Interview With Nick Fletcher

I sat down with fellow Yorshireman, and all round good egg, Nick Fletcher to talk about all things music. We discuss how it all started, his influences, his latest album ‘Quadrivium’ and the current state of the music industry and it sounds like two mates talking in the pub. However, I can confirm that no alcohol was consumed…

Progradar: Nice to meet you Nick, are you alright?

Nick: Yes, I’m fine Martin, how are you?

Progradar: I’m good thanks. This was instigated by the post you put on (Facebook) by that musician friend of yours where he said, in so many words, that there is no point making great albums any more! I think you are a little older than me but we are both from that generation where music was all about the hard copy, spending your 80 pence pocket money, or what you got in those days, on vinyl. I thought it would be good to have a chat about that and the state of the industry but, also to get a bit of background.

I got to hear about you from John Wenlock-Smith and his reviews of your albums at Progradar, especially ‘Quadrivium’. I get drawn in by great album art and I love the cover of that album so, after reading John’s review, listening to the album and chatting a bit with you online, I thought it would be great to find out more about you. From a bit of research, I found that you left music college in 1981 and became a classical guitarist, a teacher and a session guitarist. That’s the bare bones so can you fill me in on your back story?

Nick: Originally, I wanted to play the electric guitar when I was much younger. Then I came across quite a few bands in the 70’s where guitarists were venturing into other areas of music as well and I got to hear people like Steve Hackett, Steve Howe and Jan Akkerman, those kind of players who were also introducing elements of the classical guitar into what they did. That kind of sparked my imagination with getting involved in, and developing, that kind of playing.

When I was younger, If you wanted to take playing the guitar more seriously, the only outlet you had really was to do a classical music course, there was nothing else available in those days. You either did that or there was one course available in Leeds, a jazz music course and, at the time, because I’d been getting into the classical guitar, I didn’t feel that was appropriate for me, so I went down that classical route.

I then became a classical trained musician and, when I left there, I started doing concerts, I was doing a lot of teaching but I was also playing the electric guitar, playing in a lot of bands, I used to play with Dave Bainbridge quite a bit. Dave went to the Leeds College of Music and I went to the Huddersfield School of Music and we met through a mutual friend and formed a couple of bands together.

Of course, as soon as we left college, which would have been ’81, like you said, it was a bit like a scorched earth, ‘progressive rock’ what’s that?, that’s all done with now!

Progradar: Yes, and I’ll put my hands up here, that was the start of the New Romantic style of music, bands like Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Ultravox etc. and I loved them!

Nick: And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that I went into music college in ’79, came out doing some classical stuff but also wanted to do some progressive rock but it was like, well, where’s it gone!? In two years it had vanished! I couldn’t get a gig, there were no gigs to be had, no one was interested!

So, to that end, I got involved doing some jazz and jazz fusion stuff because there were some gigs for that kind of thing. I also got involved with a couple of record companies at the time who needed a couple of session players to do some stuff for them and I developed a bit of a career in doing that as well.

Progradar: Did that desire to play progressive rock disappear or was it always there in the background with no outlet to take it any further?

Nick: It’s like anything in life, if you’ve got the opportunity to do stuff then you get on and do it but if the opportunity isn’t there, you have to find a different way, don’t you? Basically, the doors were shut on that for me for many years and then I had a family and, of course, that entailed not being able to go away from home too much because of the kids and everything.

So I did develop more and more solo work and more and more teaching so I could make a living out of doing that. I didn’t actually play the electric guitar in a band for twenty five years, I stopped playing it really.

Progradar: So no noodling in the back room if you had half an hour then?

Nick: I probably would do a bit of that, yes, but very little really for a long period of time because it just felt inappropriate, it just felt like that opportunity had gone, to do that kind of music. Then I did a solo concert, in Sheffield actually, and John Hackett was in the audience. John introduced himself at the end of the gig and, of course, I knew straight away who he was, we got chatting and I discovered he lived in Sheffield too.

We got to know each other, it must have been around 2009, we started playing together and then, through John, I met Steve (Hackett) and became friends with him. John then wanted some help with the launch of an album he’d done, I think it was called ‘Another Life’, he had to go and do a lunch show in London and was a bit terrified of it as he’d never done that on his own, playing keyboards and presenting your songs.

I said to him one day, why don’t you play it with me, let me have a listen and have a run through and see how it goes. So he did and, as he was playing, there was an electric guitar and amp in the corner that belonged to his son, I switched it on and started playing and John suddenly stopped and said, I didn’t know you played electric guitar like that, you kept that quiet!

I just said I hadn’t done it for a long time, he was just astounded that I could play the electric guitar! So he said do you want to come and join me, it would help him and give a bit more of an interest to the performance if I played guitar as well, so that’s what we did. I went down with John, we did that and then, when we came back, John thought well I could put a band together, he’d always wanted to do it and then he asked me if I’d play electric guitar.

I thought that it sounded like a bit of fun so, yeh, let’s do that and it morphed into being more than a bit of fun, I thought, after a while, I’ve really missed this, what have I been doing for all these years? It was the opportunity, you see? the opportunity arose and I took the opportunity and went with it. It kind of revitalised my whole interest in the electric guitar, I think that it had always been there but, because I hadn’t had the opportunity, I’d put it to one side.

I then started to develop that playing seriously, did some writing, did some work with John. We did an album together in 2018 called ‘Beyond The Stars’, which I think John Wnelock-Smith reviewed as well, and then I started doing some more solo stuff, which I’ve been doing ever since and that’s about it really.

Progradar: So, to put you on the spot then, would you say that you are an electric guitarist who can also play classical guitar or classical guitarist who also plays electric? Or are you just a meld of both really?

Nick: I’m a meld of both…

Progradar: You’re a guitarist basically?

Nick: Yes, they’re both two quite different disciplines. The technique and the approach to playing are both quite different really, I think one of the reasons I shut down the electric guitar is, while I was trying to build up the classical playing, there was too much coming from the electric side and it was interfering with the development of that technique.

The thing is, once I had developed that technique, I could go back and play anything, it just opened up the doors, technically, to go into all sorts of areas with the guitar that I otherwise would have found more difficult to do, I became more adept at using my fingers, basically!

Progradar: Is there one you find more enjoyable than the other? Or this that saying that, if you had two kids, which one do you like more!?

Nick: There like two sides of the same coin, I enjoy playing solo, performing on my own but it’s a very different discipline to playing in a band and I enjoy that side as well, it’s more of a social thing. You interact musically with each other and also on a social level. So, for me, it’s the best of both, I like doing both and I’d find it hard to stop doing both, doing one of them exclusively. I’d like to keep doing both.

Progradar: It surprised me, even after reading John’s review of ‘Quadrivium’, how modern it sounds and it’s quite heavy in places. When you read your background, you think here’s a guy who’s a classical guitarist, you think that here’s a guy who plays electric but will be more intricate, delicate in the way he plays it but ‘Quadrivium’, in places, just absolutely blows you away! Not that I can see you with hair down past your shoulders playing speed metal Nick! but there’s some really technical playing on the album.

Nick: Those days have gone, yes, but i did have longer hair in my youth!

Progradar: You mentioned those guys at the start, people like Jan Akkerman, Steve Howe and Steve Hackett, but, when you first started playing the guitar, were they your first influences?

Nick: No, one the influences that got me into the electric guitar was Hank Marvin, there was a Shadows album in the house, I had an older brother who introduced me to music that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I heard Hank Marvin and I thought it was just magic, what’s that sound? That got me into the electric guitar, it really sparked something.

After that, what really got me into the electric guitar was listening to Jimmy Page, I heard some early Zeppelin stuff and it kind of blew my mind, those sounds he was getting out of the guitar, I thought I want to do some of that! That really sparked my imagination, I think Jimmy Page is a great individual player, there’s a real character to his sound.

I also liked some quite melodic players as well, and I still do as one of them is still going, that’s Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash. I really liked Andy’s playing and I still do, I think he’s actually quite an underrated player, a fabulous electric guitar player.

Progradar: I’ve recently got back into collecting vinyl and I’ve literally just bought the Wishbone Ash live album, ‘Live Dates’, there’s some really good playing on that! I quite like to listen to a studio album, I like the structure but, then again, if a live gig is done right, it can be brilliant on record.

Nick: Talking of live albums, probably the biggest influence on me, musically, in the early 70’s was, more than anything, Focus, because, Focus, for me, had everything. They had this classical thing going on, they had jazz improvisation, they had really great, bluesy, rock roots, they had it all for me.

I thought they were such an interesting combination of music that made you think, well, actually, why is music in a box? Why do we compartmentalise it because, actually, here’s a band that can fuse it all together and make a sound that’s so original, very unique and it’s brilliant. It draws on all the things that I was interested in.

I still think that ‘Focus – Live At The Rainbow’ was one of the greatest live albums that I’ve ever heard. I’ve listened to it recently and it’s so good, these guys were in their 20’s and, bloody hell, could they play! The music they were playing was just off the chart! I still love it today, I think it’s a great live album.

Progradar: I didn’t get into progressive rock until the late 80’s/ early 90’s, the first prog album I heard was Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe, then there was Rush ‘Hold Your Fire’, it was my ex-wife’s stepfather who introduced me to those. Before that, as we’ve touched on already, my original musical influences started with The Police in the late 70’s but then, like my friends at school, I got into Duran Duran, Ultravox and Simple Minds, bands like that.

When I left school, a friend of mine was heavily into hair metal, heavy rock, Van Halen and all that sort of stuff. I don’t know if you remember but, in the late 80s’, Channel 4 was the first channel that would have programs on after midnight and there was one called ‘Music Box’. We used to got to the pub, get in and we would listen to ‘Music Box’, it was when David Lee Roth had just left Van Halen and he was with Steve Vai on ‘Eat ‘Em And Smile’.

So that was an influence, then I got into progressive rock and then it was the blues. I remember seeing Joe Bonamassa play at Bridlington Spa and B.B.King playing Sheffield Arena with half of it curtained off, he was too big for the City Hall but not big enough to fill the arena! As things have gone on, I have settled back into progressive rock so my musical influences are all over the spot.

I do like the fact that I didn’t get into progressive rock until the 90’s because, now, I can discover it all, I’ve bought every Genesis album on vinyl. People would say to me that this band sounds just like Genesis but the only stuff I’ve heard is Land Of Confusion! So I think that’s why I tend to write about a wide variety of music due to my musical influences over the years.

Nick: Which is great, the interesting thing about progressive rock is that it does incorporate so many other elements. If you’re generally interested in music, it’s a stylistic form that actually incorporates stuff from all over the place that you’ve dipped into over your life. You like that and you like this and , all of a sudden, you hear someone putting it all together. If you’re somebody who is open to music then progressive rock is amazing, it’s a great thing.

Progradar: I would never have listened to jazz music without listening to progressive rock first.

Nick: Well, I didn’t either.

Progradar: If you take jazz on it’s own, originally I just wouldn’t have listened to it!

Nick: I got into jazz music probably through Bill Bruford. When he left Crimson and he started doing his own thing, I bought his albums and they were just incredible, well crafted albums, the music, the production, everything about them. But listening to those albums got me interested in what had influenced him, why is he writing that stuff, where is it coming from? Then you delve back into some other stuff and realise, well, that’s jazz, isn’t it? It’s not coming from rock or blues, it’s coming from a different place all together. So I think listening to Bill Bruford really helped me develop an interest in other music as well.

Progradar: I got, through working with David Elliott at Bad Elephant Music, into Snarky Puppy and delving into their back catalogue. I do like a bit of trumpet and cornet, I love saxophone and things like that and the only sort of reference, when you mention saxophone to most people, is Gerry Rafferty and Baker Street or Tina Turner, We Don’t Need Another Hero, those are the two that everyone comes up with! I think you’re right in what you’re saying, it opens you up to so many other things. It’s like sponge, isn’t it?

Nick: It is and, if you’re open minded, and want to be educated a bit more, broaden you’re horizons, you can listen to this stuff and it takes you into other areas that you never have probably gone into.

Progradar: Talking of your solo career, when you first start writing an album and, to be fair, you’ve probably got another that you’ve already started now, how do you go about writing? Where do you get your influences from for the tracks? Do you have four or five all on the go at once or do you start with one track, finish that and then go on to the next one?

Nick: I do tend to have lots of ideas which, over time, either become something or they don’t. If it’s a strong idea, you’ve developed it and then I go back and I play stuff, an idea that I might have had and thought I couldn’t take it anywhere. Strong ideas tend to develop and start to have a life of their own.

The initial idea will spark off the rest of the progression of the music, it will develop out of that. If the idea that you had isn’t going anywhere then it tends to just become a dead end but I do tend to have several pieces of music on the go at once, I don’t just write one piece and then move on to the next.

Progradar: Obviously, if you’re in a band then you’re all working together, you’re bouncing ideas off each other, as a solo artist do you bounce ideas off, say, your wife or fellow musicians or is it just something you keep to yourself?

Nick: No, it’s totally in my head, it is literally in my head, I write in my head.

Progradar: So you’re not going to have any idea of how your music is going to be felt by anyone else until you’ve literally finished and played it then?

Nick: The thing is, I don’t use any software and I don’t record anything at all until I go into the studio, I write it all out, apart from the improvised sections, obviously I don’t write them. The main structures of the pieces are all written out and I play around on the guitar and practice what I’m going to record but I have an idea in my head of what I want it to sound like but it’s not until I start recording it that it starts to unfold. So it’s very gratifying when you’ve finished an album, that was what was in my head and now it’s out of my head and on record.

Progradar: It’s very organic then, it’s a very organic process…

Nick: It is very organic, I don’t use software and, this is going to sound weird, I don’t plug the electric guitar in to write, I just play the thing with virtually no sound at all.

Progradar: It’s like a silent disco!

Nick: It is a bit like a silent disco, it’s a bit odd. The reason I work like that is because, if you play an idea with a great sound then you tend to develop the idea using the sound, the colour of the sound that you’re working with and it kind of develops from there. For me, I like to work purely with the music, I think of it like a pencil sketch, an artist would often do a pencil sketch of a landscape and then they would take into their studio and fill it in with the colour and the paint and develop it from there but they would always start from a pencil sketch.

You look at Turner’s work and he always had loads and loads of pencil sketches, so did Constable, any of these landscape artists and they would go into the studio and develop it, using the colours that were available, to make it come alive. That’s exactly how I think of it, I sketch out lots of ideas but I have no ideas of how the sound is going to be appropriated until I actually start the recording process.

A lot of people these days, they use the equipment, they use the sounds to generate the music, the form and the structure. There’s nothing wrong with doing that but, for me, it just doesn’t really work like that because I have such a lot of strong ideas in my own mind. I feel that you could spend hours and hours messing around trying to find the right sound whereas I don’t have that problem.

Progradar: Do you think you write music like that because of your classical training?

Nick: I think it might partly to do with that, I’ve never really thought of it in that way, it just feels right to me to work like that, you know?

Progradar: Getting on to the elephant in the room and what initiated this conversation in the first place, the Spotify and streaming generation. It’s a generational thing, our generation, we loved that thing of going down to the record shop and buying the vinyl buying the CD and having the physical product in our hands.

We didn’t have instant access to the music, our Spotify was almost the radio, wasn’t it? That was where you’d hear snatches of music and, if you liked it, you would go out and buy the album, you wouldn’t have the option of, having heard that one track, now being able to stream the rest of it. My own personal opinion is that it has devalued music massively.

Maybe due to my influence, my stepson will listen to the whole album from start to finish but he is an anomaly of the current generation. The whole point of the music that you write, that Big Big Train write and the bands that I really enjoy listening to is that they write an album of songs and they will put them songs in order, in the structure, that they are meant to be heard in. You’re not supposed to pick a little bit out here and there and I find it frustrating!

Nick: I do as well. For me, going back to my classical background, I view albums as like symphonies, you know? The reason the LP came into being was because it was a way of fitting a symphony onto a disc, that was why the LP originated, there was no other reason why the LP should exist. A long player exists because record companies wanted to find a way of putting long form music onto a recording. For me, the progressive rock stuff is the same, it’s an album that has a start, it has a finish, it takes you on a journey, it takes the listener somewhere.

They’re not just disparate tracks, it’s not a ‘best of’ album, it’s something that’s got a narrative and a direction. It unfolds like it would a film, you go and watch a film, you don’t pick and mix or watch that scene and watch that scene just because you like them, you watch the whole narrative start to finish. That’s the process, that’s the enjoyment of watching the film and, for me, it’s the same with music, it unfolds over a period of time, it takes you on a journey and it stimulates your imagination.

Progradar: I think the question posed by the musician you quoted was, is there any point in making a great album anymore? In his opinion, it didn’t have a place in today’s society. Well, I disagree, I still think that music like that is an art form and art is still out there. As people still paint pictures, people still like to listen to music.

Nick: Definitely and, like you said before, it devalues it. If you start cutting it up into bits, little sounds bites here and everywhere, you devalue the whole thing. In fact the YouTube generation of people who go out there and do their thing, play their guitars and play their songs, they have thirty seconds to get somebody’s attention because there’s so many millions of people doing it. They’ve got to do all this stuff which, half the time, isn’t very musical, it’s just to get people’s attention.

In the old days you’d have record companies doing their best for the bands or the artists which would give them longevity over a long period of time, they’d put money into it, they’d develop the artist and the companies would see a return for their money over a period of time. Whereas now everyone wants instant everything, they want instant return on their money, instant gratification from the music, you know.

There’s not many gigs, everyone’s just sat in their bedrooms playing music and hoping that, within thirty seconds, someone will take notice of them or they’ll switch onto the next one. What’s that doing to music? It’s just devaluing the whole thing.

Progradar: You’ll be like me, there was an old record store in Bridlington called Turners and they had listening booths. You’d get the album out and put the headphones on. On a Saturday you’d spend hours in there but you’d come out of there having spent quite a few quid by the time you left!

Nick: Exactly, it was all part and parcel of the enjoyment of the music. It’s a generational thing because kids these days have so many other distractions what with games and everything. We never had that when we were younger, music was part of our culture.

Progradar: It was a tactile thing, wasn’t it? It’s lost that tactility.

Nick: Definitely, I hope it comes back but I’m not going to stop doing it.

Progradar: I don’t want you to stop doing it! I want to hear what comes next after ‘Quadrivium’, I love that album. Right, we are going to have to wrap it up now Nick, I really appreciate you talking to me tonight, it’s been brilliant.

Nick: It’s a pleasure Martin, thanks for talking to me. I start the new album soon and I’ll keep you in the loop.

Quadrivium’ was released on 15th September, 2023.

You can order the album (and all of Nick’s other projects) direct from Nick’s webstore here:

ONLINE STORE | Nick Fletcher Guitar (

You can read John Wenlock-Smith’s review of the album here:

Review – Nick Fletcher – Quadrivium – by John Wenlock-Smith – Progradar

Behind ‘The Likes Of Us, An In-Depth Interview With Big Big Train’s Greg Spawton

I caught up with Big Big Train’s de facto leader Greg Spawton for a highly enjoyable chat ahead of the release of the band’s highly anticipated new album and a tour which, for the first time, takes in multiple venues across the US, as well as Europe and, of course, the UK.

Progradar: Do you think that ‘The Likes of Us’, while generally moving away from the historical stories of past BBT albums, still has a strong link with the band’s past?

Greg: Yes, I think it does, we were pretty keen not to try and reinvent the wheel with this album. The most important thing to us was to absolutely make sure it was us at the top of our game. One of the issues we had during the covid era when all of the touring gets cancelled was, what do you do now? make an album! and I think that one of the problems for us was that we were almost pushed into the album thing without having a masterplan for the two albums that we made in that time and I’m very much a person who likes a masterplan for albums.

I don’t like albums that are just an accumulation of songs, it needs to be an entity in its own right. There were two things, firstly with the terrible tragedy that we’ve been through, and the new singer in Alberto (Bravin), we knew it had to be us at the top of our game, secondly we needed to make sure we thought about it, planned it and made an holistic album that works as an entity rather than just a collection of tunes.

Progradar: It’s a proper ‘old school’ album where you would listen to it from start to finish. It’s not a Spotify album where you just pick and choose the odd tracks to listen to.

Greg: That’s exactly right! I listen to Spotify etc. myself but I like to be drawn in to a recording. The great albums, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Selling England By The Pound’, albums like that, you put them on, maybe you only intend to listen to a couple of songs, you almost can’t help yourself and they pull you in because they’re so well paced and constructed thematically. You just can’t help yourself and that is what we were trying to do with this one for sure.

Progradar: While the last few albums have all been veery good, to me, ‘The Likes Of Us’ has taken the band back to the heights of ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ duo of releases, do you feel that you are firing on all cylinders and pushing that creativity again?

Greg: To be honest, I think we’re in a battle for survival, David (Longdon) was my musical brother, he was a hugely well loved character and an incredible singer and songwriter. You can’t lose a character like that without potentially losing the heart and soul of the band so, therefore, for us to try to do what we’re trying to do, to carry on and keep the heart of the band going, it is a battle for survival. I think that we can thrive and survive, I am very proud of this album, we sought to look at albums like the ones you mentioned (‘The Underfall Yard’ etc.), learn from what we did then and try and make sure that’s where we are.

One of the things that’s been really beneficial for me is Alberto’s attitude to this. This is a big deal for him as well, he was singing in Italy’s biggest progressive rock band, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), he wasn’t one of the older guys in the band, he wasn’t leading the band like he is in Big Big Train. It’s a big step for him and the way he’s put his heart and soul into it, the way he’s following in David’s footsteps without trying to be another David, on all those things, his judgment’s been very sound all the way through.

He’s had a huge impact on this album with songwriting and he’s mixed it with Rob Aubrey as well, that’s taken a big burden off my shoulders, I’ve been carrying this load for a long time. Without David I was kind of frightened that it would be just me, NDV (Nick D’Virgilio) and Rikard (Sjöblom) carrying the burden but we’ve got Alby, we’ve got Clare and Oskar, we’ve got the people that we need to keep things moving forward.

Progradar: Do you feel that the release of the album and the forthcoming tour is bringing the cathartic process to a close after David’s death?

Greg: It will never completely go away and neither should it, I still think of David every single day and I’m sure I always will. Grief is an interesting thing, time doesn’t heal but time certainly helps the scars close over a little bit. I think the thing with me, NDV and Rikard, the three that have been in the band the longest, we were thinking what else can we do, almost, we had that conversation about whether or not it’s right to continue or whether or not WE want to continue.

We’ve all put our hearts and souls into this, as David did, so we felt that we owed it to ourselves, and also to the memory of David, to try to carry on but what we didn’t want to was just to carry on and try to be David again. It had to be on our terms with a new singer who brought his own thing, his own talents in to it, so that’s how we’ve tried to move forward. Yes, it has been a cathartic experience but it will never completely go away, it just never will.

Big Big Train | Trieste, May 2023 | ph Massimo Goina

Progradar: The current line up seems extremely strong, does it have the longevity of the classic line-up and does it feel strange to be the last original member of the band?

Greg: It does feel strange in that respect, I’m the ‘old guy’ in the band from every aspect, I’m the oldest band member and I’m also the last person from the original line up, there’s also NDV from the re-booted line-up of 2009 of course. I don’t know how it makes me feel to be honest, I’m still carrying the torch for the band. The main thing is, does the music have integrity, does it still carry the hearts and souls and passions? it sounds like a pat answer but it has to have integrity.

I think you can sniff it, sniff if a band is either coasting or doesn’t have integrity in what they’re doing and I think that, on this album, the attention to detail, you can hear how carefully we crafted the material. People might come along and say that their affection for the band’s previous personnel is such that they can’t really go with the new line up, that’s fine, that’s up to them but I hope that they will at least listen and, if they do go, okay, that may not be for me but the band’s got integrity and it’s kept its soul.

Progradar: I think what you were saying there about integrity harks back to the Spotify generation. I use Spotify, 99% of the time for my running playlists but, if someone mentions to me or points out a record, things aren’t cheap anymore and I like buying vinyl. Therefore I’m not going to lay out £30 or £40 on something I haven’t heard, I will check it out on Spotify first and if I like it, then I’ll go buy it! There are certain artists who I have a history with, Big Big Train for instance, and I will buy most things they release without having heard the music.

Greg: I’m no different, there are a handful of bands whose music I will just buy, for a sense of loyalty, a sense of supporting them, Elbow is a good example. I will always buy their records, I haven’t connected as much with the last couple of records they’ve release as I have with some of their earlier stuff but I’ll still support them because they mean something to me as part of my being really.

I’m like you, I use Spotify as a sampling device, it’s a great way of just checking something out. There’s a wall of music out there now, especially for someone like you and the work you do in progressive rock, you must be inundated with stuff. You can’t not use Spotify to check things out otherwise you just end up going bankrupt frankly!

Progradar: Has signing with InsideOut put any requirements on you as a band where, before, the whole creative process and release was controlled by yourselves?

Greg: We signed with them cautiously, it was a big deal for me to actually to become a ‘grown up’ band and sign but they’ve been brilliant. I was so used to us being completely in control of our destiny and that was the fear, that we would lose some degree of control, they’ve been fantastic though. The thing is, Freddy (Palmer) and Thomas Waber, they knew who they were signing so they know what Big Big Train is all about, it’s that 70’s progressive rock vibe, historical songs, that sort of thing. They fully understand it and they understand our back story, that we’ve been used to doing things ourselves.

They’ve been incredibly respectful, will tell us what they think is right and, at the end of the day, they will make the decisions but they listen to us. I feel totally in partnership with them and they want us to do well, it helps them, as well as us, if we do well. InsideOut is part of Sony Music and Sony Japan have got completely behind the album and have had it all translated into Japanese, really pushing us there and maybe, someday, we’ll get out to Japan. We’re delighted with the relationship, people slag record labels off, sometimes for good reason but I couldn’t speak more highly of InsideOut.

Progradar: You said that Alberto has been brought into BBT not just as a vocalist but, also, for his musical skills and songwriting ability. Has this given an extra dimension when you create new music now or has he seamlessly filled the gap left by David?

Greg: I’ve got to the stage in my life where I’ve been through a couple of terrible tragedies recently, David passed away and my stepfather has had a nine month illness which killed him, you read about how dreadful long term illnesses can be and end of life care at the extreme end of that. I’ve been through a couple of very traumatic things in terms of the people around me that I love so I try to find things in life that are positive because I’ve been though so much that has been negative.

One of the positives is the relationship that I have developed with Alberto, he’s become a very dear friend, we’ve been writing songs together, we talk all the time. When we’re on the tour bus he and I get up early in the morning and we go for a walk together and we go and investigate things. We were at a museum, in Copenhagen I think it was, and we were bouncing ideas off each other about what we were seeing there. He’s very much become a musical soulmate and that’s not to diminish in any way, shape or form the relationship I had with David.

I just feel blessed, absolutely blessed, that I’ve got another person in my life, It’s a different relationship but it’s also a very important one. The relationships I’ve got with Rikard and NDV and all the others have all been important to me and I do need those people around me, I’m not a Steven Wilson, I need to bounce things off other people and discuss things with those around me to make the most of what I can do.

Progradar: It is the band’s first tour of the US, was that a difficult thing to organise logistically and how much are you looking forward to playing in the US?

Greg: Logistically everything is difficult to organise with Big Big Train! Along with all the other complexities of having an American drummer, a Swedish guitar player and all the rest, I then go and choose an Italian singer! Our manager was going, oh my god, no, please! It makes everything really hard and more expensive but you’ve got to go with the people you think are the right people to work with and every decision that’s been made with regard to the personnel in the band has been a good call and we’re multi-national and it’s expensive.

The States is a nightmare, it’s a nightmare because the United States government don’t make it easy for bands to get out there and most bands at our level can’t afford to do it, we can only just about afford to do it. As it did during the Covid era, it’s cost us something like ten thousand pounds in visas and also there’s the bureaucratic rigmarole to go up to the embassies and stuff like that. It’s not to be undertaken lightly, we’re going to lose money on that tour, ticket sales are kind of okay, they’re not amazing.

The States is a huge place, us Europeans, we all know it’s a continent but we still struggle to get our heads around quite how much of a continent it is! You’re not dealing with the UK, you’re dealing, effectively, with something the size of Europe and with all the challenges that gives you. It’s a big thing for us but all I can do is look back on the 70’s bands like Genesis, one of the stories I remember is that they played New York and they went down great, they thought they’d conquered America, of course, they hadn’t even started, they’d just dipped their toe in the water in one city in a huge country.

We’re going to try and go through that process if we can, the visas last for a year so, if we can, we’re going to try and get there twice in the year and see how it goes. We need to build the audience across the world, I have to be honest with you, my hunch is that the Cruise (To The Edge) is going to be just as important to playing the States in itself because I think most of the fans on the cruise are American so, hopefully, they enjoy us and go back and spread the word a bit.

Progradar: The band has always had a strong and supportive following in the UK, does playing live in the UK almost feel comfortable now? if that’s the right word?

Greg: The UK is definitely our biggest fanbase so it’s easy to connect with, it’s still very patchy though. We put the tour out there yesterday and it certainly looks like within a week or two the Manchester show will be sold out and Milton Keynes will be sold out but some of the others haven’t sold many tickets at all yet. Obviously, we’ve got a plan over the next six months to sell a lot more tickets, so we hope to get a number of shows sold out, we’ve got to reach regions in the UK that we haven’t been to before, we’re trying to do that. On the continent, we’ve only played one show in Italy, which is bonkers! We need to get there as well.

The truth is, the future of the band has to be an international thing, we need to be able to play across the world, we have to have listeners across the world because the progressive rock audience is dedicated, it’s hardcore but it’s thinly spread, unquestionably it is thinly spread. If we were a prog-metal band, I think we’d be able to access a bigger audience more easily but with the sort of music that we play, sort of 70’s style prog, it’s definitely harder. The UK is a great place to build from but we’ve got to spread the word across the world.

Progradar: Where is your favourite venue to play live?

Greg: My favourite so far has been Loreley because of the scale and the ‘prog’, when you’re on the stage, if a dragon flew past it wouldn’t surprise you! I also love the Boerderij, the Boerderij is brilliant, we’re doing a weekend residency there, so those two venues. The Boerderij is great because it is a brilliant, purpose built venue, the staff there are fantastic supporters of prog rock and the fans come out.

Progradar: Have you already started the creative process for the next album or are concentrating on this one (‘The Likes Of Us’) first?

Greg: No, we have, there’s lots of conversations about when we’re going to record it and where, as you know, this one was recorded in a room together, we’re going to do the same thing with the next album. There’s talk of it being a concept, or part of it will be a concept album, the management are a little wary about that, they’re like, please don’t do that!

We may smuggle in a bit of a concept, maybe half a concept album and then finish it off, I don’t know, we’re still talking about it. There’s lots of writing going on and I’m delighted that Rikard has written a nice long, chunky piece of music, we’re all looking forward to getting our teeth into it and it’s going to be a good thing.

Progradar: What do you see as the future of the band with all the talk about streaming and people not buying physical product as much anymore? I see BBT as a ‘physical’ band and have all the vinyl, you could say that this grates with the Spotify culture?

Greg: There’s definitely a clash of cultures there, the interesting thing is that the record companies own a significant proportion of the streaming sites so they know that’s the future, realistically. I just hope it can be a future that can incorporate the value of physical product, alongside the value of the ease of streaming.

I think the future for us in the next two or three years is we’re going to gig hard but I hope ‘The Likes Of Us’ is a successful album in terms of sales. We’ve had a couple of Top 40 albums in the UK and I think if we can sneak back into the Top 40 then I think it will feel like we’ve got momentum again. There’s a line in the album, ‘make the most of the light left in the day’ which is what we’re trying to do.

Progradar: I think it deserves to be a success, I think it’s up there with ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums, I really do!

Greg: Thank you, it’s important, your word carries weight for people that aren’t sure. I’ve read a couple of responses to your review where people are saying, ‘that’s interesting, you obviously really believe in this album’. The reviews are important.

Progradar: Do you have a favourite track on the album or is that like asking you who is your favourite child?

Greg: It’s hard for me to answer that, on different days, different tracks hit me differently. Sometimes I get a big lift from a certain track, sometimes I get a bit of a wobbly lip from other tracks. I’m wimping out but I genuinely can’t say which of the eights track is my favourite.

Progradar; I find it very similar for myself, there’s times when it’s Beneath The Masts, because I love a prog epic but when I was listening to it as I was writing the review, the one that really stood out for me was, well there’s two, I love Love Is The Light, it’s up there with Curator Of Butterflies, in my opinion and then the other one that really hit me was Light Left In The Day. It’s a brilliant opening track, it’s just everything that I feel is brilliant about Big Big Train in one song.

Greg: Yes, it (Light Left In The Day) came together really well, it’s mostly written by Alby. It’s clever, he’s brought together most of the album motifs, which is a really difficult job to do and I added a little bit at the top of it, the ‘tailenders’ thing.

I think what I like about that is that is does set out our stall, you get a bit of 12 string and a vocal, so you hear Alby right at the top and then you get the brass band coming in and it’s like, whoa! there’s a little bit of warmth comes in.

I think the Big Big Train fans of old will be thinking, okay, I’m on steady ground here, and then you get this four minutes of kind of showy musicianship which a prog band does, like an overture thing. I agree, it’s a good starter, it kicks the album off well.

Progradar: Just one last question, recommend me an album that you like, that you are listening to at the moment?

Greg: Okay, I can do, a recent one, an album by The Twenty Committee.

Progradar: I think I wrote the first review of that!

Greg: Fantastic! I really, really like them, Geoffrey Langley is their main guy in the band. In fact, I said to him it reminds me a bit of the band UK and I don’t think he was particularly aware of UK. It’s got some fusion chops in it, he’s a really talented guy, that’s the album I’d recommend. I could say that Radiohead offshoot band but, no, this is a younger band as well, this is a fantastic album, I’m glad you asked that and I’m glad I get to mention them because I think they need to start making waves.

Progradar: So that concludes the questions, hopefully we’ll be able to catch up on the tour, I’m attending the Whitley Bay gig, thanks for your time, I really appreciate it.

Greg: Fantastic, we’ll definitely catch up there and, no problem, it’s been great to chat again.

‘The Likes Of Us’ is released on 1st March, 2024 and can be ordered here:

Big Big Train – Miramare (Single Edit) (

The band hit the road for the US, Europe and UK on 1st March, 2024 and tickets can be ordered here:

Live – Big Big Train

You can read my review of ‘The Likes Of Us’ here:

Review – Big Big Train – The Likes Of Us – Progradar

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Steve Hackett Ahead of Release of ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’

In this Interview Steve Hackett gives John a pretty in depth walk through of his forthcoming album ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’.

JWS: Hi Steve, good to talk to you again, let’s Talk about the forthcoming album ‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’, out next month. I believe it’s a concept album of sorts?

SH: Well it’s more a themed album, autobiographical in nature, but with some fantasy elements included. It has been incredibly well received by those who, like yourself, have been allowed to hear it in advance. It’s actually my 30th solo album release that began with ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’ back in 1975, all those years ago.

The album is not actually a concept album as such, rather it is a collection of tracks with a central theme of my life growing up in post-war London in the 1950s and 1960s and going through the momentous changes of those years, living in Pimlico and experiencing the magic of a musical revolution.

The album begins with radio sounds of the 50’s moves onto a soundbite of listen with mother and a baby crying. That first song, People Of The Smoke, has a wonderfully evocative video which encapsulates that era very well. It’s by Paul Gosling and captures the black and white, smoky, foggy and murky London of those times, its an interesting video.

The album also has a number of instrumental tracks, each with different styles and flavours, all of which allowed me to stretch out a little in my playing.

JWS: What is the track Taking You Down about?

SH: That one is about a friend I had at school, he was rather a character and was always up to something, running a wheeze or wheeler-dealing or similar. We had lots of escapades and got up to fair amount of mischief I suppose. We both shared a love of music but, ultimately, our paths diverged and we went our separate ways in life. I often wonder what he is doing these days, probably running drugs from some African country or South America or something! He’s probably still up to no good though.

Found And Lost is about first love, my first love actually. She was lovely, came from  a good family and was very intelligent. After a while she decided I wasn’t what she wanted and dumped me, I was heartbroken and it took me a while to get over her. Later I found out that she’d gone off the rails and got involved with drugs to the extent the she ruined her life and was incarcerated, I used to get letters sent from her in prison. It’s a terrible tragedy really, although it did serve as a warning to me and the love of music saved me from many pitfalls, like excessive drinking and drug use, for which I am very thankful. Music both provided a goal and direction, doing so certainly saved me from such excesses.

Enter The Ring is about the circus ride of fame I experienced with Genesis. We were all over the place and frantically busy, with little time to draw breath, it was a wild ride for sure. During that time I had the ideas that were to lead to my first solo album, ‘Voyage Of The Acolyte’, which came out in 1975.

JWS: You were still with Genesis at that point though?

SH: Yes, Peter had just left after we toured ‘The Lamb’ album and before Phil took over the vocals. We recorded ‘Trick  Of The Tai’l and then ‘The Wind And The Wuthering’ and ‘Seconds Out’. After which I’d had enough, I was feeling increasingly marginalised and so decided to do my own thing.

As mentioned, Enter The Ring is about my life as part of Genesis and the circus ride it became, whilst Get Me Out is about the frustrations I felt towards the end. The trio of Mike, Tony and Phil were a very tight unit and that resulted in me feeling that my contributions were dismissed lightly, which left me feeling marginalised, resulting in me keeping my material for my own future use. Whilst I loved being a part of it all, in the end I was glad to be out of it and able to concentrate on my own efforts completely. Also, the success of ‘Voyage’ caused a rift that was never fully addressed or resolved and, while we are all still amicable, somehow it was never quite the same again.

Ghost Moon And Living Love is combination of heavy and softer tones in the same song, I get to let it out a little and play some fiery guitar lines. I know some folks don’t like love songs and just want rock but it’s part of who I am. Love is important to me, celebrating and expressing my feelings and not just in my playing. Jo (my wife) says this album combines both of these aspects, from the rage and the fury through to the flames of love, which I think is a good summation of the album.

Ghost Moon And Living Love is the albums longest track and a centrepiece of the album, this is followed by the Circo inferno, again more circus imagery to express a crazy period of my life. The track Into The Nightwhale is about facing your Demons and overcoming them, resilience and the like. When we started the album the term Nightwhale was not as widely used as it is now but, overall, it reflects a big part of my Life Journey.

Wherever You Are is unashamedly romantic and, again, it has heavy sections and much fiery guitar lines. The album booklet explains the songs far better but I don’t have a copy myself as yet, but I will be signing them in Birmingham and London when we tour.

JWS: Steve, I’d like to thank you for this immersive look into the songs on the album and wish you all the best.

‘The Circus And The Nightwhale’ will be released on 16th February, 2024.

Order the album here:

Steve Hackett – Wherever You Are (

Interview with John Lodge – by John Wenlock-Smith

Picture by Frank Piercy

JWS: Hello John, it’s John from Progradar here.

JL: Hello John.

JWS: How are you?

JL: I’m fine thanks and you?

JWS: Yes I’m fine as well, let’s talk about your new album (‘Days of Future PassedMy 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’s Imagine. 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 ‘Timeless Flight’ 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.

Order the album here:

John Lodge – Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn (

Nick Fletcher Interview with John Wenlock-Smith

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 Anika Nilles 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 Jeff Beck 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:

ONLINE STORE | Nick Fletcher Guitar (

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Steve Hackett

JWS: Good morning Steve, how are you?

SH: Morning John, yes I am good, thank you.

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?

SHIt 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 from Genesis rang 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.

SH: Yes thanks John, you too, au-revoir for now.

Interview with Matt Stevens And Kev Feazey from The Fierce And The Dead

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 The Flaming 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:

Progradar’s Q&A With Darran Charles of Godsticks

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

Order the album here:


Listen to the track Mayhem:

John Wenlock-Smith interviews Steve Howe

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 ‘Going For 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:

Mirror To The Sky (


 The band will be performing ‘The Classic Tales of Yes’ Tour in 2024:

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Steve Hackett

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 At Fifty’, 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 of Silence’ 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 HackettI 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 Peter Green.

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.