Thursday, 31 March 2011
World's Greatest Prog Rock Band & Grammy Award Winners YES Announce:
TREVOR HORN To Produce New Album:FLY FROM Here
Released on Frontiers Records July 2011
The world's most quintessential Prog Rock band YES, announces today their highly anticipated new album FLY FROM HERE. This marks the first album in ten years with legendary, 2-time Grammy Award winning producer, Trevor Horn.
Horn and YES bassist Chris Squire re-discovered the track FLY FROM HERE which has never been recorded as a studio track. “Chris and I were talking one evening about a song ‘Fly From Here’ that we never recorded,” explains Trevor Horn. “I said I was prepared to spend two weeks with ‘YES’ recording that song. When I arrived in America to record it, I was taken prisoner by the band and only allowed my freedom again in return for producing the whole album. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse!!!”
FLY FROM HERE encompasses YES’ signature brand of mysticism and grand-scale compositions. Maintaining a complex, symphonic sound that features the beautiful harmonies and strong heavy riffs they are known for. “The new album represents the best of YES from the 70s and the 80's with a current twist,” states Squire.
YES are the pioneers for the use of synthesizers and sound effects in modern music, which produced such timeless, symphonic-rock masterworks as "Roundabout," "Close To the Edge," and "Awaken". YES continued to push the cutting edge of art-rock music to their limits, selling over 30 million albums, reaching platinum status multiple times worldwide.
YES’ powerful mainstream progressive compositions have influenced a generation of musicians with a hugely successful and indelible catalogue of music with hit albums such as DRAMA, FRAGILE, CLOSE TO THE EDGE and 90125. Classics such as “Roundabout,” a seminal hit which consistently appears on “the best songs of all-time” lists, and the group’s #1 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which Horn is responsible for. Taken from the YES album 90125, this single would form part of a unique double, which would see YES and Horn top both the UK and US charts simultaneously.
FLY FROM HERE will be released on Frontiers Records July 2011. More details about the album, its packaging and YES’ live plans for the rest of the year will become available shortly.
For additional information please visit
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Frontiers Records is pleased to announce the release of JOURNEY’s forthcoming studio album « Eclipse » in UK on May 30th 2011.
« Eclipse » is Journey’s fifteenth studio album and shows the band at the peak of their creative juices, truly regenerated after the blistering success of their last studio album « Revelation ».
Journey will follow the release of « Eclipse », Journey will launch the “Eclipse Tour” which will kick off with a 7 dates arena tour in the UK/Eire, together with Styx and Foreigner and will then hit Germany, Switzerland, Benelux, Scandinavia, France and – for the first time ever – Italy.
“I’m in love with this record, which I haven’t said about one of our albums for a long time,” says founding member and lead guitarist, Neal Schon. “It’s a rock record and it sounds amazing.” Commenting on the upcoming tour, Schon continued, “We’ve got a lot of hits to play and there’s plenty of time to do some new stuff too, so we’re gonna mix it up. We haven’t toured with Foreigner for over 10 years, so we’re really looking forward to this run.”
In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, keyboardist Jonathan Cain recently described “Eclipse” as “a concept record with some spiritual themes to it…pretty tough, hard-hitting stuff.” Jonathan continued, “We just felt like it was time to send a message to the world about how we feel about life in general.”
The new album release will be preceded by the digital release of the single “City of Hope” on April 4th.
Journey toured the world for two years in support of their 2008 release, « Revelation ». More than a million fans attended the shows, and welcomed new lead singer Arnel Pineda. Completing the Journey lineup is Schon (guitars, backing vocals), Cain (keyboards, backing vocals), Ross Valory (bass, backing vocals) and Deen Castronovo (drums, percussion, backing vocals). « Revelation » marked the band’s biggest first week’s sales in more than a decade, debuting at #5 on the Billboard 200 in June 2008 and with chart entries in the UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. “Revelation” earned the band their 11th Platinum album certification to date, leading The New York Times to declare that “the band…feels alive.”
Since its formation in 1973, Journey has earned 19 Top 40 singles and 25 gold and platinum albums in the US. The band’s Greatest Hits album is certified 15 times platinum, bringing Journey into the elite club of Diamond-certified album holders. The group also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.
“Eclipse” will include the following tracks :
City of Hope, Edge of the Moment, Chain of Love, Tantra, Anything is Possible, Resonate, She’s a Mystery, Human Feel, Ritual, To Whom It May Concern, Someone, Venus.
The “Eclipse” tour video trailer can be enjoyed following the link below:
West Coast Rockers Journey return to Europe for a full touring schedule through June and July. The band will release their latest album Eclipse through Frontiers on the 30th May
Sat 04 London, UK – Wembley Arena
Sun 05 Birmingham, UK – LG Arena
Tue 07 Newcastle, UK – Metro Radio Arena
Wed 08 Manchester, UK – M.E.N. Arena
Thu 09 Glasgow, Scotland – S.E.C.C.
Sat 11 Dublin, Ireland – The o2
Sun 12 Belfast, N. Ireland – Odyssey Arena
Wed 15 Berlin, Germany – Zitadelle
Fri 17 Hannover, Germany – ParkBuehne
Sat 18 Esslingen, (Stuttgart), Germany – Richard Hirschmann Eisstadion
Sun 19 Winterthur, Switzerland – Eishalle Deutweg
Tue 21 Milan, Italy – Fiera Arena
Wed 22 Augsburg (Nuremberg), Germany – Schwabenhalle
Fri 24 Dessel, Belgium – Graspop
Sat 25 St. Goarshausen, Germany – Loreley Freilichtbuhne
Sun 26 Gräfenhainichen (Dessau), Germany – Ferropolis ‘Stadt aus Eisen’
Tue 28 Copenhagen, Denmark – Store Vega
Thu 30 Haugesund Norway – Arena Tent, Skaanevik Blues Festival Site
Sat 02 Borlange, Sweden – Peace & Love Festival site
Wed 06 Luxembourg – Rockhal Box
Thu 07 Paris, France – Palais des Sports
Fri 08 Weert, Netherlands – Bospop, Festivalarea, Weert-Nord
For more information on Journey and complete tour details go to
Black Country Communion, the Anglo-American classic rock group featuring blues rock guitarist/vocalist Joe Bonamassa, bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Trapeze), drummer Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin), and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater), has announced the track-listing for their highly anticipated second album.
Produced by Kevin Shirley, the album, which is simply entitled “2”, will be released in the U.K. on June 13th via Mascot Records, and June 14th in the U.S. on the J&R Adventures label.
The album track listing is as follows:
1. The Outsider
2. Man In The Middle
3. I Can See Your Spirit
4. The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall
5. Save Me
7. Smokestack Woman
9. An Ordinary Son
10. Little Secret
In July, Black Country Communion will embark on a UK tour that will take in concerts at Llandudno Cymru Arena (23rd July), London’s High Voltage Festival (24th July), Leeds O2 Academy (26th July), Newcastle O2 Academy (27th July), Glasgow 02 Academy (29th July), and the Manchester Academy (30th July). 24 Hour Ticket Hotline: 0871 230 1101.
Photo copyright D.Cowan.
Saturday, 19 March 2011
Fish as many will know was the singer with British Band Marillion between 1981 and 1988. During that time the band became one of the biggest British rock bands of the period scoring hit albums with Script For A Jesters Tear, Fugazi, Misplaced Childhood and Clutching At Straws. There were also hit singles including Kayleigh and Incommunicado to name just two. The band were also a big draw in the concert arena particularly in Europe so it came as a shock to some when in 1988 the band split and Fish left to pursue a solo career.
By the time of this interview in December 2003 Fish had recorded a number of albums and had a reasonable amount of success. Jon Kirkman was invited to Fish's home just outside Edinburgh to conduct an interview for the then forthcoming album Field of Crows. Following the interview it was suggested that John and Fish talk about Fish's previous albums and career. What followed was a lengthy and very honest interview.
It is fifteen years virtually since your solo career began and I was playing the track Big Wedge from the Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors album the other day and thought how relevant that track actually is these days.
There’s a couple of tracks on the Vigil album, my mother actually said to me a few months back about the track State of Mind that she had had a dream and she had heard this song coming out again and it had been a really big hit and it was really strange because State of Mind had been all about watching Colonel Oliver North lie his ass off In front of the state committee or whatever it was. Big Wedge was about the whole corporate involvement and what was the creepiest thing about the Big Wedge thing was the original single cover has got Uncle Sam holding all the money out and you’ve got the Twin Towers with a plane approaching it! When I saw that a chill ran up my spine.
It seems that there is a load of tracks; the term Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors came from the CIA for a period in the ‘50’s where there were so many Russian defectors that the Russians became worried. They started sending all these people out with misinformation. They would come out and say they wanted to defect and give all this rubbish across. The CIA called it wilderness of mirrors because they never knew who they could trust. They never knew what was true or what was lies. They never knew who was a double agent or who was a triple agent or whatever it was.
It intrigued me at the time and had a lot to do with the situation that was surrounding Marillion when I left. One of the really sad things about that album was that it was held back for too long after I left Marillion. I left the band in 1988 and the album never came out until 1990. It suffered from being held back. I think that if it had come out six or nine months before then it would have had a far greater impact. It was still a very successful solo album and it is still one of my favourite albums for a number of reasons including the fact that it was a big jump to leave the band and to put an album together on your own. I was helped my Mickey Simmonds and other musicians but still to have your own name on it meant as much to me as Script For A Jesters Tear which was the first Marillion album.
It encompassed a lot of feelings that were around at that time and if Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors had Marillion written at the top of it rather than Fish, I think it would have been a huge album. Fans were confused; there was a lot in the media about it. We went through a very messy and public divorce; we were all very young and very naïve in the way that we dealt with the press back then. A lot of that material had been about and ‘distilling’ for quite a while. Vigil was presented to Marillion as a contender for the album we were going to put together. That was going to be the title of the album as far as I was concerned. But eventually it got the tag of Fish on the top of it. There are a lot of very powerful songs and Big Wedge was the first time I ever went for brass and I loved it and it was something that I decided on the new Field of Crows album was something that I wanted to bring back in. I love the sound of that big band sax and I would love to make a big band album.
Walking out of a band like Marillion or when the band split, (at the time Marillion were one of the biggest bands in the UK.) How much pressure was actually on you to come up with the goods in terms of a successful album and your first album away from Marillion? How much pressure came from the record company and from you to perform was there?
Well there was a lot of personal pride involved. As you pointed out Marillion were a major band in Western Europe at that time and we had tagged a number of places worldwide although not really exploited them as far as we could. I think we had run into problems, which were mainly due to bad management. We had been over playing; we’d played far too many gigs in the same areas because the management was making money in those areas. Places such as North America we should have done a lot more work in but we were hindered by an ineffectual company and the fact that we couldn’t adjust from playing big gigs in Europe to playing club gigs in America, which we were at that time. We were kind of playing in a circle and when we really should have taken a year off, if the management had been strong enough and the band had understood it, it would have been a case of go away Fish and get your solo album out and I can get sorted out.
The problem was that none of the other guys had anything to do and that is why my acting career never took off until I went solo because if I had wanted a month off to take on an acting role the band had to sit there twiddling their thumbs. That was never going to happen and on top of that the management was taking so much commission that we had to keep moving. It became the Woody Allen shark Thing. We had to keep moving all the time. Because we were moving in circles there was a lot more pressure on us to deliver another Kayleigh, to deliver another big hit single. There was a lot of pressure on the band from various sources to come up with something that was more in tune with the American market. I found that really difficult and I was writing songs like Big Wedge, which some people saw as being very anti-American, it wasn’t – it was very anti-corporate. But that was how I was feeling at the time and I was getting sick of the big music industry. I was tired of doing tours where you’ve got three trucks and a crew of forty guys and you don’t know all the names until you get to the end of the tour. Two years previously you had everybody’s wives and kids and you knew when the birthdays were and stuff like that. It all became very impersonal and there were so many leeches and so many parasites around the band that I really had to get out.
My decision was very impetuous. I walked out before a tour, I walked out before I knew what the financial situation was with the band and from the day I walked out my wages were stopped. Quite rightly so, I had left the band but I put myself under an awful lot of pressure to deliver. As I’ve said, from a point of pride, Vigil was important to put forward. There was a lot of very negative personal stuff around in the press alleging drink and drug problems and there was this thing about me only ever writing the lyrics and I wanted to prove that I could put a project together and I could deliver a quality project.
Vigil was a very quality project for a first album. It was a very powerful statement at the time. It was to suffer in the long run from a lack of long-term promotion, which was what it needed. By the time we got to January 1990 I had been sitting on the album since it had been finished in August 1989. We started the principle tour in the January of that year and in June/July I am being told by the record company that that is over now. I felt there was a lot more ground in the album and I wanted to do a lot more with it but we didn’t get the support. That resulted in the big EMI litigation, which was to prove darkly critical on my overall career. It put me in the wilderness myself; I am ironically Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors you know.
The aftermath of the album put me into my own personal wilderness where I wasn’t allowed to put anything out until we resolved the litigation. I didn’t have a studio at the time and no money to go on and make an album. So even if I made an album how would I have got it out? It was a high benchmark as I said; it was a great opening statement but the follow up that should have come along did not come along. It hasn’t really come along until recent years I think.
You left EMI following the release of Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors and had a reasonable amount of success but as you’ve said you don’t feel it was promoted properly. It seemed to have been over and done with very quickly and it is onto the next album. So you left EMI and went to Polydor. Your first album for them was Internal Exile, which had a nationalist feel but the actual title track went back to the Marillion days. Wasn’t that offered to Marillion at one point?
Yeah, the track was actually recorded during the Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors sessions and I think we put the original track we wrote back then on the re-masters together with all the B sides. You have to remember that as a lyricist you are always working a year and a half behind so that when an album is coming out certain things have happened. When Vigil was being put together a lot of the material had been around with the Marillion band in 1988 and obviously when I left I took the stuff that I had written.
Some of the material went on Internal Exile but more importantly what was happening was that after 1988 I moved back to Scotland and the move back there was prompted by working for a few months in a castle in the Highlands whilst trying to put the elusive album together. I fell back in love with the country. When I left Marillion I really felt I had to come back up. I had to get away from London. I had to get away from this kind of poisonous circle I was in. There were people around me that were very negative and on top of that I felt there was a great danger of turning into the sad guy, the Marquee Bar that I had written about in Clutching at Straws where you’re sitting there talking about all the things you did and all the things you are going to do but never do. I really didn’t want to become that character. So I moved up to Scotland and got a place that was outside Edinburgh and outside where I was born in Dalkeith. I was able to afford a farmhouse, which had a lot of outbuildings that turned into rehearsal rooms and places to store gear etc. We had enough bedrooms to put up musicians that were up rehearsing and writing. That’s when I had the idea to build a recording studio. After the Vigil in the Wilderness situation, I realised that I was never going to allow myself to be put in a position where I was going to depend on somebody else to give me money to make an album. So I decided to build my own studio.
During the EMI litigation, we actually built the recording studio in the middle of paying all the lawyers. That put me under incredible stress. Just to add the cherry onto the top of the cake my daughter was born in the middle of it. There were a lot of emotions flying about. When Internal Exile came to be written there were a lot of situations that were crying for attention. Internal Exile ended up being an album that was made up of so many different styles of music that it didn’t really fit together as an album. Chris Kimsey came up to produce it and I was hoping that he could bring me some of the magic and the luck that we’d had on the two Marillion albums he had done. Of course we were working on the new studio, which pushed the stress button up just a little bit more. The album came out and it sounded disjointed. Polydor misjudged where my career actually was. Remember I said that there had been such a length of time between the Clutching Straws Marillion album and my first solo album and then the litigation, which dragged another huge expanse of time out so Internal Exile came out.
What it needed was a big burn out kind of promotion and we didn’t do that. Then the first single came out and it was Internal Exile the title track that, as you so rightly pointed out was leaning towards Scottish nationalism. This meant that the BBC really didn’t quite like it. I had also picked the perfect time; I was like Unlucky Alf in the Fast Show – “Oh bugger!” There just happened to be a general election on at the time and the Scottish National Party was doing rather well in the run ups. So what was not going to be played on a lot of stations was a song advocating how great it was for Scotland to be independent! It was just one of those things. I look back on it now and it is really funny but at the time it was a really dramatic set of circumstances that applied themselves and gave the album a death blow before it even came out.
With Credo, the second single, that did really well and again there are strange echoes of what is happening now. It was written about the original Gulf war, I had my daughter in my arms and I was watching the TV and thinking what have I done? What kind of place have I brought this child into? On the album there were songs like Dear Friend, a very kind of folky, bluesy kind of letter written to a friend. Then you have Just Good Friends, which eventually became a duet with Sam Brown later on. That had a very country and western feel; that was sitting next to Credo, which was a power punk rock. Internal Exile had this Fairport Convention, kind of folky, electric feel and to a lot of people it just didn’t gel.
At the time I said that the album was a collection of boys stories and that was the only way I could justify the album because it was a load of different pieces. It didn’t really work as an album and it didn’t really have anywhere near the impact that Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors had. But it is strange that out of all my albums Internal Exile has provided the absolute stalwarts of the live set. Songs like Lucky which should have been a single that Polydor missed, songs like Credo. Shadow Play is one of the most requested songs that we asked to play live. It comes up time and time again also Internal Exile itself and Just Good Friends. The people who have heard the version that I did with Sam Brown on the Kettle of Fish Best Of album that came out a few years back ask, why wasn’t the song a hit single? It is just one of those stories –the wrong place at the right time.
Well from an album that is perceived to be the wrong place at the right time you went on to make an album that must have had the executives at Polydor jumping up and down with glee – a Covers album. They were very popular in the ‘70’s; everyone had a go at them. In terms of consolidating your career I think you were quoted at the time as saying it was the worst decision you had ever made in your life.
It was the worst creative decision I ever made in my life but psychologically I needed to do it. One of the reasons Internal Exile was a kind of fragmented style was that I didn’t know what I was doing. Vigil as an album had already been concocted, it ended the Marillion epoch and went into a very new and exciting time which was a ‘I’m solo now, whoo!’ Internal came out of an era that was saddled with cynicism and bitterness and anger.
With the EMI case I didn’t even get my case heard because we didn’t have enough money to go to the High Court and we had to settle. The settlement was severe. My legal bills were huge. What annoyed me the most was that EMI was a company that I had been with for a long time and we had sold millions of albums with Marillion and what the litigation had been about and the way I had been treated had been unfair. I was a twisted wee man back then or boy I should say. It was really hard to write that album. On a song like Tongues on Internal Exile are some of the bitterest lyrics I have ever written about anybody in my life. When I went to Polydor and after delivering Internal Exile they wanted the next album. Internal Exile hadn’t done the number they thought it would and I was angry at them because I felt they hadn’t pulled out the stops that they said they were going to pull.
There were regime changes within the company, changes in the managing directors and changes in loyalties. The people who were fans were leaving and there was new people coming in so it was very much a state of flux. I needed to really get my head together but the cost of the EMI litigation had put me in a position where I was very close to losing my house. I needed to get an album out and I didn’t really trust the Polydor situation so I thought that I would go back and rediscover the reason why I fell in love with music in the first place. I picked out all these songs like Ape Man by the Kinks and T.Rex’s Jeepster and Boston Tea Party by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. I made two great covers I thought which were Fearless which was the original Pink Floyd track and Solo, one of my all time favourite songs which was written by Sandy Denny that I wish I had written. It is the only track off that album I played on a near regular basis when I have done an acoustic set up. The album went into the charts with an anchor (laughs) and people didn’t understand it. Some of the versions in retrospect would have made great B-sides but they weren’t album tracks. It shocked people and it severely shocked Polydor. I was in a situation with Polydor where I could have taken another six/nine months to write the Suits Album and finish if off and deliver it to Polydor but I couldn’t afford another nine months with a band I knew. I needed to record it without sinking further into debt. At the same time if I had delivered the next album with Polydor and it didn’t work – and I wasn’t getting any assurances that they were going to take me on for another album.
If I had delivered the Suits album and it had sunk without trace my career was over. I would have lost the studio and everything. I had to put that album to them and say, “Okay, I’ll do Suits” after some discussion it was decided that they didn’t want me so I was dropped from Polydor. It was back to the stress and the drama again. How I managed to get albums out I don’t actually know!
Well you say you went back to the stress and the drama, you went from a major to being your own boss virtually. That has to be very fulfilling because it begins and ends with you, you make the decisions but ultimately that sometimes gets in the way of actually creating. Out of that came the Suits album. Were you happy with that as a start to your independent solo career?
I think so yeah. James Cassidy produced the songs for the Mirror album and we developed a relationship after working together on Geoff Wayne’s Spartacus debacle. James came up; he was working with a band and looking for a studio to record some of his stuff in. James helped me write the Suits album but the Suits album was still struggling to find a direction and recovering from Song from the Mirror.
Some of the reviews from Songs from the Mirror were like dagger to the heart my lord (Laughs) and it was cold poison indeed. My confidence was kind of low, having just been thrown off my second major label. I had never really worked in this situation before. Rob Ayling from Voiceprint got involved and we put up this plan. The first thing we did was release a load of official bootlegs, which were live albums. Those live albums, together with the first ever official Dick Bros. record company, which was named after my dad’s garage in Dalkeith. That was what I decided to call the label. The logo of the labels was actually the three brothers who formed the original garage back in about 1890. We hit the stores with Sushi which was a double live album recorded from the Songs from the Mirror tour. Ironically the Songs from the Mirror tour was the best solo tour I had ever had to date. It had a stronger kick back than the Internal Exile tour did. The gigs were amazing and the feel on the cover versions, the versions of Fearless on the Sushi Live album are stunning. It is still one I am often drawn to play after a bottle of Chablis or two at two in the morning to complete strangers!
Sushi came out and that gig was there to set up the Suits album and to bring people in. Suits, again had a couple of great songs, 1470 is a song that often kicks back on a current live set and a song like Fortunes of War which I think is a great song and under other circumstances could have been a great single. Suits held the ship but it didn’t advance it and I was still sliding a little bit. It wasn’t until we did the re-mastering and I brought Callum Malcolm in who had worked in the Blue Nile and who is a great mixer of albums and producer as well to re-master the entire back catalogue. When he re-mastered the Suits album it was incredible how much the album came to life.
That was one of the albums that had been let down by the overall mastering. I don’t think it shone on the original recording but the re-mastering worked brilliantly and seemed to unzip it and it just sprung to life. One thing I did notice that the endings of the songs we were playing were going on for a very long time and could have done with quite a lot of editing but at that time I was finding a new direction. I think there was a soul and swing coming into me that I was finding more confidence in expressing. With songs like Jumpsuit City I like sitting there in the groove. I would definitely say that that was the next step back on the ladder after I fell off. I knew it was going to be a pretty big climb but I got back into finding a groove and finding a soul and finding something else that was exciting me again so it was an important album to do.
If you listen to the Raw Meat off the infill which is the final track of the album that was a song about the state of mind I was in at the time.
With your own record label and the inherent problems of having your own record label and being chief cook and bottle washer, the live albums kept things ticking over nicely and I would imagine it helped the financial situation because there are always people who want to have bootlegs. There seemed to be a long gap between that and your next proper studio album Sunsets on Empire. I was shocked when it came out because it seemed to be quite a raw and dark album.
Well what happened with Suits was we put the Suits album and fell into the old trap where we had to take on staff so I ended up having three members of staff here. There weren’t enough of us to really do the job properly. We didn’t have the international set up or the international reach as far as promotion went. It was very difficult to keep our fingers in all the different pies that were out there and as a consequence some of them got burned and some were hugely undercooked. I had to go on the road because I was having to generate finance to pay for the operation back here. I couldn’t afford at that time to take another year off to make an album. Even if I had taken a year off I would still be in the situation of having to pay the staff.
The other alternative was to get rid of everybody and I was trying to build it up. We put out a double album Best Of; we took a couple of months off and re-recorded a lot of Marillion tracks that I really liked. We re-recorded some of the solo stuff that I felt could have been done better and put together this double album set called Yin and Yang. We used that as like an international calling card because it had the Marillion stuff etc. We used that on that particular tour. We went into Singapore and Hong Kong, I was doing promo in Japan through the contacts we had down there. I was in South Africa; we were all over the place. At the same time, although we were generating money it was all disappearing and I kind of shot myself in the foot. It wasn’t really until we moved in the Sunsets and Empire album that I realised that we were going to have to change things. That was when I knew that the Dick Bros. label was going to have to change because I was finding myself, rather than being a creative artist but more of a businessman. I am not a particularly great businessman. It is not something I enjoy; the least enjoyable part of my life is dealing with business and financial stuff. I like to be creating and doing projects, the rest of it bores me, which is why I have no interest in it.
I was finding that most of my energies were following that route rather than making albums so I had to make a real decision. I went down to Midem to the big music convention in the South of France and I met some friends of mine from the publishing company and I told them that I really have to find something to do. It was suggested that I hook up with Steve Wilson from a band called No Man’s Land. I knew of his work with Porcupine Tree and Steve came in to correlate the album with me. It was an absolute breath of fresh air for me because I had been avoiding going back to the stuff that I obviously liked which was a style that I was known to play. Rather than follow this r ‘n’ b route, jazzy kind of route that was suggested to be some elements in Suits. Steve said he was brought up on old Marillion, he liked this stuff and he re-introduced me to a lot of those loose kind of proggy ideas. But he also had a further education and influences that took in a lot of modern grooves and things like that. It was combining his capabilities and my stuff and then opening up other doors suddenly we came up with an album, which was definitely the signal that Fish back on course again. I love that album; it’s a great album. It definitely was a major re-adjustment in people’s perception of where my career was. With songs like The Perception Of Johnny Punter were inspired by an awakening in a creative sense and as a person I think I really changed at that time.
That 1996/7 period was a major eye opener. I went to Bosnia to perform shows for British troops there and spending a couple of weeks there having seen the pictures on the TV was a major re-adjustment. My personal life was changing as well. All together I think I grew up and I had to really re-focus on a lot of stuff. Sunsets and Empire was also very much rooted in the huge Yin and Yang tour. I think we did something like a hundred and fifty shows or something on that tour; it was massive.
Sunsets On Empire was aptly named because it was going to be the last shot for Dick Bros. I knew that if this album didn’t sell in big quantities then Dick Bros. was over. The Dick Bros. Empire faded into the sunset itself. It was game over after that. We lost a fortune on the Sunsets tour. We got badly done over by quite a few companies, which we had no come back on. We were torpedoed below the water line. It was a case of the captain must go down with the ship sir (Laughs).
Let’s look at the album Rain gods with Zippos. It is a very interesting and quite an exciting album for you as an artist and creative person. Some of the people you wrote with on that album would not be the people that some of your fans would ordinarily put you with in a writing situation.
Well it happened because I was invited by Miles Copeland to the Marouatte which was a castle in the South of France. There were about twenty odd people there and every day there was writing teams and Miles had publishing company Rondor were involved in it. So there was always one Rondor artist, one Miles Copeland artist and one independent artist and I was asked as an independent. So every day when you went to breakfast it would be like – “You’ll be working with so and so today”. You would be working people you didn’t know. You wouldn’t know what they did or their styles. It was very exciting and a very important period in my life because it gave me my confidence back in my writing, in what I could write and how I could write. You would be doing a song a day, songs like Tilted Cross, Incomplete, Mission Statement and Chasing Miss Pretty. We used that one on another Best Of that came out on in about 1998. All the songs were made in one day and you were working in different styles. You would be working with country and western people, and then you would be working with say Rick Astley. It was really interesting. When I came back to do the album I wanted to use some of the tracks, Tilted Cross and Incomplete I loved. Mission Statement was a strange kind of song, it would not be out of place on Field of Crows, my new album but at that time I was not quite ready to sing that kind of song.
I had the basis of the Rain Gods with Zippos album but it was Tony Turrell and a guy called Mark Daghorn who presented me with this piece of music that they wanted me to write lyrics for and it suddenly metamorphosized into why don’t I try and use it. I had never worked on a twenty off minute piece of music before and suddenly we had an album that was really in two halves. The first half of the album has a song called Tumble Down, which was written by my old writing partner Mickey Simmonds and then you had the three songs that came from the Marouatte sessions together with a stunning kick off version of Faith Healer, which I adored.
Again that was a song that should have been on Songs from the Mirror but I couldn’t put two Sensational Alex Harvey Band songs on that one. So Faith Healer came out and it was a really strange album because you had Mission Statement, Faith Healer cover version, a really serious be-bop song then a beautiful ballad Tilted Cross, a lovely duet with Elizabeth Antwi, Incomplete which was a single. That one again should have happened but never. There was a song, Rites of Passage that I did with Mickey that glides into the big epic Plague of Ghosts. It was really strange how the album divides into two pieces.
Plague of Ghosts I intend to play on the next tour because I think it is time it was re-visited and I loved singing it. I love the drama of it; it was like doing theatre on stage without the costumes. The way the character changes and the different emotions that come under the different sections, again like the Field of Crows vibe. I was really pleased with the album and Plague of Ghosts reinforced the faith that the fans had. They know I am still capable of doing big epics and delivering them as well as delivering great ballads that the customers have loved since Kayleigh days.
From an album you describe as having two sides to it, we’re into the new millennium now, Fellini Days. It is very much in the tradition of Fish albums, a very solid piece of work which ultimately transferred very well live.
We had played a lot of that material live before we took it into the studio so there was an edge to it in the same way as on Field of Crows. When we did Fellini Days we had the Fellini Days track itself and we had a couple of other ones that benefited from taking out and playing in. Again it helped the fans because by seeing it in early stages we knew we were all going in the right direction here.
Fellini Days really came out at a strange period in my life. I had moved across to a Dutch record company, which was a travesty of a decision. I ended up in the position of being an artist who had a great fan base but wasn’t going to get the promotion I really needed. That meant that once again I was coming out on a label; the approach to Fellini Days was be published and be damned, it was like I am just going to do what I want to do. There was never going to be any single released from it – it was always ‘an album’. I had already accepted the fact that I am never going to have a million selling album. Forget moving into Bruce Springsteen’s shadow never mind territory, you know! It was always going to be an album that would be relatively selfish. That worked for it because I just said what I wanted to say and did it in my own way. I am really proud of some of the songs on that one. When I have a bad day on a tour there is nothing better than going up and singing Long Cold Day in the middle of a tour; you just feel so good. Maybe when I die there will be a big rush and people will say that guy was a song writer somebody will put out a cover version and Robbie Williams will sing it and it will be a huge hit and people will ask, “Why didn’t we recognise him when he was here?” I am going to laughing up there because my kid will be getting all the royalties.
Well here we are at the end of 2003 bringing the story right up to date – Field of Crows. Again it is another album I can tell you are going to enjoy playing live and I think the fans are going to enjoy hearing the songs live too.
I am not really into studio construction and I don’t like putting songs together in a studio that are going to be really awkward to play live. I am a songwriter in a classic sense. I still believe that you still be able to interpret any decent song using an acoustic guitar, a piano and a voice. With Field of Crows, working with someone like Bruce Watson from Big Country has meant that he has had as big an impact on my career as Steve Wilson did on the Sunsets and Empires album in that Bruce, who is into the Who and Zeppelin, is a rock guitarist and who wrote some brilliant songs with Big Country that were melodic rock songs. Putting the two of us together has been a match made in heaven as far as the fans are going to react. They will say this is a great writing team. I added Tony Turrell to the team who worked on the Plague Of Ghosts which was like one of the most favoured epics that the fans have gone for the live experience.
There was always going to be a lot of magic there and as I said the live thing is going to be important. It is interesting because we are selling the album at the gigs and you go up there and playing stuff that people have never heard which is a great feeling to play because there is a certain amount of ‘we know it is good and you are now going to discover it is good’. Playing something like innocent party on guitars on stage is going to be extremely exciting for audience and band alike. On the stage you thrive on the excitement and the feedback you get.
At the end of the night if someone walks out with an album in their hand because they really want to hear it in the car on the way home that is a really good moment. It is going to be interesting. I accept the reality of where I am and I just want to make great albums that I am proud of and deliver quality songs in my own inimitable, maverick style. It would absolutely ironic if something like Zoo Class suddenly got picked up and became a hit. It would be the worst thing to happen to me because I want to be in my garden now (laughs). Seriously, I like the state I am in where people discover you and write emails. It is good to find that people are still discovering your music and appreciating it. I don’t have the hassle of that media onslaught and intrusion into your privacy that goes with the current status of being a rock star. I am privileged and humbled by the fact that I have been there, done it, ticked it off and got a wardrobe full of t-shirts. Now I just like making music and I like having a laugh making music.
I think the best thing that was said during the recording of Field of Crows was by two or three members of the band who said that it had been the most fun they had ever had in a studio and that it had been such an easy album to make, everybody was smiling, happy and positive. There was no friction, no egos, no backbiting, just everybody walking around with smiles having a great time. I think that is the kind of atmosphere you have got to make music in and I think that's the reason why Field of Crows sounds so good.
© Jon Kirkman December 2003 and 2011
The above interview was made into an extended radio special and this can be heard in full here:
Thursday, 17 March 2011
Interview with Geoff Downes 8 March 2001
During 1982 and most of 1983 Asia were about as big a rock band, in worldwide terms as you could be. Their first album ‘Asia’ went multi-platinum and spawned a number of hit singles. That the second album ‘Alpha’, released in mid-1983, would be following the same platinum trail was taken for granted. Not by the band, you understand, but by the band’s management and record company. And although by any other band’s standards, ‘Alpha’ would have been considered a massive success (remember the album reached the top 5 and the single ‘Don’t cry’ made the top 10) in comparison with the first album, ‘Alpha’ seemed at the time to be a bit of a let down.
The upshot of this was both management and record company came to the conclusion that a change was needed and that change would be John Wetton. This change duly happened following John’s last gig with Asia on September 10th at the Pine Knob venue in Detroit. In most cases this wouldn’t be a problem – get someone new in, rehearse with them, record a new album, no problems… Except Asia were booked to perform a concert at the Budokan in Japan, which would be broadcast worldwide on the satellite to about 20 million people. This was due to take place some two months after John Wetton’s departure.
Geoff Downes explains how they managed against the odds to pull it off.
Jon Kirkman: The second Asia album ‘Alpha’ was not the success Geffen had hoped for. Was this perhaps the root cause for John Wetton’s departure from the band?
Geoff Downes: Well I think that it didn’t help; the first album had been so successful. that anything less than that was considered to be a bit of a flop. But it was still Top 5 in America and the single went Top 10. But yeah, I think it started a little tremor at the record company because they were banking so much on it. And they’d invested a lot of money into it.
JK: The writing credits for the album were pretty much boxed off by yourself and John Wetton, weren’t they?
GD: Yeah, but I think that was part of the problem with the conflict between Steve and John because I don’t think John felt that Steve’s contributions on the first album were significant because obviously the singles that came off that first album were the ones that had been written between John and myself. And I think the record company didn’t really help there either because they wanted to see that writing combination pretty much across the board on the next album. So I think that was a combination factor. But it didn’t do anything to secure any good relations, particularly between John and Steve.
JK: Following the last live concert the band played with John Wetton, two months down the road, you’ve got this MTV live concert at the Budokan which was due to be seen by literally millions of people via satellite.
GD: Yeah, seen by millions and heard by millions. It was also satellite linked to all the radio stations in America as well, so it was a pretty big deal.
JK: A replacement was needed pretty quickly then. So whose idea was it that Greg Lake came aboard?
GD: I think it was Carl’s really. I think obviously it was a bit of a strange situation because the whole thing had been booked to do it because it was only 2 months to go before that situation with John erupted and the commitments had been made. I think the record company were also er… John Kalodner was fairly instrumental in suggesting Lake. Because obviously, they had similar backgrounds and in some respects similar sounding voices, certainly on the King Crimson era stuff, so I think that you know, Greg was a fairly obvious choice. But obviously it was a very difficult thing. We had a very intensive rehearsal period and a lot of the material that was much more in Wetton’s range; Lake had dropped a few semitones so we had to play all the material in different keys, which was difficult.
JK: Was the set list altered at all to accommodate Greg’s style, or did he just try and replicate what John Wetton had done before?
GD: No, I think we obviously felt that we had to play the main tunes like ‘Wildest Dreams’, ‘Heat of the Moment’, ‘Only Time Will Tell’ and ‘Sole Survivor’, that was pretty much etched in stone, that we’d have to do that stuff from the first album. It was a bit more flexible with the stuff we pulled in from ‘Alpha’ because… I think we did ‘Eye To Eye’ which was a song that was fairly obscure on the original album; I don’t think we’d actually done it live. But I think because of the register of it, it suited Greg’s voice more. So that was one that we sort of plucked up but aside from that, we only had to play for an hour so it meant that we could drop a fair amount of stuff.
JK: Looking at the cover of the subsequently released video and watching the video it seems to all intents and purposes that it was business as usual for Asia. But in reality, how tense was it for the band?
GD: It was incredibly tense. I remember thinking that I was nervous as hell before the actual show, because you have an hour on the satellite and that's it, you know, it goes blank. If there’s any problems or equipment had gone down, or Greg had forgotten his lines or whatever it was. If it had gone wrong, it would have been a disaster, because obviously people knew about the personnel change and they were waiting to see what this outfit was gonna be like and I think in retrospect, considering the amount of work Greg had to do, he did a pretty good job and it’s not an easy thing to do is it, just step into a band that had just had a massive selling album in America and step in and play to that many people.
JK: Presumably then you were happy with the subsequent video and recording?
GD: Yeah! I think so. I think it gives a good insight into what went on there. What it probably doesn’t give an insight into is the amount of work that was obviously going on behind the scenes to make it happen. Once John had left, we had an enormous period of intense work to get not only the songs played in different keys but to get Greg conversant with the material. And bearing in mind we had this set date of whenever it was, December something or other 1983.
JK: Do you actually remember anything about the gig, or was it one of those situations where you just wanted to get your head down and get through it?
GD: Yeah, I can remember being more nervous than I’ve ever been in my life before (laughs) and I think really I just wanted by the end of it, I just wanted to get it over with. Funnily enough, we did actually have a fail safe, where we’d done a complete recording of the show as a sort of dummy run where we gave out free tickets the day before, where we wore the same clothes and everything like that. So that was running concurrently with the live satellite broadcast so if there had been any major technical problems they were capable of being able to actually switch to the pre recorded version.
JK: So there are actually two versions of ‘Asia in Asia’ in existence then?
GD: There would be, I mean, I don’t think that it would ever have been available, it might have got scrubbed or something once the original version was OK. But the one that you see and the one that you hear is definitely the original date that we did.
JK: Was Greg Lake ever thought of as being the permanent replacement for John Wetton or was it just a case of “we’ve got this gig, can you help us out of this hole that we’re in”?
GD: No. I think we thought that we’d see how it went and then take it further and I think that we tried a little bit of work afterwards. But it wasn’t’ really doing what I think Asia should have been doing and then I started working with John on some material outside of the camp, and that sort of precipitated his return I think, and by that time, Greg wasn’t really interested in it particularly. If you look at it really it wasn’t his band. It was never his band. He was more like a kind of a high paid session man for doing it in a way.
JK: How long after the gig was it decided then that Greg was going to go and John Wetton was going to return, because there was a certain amount of press speculation about it, and of course, when John did return, Steve Howe left.
GD: Yeah, well that was what eventually did happen. I think that we actually did have a period of time where we started working together as the four of us, the four original members and that went on for a while, and we did rehearsals and we actually cut a few demos, about half a dozen or so, but at the end of those John turned around and said “Look, you know, I can’t carry on working with Steve Howe in the proceedings”, so it was a case of, it was either one of them but not both at the same time. (Laughs)
JK: Some 18 years down the road, are you not curious as to what it might have been like, had the situation worked with Greg?
GD: Yeah, I did actually do some work as you know, with Greg at a later stage, and we worked together for about a year on an album of material, some of which came out on his own solo retrospective CD. And one of the songs came out on ‘Aqua’. So yeah! He’s a pretty likeable person to work with, but I think that we were being manipulated very heavily by the record company at this stage. You’ve got to realise that Asia was big business to them at this time and they weren’t really that interested in who was in the band, particularly as long as it was a “supergroup” that they could sell. I often do think that maybe it could have been something with Greg but it wasn’t just the John Wetton/Steve Howe problem, there was also the fact that Carl and Greg were not exactly “Seeing Eye to Eye” either. So it was a combination of things.
JK: How do you think that line-up stand against the original Asia or the current line-up of Asia? It was a one-off really, wasn’t it?
GD: Yeah, I think that it was enjoyable, but it was almost as if I felt we were each playing different roles. It didn’t feel to me specifically like a band, I think it was more, not going through the motions, because it sounded pretty good, and I think that we gave a good account of ourselves on the show, but I don’t know whether anyone’s heart was really in it, specifically to take it any further.
JK: The question is then did it feel like Asia?
GD: Oh yeah, it felt like Asia, to me it did. It felt pretty much like it did before. Obviously John wasn’t there, and I was the closest to John out of any of them. The thing is, because Asia was so big so quickly, we were all being carried along on the snowball. And you don’t really get chance to step out of it and look at it and think, “am I having a good time here or am I not?” Every day was just full of rehearsals, interviews, it was just solid, and you don’t ever really get time to step out of it and say “is this Asia or not Asia?” In the infamous works of Charlie Watts, when asked about playing with the Rolling Stones, he said, “Well you know, it’s a job innit?” (Laughs). It did seem a bit like that at times.
JK: So John came back, but left again in 1991 following the filming of Nottingham Live and some Russian dates you presumably thought, I’ve done this once before when John left and continued, so I guess it wasn’t too difficult to bring John Payne in and move it on again?
GD: Yeah, I think that’s a pretty wise observation, that the incoming Greg Lake set a precedent for Asia in the future, that nothing was actually etched in stone. Asia was in many ways I think bigger than the sum parts, and to me it’s always been about a sound and a type of music and in many ways I think that I would put that before anything of anyone’s individual contributions. I think that it’s a collective. I think you’re right to say that once we’d gone through a personnel change in the vocal department, the second time you do it, it’s not such a big switch for the overall sound of the group.
So here it is, a one–off really, of one of the biggest rock acts of the early 80’s. Only a fool would have dismissed a line-up like this and the potential was there for all to see, and hear on this CD. Could it have worked with Greg Lake? We will of course, never know. Of the members involved in this particular chapter of Asia’s history, Geoff Downes still writes, records and performs in the current Asia alongside vocalist/bassist John Payne, guitarist Guthrie Govan and drummer Chris Slade. John Wetton has a thriving solo career and has just released his latest solo album. Carl Palmer has formed a new band. Steve Howe is firmly back in Yes although has made guest appearances with Asia on occasion, and Greg Lake, following his departure from ELP, is working on solo projects.
(Update 2006) As of late spring 2006 the original line up of Asia re formed for a hugely successful tour of America and plan further dates in Europe and Japan towards the end of 2006 and into 2007.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Billy Nichols is known for a wonderful album released in the sixties entitled “Would You Believe”. The album was released by The Immediate label but due to problems with the label the album received only a limited release and has since gone on to enjoy cult status. Billy continued to work throughout the seventies releasing albums and also writing songs including I Can't Stop Loving You, which was a massive, hit for Leo Sayer and more recently Phil Collins.
Over the years Billy has also remained a good friend of Pete Townshend and collaborated with Pete on projects connected with their interest in Meher Baba and also worked with the Who as their musical director.
In 2005 Sanctuary, who had already re issued Would You Believe released an anthology of Billy's work entitled Forever Is No Time At All.
Jon Kirkman spoke to Billy at his home in London about the Anthology and some of his solo work and his prestigious rock connections
Jon Kirkman Well, your Anthology is out, it is called Forever’s No Time At All. It seems very apt for a title.
Billy Nichols It is a good name for a title. It was not chosen by me but because it was one of my singles that came out a while ago. It was on Pete Townshend’s album Who Came First.
JK The Townshend connection is weird because your dad was in the same band as Pete’s dad wasn’t he?
BN That’s right, the Squadronaires. I didn’t know that until after I had met Pete. I came home one day and my dad asked me where I had been. I told him I had been with Pete Townshend and he brought down from upstairs a book of photographs from the wartime and told me that he used to play with Pete’s dad. But our connection wasn’t the one through the Squadronaires, it was a bit of a coincidence really but these things happen.
JK Your album; Would You Believe has been one of those collectable albums for years and years. It didn’t come out because Immediate Records was suffering problems. Reading the notes from the anthology it seems that you weren’t actually signed to Immediate as an artist.
BN No I never signed a contract with them as an artist but I was signed with them as a writer. I was employed as a resident songwriter for a couple of years. Having said that we were all helping each other out on our records and then Andrew Oldham decided he wanted to do an album with me – that was the Would You Believe album. But as soon as it was finished things started to go a bit strange at Immediate and I am not sure how many copies were printed, maybe a hundred or something but it was never really released.
JK Were you disappointed that it didn’t get a proper release?
BN I was very disappointed, more so with the fact that Immediate Records went down. It was such a lovely situation there with the Small Faces and Pat Arnold all helping each out. It really was like a family situation. When things went wrong it hurt me much more than the fact that the album didn’t get promoted or released.
JK It did seem like a very creative label but business wise it did seem pretty hopeless.
BN That’s right, to be quite honest I was about 17 or 18 at the time and I was not very up on what was happening business wise. I was literally writing full time for Del Shannon and myself and singing on other people’s records. We were all a bit naïve and unaware of what was going on.
JK I was growing up with this kind of stuff – and in the seventies I saw this album Love Songs in a second hand shop one day and bought it. It became one of my favourite albums.
BN What was so strange about Love Songs was that after Immediate folded I got signed to Billy Gaff’s label GM Records and started to make an album myself which Billy really liked. He helped me fund “Love Songs”. Then pretty much the same thing happened to GM records. It folded just as it was about to come out. It was terrible. So even though I was still writing there had been a big gap of disillusionment. I did personally really rate Love Songs especially working with Caleb Quaye and it was really a joint effort between the two of us.
JK Those two albums are now very highly thought of and very collectable. When you did them and suffered those problems did it make you think that you couldn’t be bothered recording anymore? Did you maybe think that you would just carry on writing for other people?
BN Well that is pretty much what happened. I did get disillusioned but the thing about writing songs is that I have been doing it since I was 13 so it is something that is there all the time so you just carry on even though you have been hurt twice. I did the White Horse album and a band called White Horse came and said they would sue us if we went on the road so Capitol dropped that one as well. (Laughs) It just seems to happen again and again and again really.
JK Having said that, your name has been associated with people like the Small Faces and you have worked with Ronnie Lane, Pete Townshend. That is how I came to know you from the association with these people. Does that bother you in any way?
BN Pete and Ronnie became very close friends of mine; it is almost irrelevant who they are. I know they're very famous and the rest of it but we had a connection with one another through Meher Baba so that was something else was very close to all of us.
JK There seemed to be at the time a small clique of musicians and artists who were Meher Baba followers. How big was that following?
BN It was a very small nucleus of people really and we did a few albums together. It wasn’t really a clique it just happened to be there you know. We did a few concerts and fund raising things to make another album. It just evolved from there. It just dissipated and people became more personal in their approach to Meher Baba I know I have. I don’t go to meetings any more.
JK In the seventies there was a very definite move towards the spiritual side of things wasn’t there? What was it that attracted you to that side of things?
BN Well I rebelled to be quite honest when I found out about Meher Baba. It wasn’t long after the Immediate Records split and I met Pete and Ronnie and they were completely into it. I went to America for six months and when I came back it hit me that I was running away from something I was involved with. I don’t know why this mystical involvement happened at that time, it just did. It was starting to happen in the sixties as well I suppose.
JK Did it affect you as an artist in terms of inspiration like it did Pete and Ronnie?
BN Oh yeah, in a big way. I suppose lyrically I’d say that a lot of songs I was writing at the time could have been about Meher Baba for instance a song called Without Your Love was written and used in the McVicar film was specifically about Meher Baba. Even now I write songs about him but in an ambiguous way so it could be about a boy or girl situation.
JK There is a sort of subconscious feel about some of Pete’s songs that you look at in two ways, is it the same for you?
BN That is exactly it, yes.
JK Another big success for you was Leo Sayer covering I Can’t Stop Loving You, which is of course proved to be very successful in America when Phil Collins recorded it. How did that song come about? Was it written as part of an album or did you think that it could be a hit single when you wrote it?
BN Yeah I did think it was single material. I came back from America and I had been away from my family. My wife had just had a little girl so I was missing out on a lot of her early days and very upset about having to go back to Los Angeles for ten weeks at a time waiting for a contract. I came back home to Twickenham and wrote that song. It was just a song about leaving because I was emotional about it I just put it into the context of leaving someone. As I wrote it I remember telling my wife that I had just written a hit single. Of course it didn’t happen for me but Leo Sayer heard it in Los Angeles and he literally used exactly the same musicians as I had used and had a hit with it.
JK The arrangement is obviously very similar as well. If you listen to the version on the anthology you can see this including the vocal inflections as well.
BN Yes he just copied it. Good for him, he had a hit with it. At least something happened with it.
JK Was it a surprise when Phil Collins decided to do it? I thought at the time that it was a strange choice for him.
BN I must admit I did too but when I heard his version of it, (he did it 4/4 and added an extra little piece to it that took it up an extra notch as it were) I didn’t think it would work at first but it works really well for him. I am really pleased for him, he has taken quite a few knocks lately and he is a really nice guy. I hope the song has helped him and I am pleased it has given him another hit.
JK It has done very well for you too, it has won you a couple of awards from ASCAP hasn’t it, which is nice?
BN Yes I have just got another one as well! Phil Collins is still touring and I wasn’t a big fan of his until I went to see the concert and I couldn’t believe how good he was.
JK You worked with the Who pretty extensively in the late ‘80s. How did that come about?
BN It started with Pete asking me would I musically direct his solo concert called the Deep End at Brixton. It meant putting a lot of musicians together. Pete did not just want to do his own songs; he wanted to do other favourite songs of his. It meant putting a big band together with Dave Gilmour and lots of singers, brass section etc. To be quite honest I had never done any musical direction before but it was a friend helping a friend to find the right people. He knew I loved his music and knew a lot about it. He trusted me really to put the best band that I could find at that time together. That continued with the Who really. Pete and The Who wanted to go out with a big band in ’89 to do a lot more and strengthen some songs and the only way they could do something like I Can See For Miles was to add more singers onstage to actually do it properly. It went a bit over the top I must admit. A lot of people knocked it believe it or not.
JK The Who was one of those bands that were damned if you do and damned if you don’t. There are people who see them as the original four piece and won’t have any truck with anything beyond that.
BN It is having the guts to do it. I think Pete and Roger and John wanted to do bigger things with their stuff. They also wanted to do solo stuff and try to experiment. I think it worked.
JK What was it like for you being on stage with a band like that, it must have been pretty good?
BN It was actually, I have so much respect for Pete’s work. It is great to sing on those songs it really is. I did do a few more, I did Psychoderelict with him, I did Roger Daltrey’s solo tour and we ended up doing Quadrophenia that once again had to be big with the brass line up and the singers otherwise you would have lost some elements that were desperately needed. It was great but it was hard work though because being an MD you are responsible for a lot of things and then you have to get up and sing. To be honest we had learned and rehearsed over a hundred songs for the ’89 tour.
JK You did the whole of Tommy and there was another set too. It was like two gigs a night in one.
BN Pete said to me that if he got bored he was going home and he was insured against that. I also had that hanging over my head! Don’t forget also that I said Zak had to play drums in Quadrophenia, I had got Zak involved in at the beginning and Pete had said, “On your head be it!”
JK Zak is the drummer for the Who though, obviously the connection with Keith helps because Keith taught him rather than his dad (Ringo Starr).
BN That’s right that is what he told me. He hasn’t looked back. He is doing well; I speak to him practically every other day. He is on the straight and narrow and working well.
JK Let’s get back to your stuff. Your most recent album is Still Entwined isn’t it?
BN I decided to do something that is probably not very fashionable but with not too much fairy dust put on it. If you listen to the first track it hasn’t got any echo on it or anything. My son Morgan went along with me on it and helped me produce it. It is a bit exposed and some of the songs are a bit sad but it is something I wanted to do.
JK Your albums are available through your website and have been for a while. This compilation has been issued through Sanctuary, are there any plans to issue any of the others through Sanctuary?
BN They are going to see how it goes. We might try to find the original masters for Would You Believe; I think Charley Records may have them. They say they own the copyright worldwide for it. What Sanctuary want to do is put out a deluxe version of it and if we can get the masters it will be a nice to re-look at them and bring them up to scratch and do a good job on it. Maybe we can put some of the out takes and the snapshot demos on it as well. It would be a deluxe edition of it.
JK That would be a nice release!
BN It would be good yes, especially if we can get the masters to make sure it is a good as we can possibly do it. The thing about writing songs is that you might have about ten or twelve ideas on the go at the same time and if one keeps staying with you, you know you are on to something and that means you have a strong melody normally. You can work on it and put good lyrics to it.
JK This anthology is a pretty good shop window for people who want to get into your stuff isn’t it?
BN That’s right but I have about another eighty demos recorded that I haven’t even released yet. The next thing I want to do is a more acoustic album, I have done some stuff with the Chieftains and I fancy putting something out like that.
JK Someone like you just writes songs and more songs don’t you, you don’t just think you will write an album?
BN That is exactly it, it is what you do.
JK It has been great speaking to you today.
BN Thank you Jon.
Forever’s No Time At All: The Anthology 1967-2004 is released via Sanctuary Records
© Jon Kirkman/Rockahead/CRR 2005 and 2011
You can buy Billy Nicholls albums directly from his website
Rush burst out of Canada in the mid seventies recording a number of progressively sophisticated albums until the late nineties when Neil Peart suffered a devastating personal tragedy. His wife and daughter both died within a short space of time. It was to be five years before Peart re-joined Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee to record another Rush album. Vapour Trails was released in 2002 and the band set out on a tour to promote the album. Demand for Rush was such that many extra dates had to be added. The tour finished in South America and the final date at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro was filmed and is due to be released on DVD as Rush in Rio. Jon Kirkman caught up with guitarist Alex Lifeson in Toronto to talk about the forthcoming DVD and CD and what lies ahead for Rush.
Jon Kirkman The DVD (Rush in Rio) was filmed in Rio de Janeiro at the end of the Vapour Trails tour. What was the motivation to go to Brazil because it was the band’s first trip to Brazil?
Alex Lifeson Right. We’ve long had offers to go to Rio to play at ‘Rock in Rio’ and we’ve always avoided it because we’re not really comfortable playing in that kind of pop festival format. We’re really about our own show and representing ourselves that way. Record sales don’t give you a true indication of your popularity in places like that. Our record sales are modest you know, nothing to go crazy about but this opportunity came up to do more than one show, to do a few shows. The promoters made it worth our while to come down because it’s a very expensive trip; to get all the gear down there, all our lighting you know, it’s heavy stuff.
JK I guess you would want to give the fans the full show and not skimp on anything?
AL Absolutely the full show, it has to be. So it’s quite a costly procedure to get everything down there and do these things. So anyway the opportunity came up. Now we had planned on shooting the DVD on one of the last American dates in upstate New York and we had some problems at the venue and decided to pull it on that last day. So really our only other choices were the shows in South America and we thought Rio would be the best choice. A lot of videos have been done in Rio, it’s a great audience and we could see from our ticket sales that it was going to be a really good enthusiastic crowd. We never expected then to be the way they were. They were just mind blowing.
JK I take it you were very surprised then at the reaction?
AL Oh yeah! We were completely surprised by it. We had 60,000 people in Sao Paolo and 44,000 in Rio. Those are the biggest audiences we have ever played to in a headline situation and the fact that in Rio we had all these Brazilians who don’t speak very much English sing every word to every song and even sing through the instrumentals, it just blew our minds. It’s such an amazing thing to watch.
JK If you look at the DVD this must have been pretty emotional for you guys on stage because in front of you you’ve got thousands of people who know every nuance and every word. They don’t particularly speak English that well and yet they know all the words to your songs so that must have been pretty emotional for you as well as the fans.
AL Well for me, well for all of us but for me the first set was difficult. We knew we were shooting this video; we were also recording. The gear got in late. We didn’t actually get on stage until ten thirty that night. There was no sound check, no line check, and no video line check. We went on dead cold. We got up on stage; we hadn’t even had a chance to see what the stage was like because we had forty cameras. There were cables everywhere; there were lights everywhere (laughs) that weren’t where they were before. So what was our very comfortable environment up there, suddenly was transformed into this very hectic and tense place so I had to really, really concentrate in the first set but there were moments where I just had a lump in my throat. Seeing the audience singing and hearing even through my in-ear monitors how loudly they were singing.
JK Do you think sometimes in a situation like that, which is a real seat of the pants job, that it gives the band the impetus to raise their game just that little bit more?
AL Sure, it always does. Everything was on the line. This was the last show of the tour, if it didn’t happen, if there was some big catastrophe or problem or if we just played poorly that would be it. Either we would live with that or not release it. So it put everything on the line. You know our crew, it was so unbelievable how hard they worked to get the show together, to get everything running and we raised our game as well I think. It was that much more intense on stage and I think it’s reflected in our playing.
JK I’m sure most Rush fans will know that Neil suffered a terrible personal tragedy a few years ago which took the band off the road and obviously Neil had to reconsider a lot of things in his life. But when a band comes back after an extended lay off you obviously want to promote the new album but how do you decide which of the older material you will perform? For instance there was a big response to Closer to the Heart on the DVD.
AL Yeah, Closer to the Heart was not included in the North American tour. We’ve played that I think every tour since 1977-1978 so it was a bit of a relief for us not to play it and slot some other things in that we hadn’t played before. In South America we’ve heard that it was a very popular song, one of our most popular songs down there so we thought we should really include it in the set and I think that was a smart thing for us to do. It’s always so difficult for us to get a set list together. I think we probably had about four and half hours of material that we whittled down to three hours (laughs) and Geddy and I sat down and went through all the albums and we listened to just about everything. Certainly there were songs that we would never plan to do live.
JK But surely that’s the case with every band. A band will record an album and certain tracks become popular and people want to hear them and then there are other tracks that will never get played live.
AL Yeah! That’s right.
JK Looking at the set list on this tour and DVD, it’s a very broad cross section of your career.
AL Yeah, we really tried to do that. We tried to include something from all the records. You know, Moving Pictures is a very popular record of ours and it’s popular with our whole fan base going back to the early fans and the more recent ones. Tom Sawyer, YYZ, Red Barchetta, those are songs that along with Limelight; we have to include them and that takes up a lot but Vapour Trails on this tour, we would have loved to have played the whole album. We were so inside that record and it was so important to us you know. The culmination of those four or five years of all the difficulties we had gone through.
JK I suppose it must have been like a release.
AL Oh absolutely it was.
JK Well the DVD and CD will be in the shops shortly and I have to ask this as the rumours are doing the rounds that this is the last thing Rush will do. So do you get fed up with hearing the rumours or do you just get on with things and not get caught up in that and do what you do?
AL Well that’s exactly right. (Laughs) We’ve always just done what we do. I think the way we feel right now; there’s certainly more music in us. There’s certainly more tours. We really enjoyed the last tour. It was the first time we had done a summer tour. So it was much brighter and happier and fun and I think we’d like to do that again. We’d like to play a summer tour and in fact we’re talking about possibly going back on the road next year without a new release and doing a thirtieth anniversary tour and this would also afford us the opportunity of coming to Britain and Europe.
JK I’ve been waiting to hear that for a few years.
AL Well it’s always been a very difficult thing because as we get older our touring schedule shrinks and of course we had the five years away and that compounded the problem and we haven’t been back in eleven years I think now and honestly we know that and we know we have an audience there and we have fans that would love to see us and we feel very guilty about not coming over. We had honest intentions, sincere intentions of coming over on the last tour. But once things started to get put together we weren’t sure how it was going to go for us; we’d been out of the loop for a while. There were a lot of questions. Neil had committed to a fifty, actually I think it was more like thirty eight dates in his original request and we ended up doing sixty seven shows so it just kept building and building and building and when we finally could squeeze in going overseas it was too late. The window of opportunity was gone. Hall availability had completely dried up until February of this year and this was in the summer we were looking at it. So this time around and I know Geddy of all of us is the most adamant that we come over and play. I don’t think he even wants to tour unless we come there and do a tour. This time we’re going to work it in so we absolutely will come because I think it would be great to bring this whole show. I know it would be different from the Vapour Trails tour but that would be the starting point for the new show. It would be great to bring that over and particularly for fans in Britain to see it.
JK Well I think I can speak for most Rush fans and say we’d love to see you.
AL Yeah and I think that’ll what we will do. We haven’t really confirmed that yet. Geddy’s away for a couple of weeks. He’s on a trip with his wife in Vietnam. So when he gets back from ‘Nam (laughs) we’ll sit down and finalise all this stuff but it really looks like we’re leaning that way and I’m glad of that. I think it would really be a lot of fun to go back out and do another tour especially a thirtieth anniversary of the band and stuff.
JK I think it’s probably just as important for the band as well as the fans that you celebrate and mark that because it is a very important landmark.
AL It is, I never thought we would be here thirty years ago. I was hoping for maybe five years at that point. If we could tour for five years and make four or five records, boy, what a great career that would have been.
JK I think a lot of bands think that and say, “Let’s see if we can stick around for five years and make a few records,” and before you know it you’re looking back on ten years.
AL Yeah, well when you’re a nineteen, twenty-year-old kid playing in bars six days a week, boy! Your vision beyond that isn’t that deep. (Laughs)
JK Well the Rush in Rio DVD is superb and is a must for any Rush fan or any real rock fan come to think of it and it’s great to hear that you guys are going to continue making more music and I can’t wait to see you in the UK. Thanks for talking to me today.
AL Thank you Jon.
© Jon Kirkman Rockahead/CRR 2003 and 2011
Rush In Rio DVD can be ordered directly from Amazon:
Billy Cox was an old army buddy of Jimi Hendrix when they were both playing in various bands together. Following Noel Redding's exit from the Experience in the summer of 1969 following a concert in Denver. Billy Cox was the first person Jimi rang. Following the Denver gig Jimi's next gig was to headline at a music festival being held in Upstate New York in August 1969. That festival was the Woodstock Festival, which as history has dictated has become possibly the most famous music festival ever held.
For the Woodstock appearance Jimi expanded the band that included Billy on bass, Mitch Mitchell on drums Juma Sultan and Jerry Velez on percussion and another old musical friend Larry Lee on guitar.
This band played Woodstock under the banner Gypsy Sons and Rainbows. Following this gig the band played one more concert, a benefit in Harlem New York.
Billy Cox would go on with Jimi to form The Band Of Gypsy's alongside drummer Buddy Miles although this band would prove to be short lived and Jimi with Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell would soon return to the name The Jimi Hendrix Experience until Jimi's death in September 1970. Billy Cox however does hold a rather unique place in the musical history of Jimi Hendrix in that he was the only other musician other than Jimi to play in the Experience, Gypsy Sons And Rainbows and The Band Of Gypsy's
Jon Kirkman spoke to Billy Cox at his home in America on the eve of the release of the new Jimi Hendrix At Woodstock Deluxe Edition DVD about his time with one of the finest guitarists in popular music
Jon Kirkman Let’s have a chat about the DVD that is coming out (Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock). I have been lucky enough to see a preview of the live footage although I haven’t seen all the extras that are going on it yet. Less than a week ago we celebrated the thirty sixth anniversary of Woodstock. What are your thoughts on looking back to that particular concert?
Billy Cox It has to be one of the most memorable concerts I have ever done.
JK It must have been almost a trial by fire for you. I know you were playing with your friend Jimi Hendrix but it was a pretty big gig to kick off with.
BC It was a humongous gig. I have been asked what is the greatest and most memorable concert that I have ever done and I always think Woodstock – which it was.
JK You had obviously played with Jimi before earlier in the sixties but the Experience came to an end after a concert in Denver when Noel Redding left the band. Were you asked to play with Jimi before or after Noel left?
BC I was in the studio doing some work with Jimi trying to help him with his creative faculties – putting songs together, because that is what we did. We would have these little patterns, little bit parts that we would put together to make songs. It was always fun.
JK Whenever I have reviewed anything that Jimi has recorded and released, I always said that there was never anyone who played guitar like Jimi Hendrix before he came along and since he has died. There have been plenty who have tried but none have been like him.
BC No, they emulate him and duplicate him but none have been like him.
JK What was it for you personally that made you admire Jimi as a musician?
BC I think it was destiny. We were both young and to cut a long story short, he was rehearsing in a rehearsal room and I went in and introduced myself. I heard something in the playing that was quite unique yet it was in an embryonic stage; it had not quite developed. I knew what it was going to sound like when it developed and I wanted to be a part of that.
JK There were a great many people who played with Jim Hendrix. He was a player really; music was his life wasn’t it?
BC That is what we did, we didn’t bowl or fish or kill animals, we played. It was our hobby and our living.
JK He was a pure musician, not just great on the guitar. Someone said to me once that he was probably one of the best bass players he had ever played with as well.
BC He was so good on bass, I saw him complimenting many a thing with his bass playing. In fact, if you look at Mitch’s book, he played bass on the first two albums because Noel couldn’t spend a lot of time in the studio. They were young and didn’t have a lot of money so to make time and make it effortless, Jimi played bass on those first two albums and Noel would learn it later on.
JK Let’s look at the Woodstock gig. I read in Mitch’s book his comment about it being great having a band with percussionists in if percussionists can count. If they can’t count however you’re in trouble. He thought that the band was in trouble. Having watched the footage, although it is a pretty big band and they can sometimes deteriorate if you don’t have the same mind set, but the playing is very strong at Woodstock.
BC Overall it was excellent as far as I was concerned. Yeah there were mistakes here and there but overall it was a great concert.
JK That makes it more real if there are mistakes surely.
BC Sure it does.
JK Jimi was a perfectionist but he wanted reality rather than perfection sometimes.
BC That’s right.
JK How long after Woodstock was it decided that you and Jimi would put together the Band of Gypsy's? When Jimi introduces the band at Woodstock he said that they were Gypsy Son and Rainbows but we’re nothing more than a band of gypsies.
BC That was just a figure of speech. However it came later in a contractual agreement that the guy said he did not live up to and he asked his close people to see if they could help and they refused so I said hey that's what I'm here for let’s do what we gotta do. But Buddy Miles Jumped on a wagon so ultimately the Band of Gypsy's formed. It wasn’t for a long-term thing but to help Jimi out of a contractual agreement. I think he was being sued for 15 million dollars he didn't have 15 million dollars so we gave them an album.. So that is how that came about.
JK Even though it was something that came about to help Jimi out of a contractual bind, something very strong musically came out of that.
BC It did, a statement.
JK Although there were a lot of statements made at the time, Jimi must be up there with the best of them in making musically statements, not only in the sixties but also of the twentieth century.
BC Yes most definitely.
JK The band Gypsy Son and Rainbows that played at Woodstock, was it deemed to be a long-term thing? I know you played another gig shortly after in Harlem. Was it just a case of let’s see how this goes?
BC Yes it was. Jimi wanted to make some changes and he couldn’t quite make his mind up about how he wanted to do it. It was decided for him by getting rid of certain people. Then it worked well for those two jobs and after that we disbanded. Later on, the Ed Chalpin deal came up Jimi talked to me about it. He said, “Listen, here’s what we gotta do.” Buddy Miles was always hanging around in the studio and offered to help. So it came about like that.
JK There has been a lot of material released since Jimi’s death and includes material that the Band of Gypsy's recorded in the studio. Was it ever planned to record a studio album with them or was it just the live.
BC Not really, we couldn’t get it all together. There was too much interference at that particular time. Some people did not want that to be.
JK There are a lot of people who are critical of the management, not such much Chas Chandler but Mike Jefferies. A lot of people think he had an agenda of his own.
BC He did, like so many people do so it was unfortunate.
JK Ultimately, do you think that bothered Jimi?
BC Yes. I think that if people had just let him go and not bothered him with the business end, the music could have been one hundred percent better.
JK Here we are talking thirty-six years after the event of the concert of the sixties and people are still talking about it, the guy, his musicianship and his talent – and yours of course because you were a part of it.
BC I have a prepared statement if you want to hear it.
“One cannot separate the music from the festival itself for they were both magical. The people and the entertainers co-existed in a spirit of oneness. I consider myself blessed to have played at the party of the millennium.
The jury is still out on the DVD; I have not heard it or had anything to do with the compilation of it or production. But I know what I was a part of on stage and that was good music. At Woodstock Jerry Velez, Juma Sultan, Larry Lee, Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox were on the stage for close to two hours. The group was tight because we were well rehearsed and we were all in one accord. Jam Back At The House showed the cohesiveness of the group. At Woodstock Jimi and I knew we were witnessing his "Sky Church" concert. "Sky Church" was a vision that Jimi had shared with me when we were first reunited in New York.”
"Right here I am going to give you a little musical trivia: I am the only man that can say that he played with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Band of Gypsy's and was at Woodstock with Gypsy, Son and Rainbows. The music that Gypsy, Son and Rainbows made at Woodstock is standing the test of time even thirty-six years later."
JK Do you think that, although the only people who can really say they actually saw the concert and took part in the concert were able to really physically experience it, that people could get a little piece of it from the DVD? That has got to be a good thing.
BC That would be a good thing. It would take you back in time. You can experience a little bit of what we experienced.
JK As well as taking you back in time, the thing about Jimi Hendrix music is that it is very current.
BC When I say, back in time I am referring to the concert but the music will always be current because it was a spiritual music. I gave a speech at the university in Indiana and the flavour was that every now and then a spirit slips through the portals of time into this reality and blows our minds. Jimi Hendrix was one of those spirits who slipped through the portals of time. Every now and then they come through and we respect and we admire what they do for us, whether it be poetry or music or painting or what have you. Every now and then these spirits are permitted to slip through and Jimi was one of them.
JK There are a few people who would agree with that and many would cite Miles Davies and John Coltrane in there as well.
In terms of preparation for Woodstock, how much rehearsal did you need? I presume it was just playing together and getting to know each other as musicians really.
BC That’s right. We did quite a bit. The dining room and living room area was set up with amps and drums for rehearsal and we were serious about what we were doing. However there was time to fool around and go on horses and motor cycles and have a good time with our lady friends. But there were also times when we buckled down and got serious with the music and we did that very willingly. There was a positive attitude.
JK The time following Woodstock probably saw Jimi busier than ever in terms of starting his recording studio Electric Lady Studios. There was the Band of Gypsy's and then you; Jimi and Mitch Mitchell played a lot of gigs in the last twelve months of Jimi’s life.
BC When we were not on the road we were in either the Record Plant or Electric Lady; towards the latter part we were in Electric Lady. That is what we did. Music was such a part of our lives; it was our hobby and then our business. So that when we weren’t out on the road we were in the studio almost every night.
JK There seemed to be at the end of Jimi’s life another era coming to a close. Jimi looked set to be moving on and looking ahead to the next stage of what he was going to do. Would you agree with that?
BC Yes, all artists grow; creative artists have to grow and so that was what Jimi was doing. A lot of people didn’t agree with him but it is inevitable in life especially with true artists.
JK Many people of course were very sad when Jimi died, not only for the loss of a human being but in terms of his artistry. There are always going to be people who will talk about what might have been. That’s natural when someone as talented as Jimi dies.
BC That’s true you always want to think about what could have been but he left us with good music, 108 songs that we can sit back and relax with and enjoy.
JK You must have some incredible memories of your time with Jimi although it must be tinged with a certain amount of sadness not least because you are not playing with the guy and having lost a friend.
BC Like anybody else, it has the same effect. There was a long-term effect on us because we were band mates he, Mitch and I and we had hopes dreams and long-term aspirations to do things in the future. All of a sudden one day it stopped. We had to gather our energies together and go into other directions.
JK The DVD is due to be released shortly. It is an incredible performance.
BC It is going to be good, yes and in fact there are six songs that were never on the original album and they are Foxy Lady, Message to Love, Hey Joe, Spanish Castle Magic Lover Man and Hear My Train. Then they added Isabella, Voodoo Chile(Slight Return), Star Spangled Banner, Villanova Junction, Purple Haze and Jam Back at the House and it is going to be incredible.
JK They have also sequenced it as it was at the gig because the previous released had just been cherry picked hadn’t it?
BC Yes they had but this is going to be the full compilation and man, it is going to be great.
JK Well it is great talking to you today Billy and from all the great Jimi Hendrix fans I have just got to say thank you for everything you did as part of Jimi’s band. Jimi will never be forgotten.
BC No he will not be forgotten even two or three hundred years from now. I told Mitch that he and I will grow old but Jimi will always be twenty-seven years old.
JK That is a great thought. Billy you are a gentleman and it has been wonderful to speak to you and appreciate the time you have taken to talk to me.
BC My Great Pleasure Jon. Thank You.
© Jon Kirkman Rockahead/CRR 2005 and 2011
Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock can be ordered fro Amazon: