, when we get together in a room to rehearse or play, that feels just like it did ten years ago. That, realistically, has been our aim through all of this, we really enjoy each other’s company, we like being around each other. It really sparks us creatively and that’s the thing that we want to keep going. We don’t TRY to be authentic because we just are, we do what we want to do.
We’ve never had any decisions to make when starting an album, Matt just walks into the room and goes, “I’ve got a riff!” and off we go! I think the audience picks up on that. If we were constantly chasing some rabbit down a hole because, as Matt said, it was really successful or making another Truck, then we’d be doomed.
Progradar: Because you guys are professional musicians but it is not your main source of income, does that give you the freedom to do what you want?
Matt: The Fierce And The Dead couldn’t work if we were trying to make it our main income stream because we wouldn’t be free to do what we want. That’s why you see a lot of artists doing the same thing, release the same album every eighteen months and go round the same gigs doing the same things. We are free to do EXACTLY what we want. If we wanted to release an ambient album or an acoustic album, we could do that, the main reason is because we have a small audience that support us.
We couldn’t afford to do this without making the money back, we are in a very lucky position that we have a core audience that buys enough of our music to keep it going. It’s the best of both worlds really, we’re musically free, our gigs sell out, we can put out the records that we want to put out and all the costs are covered. As long as that core fanbase continues to support us then we’re great.
Kev: Whenever we’ve had outside influence within the band, we have been very lucky that it’s always been positive. For example, working with David (Elliott) and yourself at Bad Elephant Music was a great experience. You can imagine, we have a lot of friends from the very bottom to the very top of the industry, you hear all these stories about expectations and all this kind of stuff and it’s weird. I have often spoken to Matt and we’ve mentioned about wanting play at certain places and to so many people but, when you look at what we’ve actually got, we’re fantastically lucky. We have enough self-awareness to understand that.
Progradar: How do you think the music industry has changed since you released the ‘Part 1’ E.P. back in 2010? Streaming and digital music were both in their infancy then, is that the major difference, do you think?
Kev: Me and Matt have very long, philosophical conversations about this, not just in context of the band but because it’s really interesting, like a cultural phenomenon. We seem to now be entering the era of ‘everything, everywhere, all at once’, to copy a phrase. Where things used to move in kind of like in waves, you’d have Nirvana wiping out hair metal and then you’d have britpop wiping out grunge, you’d have like a lens, people were having to look at what was available to them.
That was through what was curated by record labels or magazines, what was on TV, all that sort of stuff. Where as now, people can curate for themselves, I can introduce someone who’s never heard Neil Young and, by the next day, they can have heard everything that he has ever done. They can find a fairly brief but in-depth Wikipedia entry, they can know just about anything about this person. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s massively beneficial to us while also being a massive pain in the arse!
Matt: We’ve managed to go along doing what we want without anyone trying to interfere or cause us any problems. Look at the Cardiacs in the 80’s and 90’s, they had that core audience but they struggled to go any further than that. If you look at people like Faith No More, they got in there, with the metal scene and built an audience like that but, after they got to a certain point, it was almost like they weren’t the flavour of the month any more. Now, it’s just a case of building that audience one person at a time and hoping that, eventually, it will continue and become sustainable.
To answer your question about downloads and streaming, when I first started releasing my solo records, you sold a lot of CD’s and a lot of digital downloads. Streaming killed the digital download market, in terms of posting physical products out from the UK, that’s a bit of an issue now, with Brexit changes and postage costs going up massively. That makes it quite difficult to sell CD’s and vinyl mail order. It has radically changed and physical product has become quite difficult but, live wise, people are very keen to go to gigs, we’re not struggling to sell tickets. Certainly, people are still interested, if you look at the story of music over the last 40 or 50 years, it’s just a story of constant change.
The 90’s where bands on indie labels could sell ten thousand CDs, that world has gone and isn’t coming back, there’s more competition now, people have to accept the cards they’re dealt with and just get on with it. Count your blessings and realise that to have an audience is a massive privilege as most musicians haven’t got an audience, they’re making records in their bedroom to no one. We’re very lucky and I’ve got nothing to complain about, I can only see positives really.
Kev: Because we’re not looking at things through the lens of commerce, when we get a message from a fan in Brazil, that blows my mind, this is something that we laboured over in various studios and houses and it’s got that breadth without major distribution and all that kind of stuff. In that way, that’s amazing and, for a musician, that’s the payoff.
Progradar: Talking of the new album, what goes into writing an album for TFATD? How does it begin? Is it a collection of ideas from all four of you or does one of you come with more ideas than the others?
Kev: Because of Covid, the way we work radically changed. The way we normally work was that somebody would come in, 95% of the time that would be Matt, with a riff or something they’d put together and that would be then filtered through all the members of the band. It would be very rare that Matt would come in and say he had a bass line or I’ve got a drum beat to go with it.
Matt: Yeah, I probably do bring in the majority of the riffs but, by the time we finished it, very little would sound similar, most people wouldn’t recognise it as the same part. Whilst that’s kind of the spark, I wouldn’t say in any way that it’s me dominating the writing process.
Kev: That’s right, Matt would have brought something in and eventually it just sounded like us because everybody developed it. We all grew up together, we have this language that we can talk together in . That’s how we kind of put all the songs together in the past. On ‘The Euphoric’ we started demoing stuff, which we’d never really done before. Me and Stuart (Marshall) went into a studio and we demoed stuff but, on this one, because we obviously weren’t actually able to go into a room together, we had to think about it differently.
We all got ourselves little set-ups, Stuart had like a MIDI drum kit, Matt, Steve (Cleaton) and I all had little recording things then Matt would send me riffs, Steve would send me riffs, I’d send them ideas and there was a lot of file sharing. The beauty of being able to have MIDI parts, on a track like Photogenic Love, Matt sent me a piano piece, because it was MIDI, I could change the sound. He doesn’t give it to me with context, I might hear something different and I can then filter it and send it back, it’s a constant back and forth, almost like evolving the song.
Doing it this way actually allowed us to spend time individually, especially Stuart. I could send him tracks with rough drum machines on and he could then spend time at home on them. As any drummer knows, in a rehearsal room, trying to work your parts out is not that easy. He was able to sit back and come up with ideas, like flipping the beat on the choruses of Golden Thread, which is something I would never have thought of.
It’s really exciting when you get something that you’ve been working on, you send it off and it comes back different, it’s almost like you’re not in the band anymore and you’re hearing it again. It was all built up like that and then we went back over it with the real instruments, some of the parts on the album are literally demos. Again, on Photogenic Love, the guitar melody over the chorus is the original part that Matt sent me with all the effects on it and everything.
Matt: We couldn’t quite get the same sound again, could we?
Kev: Exactly, we’re not purists in that sense at all, if it sounds good then it’s good! What I’m trying to say is that filtering system has just become a bit bigger, where as before it used to be us in the room. It was a bit quicker but with less time to stand back from it and reflect on it, now it’s a lot slower but we have a lot longer to reflect on stuff.
Progradar: The album is going to be released later in July and you’re already working on album five, is it strange to be promoting ‘News From The Invisible World’ while you’re also writing new music?
Matt: When we were doing the fourth album, because Covid happened, we had a lot of time to write and we ended up with lots of stuff. For the first time ever, we had more music than we actually needed so we just carried on. Obviously we’re doing all the production of the physical stuff at the moment and all the PR, which has slowed it down a little bit but we’re still just carrying on writing. Each track we do is a progression of the last one, rather than each album, if you listen to ‘Invisible World’, although it sounds like us, there’s no dominant thing going on.
It’s lots of different ideas, you’ve got stuff that sounds like Radiohead and Pink Floyd, you’ve got stuff that sounds like Queens of the Stone Age, The Flaming Lips, there’s loads of different influences in there. I think as we develop the material we’re currently working on, that’s kind of an extension of what we were doing. I think that, now we know the vocals are going on, it’s a different thing because we didn’t really know where we were going with them.
We’re also using more strings and stuff, I really liked that, and the pianos. I think the ‘Invisible World’ has made us feel quite confident and we’re trying different things and just trying to be braver really. The last song on the album, Nostalgia Now, has got lots of strings and piano and on it and it just makes me think that I want to keep trying new things.
I think people can hear when you’re excited about things yourself and I think that comes across on the record, that enthusiasm and joy comes across to the audience. We don’t really know where we’re going with it yet but it will be a continuation of what we’ve done, we’ve probably got all the bits ready for album five, haven’t we?
Kev: Across the years we’ve never stopped writing, we’ve always got instruments around us and we’ve got WhatsApp groups and voice memos of Steve at two o’clock in the morning quietly trying to play us his ideas. It could be literally two years and then one of us will go, “I’ve just found this…”, an email I sent you and it’s really good and just been sitting there waiting to be discovered!
Matt: I think the writing process for the last record was so broad, Non-Player was Steve’s idea initially, I think it’s given Steve a chance to be more of a song writer which is really good for me. The Start was mainly Kev’s, there’s all of us putting parts in and, like I said, it’s Stuart having a chance to work at home on stuff. It’s been really interesting, we’ve put a lot more thought into this one.
Kev: Being able to demo properly, it’s like you can actually go and listen to it and realise it’s fine where as, in the rehearsal room, it sounds great because it’s loud. You’re going to play it seventy-five times and think it sounds great but, when you take away the volume and put it in a different context, is it still fun?
Progradar: I think I know the answer to this but, how much are you looking forward to getting out there and playing these songs live?
Matt: Yeah, can’t wait, really looking forward to it. We’ve got a friend of ours who’s come down to help us with backing vocals and a bit of percussion and keyboards. We could play to click or play to a backing track but I’d rather not, if we can help it. I’m not averse to it but, if we can play it live, I’d rather play it live, it’s more exciting. We just can’t wait to play live again, the gigs we do are not necessarily about us, they’re more about the community of people that come to the gigs.
All those people in the Facebook group and all those people we’ve met over the years coming together, that’s why I love it. There’s no egos, it’s more important than trying to be a show off, it’s more about developing that sense of community. Treating people with decency and respect and being grateful for the support we get so, yes, can’t wait to play it live. We love playing and I love a Premier Inn breakfast, it will be fantastic!
Kev: For us, it’s just given us a new twist, new challenges and things we’ve got to work out how to do, how we present it and that makes it interesting for us. We always want everything to be joyous and a celebration, the last few rehearsals we’ve had have been really good fun, it’s really exciting.
Progradar: It’s time for the last question, to both of you, please recommend one band that you’ve been listening to a lot recently…
Matt: A metal band called Svalbard, they go really heavy and then really melodic and then really screamy. They’re great and have som excellent tunes, for the last few years I’ve gone back into a metal phase again. It was the music I grew up with when I was a kid and, for the last few years, a lot more experimental metal bands have come through and Svalbard would be the one I recommend.
Kev: Literally, what I’ve been listening to this week, there’s band called BadBadNotGood. I’m not sure how you’d describe them, jazz/funk? I’m not sure what you’d call it? They’ve got an album called ‘IV’ that I’d highly recommend to everybody. There’s a lot of sound design in it, it’s all very simple instrumentation but it’s how the instruments are presented, it’s very similar to a lot of what we do. We think about how we make the instruments sound, there’s a lot of bands that have influenced us that people may think are a long way from us, like TheFlaming Lips.
Progradar: Thank you guys, it’s been a pleasure as ever to chat to you and I wish you the best of luck with the new album and will hopefully catch you live somewhere soon!
Matt & Kev: Cheers and thanks for everything!
‘News From The Invisible World’ will be released on 28th July, 2023 and you can pre-order the album from bandcamp here:
Ahead of the release this Friday of the band’s acclaimed new album ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’, Progradar sat down with frontman/guitarist Darran Charles to get the lowdown…
1. Godsticks were formed in 2009, for you, personally, how much has the music scene changed in the last 14 years?
Good question. I suppose in terms of the prog scene, I’ve seen that a subset of Prog – Prog metal – has now become the dominant force in terms of popularity, and arguably they’ve become the new boundary pushers, which is what prog has always been known for.
Obviously the way music is now consumed means there’s less income to be derived from the sale of physical media, so we now see bands having to earn their income mainly from touring. And since Brexit it’s also proving cost-prohibitive to play shows in Europe. All in all, there hasn’t been much that has changed for the better for bands!
That said, the consumer has never had it so good. The music scene is absolutely saturated with bands and a huge percentage of these bands are absolutely great. As technology has become more accessible as the years go by you see more and more people being able to exercise their creativity and produce things on par with anything that was created with a huge studio budget.
2. Who were your influences then and who are they now?
At the time of the EP, I was mostly listening to Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, and a lot of jazz-fusion. I might have even been listening to Alison Krauss a lot.
It’s hard to say who my influences are currently. I listen to music a lot differently than I did when I was younger, and I have to say that I miss physical media, CDs especially. My car doesn’t even have a CD player anymore so everything has to be streamed digitally. In the last few years I’ve been mostly listening to pop music, but the last band to truly inspire me were ‘The Smile’ – featuring Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. I’ve watched the recent live performances on YouTube and the quirky complex songs are quite often a mind-fuck that require complete absorption.
3. You had a run of very good albums from the self-titled EP, right through to ‘Emergence’ after which you were signed to Kscope, did signing for a major label put any additional pressure on you?
To be honest, they’ve always been very supportive. They’ve never tried to change us and given the type of non-mainstream music we produce they kind of knew what they were in for when they signed us. I work closely with Johnny Wilks from the label who is a fantastic source of help when I ask him to scrutinise the album demos.
4. Your initial sound was described as being progressive but the new album ‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’ is definitely more intense and hard rock oriented (in my opinion), is that a natural evolution of the band’s sound or was it intentional?
It’s a natural evolution because we’ve found that the heavier music is more enjoyable to play live due to its intensity. However, we still have a wide range of musical styles that we enjoy writing in. In fact, we recorded 7 other songs that were not as heavy as the other material on the album which we purposely left out because they didn’t necessarily fit with the vibe of the album. Three of those songs are included on the bonus track ‘Crushed’ while the other 4 tracks will be released over the course of the next 12 months. I suppose you could say that these tracks showcase the gentler side of Godsticks.
5. There is a lot more focus on guitar riffs and a dissonant edge, do you think this will transfer into a live arena particularly well and are you looking forward to getting out there and unleashing the new music on your fans?
Always! Every time we write a song we try to imagine what it would sound like live. Not that we would impose any restrictions on ourselves by reducing the instruments/overdubs etc but we simply imagine what we would like to hear if we were the ones in an audience. It’s important for a song to have some sort of physical impact upon me, which is usually manifested with a vigorous head-nodding!
6. Is the new album a lot different to your last, ‘Inescapable’? You say that the writing process was different with a lot more collaboration with other band members?
Each album has resulted in more and more input from each member. I’m the main songwriter primarily because I find it almost impossible to come up with good vocal melodies over ideas that other people have written, which is a shame because Gavin often comes up with some great riffs. But Godsticks music has always been about textures as well as riffs, and the parts that Gavin comes up with on synth and guitar are integral to the songs and enhance them in a way that I would likely be unable to do.
Tom also ‘hides the seams’ between seemingly disparate sections of music, and without his ingenious drum parts the songs would sound very different indeed, and worse for it.
7. How do you go about writing a Godsticks track, what influences the creative process?
Usually, things start with a guitar riff or drum beat and I take it from there. A lot of ideas emerge from either studying music, practising or transcribing things. It’s usually when I least want to be distracted from the task in hand that inspiration strikes.
Sometimes, although it’s very rare these days, I’ll get inspired by a new band or song which I love. The last occasion something creative happened like that was when I watched a live show of ‘The Smile’ – I was so blown away by the music that I felt inspired to sit at the piano and write something. That track ‘Crushed’ features on the bonus disc.
8. How did you cope with the lockdown? A lot of musicians I know have actually said that they found the whole period to be very creative and have come up with a lot of new ideas?
Well, I experienced the opposite sadly. I never wrote a single piece of music during the lockdown period. I tried to force it but in truth, most of it was poor.
That’s not to say that I didn’t make use of the downtime. I spent all my time either studying or practising and even began delving into the world of electronics and having zoom conversations with expert amp builders.
I also began reading books on synth programming and understanding exactly how they worked. That episode will definitely benefit our music in the future.
9. Obviously, due to the pandemic, you couldn’t play live after you released ‘Inescapable’, how frustrating did you find that?
It was incredibly disappointing as you can imagine, but at the same time the fact the world was a little bit strange to say the least put things in perspective a little. Then as the pandemic dragged on we started to worry if there would even be any venues or promoters in business when the world eventually re-opened its doors.
So whilst it was frustrating, that feeling was eventually subsumed by relief that things could finally get back to a state of normality.
10. I know most musicians will say that their current release is their favourite but do you hold any of your previous albums in particular regard and, if so, why?
I would say ‘Emergence’ is probably the most important of our albums, as it heralded the future sound of the band. At the time of its release, It may have seemed like an abrupt left turn in terms of heaviness but I think the overall sound and vibe of that album proved that this was our natural sound.
11. Who would you consider to be the best live act today and one you would pay to go and see?
Meshuggah! I’m desperate to see them play live. The last time the opportunity arose the nearest place they were playing was Bristol, but I absolutely hated the particular venue they were playing, so didn’t go.
12. What’s next for Godsticks or are you just concentrating on getting the new album out and playing it live?
Our sole focus at this time is rehearsing the new music to perform live at our upcoming shows in June. Then it’s just a question of how many gigs we can successfully put together and how many festivals that will welcome us.
13. What do you do to relax away from music?
Most of my life is taken up by music, whether that’s practising, studying or writing, but in the evening times I like to watch TV. I’m a big fan of shows like ‘Succession’, anything HBO, and stand-up comedy. I also like to read non-fiction books on biology and history.
14. Finally, what, if any, advice would you give to that younger version of yourself who was just about to release the debut EP in 2009 now you have been on the rollercoaster for 14 years?
As someone with an aversion to reading manuals and instead intuitively fumbling there way around new technology, whether that’s creating synth sounds or learning how to use my gear, I would advise myself to take the time to learn the technology you’re surrounded with, especially production techniques. These are often invaluable tools to assist with your creativity. That’s something I’ve changed my approach to in the last 3 years or so, and these days I look forward to reading a manual!
‘This Is What A Winner Looks Like’is released 26th May, 2023 on Kscope
John Wenlock-Smith: Good day Steve, trust you are well?
Steve Howe: Hello John, yes, I’m fine thanks, trust you are too?
JWS: Let’s talk about the new Yes album, ‘Mirror To The Sky’.
SH: If you have questions, I should have the answers!
JWS: Is there an underlying theme to the album?
SH: Yes have only done one themed album (‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’), other things we have talked about but aren’t really thematically related as such.
JWS: I’ve heard the new album, I like it and the fact that you are doing longer songs. Once again, I think it is an approach that really works for you.
SH: After ‘The Quest’ and the good reaction it received, we were inspired to carry on and content to make more new music as we had songs written to work with. This album is the result of that time.
JWS I saw you in Manchester, it was very good and I enjoyed it a lot. You turned in a good show that day.
SH: Thank you, glad you enjoyed it. We enjoyed that short run of shows and it went down well, apart from York which didn’t go so well, I’m afraid.
JWS: I have a question from my friend who asks about your involvement with Queen’s‘Innuendo’ album. How did that come about?
SH: I was in Montreux in a restaurant that I like when a guy called Martin spotted me and invited me to the studio (Mountain Studios, where Yes recorded the ‘GoingFor The One’ album). As I’d finished my meal, I happily went with him to the studio and the band wanted to play me the album. After which they asked me to play on the track Innuendo, as they wanted something extra in the guitar department.
When I pointed out that Brian had done lots of guitar they said they’d still like me to play on it and gave me free rein to play whatever I liked. So they played me the track and I just improvised as I am quite used to doing that, jumping in and creating on the fly. They liked what they heard so, after we’d had dinner together, we returned to the studio and put the two takes together, making what you hear on the album. It was a fun day with great friends.
JWS: I have a question about GTR. Wow come you didn’t record a second album? Is that something you would consider revisiting 30 years on?
SH: Well we did record a live album for King Biscuit Hour in Germany, I think? (it was actually in Los Angeles in 1996) but we split the band after that and, whilst certain parties wanted us to do it again, it adds a certain complexity with managers and timings etc. Finding time in what I’m doing now means doing it all again would be a huge undertaking. I’ve moved on from those days, although I did enjoy that time, we had a lot of fun doing those tours. It was easier to revisit Asia actually but, again, I had to curtail that as I was busy with Yes.
JWS: So, Yes is your main focus these days then?
SH: It is really, especially as we are on a creative roll at the moment, things are going well, plus I still have my solo stuff around to keep me occupied.
JWS: So the tour this year was postponed because of insurance issues? I was looking forward to the ‘Relayer’ shows actually.
SH: Yes, we decided to postpone those shows after a few years of uncertainty over them and the insurance was a major factor, but not the only factor.
JWS: You probably have lots of demand on your time with everything you are involved with?
SH: Well, actually, I don’t. I have Yes and my solo stuff and I control what I do so that I run it, not the other way around.
JWS: I’ve written a review about it (the new album), I was generally positive about it, I said that Genesis and King Crimson have ended and Deep Purple and BOC are nearing the end and, really, we should respect that and appreciate you while we still have you.
SH: Good perspective and insight for us all, I think!
JWS: Well, I think that’s it from me apart from to say thank you for your time and trust the album goes well for you and hope to see you next year in Manchester
SH: Thank you John.
The new Yes album, ‘Mirror To The Sky’, is out now and available to order here:
Steve Hackett is certainly a very busy man of late, on the day we talk, he has just returned from time in Borneo and a few club dates in Japan, amidst a wider Australian and New Zealand tour. Even so, he continues to be his usual self-effacing and courteous host, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from.
This interview is in advance of his upcoming season of shows entitled ‘Foxtrot AtFifty’, which will see him delivering a complete set consisting of that entire album. The tour will see Steve and his band playing the album along with various other classic Genesis material and some of his own solo material from the ‘Surrender ofSilence’ album from last year. It is looking to be a busy few months again for Steve.
John Wenlock-Smith: Good Morning Steve, so how are you sir?
Steve Hackett: I am all right, fine, it has been a busy time, how about yourself?
JWS: We have had Covid actually.
SH: Ooh, that is nasty!
JWS: With Sue having asthma, she had it worse than me but we are both on the back end of it now so, hopefully, will be back to normal soon.
SH: Well, next week we go to Germany and Italy as we are doing some outdoor shows, which should be good, I like festival shows, they are genuine fun.
JWS: Then, when you come back, you have ‘Foxtrot at 50’ starting?
SH: Yes, that is right, in the autumn. I am looking forward to it, it is an album that is worthy of a revisit, some of it I have not played in 50 years!
JWS: You have also got the ‘Seconds Out Live’ album coming out in September?
SH: Yes, it is the best live album I have ever done. It sounds good, much better than the original album, which was not a good production sadly, whereas this one really does sound good. The drum sounds are better plus we took the key down for Squonk.
I think Genesis did that as well because a lot of those songs were written by non-singers and they forget that voices change as people get older and they can’t reach the high notes as easily as they used to, I know Phil cannot do it now. This latest version is exceptionally fine indeed, I guess time will tell though?
JWS: Yes indeed, I was listening to a friend of yours last week, Nick Fletcher?
SH: Yes, he is great, an extraordinarily accomplished and amazing player, the best jazz rock player in Britain today.
JWS: I was also going back and listening to some early Fleetwood Mac with PeterGreen.
SH: Well I saw Peter Green many times over the years, he was always a fabulous player.
JWS: I also heard an album by Ryo Okumoto that you play on as well, a track called Maximum Velocity.
SH: Yes, a friend of mine is also on that album, Michael Whiteman, who sings and plays bass on the album. He is part of a band called I Am The Manic Whale, he is particularly good too, it is interesting that he is also on the album.
I have not heard the finished album though, so I do not know if I even made the cut or if I am one of several guitarists on there but enjoy it anyway.
JWS: There are some great keyboard players out there now like Ryo and, of course, your own Roger King, about time he did a solo album.
SH: I keep telling him he should but he thinks anything he did would not sell so he is reluctant to try.
JWS: Well, maybe he ought to cover songs he likes himself or something?
SH: I will tell him, but he is happy just playing on my stuff, although he will tell me if it is not any good, he can be vocal about it too. But they are all talented players and play like demons at times.
JWS: So what is next for you?
SH: We have been so wrapped up in touring that I have not been able to record much. I have got three songs ready but not had a chance to record them so, hopefully, that will happen before long and then we will be touring ‘Foxtrot’ around the world too, so busy days ahead.
JWS: Right then Steve, I had best let you get on but thank you once again for your time. Stay safe and well and we will hopefully see you in Buxton in September.
SH: Thanks John, take care of yourself and keep well.
In this piece I talk to Steve Howe about about both the forthcoming Yes UK live dates, why they are not playing ‘Relayer’ this time around and about the ‘Asia in Asia’ box set that is due out in June.
John Wenlock-Smith – Good afternoon Steve, are you keeping well?
Steve Howe – Yes I am, thank you.
JWS – You are in Devon today then?
SH – Yes, in a secret location! I moved here some 26 years ago from London and, whilst I still live in London, I visit as much as I can as my studio is here.
JWS – Fair enough. I have spent many happy times in Devon. It is a lovely area.
SH – Yes, well I certainly like the slower pace as opposed to the madness of London!
JWS – So the tour that you are doing in June, how come you are not going to do the ‘Relayer’ album, as originally announced and intended?
SH – Well, with it being a shorter run of dates, as we cancelled the European leg, it’s now just the ten shows in the UK. We felt that it was better to postpone that particular album, especially as ‘Close To The Edge’ is 50 years old this year, and perform that in its entirety instead. We will also do a few other favourite songs and some of ‘The Quest’ album, although I’m not saying which we will play, keep it under wraps as it were.
So that is the plan now, and save ‘Relayer’ till next year when we can give it the treatment that it deserves, so we chose to concentrate on playing CTTE this time around, to give it a good airing and celebrate the anniversary in this manner.
JWS – Yes, because you have had Patrick Moraz along for some shows doing ‘Gatesof Delirium’ ?
SH – We had Patrick play Soon with us on a tour that Tony Kaye had joined us for, the celebratory tours. We like doing that sort of thing, although we have no plans on that as yet, not that to say that that it’s out of the window but, at the moment, we are concentrating on getting back out on the road after three years enforced time away.
Also, that is why coming back after 3 years away, we are doing what we are comfortable with and can do to the standard that is required and that Yes fans warrant and demand.
JWS – Yes, I can understand that way of thinking, plus it leaves the way open for a further tour with ‘Relayer’ being featured.
SH – Exactly…
JWS – I am glad that tracks from ‘The Quest’ will be featured, as I really enjoyed that album. I thought The Ice Bridge was exceptionally fine, reminiscent of Fanfare For The Common Man in the keyboard sounds, and also your solo Album ‘Love Is’, with Jon Davison on vocals.
SH – Thank you.
JWS – Well I thought it was a good set of songs, well performed.
SH – Yes, Jon did a wonderful job on that, didn’t he?
JWS – I also really enjoyed the ‘Homebrew 7’ album.
SH – Thank you, that was quite different for me in that it did not have the usual Homebrew story but was mostly unreleased tracks and ideas that I was able to work to fruition and completion. It was a retro album of music that was unreleased so thank you again for appreciating that.
JWS – I enjoy listening to latest music, especially music that you have released, so what are the chances of having your two original Atlantic albums (‘Beginnings’ and ‘The Steve Howe Album’) being re-released again?
SH – Warner’s, Rhino, Atlantic or whoever have been so nice to me, they are officially releasing those albums, so I will investigate that. I think it’s marvellous to be part of the story of Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic label founder).
Howe Sound, the label that releases many of my albums, is quite diverse really and I feel comfortable with what they release for me, plus I like to do things differently and not be stuck in a treadmill way of things.
JWS – I do not blame you, variety is the spice of life, or so they say.
SH – Indeed.
JWS – Now Asia, that new Boxset (‘Asia in Asia’) that is coming out in June (10th) is very impressive…
SH – BMG have released the Reunion albums, with Fantasia releasing the DVD but this one is even nicer. That is, I especially like the diligence, I like detail anyway and this set really has an elevated level of detail to it, making it worthy of attention. When we did those shows some forty odd years ago, Greg (Lake) was really inspiring in that he was singing John’s (Wetton) parts, playing his bass lines too and doing it all with dignity and aplomb.
The Asia story is all told within those sets really, the two original albums, ‘Go’ and ‘Asia In Asia’ and then the years where Geoff was holding the banner, keeping the flame alive as it were, with various people drifting in and out including myself. Then there’s the reunion and subsequent albums and tours, it’s all in those albums and the ‘Asia In Asia’ especially shows a period where Greg really rose to the occasion magnificently as the set testifies in such a great way.
JWS – The only criticism I have, and it is a minor one really, is that, in the booklet, it mentions a documentary filmed around that time in which each member traces their Asia journey and, although mentioned, I cant see it on the Blu-Ray?
SH – Well, I thought it was there, but I will investigate that and see. Although Blu-Rays are notorious for not being easy to find things on, I know that from experience, so I will check into that for sure.
JWS – I agree that Greg did an outstanding job. This is borne out in the remixed audio on the CD’s where he sings, albeit in a lower register on some tracks, but in a very accomplished manner and his bass playing is equally as inspiring too.
SH – When I heard the audio for the mix, it was good until we got to the last two tracks, Heat Of The Moment and Sole Survivor, where they sounded awful. So I took it up with the label and they said Steve’s really on the ball, those two tracks hadn’t been remixed. I insisted that they were brought up to the same standard and I’m glad to say that they did just that and now they sound fantastic.
JWS – Good, I am very much looking forward to seeing you in Manchester on the tour.
SH – Good, well I love the Bridgewater hall, I played a solo concert there several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It reminded me of those early shows where I learnt my craft, like the one when I played support to Delaney andBonnie along with Eric Clapton and George Harrison etc, remarkable times and music.
JWS – Have you heard Geoff’s Downes Braide Association stuff at all?
SH – Yes, I have heard that it is an exciting outlet for his music.
JWS – Plus Roger Dean participates in the artwork for that.
SH – Yes, well Roger is a big part of the Yes story, he will be on the tour too.
JWS – Well Steve, my time has gone, so may I just thank you for your time today and I will hopefully see you in Manchester next month.
SH – Thank for talking to me and for your interest in my music and of Yes too, thank you John.
It is always a pleasure to spend time talking with Steve Hackett, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from. This interview is about his recently announced uk tour that will see Steve and his band playing the Genesis album ‘Foxtrot’ in its entirety, along with various other classic Genesis material and some of his own solo material from the ‘Surrender of Silence’ album from last year.
John Wenlock-Smith – Good Morning Steve, so how are you sir?
Steve Hackett: Oh I am all right, I’m fine. How are you doing? We have just come back from a few days away on Dartmoor.
JWS – Dartmoor – bit cold for that surely?
SH: Well it was a bit nippy, yes but, what a fabulous place, very mysterious really. I have been in London mostly but we are off to see Jo’s sister (Amanda Lehmann) and her family in Norfolk at the weekend. I like Norfolk and enjoy going there really as I enjoyed Dartmoor too, all the standing stones and stuff, it’s all unusual really.
JWS: Very bleak?
SH: Yes, but you do not get the feeling of being alone or uninhabited, you can sense the spirit’s presence.
JWS: So Jo’s sister, that’s Amanda isn’t it?
SH: Yes, along with her Father. Where she is in Norfolk, there is a fabulous tearoom there does great cake too, so we will be heading there I think, it is in a place called Haven and I recommend it highly, its fabulous.
The last time I was in Norfolk I bought a Mandolin, so I have been dabbling with that in advance of the European leg of the ‘Seconds Out’ tour. I have also been finishing off a live album that captures the ‘Seconds Out’ tour that we recorded in Manchester at the O2 the old Apollo theatre. Then, later in the year we start the next tour, ‘Foxtrot at 50’.
JWS: How can it be that that album was 50 years ago? Barely seems possible really!
SH: Yes indeed, hardly bears thinking about that 51 years ago I joined Genesis on that journey and look where it taken me. It is incredible when I stop and think about it all.
JWS: I had always hoped I would be retired by forty after having had a hugely successful music career but, sadly, that was not to be.
SH: It’s never too late!
JWS: It is for me, after my stroke I can barely play the guitar these days. I have tried learning the piano, but I am nowhere near on that either.
SH: Did your stroke affect your ability to play?
JWS: Yes, I have weakness on my left-hand side. I have a friend who also had a stroke and he has the same difficulties and is very frustrated by it really. I am less so, but I would say check your salt intake and your sugars and check your blood pressure regularly. Strokes strike without warnings. Get the message out about the dangers of strokes.
SH: I think us men tend to be poor at taking care of ourselves, thinking that we are invincible when we are not at all, thanks for the warning.
JWS: The ‘Foxtrot’ tour is playing at Buxton Opera House?I think I might try and see you there. I have never been to a concert in Buxton, I was Going to see Asia there but that did not happen, although I did see a puppet show there many years ago with my children.
SH: I am trying to think of something witty to say about music and puppets but failing, it’s cultural gap between the two!
JWS: So ‘Foxtrot’, that means we will get Suppers Ready, Watcher Of the Skies, and Can-Utility etc.?
SH: Yes, ‘Foxtrot’ is an incredibly special album, all killer no filler as it were. Certainly one I am immensely proud of still. I do not think there is a duff song on the album.
JWS: So, after that, what will you do next as you will have done most of those Genesis albums (apart from ‘Trick of the Tail’)?
SH: Well I have always tried to do the best and not any of the dross, so I reserve the right to do that still. I want to concentrate on the good stuff and not just do anything lesser really, keeping the flame alive as it were. We all know what the classics are, don’t we?
JWS: So, have you had chance to see your old colleagues this time around?
SH: No, I have not as I was on tour at the same time as they were doing the rounds sadly, I hear that they’ve have done well though.
JWS: Yes, we saw them in Liverpool in October and they were fantastic, so much so that we are going to see them again in London in March as a Christmas present to each other. A few days at a hotel in Tring then Genesis on the Friday evening, should be good.
SH: Yes, I hope you enjoy that then, last time I spoke to them Mike Rutherford thanked me for keeping the flame burning for them. I would like to think that that helped them decide to do this last lap, as it were.
I spoke to Peter (Gabriel) recently and asked him if he had heard that Ian Macdonald had gone and he said that he had not but that he was a fan of his work. Peter and I were born a day apart from each other and it is always good to catch up with each other.
JWS: It is getting easier now?
SH: Yes, touring was interesting but, as we were in a bubble, we could not meet anyone.
JWS: We have got to look after everybody as much as we can, those Lateral flow test s are a pain though.
SH: Yes, but we have got to do it really, the best for everyone.
JWS: So, have you been working on new material at all?
SH: Yes, I have been fiddling with a few things, refining, and polishing things a little. It is a balance between immediacy and a polished performance. Bill Wyman says that blues is the more emotional side of improvisation.
JWS: I saw your brother John in Bilston recently, he had Nick Fletcher with him, who was on fire, incendiary. They were incredibly good indeed, I really enjoyed them a lot.
SH: I will tell him that when I next speak to him.
JWS: Anyway Steve, my time has gone so I will let you go and hopefully see you in Buxton on the ‘Foxtrot At Fifty’ tour!
SH: Thanks John, take care of yourself and keep well.
Legendary British progressive rock band Marillion embark on a UK tour, ‘The Light At The End OF The Tunnel’, in November 2021, ahead of their recently announced 20th album ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’ and I sat down to chat with frontman Steve Hogarth about the upcoming live gigs…
Progradar: Hi Steve and thanks for talking to me, I am coming to see the band play on the first night of the upcoming tour, Hull City Hall, on the 14th November and, in a strange kind of synergy, the first time I ever saw Marillion was at Hull City Hall on the 9th July, 1990, so you’re talking 31 years ago!
Steve Hogarth (SH): Blimey! Do you know, I think that was the last time we were there.
Progradar: I’m pretty certain it was too! You know what, I saw you twice before lockdown, at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019 and I also saw you at the York Barbican in 2018, I can remember the songs better, obviously, from the last two but the one that sticks out most in my mind was that one, going back all those years ago. I even remember that Little Angels were the support band, a local band from Scarborough.
SH: Yeh, they were good, I remember them.
Progradar: It’s funny how you can remember these things from all those years ago. Are you looking forward to getting back out there again and playing in front of a live audience?
SH: Yes, very, very much, I think it’s all the more precious because it’s been denied us, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I think, for the audience and the band alike, it will be quite something to walk back on stage in Hull. I’m looking forward to it immensely, yes.
Progradar: I went to see Keane at the open air theatre in Scarborough and it just threw it down with rain all through the gig but I just didn’t care, it was spine tingling to see live music again. I am so excited about seeing you guys in November, I’ve been a fan for over thirty years. The ‘Seasons End’ album and tour are where I really got into the band so, to actually think I’m going to get to see you guys where it all started for me, over thirty years ago is a quite a spine tingling thought actually.
Do you find that there is a difference in audiences in the UK and audiences when you go to the continent or all they all pretty much the same?
SH: Yes there is, audiences even vary from one part of the UK to another, to be honest. To be fair, about 18-20 percent probably travel, so there are people in the UK that are moving around. In that sense the geography is not as important but there are certain hotspots in the UK, Manchester, Liverpool are always terrific, Birmingham and London are usually good. Cardiff is a bit of a slow burner, they’re usually quiet but they go nuts at the end.You get used to the kind of dynamics of what to expect from a crowd, after a few years.
Across in Europe, again, certain parts of Germany, you know you are going to have an amazing show. We’ll have a great show in Cologne and Munich, we’ll usually have a great show in Hamburg. Not so much in Frankfurt and Hanover and, if you go over to France, we’ve always had amazing shows in Paris, it’s just about my favourite place to play on earth. Lyon will be good but not that same electric thing you get in Paris.
Over in Holland, it’s only a small country so it doesn’t vary quite as much there but playing Utrecht and Amsterdam is also special as well.
Progradar: I get a strong impression that Marillion fans have a real affinity with the band and you have a real affinity with the fans, do you agree and do you think it helps when you do the live gigs?
SH: Yes, absolutely, like a family. It’s not ‘us and them’ anymore, it’s very much ‘us and us’, we’re all in this thing together. Way back, at the end of the 90’s, when we (together) invented crowdfunding and we found a way to move forward by having fans pre-order the albums we hadn’t even finished yet, that’s almost become a commonplace thing now but it didn’t exist before we did it. That brought us closer together with the fans, it kind of gave us common cause, in a lot of ways.
The feeling of trust when somebody sends you their hard earned money, sometimes quite a lot of it! We are selling these packages where you don’t get much change out of fifty quid, they buy them with no guarantee at all that we won’t just go to Rio and have a party with their money. There’s a lot of faith and trust there and responsibility on us not to let anybody down, that’s pulled us closer together (with the fans) as well.
Progradar: I think for a lot of fans, you genuinely feel involved in what’s going on with a new album. A lot of bands involve the fans in what’s going on so they do feel invested and that helps when you come to the live stage. Fans feel they are going to see people they know, to a certain extent, play a gig. I feel you will have the goodwill from day one of a tour as 70-80 percent of them will have been fans from day one.
SH: Yes, I’ll probably recognise half of the front row just from all the years of doing it and seeing people. Bit by bit, we, as musicians, become conscious of who’s listening to us, I recognise people at the front and it is very much a family now.
Progradar: Do you get many fans who literally pay to go to every gig on a tour?
SH: It’s quite common to see and to get a message from someone to apologise for missing one like, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get down to St Austell”, and we’re like ” I’m not bloody surprised!”. We do, there are people that will travel to all of the shows and wear that like that a badge of honour, there are people who have even travelled around Europe as well! Similarly, Ive met people from all around the world who’ve travelled miles for a show, Americans who’ve just flown in for one gig and flown out again.
A few years ago we did a show at Shepherds Bush Empire and I met a couple of guys in the alley by the back stage door from Venezuela! I asked them what on earth they were doing there and they said we’d come to see you! So, when people are prepared to do that, it’s extremely mind blowing.
Progradar: I’d imagine it’s pretty humbling when you think they could have spent the equivalent of six months salary just to see one concert?
SH: It is humbling, it’s extremely humbling, it makes my head swim. I don’t think I’ve ever travelled more than sixty miles to see a band in my entire life! I can’t imagine getting on a plane and going to see somebody.
Progradar: Like I say, I saw you at the RAH in 2019 and, apart from having the most uncomfortable seats of any venue I’ve been to, it was an amazing gig, do you find that there is a difference in the atmosphere when you play the bigger venues to when you play the smaller ones?
SH: You can’t really generalise because you can amazing gig in a little club and you can have an amazing gig in a football stadium and every size in between. Each venue, and the space of that venue, has its own character. My job is to walk out there on the stage, get a feeling for it and wring it out like a cloth, get the very best out of that space that I can. That’s part of my job, although it’s not necessarily a conscious process to be fair, part of my job is to go, right, what can we do with this then?
Progradar: I’ve been to concerts where they’ve really dragged and I’ve been to gigs, like the RAH and York Barbican gigs, where the time has flown by and I haven’t wanted to leave. We won’t call it working the audience as you say it is not a conscious process but, you certainly look like you’re enjoying it when you’re up on stage?
SH: Yes, to be honest, it’s dead easy to do when you’re meeting those waves of affection that I’m very fortunate to meet. It doesn’t make my job very difficult at all, all I’ve got to do is kind of bounce it back and see it for what it is, not take it for granted. Just go with what is special about a show from one moment to another, the vibration in the hall, I’ve kind of got to have my radar up, to pick that up and acknowledge it.
Progradar: I would imagine that, even if you played the same set list in two different venues, you’re still going to have two different events, two different concerts?
SH: Totally, yes!
Progradar: So, the new album, which you’ve had a bit of fun with, the fans guessing the album name, there were some quite interesting ones that came up in the Facebook group, some humorous ones as well!
SH: Yes, my favourite was‘All Hard Bastards In Doncaster’, that really creased me up!
Progradar: You said that you are probably going to play one or two tracks from the new album, are you excited about giving the new music an airing in that live setting?
SH: Yes I am, because a lot of the stuff on this new album is really quite upbeat and will work really well live. In the end, we decided we would only play one track. When I say one track, it is about ten minutes long, it’s the equivalent of three of anyone else’s.
Progradar: Long gone are the days of tracks like Hooks In You, three and a half minute radio friendly stuff!
SH: Never say never but, we haven’t written a three minute song for quite a while now, it takes us three minutes to get to verse one these days. We’ve got a song called Be Hard On Yourself and I can tell by the nature of how we wrote it that it is going to be great live, it’s really going to kick arse! I’m looking forward to giving that an airing for sure.
Progradar: I’m really looking forward to hearing it, I have been prevaricating but finally got around to ordering the double vinyl today, especially when I saw it was the last day to get your name in the credits! I don’t know about you but, I grew up on vinyl and cassette tapes, then sold it all to make way for CDs and now we are buying vinyl reissues and remasters at ten times more than we we paid for them when they first came out in the 70’s and 80’s!
I have bought good quality pre-owned copies of ‘Holidays In Eden’ and ‘Seasons End’ and boxsetsof ‘Marbles’ and ‘Brave‘. If you pushed me I would say that ‘Marbles’ is my favourite Marillion album, closely followed by ‘Seasons End’.
SH: Great, what’s your favourite track on ‘Marbles’ then?
Progradar: Funnily enough, I have just been listening to it in the car, it’s Fantastic Place, it’s one of my all time favourite Marillion songs. You played it live in York with a couple of my other favourite Marillion songs which are Seasons End and Easter but I absolutely love Fantastic Place.
SH: That’s a feather in my hat because I wrote two out of the three of those songs.
Progradar: There’s also Steve Rothery’s guitar in that song, it has no edges, do you know what I mean? It’s smooth and the solo just bleeds emotion. Leading on to the next question, you’ve also said you are going to play what you consider to be the best of your catalogue. With so many albums behind you, how do you pick the tracks on the setlist? Is it a democratic process, do you get a massive list and then just whittle it down?
SH: Yes, more or less. We all get a vote each, make a list, whatever wins gets chosen. We did decide for this particular tour that we would play what we all personally felt were our most important songs. Anyone who comes hoping to hear a couple of obscurities will probably be disappointed but anyone who’s hoping to hear the really big songs, they’ll be delighted because that is what they are going to get.
Progradar: So I can sort of live in hope that I am maybe going to hear one of my favourite three on the 14th November?
SH: You certainly can, for sure.
Progradar: Not being a musician, I find this quite fascinating, are there songs that you like off studio albums that you think wouldn’t work in the live experience?
SH: There’s certainly a couple, yes. TheFruit Of The Wild Rose has always been very tricky live because, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, it kind of goes into a groove at the end that is set down by an acoustic guitar, playing a loop and then it kind of kicks off with a guitar solo overlapped and we just don’t have enough guitar players in the band to do both! I’m not a good enough acoustic guitar player to be able to lay that loop down while Steve solos, Pete probably is but then I’m not a good enough bass player to cover the bass duties!
So there are one or two that kind of came into the world as studio works and are a bit of a struggle. I mean, we have still done them but they’re trickier things to roll out.
Progradar: I don’t want to put you on the spot as there’s hundreds of songs you’ve written but, are there a couple of songs that you particularly enjoy playing live yourself?
SH: Yes, for sure, I really like to sing The Invisible Man, that’s one of my favourites to perform. What else would I look forward to doing? I enjoy playing Gaza, I enjoy playing A Few Words For The Dead, to be honest. Seasons End and Estonia, they’re both great to play.
Progradar: I remember Seasons End at York Barbican in 2018, my friend Iain Sloan came down from Scotland, he lives near Edinburgh and is a guitarist in an Americana band call The Wynntown Marshals. We were stood together, almost in tears, it was one of those moments you’ll remember forever.
You said you enjoy playing in Holland and that leads me on to my next question, are you intending doing Marillion Weekends again?
SH: Yes, we absolutely are, we had to keep kicking it down the road. The thing about Port Zelande is that we promote the entire thing ourselves and we’re about half a million quid in the whole before anyone turns up. If, god forbid, the Dutch government decided to lock the country down, it would cost us more money than we could stand to lose, to be honest. So we had to keep postponing it and we moved it to next spring and then we decided we couldn’t even risk that. We moved it again, I think it’s booked in for March 2023 now, it’ll happen but we’ve just got to get through this strange pandemic that seems to be a bit slow to leave.
Progradar: I’m 54 this year and none of us are as young as we used to be. You’ve been touring for donkey’s years, do you find it more tiring now or does just getting out on that stage just infuse you with energy?
SH: I can’t remember, it’s so long ago! I am two years older than the last time I did it so there is a part of me thinking I hope I’m up to this? I’d better get out on the bike and get myself sorted out a bit. I’m going to find out, it may come as a terrible shock!
Progradar: Do you keep fit before you go on a tour, do you do anything extra?
SH: I’ll do a little bit, I won’t do enough because I’m a lazy sod but I should really. I mean, I can’t just expect to remain fit, I’ve got to make the effort. I live in a three storey house so I’m up and down the stairs and get a few steps in but I’m going to have to do a bit more.
Progradar: I really appreciate your time Steve, it’s been brilliant talking to you, just one final question before we sign off. It’s a question I ask everyone who I interview, do you prefer writing and recording and album or do you prefer playing the material live?
SH: Playing the material live, night and day, for me. I hate writing, I hate most of recording, once you get beyond a certain point then it does start to become exciting but that takes such a long time. Whereas to play live is the point of it for me so, hands down, I prefer playing live.
Progradar: I’ll just tag a little bit on the end of that, when you’re on tour, can you hit the same level of enthusiasm at the last gig that you had at the first?
SH: Absolutely, no problem at all, I love it!
Progradar: That’s brilliant, I really appreciate your time and I am so looking forward to seeing you at Hull City Hall on November 14th!
SH: Thanks for your time and thanks for your support man!
Marillion‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ tour starts on 14th November at Hull City Hall.
Pre-order Marillion’s 20th album, ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’ here: