In the early 80’s remember “Nowhere Girl”, “Marilyn Dreams” and “Remembrance Day”? Dead Good and Some Bizarre? If so, you’ll want to read the following interview with the artist who has been the driving force behind the band B-Movie. With new material released in 2013 and an album slated to appear on vinyl this year, there is much to relive and (re)discover in bridging the past 3 decades with the present.
Thank you Steve for taking the time to answer a few – or maybe more than a few questions.
First, where were you born?
Worksop, Nottinghamshire, a former coal mining town on the edge of Sherwood Forest.
Do you have any fond memories of your early childhood?
Yes. I wasbrought up in a small village, surrounded by fields. The village was owned by the Duke of Portland so it never changed. We lived in an old house and I remember the blazing fires in the winter. It was so quiet – my parents liked to read books, the silence broken by the sound of my sister practicing piano. I had a great childhood – making dens in the woods and fishing on the village pond.
Are there any friends you’ve kept in touch with over the years?
My sister and I still go up there and stay in the local pub every now and then. It keeps us connected to the place where we grew up. There are many familiar faces there. It still kinda feels like home.
Do you remember any of the first 45’s or albums you bought or were given to you?
I was around 11 years old when we got a record player. The first single I owned was ‘Popcorn’ by Hot Butter. Then I bought ‘Sylvia’ by Focus. I must have been into instrumentals!
Were any family members musically inclined?
All my family were musical. My mum was a singer with a beautiful contralto voice and sang in the local choir. Dad wrote a waltz when he was young. Sarah, my sister learnt piano and would practice for hours, sometimes duets with my mum.
Steve, did you have any formal musical training?
No. I tried piano lessons but didn’t have the patience. I lasted one lesson on the French Horn.
When did you first take an interest in singing and writing music?
I had an imaginary band with my sister from a very young age. We imagined that we were incredibly famous and ran our own fan club. I wrote a song called ‘Pollution’ which was an early protest song.
What was the name of your first band?
Studio 10. We were named after a hairdressing salon in Mansfield.
Who were The Aborted? What ex-members went on to form the genesis of B-Movie?
The Aborted were one of the first punk bands to come out of Mansfield. They featured B-Movie members Paul Statham on guitar and Graham Boffey on drums. Martin Boffey played bass and Pete Boffey was the singer. I remember seeing them play. Paul collapsed on stage. I stood at the back wearing a shirt daubed with ‘I want to be a machine’ after the Ultravox song and a ripped school blazer. The atmosphere was electric!
Steve, talk about the beginnings of B-Movie. How did the band form?
I think it was early summer 1979. Paul Statham came up to me at a party in Mansfield and asked if I’d like to join his band as the bass player had left. I didn’t really get on with ‘Stat’ not to mention I couldn’t play bass but I went along anyway as I harboured dreams to be in a real band. I left the rehearsal as bass player AND singer.
Tell us how you chose the name B-Movie.
I was flicking through an art book in art class and came across a painting by Andy Warhol called B-Movie. I thought it sounded arty and cool.
Your first manager John Fritchley was quite a character. Any fond memories or anecdotes you’d like to share?
We called him ‘Yank’ due to his liking for flash American cars. He helped get the band up and running. He had a big car with a trailer we could out our gear in and before long were playing places far away from our home town like Lincoln where he introduced us to Dead Good records. He did try to turn us into Mods but we were into Tubeway Army and early Ultravox and preferred synthesisers, glittery ties and face paint. He insisted on being in our publicity shots at a later time. I think he secretly wanted to be in the band but we parted company before that could happen thankfully.
What were the circumstances that led to signing with Dead Good Records?
We played a pub called The Lincoln Vaults and came to the attention of Dead Good Records run by Martin Patton, Andy Stephenson and a guy called Tex from a band called The Cigarettes. It was a rough place and we’d get heckled by the local skinheads. Dead Good asked us to contribute a couple of tracks to a compilation album they were putting together featuring bands from the East of England.
How was Andy Stephenson’s management style different than John’s?
He famously told us “Anything is possible in the music business.” Despite it feeling far-fetched at the time we actually believed him. We were actually managed by the record company.
Talk about some of the early gigs you played while trying to make a name for yourselves.
Our first ever show was a ‘Rock against Racism’ gig. It was held in a room at a local swimming baths. I had visions of thousands of placard waving demonstrators chanting slogans through the streets before a big rally with us playing. I was terrified. In reality there was just us, Fritchley’s family and another band called Xerox at the venue. It was a bit of a let-down but at least we’d played our first show. We played local gigs as a three piece band in the early days. The response from the audience was mixed to say the least. I can remember one person shouting out “You’re rubbish!” halfway through our first song. Thanks to Fritchley we got to play in Nottingham supporting the Angelic Upstarts at The Sandpiper club. I can remember being scared for my life. The place was full of skinheads who flicked cigarette ends and threw bottles at us as we played. It was more scary having to share a dressing room with the Upstart’s singer Mensi who was renowned for his hatred of students and I was one at the time. He prowled around shirtless, spitting on the dressing room floor and swearing with us cowering in the corner. We played the Sandpiper again supporting The Smirks which was less stressful. It was through playing at The Lincoln Vaults that we got our break.
“Remembrance Day” was one of the first songs you recorded. Recall the early experiences in the studio.
We recorded it at a 16 track studio called Studio Playground in Wragby, Licolnshire. Wragby was famous for being the toilet break stop for Mansfield people bound for the seaside resort of Skegness. I can remember pulling into the driveway in this quiet rural town and being met by a man with the most amazing mullet hairstyle. He was very laid back and made us feel welcome in our first proper studio. The recording process was quite simple – a live take followed by a few overdubs then off to the pub. ‘Remembrance Day’ was probably the trickiest as it was quite long and had this instrumental bit at the beginning. I never imagined that it would ever be a single. I thought it more the closing track of side two of an album.
Were you pleased with the ‘Take Three EP’ and being aired on John Peel’s show?
Definitely. John Peel was an icon. It was amazing just holding the EP in my hands let alone getting it played on his show. He made some nice comments and supported us through the early period. We were out there in a musical wilderness and he brought us to attention of a far bigger audience.
You realized you needed a breakthrough hit. Enter “Nowhere Girl”. Were you a fan of Angela Huth?
No. I never read the book. The lyrics came from personal experience.
A few years ago I found a cd copy of “The Dead Good Tapes” released on Wax Records at a local record convention. Was this the only cd comp you know of with Dead Good material?
There were two albums released in the early 90s on Document Records called ‘Remembrance Days’ and ‘Radio Days’ which were put together by Martin Patton, the former boss of Dead Good. Cherry Red also released an album called The Dead Good years.
From Dead Good you signed with Stevo Pearce’s label Some Bizarre. Did this come as a surprise to the band?
We released a six track vinyl EP on Dead Good in the summer of 1980. Nowhere Girl on the A side at 45rpm and five tracks on the b-side including Remembrance Day at 33rpm. There was a problem with pressing the EP and there were only a few copies made. Luckily John Peel got a copy and played some tracks. I had one copy and a cassette version of the songs. I was conscious that we needed to play further afield than the East Midlands and saw an advert in Sounds for an event at The Chelsea Drug Store in London hosted by a DJ called Stevo. He was looking for bands to play there. Coincidentally he was DJ’ing at our local venue The Retford Porterhouse. On the bill that night were Cabaret Voltaire and The The. I went along with my girlfriend and after the show I sheepishly gave him a cassette of the EP with my phone number on it, thinking nothing would come of it. The next day I got a phone call from him saying he really liked it and it reminded him of Hawkwind. He offered us a show in London at The Canning Town Bridge House. I wasn’t sure to begin with as this guy had a real cockney accent. I wasn’t used to dealing with Londoners. We did the show at the Bridge House with Blancmange as support. Soon after he became our manager and Some Bizzare records was born. It was a smooth transition as Martin and Tex from Dead Good were also involved.
I actually still have a vinyl copy of The Some Bizarre Album. It was my first exposure to The The and Blancmange. I was already pretty well acclimated with Depeche Mode by the time I secured a copy. B-Movie’s contribution was “Moles”. What was this track all about?
There was a lot of fear around in 1980. Unemployment was rising, the Iranian hostage seize, Blair Peach, the IRA hunger strikers, the threat of nuclear war, the Yorkshire Ripper. There was suspicion and paranoia everywhere in Thatcher’s first year. There seemed to be dark forces stirring up discord, the antithesis to Thatcher’s declaration that she would bring peace and harmony. I was growing up in a mining area. Moles signified underground dwellers but also there was a clash of cultures on the way.
At the time did you get to hang out with any of the other artists on Some Bizarre or have any interaction with them?
Not really. We’d met Blancmange at the Bridge House gig and Matt Johnson from The The who was a mate of Stevo’s. We also did a show with Naked Lunch at The Clarendon Hotel in Hammersmith. DAF were headlining. It was a great feeling because Siouxsie Sioux was there and members of Ultravox!
How was it working with producer Mike Thorne? Did you like the end result of “Nowhere Girl”?
It was our first experience of working with a name producer in a big studio. Remembrance Day was recorded pretty much live. He’d altered the arrangement as the original version was quite long. We improvised the ending in the studio. He was very professional and open to ideas.
Steve Brown produced Nowhere Girl. Yeah, I think it’s great. It would have been interesting to find out how different it might have been if we’d recorded it with Mike Thorne as the follow up to Remembrance day. I don’t think the piano would have been there. The track would have been more rocky perhaps. But we’ll never know!
Who was Paul Boswell?
Boswell was our first proper agent. He sorted out our early shows supporting Duran Duran and put together our first European and American tours. He used to come to our shows and was part of the gang.
Did you like the direction the band was headed?
We wanted to record an album. It would have been more in common with Echo and the Bunnymen or early Pink Floyd perhaps than the new Romantic thing. We became conscious of our image and I think it was perhaps the wrong move to get associated with the New Romantic scene.
How was the internal relationship of band members? You must have been pretty good mates, eh?
I wouldn’t say we were great mates back then. We were very young and treated being in a band as an extension of a Friday night out. There were tensions that occasionally boiled over. We probably could have been more united on certain things. I think a strong manager would have helped.
What material were you most proud of at this point in time?
For me Remembrance Day was my proudest moment but the John Peel session was brilliant too as we were allowed to experiment and let go.
Did you enjoy performing live more or recording in the studio?
To be honest the live work at the time was both scary and exhilarating. I loved both.
Next came the “dream” sequence in song. First came “Marilyn Dreams” and then a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Julia Dream” which is one of my favorites. Did this latter track ever see the light of day on vinyl?
We did record it in the summer of 1982 as a possible b-side for Marilyn Dreams. Unfortunately it seems to have disappeared.
How did you feel for the printed media, i.e. NME and Sounds portrayed the band?
Generally the press was positive. We didn’t get the level of exposure that we needed or perhaps deserved.
Tell the story of Lou Codemo.
I think Lou got the job more because he looked quite cool rather than his bass playing. He toured Europe with us in Decemer 1981. He was a little crazy. I remember him running naked through the forest with snow on the ground in Holland.
What venues did you most enjoy playing in the early 80’s?
Retford Porterhouse was a great little venue run by a real character Sammy Jackson who referred to us as The B-Movies in his thick cockney accent. We played there many times. We played the old Marquee on Wardour Street in London many times too. The Blue Note in Derby was good, The Limit in Sheffield and of course Rock City in Nottingham. Anywhere abroad was good!
Any interesting stories surrounding other bands you shared the bill with?
We supported The Comsat Angels at Sheffield Top Rank and when we got there, there was a dispute about us being able to put our our light show. Their tour manager said we couldn’t. I remember watching our manager Stevo disappear with him behind a curtain in front of the stage. The next thing we know, the curtains are bulging and the main light rig is in danger of caving in on everybody. Stevo had decided to use his fists to settle the argument which he was quite fond of doing.
Was there such a thing as “college radio” during this time since you had a pretty large university age following?
Not so much in the UK. It was college radio that ‘broke’ B-Movie in the States. We did have a big student following and played many colleges at the time.
You had your first European tour in December of ’81. What memories do you have?
Chaos. There were four of us plus a guy called Pete Buckley and a tour manager Martin Cole. We drove from gig to gig in a mini bus with our gear in the back. The funniest story was when we played the Bains Douches club in Paris. Paul and I went there the night before to check it out. We were given a little card on entry. We ordered a couple of beers which were about £10 a bottle even then. The bartender waved away my cash and took my card punching a hole in it. We assumed that this meant we were VIP guests and the drinks were all free. We continued ordering more beers before moving onto Champagne and we were ‘buying drinks’ for a group of people that had tagged onto us. It was only when the rest of the band arrived (Rick could read a bit of French and could translate the back of the card) that we realised we had to hand the card in at the end and pay. Each hole was £10 and both of our cards were shredded. It all ended with a showdown between the promoter and Martin. The drinks bill was deducted from our fee and we did the show the following evening.
I find it very interesting reading about the Steve Brown produced version of “Nowhere Girl”. This version has remained timeless for myself and I’m sure I wore many a deep groove in vinyl while spinning at local night clubs years ago. I mean the song still sounds great today as it did when it was first released. Not knowing the origin of the female voice(s) on the song, I had assumed it was from one girl. But not the case, right?
The laughter at the beginning is a different person to the harmony in the middle. We literally dragged someone in from the street to do the laughing bit. I have no idea who she was. The harmonies were done by a friend of ours Maria.
I thought the piano part was what really set the song apart from anything else I heard at the time. Who tickled the ivories?
That was Rick Holliday our keyboardist. He really can play!
Lou Codemo exits and Scottish bassist Mike Peden enters. How did this pan out?
We’d seen Mike play with Everest the Hard Way at the Poly Bar on Great Portland St. His bass playing was amazing. Anyhow we contacted him after ETHW split. He had to fly down from Edinburgh for rehearsals. It was tricky accommodating his fluid bass playing style into our classic sound which was more post punk. I think this eventually led to problems when his bass playing became too dominant. He was a nice guy though and we had some good times together.
What happened on your American Tour in 1982?
The shows themselves were OK. We played Danceteria and Peppermint Lounge in NYC, The 930 in Washington, The Eastside in Philadelphia, Clutch Cargo in Detroit as well as The Glace Club in Montreal, but to be honest it was an ordeal.
Back in the UK, it was decided to get rid of Graham Boffey? Reasons?
We wanted to go down a more techno route and Graham had struggled a bit with the programming side of things, plus Mike Peden’s style was beginning to dominate the sound. In hindsight it was a stupid decision. Graham was the engine room of B-Movie and a founder member and a great drummer too.
Andy Johnson and Martin Winter joined the band. Did you know these guys previously?
No. They were in a local band called the International Drum Club. I hit it off with Mart, not so much with Andy!
Then Rick left to work on a solo project. How did this news affect you and the band?
It was a blow but not completely a surprise. He had been an integral part of the B-Movie sound but had drifted away. I wasn’t sure whether to carry on but Stat was very positive about continuing. So we did with him moving to keyboards.
The band was quiet until “A Letter From Afar” appeared in ’84 with Al Cash on drums. I still have my vinyl copy of the single. I was always intrigued by the cover art. Reminds me of a TV series I watched as a kid – “Rat Patrol” set in North Africa during WWII.
We’d played Israel a few times and I was still into the army chic vibe. It was meant to have some Lawrence of Arabia meets Apocalypse Now kind of look to it.
At the end of 1985 the album ‘Forever Running’ was released. Unfortunately “Switch On Switch Off” didn’t actually turn on the record buying public nor the press. Any speculations as to why?
I don’t know. We made an expensive video for it so there must have been an expectation from the record company that it could do well. We hadn’t really made much ground since Nowhere Girl first came out in the UK, although abroad it was a different story.
Then came the moment most bands hope will never arrive – the breakup. This must have been a very difficult time for B-Movie. Was this a democratic decision to disband?
Stat was moving onto other things. We lived in a basement flat in Peckham and were getting legal bills from America. Our deal with Sire was terminated. We had no means to keep it going. It was time to move on. I remember feeling very sad as B-Movie was my life, my identity and living without would be difficult.
But Steve, you were not ready to retire from the music business. At the end of the 80’s you formed a band called One with Seven Webster and Bob Thompson. Fill us in on how you met up and decided to join forces.
Seven was a DJ at a club called the Pigeon Toed Orange Peel at the Comedy Store in London. He knew my sister’s boyfriend and played Remembrance Day at the club. He was also looking to start up a band and asked whether I might be interested. I headed over to his house and we sat there strumming acoustic guitars for a bit. Seven was quite a character and we decided to meet up again and keep it going. Bob joined later. He was a friend of a friend. He was a great drummer and top bloke.
As One, you released an album of material and 2 singles, “I’ll Wait” and “Son Of The Sun”. Did you enjoy this creative period?
Yes I did. We had use of a studio in Soho and there was a rush of songs being written, probably too many in hindsight. I was really into DH Lawrence and nature and the music was quite rocky and acoustic and very different to B-Movie. I suppose it was a reaction against the synthesised pop I’d been used to.
After One, you began performing solo acoustic performances with tracks such as “England My England”, “Artificial Trees” and “The Execution Song”. Was there a bit of therapy in this and perhaps less stress than performing with a band?
I was exploring being a lyricist and writing from the heart about my life and what it felt like to be English. My voice worked well too in sparser context.
In 1994 as Laughing Gas there was just one 7” single “Baroque Chick”. Double meaning in the title?
I was living near Portobello Road. I don’t know where the pun came from but it sounded good.
In the New Millenium B-Movie reformed and played one-off shows in 2004 and 2006 in London, the UK and Germany. Was it good to play again with the old gang?
Yes it was and you’re right to say it was a gang. I’d kept in touch with Paul over the years but hadn’t seen Graham or Rick for years. There was a bit of bridge building to be done as the band had broken up acrimoniously back in 1982 but once we started playing together again the old spark returned. We have a good laugh together and love the gigs. I think maybe a couple of the guys took a bit of convincing it would work when we first reformed but now I think everyone looks forward to rehearsals and meeting up.
In 2012 came a new track “Echoes”, the first single in 22 years! I’m guessing I won’t press my luck speculating this was a cover or tribute to Pink Floyd? “Echoes”
Ha! No, it was more a tribute to B-Movie! It’s about how we soak up melodies when we’re young and then how we associate certain songs with significant moments in our lives. We hear certain songs or albums now and we’re transported back in time. Music keeps you young, it’s like the fountain of youth.
Last year saw the advent of 2 releases, an EP ‘Distant Skies’ and an album ‘The Age Of Illusion’. Talk a little about how the songs came together and how you felt about the end product.
Paul and I were very keen to record a new album. We have similar influences and reference points. It began I suppose in 2010. Paul sent me a track he had been working on that he thought would suit my voice. I listened to it a few times then a vocal melody would emerge and a lyrical idea. Finally the song would take shape. I live in Cambridge and Paul in London so we would swap ideas via email. The core of the album are songs that were written this way. We also recorded some of the songs live as a band and some the keyboard and drum parts were done separately. I think Paul and I had a pretty clear idea of where we wanted to go. We ended up with sixteen brand new B-Movie songs which I am very proud of.
Also in 2013 you recorded in France with bass player Emmanuel Defay as The Fountain Of Youth. How did you meet and decide to work with Mr. Defay?
Manu lived a few doors down from us in Cambridge and his kids went the same primary school as my son Ben. We were brought together to perform at a fund raising concert for the school. We learnt some cover versions and the show went well. I’d been writing some songs since moving to Cambridge and was desperate to see how they would sound with other musicians. Manu was up for continuing and we began rehearsing every week at The Muller Centre at Churchill College where Manu is based (he is a physicist). The songs sounded great with his melodic bass playing style. After about a year we decided to record the songs and I went over to Manu’s home town of Le Puy-en-Velay. We recorded the album in a couple of days in the drummer’s studio. It was so easy as the guys were such accomplished musicians. The album was finished off at Paul Statham’s studio in London.
Now aside from music, along the way you took up an interest in the wine business. In 2006 you wrote a book and I love the title – ‘The Grape Escape: One Man’s Journey From Vinyl To Vine’. Within these pages what fruitful lessons might the reader digest?
This was an adventure. I love wine and wanted to have a go at making wine. The gist was that making the wine was like making a record. It was a personal statement and to challenge my comfort zone. The book features flashbacks to my life in music, the highs then the lows and the two stories come together towards the end. Lessons? Get a good manager or mentor who can look after your career when you’re young. Anything is possible in the music business. Wine is the next best thing to rock and roll. If you set your mind on something then you can achieve anything. Don’t give up!
You also are a big football fan. Do you still keep up your blog “Will The Pleasure Never End”?
This was a tribute to my home town football team Mansfield Town. I just tried to examine why I supported such a team rather than Arsenal or Man United. I’m obviously a masochist at heart. It’s light hearted and funny.
Steve, tell us about your family. Any kids?
Yes one boy, Ben 13 years old. He’s shot up in the last year and is now as tall as me, similar deep voice too. He’s just won player of the season for his local football club so we’re very proud of him. Who knows he may one day play for Mansfield (I hope not!) Louise and I have been together for 18 years and we live in Cambridge.
Are there other hobbies/interests you have – or have time for?
I go cycling quite a lot. I even got into bird watching at one point. I like the peace and the big skies and some of the land is very wild. I love the outdoors. I like cooking too and crosswords. God I’m so exciting!
What’s on the horizon for Steve Hovington?
Keep on defying the sands of time being creative, playing gigs and making music. Maybe move abroad in a few years.
And, how would you like to be remembered? Your legacy as it were?
A true believer! I didn’t give up. I swam against the tides and followed my dreams!
John Hanlon may not be a widely recognizable name in the annals of popular music, but in his homeland of New Zealand he is somewhat of a cultural icon. Throughout the early to mid 70’s John has won Composer of the Year, Album of the Year, and had a number of songs reach high into the Kiwi charts. But, he’s not been averse to covering ecology-sensitive issues and challenging the censorship of his lyrics. We hope with this reading, a whole new audience will discover his talents.
John, thanks for taking time to answer a few questions.
You have quite a bit of multi-cultural ethnicity in your blood. How did your mother and father meet?
My father was in the New Zealand Air Force during the war stationed in Malaya. While he was chased down the Malayan peninsula by the Japanese and escaped via Singapore, he liked the country and went back after the war to work as a trouble shooting mechanic for Caterpillar. The Malayan jungle was occupied by Communist Bandits during these years (a hangover from the war) so Dad was armed when he travelled and photos showed he pretty much looked like Indiana Jones when he was on the road. While he was stationed in Singapore his work regularly took him to Malaya and it was in Kuala Lumpur, the Malayan capital, that he met my mother.
You were born in Malaysia. Do my eyes deceive me in reading your website or were your first digs an iron mine?
I was born in Malaya but went to NZ when I was only 3 months old. We returned to live in Singapore when I was 4 and then back to NZ when I was 8. When I was 10 we headed back to Kuala Lumpur and when I was 12 the family moved to an iron mine deep in the jungle of the then uninhabited east coast of Malaya. They had to build a railroad through the jungle to reach the mine, this took years and, from my memory, so did the train ride to the mine – it as the world’s slowest train. I only lived on the mine during the Christmas holidays since I was sent to boarding school in Perth, Western Australia. I only saw my family for 6 weeks every year, spending the rest of the year alone in another country from the age of 12 – 15. When I was 15 we moved back to NZ.
What are some of your earliest recollections of childhood in Kuala Lumpur?
Life in Kula Lumpur and Singapore was fantastic. While on the one hand we had the privileged life so often enjoyed by ‘ex-pats’ – Europeans working in the colonies — we had the advantage of a Chinese mother with family who lived locally. The best of both words you might say.
Was your young life mostly a happy one?
Very happy and adventure filled. Both my brother and I share many wonderful memories of an exciting and stimulating childhood – exotic colours, smells, tastes, voices, sounds – a veritable feast for the senses. There were some challenges while in boarding school, since being of mixed race stirred up xenophobia in quite a few of my schoolmates.
Guess it may have been difficult to make long lasting friends with all the uprooting you experienced?
I still have many friends I made in my childhood, especially in New Zealand.
What was your earliest exposure to pop music?
I have always loved pop music, right back into the 50’s when we were in Malaya and Singapore. But it was the first mouth organ strains of “Love Me Do” by The Beatles that really grabbed me by the ears. And when later I discovered they wrote the songs my life was changed forever.
Do you recall one of the first 45’s you bought or were given?
Hard question. It would have been something by Rick Nelson or Cliff Richards, I imagine.
Were either of your parents musically inclined?
Dad had an impressive whistle – but no.
How, dare I ask, was boarding school in Australia?
The racism was not good, not least because racist bullies are inevitably stupid people. But I quickly learned that people act differently as individuals than they do in groups and I became an extremely good fighter. It took more than one guy to beat me. But boarding school was good in terms of academic things and sports. I did well at school and because I had no one to run home to I learned to be independent and self-sufficient.
Any groups/artists that you liked growing up?
The Everly Brothers, early Elvis, Sam Cooke, Bill Haley, Nat King Cole, The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, Beach Boys – I could be here all day there were so many I liked.
At what age did you relocate to Auckland?
Went back and forth many times but eventually settled there when I was 15.
Originally you took up an interest in graphic art. From where did the artistic creativity stem?
I was always good at art but being a scholarship winner I was always pushed towards more cerebral subjects since art was seen as a hobby and not something anyone would seriously consider as a career. So I took art as a hobby course and it was a visit to a commercial art studio that the idea of being a commercial artist was born.
Do you still have any of the original cartoons you drew?
Sadly, no. I have thrown away many significant things in my life that I now regret – not the least of which are recording awards.
Did you enjoy working as an Art Director in Advertising?
Yes, and even more so when I became a copywriter and Creative Director. Advertising was once a wild and stimulating industry. It is far less so now.
You picked up guitar on your own. Any influences?
Many. Initially I thought it would help me meet girls. (The downside to being trapped for years in a boy’s boarding school was that I was very shy with girls). But I didn’t have the patience or brains to learn to play properly and began to write songs instead. Only I did so in private because I was too shy to perform in public. Years later my mother when asked if she knew her son was a songwriter she said, “No, but when he was a teenager he used to lock himself in his bedroom and jing-a-jang a lot.” Lord knows how that was interpreted over the airwaves. It caused hilarity in our house.
Approximately how many songs and lyrics had you composed before you ever performed live?
Talk about that fateful night at a party in 1971. Did you know a representative from a recording studio was in attendance?
Not a clue. There were only about 12 people there in total.
Bruce Barton liked your material so much he helped you get your first recording contract on Family. Were things moving fast?
Incredibly. Not the least since it was never my intention. I just wanted to be a songwriter. Imagine getting a 3 album contract today. My first album bombed!
How did you enjoy working with keyboardist Mike Harvey?
I enjoyed it very much. He remains one of my closest friends. We grew together in the studio and I look back with great pride on what we did together.
B-side of your first single “Old Fashioned Music” was “Mickey Mouse House”. Did you receive any legal correspondence from Walt Disney after this release? Hehe
No. Strangely I hated that arrangement and so did Mike. He says it embarrasses him to hear what he did now. It was meant to have far more grunt. A few years later I did another version with a band just for fun.
Have a listen here to the “revamped” “Mickey Mouse House”
Were you pleased with how your first album “Floating” turned out?
I was, yes – Except for “Mickey Mouse House”. However, I did not include songs from that album on my recent 40 songs retrospective release ‘AFTER THE DAM BROKE’. This was because we could not find any tapes. However, in recent weeks I’ve been told a pristine vinyl copy has been found and rescue mission is underway.
That is good news! One of your songs “Knowing” was sung by Wellington pop vocalist Steve Gilpin and entered into a Studio One Television contest. Was this contest like a localized Eurovision Contest?
Can you give some background on the Manapouri Hydro Dam controversy and how this inspired you to compose “Damn The Dam”.
I did not actually write the song about Lake Manapouri but it was adopted by that protest movement. My song was originally written as a two minute radio commercial to promote energy conservation. At that time there were controversial plans to raise the height of the lake for a dam to provide power for a large aluminum plant. It was a case of the right song at the right time. Now everyone thinks the song followed the protest. Not such a bad rewriting of history, really.
Released in 1973 the song really struck a chord with the music public and shot up to #5 on the New Zealand charts and was awarded Single of the Year. Did you expect “Damn The Dam” to do so well?
Another ’73 single “Shy Ann” has a b-side that is one of my all-time favorites, “In Love Out Of Love”. Was this one based on a personal experience?
I love that song, too. Not sure how I wrote it as such a young age. But I’ve lived it many times since.
Another ecology sensitive song “I Care” from your 2nd album ‘Garden Fresh’ did not sell well. Any thoughts as to why?
Yes. It was written for a contest the government broadcasting authority ran to promote the environment on their stations. I won the contest but had issues with the people. One of the contest rules was that the song would be published by Southern Publishing and not my regular publishers who were associated with my record company, hence, the latter did not push the song.
In 1974 the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) banned the single “Is It Natural” for a couple of lyrics they considered offensive. But this wasn’t the end of the story, was it?
No. It was played by the pirate radio station Radio Hauraki from a ship moored off the NZ coast, so it became a hit in the Auckland region – within the reach of the station’s airwaves.
Today, would “randy schoolboy” be considered as offensive?
You are kidding, of course!
You yourself entered the 1974 Studio One Contest with “Lovely Lady”, another one of my favorites. The single release became your most successful of your career. One of the high points in your career?
Hmmm… not really. It simply showed that if you can get a song on TV it will help it become a hit. I found it almost impossible to get on TV during my career since I refused to do cover versions of pop songs and that was the bulk of the TV work for singers in NZ. This song got me on TV and the rest followed. It was never my best song. Not even close. By the way, it didn’t even win the contest. I came second although most people think I won.
The track “Higher Trails” was actually the first John Hanlon song I ever heard. Still beautiful with each listen. It reminds me a lot of John Denver. Hope that’s a compliment.
It is a compliment. The multi tracking of voices was definitely one of his tricks. It’s a song based on many things going on in my life at that time. And I can’t get near the notes today. It’s in E and I’d have to do it in C today. It would be Lower Trails.
The album ‘Higher Trails’ was voted Album Of The Year. How proud of you are the work you did on this album?
Very proud of it. I say without fear of contradiction that the production values of that album were as good as anything recorded in the world at that time. And listening back today I have not changed that view.
Your next album, 1976’s ‘Use Your Eyes’ yielded 3 singles and a “Composer Of The Year” award for the song “Night Life”. Relate the highlights of this album for you.
There were few highlights for this album. Just as it was released my record company closed down. They did not promote the album and it did not sell well at all. The pressings were also terrible. I was so disappointed. That said, I really liked the songs on the album and was delighted to have the chance to re-master the tapes recently. Damned shame that most people will never ever hear it.
You took a little hiatus from recording until a 1982 single “Romantically Inclined”/b/w “The Culprit” came out on Polydor. Then came an album in 1988, ‘Short Stories’ on RCA. How would you compare these later releases with some of your earlier work?
The songs are strong but the recording was tinny (far too bright) and the voice pushed so far back in the mix in the way that was fashionable in the 80s.
So, take us through what transpired to “deter” you from making music to going back to advertising.
After I had a few hits I found that I had to sing the same 6-8 songs night after night, week after week, month after month year after year. I had segued form the creative life of a songwriter into an entertainer who was required to do the same tricks every night. Saying to an audience “Here’s a song I just wrote” was anathema to them – they only came to hear the hits. As well, I was a public figure in a small country and my record company refused to accept the international offers to distribute me internationally.
So John, you’ve returned to Advertising while still writing songs on the side. Has the journey sort of taken you back full circle?
Ironically I’m writing as many songs as I ever have and am continually being tempted to go back into the studio.
You also are writing some short stories, poems, plays and even film scripts. I have read a few of these on your website and find you in fine form.
Yes and I will do even more writing in the years to come. Painting also, which I’ve returned to in recent years and have found to my delight that I’m quite accomplished and enjoy it very much. The older I get, the more I will paint.
Any boundaries for John Hanlon, or the proverbial sky’s the limit?
Well, having just sold my house in Sydney I’m about to become a global gypsy for a while. A big adventure awaits.
Talk about your family, kids and grandchildren.
I have one son and four grandchildren – three girls, one boy – all teenagers. They are delightful, bright and happy and have more races in them than the United Nations.
Any pets – or pet peeves, as it were? Hehe
For years I had Ridgeback dogs and recently lost a beloved cat. For now I have no pets. As for pet peeves – how long have you got? I was recently asked to contribute to a book called Grumpy Old Men. I’ll see if I can find my piece and send it to you. Or you can always read my blogs from time to time.
How would you like to be remembered, what is your legacy?
As an honest man, a good friend and someone who always did what he said he was going to do. As for my legacy – hopefully that will be whenever someone hums one of my songs or remembers something I wrote or said. Who could ask for anything more?
You’d be hardpressed to find any club-going alternative music fan in the mid 80’s who didn’t have a copy of The Woodentops’ ‘Giant’ LP spinning in heavy rotation on their turntable. Infectious tunes like “Good Thing”, “Give It Time” and “Get It On” were catchy, quirky, but anything but mainstream. A string of singles and a couple of albums dotted the late 80’s into the early 90’s when the band essentially broke up. Singer/songwriter Rolo McGinty went on to other projects until a rekindled interest arose leading to a brand new retrospective 3 cd release. Band members, having kept in touch over the years, decided to go back to the studio and record a new album, which is very nearly finished. Things are definitely looking up for The Woodentops with live concert dates being scheduled as well. Recently I threw a few questions Rolo’s way and here’s what he had to say.
First off, thank you Rolo for taking time out of your schedule to do a little Q&A.
Of course I have to ask Is Rolo your real name?
I was christened Richard. At about 13/14 a kid at school thought my initials looked like Rolo M as I’d done little circles instead of dots between the letters. It spread around the school and never stopped. Only my mum calls me Richard.
Talk about your childhood, where were you born, and any fond memories.
I was born in Kent south England. I have a younger brother and we didn’t fight at all, we went to Paris a lot where my aunt lived. My brother and I were really interested in synthesizers tape recorders, he became an electronics whizz and built them I would play, he too and we’d record on an old reel to reel. Stuff like that. We weren’t wealthy as a family we moved up and down the country following my dads jobs in the paper making industry. Amazing huge factories with the biggest loudest machines you could get. All my family went deaf from that.
Were your parents, siblings musically inclined?
Dad fancied himself as a crooner he told me recently. Sort of Sinatra copyist. He decided the living was too precarious.
Any formal training?
Do you recall the first 45 or album you bought?
“Virginia Plain” by Roxy Music. Pink Floyd’s ‘Relics’/the Faust tapes.
How did you become interested in music?
The record player. Also as a small boy I went to a local school in Grimsby. It had a choir and I got tested and was invited in. Ended up singing in the tower of Rekyavik cathedral when the doors opened to the public.
What was the first band you were a part of?
School band, which included a guy who later became the Jazz Butcher. He played very good flute and sang. I played bass.
Artists/musicians that influenced you early on?
Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Can, Terry Riley when I was 12/13.
You were a member of Liverpool’s Wild Swans? In what capacity and for how long?
Not long maybe a year? I loved it and they were great guys, I just couldn’t keep going up and down to Liverpool, couldn’t afford to either.
You mentioned The Jazz Butcher. How was it being in a band with Pat Fish?
Well, I was in the original band of that. We did quite a few gigs, first single and album. He is my longest running still friend in this world.
How did you meet David Balfe (ex-Dalek I Love You, Teardrop Explodes)? How did you guys come to work together?
Through Julian Cope. Before I wrote any songs I auditioned for the Teardops and damn nearly got the job. I did however make a friend in Julian who continued to recommend me to other bands. I did recordings with other Teardrop members, Dave and Troy and Gary and was up in Liverpool a lot through Wild Swans and all those bands up there were very friendly and I became one of the gang so to speak. Julian Dave and Bill Drummond pop up later when Woodentops are going, Julian taking us on our first tour, Dave recording our first single and Bill signing my publishing. In fact Bill Drummond is the distant father of the Woodentops! My bass got stolen on the Bunnymen/Wild Swans tour. Bill personally saw to it I got my insurance money and with that I bought another bass a small drum machine and a casio and that’s what I began to write with.
The Woodentops. Who came up with the name and why?
The name came from Alice our original keyboard player. It means a lot of things, including “woodenhead” i.e. idiot!
Talk about the genesis of The Woodentops, how things came together as a group.
I had written a few songs, had no confidence so I played them to my friend Simon Mawby, then at college in Bristol. Then my friend at Jazz Butcher, Alice Thompson and we started to play them. I sang. In 1982 we began to search for bass and drums. It seemed to be my job to sing!
Food Records – a pretty small label, eh? How did you sign with them?
It was a tiny label. We were the second single on it. Not any more! We only did the one record , signed to Rough Trade afterwards.
Panni Bharti. How did you meet and start rehearsing in her studio?
Panni I met when she was taking photos of Dexys Midnight Runners. I was bassist for the support band and we lived near to each other. Friendship started there and continues to this day. Spoke with her yesterday.
Did you make an arrangement whereby Panni would do the artwork on your albums for time used in her studio?
Ha no, I helped a bit to set up the warehouse she runs. We were already mates then. Record company paid for the artwork.
Interesting how the cover of the “Plenty” single happened.
Oh yes. It was carved and photographed. However Food Records kinda wanted to use their own guy. So they put a really tight deadline on us. We said “done it!’ They said bring it in. This we did as pieces in a bin liner. Haha we set it up on the floor and said that’s it!!
And then Rough Trade became interested in signing you?
We had a few to choose from but ourselves we chose Rough Trade.
1984 and the “Move Me” single. Andy Partridge of XTC produced. Frank de Freitas joined you on bass. I understand you had been friends with his brother Pete (RIP), then drummer with Echo & The Bunnymen?
Oh yes. Pete and I were the ‘not from Liverpool’ pair on the Liverpool ‘scene’. We were good friends and it was he that recorded with the Wild Swans . Loved him and miss him. He was a bright character and talented as hell. I was one of the last people to see him alive. He left our rehearsal room and drove to Liverpool and didn’t make it . If I could take time backwards…
Andy Partridge was brilliant, one of the Rough Trade producer ideas. So he came to my flat to meet but we ended up making a tune on my portastudio intead of sitting round talking. He was inspiring to us and I love what he did in the studio with us. Im tricky to work with and he had no problem with it.
Talk about the “Well Well Well” single and the development into “hypnobeat”.
Hynobeat was our first ‘dance beat’. On our first gig that got the place really going. “Well Well Well” was a wild beat I kind of sang to Paul Hookham our first drummer..also a brilliant one..and he put the life into my idea. Andy partridge recorded “Well Well Well” but it is a mix by Godwin Logie ( a reggae producer) that was the release.
Why was Godwin Logie, reggae mixer, brought in to remix the song?
He was keen to do the job, we tried him out. Whoah! I would go along and watch him work, let him get on with it but be there for any questions. He brought that beat to the front. Perfect! Sadly Godwin is no longer with us. If he had been I’d like to have given him more to mix.
At this time drummer Paul Hookham left to join left-wing polsters The Redskins. You auditioned drummers and chose Benny Staples, a Kiwi noted for his funky rhythms. Was this the “fit” you were looking for?
Oh yes. Perfect fit. I didn’t know it until I saw it!
The “It Will Come” single in ’85 had the accompanying home-made video. Did you enjoy making the video?
Oh yes. It’s usually other people taking the place over to film in. This time it was us. Panni made animations and we filmed live and Derek Burbidge pieced it all together.
The album ‘Giant’ of course is my fondest recollection of The Woodentops. Songs like “Get It On”, “Good Thing”, “Give It Time” and “So Good Today” were constantly on my turntable as well as included on many mixed tapes of that era. “Good Thing” – also released as a single – was one of your first compositions from 1983. Why was it not released earlier prior to ‘Giant’?
We demo’d it, although at the time the ending went the other way. It got really dreamy. Then one day, in the early days of Benny’s time with us it built up and worked shockingly well. I can’t remember if I suggested we try that or it just happened in a jam. Either way, soon as we heard it we stuck with it .
What are you personal favorites on the album?
“Get It On” and “Travelling Man” to be honest, all of it. Got my brother’s synth on “History”, the one he made when he was 15. A Jen, from a kit in a magazine. Had a hired martin acoustic for the sessions. A big old thing. Could hit it really hard. Playing that was ace.
You must have been pretty pleased the release was picked up in the US on CBS.
I guess. At the time it just meant we might go there to play. Very exciting. Had never been to the US at the time.
Talk about how a live recording for California radio station KROQ became “Live Hypnobeat Live” and how “Why Why Why” became such a big UK club hit.
We were so busy touring ‘Giant’ there was no time to do any writing or recording. So a live radio broadcast became a live album. “Why Why Why” had not been completed in the Giant sessions. It was the track we ran out of time for. Usually there’s always one! We’d been playing the Spanish coast a lot and a particular young guy Alfredo Fiorito was running and djing nights in Ibiza. He was a fan and saw us getting the whole place bugging out. So the live album came out and he chose to play that song, because of the percussion and acoustic guitar, and of course the beat and chorus. He was one of several DJs then playing that song, mixing it in with other styles. Balearic. It exploded over there we had no idea. However for us it was normal in that our mission was to get a whole place dancing and that’s what we did. We noticed that the mosh pit was become more a get down and boogie pit. We did a secret gig at the Wag Club. Almost a completely different audience. Packed to the gills and dancing like mad. I got a call while in the US from Paul Oakenfold in which he explained we had a massive hit on our hands and must get to Ibiza now! He said there are as many as 10,000 people in these clubs and they go beserk for Why. However this was at that really opening stage of the whole scene. Daft Punk are #1 as I write this! The music business was not focused in this area. I went out at 11 pm and the business people went to bed. So we actually could not get approval and help to get there. I was mad about that at the time. However I’m happy enough to have at least one record in the history books.
Were you surprised there would later be so many dance/trance remixes of the song by the likes of Paul Oakenfold and others?
No. I did one myself! Benny did also.
One of your favorite venues to play was the Loft in Berlin. Recall one night that sticks out in your mind.
It would be hard to recall one. They blend! The Loft was special. It was run by Monica who was an older lady but very artpunk. Super nice and basically looked after all those guys like Nick Cave and Blixa and the crowd of bad boys there. For us it would be around half way in a tour we’d do the long drive to Berlin. The welcome we’d get from her made it feel worth the ride! So nice. The gigs were fairly furious and I remember the backstage filled with musicians and gothy berliners. A very fun time.
Other favorite places you’ve played live?
Ooh. Zenith Barcelona, Big outdoor disco/club in Valencia,The Ica, Glastonbury (not the man stage one), Tokyo, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I live to play live and tour and I enjoy every moment of it.
Your 2nd album ‘Wooden Cops on the Highway’, while not as mainstream as ‘Giant’, had some intriguing guest appearances, in particular Gary Lucas (ex-Captain Beefheart) and Bernie Worrell (founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic). Had you been a fan of these bands?
The band began including sampling and computers with ambient mixes. Did you feel this was a natural, or rather “un-natural” progression for the band and music?
Natural. Our songs were written electronically/manually. Then we played them acoustic. Then it became possible to introduce elements of electronic work actually on stage. We had the first affordable samplers soon as they came out! Great one was the Casio FZ1. Drums went in that one. Emax had a lot of our Casio sounds transferred into it and some of the keyboard motifs and sound effects.
Ok, I have to bring up the cover of the Japanese compilation ‘Wheels Turning’. I take it you would have chosen a different visual to grace the exterior?
Haha, I had no idea about it until I saw one. I was pissed. But it was already out. I was WTF is that? Impaling myself on my Levin guitar was not a daily occurrence!
There have been a few bootleg recordings that have been in circulation for years. Which do you feel really capture the essence of The Woodentops?
I only know of the Loft ones. We were quite unpredictable and shakey in those days. Still trying to get there. So being recorded from the desk, a kind of upside down balance compared to what people in the hall actually hear, it felt like they were a bit inferior. I have both of them. A lot of live cassettes were distrubuted/copied/sold. I even got a few myself to hear how we were doing!
Rolo, you write all of the material yourself, let me ask you where that inspiration comes from. In your writing process do the lyrics come first or the melody?
No rules. Some the words were roughly there, others messing with a drumbeat started it, or a bass line. Of course a few acoustic guitar and word and voice began it. Say “Well Well Well”. “Get It On” sounded like a kind of afro beat mish mash originally. A whole load of drums! “Move Me” was like electro pop! Depeche Mode or something. “Good Thing” was a bass and drums jam..anything to get the thing going! Usually solitude is the key. No solitude=no songs. Lyrical content is usually personally driven. Usually real life experience or story. Very rarely is it political. I’m too stupid to know big answers to the huge questions of national or international function.
Talk about the various producers you’ve worked with.
Dave Balfe, really methodical and bossy. Did a great job on “Plenty”. Really improved it. However we locked him out for the other two songs on the record. Hahah.
Andy Partridge. I, we, loved him.
John leckie. Really got the best of us being us. To me he was a magic man.
Bob Sargeant. A hit maker. Brought with him an awesome engineer John Gallen. It was life in the deep end. High pressure. You were under a microscope. Scary but fun. No time for whining because your fingers hurt. You can’t play it quick, he’ll bring one of his team in and do it.
Scott Litt. Did the live album and ‘Woodenfoot’ with Scott. Still friends and he had the tricky task of having to produce a hit album in USA too as that’s where his pay came from and deliver on time also. Except we were almost without any songs at all to record. I had enforced solitude for a month and a half to write some then straight in. No time for everybody to rehearse and play around a bit. More high pressure than the Giant album! If you are a band doing well you have to be able to work like this. No cozy few years of playing songs. Straight in! Blind!
Ian Tregoning . Ian came from Yello. We started on “Stop This Car” then went on to do a further 3 sessions before doing a whole (double!) album that never saw the light of day.
The band continued playing live until 1992. Did you or do you prefer playing live to recording?
I’m afraid I enjoy both. They both have their perils!
If you could put your finger on it, what would you say really caused the band to break up?
Rough Trade went down. We had played nonstop for 10 years. I couldn’t pay people to sit around waiting. So we kind of agreed to go see what other things we could do in life and get together soonish. We all got involved into whatever we chose to do. We kept in touch of course and the catalyst to playing again was a cd someone sent us of a show 1988 in spain. It was so good it kick started us back to playing.
In the 90’s you wer a part of DJ band Pluto and the Dogs Deluxe electronic project.
What kept you busy at the beginning of the new millennium before the recent One Little Indian retrospective release?
Making club music of varying descriptions under a few different names. Pluto I loved. We played live a few times and that was hot. I got involved with events up in mountains, djing at snowboard events and learnt to board myself. I also found an opening into experimental music for tv and film. I did a lot of that, really interesting stuff. I had creative freedom, a sort of alternative think tank for Boosey and Hawkes.
Now talking about the ‘Before During After’ 3 cd release, was it nice to have Panni Bharti do a cover again?
Oh yes. Pleasing indeed. Keeping up appearances!
Any surprises or rarities you’d like to note on this compilation?
“Keep a Knockin'”, a really long version without the piano I did. Great fun mix. “Tainted World”, probably the most un-Woodentops like track in there. I have memories of watching Kiss FM NYC dj Tony Humphries mashing up the floor at 4am with it. 3 copies on 3 decks. I saw him do it twice at the Ministry of Sound ‘superclub’ in its heyday early 90’s. No other indie band other than the St. Etienne MAW mix of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” got a spot like that. Couple of tracks thought lost, mastered brilliantly from cassette! Arthur Baker’s “Give it Time” or Adrian’s version of same. I was so lucky to find them.
According to your website the new album is almost complete. Very interesting the live retro/futuristic approach to recording. Shed a little light on that process.
It’s not titled yet. It has 12 songs. About 3 we’ve been playing a while. The same formula, songs that were written electronically then I wrote some parts with guitars and sang on them. I made a list of about 24 songs and everybody chipped in and chose what they’d like most to work on. Short list made, then we chipped in together to rent a house for a week down Ashford way, remote so we could bang away at night if we wished. We all moved in together and practiced away. I did a little film about it (a hobby of mine) and popped it in You Tube of course. Then we packed up and moved back to London and straight into Dada Studio Clapham where I used to do a lot of Pluto work. There’s a big room upstairs that is a yoga center. It being bank holiday it was free , so we set the drums up in there. I contacted a friend Ed Chocolate and brought him in with his collection of antique mics to get a more old time sound. More like pre Giant sound. We recorded the drums and basic parts there, oh yes we got snowed in! Perfect! Then over a period of a year 4 more tracks were recorded and back to Dada for vocals/overdubs. I was thinking I was going to personally mix it but an old pal who I’ve never actually worked with, Mike Nielsen offered to get involved. Mike does stuff like Underworld, Jamiraquoi as well as world music and so forth, he’s great. He lives now in Istanbul so I ftp’d everything to him there and went over for a fortnight to work on it with him. One more track to go!
And it’s great you are playing live again back as The Woodentops. Any chance you’ll tour the States?
There is a chance , not sure when. Of course we can’t wait. Like before!
Looking back over the years, what songs are you most proud of?
“Well Well Well”, “Steady Steady”, “Why”, “Heaven”, “Hear Me James”, “Plutonium Rock” , “Everybody”, “Tainted World”, “Move Me” – I’m going to say them all aren’t I? Better stop!
Your thoughts on the current state of the music industry as opposed to earlier on in your career?
Artistically it’s healthy. Full of music. Too much to keep up with! Financially harder than ever. You earn so little from online sales or performance. To do a really full on great show feels as good as it ever did so I am still hopelessly addicted. Therefore the way the business is now makes no change to the good feeling that is generated by a good show.
Rolo, do you have other interests outside of music?
Yeah I ice skate and skateboard. I enjoy making films and editing them. As much as possible I like to travel. Have been to Africa, Asia, USA , Iceland is a fave..
Any books/literature that you’ve read that have impacted your life?
When I was very young a funny little book called ‘Birdy Pop Whistler’. It was about a kid who whistled and his manager getting him to the top of the ‘battle of the bands’. I’m sure that gave me ideas at 7 yrs old!
What about your personal life? Family? Pets?
I have a bit of a tricky family personal life, made so by the musical obsession. I do have two daughters who live close by. I’m not with their mother which is ok as we get on and work together on their happiness and I spend as much time as possible with them. Although a pram in the hallway is the enemy of the artist I’m hugely grateful to have these two awesome characters in my life.
Finally, what’s on the horizon for Rolo McGinty? Any other projects – musical or otherwise – in the works?
No, just the attention needed to the ‘anthology’ and the final stages of the new body of work. We are looking to be playing a lot more in September. I’m very much looking forward to that.
I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted anything, but I’m proud to announce (although a bit belated) the release of the long awaited cd release from The Deddingtons (see interview with Chris Morgan and Chris King). The cd actually came out in June and Mr. Morgan was nice enough to send me a copy and include a very nice “thank you” to yours truly for posting the song “The Last Day” on YouTube.
Tom Hartman is known primarily as the ex-singer/composer/guitarist of The Aerovons, the St. Louis based band who flew to London in 1969 to record an album “Resurrection” for EMI, only to be shelved for 32 years and given an official release in 2003. Being an avid fan of The Beatles with a dream to record at Abbey Road and with a mother as business manager, Tom’s life has been a very unique and fascinating adventure which I’m sure you’ll find by reading the following interview. “World of You”
Tom, first off, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me and conduct this interview.
I always like to begin an interview with recollections of childhood. From what I gather yours was a fairly happy one?
Yes and no. From a family perspective yes, my parents took care of us well with much love and attention. But my Dad was always trying to find a better way to make money so we moved a lot. I was always the new kid. I went to many schools and we went back and forth between St. Louis and Florida (which my Mom loved) a lot. So I would just get situated and make friends, etc, and then we’d move again. So in that sense, I was kind of a lonely kid I guess. It made me sink deeper into music though, because that was friend I would never lose.
What fond memories do you have of Pompano Beach?
Pompano Beach was one of the high points. I had come down here from dark, snowy, cold St. Louis to sunny Florida. The school was open, in that in between classes you would walk out in the “hall” and be outside in the sun, walking to your next class. It’s where I really started putting my first little band together, and where I got my first serious guitar. It was a wonderful time, I still remember driving with my Mother toward the beach one sunny day and hearing “This is brand new by The Beatles!” on WQAM and they played “Eight Days A Week.” The happy sound of that song pretty much sums up my time in Pompano.
Your family has always been pretty tight knit, as well as a strong circle of friends. That support net must have meant a lot to you not only growing up but in your musical aspirations as well.
My Mother supported my musical desires early on. Mainly in the form of buying me records even when I was about 6, that I would play in my bedroom for hours. I was in love with the sound of guitars on records by The Everly Brothers and Rick Nelson, etc. They had me on piano lessons at 5 or 6 but I didn’t take to them well, I wanted to just play on the piano and make up my own things, which they also encouraged.
Your mother was a singer. Why did your grandmother not encourage her to pursue singing as a career?
My Grandmother was just being careful I guess. My Mom had been invited to go on the road with a very good Benny Goodman style band but it was felt she was too young. It was probably true, but Mom had a really, really pretty voice. I didn’t realize how nice until I grew up and heard some old tapes of her singing stuff like “Summertime.”
Mom, Maurine Hartman, must have been some kind of special lady. What is the “pink center” to which she referred and how did this come back to play a central theme in not only your musical adventures, but your life?
You were brought up in a musically inclined family. You and your sister Carole were raised in classical music. Talk about your training and Carole’s scholarship to Tampa University.
Carole was a wizard on piano. I grew up listening to her playing concertos on sunny Summer afternoons, and doing endless scales and exercises. We actually had a Steinway Model M (kind of their medium size) in our living room, crammed in there. When Carole would be done I’d get on the bench and start fiddling around. Then back to my room to listen to “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley” or something. There was always music in the house. My sister did get a scholarship, but ended up feeling like she wanted something all her own, that she discovered, and that was not music, but instead, the airlines. She ended up as flight attendant for Eastern for almost 30 years.
Are you and your sister still close today?
Absolutely, she lives a few miles from us and I we speak daily and I see her about twice a month. We’re all so busy it’s hard to find time.
Back to your mother. I think she’s the kind of mom that most of us would loved to have had, supportive and encouraging your dreams and aspirations. Later on with your band, The Aerovons she would actually be your business manager. Great to have a manager you could trust to have your best interests at heart.
Well yeah she just couldn’t have been more supportive. Probably because she wanted to make sure she didn’t repeat the non encouragement from her Mom…..so she got me my first guitar, then after the teacher told her I was kind of a natural, she got my first electric, etc. She made sure I had what I needed musically whenever she could. She became the business manager almost by accident. She heard one of the early incarnations of The Aerovons at practice one day, and we were all talking about how great it would be if we could get on “The Last Train To Clarksville,” which as a local promotion in St Louis, where the city’s top bands would be set up in train cars….a different one in each car….and the train would leave St Louis for Clarksville, Mo, and return all in one afternoon. Tough to get in. She offered to try to get us in (we were a new, unknown band) and I kind of said “Oh Mom, you don’t understand, nobody knows us, this is for the big local names.” The guys said “Hey, let her try man!.” So of course, she got us in, and from then on started booking us.
I learned that just because someone is your Mom, or friend, or whatever, doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to do something you thought you need a professional to accomplish. We were all really impressed with how she got it done. My Mom was just able to talk her way into anything.
Aerovons – the name of a local band that you admired. So these guys had no problem with you taking their name?
That was part of Pompano. The guy who started the band, Chuck Kirkpatrick, is a dear friend to this day. They were the first “pro” band I ever heard. Absolutely crazy to me. Great harmony, jangling guitars, I used to stand in front of Chuck (lead guitar) all night and watch and listen while girls asked me if I wanted to dance. When I moved back to St Louis Chuck wrote and told me his band broke up, and he was starting a new one with a different name. So he didn’t mind, in fact was flattered.
Talk a little about the formation of the band and different personalities involved.
The first Aerovons band was formed when I was 14, in 10th grade at Bayless Senior High in St. Louis. I had found a few people at school, and we managed to play a few pool parties. Then I replaced the rhythm player with Bob Frank, who is still a friend, and who was pivotal in getting the group really sounding good. So Bob, Gary (drums), Brian (bass) and myself started playing high school dances. We practice at each others houses, except for mine since I lived in an apartment until we could find a house, having just come back from Florida. Soon we rented a house and everything moved there…where the band developed over the next few years, and eventually where we wrote everything on the album, after some more member changes.
St. Louis, Missouri in the mid to late 60’s. A relative hot bed of rock music, huh?
Very musical town, just not my kind of music. Very SOUL based, a lot of bands like Bob Kuban with brass, white kids trying to be black. Not my thing;)
What were some of the early gigs you played? And how did the audiences respond?
Well we mainly played school dances. No DJs then….all live bands. The kids loved us. We were very professional. We had two strips of lights my Dad built in front of us, that sat shooting up on us in the front of the stage. In between songs, the lights would go out, there would be silence, and then BANG!….into the next song. We were like a machine eventually. Really good. It came me a LOT of practice.
Early on you guys played a lot of Beatles cover tunes. Which ones were your favorites to play?
Well let me think. I loved playing some of the off the beaten track numbers, like “I Don’t Want to Spoil The Party,” which we did well. And we often opened with “I Feel Fine.” We also played “All I’ve Got To Do” which was another good one you don’t hear much. And George’s “I Need You.”
“I’m A Loser,” and “Eight Days A Week” were other faves. We did “Good Day Sunshine,” “Taxman,” good grief we did a lot of them. We actually did “A Day in The Life” in club in London and got a standing ovation. Never forget that!
Your mom, having a good business sense, realized you needed a demo of an original song to tout to the record companies and radio stations. “World of You” was chosen as that song. Talk about how the idea behind that song and how it was composed.
A friend had an old piano and offered it to us. We managed to get it into the basement where rehearsed and I started banging away on it. My childhood piano lessons kind of came back to me, and I started playing that riff and next thing you know “World of You” was born. I was thinking that when you fell in love it was both new and exciting, but also a bit scary. You ARE a stranger there after all….it takes you by surprise and you’re not sure what’s next. Kind of like “This is new, scary, exciting, and I have to watch my footing, because if I slip, it’s back to the old world of emptiness.” I’ve always been a bit too dramatic about everything I suppose.
Were there many choices of local recording studios at that time?
No, just two mainly, an expensive more well known place called “Technisonic,” and another small one called “Premier.” We took that because it was cheaper.
What did the “older” engineers think of Aerovons compared with the musicians and styles in which they were used to working?
Oh I think they got a kick out of these long haired kids and their Mom. They had little idea what to do, but they did their job.
Although you had a scratchy throad, how do you feel the recording session went overall?
It was exciting to be in a real studio, but I didn’t know enough to suggest how to make it better. I thought it was very cool but I heard all the bad things on playback and thought “How come it doesn’t sound professional enough, like the records on the radio?” That kind of thing.
Nice touch using the cello player. Your idea? From the classical influence?
Yes I wanted strings. I love strings. To this day. I love orchestration. Whenever someone hears something and says “Oh that’s overproduced” I usually like it😉 When I was a kid I would go to the movies and the scores would just give me chills. French horns, strings. It sounded epic to me. So I wanted a taste of that. A touch of class as it were.
A rep from Capitol Records called a couple of weeks showing interest. But you turned him down in favor of recording at Abbey Road in London. So the old “bird in the hand” adage didn’t cross your mind? Pretty bold manouever there for a unsigned band.
Yeah I shudder to think now. But I really wanted to go to England and record where The Beatles did. I felt like there was magic there. I felt like it would seem like home to me for some weird reason. And it did.
The risk paid off as the Capitol guy gave you the name of a Roy Featherstone at EMI in London.
And a meeting was set up with Roy, right?
Yes. We got there and played the demo for someone named John something, and he smiled and took us up to Roy’s office. Roy was a warm, wonderful guy and he just loved it. He thought it was great someone from the States wanted to come to record there! “All our groups want to go to America” he laughed.
What was the reaction of everyone that you would be going to England to record?
Stunned. At the end of our last gig, instead of saying “Thanks for coming tonight, next week we’ll be appearing at the such and such club,” I got up and said “Thanks coming….this is our last live show until we return from London, England, where we will be recording for awhile.” Everyone’s eyes got really big.
You flew to London. Talk about your first impressions once you arrived. Did you do any shopping on Carnaby Street? How were the locals? Did any think you were English or in a band?
I thought it was amazing. All the stuff you had seen on TV and in books. Right there. We shopped at Carnaby Street and Kings Road, and did the whole thing. Walked around in pink bell bottoms (I still HAVE THEM!). It was cold, the food was awful, and it was exciting as hell. We heard music we had never heard. The people were great. They walked everywhere. We’d say “We want to go to such and such, do we need a taxi?” and someone would laugh and say “Heaven’s no, just go to the next block, turn right and you’re right there.” Yeah well, you would turn right and have to walk about ten blocks in the cold….THEN you were right there. Those people were tough;)
In the meeting with Roy Featherstone, he thinks it’s odd that an American band would travel to England to record since most British bands were trying to make it big in America. What were your thoughts on that?
It’s the whole grass is greener thing. In reality the studio doesn’t matter as much as the producer and engineer. I didn’t know that then. There WAS certainly magic at EMI, but there was magic wherever The Beatles recorded, they still always sounded like The Beatles. I should have realized that then.
The arrangement was made for you to return home and write as much new material as you could and then return to actually record. Did the long period of time test your patience or phase the band in any way?
No not at all. We had something BIG to look forward to, and we spent the Winter in the basement writing. Sometimes I think we thought it was SO FAR away that we probably lost focus. But not very much. We pretty much worked every night or every other night, ’til the wee hours of the morning.
Before leaving you got to meet Paul McCartney at a club called The Speakeasy. Were you guys believing this was happening?
We had heard it was club where celebrities hung out. When we found out he was there we sat and waited and finally saw him. It was the most unreal experience in my life to walk up and speak with him. Just like seeing a spaceship land in your backyard at night. Fortunately he put us at ease. Very funny, relaxed and kind. I said “No one is going to believe this when we get home” and he said “Ah well, but now you’ve got this!” and handed me back the autograph he was signing. It’s still right here on my wall from that night.
Later you took a tour of Abbey Road studios and happened upond George Harrison. Relate how you saw him in the control room and “coaxed” him down and the visit that ensued.
Well Mal Evans was giving us a studio tour, to show us around. When we looked up we could see a figure looking down at us. We were all dressed in our newly acquired Carnaby Street clothing so I guess we caught his eye. I said “Is that George?” and Mal said “Yes.”
“Do you think he’d have a minute to come down?” I asked.
“Oh he’s very busy right now…” said Mal. He then went on pointing out things in the studio. I looked up, figured what the heck, and motioned with my hand to “COME DOWN.” He immediately walked away from the window. Then the door opened at the top of the steps, he looks out, and says, “Are you with a magazine? (probably seeing my Mom with a camera).
“No, we’re just a band that’s going to be recording here,” I said.
“Oh alright” said George, and proceeded down the steps to meet us. Another saucer lands in the backyard.
You actually got to sit in with a band, The New Formula, for a few songs at a club called Hatchets. The band told you that as a rule English groups would not play Beatles’ material. Was this just out of respect?
I think so, I think it was like “untouchable” or “hallowed ground” for some weird reason. We played a Bee Gees tune I think, and we played “A Day in The Life.” They really liked us. I thought we sounded bad because we weren’t using our gear, and the band, The New Formula, was really good. They were doing stuff like “Reflections” by The Supremes.
Through this whole experience at the time you were still so in awe of The Beatles, still huge fans, that your own imminent recording session just had not really sunk in, right?
It was always on our mind that we might see them there, but we had no idea that we actually WOULD. We really thought there was a chance, but no we did look forward to the recording sessions, very much.
In fact, the worst news for you was that pictures taken with George Harrison were overexposed. At least one picture was salvaged, correct? Do you still have that photo?
Yes that photo is on our website, and is still with me. My Mom actually got some lab that did work for the FBI to salvage it. We were so heartbroken, but glad that at least one came out.
On your second trip to England in August of ’68 you had a meeting with Dick Rowe who wanted to set you up with Tony Clarke, producer of The Moody Blues. You did get to meet The Moody Blues. Very funny how you were caught unawares when Justin Hayward asked you if you smoked!
Yeah I was very naive. They were nice guys. I was just kind of embarrassed when I realized he was asking me if I wanted a joint after asking me “Do you smoke?” …oh boy. But they were fine about it.
And you also got to meet a band you had long admired, The Hollies, even going with them to a pub. To top it off you got to jam with them on the song “On A Carousel”. How was that experience?
Well that was simply amazing. Tony Hicks was tremendous. I was so nervous I forgot the chords and he yelled them out to me until I recovered. Funny.
Back home in the Winter of ’68 you set out to write songs in your homemade studio which was a laundry room in the basement of your house? Small quarters huh?
It was actually a large basement, where we had the stage kind of setup. But when we went to record, we wanted it more “dead” and isolated so we moved into the little laundry room. I have no idea how we fit in there. It was just like what The Beatles did when they recorded “Yer Blues,” come to think of it.
There were also a couple of personnel changes that took place. For the best?
Yes and no. We lost Bob, as he was afraid he was going to be drafted, and was also very serious about a girl. So we got a replacement at the last minute, Phil Edholm, who didn’t work out. Nice guy, but not really a good fit.
Finally in 1969 you returned to England to record the album “Resurrection”. I won’t ask you to go over the details of the recording session as the reader can go to your website here http://www.aerovons.com/aerovons_main.html for that account. I will ask you how you liked working with Alan Parsons and Geoff Emerick.
Both were great, Emerick was a quiet gentlemen, and Alan was a funny mad scientist type. Great ideas, lots of joking, lots of talent. I still am in touch with him, when he comes to town we get together backstage at his shows. Really wonderful still to know him.
Once the album was recorded you say you were numb and that you missed home. So it would be a little while til it all soaked in?
I did miss home. I missed the food, and my house, etc. There was nothing left to do there, and now the wait for its release would begin. It would be a 30 + year wait.
Just when it did start to hit you that you had a full length album under your belt, things went south in a hurry. Not to bring up old wounds, but the band began to splinter for different reasons and EMI did not release the album. Looking back now, do you feel it was all meant to be? Things happened for a reason?
I think that had we gotten a hit or two the money would be long gone. So the experience of what I did is what counts. Meeting The Beatles, learning about recording from the greats, that’s a nice start to your career.
Do you think you were more disappointed in the outcome than your mom was?
I think I would have been had I not fallen deeply in love with a girl when I got back. When I look back, I realize that she was just taking the place of my band, which I had learned to rely on as friends, support, etc. It’s almost like I didn’t think about the album anymore. Strange.
Without a band, you and your mom got in touch with Mike Post to record the single “Sunshine Woman”. From what I gather, you’re not exactly overly fond of that song and experience?
It was great experience with Mike, I learned a lot from him. He’s a monster. He influenced me greatly. I still follow advice he gave me back then even today. But the song was OK, I just can’t sing that kind of thing. So I hate how I sound on it.
Was it at this time you came to realize your talents were more suited to be an arranger and composer rather than a solo artist?
I think I always knew that. I think deep down I knew that I had everything going for me but a strong voice, and you really have to have that as an artist. If not a great voice, then a unique voice, like Neil Young or Randy Newman. I didn’t have that.
In hindsight, do you feel you may have been a little too young at 17 to go through this whole band/signing/recording experience?
Yes. I think I needed more songwriting experience to be sure, but then again, many groups start like that. Back then, companies would give you more of a chance. They might let you do two or three albums to grow. So I think we would have grown, and gotten more savvy had we had the chance. Our biggest problem was I was not concentrating on writing singles. I was writing SONGS. That’s nice but you need hits.
You chose to go to school, moved to Miami and graduated from the University of Miami.
Yes I actually wanted to go to USC Film School but they were filled up. I would have had a one year wait. I heard UM had a new film department and I could get in, and with our Florida history we just said “OK let’s go for it.”
Talk about how you got into writing music for TV, radio and films.
That old love of movie scores, as I mentioned, was still always with me. So I did a student film at UM, scored it, and that got the attention of people whow started hiring me to do TV and radio spots.
Fast forward 32 years later and you get a phone call from one Kieron Tyler, an English music journalist. What did you think when he mentioned his interest in getting EMI to finally release “Resurrection”?
I thought it was great, but then I thought, “Do I want people to hear this thing? It really has a lot of problems…” but since it was being bootlegged, I felt it would be nice to have a real release done well.
And EMI did just that in 2003 on RPM Records. Could you believe after all those years it had finally come to fruition?
I wish my Mom had been alive. She would have been so proud. I get emails from all over, from even young kids, saying “Hey just heard your album, fantastic!” etc. So it was actually worth it all after all. It just took awhile.
What about all the fan mail and letters you’ve received from all over the world? What does it feel like to be have that kind of cult following and renewed interest in the album?
I respond to each one and thank them profusely. It’s hard to believe that something you did is appreciated so many decades later. Heck, I know it’s faults, and there are many, but all in all, I own albums from the Sixties by groups with hits, and other than the hit, their albums are no better really.
I did read on your “News And Updates” section on your website that as of 2008 I believe you may be working on a follow up LP? Any updates on that?
I have been working on it FOREVER. It’s become kind of a joke that it may never get done. But you know, what I DO have done, sounds really good. Doesn’t sound like an old guy or some half baked material. It’s very strong. That’s why it’s taking so long, I keep throwing things out. This time I’d like to hear the album all the way through with cringing once. So far that is happening. “Stopped!”
Back to reality Tom, you now work as a freelance music producer and composer and are married with 5 kids. Share a little (or lot) of the family situation as well as how busy work is keeping you.
I get hired to do TV spots, and I get hired to do all manner of things, even karaoke, which I did a couple of soundalike tracks for someone once, and now I have people coming to me all the time saying “Could you do a track of such and such for us?” ….really funny.
My kids are all over, from age 8 to 20. All totally different. Several are very musical. My son Tommy is great on guitar, Jonny is picked up bass last year and is just rockin’ on it, Lea plays piano and is just amazing. She’s my Beatles buddy, as she’s the one who will come up and say “Dad, what day is it?” and I”ll say….”Uh…..” and she’s say “DAD….it’s PAUL’S BIRTHDAY!” ….that kind of thing.
I feel very blessed to be alive and kicking, doing music daily, and having people like yourself kind enough to show interest in what I did …all those years ago.
Thank you too so much, and I will let you know when the album is ready. At this point it might shrink to an EP if I ever want people to hear it. Will keep you posted.
Lastly, thanks again Tom for taking time out of your schedule to do this and my best wishes to you and your family and all the Aerovons/Tom Hartman fans out there!
Recording as “Eden” and “All Things Unseen”, and with German band Place4Tears, ex-Soft Machine’s Daevid Allen, Peter Daltrey of Kaleidoscope, and Love Spirals Downwards’ Ryan Lum…who is the “uncommon” denominator weaving his thread of otherworldly resonance throughout the above list? Meet Sean Bowley, ethereal troubadour and guide to your dreams. Sean believes music should transcend the mundane and pain of everyday existence and lift the listener to a place that is uniquely all their own. To quote Sean,“I love music – every day I listen to music, think about music, dream about music. I yearn to be at home with my hi-fi and guitars. I love to sit with my instruments and tinker with my amplifiers and guitar pedals in the quest for another ethereal expression or nuance. I’m at home in my world filled with music. It’s my true home. Without it I truly would not know what to do.” “Suantraide” mp3
Well Sean, first off thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Let’s go back to the beginning, in what city were you hatched? Relate some of your fondest memories of childhood.
I was born in a country town, called Bairnsdale, around three hours drive from Melbourne, lush green farming land with a beautiful river flowing to one side of the town. Visiting the ivy clad river banks and dreaming beneath the trees that lined that river features highly in the cannon of my early childhood. My earliest recollection of the magic known as music is connected with Bairnsdale. I’m around three years old and playing in my Nana’s back garden. Somewhere nearby there is a radio and I can hear the eastern flavoured guitar hook in the Rolling Stones song “Mother’s Little Helper”. The modulated ethereal nature of that guitar sound literally struck a chord in a special place and opened the door to what would become the eastern tinged personality of my guitar playing. I do recall that the setting for my early childhood years was completely magical and I feel that I was born into the most appropriate part of the twentieth century for the formation of my personality.
My childhood taught me that it was pointless to compromise a dream as creativity is freedom from restriction.
What do remember as your first interest in music? Any albums/45’s that began your record collection?
My first record was the 45rpm “Strawberry Fields” EP by the Beatles. Somehow I received this as a child in the 70’s. Musically speaking I have always ‘driven down the other side of the street’. At school I was one of a small group of teenage musical odd bods who were walking around school with an overflowing bag of records by such luminaries as The Electric Prunes, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Doors, The Ramones, Sham 69, The Buzzcocks and many others. Most of the kids listening to what was more or less underground music were a couple of years older than me. I was the younger guy hanging out with the older musically hip kids. Underground or public FM radio broadcasting was a huge way of discovering music back then, really it was the doorway to the new music emerging from the UK. From the radio and hanging out with the older school kids I began to hear about Melbourne’s incredibly interesting music scene that existed in the 1980’s. There were many interesting Melbourne bands back then. The undisputed kings of that music scene were The Birthday Party. As a teenager I was only partially interested in the underground music of that era. My big thing at that age was music from the 1960’s. One evening while listening to the radio everything changed. The best public radio station back then was 3RRR FM. The dj’s were a very charismatic lot and were totally into the music they played. The major enigma among these dj’s was ‘Bohdan X’ the front man of the infamous Melbourne Punk Band – “JAB”. I was listening to his radio show and a song came on which essentially changed my life. That song was the Unknown Pleasures version of “She’s Lost Control” by Joy Division. The opening bars of the song immediately grabbed my interest. All of a sudden I was listening to this incredible droning eastern raga like riff tied down with a repetitive hypnotic mechanical rhythm. And then that icy Morrisonesque vocal crept in with its accompanying flotilla of backing vocal work which sounded something like Gregorian chant sung backwards down a long piece of metal tubing. This music was cathartic – there was something vibrational about it; I could feel it resonating inside me. I had found my perfect music – a music I could truly love and be inspired by. In the coming months I tracked down every seven and twelve inch vinyl release that Joy Division had released. When I first heard “Transmission” it had the same effect as “She’s Lost Control” – an incredibly haunted and ethereal slice of moodiness. ‘Closer’ was easily equal to “Unknown Pleasures”. The first LP, to me, seemed to convey a haunted vision of life in urban city scapes. The second LP felt like it was coming out of the aether – especially ”Heart & Soul” and the two closing tracks on side two.
From Joy Division I found my way to The Birthday Party’s first LP – now often called’ Hee-Haw’, though at the time ‘Hee-Haw” was a separate 12 inch EP. On a humorous note at first I thought that the Birthday Party sounded somewhat like a drunken Joy Division. Joy Division’s music was angular and of a stark meticulous nature. The Birthday party’s music could also be ethereal though it roared and writhed…the lyrical subject was surreal as opposed to Joy Division’s pure introspection. The first Birthday Party record that stopped me in my tracks was the 7 inch single of “The Friend Catcher”. That sonorous other-worldly guitar , courtesy of Mr Rowland S.Howard. Rowland to my mind is the most charismatic individual to have graced Melbourne’s stages. He is Cohen, Cash and Charles Baudelaire rolled into one huge mother load of talent. I had the good fortune of crossing paths with him on several occasions and the absolute pleasure of sharing the stage (gig line –ups) with him in the late 1990’s. He was certainly an example, mentor, fellow musician and an acquaintance. We exchanged humorous banter via various phone conversations, back stage and on the odd occasion when he stopped by my apartment. We shared similar interests and appreciations. I do regret that I did not get to know him better. It was an astounding moment when one night back stage when he commented on my playing and how I was able to do something unique with the 12 string and that he dug it. Obviously I shared this sentiment in regard to his guitar playing. Rowland had been a prime mover in igniting my creative spirit when I was a teenager. Receiving favourable compliment from him compliment favourably in regard to my playing was a high point in my musical career.
At what age did you really start taking an interest in creating your own music? What was the first instrument you picked up? Did you take lessons or were you self taught?
I started writing music when I was fifteen. Essentially I began writing crude songs and instrumentals within a few days of owning my first guitar. This was partially because I was untrained and unable to play songs written by other people. I began to make up my own songs; gently experiment with the guitar to see what I could discover. That process has continued to the present day. I have never had any guitar lessons, I’ve never known what note I am playing or what key I am in. For the most part I make up my own chords. I have a poor sense of timing and I do not count while I play. I think about the melody or the mood and not the timing. That said I have developed a sense of pseudo timing which for the most part keeps me in the right place at the right time.
Musical education never ends as it is always a process of discovery. The band I played in before Eden which was “All Things Unseen” was where I learned how to play with other musicians. We were teenagers all more or less starting out in our first band. We all loved alternative music and we were deeply immersed in Melbourne’s alternative culture. To us, there would have been no other culture. We would go and see bands like The Birthday Party, Laughing Clowns or Dead Can Dance play at the Seaview Ballroom St Kilda on a Friday and Saturday nights. After the gigs we would go back to our rehearsal room and sleep on big piles of clothes on the floor. The following morning we would simply stand up, light up a cigarette and start rehearsing. Music was our world 110%. We would see a gig by a given band, be inspired by the performance and write a new song because we were on fire. It was an exhilarating time. I am most grateful for all the fun creative times I had when I was in my teens and early 20’s.
My first instrument was a very inexpensive second hand Japanese made electric guitar. It was considered a relic when I bought it. A crappy cheap guitar was what it was deemed to be. Many years later I discovered that it was the same type of cheap Japanese guitar that Robert Smith had when he was starting out. When The Cure became a legitimate band and his manager urged him to buy a Fender Jazzmaster, Robert removed one of the pick-ups from his el- cheapo Japanese guitar and had it mounted between the Jazzmaster’s two pick-ups. He did this because he loved the sound of the pick up’s in the el-cheapo Japanese guitar. From what I remember that guitar actually did have a distinctive sound. In actuality the guitar was a piece of crap and I have no interest in owning another one of those…lol. My current 6 string guitar which is a 1961 Fender Jazzmaster is worlds above any other guitar I have owned.
Talk about the music scene in and around Melbourne at this period in your life.
Sadly I have completely lost touch with Melbourne’s music scene. I have faith that there are still interesting things going on as that’s how it should be. This said I doubt that there is much that is glittering and golden out there. In actuality there never was. In my lifetime, Melbourne’s most creative music scene existed in the 1980’s. Since then the returns diminished with each passing year. Not to mention that the size of the live music scene has continually dwindled due to the increasing gentrification of the inner city areas which were once havens for artists, musicians, migrants and workers on lower incomes. The areas of Melbourne that were areas of flourishing bohemian activity are now home to city based career professionals who can afford to buy into what has become exceedingly valuable real estate. That said – flowers grow in the most unlikely places. There will always be something special happening ; usually hidden away in a place where you would least expect something to be happening.
So basically there were not any local bands that were playing the kind of music that you appreciated.
It’s been a long time since I have thought about the Melbourne’s music scene circa 1988 when Eden began to play live. From what I remember there was still a decent sized audience for underground bands though yes most of the bands were I guess what you could describe as Alternative Rock in format. This is the problem with a given city’s music scene. The scene can stagnate to one where “what is popularly perceived to be cool can actually be incredibly boring”. So in short, yes we did not relate to other Melbourne bands. We could not get what we needed from the music of others so we created our own music to fill that need. We genuinely believed there was not and should not be any limitation placed upon creative vision. Obviously this attitude insured that we remained outside the music scene’s hierarchy. We had to build our own musical world. Fortunately there were plenty of people at the time who wanted to come and see us play. Our live shows attracted a decent sized audience. We gleaned decent attention from the street press and the size of the live audience increased. I can remember some very crowded shows at the Punter’s club in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. To sum up – Eden were a part of the music scene but did not relate to the Melbourne music scene. We did not consider or think about the music around us. We were not influenced by other local bands.
Your first actual band was All Things Unseen. Nice name. On your website you talk about this group of musicians quite fondly saying it was really nice working with a group of friends. What a unique experience that must have been.
Looking back it could be said that “All Things Unseen” was a unique experience. Like Eden we were writing and playing music which did not typically represent Melbourne. Sonically All Things Unseen was closer to The Cocteau Twins or Lowlife than Eden was. We were a four piece band; drums, bass, ARP Omni Strings keyboard and guitars/vocals. We used a lot of modulated delay effects on bass, guitars and keyboards. Carl Carter, William Carter, Ingo Weiben and myself were very close friends. We would rehearse three or four times a week plus go to clubs and venues on the weekends. We spent a lot of time “hanging out” together. I truly miss that high level of comraderie. It was a very special time. We were at the height of our creative and musical ability circa 1985 – 87.
It’s interesting you felt you reached your “creative height” with your “strongest songs” in 1985. I’ve always been of the impression that 1985 was the best year for alternative music.
1985 was an incredible year! Certainly one of the most wonder filled years of my life. In that year I didn’t so much reach my creative height; it was more like I began to write music and lyrics of much higher quality and crafting. I was at university undertaking a double major in Archaeology and Anthropology. I enjoyed my studies. I became fascinated with cosmology and the varied and different perceptions/interactions that various cultures had with the unseen world. One of my major’s concerned witchcraft and sorcery in Melanesia. I loved reading about the tribal Shaman and their journeys into the unseen world and their quest to bring meaning to the seen via communion with the unseen. A few years later I would develop a similar fascination with the western earth mysteries i.e. The Arthurian mythos and its incredibly rich tapestry of symbolism which has lingered in western culture up until the present day. Something else I received from my time as an Anthropology student was a deepening interest in the power of dreams and symbols on both a cultural and individual level. I loved the writings and research of Carl Jung. For a time I enjoyed the work of Claude Levi-Strauss. Many of the fascinating things I studied began to find their way into my music and lyrics in 1985. Songs such as “Dusk for the Dancers” or “Guardian of the Flutes” concerned Shamanism and taking the rite of passage into the unseen world. More importantly these songs concerned freedom and liberation of the spirit via faith’s ability to transcend belief systems. This theme kept maturing and eventually Eden had cd releases with titles such as “Gateway to the Mysteries” and “Wearyall”. A lot of the music I have written has focussed on being “beyond self”. The other style I work in has been one of pure introspection. i.e. “Fire & Rain”, “Earthbound” or “Midnight Sun”. I have oscillated between these two themes as they have been central in my personal journey.
Eden formed in 1988. Did you come up with the name?
I remember the frustration we went through in trying to find a name for the group. We spent three or four days writing down lists of names in the attempt to come up with something. The name “Eden” kind of eventuated after this intense filtration process. It was the fruit of an agonizing think-tank and I do not believe it was any single person’s specific idea. It was a word among many other words that made it through the selection process.
What other bands were your contemporaries in Australia at the time?
There were plenty of contemporaries but no one you could accurately compare us to. The late 80’s was a state of flux. There were still bands from the mid 80’s floating around and we played a few shows sharing the bill with some of them. Most of these bands I can’t remember. Our first gig was with a friend’s band – “Captain Cocoa”. They were an upbeat good time band with a ska based flavour. I went to University with Glen and Dave O’Neil – two brothers who founded that band in 1983. It was very kind of them to help out and assist Eden in beginning to develop a reputation on the live scene. When Eden was starting out, the Melbourne Bands I had once loved had either broken up or moved overseas.
Again referring to your website you mentioned you had a hard time finding the right engineers and producers to get the sound you wanted on the EP “The Light Between Worlds”. Did you consider travelling to England to record?
We did not consider travelling to England to record. Professional 24 track recording was a very expensive proposition back in 1988. Obviously 1988 was before the era when home recording became an option. We self financed the recording of “The Light Between Worlds”. I had not had any previous experience with professional recording. In the eighties, Melbourne bands did not usually have the opportunity to record unless they were signed to a record company as recording time cost a premium. Because none of us had had any previous professional recording experience I felt that we would be more likely to get an excellent result if we choose to record at a studio which was widely used by Melbourne bands. The theory being that a well known studio would be capable of producing some audio magic for us. Sadly I could not have been more mistaken. Looking back, obviously after now having experienced many years of professional recording working with incredibly good gear I am quite shocked when I recall the first recording experience. The quality of their recording console was fairly average and they literally had no outboard microphone preamps etc. They did not even have a reverb unit. All they had was a single AMS digital delay. OK the AMS is a classic but we didn’t need a delay. The Eden sound required reverb: Lexicon digital reverb to be precise. We spent four days in this “professional” studio expecting to come out with a completed EP. We were wrong – we came out with one finished track – being the instrumental “Dark Beneath Trees”. The other tracks were in various stages of completion. We were extremely disappointed with the first 24 track recording experience. In short – we were amazed at how badly the session went and that not only did we not have a finished EP in hand – we were $3,500 poorer. We certainly did not get value for money…lol. The producer believed that he understood our music and how to translate our vision – if he did he was unable to do so during the sessions. In hindsight it was obvious that this studio did not have the expertise or hardware that we needed for our sound.
After licking our wounds we booked ourselves into a different 24 track studio. We spent another three days in the studio. This session was far more fruitful as we completed the “Light Between Worlds”.
Is this what lead you to think “hey maybe we should try our own hands at producing the material ourselves”?
You hit the nail on the head! We were so incredibly amazed at the belligerent attitude of the producers towards our recorded work. Particularly because they had forced their decisions upon us resulting in our recordings sounding less ethereal than we wanted them to be. Eden’s music was not only uncommon in the Australian live music scene; it was also uncommon in the Australian recording studio.
So yes after two disappointing experiences in the studio we came to see that we had to produce or at the very least co-produce our recording sessions.
I did not know you signed to Nightshift Records, the home of Lowlife – a band I have long admired.
Even before we signed to an indie label in Australia we were first released on Nightshift records in Scotland. We too were fans of Lowlife’s music. I bought my first Lowlife LP in 1986 – being “Diminuendo”. One of the very best things that came to me during our time with Nightshift was having the opportunity to become friends with Will Heggie (Lowlife’s Bass player). Will’s obviously a great bass player. In a way it was quite surreal to become friends with the guy who wrote that amazing bass part on “Wax and Wane”. Being a song that my previous group – “All Things Unseen” would occasionally jam on at rehearsal. Will had a lot of heart. He was a very rare personality in that he was exceedingly supportive in his role at Nightshift. He had this thing about him. He was always an incredibly easy person to get along with. Definitely my kind of person. It’s a shame he lives on the other side of the world as he is one of the very few musicians I have met whom I could relate to. He was very complimentary toward my guitar playing and we did intend to write and record something together. Sadly that did not fall into place due to distance and the defeatist attitude of the record company.
Talk about your promo visit to the UK in 1990. Why did you feel British music was on the decline?
The visit to the UK in 1990 was a gas. I enjoyed most of it. I remember being incredibly excited when the Jumbo Jet was landing at Heathrow. It was very early morning and the sun had not come up yet. I was looking down at the city lights and thinking – Wow I am in London! Visiting England can be a special experience for Australians as our heritage is heavily linked to the UK – Oz being part of the Commonwealth etc. In my Childhood, I was heavily exposed to the tales of merry old England. The topography of my imagination was littered with visions of longships buried in barrows, Roman Britain, The Magic faraway Tree, The Children of Greeneknow, The Wishing Chair, The Water Babes etc. So many magical stories from England which were somehow a natural and meaningful part of the world I grew up in. Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson were alive and well in the leafy gardens and hedges of the Edwardian style home I grew up in. Rooftop terracotta dragons and gargoyles watched over me and my childhood while I played “make believe” in the gardens of my dreams.
But England and the English were not the people I had imagined them to be. London was fascinating but it was also a hard edged place. The UK culturally speaking was quite different to Australia. I must have thought that Australian and English people would be similar in nature because we had shared the same cultural and genetic background. I was mistaken. There are distinct differences. Not that these differences really matter; it was simply that I was amazed that the two cultures can be quite different. Back in 1990 the standard of living in Australia, generally speaking, was a lot higher than in the UK. It was quite an eye opening experience to see a much more severe poverty level in the UK. I did have the opportunity to visit a few university student households in London. Believe me – they were living a frugal lifestyle by comparison with the Australian counterpart.
Explain the experience in Glastonbury and how this stoked the creative fire for Eden.
When I was in London I was doing as many interviews as I could with fanzines and the music press. One of the interviewers was Tracy Jeffery (later to co-found a band called ‘Orchis”). She was a wonderful person and very much interested, as I was, in the Earth Mysteries. We became friends very easily and before you could say “Marybignon” we were planning a car trip to Glastonbury for the upcoming Beltane celebration. My brother, Simon was with me for the Uk trip and, at her invitation, we both caught the train out to Falmouth where Tracy lived. From there we drove down to Salisbury plain for a contemplative visit to Stonehenge (where on a humorous note I bought a Stonehenge Chocolate bar from the souvenir kiosk as I thought that the concept of Stonehenge Chocolate was hilarious. As it turned out that chocolate Bar was delicious and I often wondered if that rather isolated tourist kiosk is still selling those delicious Stonehenge Chocolate bars J. Anyway Stonehenge was fascinating ; it certainly has a presence. I remember looking outward from the Stone circle and noticed the many burial mounds or barrows circling Stonehenge – that was a blast.
The township of Glastonbury was even more impressive. To get there we drove down many country roads, passing fields of flowers. The spring weather was heavenly and we had a cassette deck in the car. I remember Tracy playing The Waterboys. It was a idealic. Not long before visiting the UK I had read Dion Fortune’s “Avalon of the Heart” and was about half way through reading “The Mists of Avalon” when we visited Glastonbury. Can you imagine how amazing it was to visit the location of the historic tale I was simultaneously reading? I mean – to sit on top of the Tor on Beltane eve and look down over that very green ancient location. It’s an experience; very liberating for the mind’s eye. This is how the creative fire was raised. It’s little wonder that “The Unveiling of Brigid” was written soon after that trip. Every moment of the Glastonbury visit was magical and provided me with creative fuel for the next eighteen months. High points were sitting on the Tor looking out into the haze as the sun went down on Beltane Eve. Glastonbury town was a-buzz with Beltane vibe the following day. I can recall singing 12th century troubadour songs in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. I can still picture the blossoming flowers and spring perfumes in that amazing Abbey. The visit to Chalice Well was wonder filled. Not far away is Wearyall Hill. We walked up to the top of Wearyall and sat with an aged farmer who was walking his dog. I recall him telling me “Glastonbury is just a farming town and nothing special happens here”. Meanwhile I am looking past him at the very special Holy Thorn bush that sits atop of Wearyall – the very thorn bush which legend states sprouted from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff when he planted it in the soil at some point after Christ’s death. It was a beautiful moment as I was being told that there was no magic in Glastonbury just as I was personally witnessing a living piece of historic magic of mystical significance.
Why did you move to Third Mind Records for ‘Gateway to the Mysteries”?
We moved to Third Mind because we had come to know the label via the CD released by “Heavenly Bodies”. We loved that album and listened to it a lot. Obviously In the Nursery were also on the label as well as Attrition and Edward Ka Spel (Legendary Pink Dots). Third Mind appeared to be a very good record label with quality artists. Third Mind were aware of Eden. We were offered a recording contract when it became apparent to Third Mind that Eden was attracting the interest of the American alternative music press. Third Mind had been sent 4 track demo’s of new songs such as “Heads on the Hearth” and “Saint Genevieve’s Dance”.
There was a shift in the late 80’s to broadening your instrument base, dropping the guitar, picking up the hammered dulcimer, lute, harp, “saz” and “oud” and adopting more of a Middle Eastern/Gothic feel. First tell us what a “saz” and “oud” are.
Well the Saz is a long necked lute. It consists of three double or triple courses of strings. In essence it’s a little like playing a 12 string guitar (which also uses double course strings). The Saz is a modal instrument and lends itself to droning eastern style melodies. It is the key national instrument for folk and popular music in Turkey. That said this instrument is not exclusively Turkish. The Armenians also have their own version of the Saz as do various Eastern European countries. You will also find it in various parts of the Middle East. There are Saz makers and players in Israel where this instrument plays a role in native Israeli Oriental music. The Saz is a bardic instrument well suited to the singer songwriter who has a poetic heart with oriental sensibility. The Oud is the large pear shaped lute with four sets of double course strings made from nylon or gut. It has that distinct “crying tone” you hear in Middle Eastern music. Personally I prefer the sound of the Saz.
Was this movement style including adding members for live shows somewhat mirroring what Dead Can Dance was doing?
When I first read this question I wasn’t quite sure what to say as I have not thought about the ambience of my past creative life circa 1989 for many years. In addition, it has been many years since I have thought about Dead Can Dance as I do not listen to their music these days.
Dead Can Dance, like Cocteau Twins, have been a prime influence and motivator for many musical artists. Meaning that in the 1990’s through to now we have seen various niche musical movements develop which have moments of brilliance but for the most part, quality wise the output is second or third rate. Cocteau Twins and DCD sounded great because they wrote quality music, worked with a record company which ensured that they recorded in professional recording facilities and worked with talented sound and production people. The magic of their releases was an overall process where every stage, including cover art, involved creative visionaries and craftspeople. Whereas, in the musical sub genres inspired by the early 4AD artists we mostly see small independent record companies releasing music that does not have the same crafting. The resulting product often sounds something like a 4AD karaoke concept – a sequenced backing track with a non-descript soprano warbling along with the music. And yes most of these cd’s are recorded at home or in small independent studios where sonic magic rarely happens. I’m describing this possible scenario because I found it quite disillusioning that Eden had to release its work side by side with artists whose artisanship was not on the same page. Time and time again we would submit a track to a cd compilation. Sonically and musically speaking the Eden track would be a world above most of the other artists on the cd. Our recordings sounded good because it was important to us to create something of aural beauty. To aim for anything less would be musically and philosophically disparate with Eden’s work. Highest achievable production standards was always a key central philosophy of Eden’s work. We always wished to improve the standard of production on each successive release.
Going back to your question, my point is that there was only one ‘Eden’. Picture an alternative reality where there are only two groups playing the blues: one being “Dead Can Dance” and one being “Eden.” We were two different but stylistically related groups, which had come from the same Melbourne music scene. I began playing in groups in late 1981. I am a contemporary of Brendan and Lisa. The key difference being that I was a teenager when they were in their twenties. Back then both Brendan and I were inspired by Joy Division, The Jam, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Walker Brothers and more. As a teenager, and in my 20’s, I was certainly inspired by Dead Can Dance, initially by their live work in Melbourne.
Dead Can Dance utilized the Yan Ching, Hurdy Gurdy, Concert D whistle, Saz and Harp. Eden worked with a European hammered dulcimer, a Rebec (Medieval violin played horizontally), The Oud (Middle Eastern gut strung lute), Bowed Psaltery, Steel Strung Bardic Harp and Saz. Speaking of the Saz, I was playing and writing with this particular instrument before Brendan. Brendan and I chatted about this instrument back in 1989 and 1990. When I visited the UK in 1990 I was going to stay with Brendan in Ireland. Instead I hung out with him in London as he and Lisa were finishing the recording of ‘Aion’. Brendan had bought a Saz from an ethnic music shop in London. He was asking for a few tips and insights about the instrument. I was horrified when he showed me his Saz because he had removed the frets and was putting them back on the Saz neck so that the instrument would only play in a Western scale. In one way this is a feasible approach. On the other hand a part of the instrument’s charm is working with its Eastern scale.
Obviously Dead Can Dance are the parent of a particular musical form. Eden was a sibling as opposed to a child of Dead Can Dance. They were a sister group. Lyrically DCD often came from an intellectual or theosophical stance. My lyrics were quite different. I concentrated on the sensual, dreaming, mysticism and the greater or lesser aspects of love. Personally speaking and from the perspective of the present, I was and still am more inspired by Robin Guthrie’s work. Even so I do not meditate on Robin’s work. I’ll hear his recent cd’s and think “yeah that’s great”. I’ll take that inspiration away, sit down and write an unrelated guitar riff or spend hours refining the unique personality of my guitar sound which these days is based on a deeply reverberant baritone twang or soaring ragaesque delay runs. Equally my inspiration comes from other sources; many not relating to music. What do I enjoy listening to at the moment? Early Durutti Column – I adore LC and Another Setting. I have had a returning love affair with these two LP’s since they were released when I was a teenager. I love Hope Sandoval’s two solo cd’s. I’m crazy about Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61” and Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”. At this time I love Donovan’s song “Hampstead Heath Incident”. I also love the Israeli artist Efrat Gosh, especially her second LP “Forgiveness and Me”. Serge Gainsbourg, Air, Beck, John Martyn & Charlotte Gainsbourg are my greatest musical loves of the moment.
In 1992 you had enough material for a full length to be entitled ‘Wearyall’. The failure of Third Mind to release the recordings as a CD was disheartening to say the least.
Yes I would agree with that statement…lol. Most of the material for the “Wearyall” full length cd was recorded on 24 track tape, though the recordings were never finished or mixed. Three instrumentals featuring Middle Eastern percussion, Saz and bardic harp were scheduled to be recorded but never were. Some of the pieces on “Healingbow” were actually intended for “Wearyall”. Wearyall would have been a very interesting cd and would have showcased an excellent phase of Eden’s musical development that in retrospect is under-documented. Third Mind indicated that they were intending to send an advance for the recording of “Wearyall”. We waited for the advance for a number of months and decided to start recording the cd via self financing the recording sessions. We had been playing the Wearyall material for a good twelve months before we went into the studio. The situation dragged on another six months and by that stage the material had become stale. We were starting to write new material for the next phase of Eden’s musical evolution. Wearyall had started off as something incredibly progressive but became something incredibly stale (to us). Obviously the music should have been recorded while it was still fresh and exciting. In hind sight it would have been better for us to have not waited for a recording advance. But you can’t blame us as we believed that we had a recording contract and would be supplied with a recording budget. We were becoming tired of the burden of having to find thousands of dollars for recording; financed from our pocket. Meanwhile Third Mind had been bought by Roadrunner which obviously signalled the end of Third Mind.
You contracted glandular fever in ’93 and were ill for several months. However, being sick did not stop the creative juices, eh?
No it didn’t! I literally came down with glandular fever during the 24 track recording session for the first ‘Sunwheel’ song. I was recording the guitar solo and began to feel incredibly weird. After I had finished recording I lay on the couch in the studio’s control room. I was wearing my beloved black fur coat while shivering and sweating. That night I was horrified to discover that the glands on my neck had swollen to nearly the size of a golf ball. This began three months of being intensely sick. After the first few weeks when I was completely incapacitated I sat in my bed and began to write songs on my acoustic 12 string. The first one was “Why?” When I wrote that song I was thinking that it might be a new song for “All Things Unseen” as we were thinking about reforming to record a full length cd. Obviously “Why?” became a track for Eden’s “Fire and Rain” cd.
Throughout the life of Eden you witnessed various personnel changes. If you could put together your A-team of players, the best of the best, what would that band look like?
Eden’s life has not ended yet. Not unlike Mazzy Star, Eden has been on a sabbatical for some time but the story has not finished yet. There will be more to come… I’m writing and demoing new Eden songs as we speak.
The new Eden will consist of new players. Ronny K. Bowley (my wife) and myself will be there for sure. Ronny is a keyboard player with a unique feel I admire. I’m also pretty excited about a bass player I may be working with as he has an incredible musical history including touring and recording with Bert Jansch, who’s work I greatly admire. Not to mention that Bert at one point was a musical colleague with an artist I have long adored – Nick Drake.
My ‘A-Team’ of players? That’s an interesting question. The Eden line ups which I personally enjoyed the most were the following –
Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitars
Tracey Ellerton – 12 String guitar
Ewan McArthur – Bass
Peter Barrett – Drums
Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitar
Maria – 12 string guitar
Stephen Wattie – Bass
Peter Barrett – Drums
I liked these two line ups because they were line ups which utilized live musicians who played well together. I don’t like the idea of stating who should be in the Eden ‘A team’ as I appreciated everyone’s input and no doubt each member enjoyed the experience to a greater or lesser degree.
But this is a light hearted fun question and I will put together a line up. If this where a perfect world and there could be an Eden built from past players I would like to try the following –
Sean Bowley – Vocals, 6 String Fender Jazzmaster guitar, 12 String Rickenbacker guitar Maria or Tracy Ellerton – Acoustic 12 String guitar, 12 String Rickenbacker guitar Carl Carter – Bass
William Carter – Arp Omni Strings Keyboard
Peter Barrett or Ingo Wieben – Drums
Interesting as this Eden would essentially be “All Things Unseen” with an added guitarist.
In a perfect world I would like to make music with –
Sean Bowley – Vocals and 12 string guitar, Mellotron and Arp Omni strings
Ronny Kramer – Keyboards
Andrew Kutzer or Ryan Lum – 12 String Acoustic guitar
Will Heggie on Bass
Des Hefner- drums
I’m sure that this line up will get you going as it includes a past Cocteau Twin/member of Lowlife, Dead Can Dance’s original drummer and Ryan from Love Spirals. This players would make an impressive ethereal cd. A recording from this line up would likely be something that ethereal music lovers would be waiting and dreaming for.
I find it intriguing that you cite Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” as an impetus for you to fall back on the guitar more so in your writing and performing.
It was Joy Division who inspired me to truly want to become singer/songwriter. I was in my mid teens when I first heard them. Before that moment of revelation I had been listening to bands from the 60’s whom I would describe as instigators of the ethereal psychedelia. I’m speaking of bands such as The Doors and The Electric Prunes. I was a teenager who shunned the popular music of the time and looked back to the highly evocative music of the mid to late 1960’s. Discovering Joy Division brought many elements together. It enabled me to see that moody evocative music had a part to play in contemporary music. Further to that the post-punk music movement was all about breaking rules and that anyone, who wanted to, could play a musical instrument and be in a band. It was a very self empowering time. It was the spark that led me to believe that I had the right to write music and lyrics. I had this creative desire burning brightly and insisting that I do something. That wild creative energy has remained by my side ever since.
Tell me about the recording of the “Fire and Rain” CD and the newfound technology of high end equipment used. All in all, were you pleased with the sound that you attained?
Ah you are an insightful one, aren’t you – always asking interesting and valid questions. Actually I don’t think anyone has asked me this question before and it’s a central issue in my musical development. The short answer is “YES”. I was extremely pleased with the sound of that cd. For me; it is the best commercially released example of the sonic magic that I seek to attain when making a recording. “Fire & Rain” was a major life experience of a Cathartic nature for me. Eden’s earlier work had had a wonderful mystic spirit. Sadly the earlier recordings missed the sonic mark I had dreamed of due to the lack of the required outboard gear, and access to capable sound engineers. I have had a deeply passionate love of music since I was a child. Eden was not attaining the sonic mark I could picture in my mind. During the earlier recording sessions I had repeatedly played cd’s of artists I loved to sound engineers and asked them “how were these sounds created?” They would repeatedly give the impression that they had no idea how the sonic magic I admired was created, nor were they interested in equalling it. To the contrary they would make comments to the effect that the extensive use of reverb or compression was a sign of bad engineering and they wouldn’t do it. I guess they had their way and they wished to stick with that. At the end of the day I was not playing them examples of bad engineering. I was playing them recordings that were character driven. These recordings obviously were highlighting creative engineering…something Melbourne could not offer its Artists at that time.
Talk about Adam Calaitzis’ willingness and indulgence in creative production.
In regard to “Fire & Rain” more was at play than just the engineering. Before that point Eden had been a band which relied heavily on sequenced backing tracks when playing live. In 1994 Eden ditched this format and re-imaged as a four piece outfit that rehearsed frequently striving to be a very good totally live ethereal outfit. This in part was a personal rebellion against the earlier version of Eden which relied on sequenced backing. My formation as a musician had been with “All Things Unseen”. That band was all about playing live ethereal music. I had missed the drive and flow of playing in a fully live band. Ethereal guitar bands are a very rare commodity. Those which play in a completely live fashion are even rarer. In late 1993 I saw Siouxsie & the Banshees play live in Melbourne. Their performance was absolutely amazing – incredibly powerful and they demonstrated a professional orchestration to their set rarely attained by the majority of live bands. I went away from the show feeling incredibly inspired but also a little depressed because I no longer wanted to play in a band relying on sequenced tracks. Melbourne had several bands at that time who were heavily reliant on sequenced backing tracks when playing live. To me, live music was becoming a little like karaoke. Around this time I saw The Prodigy. They too seemed like live karaoke. Compared to Siouxsie and the Banshees’ performance, in my eyes, they were incredibly underwhelming.
The Siouxsie & the Banshees show was integral in inspiring me to begin writing new material designed for a fully live band. I began work in earnest on new songs. Initially I was writing these new songs thinking that they may be new material for the reformation of “All Things Unseen”. In actuality these new songs became “Fire & Rain”.
As a side note, circumstance enabled me to meet Siouxsie after the show. I was very impressed with her. She was a very interesting character. I ended up going on an all night drinking binge with Budgie and Martin McCarrick. Martin McCarrick was the pick of the bunch though. When he discovered that we had a mutual friend in Lisa Gerrard he launched into a wonderful discussion reminiscing his part in the recording of “Spleen and Ideal”. I related well to Martin – he was my kind of person. In a perfect world he would be someone I would love to work with.
Getting back to Adam Calaitzis, as previously stated, Eden was hard pressed to find a producer or engineer in Melbourne who could render the rich atmospheric setting our music required. Luckily we discovered Adam’s small home studio. These days he runs an impressive fully equipped professional recording studio. “Healingbow” onwards his studio was geared up quite well. For “Gateway to the Mysteries” his studio was more like the traditional old school home studio – it looked something like the inside of a Tardis. He was running an Akai 12 track recorder in his living room and recording the musicians in his adjoining dining room. The two rooms were divided by blankets hanging from the ceiling. The great thing about Adam, right from the start, was his interest in experimenting with the recording and production processes. He understood where we were coming from. This may have partly been because he had played in a band in the 1980’s and was familiar with the English school of sound engineering During the recording of “Fire & Rain” Adam recounted that he had been working on a cd for a Death Metal Band. All of a sudden the band were freaking out at the way he was producing their music. Adam realized that he had begun to give this death metal band the “EDEN treatment”. So he turned down the lexicon reverb etc to give the metal heads what they needed. At that point in time the creative and unusual had become the usual for Adam – working with Eden had that effect on him. Both Adam and Eden mutually enjoyed a continual creative flow when working together. With each release we worked hard to reach creative heights not previously reached. We made good use of everything on hand. Meaning we would create ambient textures spontaneously by hand. For example it was raining one session and I had this idea to play rain drenched vines growing outside the control room’s backdoor. We placed microphones near the vines and I played them with drumsticks. We then reversed the 24 track tape, increased the tape speed and applied loads of Lexicon 224X reverb. When the tape was played back at correct speed (and around the right way) we had an ambient texture that worked for a given track. We experimented in a similar fashion on a number of occasions and came up with great results. We used to love thinking up these scenarios and seeing if they would work. In most cases they did. You can imagine that this sort of creative play is far outside the usual rock band recording setting. In summary Adam Calaitzis called his studio “Toyland” for good reason. He has a passion for working with quality audio gear. He enjoys pushing the sonic boundaries and in constantly improving the sonic qualities of his work. In any case, this is how I found him to be when I worked with him.
You call the 1996 recordings “Midnight Sun” CD and the companion EP “Stone Cat” more angular in design. Explain.
Well maybe I once described those cd’s as sounding ‘angular’. Time passes and I’m not completely sure what I meant in using that expression except maybe I was conveying that the material on those cd’s was harder edged/harder hitting. The production ethic was taken to greater heights and I certainly gave my all when those cd’s were produced.
Do you think the engineers/producers in and around Melbourne were beginning to bridge the gap a little between their capabilities and your vision for sound?
Absolutely not. I do not recall hearing any recording made in Melbourne in the 1990’s that made me think “at last Melbourne has a recording engineer of the same calibre as John Friar, Martin Hannett, etc.
Aside from Eden you have written for and performed with various other artists. Talk about how you met Daevid Allen ex-Soft Machine founder and how you contributed to one of his albums.
I first met Daevid in 1984 at ‘the Cafe Jammin’. This was an old school Hippy Cafe and Daevid ran a night at this cafe which I think was called “Dreamtime Dub”. Essentially anyone attending the night was invited to get up and perform.
It had been a happy accident that led to me discovering that Daevid Allen was in Melbourne and running this weekly event. A mutual friend supplied me with Daevid’s phone number. I rang him and told him that one of my favourite LP’s was “Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life”. Much to my surprise Daevid told me that he had not performed any of these songs in years. This surprised me because as music listeners we all have an immediate response and relationship with music we love. You don’t stop to think “Hey this music is no longer performed by the artist who created it”. I turned up to the next “Dreamtime Dub” night. Firstly I was amazed to see Daevid Allen in real life as he had been a musical hero and all of a sudden he was a tangible entity as opposed to a face on record sleeve. Meeting people whose music you love can be a really freaky thing; it’s usually quite uncomfortable. Not so on this evening as Daevid performed “Why Do We Treat Ourselves Like We Do” as a result of me getting him thinking about “Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life”. I don’t quite recall how but some months later I ended up at a restaurant with Daevid Allen and his girlfriend. David recounted wonderful memories of Soft Machine playing gigs with Syd Barrett &Pink Floyd & The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at the UFO Club, Roundhouse etc. He spoke of one gig (may have been the Roundhouse) where Soft Machine and Pink Floyd played simultaneously at opposite ends of the venue. I remember Daevid saying that Syd had a wonderful demeanour. When playing live he had this look about him which appeared to convey that he seemed to be in a permanent state of embarrassment; a coy and endearing shyness of a sort.
We go forward many years to 1992 and I walk straight into Daevid Allen outside the Supermarket in Auckland Street St Kilda. Daevid remembered me even though by this point I had transformed from a middle class high school student into quite a way out individual sporting purple bell bottom trousers, silver paisley shirt and wild long braided hair. He invited me to play on a recording session for his new cd the following week. I turned up and waited outside the studio door. I remember listening to Daevid singing in the studio and was amazed that I was in this crazy situation where I would be playing on one of his sessions. When invited into the studio, Daevid sat me down and instructed me to be as silly as I wanted because he was going to be even sillier. Daevid as a personality is nothing short of inspirational. He is a global treasure and has given the world a lifetime of innovative thought through music. He deserves to be highly rewarded. I wouldn’t say that he has spent his life dwelling in the fringe as he really is the fringe. He’s the monarch!
Another curious teaming with Peter Daltrey of the late 60’s band Kaleidoscope and the more progressive Fairfield Parlour. You’ve co-written a couple of songs with Peter and possibly more in the future. By the way I have the re-released double cd “White Faced Lady/Home To Home” and both are fabulous. Not a bad song in the batch. Very much underrated band.
The 1960’s was an intriguing decade. We experienced creative revolution on a culture wide scale seemingly impossible to attain these days. Rules were broken and for a brief period of time creative expression became an everyday norm. The powers that be did not fully grasp what was happening. Counter culture was simultaneously under and over estimated.
In the 1980’s we began to see the re-release of all manner of seemingly forgotten recorded works from the 1960’s. It became very apparent that there were scores of wonderfully unrecognized artists from this era. Among all these gems surfaced several amazing discoveries. The catch phrase “Oh my God; how did this artist get overlooked” became quite common in music loving circles. Nick Drake is a now a well known example of a once overlooked super-talent. Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett were well known in their day. Peter Daltrey’s band, Kaleidoscope were known but for seemingly for no apparent reason they were overlooked. Peter Daltrey’s talent (and enigma) is equal to Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, Daevid Allen, Bert Jansch etc etc. OK that’s a bold statement but its true enough. He still hasn’t had his day in the sun…surely it will come though. And if it does not, it is most significant that his music has and will ignite the creative heart of many a listener. And really this is the single greatest thing any artist can achieve. A few years ago Peter Daltrey, myself and Andrew Kuzter wrote two songs together. Peter was at the helm in regard to the writing and arranging. Both of these songs are wonderful shards of haunting introspective beauty. I hope that we eventually have the opportunity to record and finish these songs. Let’s see what happens…
You moved stateside for collaborations with Love Spirals Downwards, another one of my favourite bands. Was this sort of a sharing and uniting of label mates’ visions based on the Projekt Records common denominator?
When I was in the states in 1996, Ryan Lum invited me to stay with him. The idea was to write and record an album together. We did not get to the final recording stage as we did not have enough time to do so. Years later Anji Bee heard some of the demo’s and saw potential in them. A couple of the tracks made it onto a Love Spirals cd. In a perfect world it would have been great to have rearranged and re-recorded those tracks. In hindsight I would have suggested that Anji sing the lead vocal. At the time, as a writing team, we did not have the opportunity to think this equation through.
How did you come to work with the German band Place4Tears?
I met Tyves from ‘Place4Tears’ via myspace. One thing led to another and he invited me to add vocals to one of his songs. Eventually he sent me the digital multitrack and “Tears of Avalon” was remixed in a wonderful high end recording studio owned by Simon Bowley and Tristan Upton. Hence the fat analogue luxuriant sound that eventuated for “Tears of Avalon”. The song was mixed on a classic mid 1970’s British recording console and treated with a Lexicon 480XL, Urei 1176 compressors etc. The finished recording of that song has an absolutely wonderful sonic quality absolutely impossible to attain from digital recording software on its own.
Along with song writing, playing and performing you also write some very nice poetry. Is there a difference in the way say you write poems vs. how you compose lyrics for a song? In writing poetry do you have in mind the words being put to music some day?
Yes there is certainly a difference, for me, between writing poetry and writing song lyrics. Poetry is a far less constrained form and in essence it is very ‘stand alone’. Poetry is at the heart of the Troubadour’s soul. It can be read, spoken or sung. Yes many of my poems become songs. I rewrite poems so that they may work in the song format. For me – in song – less equals more.
What is the most challenging musical instrument you have played? What is your all time favourite?
The Oud would be the most challenging instrument I have sought to play. This would be why I don’t play it anymore…lol. Second to that would be the Harp. I played medieval steel-strung Bardic Harp for around three years. It was quite challenging to play but I loved the instrument and I kept working at it until I had established the basic stills of a self taught harpist.
My all time favourite instrument has been the 12 string guitar as it feels natural in my hands. I have always had difficulty in playing six string guitars, though I may have remedied this problem as I finally fell deeply in love with my Fender Jazzmaster. I now feel very comfortable on that guitar and I’m creating the tonal textures that I need for the ‘here and now’ with this instrument. Consequently I have not played 12 string guitar in nearly a year.
Where is the most unusual place you have ever recorded a song?
When writing songs I find that melodies or words can come to me at anytime. I used to carry a mini recorder with me and I would quietly sing words or hum melodies into its built in microphone as I was walking along, taking a train etc.
The inspiration to write music – where does it all come from? Do you write lyrics to compliment the music or vice versa?
Where does inspiration come from? This would have to be one of the classic age old questions. I have read comments from many creative people and many have said the same thing that I believe. Creativity comes from a place beyond time, space and ego. When you create you transcend the everyday and for a time you are in a place where you are free from yourself and everything surrounding you. One of the interesting things about being creative by nature is that you keep finding yourself creating something. The “you” has little say in the process – it just happens when it happens.
Yes I do write lyrics to compliment the music. Though it can work quite differently. I have begun with the lyrics then written music. I often write lyrics and music independently of each other and work out how they will work together at some point further down the track. I like to write a series of related pieces of music as though they are simply instrumentals. Later I will reshape these musical ideas into songs. Often this is because I find the creative process for writing words and music related but different. Often the inspiration for writing lyrics strikes at a different time to when I write music. Though it can also all happen at once. I have set ways of working but I seek to remain open to the possibility that an entirely new way of writing a song might suddenly make itself available to me.
The essence of creativity originates beyond self ; of this I am quite certain. The diverse terrain covered in the progression of life we might describe as the map of experience. Engaging with life is central to the creative process. Life experiences are like little sparks which ignite creative fires. Life experiences can prize open the door that the poet dives through to seek out pearls of creative euphoria. I find that many experiences make their way onto the palette of creative experience — the look of the sky, frustration related to the lack of the humane in situations, through to the bliss of a special love found in a secluded and special space which is able to remove daily distraction. I regularly return to certain themes. For example, my life with my wife Ronny K. Bowley is a place where I often find inspiration.
Has Sean Bowley come full circle artistically, creatively and musically? What’s up the old sleeve for the immediate future? What avenues have you not yet strolled down (musically or otherwise) that you would like to?
Have I come full circle? If you had asked me this last year I would have said that I couldn’t find the circle meaning I was not in creative mode. In the second half of last year I began to play my Jazzmaster guitar after experiencing a long break of not playing at all. At first I just simply wanted to play the guitar; enjoy the moment. This meant being free from the pressure of feeling obliged to write music. I found myself playing every night and for longer periods of time. I looked closely at my Jazzmaster and worked out that I needed to use very heavy gauge strings to get the nice wiry twang that I like. I also realized that an essential tool for enhancing the rich ethereal nature of my guitar playing was to be found in the Fender 63 Reverb tank, Strymon El Capistan tape delay emulator and a Retro sonic compressor.
Interesting that you ask what it is that I have not done that I would like to do in the future. You hit the nail on the head here as this is exactly how I’m feeling at this time. I want to explore certain things I have not done in the past. Meaning to explore musical formats quite different to what I’ve done. I like the idea of doing a full length cd which comprises four or five songs and several instrumentals. I love how this format works for the Durutti Column’s second LP titled “LC”. LC has been a personal favourite of mine since it was released
Secondly I would like to make an instrumental cd. I listen to a huge amount of easy listening music recorded in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I love the rich cinematic orchestration, the period vibe and I’m fascinated with the tone palette they could capture in the recordings that is for the most part lost or non-existent in recordings today.
I’m mentioning instrumental easy listening as I want to create a cd of ethereal echo laden guitar music. I love James Wilsey’s cd “ El Dorado”. He was the guitarist who originally worked with Chris Isaak. James was responsible for creating that wonderful haunting guitar which was the signature sound for “Wicked Game”. James touts himself as a “Guitar Slinger”: the modern interpretation of retro artists like Duane Eddy, Billy Strange, Link Wray etc. I guess I would like to create a Darkwave ‘guitar slinger’ cd. Picture atmospheric twang delivered in a post Joy Division soundscape and you might just be picturing the cd I want to make. The good news is that I have already started writing material for such a cd.
Lastly, do you still have your Siamese cats?
I still have Tiki; He is sixteen and a half years old. He used to sit beside me when I was writing songs for Eden all those years ago. It is absolutely amazing to see him still sitting by my side when I’m writing in the present. He’s an amazing soul; my best animal friend ever. When you invite an animal into your heart there’s nothing like it – a very special and profound love affair that likely transcends life itself.