This is part II of a three-part article on the work of Jack Lancaster & Robin Lumley and what followed with early Brand X.
In the first part, we established that Jack and Robin wrote and recorded two albums in the mid 70’s – Peter and the Wolf, and Marscape, both involving most of the other members of what became Brand X, along with other guests. These alumni include Jack Lancaster (winds), Robin Lumley (keys), Percy Jones (bass), John Goodsall (guitar), and Phil Collins (drums), also of Genesis and lengthy solo career. Both albums were re-mastered by Jack Lancaster last year and are available on Gonzo Multimedia.
Let’s focus now on how such a talented pack of musicians got together and came to record these albums. I had the opportunity this month to talk with Jack, Robin, Percy, and John about this, and the origins of Brand X. First a bit about Jack & Robin who are the primary focus of this segment:
Jack plays all manner of wind instruments to amazing effect, and had come to this work after two early recordings with the band Blodwyn Pig, which was led by Mick Abrahams, original blues guitarist on Jethro Tull’s first record, This Was. The albums were: Ahead Rings Out (1969) and Getting to This (1970). He has since written and produced work with many of the finest musicians in the classic and progressive rock genres including works with the founders of Brand X, Phil Collins, Brian Eno, Hans Zimmer, Rod Argent, Gary Moore, and Vangelis
Of his musical origins, Jack wrote: “I started as a violin player, which I still play if it’s needed. I played with the Blackpool youth orchestra, so my first big gig was a youth orch’ competition at the Albert Hall. Needless to say we didn’t win. Guess my early influences as a sax player were Rollins and Coltrane. Loved King Curtis too… especially his live version of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’.”
Jack is also credited on many film and television projects over the years and continues working out of Los Angeles.
Robin landed on the music scene in time to play keyboards for David Bowie during the Spiders from Mars era, then released two albums with Jack Lancaster, covered here, founded Brand X playing keys on almost all releases, and ended up producing work from Isotope, Bill Bruford, Jack Lancaster’s solo album, Rod Argent, Orleans and even Brand X itself! (Masques).
Of his musical origins, Robin explained, “I was self-taught and didn’t begin playing keyboards until the age of 21 – too late, most people thought. My influences (not surprisingly) were Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea.” Also, my neighbour upstairs in Beckenham, Kent, was the acclaimed jazz pianist Keith Tippet (who incidentally is married to Julie Tippets……ex Driscoll (“wheels on fire” by the Brian Auger Trinity)). From 1971 through to 1976 he took me under his wing and taught me LOADS of things about improvisation etc etc etc. What more could an inexperienced beginner look for in a mentor?
Robin still writes music but only for classical string quartets in Australia. He has also become an author with his first book out last December on History Press UK – all about the Tay Bridge Disaster in Scotland, 1879.
Percy Jones (bass) was also interviewed for this piece and his intro and commentary will be found in part III, along with thoughts from John Goodsall (guitars), both of who were key contributors to these works and are the foundation of Brand X along with Robin, Phil Collins and starting with their second release, Morris Pert (percussion).
D: First up, in the early years before the debut release, how did you all come together:
Jack: We used to go for jam sessions at Basing Street, which was the old Island records studios – these were good fun! [Ed: many of the most famous progressive rock records on the planet were recorded there including Genesis’ Selling England By the Pound, Camel’s The Snow Goose, and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung!] I would join along with Robin, Percy and Phil – John was always there – several guys would drop in. It was spontaneous – most of it made up on the spot. We jammed in all kinds of places – anywhere with an electrical outlet! Also all of us were doing a lot of session work – Robin with Bowie, Phil Collins and Percy Jones with Brian Eno, Steve Hackett and others. I was doing production with Kayak. So we were all doing different things. That was the catalyst for us working together.
Percy: In late ’71 I moved from Liverpool to London. I hardly knew anybody down there, so I wasn’t playing for a while, doing construction work to support myself. Eventually I met Robin Lumley who lived in that area – also Keith and Julie Tippet, and Jack Lancaster who was friends with Robin. We used to rehearse in the kitchen in the house we were living in – just jamming there and weekly at the studio. It was me, Robin, John and a couple of other guys. So we did these jams and it was quite fulfilling and good. But it didn’t occur to us that it would go anywhere because it just seemed like the music might be too out there.
D: About the origins of Peter and the Wolf and Marscape, how did you and Jack come to write and assemble the records?
Robin: It started off with Peter and The Wolf. A friend of ours, Hugh Raggett (editor of The Charge Of The Light Brigade and numerous award-winning films by John Schlesinger) came up with the idea of a movie to put the music of Provokiev into a jazz ballet and wanted us to adapt the music to a modern jazz format. We duly did this but before long, the film finances fell over (as they often do!) We were left with this score and now nothing was happening. We decided upon making a record with guest stars playing the part of animals and humans. We assembled a short-list of rock stars to do this and took the whole project to Chris Youle, the then boss of RSO records who gave the go-ahead for the project to begin.
Jack: Peter and the Wolf was then arranged and recorded with a cast of guests, with Phil and Percy as the rhythm section. For a couple of bits Cozy Powell joined, but most of it was them, with John as a rhythm guitarist – he played well with Gary Moore – their styles are completely different which helps a lot. The album did pretty well.
Robin: The attention received was tremendous. RSO got behind it right away. There was no talk of a film, seeing as that was torpedoed at the start with the ballet being scotched.
D: Was RSO then anxious to repeat the success of Peter and the Wolf with a followup? How did you two land on the idea of Marscape?
Robin: RSO on the back of P&W wanted us to follow up with an idea of our own, Marscape, which we did the following year. Marscape if you like was the soundtrack to an “imaginary” film about a voyage to Mars.
Jack: Robin and I took a holiday at Château d’Hérouville in France – it’s the place where Chopin and George Sand worked – later Elton John, Rolling Stones and many others. We worked out the music on a piano that was said to have been Chopin’s. We had gone to write it with the idea of recording it there, but we ended up going back home to record at Trident studios.
The album does have several sound effects that are evocative of the story line, one involves a funny story about Percy. For “Mons Venus”, we had this monster gong attached to a crane so we could blow into this huge collapsible vat of water to get the sound of bubbling lava. Percy waded around in the pool blowing through a mic stand – it was really dangerous – electronics and water – it’s not a good idea – you can imagine Percy wading around blowing through a tube making bubbling noises that we wanted to sound like lava! In those times, you created your own sound effects.
The Marscape album was also put out by RSO Records, the year after Peter and the Wolf, and it did surprisingly well, being only an instrumental record. There were no lead vocals, but there are background harmonies on it recorded by Bernie. Bernie is a guy who had a wonderful voice – wrote and sang with Status Quo – they were and still are quite popular in England.
D: Any final recollections of these times and the work on these records?
Robin: It was all GREAT FUN!!!!! Nothing stands out as a track, or piece of music, except for the whole project taken as one. There’s a lot of luck there – dozens of musicians that are ten times as talented as me, yet it happened to my good self. Thanks to St Cecila, I guess!
Jack: One thing I like about the albums is the spontaneity – once we learnt the tunes it became about a loose jam – we played them in that manner, and they were the best guys to do it. Particularly with Percy and Phil – there’s nothing like a great rhythm session. I consider these records high on the list of the things I’ve done.
Next week in part III we will go on to discuss the origins of Brand X which was brewing at the same time as these terrific Lancaster & Lumley albums.