Interview With Steve Hogarth – 29th September, 2021

Legendary British progressive rock band Marillion embark on a UK tour, ‘The Light At The End OF The Tunnel’, in November 2021, ahead of their recently announced 20th album ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’ and I sat down to chat with frontman Steve Hogarth about the upcoming live gigs…

Progradar: Hi Steve and thanks for talking to me, I am coming to see the band play on the first night of the upcoming tour, Hull City Hall, on the 14th November and, in a strange kind of synergy, the first time I ever saw Marillion was at Hull City Hall on the 9th July, 1990, so you’re talking 31 years ago!

Steve Hogarth (SH): Blimey! Do you know, I think that was the last time we were there.

Progradar: I’m pretty certain it was too! You know what, I saw you twice before lockdown, at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019 and I also saw you at the York Barbican in 2018, I can remember the songs better, obviously, from the last two but the one that sticks out most in my mind was that one, going back all those years ago. I even remember that Little Angels were the support band, a local band from Scarborough.

SH: Yeh, they were good, I remember them.

Progradar: It’s funny how you can remember these things from all those years ago. Are you looking forward to getting back out there again and playing in front of a live audience?

SH: Yes, very, very much, I think it’s all the more precious because it’s been denied us, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I think, for the audience and the band alike, it will be quite something to walk back on stage in Hull. I’m looking forward to it immensely, yes.

Progradar: I went to see Keane at the open air theatre in Scarborough and it just threw it down with rain all through the gig but I just didn’t care, it was spine tingling to see live music again. I am so excited about seeing you guys in November, I’ve been a fan for over thirty years. The ‘Seasons End’ album and tour are where I really got into the band so, to actually think I’m going to get to see you guys where it all started for me, over thirty years ago is a quite a spine tingling thought actually.

Do you find that there is a difference in audiences in the UK and audiences when you go to the continent or all they all pretty much the same?

SH: Yes there is, audiences even vary from one part of the UK to another, to be honest. To be fair, about 18-20 percent probably travel, so there are people in the UK that are moving around. In that sense the geography is not as important but there are certain hotspots in the UK, Manchester, Liverpool are always terrific, Birmingham and London are usually good. Cardiff is a bit of a slow burner, they’re usually quiet but they go nuts at the end. You get used to the kind of dynamics of what to expect from a crowd, after a few years.

Across in Europe, again, certain parts of Germany, you know you are going to have an amazing show. We’ll have a great show in Cologne and Munich, we’ll usually have a great show in Hamburg. Not so much in Frankfurt and Hanover and, if you go over to France, we’ve always had amazing shows in Paris, it’s just about my favourite place to play on earth. Lyon will be good but not that same electric thing you get in Paris.

Over in Holland, it’s only a small country so it doesn’t vary quite as much there but playing Utrecht and Amsterdam is also special as well.

Progradar: I get a strong impression that Marillion fans have a real affinity with the band and you have a real affinity with the fans, do you agree and do you think it helps when you do the live gigs?

SH: Yes, absolutely, like a family. It’s not ‘us and them’ anymore, it’s very much ‘us and us’, we’re all in this thing together. Way back, at the end of the 90’s, when we (together) invented crowdfunding and we found a way to move forward by having fans pre-order the albums we hadn’t even finished yet, that’s almost become a commonplace thing now but it didn’t exist before we did it. That brought us closer together with the fans, it kind of gave us common cause, in a lot of ways.

The feeling of trust when somebody sends you their hard earned money, sometimes quite a lot of it! We are selling these packages where you don’t get much change out of fifty quid, they buy them with no guarantee at all that we won’t just go to Rio and have a party with their money. There’s a lot of faith and trust there and responsibility on us not to let anybody down, that’s pulled us closer together (with the fans) as well.

Progradar: I think for a lot of fans, you genuinely feel involved in what’s going on with a new album. A lot of bands involve the fans in what’s going on so they do feel invested and that helps when you come to the live stage. Fans feel they are going to see people they know, to a certain extent, play a gig. I feel you will have the goodwill from day one of a tour as 70-80 percent of them will have been fans from day one.

SH: Yes, I’ll probably recognise half of the front row just from all the years of doing it and seeing people. Bit by bit, we, as musicians, become conscious of who’s listening to us, I recognise people at the front and it is very much a family now.

Progradar: Do you get many fans who literally pay to go to every gig on a tour?

SH: It’s quite common to see and to get a message from someone to apologise for missing one like, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get down to St Austell”, and we’re like ” I’m not bloody surprised!”. We do, there are people that will travel to all of the shows and wear that like that a badge of honour, there are people who have even travelled around Europe as well! Similarly, Ive met people from all around the world who’ve travelled miles for a show, Americans who’ve just flown in for one gig and flown out again.

A few years ago we did a show at Shepherds Bush Empire and I met a couple of guys in the alley by the back stage door from Venezuela! I asked them what on earth they were doing there and they said we’d come to see you! So, when people are prepared to do that, it’s extremely mind blowing.

Progradar: I’d imagine it’s pretty humbling when you think they could have spent the equivalent of six months salary just to see one concert?

SH: It is humbling, it’s extremely humbling, it makes my head swim. I don’t think I’ve ever travelled more than sixty miles to see a band in my entire life! I can’t imagine getting on a plane and going to see somebody.

Progradar: Like I say, I saw you at the RAH in 2019 and, apart from having the most uncomfortable seats of any venue I’ve been to, it was an amazing gig, do you find that there is a difference in the atmosphere when you play the bigger venues to when you play the smaller ones?

SH: You can’t really generalise because you can amazing gig in a little club and you can have an amazing gig in a football stadium and every size in between. Each venue, and the space of that venue, has its own character. My job is to walk out there on the stage, get a feeling for it and wring it out like a cloth, get the very best out of that space that I can. That’s part of my job, although it’s not necessarily a conscious process to be fair, part of my job is to go, right, what can we do with this then?

Royal Albert Hall, November 2019, Picture is Author’s Own.

Progradar: I’ve been to concerts where they’ve really dragged and I’ve been to gigs, like the RAH and York Barbican gigs, where the time has flown by and I haven’t wanted to leave. We won’t call it working the audience as you say it is not a conscious process but, you certainly look like you’re enjoying it when you’re up on stage?

SH: Yes, to be honest, it’s dead easy to do when you’re meeting those waves of affection that I’m very fortunate to meet. It doesn’t make my job very difficult at all, all I’ve got to do is kind of bounce it back and see it for what it is, not take it for granted. Just go with what is special about a show from one moment to another, the vibration in the hall, I’ve kind of got to have my radar up, to pick that up and acknowledge it.

Progradar: I would imagine that, even if you played the same set list in two different venues, you’re still going to have two different events, two different concerts?

SH: Totally, yes!

Progradar: So, the new album, which you’ve had a bit of fun with, the fans guessing the album name, there were some quite interesting ones that came up in the Facebook group, some humorous ones as well!

SH: Yes, my favourite was ‘All Hard Bastards In Doncaster’, that really creased me up!

Progradar: You said that you are probably going to play one or two tracks from the new album, are you excited about giving the new music an airing in that live setting?

SH: Yes I am, because a lot of the stuff on this new album is really quite upbeat and will work really well live. In the end, we decided we would only play one track. When I say one track, it is about ten minutes long, it’s the equivalent of three of anyone else’s.

Progradar: Long gone are the days of tracks like Hooks In You, three and a half minute radio friendly stuff!

SH: Never say never but, we haven’t written a three minute song for quite a while now, it takes us three minutes to get to verse one these days. We’ve got a song called Be Hard On Yourself and I can tell by the nature of how we wrote it that it is going to be great live, it’s really going to kick arse! I’m looking forward to giving that an airing for sure.

Progradar: I’m really looking forward to hearing it, I have been prevaricating but finally got around to ordering the double vinyl today, especially when I saw it was the last day to get your name in the credits! I don’t know about you but, I grew up on vinyl and cassette tapes, then sold it all to make way for CDs and now we are buying vinyl reissues and remasters at ten times more than we we paid for them when they first came out in the 70’s and 80’s!

I have bought good quality pre-owned copies of ‘Holidays In Eden’ and ‘Seasons End’ and boxsets of ‘Marbles’ and ‘Brave‘. If you pushed me I would say that ‘Marbles’ is my favourite Marillion album, closely followed by ‘Seasons End’.

SH: Great, what’s your favourite track on ‘Marbles’ then?

Progradar: Funnily enough, I have just been listening to it in the car, it’s Fantastic Place, it’s one of my all time favourite Marillion songs. You played it live in York with a couple of my other favourite Marillion songs which are Seasons End and Easter but I absolutely love Fantastic Place.

SH: That’s a feather in my hat because I wrote two out of the three of those songs.

Progradar: There’s also Steve Rothery’s guitar in that song, it has no edges, do you know what I mean? It’s smooth and the solo just bleeds emotion. Leading on to the next question, you’ve also said you are going to play what you consider to be the best of your catalogue. With so many albums behind you, how do you pick the tracks on the setlist? Is it a democratic process, do you get a massive list and then just whittle it down?

SH: Yes, more or less. We all get a vote each, make a list, whatever wins gets chosen. We did decide for this particular tour that we would play what we all personally felt were our most important songs. Anyone who comes hoping to hear a couple of obscurities will probably be disappointed but anyone who’s hoping to hear the really big songs, they’ll be delighted because that is what they are going to get.

Progradar: So I can sort of live in hope that I am maybe going to hear one of my favourite three on the 14th November?

SH: You certainly can, for sure.

Royal Albert Hall, November 2019, Picture is Author’s Own.

Progradar: Not being a musician, I find this quite fascinating, are there songs that you like off studio albums that you think wouldn’t work in the live experience?

SH: There’s certainly a couple, yes. The Fruit Of The Wild Rose has always been very tricky live because, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, it kind of goes into a groove at the end that is set down by an acoustic guitar, playing a loop and then it kind of kicks off with a guitar solo overlapped and we just don’t have enough guitar players in the band to do both! I’m not a good enough acoustic guitar player to be able to lay that loop down while Steve solos, Pete probably is but then I’m not a good enough bass player to cover the bass duties!

So there are one or two that kind of came into the world as studio works and are a bit of a struggle. I mean, we have still done them but they’re trickier things to roll out.

Progradar: I don’t want to put you on the spot as there’s hundreds of songs you’ve written but, are there a couple of songs that you particularly enjoy playing live yourself?

SH: Yes, for sure, I really like to sing The Invisible Man, that’s one of my favourites to perform. What else would I look forward to doing? I enjoy playing Gaza, I enjoy playing A Few Words For The Dead, to be honest. Seasons End and Estonia, they’re both great to play.

Progradar: I remember Seasons End at York Barbican in 2018, my friend Iain Sloan came down from Scotland, he lives near Edinburgh and is a guitarist in an Americana band call The Wynntown Marshals. We were stood together, almost in tears, it was one of those moments you’ll remember forever.

You said you enjoy playing in Holland and that leads me on to my next question, are you intending doing Marillion Weekends again?

SH: Yes, we absolutely are, we had to keep kicking it down the road. The thing about Port Zelande is that we promote the entire thing ourselves and we’re about half a million quid in the whole before anyone turns up. If, god forbid, the Dutch government decided to lock the country down, it would cost us more money than we could stand to lose, to be honest. So we had to keep postponing it and we moved it to next spring and then we decided we couldn’t even risk that. We moved it again, I think it’s booked in for March 2023 now, it’ll happen but we’ve just got to get through this strange pandemic that seems to be a bit slow to leave.

Progradar: I’m 54 this year and none of us are as young as we used to be. You’ve been touring for donkey’s years, do you find it more tiring now or does just getting out on that stage just infuse you with energy?

SH: I can’t remember, it’s so long ago! I am two years older than the last time I did it so there is a part of me thinking I hope I’m up to this? I’d better get out on the bike and get myself sorted out a bit. I’m going to find out, it may come as a terrible shock!

Progradar: Do you keep fit before you go on a tour, do you do anything extra?

SH: I’ll do a little bit, I won’t do enough because I’m a lazy sod but I should really. I mean, I can’t just expect to remain fit, I’ve got to make the effort. I live in a three storey house so I’m up and down the stairs and get a few steps in but I’m going to have to do a bit more.

Progradar: I really appreciate your time Steve, it’s been brilliant talking to you, just one final question before we sign off. It’s a question I ask everyone who I interview, do you prefer writing and recording and album or do you prefer playing the material live?

SH: Playing the material live, night and day, for me. I hate writing, I hate most of recording, once you get beyond a certain point then it does start to become exciting but that takes such a long time. Whereas to play live is the point of it for me so, hands down, I prefer playing live.

Progradar: I’ll just tag a little bit on the end of that, when you’re on tour, can you hit the same level of enthusiasm at the last gig that you had at the first?

SH: Absolutely, no problem at all, I love it!

Progradar: That’s brilliant, I really appreciate your time and I am so looking forward to seeing you at Hull City Hall on November 14th!

SH: Thanks for your time and thanks for your support man!

Marillion ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ tour starts on 14th November at Hull City Hall.

Pre-order Marillion’s 20th album, ‘An Hour Before It’s Dark’ here:

marillion.com | Racket Records Store

Interview With Geoff Downes by John Wenlock-Smith

The release of the first new material from Yes since ‘Heaven and Earth’ has been a long time in coming. During that time there have been many changes to the world of Yes, most notably the sad death of Chris Squire in 2016. There has also been the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc with most people’s plans, a situation that Yes have also been affected by. Here’s what Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes had to say about this period.

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day Geoff, thanks fore making time to talk with me, how have you been keeping during this time?

Geoff Downes (GD): I’ve not been too bad, I’ve managed to keep myself active. We recorded this new album remotely with Alan (White) and Billy (Sherwood) in the US, Jon (Davidson) in the Caribbean and Steve (Howe) and myself here in the UK, it’s a nice way of working I find.

JWS: Results Seem to be positive, you seem to bring out the best in each other somehow?

GD: Yes, I think it does, it also gives you the chance to sit back and look at it all. We’ve had to do that with this Yes album and I think that we’ve learnt quite a lot by doing it that way. It’s a different approach but, at the same time, it can be creative as well.

JWS: It getting interesting reviews (the album), isn’t it?

GD: Yes, obviously the days of the band being in the studio for months locked away doesn’t really exist these days, as they did in the ’70’s. It’s been difficult with having the rhythm section in California, they were sending us files to review on a regular basis. But, of course, we’re not alone in that we were all locked down for months on end and we’ve had to adapt and respond to that as best as we could. Without the benefit of being able to play any live shows it has put people on a different route forward. It meant taking a more flexible approach to things really.

JWS: I spoke to Steve Hackett recently and he was saying a similar thing, he has had to adjust to a new approach to his music, but at least he is able to go out on tour again now.

GD: Yes, I had an email from Steve asking if I wanted to see him in Cardiff tThe nearest place to where I am in Chepstow) but he was saying I can’t see you though, we do the show and move the whole bubble onwards. So I didn’t get to see him this time, but I’ve seen his show many times at various stages. He always puts on a great show. He really puts a lot into his shows, not just him and his band but in the staging and the lighting and the whole experience and performance really. I’m looking forward to catching up with him again when he comes back round.

JWS: Touring will be happening for Yes again soon though?

GD: Well, yes, we’ve got a tour booked for next May and June in the UK and Europe.

JWS: This is the ‘Relayer’ Tour?

GD: Yes, it’s been postponed twice so we’re hoping it’s third time lucky for it to go ahead.

JWS: Well, the album is very interesting, I’ve heard it all, and the bonus tracks, one of which is obviously a tribute to the Beatles. But the whole album is interesting lyrically, you’re not afraid to tackle some important and controversial issues like ecology and conservation?

GD: I’m not involved with the lyrics per se, Jon was stuck in Barbados for 5 months and I think that’s reflected in his lyrics, global warming, obviously, and I think The Ice Bridge reflects those concerns. There’s nothing worse than musicians standing on a soapbox telling people what they should be doing but, by the same token, it’s true that the band are all getting older which brings its own challenges.

JWS: So what’s happening with the Downes Braides Association? I loved the ‘Halcyon Hymns’ album and wrote a glowing review of it, I thought it was excellent!

GD: Well, Chris has moved back here now from LA and I’m hopeful that we can get together and work on the next one more directly, as opposed to being two oceans apart. So we will have to see how that comes about in due course.

JWS: You also had the Asia albums re-released recently (‘The Reunion Albums 2007 to 2012’) on BMG.

GD: The 40th anniversary of the ‘Asia’ album is in 2022, so those albums are being re-promoted again to mark that event. Those first three albums were very significant and its important to mark those events again fully.

I’ve still got unworked material from a session I had with John (Wetton) before he sadly died so there is potential there to craft something new. I feel that Asia has not run its course and that there is still some life left in the band. Again, we’ll have to see what emerges from those sessions.

JWS: What about a new solo album for you? Surely you must be due for another one soon?

GD: Yes, I have been thinking about doing something, although quite what that will be is very open. I think I’d like to do something in a similar vein to ‘The Light Program’ from 1987, a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ album of its time but worth revisiting again I think.

JWS: I also read recently that you wanted the keyboards on this new album, ‘The Quest’ to be more analogue than digital, more like earlier Yes albums?

GD: When I was growing up, I was hugely influenced by the keyboard sounds that Tony Kaye used on those early Yes albums. He was a monster on the growling Hammond and when we did the ‘Yes 50’ tour, Tony was a guest on some dates. He still commands the Hammond organ and we became good friends, so that was a big factor for me. Plus, I think the music Steve was making on the guitar leant itself to that classic type of sound, so that’s what I did, and I think it worked okay.

JWS: Tony Has a new solo album out, ‘End of Innocence’, have you heard it yet?

GD: No, but I want to hear it, it’s all about the World Trade Centre and 9/11 isn’t it?

JWS: Yes, it’s a good album.

GD: Does he play lots of Hammond on it?

JWS: Yes, throughout.

GD: I’ll have to ask management to get me a copy then.

JWS: You won’t regret it Geoff, it’s a fine piece of work, very worthwhile. Anyway, my time has gone, I’m afraid, thanks for talking to me.

GD: No problem John, thanks for interesting questions and for knowing your stuff, I’ve enjoyed talking to you, thank you!

‘The Quest’ by Yes is released on 1st October, 2021 and you can order a copy here:

The Quest (lnk.to)

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Steve Hackett

Photo by Tina Korhonen, all rights reserved

It is always a pleasure to spend time talking with Steve Hackett, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from. This interview is about his new album ‘Surrender Of Silence’ and his forthcoming tour celebrating the album ‘Seconds Out’ recorded whilst Steve was still a member of Genesis. This tour will see the album played in its entirety along with selected tracks from both his new album and from his extensive back catalogue of releases.

John Wenlock-Smith: So how are you sir?

Steve Hackett: Oh I’m alright, fine, how are you doing?

JWS: Yes, we’re ok generally, keeping alright with all this lockdown and stuff.

SH: Well it’s been an unusual time, an extraordinary time really. We’re just about to go out on the road with a tour, having not played a show (well, not properly) for about 18 months. Apart from the odd virtual thing over the airwaves, I’ve done a bit of that and I’m doing one tomorrow with the Hungarians, I haven’t done a live gig in front of an audience for a very long time.

JWS: I’ll bet you’re looking forward to that then?

SH: Well I am, yes. Once we get through rehearsals and everyone knows it, those rehearsals start on Monday.

JWS: You have a new album out soon too?

SH: Yes, ‘Surrender of Silence’ is the new album, the second one this year after ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’, and it’s completely different to any other one, I really enjoyed making it.

JWS: I’ve heard the album and I like it, it’s very different.

SH: Yes, it’s different in places to what I’ve done before, I don’t think I’ve ever done an African themed song before, after our visit to Ethiopia. I’ve never done a Russian themed song either, They are journeys that became songs, having visited these places and, of course, a good deal of the influence comes to bear on some of the album.

One of the tracks, Shanghai to Samarkand, had the idea of trying to cover the whole of the east in a song with the odd instrument like the Vietnamese Dan Tranh (Zither), related to the Japanese Kyoto, and getting players to play in an oriental style. We got Christine Townsend to play her viola solo with those long bending, sighing notes at the end of phrases, I very much enjoyed that.

I enjoy the virtual travel that’s possible with music, although I am missing the real-world travel too, but that’s all about to change as we get out there again, visiting the British isles in the coming months.

JWS: Is it true that you are getting all over the place, you’re even playing in Stoke-On-Trent?

SH: Yes, I’ve got all the dates here, that’s on the 12th of September, I’m looking forward to that one. It’ll be good to play some places we’ve not been to in a while, it will be good to go anywhere and see anybody!  

It’s strange, lots of people have got tickets and we hope they all make the effort to come, but we can’t force people to come, so folks may decide to stay at home and wear a mask and only talk through the letterbox etc.

Obviously, we’ll be very careful, we’re not doing much interaction with the crowds, we are isolating and in a bubble much of the time. There will be no meet and greets this time around, the venues set the rules that we have to follow, but we’ll do what we have to to be able to play the shows and have a party.

JWS: I did notice that you have Phil Ehart of Kansas playing the drums on the track Shanghai to Samarkand.

SH: Yes, that’s right, I haven’t worked with him since ‘Please Don’t Touch’ back in 1977/1978. He’s one of the drummers on the album, we’ve also got Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train) and we also have Craig Blundell (Frost* and Steven Wilson). There are several people involved on the album from right across the globe, we have a guy from Azerbaijan, Malik Mansurov, on the Tar and a guy from Tajikistan on Dutar called Ubaidullev Sordirkhon Saydullevich, so right across the world really.  

JWS: You like your international collaborations don’t you?

SH: Yes I do, I like doing that. I like my local band but even that is spread across 4 countries now, Nad Sylvan is in Sweden, Jonas Reingold lives in Austria, Rob Townsend lives in Denmark now and we’ll all convene for ten days of rehearsals before being unleashed on the great British public.

JWS: So where did the album title come from?

SH: I prefer not to explain an album title, however, I would say all music flies in the face of silence. The surrender of silence is somewhat applicable when you make music for a living. Other than that, there are some aspects of social comments made in the lyrics where previously I haven’t been quite so vocal. I’m thinking of Fox’s Tango referring to Fox News.

There’s also social comment on the environment in Scorched Earth. Other things, Natalia is more of a story but there is social comment involved with that and then there are the instrumentals and the fun things, so it’s not all soapbox. As you scout around for subjects, I write all the time and my wife Jo writes certain things for lyrics too, we bat the ball back and forth between us and out of it all comes ‘The Surrender Of Silence.’

JWS: There’s an interesting first track in The ‘Obliterati’?

SH: Yes ,well that’s tapping with a kind of tongue in cheek title for all those familiar with certain books and certain writer. I thought it was a way to lead into Natalia but they are really the same tune in a way. I’ve separated them out so that you have a sort of mini overture or kind of underture at the front of the album and exposed tapping.

The last time I used that in isolation was ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’ back in the early 1970’s when I was exploring that the guitar functioning on its own but I decided to add some orchestral backing to it to bring it in line with what was to come with Natalia, which was more of a nod to Russian composers and orchestrators. The song is about an ordinary Russian woman, it’s almost like South Park in that she dies in every scene, in every verse but it’s a different woman and a different time.

The difficulty is that there is lots of orchestration and not a note of guitar playing until we are well into the track and I thought I’d better claim identity so The Obliterati came up as something to kick off the album.

JWS: It’s a commanding start to the album, I was listening to it this morning and wondering if it was a homage to Eddie Van Halen, who I know was greatly influenced by your tapping in his early days?

SH: Well, it’s a funny thing, I’m sad about his passing and that we never got to meet, it’s great when you hear of a fellow professional you’ve been an influence on or they just listen to you.

Earlier this year I was talking to an American journalist who told me that Pat Metheny had been listening to the ‘Under a Mediterranean Sky’ album and I also think of Pat Metheny as an atmospheric jazz player. Then you realize that in the world of jazz you’ll have people like Bill Evans being interpreted by folk like John Mclaughlin, another guitarist of note of course, he also liked the music of Eric Satie, I did an album of interpretations of Satie with my brother John Hackett in the early 2000’s.

He is brave enough not to fall back on technique, jazz is largely technique based and I greatly admire his ability to seek a bigger picture or canvas for his music to be drawn against. So it was interesting to hear that about Pat Metheny, I must reach out to him and talk with him. Perhaps similarities between musicians are greater than we give credit to.

JWE: I had a conversation with your brother John a few weeks ago about the album he recorded solo during lockdown, ‘The Piper Plays His Tune’, he was a lovely chap.

SH: Yes, John is a very gentle man and doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. We’ve been working together on somethings beyond this album too. John has been playing some scat flute like Roland Kirk, most people think of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, but scatt flute goes back further than that to the Mid 1960’s and the Beatnik area in the USA. I’m all for revisiting those eras, wandering in and out of different genres, it’s all possible under the progressive banner. John also has an excellent guitar player in Nick Fletcher.

JWS: Yes, I interviewed him too, he is a fascinating guy as well.

SH: I was greatly impressed by him and his album, I wrote a comment on the album which appears on the rear sleeve. I think Nick is one of the great hopes for British guitar, if there’s a chair to fill with the departure of another musician, then there’s a chair for Nick to fill.

People ask me who I listen to and, whilst there’s Andrés Segovia and Jimi Hendrix who get a lot of publicity, there is also Nick Fletcher, a phenomenal guitarist. Something of Bach and Handel and at the same time they’ll be listening to Miles Davis.

JWS: Nothing wrong with a bit of Miles Davis.

SH: Yes, he’s very interesting and very out there but recorded albums that are very different and was not afraid to do those. At the top of his tree, as a band leader, the people he worked with or chose him, there is this central pivot that is Miles Davis. Logic isn’t always the best seam to wander when writing lyrics.

JWS: I’m part of a writing group and we were doing abstract poetry using lines out of other books to create different words and lines with.

SH: Well poetry is very challenging, you must have music in the words. Stand-alone poetry, if you can draw some music from it, that can be very inspiring. Someone said to me some years ago that it’s no good reading Shakespeare unless you have a good grounding in all the myths and a good knowledge of language. Rather that you should read it for its music first and or its sound.

Years ago, when I was doing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that’s how I went at it, I know diddly squat about Pyramus and Thisbe but I loved the music of it, you’re allowed to do that in poetry, you can do what you want. Peter Gabriel was very gifted at making up new words, as was John Lennon, some of us take longer to come up with new words.

JWS: Well Steve, my time has gone so I’ll say goodbye for now. Thanks for talking as always, good luck with the album and tour

SH: Thank you and good luck with the poetry too.

‘Surrender Of Silence’ is released on 10th September, 2021.

Pre-order the album here:

SURRENDER OF SILENCE – CD – SIGNED [Pre-Order] | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)

John Wenlock-Smith interviews Ronnie Platt of Kansas

John Wenlock-Smith: Good day Ronnie, how are you doing?

Ronnie Platt: Hello again John, yes, I am very well thanks, how’s things with you these days?

JWS: All good here, we’ve both had our vaccinations and we can see things starting to open a little here now, which is good. We had our first coffee out on Tuesday which was good, no masks and almost normal even, have you had all your vaccinations yet?

RP: Yes I am all good, did you have any reactions, flu-like symptoms or anything?

JWS: No, all fine, my arm ached a little a few days after but, otherwise, nothing.

RP: So, is everything open again now?

JWS: It is getting there but not everything yet.

RP: What about travel, can you go freely yet?

JWS: Around the UK, yes but internationally, no. We still have a list of approved places that we can go to but everything is starting to open a bit. It will get much better in June when more restrictions are lifted.

RP: Yes, it is pretty much the same here. I am speaking from the suburbs of Chicago, from my den in the basement, which is full of old guitars and equipment, if you could see the mess that it is in!

JWS: Well this is my den (shows him guitars, CD’s and piano).

RP: Can you play John?

JWS: Sadly I am a one finger only type player. I can play most melody lines but nothing with the right hand really.

RP: Whether you are playing with one finger or are an established player, I always say that music is the best therapy, how long have you been playing guitar?

JWS: Years, however I cannot really play much, I can do chords and rhythm but nothing technical really.

RP: Well, keep at it, practice makes perfect I find.

JWS: So the new album is out next Friday?

RP: Yes, ‘Point of Know Return: Live and Beyond’, we could not be prouder of it.

JWS: Can I ask, why is there no live video of it?

RP: Into today’s world, when I kook out in the audience, I see everyone holding their phones up watching and it ends up on YouTube. It makes it all exceedingly difficult to do and compete really, hopefully, at some stage, we will be able to do something but right now our attention is focused on getting back out on the road and playing live again.

JWS: London next year for you (Kansas) isn’t it?

RP: Yes, hopefully we will get there next year as the last two times were cancelled. In the 7 years I have been in the band we have wanted to come, especially since ‘The Absence of Presence’ is doing so well there.

JWS: We are hoping to be able to get to it ourselves, my wife knows that I want to go and she is happy to come along with me. So how was it for you singing these songs from ‘Point of Know Return’?

RP: It is amazing to me to, and I will include the entire Kansas catalogue in this, these songs that I have just loved my entire life, being a huge fan for many years. It is really a dream come true and surreal to be doing it. For my generation, you would buy an album and memorise the entire sequence of songs. It is special how I bought these albums and also being such a huge Kansas fan for all my life. To play the album in its entirety in the sequence that it was recorded in is a real honour and privilege to do.

JWS: I grew up in the 70’s and first heard Kansas in 1975. I then got hold of the ‘Point of Know Return’ album and it was a favourite of mine for many years but I especially loved songs like Hopelessly Human and Closet Chronicles. Kerry Livgren was such an awesome writer, his material is always strong and good.

RP: So John, you are like me, you love the deep cuts, not just Dust in the Wind but the less celebrated tracks like Nobody’s Home, I love singing those deep cuts.

JWS: I used to have the album cover on a mirror but that has gone now, sadly. I like that this album has some rather obscure Kansas songs like Two Cents Worth which is completely different to Song for America. The only disappointment for me is that People of the South Wind does not have Phil Ehart’s fabulous drum fills on it but, even without the drums, you keep the groove going. Will it be the same set in London?

RP: We will possibly change a song or two but we will do all of ‘The Point of Know Return’ album but who knows what it will be? It’s one of the great things about Kansas, there is such a library of music to draw from.

JWS: I am really looking forward to that show, my wife is looking forward to seeing the band and she trusts my taste in music. We are also seeing Genesis in October this year.

RP: Another of my favourite bands, ‘Wind and Wuthering’ is one of my favourite albums along with ‘A Trick of the Tail’.

JWS: I spoke to Steve Hackett a few weeks ago, he has recorded three albums in lockdown!

RP: Wow, he has been a busy boy, that makes us look lazy! I believe that Genesis will be in Chicago sometime in November but we will be out on the road ourselves, so I will probably not be able to catch them.

JWS: I spoke to Tony Banks last year and he said that with Genesis, it is always a case of never say never, we are always talking about reconvening activities.

RP: I used to open with Dodo in one of the bands I was in during the 80’s, I even took my mother to see Genesis.

JWS: Well Ronnie, my time has almost gone.

RP: Thanks John, it has been good to talk to you again, keep practising the guitar and keep playing the keyboard and we will hopefully see you next year in London.  

Kansas – ‘Point of Know Return: Live & Beyond’ is released on 28th May, 2021.

Order the album here:

Point of Know Return Live & Beyond (burningshed.com)

Interview With John Hackett – John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece John talks to John Hackett about his latest album, a collection of songs recorded during lockdown in spring of 2020 in which John plays all instruments and produced and mixed the album on his own. The album ‘The Piper Plays His Tune’ is the result, released on his own Hacktrax label.

John Wenlock-Smith: Morning John, are you keeping well?

John Hackett: Yes, I have been doing quite a few walks with my wife trying to lose the lockdown tummy that has emerged because of watching Netflix at night whilst eating chocolates!

JWS: We have been doing that as well. The dog starts barking at a pigeon outside and is removed out of the way, lockdown, thank goodness it is coming to an end eh?

JH: Yes, it has been a tough time for many people.

JWS: Unfortunately it has, especially for people like yourself who have been without any income for over a year.

JH: I have been fortunate as my wife works from home, so I have been able to do a bit from home.

JWS: Well, I am retired now as the result of a stroke which has left me with vascular dementia but I get support from my local stroke survivors group. I have heard your new album and I like it, it is quite mellow though.

JH: Well, it is a collection of songs that I guess you would say is quite melody driven as I have spent most of my life as a flute player, which basically means you are following the tune.

JWS: So your wife works from home you say?

JH: Yes, she is an administrator for the church and she is particularly good with technology, which has been especially useful.

JWS: I have been listening back to some of the older stuff you worked on, starting with ‘The Geese and The Ghost’ and ‘We Are Not Alone’, then ‘Another Life’ and ‘Sketches of Satie’ with your brother Steve, I like the live CD that came with that album.

JH: Well, that was early days for the band, I think that was about the fourth show as a band, recorded at the Classic Rock Society who were very generous to us as a band, allowing us to record that show for posterity. I suppose that album is a bit more ‘proggy’ than some of the more classical stuff I’ve been involved with, especially the opening track Take Control and also the track Winds of Change, in which Nick Fletcher, our guitarist, gets room to play a little. My Brother Steve said recently that he thinks Nick is the best jazz rock guitarist in the country at the moment. High praise indeed, I do not know if you have Nick’s album ‘Cycles of Behaviour’ but it is a real testament to his playing.

JWS: Yes ,I have that album, I have just done an interview and album review that will be published on Progradar shortly. I especially liked Philosopher King, the longest track on the album.

JH: I am glad you like that one.

JWS: I like long songs, it gives them room to stretch and breathe a little, give me a longer song anytime.

JH: Sounds like a song title, I might use that in a lyric sometime.

JWS: Go for it, you can have that one for free.

JH: Good, I will look forward to reading that John, he (Nick Fletcher) and I have a lot in common. He has spent a lot of time as a classical guitarist and I have spent a lot of my time as a classical flautist, although we both love rock music and we both feel comfortable working in both fields. I used to think that I had to make a choice, one or the other, but Nick and I both feel that they can feed off each other, in that you can apply some of the techniques used in classical pieces in the rock stuff. Really, the rock stuff benefits from playing the classical pieces too, with the rock stuff you are always thinking about keeping it strong and I think that background can really help in with the energy and direction you create.

Nick and I worked together on the ‘Beyond The Stars’ album and he had a vision for the album. It has a fabulous long track, That Ship Has Sailed, on which Nick gets a chance to really stretch out, it is his Pink Floyd moment, his Comfortably Numb, as it were.

JWS: So what was your first love in rock music?

JH: Well I started off as a blues guitarist, my brother taught me House Of The Rising Sun and showed me a few bits, then we saw King Crimson with Ian Macdonald playing the flute and Robin Miller on oboe. That got me into learning to play the flute, which I did at University in Sheffield. In 1978 I joined Steve’s band as a flautist/bass player, recorded ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’, amongst his other earlier albums, and toured extensively with him as part of the band. Good times! we still work together occasionally, usually doing a Christmas show at Trading Boundaries in which I play flute, along with Roger King on keyboards and Rob Townsend on sax, that is always a good venue as the audience are at tables near the stage.

JWS: Yes, we have not got to Trading Boundaries yet as it is too far from where we are in Cheshire, although I do have a Downes Braide Association album that has a live show from Trading Boundaries with it.

It certainly looks like a great little venue; we have seen you with Steve Hackett a few times on his more recent tours in Manchester, often with Amanda Lehmann in tow too. I suppose Sheffield to Manchester is only about an hour away?

JH: Yes, not too far at all and it is always great to be a part of Steve’s shows, I really enjoy those appearances.

JWS: Obviously gigging is coming back slowly,

JH: We have our first gig in August at the 1865 in Southampton.

JWS: Are you playing in Bilston at the Robin 2?

JH: Yes we are playing there as part of an all-day festival.

JWS: Will there be a new John Hackett Band album soon?

JH: Yes, I certainly hope so, we need to do something soon, watch this space.

 JWS: Have you had your vaccinations?

JH: Yes, I had those at the Sheffield Arena, I am not sure if the others have had theirs yet, I guess we will find out soon enough. I had to take my shirt off and I was wearing a John Hackett Band T Shirt and the nurse said what’s your T shirt and I said it’s my band, I said I’d always hoped to get to Sheffield Arena as a band appearing, not as an OAP getting vaccinated! 

JWS: You have some nice guitar playing on the album.

JH: Thank you, I was listening to an old Tamla song and heard some bongo’s and I thought I could do with some of those. I went out shopping and I found some in Lidl, I thought that was a sign to get on with it!

JWS: Would you do another album in that way?

JH: I would not rule it out but not yet. 

JWS: Well I think that’s all I must ask you about, thanks very much for talking to me and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

JH: Yes, Thanks for your time John, I’ll drop you an email later, so you have my email too, nice talking with you.

‘The Piper Plays His Tune’ was released 18th November, 2020.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

The Piper Plays His Tune | John Hackett (bandcamp.com)

Interview With Nick Fletcher – John Wenlock-Smith

John Wenlock-Smith talks to Nick Fletcher about his new release ‘Cycles of Behaviour’.

1. What are the main themes of the album and why did you choose them?

That’s a good question John. The album has a thread which could be called a concept. The main idea was to have an album that reflected the current state of affairs in the world today. The title hopefully depicts the idea that humanity’s history seems to repeat itself, social and political ideas appear to come around time and again and we don’t seem to learn from the mistakes of the past.

2. Who are your main influences classically? rock, fusion and blues?

I have so many it’s very hard to pick just a few. I think Julian Bream was a huge inspiration for the classical guitar. David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Allan Holdsworth, Steve Hackett, Andy Latimer and a Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal for the electric guitar.

3. You have a fabulous set of contributors on the album. Were these previously known to you and, if so, how?

Yes I have been friends with all the collaborators for many years, the exception being drummer  Russ Wilson. Russ and I had never met before the recording of the album, he came recommended by John Hackett who had played with Russ in the Book of Genesis tribute band and mentioned to me what an outstanding drummer he was. He was correct! Russ is the perfect  fit  for my music, as he has both the prog-rock and fusion techniques well covered and he is very creative.

Dave Bainbridge is one of my oldest friends, we met in 1979 and have worked together off and on ever since on albums and in bands. John Hackett and I have been working together ever since we first met in 2009 either as a flute and guitar duo or in the John Hackett BandCaroline Bonnett has also been a friend for many years and is a great singer, producer, sound engineer and keyboard player. Tim Harries and I go back to 1983. Tim was Bill Bruford’s bass player in ‘Earthworks’ and having Tim on the album was fantastic.

4. You used to do some work for Integrity Music, how did that come about and would you have worked on anything I may have heard of?

I worked as a session guitarist and as a producer with Integrity Music. I produced a CD with Dave Bainbridge called ‘Breaking of the Dawn’ and recorded 4 solo CD’s for them. I also produced the Celtic Expression series of 6 albums with Nigel Palmer who was the chap who co-produced and recorded the Iona albums with Dave. Over the years I did many sessions and also worked with Dave Bilbrough in his band for about 10 years.

5. Will you be doing gigs to support the album?

In short, unfortunately, no! Some of the material may get aired as part of the John Hackett Band. It’s impossible to get gigs under my own name at the moment. Also, to put together such a band of great musicians would be very difficult for logistical and financial reasons. It’s a shame as some of the music would be great to perform live! But, unfortunately, that’s the reality.

6. What next from you – do you have any projects in the pipeline?

My next project  will be released in June. This is something very different as it is a ‘classical flute and guitar duo’ album with John Hackett. It’s the third in a series we have recorded and this one is the music of J.S.Bach, Handel and Vivaldi! The album is called ‘The Goldfinch’ and named after a flute concerto By Vivaldi.

John is the soloist and I play an arrangement of the orchestral parts….it’s a great work and very virtuosic for the soloist, revealing  what a fantastic flautist John is. I am also, on the classical side, currently composing new works for the classical guitar to be published this year.

I have already started writing for a follow up to ‘Cycles of Behaviour’. The plan is to get it released next year hard on the heels of Cycles! It will feature the same line up but with more instrumentals and also a couple of amazing singers who I need to keep under wraps at the moment.

7. Which guitarists do you admire and why?

I love the classical guitar and Ana Vidovic is one of my all time favourite players. Her ability to draw you into her performances is second to none!

With the electric guitar at the moment I don’t hear many modern players that inspire me. That said, there are some amazing players around who blow me off the stage any day!! I do think that Allan Holdsworth was a true genius, and is greatly missed, but most modern players don’t have the visceral quality I like in the instrument….too much technique and little emotional impact. Technique is very important but has to be at the service of the musical content. David Gilmour, Jeff Beck and Andy Latimer are my go-to players for that visceral quality.

8. Which musicians would you most like to collaborate with and why?

Well John, that’s a hypothetical question, all the players I would love to work with are very much above my abilities so even if it did happen I would be so in awe my fingers would never make the notes! However, Chad Wackerman is the most incredible drummer who inspires me with his creativity and amazing chops, Rhonda Smith is a great bass player who I admire greatly and Derek Sherinian, the keyboard player, is another favourite prog musician.

9. What guitar amps and effects do you use?

I use Blackstar amps and mainly Boss effects. I play PRS guitars and a customised Fender Stratocaster.

 10. Do you have a favourite piece of music?

Wow! That’s so hard to answer! I love so much music that encompasses so many different genres. Classical music it would possibly be Mahler’s 2nd symphony. Prog it would be ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and jazz, anything by Keith Jarrett.

‘Cycles of Behaviour’ was released March 26th, 2021 and can be ordered from:

www.nickfletcherguitarmusic.com  

Interview With Marc Bonilla – by John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece I talk to Marc Bonilla of The Keith Emerson Band about the recently released Tribute concert cd/DVD set celebrating the music of Keith Emerson, the composer and musical innovator.

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day to you Mark, I trust you are keeping well in these strange times?

Marc Bonilla (MB): Hello John, Yes I am doing fine thank you for asking.

JWS: The CD/DVD set is fabulous, such a great cast and epic performances all round.

MB: I am glad that you like it, I think it has all come out well. I especially like the artwork by Joey LoFaro who has done remarkable job of re-imagining ‘Tarkus’ for the modern day.

JWS: Yes indeed, I was really impressed with that too. Apparently he is selling prints of the artwork.

MB: Yes and T shirts too, here is the link  https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/jerry-lofaro

JWS: It all looks great and interesting, plus all profits go to Keith’s chosen charity, so everybody wins.

MB: Yes, Joey is an awesome artist. I had seen some of his earlier work with dinosaurs and thought what if he could reimagine ‘Tarkus’ for today? what would it look like? I think he is pulled it off very spectacularly.

JWS: The concert looks fabulous on DVD and sounds fantastic too.

MB: Thank you, we had cameras everywhere to capture it all. It was only a small venue with about 900 people in it, mostly musicians who wanted to pay tribute. there was no seating and it was a long show.  Everyone wanted to do their bit to honour the life of Keith as he had meant so much to so many of them. 

It was an exceptional event and there were no ego issues with anyone. It was all supportive and very joyous, although tinged with sadness for the loss of Keith. I was astonished at the outpouring of love and respect from the musical community in Los Angeles. Many of these people took the career paths they did because of the influence Keith had made on them when they were younger. Certainly folk like Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather (both of Toto) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) clearly acknowledge that influence, as they said during the artist interviews.

JWS: Yes, those interviews are fascinating, you really sense the appreciation, acclaim, and respect of Keith that was felt by those musicians. It was quite a set list too, although I was surprised that no one chose Jerusalem to do, that would have been epic.

MB: Well we had so much music to do, we could not do it all sadly. As I said, it was a small standing only venue and with folks all being of an age, standing for 3 hours is a big ask but we could have done even longer and covered more music.

JWS: How did you choose each player for each song?

MB: They did it themselves mainly, Steve Porcaro had seen ELP as a support for Edgar Winter in the early days and he was totally blown away by Barbarian so that was his choice. Jordan had similarly been affected by ‘Tarkus’ so he chose to do that one and so on and so forth.

Another remarkable thing was that we only had one day of rehearsals for the event, everyone was gathered backstage watching each other. It was very much a communal event with no ego’s whatsoever, it was like they were all auditioning for Keith really.

I lost my voice in the run up to the event and so much of the vocals were handled by Rick Livingstone and Travis Davis, although I did send a few prayers upward to Keith to help me get through it all. Thankfully he heard me and I was able to get through it all and even managed to hit the high note on Karn Evil 9 where I must hold the note at the end.

JWS: I really enjoyed the film, especially Jordan Rudess’ Tarkus and Rachel Flowers’ take on The Endless Enigma.

MB: Yes, I felt she really bought something incredibly special out of that piece, she was remarkable.

JWS: I think everyone give a great job, all playing at their peak.

MB: I Agree, we wanted to show Keith as the composer and not just as the keyboard master. I think some of those performances managed to capture that side of his personality, you have to remember that before Keith there was no one fusing classical with rock, making the classics accessible and inviting rock musicians in.

He was breaking fresh ground by doing so, literally carving his way through with his daggers! He also invited classical listeners to hear his work and see his skills and talents and his music.

JWS: I Interviewed Keith a few years ago, around the time of the ‘Three Fates’ album. That was a real treat, I can say. He was cooking his tea and called me back, he was a lovely man and very gracious to a Fanboy like me.

MB: We did shows in London at the Barbican and in Birmingham, I think, did you go?

JWS: Sadly not, I would loved to have gone, though I did see ELP on the Black Moon tour though, in Birmingham and that was special to me.

MB: I remember spending time on those tours with Keith laughing, he loved comedy like Victor Borges and Derek and Clive. He adored Dudley Moore (who was also a particularly good pianist actually). 

By that stage Keith had lost some versatility in his fingers so we wanted to show his compositions rather than his prowess. I think that project managed to do that really.

JWS: Well Marc, my time has gone but thank you for taking time to talk with me about this show and the memories that it has for you. Keep safe at this time.

MB: Thanks John and check out my latest release ‘Celluloid Debris’ at www.marcbonillamusic, my first album in 25 years, you will like it I am sure.

JWS: OK, thanks once again Marc, much appreciated.

You can read John’s review os the concert CD/DVD here:

Q&A With Jon Davison of Arc of Life – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Wenlock-Smith partakes in a Q&A with Jon Davison about the new Arc of Life project for which Jon is the vocalist.

1/ Arc of Life is a new project, how did to come into existence?

While on the road with YES a few years back, Billy and I found a mutual inspiration to start writing during the long drives on the tour bus. Jay was soon involved, supplying his creative input and positive perspective. We then unanimously felt Jimmy was a natural fit.

2/ Who suggested Dave Kerzner for the keyboard role?

Again we unanimously agreed, as with Jimmy, that Dave would bring the perfect musical ingredients into the Arc fold. We were all thinking the same thing in a sort of collective consciousness, but to answer your question accurately, I believe it was Billy who first gave voice to the idea.

3/ What are the main themes to the album?

The most prominent theme is the evolution of mankind. The concept of an arc of life signifying the rise in man’s consciousness and eventually leading to a far greater understanding, passed all political power play and the greed and indifference which plague and sustain the inequalities of our world. Through this ascension of evolution, man’s intelligence will become highly developed, revealing technological advancements beyond our wildest imaginations.

4/ Were you tempted to get a named producer in for the album or Roger Dean for the cover? 

We did seriously consider both at one early point.  We discussed the idea of working with Hugh Padgham, but eventually agreed that producing ourselves, with Billy’s skills at the helm, meant ultimately having complete creative freedom.

By choosing to not work with Roger Dean we thought we might minimize the Yes comparisons. I suppose they are inevitable anyway, but we certainly didn’t want to add to them (lol.)

5/ Aside from Yes, what other influences are apparent?

Back to Padgham and The Police sound. Another influence was Peter Gabriel, particularly in a song like, Talking With Siri.

6/ Is this a one off project or can we expect to hear more new material and, if so, is there a time frame for this?

We actually have a lot more material already in the works that will eventually surface on the next record. We have no time frame as of yet for ARC II. More importantly for now, we have so much to look forward to with this record.

7/ This band could have great potential for the live arena, could there be live shows post covid? Could you tour with Yes for example?

We want to be out on the road, sharing our music with as many people as possible, worldwide. We are totally keen to the idea of opening for a bigger arena type band. The only way it would be right touring with Yes is if each member of Yes also performed in the context of their respective solo and side projects. An event highlighting the current day Yes family tree, if you will, followed by a headline performance by Yes.

8/ I think the overall response has been overwhelmingly positive?

That is great to hear. The album has been a long time coming and it’s rewarding to finally witness its coming to light and the enthusiastic reaction of so many.

9/ What’s happening with Yes, is there any progress on new material yet?

We’ve been creating and recording since the pandemic hit and have our sights set on a new album. The rest I’ll leave as a surprise.

10/ What’s the story behind the album cover?

The album cover is symbolic of the dawning of enlightenment just off in the horizon as mankind perceives its light at the end of the long and treacherous tunnel through which we have journeyed – to reach at last the exit of the deep cave of darkness and ignorance. What can I say… I’m an optimist (lol!)

‘Arc of Life’ was released on February 12th 2021.

Order the album here:

ARC OF LIFE – Arc Of Life – CD Jewelcase | Frontiers Music Official Shop

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Chris Braide of Downes Braide Association

Geff Downes, Chris Braide

Chris Braide of Downes Braide Association talks about the new album ‘Halcyon Hymns’.

John Wenlock-Smith:  Good day Chris, are you well?

Chris BraideYes, I am fine thank you getting on as best as we all can in these times.

JWS: I do like the new album (‘Halcyon Hymns’), I think it is quite positive.

CB: That surprises me as other friends have asked if anything has happened and am I okay? I think lyrically this album is a lot darker than its predecessor (‘Skyscraper Souls’), that album was like evening whilst this is more of an afternoon album, colour wise. I would say this one is orange where ‘Skyscraper Souls’ was a deep blue, this one has some rather dark songs, like Remembrance for instance.

JWS: How did this album even come about?

CB: Well, with the virtual shutdown of the industry and tours being cancelled etc. it was very much a case of ‘right what can I do now then?’. This album came out of that period, Geoff (Downes) had sent me some ideas and I got to work on them. I chose to look at the world as it was when I was younger, the endless summer days, cycling around everywhere, pure rose tinted nostalgia for a world that had been but suddenly was not available to us now.

JWS: This album has some guests too?

CB: Yes, we have David Longdon on one track, Marc Almond on another, Ash Soan (my colleague of 20 plus years) on drums and a few others too, it makes for a nice mix.

JWS: So how did you and Geoff originally meet?

CB: I met Geoff at a one-off Buggles reunion in London. I was part of a group called The Producers with Trevor Horn who was, of course, the other Buggle and he asked me if I’d like to be an honorary Buggle for the evening, I said yes very enthusiastically and we had a great time of it. I met Geoff and enjoyed his company and felt we had a good connection.

I was due to move to Los Angeles shortly afterwards, when I told Geoff he said that it was no problem as he was due to be in LA himself soon as Yes were due to record the ‘Fly From Here’ album. Geoff and Trevor were back in the Yes camp for that project and when he was doing that album, he would come and visit me at my home. We started to write together songs that would become the first Downes Braide Association album.

JWS: I have the live album and DVD set and I will be reviewing this latest album for Progradar too.

CB: Cheers for that. We enjoyed that gig at Trading Boundaries, did you go?

JWS: I wanted to be but it was a bit too far to travel to East Sussex I am afraid but I did enjoy the album and the DVD. If you had been playing locally in Stoke or Crewe, I would have been there

CB: Well, hopefully when everything gets back to normality then we can start gigging again, I have other musician friends who have also been unable to do anything this past year!

JWS: So Chris, I know you have a long musical history but what sort of music really gets you?

CB: I’m a huge Marc Bolan and T-Rex fan have been seen I was a kid really. I also like Yes, the whole spectrum of their sound and, of course, the fantastic covers. Which is why we enjoy working with Roger Dean who crafted those fabulous sleeves that you could lose yourself in whilst listening to the albums.

I also really like Kate Bush who surely must be a really unsung progressive icon with the stuff that she has done for the past 40 years or so. If I was stuck on a desert island I’d take Marc Bolan, Yes and Kate Bush’s music to sustain me.

JWS: I saw Kate on her only UK tour in 1979 in Birmingham, she was quite remarkable. It was the ‘Wuthering Heights’/’Lionheart’ albums tour, if I recall correctly?

CB: Wow, what a fantastic memory! She stopped touring as that tour was cursed when a lighting guy fell (Bill Duffield) to his death at the warmup show in Poole. It was later coined ‘The Tour of Life’ and Kate did a benefit concert for Bill in London as the end of the tour, it must have been amazing.

JWS: I can remember if being very visual and extremely exciting to a young 19-year-old, as I was then. So you have also been involved with loads of modern “Pop” acts along the way, I believe?

CB: I was originally a solo artist signed to Dave Stewart’s ‘Anxious’ label (on which he released his debut solo album ‘Chapter One’ in 1996). This was before I moved to LA and began working with the likes of Sia, Christina Aguilera, Pixie Lott and Yuna, amongst others, getting into writing these songs for these different artists, I am a writer, that is what I do.

JWS: But your love of music stretches a lot further than just Pop?

CB: It certainly does, it’s far wider than that. I love the progressive stuff and I like to combine that with certain Pop sensibilities, if I can, and DBA gives me a vehicle to do just that.

JWS: I think that when this album is released it needs to get to a far wider audience, if possible, as lots of people of my age and younger will find much to enjoy here.

CB: Yes, indeed it is but it’s getting it out there that is the hard part!

JWS: Well you need to get your DBA Songs onto mainstream media. Get it onto Good Morning Britain for instance or get Clarkson to use it on the Grand Tour etc. Obviously we will try what we can but it’s only scratching the surface really, the album is out on the 5th February in the UK?

CB: Yes, the day before my birthday.

JWS: Oh wow! well, Happy Birthday for the 6th then, dare I ask how old you will be?

CB: Well, I feel like I am still 19 really but I will be in my 40’s. I’m actually really enjoying my 40’s, its even better than the 30’s were and the 20’s were too! In fact, I think every decade has just been better for me.

JWS: Well I’m 61 now and my best decade was my 50’s. A lot happened, I got divorced, started writing reviews and did interviews with people like Keith Emerson, I’ve even interviewed Geoff once. I started dating and eventually got remarried again so it was a great decade for me, you have this to come, I guess. Anyway, Chris, my time has gone so thank you for talking to me, I appreciate it and all the best with the new album!

CB: Thank you too, I have enjoyed it.

Interview With Steve Hackett by John Wenlock-Smith

Steve Hackett talks about his new acoustic album ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’, released on the 22nd January 2021.

John Wenlock-Smith: So how are you Steve, how’s lockdown been treating you and Jo?

Steve Hackett: It is a strange time, at least some of us will get vaccinated soon. I am okay, I have had a bit of kidney surgery recently, so am about 80 or 90% now able to play the guitar again now after leaving it for a month or so. My fingers are working fine, my hearing is working, oops better not jinx it all now though! How are you and yours doing in all this?  I’ve not caught it yet so hopefully all will be fine.

JWS: We are both fine, staying in and avoiding contact with anyone as much as we can. We had a Tesco delivery this morning so, yes, we are both doing ok really. So, let us talk about this new album of yours…

SH: Yes, ‘Under A Mediterranean Sky’, it’s been ready for a while, Jo says it was ready by June last year but I think it was actually a little earlier. We started it around March or April and it took a couple of months to complete and then suddenly it was all done.

The thing that takes all the time on rock albums are the vocals. Drums and, strangely, guitars don’t take that long that, maybe because I have a degree of proficiency in that department.

I don’t have to hire anyone in to do those parts but when, it comes to something like this, it’s basically one guitar, which you have to get your tone right for (and be able to play it) and then there are orchestrations by Roger King, who is proving himself to be somewhat of a genius in his arrangements and his engineering and musical skills.

JWS: I have had a listen to it and I have to say that it sounds particularly good indeed.

SH: I must agree and say that It does sound mighty fine indeed.

JWS: I watched a couple of the videos for the album too.

SH: You know what I think? I think its good for those that like that sort of thing but, if you want Van Halen or Buddy Holly then stop right there. However, it is a bridge between what the prog people might like and what the classical types might enjoy.

It’s an audience that I’ be happy to connect with. When I started doing classical stuff with the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ album (1997) I suddenly had people writing to me who obviously would never deign to listen to any rock and roll, wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole actually, and they were saying nice things.

I thought this is nice, people who listen to Radio 3 or Classic FM and the occasional Tchaikovsky album and learnt the piano at some stage of their life, they’re listening to my music. I thought this is nice, it is a different thing, a different strata of listener.

JWS: A different type of listening too perhaps?

SH: Yes, less leather jacket more Laura Ashley I Think?

JWS: For the ladies at least, floral dresses on blokes does not work, well it does not for me at least!

SH: Floral Guitars and decorations?

JWS: You obviously have travelled extensively through those areas in the past/

SH: Yes, it’s a musical journey, I hope it will take people there in spirit even if we can’t go there at the moment. I get Production copies of the album today, I always await that with eagerness as you can actually see the finished article. I listen on CD as you get the full bandwidth of sounds on that.

I don’t think that this will be a big one for Vinyl enthusiasts, I think it needs the purity of CD rather than the snap crackle and pop that vinyl gives, if retro is your thing that is.

On this album there is a piece I have composed for Domenico Scarlatti who was born in Naples in 1685 and was an Italian composer. He was primarily a composer for the harpsichord. On this album I have composed a composition called Scarlatti Sonata as a way of tribute to him.

So that is me, if I want to play a bit of Beethoven then I will or Chopin, Muse could and Keith Emerson used to do that, we used to talk about that all the time. It does not have to be current to be good.

I used to have a friend who was an art Critic and I asked him how he felt about Avant-Garde and he replied that if he was interested in it, he considered it to be Avant-Garde.

I mean Bach was a radical really, anyone who wrote the Italian concerto that has been a ball breaker for keyboard players evermore since has to be, funny that!

JWS: On this album you have some interesting pieces like M’dina, in Saudi Arabia?

SH: No, it’s the other M’dina, the walled city inside Valetta, the capital of Malta. It’s quite a long piece, a sort of mini concerto that’s probably closer in spirit to the Warsaw Concerto by Richard Adinsell (written for the 1941 Film ‘Dangerous Moonlight’ which was about the Polish Struggle against the Nazi’ Germany in 1939.) being a short piece of about 10-minute duration. This song, M’dina, has echoes of that, reflecting the way that Malta has been affected its occupation many times through different wars over the years.

JWS: I also Like Scirocco.

SH: I particularly like that one too, I like how the classical meets the cinematic element of it, I was going to say something else about it, an attempt to pair the Middle East with music and recollections of travels in those places, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan,  fantastic places that I’ve loved.

When I go to such places I tend to write things in my notebook. I don’t carry an instrument with me really because it’s too valuable and puts you at the mercy of airport baggage handlers, which is not something you really want, so it’s easier to record impressions in a notebook for reference at a later point.

I first went to Egypt many years ago and spent 24 hours in Cairo and visited the museum and the Sphinx and the Pyramids, of course. It is the spirit of things really. We went back to Egypt a few years ago and took a Nile cruise where you can really feel the history and the culture of the area.

I usually write the chords and the top line and Roger comes up with the rest, I think I am at the stage where I am ready to call him a genius! We went to Petra in Jordan and saw Lawrence’s pile of stones, there is lots of history there, we also rode with the Bedouin in the desert too.

JWS: I like the Andalusian Sky track too.

SH: You like the orchestral ones?

JWS: I like that they evoke a feeling of a place.

SH: It is the interaction between us that makes it work.

JWS: Where did you find Roger?

SH: Originally, he was just a name in the phone book! He was a composer with a background in Film Music who had worked on the movies Cliffhanger and In The Name Of The Father, so that is where he came from. I think for much of it he was uncredited, often the way with folks like Michelangelo and his acolytes who painted much of the Sistine Chapel.

JWS: I was watching the video’s last night and thought that you would be good at doing one of those type of programmes.

SH: I really enjoy watching those type of programmes and had thought that I would like to do that, standing there talking about things that I know a little about.

JWS: Well, it has worked for Michael Palin and Steve Coogan!

SH: Yes, however I would rather be down with the locals finding out what they do, how they live and what they eat etc.

JWS: So what is next for You?

SH: Well, I have started work on the next album, although I have temporarily stopped due to this lockdown. I have got about 45 minutes done already, I have a shopping list of all sorts of things I want to do but it is not finished until it is finished.

There is quite a lot to live up to from recent albums, a house band, some great singers, it has been quite a big team of musicians from all around the world. some great singers and musicians all working together and I like to work as part of a team. It is a lot of fun to me, like a toy that I have never outgrown.

JWS: Yes, I think if you are not enjoying it then it is time to give it up!

SH: I agree and guitars in particular, I have only got to hear a guitar tone, it could even be someone else’s sound possibly from some time ago, the sound that I have heard in my mind and been striving to attain. When I find that tone then you have the vehicle to go anywhere you have imagine. This is the vehicle, the rocket, the boat, and that is the voyage that I want to take.