Category Archives: Interview

King of Keys

Roger King, the multi-talented musician and engineer has, among other projects been working with Steve Hackett now for more than 20 years. King had the enviable task of joining Hackett and a number of select peers to reinterpret Genesis songs originally composed and recorded between 1971 and 1977. These were released as two collections since the time he’s been on board. This King did while also recording and performing compelling new KingRoger2017_HackettGenesisRevII_72dpimaterial with Hackett and his band, taking all this out on the road. For any fan of Genesis, the fact that the band’s 70’s era guitarist has been dusting off these vaulted classics and presenting them live is continuing cause for celebration. At this point, just about every worthy track Hackett graced during his time with Genesis has been resurrected on record and/or in concert. Through it all, the enduring guitarist’s own band has become a finely honed outfit, and the live shows have been absolutely fantastic – I was privileged to see the complete set at the Royal Albert Hall, and have attended several gigs since, including last year’s mix of Genesis and solo classics –Alcolyte to Wolflight. Roger King was a fixture of these shows throughout, a key component of the band and it’s unique sound.

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Keyboard player Andrew Colyer (Circuline) and I had the chance to sit down and have a short talk with King on the recent Cruise to the Edge festival while on calm seas in the Gulf of Mexico. King began a musical journey in his youth as church organist, studying piano from an early age, then gaining a degree in music and sound engineering at University of Surrey in the UK. We started by asking about his early work as sound engineer and player, and how he became part of Steve Hackett’s band:

I recorded a lot of demos for Island records in the UK and did a lot of film work – some with Trevor Jones – maybe 5 or 6 years working on some fairly high profile movies as a keyboard-playing sound engineer. I did a lot of work on house mixes – 126bpm stomping remixes for the London club scene, which you can see as unlikely and it was but you fall into these things don’t you? It’s as a jobbing engineer.

I had a manager at that time who did a mail shot to potential employers as I lived in Twickenham in greater London. She happened upon a management company there who by chance was Steve’s then manager so I landed on their map as a local engineer and they just happened to be looking for someone so I got the call – this was back in 1995. I knew about Steve and Genesis, and had seen Steve in Guildford in Surrey when I was at University. Peter Gabriel and Mike Rutherford turned up so it was a nice gig to have seen!

KingRoger2017_HackettGenesisDVD_72dpiAs anyone who has seen the band live or collected the DVDs or recordings knows, the music of Genesis is given new life on these outings. As had been the case back when these songs were first played live, the music comes alive in concert. There is precision to the performances, along with some room for interpretation. It’s a beautiful near-contradiction – an updated sound that still hones closely to the spirit and letter of the original works – a pleasure for fans and newcomers alike. The accomplished band now includes Gary O’Toole (drums, percussion and vocals), Rob Townsend (winds, percussion), Nick Beggs (bass and paraphernalia), Nad Sylvan (vocals), and Roger King (keyboards).

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Roger’s performance is a critical part of making the original Genesis material sound so amazing 40-plus years after it was originally created. Given Tony Banks was such a precise player with such an identifiable sound, one who stayed close to recorded originals, we asked Roger about preparing to play these Genesis classics live. How does he find the right sounds to deploy when preparing for the recordings and tours – how balance vintage and modern technology?

It was quite a bit of work. Tony wasn’t particularly a technophile; he used what was in front of him. Yet you hear things he created such as the enormous strings sound on “The Fountain of Salmacis,” that I could never get anywhere near. He had and has a strong sensibility for sound – a powerful sonic signature to follow. And it’s a lot of work to try and get somewhere near it because those instruments – the Hammond, the Pro Soloist, and Mellotron themselves have such strong sonic signatures and characters.

I used an analog synth plug in – the U-He Diva that I’m really fond of in addition to their semi modular synth Ace which enables you to do some of the things – it’s the character I want really, rather than being as accurate to the original as possible. I’m not a nostalgia freak; it’s the character of the sounds that brings the original live in my memory. For example, we’re doing “One for the Vine” on this tour. It’s interesting to listen to the album version and live version, and see that live in 1977 most of the song is missing from the keyboard perspective because you couldn’t do it then, and yet we can to a greater extent cover the arrangements today. It’s a lovely song to play; it’s a terrific composition.

This seemed the moment to gush a bit about the quality of the performances and the audience response to these shows. The Genesis Revisited and Wolflight to Acolyte concerts were very special, and we asked Roger if he has a sense of how well they have been coming off – if he’s noticed the reaction to standout moments such as the coda to “Shadow of the Hierophant.” He is typically humble:

We’ve grown as a band, blessed with some top of class musicians. When you’re playing, using in-ear monitors, to a certain extent you’re divorced from what the audience is getting for the sake of clarity and saving your hearing and all the rest of it, but yeah I listen back to the live stuff occasionally and think “that’s okay yeah” (smiles) and there are bits of things we play where I was thinking when we first approached it, like some of the Wolflight material, well how are we going to do this live, it’s going to be a stripped back thing. Now I kind of prefer the live performances in a way, there is a bit more vitality.

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I have to say we are blessed with a world class front house engineer and the other technical guys – they are unbelievably good so they should take a lot of the credit – they’re really part of the band. We do need and have a front house engineer Ben Fenner who also acts as a kind of producer so he’s able to say to me or anyone else on stage – “that sound you make there, can we change it, or can you change the balance of your keyboards or what about playing a C there instead of a D” because he gets the big picture and we don’t – you have to have somebody you can trust who can guide you in these things as well – we’re hugely fortunate.

The coda to “Shadow…” is something we almost always play – it’s a simple piece of music but because it’s so loud and gets bigger and bigger so it does go down well. Steve enjoys playing it, just to make a din really, and give Gary a chance to let himself go – it’s almost, no exactly, like a drum solo!

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One of the follow up discussion points is about the emotional connection to this music. Roger shares that he is able to keep from the distraction of being emotionally overwhelmed by the swelling strings and quiet sentimental parts he’s playing – noting that while in the chair there is real focus. Plus, to really get at his core, he has to spin some original classical music. What’s his favorite music and how does he bring that to bear working with Steve and also with Nick Beggs in The Mute Gods? What’s coming up on both of these fronts?

KingRoger2017_MuteGodsNew_72dpiMy favorite is Twentieth Century orchestral music. Once upon a time playing the organ meant that Bach became central to my record collection. I really like Stravinski, Messian, Lutoslowski – all these huge orchestral works. Sometimes I get to visit the classics – for instance the new Mute Gods album is out now Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth. Nick said “I’d like to start it off with a funeral march, do you fancy writing a funeral march?” Funny way to start an album, we’ll just get all the death stuff over with! And it is a pretty doom-laden album as it happens. I thought, fantastic I can write something like a bit of Lutoslawski! There is a terrific piece of music, one of my favorite pieces by that composer called “Funereal Music” and I wanted to write something like that. It was great fun to get the orchestral chops polished a little bit.

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When I work with Steve, the basic structure of the songwriting is established as he comes up with the tunes. He might say to me “these are the chords, and I’ve got the tune, but Id like these bars to be orchestral.” So I roll up my sleeves and have a go at it. Parts of it work naturally live; others are a bit of work. At the end of recording, you’re presented with hundreds of tracks from the studio with layer upon layer of sound, and you look to make it work in concert as one keyboard player!

KingRoger2017_HackettSiren_72dpiThe next Steve Hackett album The Night Siren is just coming out in March. Best to ask Steve about it, but I would say it’s a natural follow on from Wolflight – maybe Son of Wolflight! It has many of the same characteristics in the songwriting and production. In many ways we’ve built on that, and included some international musicians. We are already playing some of it (on the cruise) and are looking forward to taking it out on the tour.

Given all that Roger is bringing to these projects for Steve Hackett and The Mute Gods, the natural question is, will we be hearing any Roger King solo material?

Nick is already talking about a third Mute Gods album, on an almost daily basis! And I know Steve will be saying he’s got some new things. My wife is encouraging me to do it – I’ve got people I can work with who are terrific, who are offering to make contributions, now its just a matter of time and energy, but expect it one day!

Let’s hope for that day to come. In the mean time, catch Roger during the next leg of Steve Hackett’s Night Siren tour, booked thus far in Europe and the U.K. from March to May, and watch for any gigs by The Mute Gods.

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Rockin’ Angels Interview

Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:

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Tell us about the book

When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.

I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.

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As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.

How long has it taken to research and write?

At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.

mccartneypaulwings_rockshowcover_72dpiAnother thing that took a lot of time was combing through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. You and I know that TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films at the local cinema that featured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings, and so many others. Now, just about every major band of the rock world can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive. I’m still that guy, the one who collects the high quality digital transfers available on media, rather than streaming them. Having said that, many of these films are available on streaming services like YouTube.

Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?

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Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.

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In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.

What was the best gig you ever saw?

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All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).

Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.

How did you go about the picture research?

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This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.

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Ambrosia’s David Pack, Joe Puerta

What is your next project?

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWell, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.

Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com

Hey ma, I got the cover!

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Ambrosia’s Early Travels

The band Ambrosia was founded in southern California in the early 1970s. Today they would be best known for their most popular albums Life Beyond L.A., and One Eighty each including a mega-hit single, respectively “How Much I Feel” and “You’re The Only Woman (You & I).” These hits highlighted the group’s more melodic tendencies. However, their first two albums, and much of their unjustly overlooked fifth and final release Road Island would be best filed under the progressive rock heading. Ambrosia is back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Check the listings for this year’s tour dates at http://www.ambrosialive.net

 

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Ambrosia Today

Founders Joe Puerta (bass) and David Pack (guitars, keys) were the principal writing partners for Ambrosia; they complemented each other’s compositions, alternating and combining lead vocals throughout the band’s five albums. Fantastic drummer Burleigh Drummond who also wrote and sang lead, and Christopher North, a master on the Hammond B3 organ, piano and Moog synthesizers joined them to create these layered works. The band was able to produce a lush, often complex sound that explored many styles – primarily progressive oriented rock, with some jazz, blues, and R&B mixed in to suit. Ambrosia released their auspicious self-titled debut in 1975 produced by famous engineer Alan Parsons. The album began with a signature song “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” and ended with ”Drink of Water,” featuring Puerta’s yearning, most demanding vocal performance backed by North pulling all the stops on a massive Skinner pipe organ in Royce Hall at UCLA.

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Ambrosia, mid 70s

Ambrosia followed this debut with their most accomplished album Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled recorded in the halcyon days of progressive rock in 1976. Alan Parsons was back at the helm, working with the band to incorporate all manner of instrumentation, including horns, mallet percussion, and orchestration arranged by Andrew Powell. The result was a spectacular mix of influences remaining today as one of the finest examples of the melodic progressive style. Tracks “Cowboy Star,” “The Brunt” and “Danse With Me George” impress with the audacity of their complex compositions, containing within ample shifts in key and meter, and passages during which solely orchestra, percussion, or keys are allowed to shine. Ruth Underwood, deft percussionist for Frank Zappa’s 70s albums added to the instrumentation on Danse. The keyboard passages are impossibly rapid fire. There is a light and positivity to the album from start to finish that’s not often found in progressive rock, and it’s infectious.

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This author was fortunate to see the band on the Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled tour way back in 1976 at the Santa Monica Civic auditorium in California. It was one of the best live concert experiences I’ve had over these many years. During the last year, I’ve talked in separate interviews with the original members of the band about this album, and the tour that followed.

DH: This album was really the height of progressive rock for Ambrosia – what was going on at that time?

David: Back at that time we had no MTV we had no YouTube – people were making vinyl albums and it was all about the “theater of the mind.” The challenge was on to capture the imaginations of rock fans. You had Pink Floyd with Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles with Sgt. Peppers, there were expansive concepts going on out there.

I was reading a lot of E. E. Cummings’ work at the time and I found one of his poems, I have never travelled, gladly beyond and I thought, what a perfect title for this sort of “theater of the mind” – let us take you somewhere on a musical journey in your imagination. Once we had a title track it set a course that we followed. The great Alan Parsons, still one of my dearest friends, helped us stay focused on what songs and production really worked and what did not work. We were able to take long enough with the recording process to capture many great moments.

DH: -Tell me more about working with Alan Parsons and his impact on the music of Ambrosia? In the liner notes on Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled it’s mentioned that he was “like a fifth member”

ParsonsAlan_Poe_72dpiDavid: We played on Alan’s first Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe particularly on opener “The Raven.” We were honored to have done that, and to have Alan producing our first two records. He was patient and kind during the long recording sessions for Somewhere… as we took almost double the allotted time to record it!

Burleigh: We made our first album with Alan – so we already had a relationship – it wasn’t just a matter of handing the music to him and then him taking it away. He was very receptive. For instance on the first album we had the song “Holding On To Yesterday” and his first approach was a soft mellow sound, which is fine but we envisioned it more as a gutsy bluesy track and he was open to trying it. We tried some pretty unusual things with Alan.

DH – Ruth Underwood is listed in the credits as having played on “George”, but not “The Brunt” which includes some wild multi-layered percussion.

Burleigh: During the recording sessions for Somewhere, Ruth Underwood and myself set up in a garage that was 50 yards from the studio – they ran cable all the way there and we recorded inside for “Danse With Me George.”

On “The Brunt” we had drums, xylophone and other percussion but that was all me. I needed Ruth on “George” because that was such an involved piece and to be honestly there was a section that was just out of my reach, and I could not think of anyone better than Ruth to come in and nail it. Ruth and Ian were wonderful and I can’t say enough about them. It was a great time.

DH: Ruth played with Frank Zappa on many tracks including the great “Inca Roads” from One Size Fits All:

Burleigh: Yes, in fact I played with Frank Zappa for a month when I got out of college and I was the first one to ever play “Inca Roads”. When Ambrosia got our record deal, I went to Frank, who was almost like a father, and certainly a mentor. He said “well it’s your band right? You gotta go do that.” I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t about him it was about what is best for his musicians. He did a similar thing with Lowell George. Lowell played a song he wrote to Frank, who said, “That was fantastic, you’re fired – go start your own band!” Lowell went on to form Little Feat.

DH – Frank went on to play with some of the greatest drummers of our time including Chester Thompson, Terry Bozzio, and Chad Wakerman

Burleigh: Absolutely, two years ago we were on the Cruise To the Edge when UK was there and it was the first time I got to see UK, and it was with Terry Bozzio – and they were fabulous – we had done the Moody Blues cruise just the week before as well.

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Ambrosia in the 70s

DH – Andrew Powell did orchestral arrangements on “Danse With Me George”, “Cowboy Star”, and “We Need You Too” at Abbey Road Studios, London – what are your recollections of that effort?

David: I travelled to Abbey Road with Alan Parsons and Andrew Powell to do the orchestrations for the album. We were collaborating, talking about what each section means, and it was fantastic. When I played “Danse With Me George” for Leonard Bernstein he said it should be the basis of a whole musical!

DH: Joe, tell me about “Harvey” – it’s a quiet, unique song for that album.

Joe: Harvey was probably the only one take live vocal song we ever put out. I did it as a demo for the album, you can sort of tell that by me speaking to the engineer at the end of the song, I think I said “that’s all there is”. Then when the idea to put it on the record came up, everyone, including Alan, who hadn’t recorded it, thought it was perfect the way it was… it wasn’t even really remixed…Billy Taylor, I believe recorded and did the mix…

DH: There are a number of shining moments on grand piano and other keyboards on this record – it’s the most keys-driven, complex Ambrosia work.  Chris even plays some Chopin passages on the tune “Danse With Me George.” What led to keys being so prominent?

Burleigh: If you’re in Ambrosia you constantly have to step up and learn and master something that might not necessarily be in your arsenal – there was such a variety of writing and so many things that you have to do well, that it’s a full time job. Chris really rose to the occasion on those tracks. Since that time he’s been more focused on the organ, and is a great keyboard player, who I think was a great organ player first.

Chris: It was really a case of the tune dictating the orchestration. Chopin was a pianist so basically I had to rise to the occasion! The preparation basically involved lots of practice. At the time I had a heavily weighted grand piano sitting squarely in the middle of my small guesthouse so when I walked into “Mama Jo’s” recording studio I could just fly on the Yamaha C3 they had there.

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Christopher North in the 70s

DH: What can you tell me about the album itself – the packaging and production – hand drawn lyrics, and foldout pyramid cover?

Joe: The Pyramid idea actually was an offshoot of a joke sort of that I had made while reading a book called “Pyramid Power”. It had so many miraculous claims about the powers of pyramid, it could keep milk from spoiling if you kept it in a pyramid, it would heal you faster, etc. So I, jokingly said ” wouldn’t it be cool to have a pyramid album that if you kept it in that it would get rid of the scratches on your record?”

We had a friend of the band Dalton Priddy, a guy very interested in mystical powers of the universe who took that statement to heart and created a mock up of a pyramid album cover. We all thought it was cool and different, so we took it to the record company and they liked it. We made a change from 4 sided to 3 so the photo of the band would be visible.

DH: Chris, one of the highlights of the tour was Joe’s amazing vocal lead on “Drink of Water” accompanied by the guys, and you on the Hammond – how did you get that massive organ sound on the studio recording?

Ambrosia_DebutCover_72dpiChris: The pipe organ used on “Drink of Water” was a 5 manual Skinner organ. The recording took place at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. The session lasted all night. Just the microphone placement took hours and was supervised by the chief recording engineer at the time of London Decca classical, Gordon F. Parry. The organ itself had 32-foot tall bass pipes. For the final chorus I pushed the “tutti” stop. This stop opens every pipe on the organ and rattled the ceiling of Royce Hall. Quite a rush I might add.

DH: Any other thing that comes to mind from the time of this record and tour?

Burleigh: we were very proud of that exploratory album, from “The Brunt” to “Cowboy Star” and the title track. What can I say – I realized the impact on the first day of the tour, and we opened the show – I don’t think we could even get through the entire set in rehearsal without breaking down and figuring out what we were doing. But when we opened up on the first night, and did the first chords for “And…” with a light hitting a mirrored ball, this shiver ran down my spine and I thought “wow, this is good – it dawned on me that people liked it” – that’s one little memory I always cherish.

David: The key to this album’s concept was music that took you somewhere when you closed your eyes. We focused first on great songs, then great performances, with adventurous arrangements without becoming pretentions – we took our cues from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Yes, and Leonard Bernstein, to name a few. When Alan Parsons came in to mix it, we knew it was really something magic.

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Catch this magic on the Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled album on vinyl or CD reissue and if you are inclined towards video, there was a fairly recent upload on YouTube of a black & white film taken December 1976 at the Capital Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. Ambrosia is back on tour this year, check the listings at http://www.ambrosialive.net. David Pack continues to write and record, most recently with a large number of collaborators including Ray Manzarek (The Doors) Todd Rundgren, Alan Parsons, and many other luminaries, to produce David Pack’s Napa Crossroads. He can be tracked here: http://www.napacrossroads.com

I caught the Ambrosia tour recently in Pleasanton, California and it was fantastic. Pack has not been with the band since the turn of the millennia, but added musicians Ken Stacey (acoustic guitar, vocals), Mary Harris (keyboards, vocals), and Doug Jackson (guitar, vocals) tour with original members Puerta, North and Drummond to perform these songs beautifully. Ken Stacey had the flu but still managed to show what an amazing voice he has brought to the band, covering most of Pack’s original parts. Doug Jackson brings an assertive electric guitar to the show, particularly shining on “Holdin’ On To Yesterday.” Mary Harris (Burleigh’s wife) brings added keys and vocals, leading or harmonizing wonderfully with the original trio. The friends I brought proclaimed that they could watch Christopher North play that electric Hammond all night! Joe Puerta nailed all of his vocal parts and was particularly strong on the upbeat R&B single “If Heaven Could Find Me.” They included the entire first side from their debut, interleaving a rocking version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” into “World Leave Me Alone.” They also performed “The Brunt” from Somewhere.., and during the “jungle” drum solo driven by Burleigh, all the other members of the band picked up percussive instruments, and joined in, creating the best live version of the song I’ve witnessed. Highly recommended.

Shots from the concert:

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Doug Jackson, Ken Stacey, Burleigh, Joe
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Mary Harris
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Christopher North

David Bowie’s Legacy

BowieDavid_Live1_72dpiI can’t imagine what popular music would have been like had there not been a David Bowie. He was a musician, actor, artist and fashionista with such an innate ability to anticipate cultural trends that he remained relevant for over four decades. Somehow Bowie always seemed young and fresh, in large part due to his uncanny way of reinventing himself regularly, collecting personalities, going from crooner to glam-rock star, to the dispassionate “thin white duke,” and the art-rock inventor of the progressive “Berlin trilogy” and beyond. He was, according to one commentator upon his passing, “of the time, at every time.” He remains one of the most recognized personalities in the world, and he is already missed greatly.

While the second stage of his career as Ziggy Stardust, king of glam rock was not my favorite era, I knew other teenagers who lived for this music particularly those on the Hollywood side of the Santa Monica Mountains. Many of these friends never felt they fit in, never believed that anyone understood or spoke for them before Bowie stepped onto the scene with his shocking hair, makeup, dress and confident androgynous manner. If the man never recorded a thing after 1974 he would still be canonized today, yet he continued to change and influence generations. After the Ziggy Stardust tour and movie, Bowie retired that persona, and recorded his last mostly glam album, Diamond Dogs, in 1974. Next up, Young Americans found Bowie delving into American funk and “plastic soul.”

BowieDavid_StationtoStation3CD_72dpiBut for this writer, it’s the next album, the 1976 classic Station to Station that really galvanized my interest. The record found Bowie experimenting with synthesizers and the kind of metronomic beat found in German Krautrock. The balance of ice and passion is clear as the title track begins with the ominous sound of trains and minor tones then building to a resolve that emerges into the jubilant final third, beginning with the exclamation, “It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine, I’m thinking that it must be love!” Funk and soul tracks like the hits “Golden Years” and “TVC 15” are upbeat, while “Stay” is a grittier boogie, driven forward by an irresistibly funky guitar riff. The beautiful romantic ballad “Wild is the Wind,” the sole cover, must be Bowie’s most spectacular, inspirational vocal performance on record. It’s a tremendous album that represents a bridge between the prior work Young Americans, and the colder ambient classic Low to come.

BowieDavid_StationToStationLiveCover_72dpiBowie’s persona for Station to Station was called the “thin white duke” clad in white shirt, black pants and waistcoat, and passionate dispassion. One writer described Bowie’s new alter ego as a “hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonized intensity… ice masquerading as fire.” The tour supporting Station to Station stopped at the LA Forum for three nights in February that same year, putting the man and his new myth on display. Bowie reportedly took the stage, sang sixteen songs and left the building stoically. It was a rehearsed, perfunctory yet riveting experience according to those I knew who were able to attend, and as documented in a bootleg film of the rehearsals for the concert tour, and a recording captured one month later at the Nassau Coliseum in New Jersey. That complete live set was released in 2010 on two CDs included as part of a special three CD edition of Station to Station that also came with a booklet, some photos and other extras.

BowieDavid_StageCDCover_72dpiBowie’s recorded output became even more interesting during the next phase of his career, the so-called “Berlin Trilogy,” working with progressive artists Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Iggy Pop and producer Tony Visconti among others. The resulting albums Low and “Heroes” (1977), and Lodger (1979) are inventive, varied and always surprising. The world tour for Low and “Heroes” found Bowie is perfect voice and brimming with energy, playing with a supporting band of luminaries that included Adrian Belew and Carlos Alomar on guitars, George Murray on bass, Dennis Davis on drums, Roger Powell and Sean Mayes on keys, and Simon House on violin. Recordings from the tour were assembled for the double live album Stage, released in 1978. That album in its original form garnered some complaints due to tinkering with the song order, and other issues. More recently the album was remastered and rereleased on CD with those complaints addressed, the complete set of songs in their original order presented in a compelling stereo mix.

ON FILM

BowieDavid_ZiggyDVDCover_72dpiThe best official film of David Bowie’s career in the 1970s is the 1973 movie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – The Motion Picture. Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, this is a rare chance to see Bowie during his glam period, taking the stage wrapped in his most influential alter ego. Fifteen songs from the set list are presented, along with a few behind the scenes shots of Bowie back stage. It’s not a polished product; the sound is flawed, sometimes brash, and lots of shots are blurry. But the 1.33:1 framing exposing extra grain and grit seems somehow representative of the early years of the Glam movement. The film played in movie theaters in the early 1970s for a brief time, and was later screened frequently as a cult classic.

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The next official Bowie film would not be released until the Serious Moonlight tour of 1983 was captured for the home video market. It means that there is no officially released video to document several key concert tours in the intervening years from 1974 to 1982. Possibly the best film that was made captured a jubilant, well-groomed Bowie performing at the NHK Hall in Budokan Japan on December 12, 1978 on the last night of the Low and “Heroes” tour. Bowie himself is a revelation, leading his all-star band surrounded by pulsating fluorescent light tubes through a show that clearly influenced a host of new wave artists who followed. An hour of this fabulous concert was broadcast on Japanese television including a thirteen-minute rendition of the title track from Station to Station, with an intro that, courtesy of Adrian Belew’s wall of guitar distortion and accompanying keyboards, winds down imaginary train tracks for more than five minutes before Bowie appears and the melody kicks in. The film is well preserved and available on YouTube or via an unofficial DVD release from heavymetalweb.net

BowieDavid_Live5_72dpiThere were other televised performances during this time that are also of value. About forty minutes of a live performance at the Beat Club were captured for the German music program Musikladen. Six songs at the Dallas Convention Center and four on Saturday Night Live were broadcast in the U.S. Apparently, performances at Earls Court in London were also filmed, with excerpts shown on the tube there, but this footage has also not been released. It’s a shame that all of this concert footage, particularly the NHK Hall content, has not been expanded, remastered and released officially, rather than on bootlegs and low-res copies on YouTube. Yes, we can enjoy the official audio on the double-album Stage, but we are lacking important video content of this very visual artist. Maybe now with our hero sadly departed, as we gain perspective on the overall arc of his massively successful career, the remaining proof of his mastery will surface.

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Tokyo Film Setlist:

  1. Warszawa
  2. Heroes
  3. Fame
  4. Beauty and the Beast
  5. Five years
  6. Soul Love
  7. Star
  8. Hang on to yourself
  9. Ziggy Stardust
  10. Suffragette city
  11. Station to Station
  12. TVC 15

Station to Station, 1978

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDXBeu3198c

Complete Tokyo concert:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaKpJl4D8bc

Live at Beat Club Musikladen 1978

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClDO1_dH0DU

 

 

 

Martin Barre’s Real Steel

Barre_BTS_CoverMartin Barre is the legendary guitarist who graced every Jethro Tull album after the very first, beginning in 1969. He’s been building an increasingly successful solo career for years now, and has a new album this month, appropriately titled Back To Steel. The album is a return to form for Barre, a finely honed collection of guitar-driven blues-rock. Two Tull tracks, “Skating Away” and “Slow Marching Band” are re-imagined – the former highlighting Martin’s intricate melodies on the mandolin backed by his lyrical fat guitar chords. Even better, Martin leads his band through powerful new original tracks, which highlight his unique style of blues and hard-edged rock chops. It’s available in the shop on his official website.

After a few recent dates in the U.K. Barre continues this year’s tour with several gigs in France and Germany, followed by a series of nights on the east coast of the U.S., beginning with a voyage on Cruise To The Edge in November. Check here for dates and tickets.

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I had a rare chance to talk to Martin this month about his excellent new album and tour:

Martin, how has your band and approach changed on the new album Back To Steel?

I’ve had my own band for 4 years now, and it’s changed here and there, and developed into the current four-piece band. Occasionally we have backup singers join us. When we go out as a four piece it’s sounding really powerful. I like the space and the dynamics. The new album is pretty well summing up what I’ve been trying to do for four years, writing my own music – a little blues, prog and rock music – its really a statement of where I’m at in the moment and a pointer to where I want to be in the next few years.

The set list for the last tour included covers of Bobby Parker, Beatles, Robert Johnson, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf songs along with Jethro Tull classics. How will the set list differ in your upcoming shows?

The set list is changing as the new album is just coming out. We’ve been playing the new tracks here in the U.K. and they are going down well. It’s a good feeling, because audiences haven’t heard the new album and are coming in cold, and we’re getting a great reaction. I still like doing some Bobby Parker stuff and some Robert Johnson and I enjoy playing them. We have more music to play then we have time to do – if the venue says we have an hour and a half, we are disappointed, as we want to do at least two hours. I struggle with decisions as what not to play rather than the other way around.

Barre_FocusedHow do you pick the Tull tunes for this show? Do you still feel that songs like “Aqualung” or “Locomotive Breath” are musts?

We have probably ten Tull tracks, a good selection, that we like to do. When we played in Scotland last weekend, it was the first time with my band. We started playing “To Cry You A Song” and there was a gasp in the audience, not of horror but of anticipation – it was really nice, as they had no idea what was coming. It’s really good fun to play the Tull stuff.

I do have my favorites but I pick things I think will work well with the band and our sound, our current program. I probably have Tull songs I like better, but wouldn’t work with the band. There are some really great songs that are less well known. That’s why I play “Slow Marching Band” for instance on the new album. Back in the day with Tull, I wrote out the playlist for the concerts. But later with Ian’s new vocal range my input diminished. I like arranging set lists with production ideas – everything to do with the band. Now I’m able to do that and have lots of ideas – I’ve got a big catalog to draw from. I’m less interested in a verbatim version of any song – I like to project something new – a different arrangement. On “Sweet Dream” for instance I changed the riff to the downbeat. I like doing that, making it more biased to a guitar quartet.

Where did you find your excellent vocalist Dan Crisp? He sounds just right for this music, with a nice vibrato and strong mid range register.

He’s a little treasure, our Dan. He’s the son of a friend of mine. We became friends, based on our mutual like of music. We did some shows as a three piece in the south of England and it was really good fun. It developed from there. He was so close to home but at first I didn’t see it. I finally suggested bringing him on and it was the start of a really great period in the band. He’s developed into a very strong front man – really come into his own.

Barre_GuitarOn Back To Steel, there are no keyboards or wind instruments – will these be added for the tour?

We are trying out different things. The original band had six members, including flutes, saxophones, and whistles. It was an intense amount of music put out by the band – really at the end of it I didn’t have enough room, and I really like space in the music – times when there is nothing going on – maybe just one instrument. So I’m taking it down to the basic bones. I tried it live and on the first night it felt ridiculously empty, but by the end second gig it was great – it was exactly what I wanted.

I quite like the idea of adding back the Hammond organ at some point. I want it to be flexible and exciting for the band.

What is your take on the Steven Wilson re-masters of the Jethro Tull albums?

This might shock you, but I haven’t heard anything from these releases. These albums are a reference for me. If I were looking to add “Back Door Angels” to my set list for instance I would probably just listen to that song a couple of times as a reference musically. For most of my life I was with involved in Jethro Tull and I respect it and I owe a lot to it, but its not music that I am playing recreationally. If I were going to see new music on my time off, I’d see Snarky Puppy!

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Any update on the tour and your upcoming date with Cruise to the Edge?

I’m really looking forward to Cruise To The Edge – that’s going to be quite fun. We have a series of dates planned on the east coast of the U.S. after the cruise. The plan is to do central and west coast dates in the states next year if all goes to plan.

Catch Martin Barre at one of these upcoming shows – given the mix of new songs, and Tull classics, delivered by his crack new band, they promise to be excellent!

On a personal note:

I’ve had a life long passion for all things Jethro Tull. This superb band, led by Anderson/Barre, released 20ish studio albums over 30 years after forming in the late 1960’s, beginning with This Was in 1969 and ending with J-Tull Dot Com in 1999. These along with a number of collections, live albums, and a Christmas album from 2003 represent one of the great catalogs in rock music history.

One of the first two proper rock albums I ever owned was Tull’s breakthrough record Aqualung. Not only did the album sport amazing vocals, acoustic guitars and flute from Anderson, but also Barre’s searing hard rock riffs dominated most songs. The opening chords alone are instantly recognizable, establishing the album as one of the top classic rock album for the ages.

Barre_ActionMy interest in Tull reached a fever pitch in 1973 when they released the album A Passion Play, followed by 1974’s Warchild. The musicianship on these records is off the hook. Anderson’s vocals were never better – something he recently called “chamber rock” style – and Barre laid down some of the most complex lead guitar work on record. The tour for A Passion Play was one of Tull’s most theatrical. The show began with an extended “Lifebeats” prelude – a long series of electronic beats like the quickening pulse of a heart, along with films depicting a ballerina rising then later plunging through a mirror. The interlude, “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles,” was presented with a surrealistic film featuring animal costumes, and a type of maypole dance. Both Anderson and Barre punctuated the intricate music by leaping about the stage demonstrating showmanship and aplomb. During our interview Martin confided that he probably only played the ever-changing piece all the way through without mistake once over the long tour that followed.

In interviews, there has been some distancing from this album, noting the critics were critical, and the band probably went too far. Barre told me there was quite a bit of humor, with many references to the type of silly comedy made popular by Monty Python. But for fans of this artistic piece, the composition is one of their most serious and enduring works, questioning nothing less than the nature of death and the afterlife, of heaven and hell. “Geared toward the exceptional rather than the average” as Gerald would say.

Even though Tull has been retired by Anderson, it’s a pleasure now to be able to go hear Martin playing a combination of his own material and that of his former band, and we are all the better for it.

Back To Steel: A rocking new album from Martin Barre featuring 12 original songs and 2 Tull classic tracks re-worked in Martin’s unique style.

The musicians:

Martin Barre – Guitars
Dan Crisp – Vocals
George Lindsay – Drums
Alan Thomson – Bass
Alex Hart and Elani Andrea – Backing Vocals
Plus guests.

Track List:

Back to Steel
It’s Getting Better
I’m A Bad Man
Skating Away
Chasing Shadows
Hammer
You And I
Moment Of Madness
Calafel
Eleanor Rigby
Peace And Quiet
Sea Of Vanity
Smokestack
Without Me
Slow Marching Band

Selling England Again

This fall The Musical Box is taking their production of the Genesis tour for 1973’s Selling England By The Pound (hereafter SEBTP) to Europe once again. Also a series of these shows are booked in Canada next April 2016, including one night for them to stage the Foxtrot show. I’ve seen The Musical Box many times over the last 5 years, including Foxtrot, SEBTP, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

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The performances are striking in their accuracy, transporting this viewer and those in the audience to a time long ago, when to many listeners, Genesis owned the English progressive rock mantle.  The experience of seeing this band is something better than tribute.  They actually recreate these shows down to the set design, including slides, costumes, and props, and very faithfully perform the live music itself, with the same interpretation the band employed during the shows from the era.

The SEBTP album and tour represent the most uniquely British, pastoral output of the band.  Between the “a cappella” opening of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” to the majestic “Firth of Fifth” and melodic refrains of “The Cinema Show” this is where the band really hit their stride.  The Musical Box capture the live experience deftly, and hearing the work in it’s live format, complete with visuals, and Peter’s stories, explain what all the fuss was way back in those days.  It was even grand to see them wind their way through “The Battle of Epping Forest” usually dismissed by the actual members of Genesis as a bit of a mess.

I talked to one of the founders of The Musical Box and their Artistic Director, Serge Morrissette about these shows and their plans for next year and beyond:

DH: Is there anything we should know about the most current version of these shows? Are there new technologies to aid in the production, or other factors?

For this tour, there is no technical advance that comes into play – we still use old equipment – it’s like a moving museum on stage. The only thing that might change is to stage the “black” show. We’ve been doing the “white” show with the white sets behind the musicians and have done the “black” show less often. Back during the original SEBTP tour when Genesis returned to North America for a second leg of the tour the set list was the same, but they changed the sets and the background was totally black. Visually it makes a difference. The black show has some different slides, but it’s not as nice visually overall because the black curtain does not react to the lights. The white fabric reacts to the lights more effectively. I’m sure it was done on purpose in the beginning, because when they put the sets and arranged the lights over it, they realized it was nice. One example where the black show is better is during “Watcher Of The Skies” which is more dark – it’s a dark song and fits perfectly, while in the white show its like you are in the cloud! If we haven’t been to a venue in the past they usually take the white show because it’s the most spectacular visually. But if we are returning and want to make the presentation different, the black show is available, so we offer it to the promoters there.

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In addition to these dates, there are going to be a lot of U.S. shows in February and March. It’s going to be a pretty extensive list of venues, which is surprising. From the beginning we always plan a year in advance. After the last tour of SEBTP/Foxtrot we were wondering if there would be demand for the show again. When the demand is shrinking we select a different tour to present. We thought we would change the shows for 2016 but this U.S. tour will be the biggest we’ve ever done. I don’t understand this phenomenon exactly because it’s the same two concerts again, but for some reason promoters want to buy it so that’s fine with us.

[Ed: in our view these shows are so fantastic and theatrical, many fans will return to see the same concert recreated again and again – just as one might a play or film. Doug saw The Lamb show three times!]

DH: Fans are aware there were occasions where Peter Gabriel was raised from the stage at the end of “Supper’s Ready.” Has Denis done that and how many times did Gabriel actually do it? [Denis Gagne is the lead singer, playing the part of Peter Gabriel]

We have done the flying effect a few times. Genesis did the effect twice, once in London and once in New York City. The thing is, to do that they wanted to do more than one night in the same place because of the installation – it was not a one-night proposition. They had to install the gear, and make sure it was working, and adjust the sets so that the wire can’t be seen. When they did London it was 5 nights – for them at the time the most important series of concerts they had done. They wanted to add something spectacular so they arranged the sets so there was nothing in the middle but a black curtain. You could not see the wire. They continued in New York City, which was also a main venue and something big for the states. It’s about the same for us – we need a stage that can support that effect, so we have done it only as a special event at a larger venue for multiple nights.

DH: I was struck by how effective the simple staging for Foxtrot was – with just a few bits of stagecraft compared to SEBTP.

It’s true. At the beginning Mike Rutherford once told me you put a white curtain on stage with some black lights, and it hides the back line equipment and creates a unique atmosphere… and it’s cheap! It’s surprisingly simple and creates a unique atmosphere.

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DH: You’ve most frequently staged the Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound tours. Would you go back to Nursery Crime?

The thing about Nursery Crime is back then the show was only 45 minutes long because Genesis was typically the opening act, or featured with other bands. We would have to do a short show, or combine say Trespass and Nursery Crime so you would have songs repeated. It’s not a matter of interest but more the constraint we have on doing a complete show.

DH: Any plans to present The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway again? Did your license to do these shows expire?

We don’t have plans to do it again. We have done it a few times. On the first attempt it took two years to get the rights. It had never been done before. There are some “grand” rights – it’s a type of legal contract – developed to protect musicals, operas, things like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, etc. When you have a concept like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or Genesis’ The Lamb, it’s a story with music, and characters, and things like that. The Lamb is protected by these grand rights. You need a license for the music, which is easy, but also for the story, which is extremely difficult. You have to make agreements with multiple parties as to the value of the music, and story. After that agreement, you have the lawyers draw up a contract, etc. Subsequent tours took about a year to arrange this paperwork, mainly to adjust the terms. It has never been a matter of not allowing us to do it, just about the terms of the contract, which covers two years at a time. We might do it again but we have no plans just now.

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DH: What was your involvement in using the repaired slide show for the Genesis Lamb DVD? [Ed: The Musical Box invested significant effort to re-sequence the slides for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tours, and Serge actually did the work to prepare these for the official Genesis Box Set which contains a DVD of The Lamb in 5.1 surround sound, with the slide show visuals during playback. It’s fantastic and worth the price of the whole set.]

I spent an afternoon with Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks at the farm looking at the slide show. It was in 2008 and at that time we were doing the slide show exactly as David Lawrence [original projectionist for the Lamb tour in 1975] had shown us based on his memory and also as we could see in bits of amateur film. Part way into it Tony said “let’s stop. You are replicating what we did, but it’s not what we want. We want the dissolves to come at the right time with the image” and I knew exactly what he meant. Sometimes the guys did not get the slide show right. So Tony said some sequences were wrong and I agreed to change it. I made the adjustments, and sent those back, and they agreed or gave me changes. So that was really fun – to listen to the Lamb with Mike and Tony – Mike said it had been 15 years since he heard the album. Tony had been doing the remixes, so he was more recently familiar. It was an incredible experience.

Genesis_SOutDH: The Musical Box has gone forward in time to do the Trick of the Tail tour. Have you discussed doing the Wind & Wuthering concert from 1977?

The main problem with Wind & Wuthering is being able to keep to our main objective, which is the exact recreation of the show. Trick of the Tail was pretty easy because it was basically the Lamb show with a few adjustments in terms of size, while Wind was really an arena size show – designed for a much bigger stage. It’s the main limitation; a stage like that would not fit in smaller venues, 1,000 seat theaters, and I’m not sure there would be demand to fill arenas, even though it would be fun to do it. They stopped doing slides and film for Wind because at the time they would have needed more powerful projectors for the larger screens. That’s a problem, as you need more depth, you could burn film, and things like that. That’s when they started to add more laser effects along with other changes.

DH: It was also the last time they had any staging right? There were the flowers that popped up on each side of the stage.

Exactly, after that they did the mirrors for the …And Then There Were Three tour, and after that the custom lighting and that’s another level of effort. Once I was talking to Tony Smith about the evolution of the stage at the time. He said that the reason why they had the moving lights developed is because when they did the show with the mirrors, they needed a lot of spotlight operators – it was a manual lighting effect. At that time they had to use the local union guys in each city. So at the last minute in the afternoon they had to train eight guys on spots to be able to do the show and it was a nightmare for them. So they wondered if there was a way to avoid that – something like a robot to operate the lights. They developed the moving lights after that, which was a major evolution in lighting.

We have the same problem with our tours – about half the venues don’t have a crew, so we can use ours who are trained. The other half we have to use their people – so for example we have one guy at the follow spot, and we teach the operator in the afternoon if that’s required. So for each role we have a double, and the result is not always good when it’s not our crew, though it doesn’t go wrong that often.

DH: What is The Musical Box planning next, after April? How long can you keep this up?

You know, we started back in 1993 just for fun – it was a weekend. Now it’s been 22 years, and we have never thought more than a year in advance, not because of our interest but because we have to gauge the general interest of the audience. We are going to do it as long as we can. We are lucky to have the involvement and support of Genesis. The main advantage of a production like ours is we can change musicians as we recreate the original productions. We never wanted to focus as much on the people as on the productions. Denis is very good, very disciplined and dedicated – it would be difficult to fill that key role if he stopped performing. He keeps in very good shape, and in control of his vocals, so as long as he can do that we don’t have to worry. We don’t have any plans to stop. As long as there are people who want to see it, we will continue.

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DH: Make plans to catch The Musical Box this fall, or early next year. You will be happy to like what you know!

 

Daevid Allen Remembered, with Don Falcone

The death of Daevid Allen earlier this year hit fans hard. Daevid was the Australian poet, composer and musician who co-founded Soft Machine and Gong, exploring the outer reaches of space rock and psychadelia to the delight of fans over the world. He was a long term friend of my editor at Gonzo weekly, Jon Downes, and of owner Rob Ayling. He was a very prolific musician both with his own projects and his contributions to other people’s work. One of those collaborators was Don Falcone of Spirits Burning who enjoyed a long association with this artist. I talked with Don about his work with Daevid over the years and the impact this renown musician made on his life.

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Daevid Allen, Don Falcone, and Michael Clare

DH: What was the first record you owned that Daevid was part of?

DF: Technically, it was “You” by Gong. It took some time for me to appreciate it, as it felt a little too produced for my tastes at that moment. What really reeled me in was the live Planet Gong “Floating Anarchy” album, which was Daevid, Gilli, and the Here & Now band. It had all the space elements you’d find with Hawkwind, but it was so different in execution. Not having experienced live Gong yet, this was my first chance to hear Daevid in a heavier, wilder, spacey environment.

DH: How did this early exposure draw you in – what did you see in his art that spoke to you?

DF: At the time of those initial listenings, I thought of Daevid as a confident vocalist, and perhaps a maestro who could assemble and lead musicians to new places. I tended to like the mix of play and intensity he brought to an ensemble, things like “Opium for the People,” and the “Black-Sheep” piece. I wasn’t quite ready for some of the quirkier moments of “You.” I’m not sure if it’s the right analogy, but where I liked Monty Python, Bonzo Dog Band, or even the Bob Calvert “Capt. Lockheed” quirks, I never connected with Frank Zappa, and something about early Gong arrangements initially hit me as more like Zappa. It took some time for me to appreciate Daevid. To be honest, it was easier for me to latch onto the solo, and more instrumental-based adventures of Tim Blake and Steve Hillage, or their work with Clearlight Symphony and Nik Turner.

Early on, I had no clue that Daevid was a master of gliss, and underrated as a guitarist on so many levels. I simply thought that most of what I heard was Steve Hillage in Gong, and Steffe Sharpstrings in Planet Gong. I knew that Daevid has some solo albums, but thought that he did acoustic guitar here and there. It’s funny what you pick up (or don’t pick up) from album covers, reviews, and so on.

It wasn’t really until he was in my home studio that I discovered how much I had been missing. Or, the moments where he performed locally, prior to those sessions, and where I got to see him in person: playing guitar, performing, putting out so much energy and passion.

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DH: How did you end up collaborating with Daevid?

DF: I contacted Michael Clare and asked him for help in setting up a session with Daevid at my home studio. Daevid was probably staying at Pierce’s McDowell’s house and I either picked him up there, or dropped him off, or both… I knew that Daevid was visiting San Francisco in those days, and I thought it simply made sense to get him involved with a project that celebrated space rock.

[Michael and Pierce have since become long-time Spirits Burning bass guitar contributors, and are part of the Gong family of musicians, having played in University of Errors and Mother Gong, respectively.]

DH: What stories or anecdotes do you have for the times you worked together – his sense of humanity, of humor, or life?

One year, Daevid showed up for a session with a gift for me. A copy of Robert Calvert’s “Centigrade 232” book/cd. Daevid knew that I was a big fan of Calvert’s poetry and music. I was blown away. It was also kind of serendipitous, in that I had brought Daevid and Robert together on two pieces a few years earlier (when Robert’s wife Jill had given me a tape of the “Centigrade 232” readings, and I had recorded Daevid on the two pieces with Robert’s voice).

Another memorable moment… our first session. I had this piece called “Arc” (or “A Real Creeper”), and after Daevid finished two different gliss parts, he turned to me, and asked if I had anything in the room that he could recite for the piece. I said… well, I do have my college thesis, with a number of poems I wrote. As I played back the piece, Daevid proceeded to flip through my thesis and vocalize various lines of my poetry, interpreting them on the spot, bringing new life to them, experimenting with various ways to actualize them. It was quite amazing. One of my first experiences with Daevid’s ability to improv vocally. This was a predecessor, I guess, to his work on the Weird Biscuit Teatime album, specifically with “Beezlebabble Slush.” For that piece, he improvised vocalizations that were between pre-human and inhuman. Utterly breathtaking: Concurrently scary and inspirational. To be in the same room…

Daevid was also open to try anything. I truly admired (and appreciated) this willingness to let me lead him to a place, where he could do lyrics that I gave him, or as was often the case, where he would turn to his sheets of lyrics. There were funny moments in there too. For example, when I gave him the “Book of Luana” lyrics, and said that one part needed a manic preacher feel, he dived in. Daevid’s tall, and him stamping a foot on the ground while yelling “You can call him the preacher” shook the house here, and got our dog barking quite a bit. When we let her in, she could only look up quizzically at this giant wizard.

The mentions of Daevid as a vocalist barely scrape what he brought to Spirits Burning and other projects we worked on throughout the years. His gliss work remains heavenly, ethereal, haunting. It was always special to be in the same room, as he took the song and me to a place that I could not have imagined. He brought so much to so many SB CDs, as well as brief moments for Astralfish, Quiet Celebration, and Fireclan. But, the gliss workings were just the beginning. When we first got together, I had no idea that Daevid was so adept at guitar improv. I could not have predicted the numerous rhythms and leads that he would do over 12 SB CDs, and a couple “Weird” albums. Daevid’s parts have a way of making a song more creative, passionate, deeper. More than I could have dreamed of.

As the 2010s rolled in, Daevid no longer swooped into the bay area, and our in-person sessions ended. Daevid did continue to work with me remotely. He was using a Pro Tools system that I had helped him set up, and a mic that I had given to him in lieu of a session or two. I think he did some of his vocals for later Gong albums with that setup. I recently looked back at our emails the last few years, and there were the occasional questions about how to do something on Pro Tools. While I was always respectful of Daevid’s time and email address, it was always good to be able to help him in these adventures.

In the Spirits Burning parts that he recorded in Australia, I could see, or rather hear in the files that he sent me, a strong interest in trying to do more things with his voice. For example, on “Bring It Down,” he supplemented the lead and backing vocals with a vocal bass part, and a vocal cymbal part. Things like that.

Perhaps the final joy that Daevid brought to me, was the same joy that he first brought, more than a decade earlier. His support and belief in me as a musician. One passionate musician to another. We all need that sometimes. We’re human. In January of 2015, when Michael (Clare) and I sent Daevid the results of our months of work on the second WBT CD, Daevid responded with more than I could have expected. “you have done a fascinating job of mixing this up for me and I find myself both moved and nicely surprised….. Love to you all and thanks for your patience, your cards and your sweet caring! Huge hug.”

Shortly after, Daevid announced to the world that his time on this world was coming to an end.

DH: How do you think history will view Daevid and his important work?

It’s hard to say… it’s like asking what will be the view of 70s bands that didn’t have hits when we’re all dead and gone.

There will be digital text histories like Wikipedia. Although I do wonder what happens to the band sites that many have started when no one is left to pay for them, or the companies running them are gone…

There will be the aural histories: Various streaming services, posts on the Facebooks of today and tomorrow, and lots of collections that hopefully will get passed down or over to others. Plus, our conversations about Daevid, our ongoing dialogues.

There are also the hidden gems of Daevid’s works. For example, what he has brought to Spirits Burning. Many Daevid and Gong fans are less aware of his amazing contributions to the history of SB.

It’s in all of these histories that Daevid will rest and continue to grow.

DH: Do you have anything still “in the can” to be released of your collaborations?

Yes.

Daevid_SB_Starhawk

For Spirits Burning, there are definitely 2-3 songs, maybe a couple more. First, the next Spirits Burning (titled “Starhawk,” and coming out Oct 30, 2015) will end with “So Strong Is Desire,” featuring a vocal duet by Daevid and my wife Karen. Daevid commented that he really liked the piece, and was kind of surprised that I wrote the piece and its words. One of my music cohorts thinks it’s the poppiest thing that Daevid’s ever done. My intent was to capture the psychedelic feel of one of those mid-70’s Hawkwind numbers with Nik Turner and others Hawks singing.

Further down the road will be two pieces on the second SB & Clearlight CD. There’s a piece that I started when I went to an Ableton Live class years ago. I sent it to Daevid and he added guitar and vocals (about a female friend of his ending up at a hospital). He even did some digital cutting and pasting to suggest a different arrangement. Actually, there are two versions that we did. One is an instrumental, which will have Cyrille and Camper Van Beethoven violinist Jonathan Segel on it. The vocal version is currently under new development. They’ll be the bookends for the album.

The big news, is that there is a successor to the Weird Biscuit Teatime album, under the name Daevid Allen Weird Quartet. On vinyl too. It’s Daevid, Michael, me, and drum duties over the album split by Trey (Sabatelli) and Paul (Sears). The album was started a few years ago, when Trey and I worked at Digidesign, and we reserved the studio for us to record in while Daevid and Michael were visiting the bay area. I had started some songs, brought them in, and Daevid, Michael, and Trey played to them. They also did a couple of jams that turned into songs. For the rest of the album, David did vocals and guitar at my home studio. The album was on hold for a few years, for various reasons. Then, in 2014, Michael and I dove back in. Michael doing missing bass parts from Hawaii, me doing new mixes and experiments here. For the pieces that still needed drums or percussion, we brought in Paul, who had worked recently with me in Spirits Burning, as well as on the 2014 Clearlight CD.

DH: What is the next Spirits Burning project?

“Starhawk,” an adaptation of Mack Maloney’s “Starhawk” novel. It’s scheduled for an October release on Gonzo Multimedia.

The starter tracks for the next Spirits Burning & Clearlight album are finished. I’m now reviewing what we have, and deciding what other instruments we need for each piece.

Then, there are a slew of SB projects in the works. I’ll be announcing them on the Spirits Burning Facebook page as they develop.

Daevid touched so many people. Literally, and sonically. He almost always would talk to people before and after shows. Sometimes even during… He was one of those few musicians who could just hang out. He made so many musician friends too, as he was willing to play with so many musicians, in so many different styles and setups. He reached so many listeners, in so many ways.

On a personal note, I feel that he gave life to Spirits Burning, in the sense that he helped get it off the ground, and bring in label interest. It’s something that I’ll always remain thankful for.

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The Daevid Allen/Spirits Burning Family Sessions (as best we can remember)

  • Summer, 1998 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “New Worlds By Design.”
  • Between September, 2000 and March, 2001 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Reflections In A Radio Shower.
  • Late 2001 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Found In Nature,” 9 songs for Weird Biscuit Teatime “DJDDAY,” 1 song for Quiet Celebration “Sequel,” and the track “Clear Audient v2.5” for the “Bay Prog CD” and its remix on daevid allen & don falcone “CD “Glissando Grooves.”
  • December, 2002 (San Leandro, California): 7 songs for Spirits Burning “Found In Nature,” and mixing of 9 songs for Weird Biscuit Teatime “DJDDAY.”
  • April, 2003 (San Leandro, California; Daevid in the bay area for gig with Makoto & Cotton): 3 songs for Spirits Burning “Alien Injection,” 2 songs for Fireclan “Sunrise to Sunset,” and 6 songs for Spirits Burning “Crazy Fluid.”
  • November 2006 (San Bruno, California, and Digidesign Studio in Daly City, California; Daevid in the bay area for University of Errors show at the Hemlock): 4 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Earth Born,” plus 11 songs for the follow-up to the Weird Biscuit Teatime album (later renamed as Daevid Allen Weird Quartet).
  • April, 2007 (San Bruno, California): 3 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Bloodlines , and 11 songs for Spirits Burning “Behold The Action Man.”
  • May 2010 (San Bruno, California): “The Book of Luana” for Spirits Burning “Crazy Fluid,” and 2 songs for Astralfish “Far Corners.”
  • 2011 to 2013 (remote, from Australia): “Make Believe It Real” for Hawklords “Friends and Relations,” 2 songs for Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart “Make Believe It Real,” 1 song for Spirits Burning & Clearlight “Healthy Music In Large Doses,” 1 song for Spirits Burning “Starhawk,” and 2 songs for Spirits Burning & Clearlight “Roadmaps” (future release).