Following the release of their new album, the first in over 40 years I spent some time chatting with the charming Bernardo Lanzetti, vocalist and song writer with Acqua Fragile, about his musical career, reforming the band and the brand new album ‘A New Chant’.
I started by asking Bernardo how did you go about reforming and what spurred the reunion?
In May 2013, I did celebrate my 40 years in music with a unique event called “VOX 40”. Welcomed by an exhibition of my artwork, the audience attended a concert where up to twenty seven musicians gathered to play tracks off the different bands I had done vocals for, over the years.
On that occasion, all five original members of Acqua Fragile happened to meet after a long while and Piero Canavera on drums plus Franz Dondi on bass, even got a chance to play a couple of tracks off “Acqua Fragile” and “Mass Media Stars” along with Tango Spleen, a smart modern classical ensemble.
The idea of working on a new album took form quite naturally even though Gino Campanini (guitar and vocals) and Maurizio Mori (keyboards) confessed they could not join in. Quite nice though, Alessandro Mori, Maurizio’s son – a talented young drummer previously with Glenn Hughes and Bobby Kimball – right after that show, suggested he could be guest on one of the brand new tracks.
The start off was not that easy. The band wanted to keep A F vocal harmonies but we were missing one voice and we had no key man! A few characters, hanging around the band, enthusiastically, were giving suggestions and advice resulting in slowing down the whole project.
A few keyboardists and guitarists showed up and quit but we had a bit more of luck with Alessandro Giallombardo on guitar, backing vocals and keys too. Even though he wouldn’t join the band, Piero, Franz and Bernardo could find energy enough to carry on the project. Ok! We had no dedicated hands on keyboards but we could have strings, piano and intriguing bandoneon from Tango Spleen! Some minor health issue would, temporarily, keep Piero away from his kit? Well, Alessandro Mori could drum along!
Alessandro Sgobbio, formerly with “Acqua Fragile Project” (an experiment carried on by Franz Dondi where young musicians would live perform A F music, around 2004 ) and now jazz pianist and composer for “Charm”, “Pericopes +1” e “Debra’s Dream”, popped up at Elfo Studio to do a flashy synth solo. Michelangelo Ferilli, also from “A F P ”, left some acoustic guitar arpeggios!
I had been quite busy in the last two years so I thought I could get some help with lyrics. As special guest, we were lucky to have US drummer Jonathan Mover (Joe Satriani, GTR) on the trickiest piece of the album succeeding in making a quite complicated composition sound simple. Though some additional actions were taken in centre Italy and Costa del Sol in Spain, main recordings took place at Elfo Studio in Tavernago (PC) Italy where sound man Alberto Callegari was sharp and patient enough to produce it.
I wondered what difference in recording and working together did you find after reforming?
From 72 up to 74, the band would gather at least four times a week. We had no recording facilities so we would memorize all we were playing, I mean dozens of changes in every session. We wouldn’t even take notes or write score on paper as most of us were just self-taught in music.
Actually, every now and then, somebody, may be an older chap, would show up with a reel to reel or, let’s say, some freak with a cassette recorder would promise to do magic but distortion was all we could get down on tape. We knew very little about recording studios but we were blessed getting Claudio Fabi to produce our albums with Gaetano Ria as sound engineer – I mean – top guys in recording studios in Milan.
After that, please, do know that Piero and Franz kept away for many years from the recording world so, when we got back together, everybody around us – I mean fans, fellow artists, guys who wanted to be producers etc. – they were all saying we should go back and start on the old way, rehearsing every day to “capture back the old flair”.
I would just keep scrolling my head – you know, after all in a band there’s got to be some form of democracy – ‘till I got the other guys on my side and started to work in a most proper way. Somehow, I would provide the music and the lyrics, recording a home demo good enough to start with. Drums and bass would then get together to work out modifying the existing patterns and lines of the chosen piece.
Electric guitars and most keybords came out from the work of Alex Giallombardo who we were lucky to have over three quarters of the album even though he wouldn’t join the band. Tango Spleen is a terrific small unit which I define smart & classic. I remember them recording “My Forte” at first take.
Lately, I’ve been moving around a lot so my lead vocals were recorded in different places around Italy and Andalusia. Vocal harmonies were recorded mostly at Elfo Studios or in Milan. In the final rush I played a few synth lines and played acoustic guitar that was missing.
So how do you see A New Chant fitting into your canon?
OK: We got the vocals with the three part harmony, we got friendly odd tempo signatures, we got acoustic guitars, we got synthesizers, we got original riffs, we got nice arpeggios and, yeah, we got good lead vocals too. On the lyrics side we are missing some social issues and science fiction stories.
On the other end, also thanks to Pete Sinfield and Nick Clabburn, we did get more poetry. The music still holds drama in it as well as humour, epics, rock, folk and classical flare.
How did the collaborations on the album come about?
The Orchestra 6 piece specialize in tango, I met them as guests when I did my vox 40 concert, they did a great job, I thought it would be good to have them guest, they did a terrific job, they got the 1st song as a 1st take, and it was the fist time they had drums in their cans. Jon Mover, track in 11/8 he doubled that into 22, then subdivided to 7/6/5/4 meaning each bar has a different beats per minute and from the previous and the following, this is prog definatley, Mariano the pioano player needed more information, he looked at the score and then they both did it. One to be guests, Mover, he’s American, he loves progressive music, he played for Marillion, after that he got involved in GTR, he booked a studio and invited them down to hear me play, he then got hired. I found out I’m his favourite singer, so I got in touch and we’re working on my new album. We had guests for lyrics, I found this website where Pete Sinfield has his lyrics/poems/haikus, there was a poem I liked so much that I put some music to it, but how do I contact him? I had the song but no permission to release it. I had been doing gigs with David Jackson, he was in my house, and when he was staying he talked about moving. I asked David when we next spoke if he had moved and he’d moved to a small town, turns out it’s the same village that Pete Sinfield lives, so David’s son is a famous engineer, and his daughter Dorie is a singer, and she sometimes helps Mr Sinfield, so we had a connection, Dorie got a CD from me and once they went to supermarket she put the CD on for Pete, he said I love it and that’s how it worked out. I got a mail confirming I could use the poem as lyrics. Also Nick Clabburn wrote the lyrics for me, I knew Nick from when Steve Hackett came to Italy, he came to visit me in Umbria, he took inspiration from the lake I lived at, and he got the lyrics I’m drowning.
Alesso Lombardo, we did a few gigs and asked he could join in, he was contributing and we were lucky. Where your Car Proudly, the only one we wrote in the 70’s, we had no recordings, the drummer remembered the lines to play, but I didn’t remember the words, only the title, and asked a friend to write the lyrics, the song is quite interesting, if you play it when driving you get carried away. Allessandro Scorpio on keys, was in a band Aqcua Fragile project, didn’t quite work out, and he became a jazz player. When I played Vox 40 all original members but the guitarist and keyboard player didn’t play, but the keyboard players son is a drummer who joined.
I wondered what inspired Bernando as a writer?
Conscious and subconscious pull up bubbles from education and personality. Lyrics are one topic. Music is another one. I keep written notes around with phrases and words with a sound and may be more than just one meaning. I store them for future use..
As for music, I used to write singing on top of my guitar playing but, in the last ten years or so, I developed other techniques the most interesting being the one that I think about a melody, memorize it and study in my head but may be I’m floating on a swimming pool or riding shotgun (better not driving when doing this) so I’m totally free of instrumentation and kind of draw diagrams in my head. Of course, later on, I try to get sounds off instruments, mainly starting with the ol’ guitar.
Talk me through the album A New Chant.
Well, we wanted an Italian song, we’re the only Italian prog band with no Italian song, the Tu per Lei song is about music, saying if you work hard for music, then it’s done. Taking the line from Jamie Muir, he once told Bill Bruford, ‘when you approach you don’t have to think about what music can do for you, you have to ask what can I do for music’ then the acoustic one, How come, I wanted Lombardo to be more involved, I pushed, so he said I’ll write something acoustic and you sing, then we had an argument, so he said I’ll take the music but you keep the lyrics, which were my words, so I ended up having to write a new melody to the lyrics. A new way of composing. All rise – when you write songs for an album you don’t think about the concert, then you have to rejig the order for the power, so I thought why don’t I write a song for the first encore, using the courtroom line, the drummer did a great job,
A New Chant, I can do many things with my vocals, but I can do something that resembles opera, but I never learnt to push without a microphone, they can push up to 50 metres, I never learnt to do that, so that’s what I wanted to, which is crossing prog with opera. Artwork from 1973, it’s guy carrying round chairs as an invitation to a concert, the bassist had it and kept it, and it seemed ideal to use.
Will you be playing live?
We are working on two options. We could call other musicians to fill the gaps or be surrounded by an orchestra.
How did you get the deal with Esoteric?
Ernesto De Pascale, journalist and producer got them in touch with me when they needed the original art work for the re-release of Acqua Fragile’s very first album.
Where next for Acqua Fragile?
Perhaps a live album or…..
What influenced you as a musician when you started out?
When I was a kid I wanted to become a mad scientist. Somehow I kept that attitude working with music. I am not such a good player, not fast fingers or feet, no strength in my hands or arms but I can do total vocals. I can do harmonies and my range spans over three octaves.
I always admired rock and blues, suspended chords, things hidden or not totally outspoken. Progressive rock gave me all the other topics I was missing.
How different is the music scene now compared to when you started out?
The people behind the music scene have taken over. They don’t need musicians or artist ‘cause they actually control all platforms that distributes music or what they push to become “music”.
Tell me about your time in PFM?
When I joined PFM I thought I was called in to complete the delivery potential of the band. Only one of the original member is still in the band, actually becoming its leader, but, along with the ones that left ,when being interviewed they all say they were forced to get a lead singer. I recall them knowing nothing about singing except, perhaps, the key man Flavio Premoli. They didn’t even know the words to their songs!
On stage, nobody wanted my vocals in their monitors and, when having only three lines, I would end up singing along with drums and fretless bass! We were recording in LA, the studio time expired so we moved to Scorpio sound and we flew economy on a students ticket, we arrived at midnight in Luton, got the bus to the centre of London, at 2am we were still on the bus. Franco said ‘this is the new day’ so instead of heading to the hotel so we took two cabs to the studio, we wanted to start recording. We knocked on the studio door at 3 in the morning and said ‘We’ve got the studio booked’ and the people running the studio said we’ve got no engineers in yet. Franco said, ’You got a microphone?’ OK Bernado, sing! And we started. After a long flight and journey how can a guy sing after that?
After a career spanning many years what’s your favourite musical memories?
I have a lot, we started opening for bands like Soft Machine & Gentle Giant they were our heroes and we hoped we did our best and we even played before Alexis Korner, Tempest as well, We were exposed to terrific players. With PFM my first concert was in Tokyo, and we played the Royal Albert Hall and the Queen Mother wanted to meet us, so there’s a photo of us with the Queen Mother, so when I left they erased me, I then did my own and I erased them, so there’s three copies of this photo, one with all of us, one with them and not me, and then one with me on my own!
‘A New Chant’ was released 13th October 2017.
Read James’ review of the album here: