Lemmy Feature/Tribute

Motorhead - Ace of Spades album cover

There can’t be many rock fans of a certain vintage, whose experience of rock music was not touched in some way by the life and work of Ian Fraser Kilmister, better known, of course, as Lemmy.

Love him or er … not, he was unique – a real one off. Not just iconic, but iconoclastic. He may have been notorious for his appetites, but he was also a smart guy, a man who always had an interesting take on life and a fresh perspective. He lived the way he wanted to live. He kept it real. If you’ve not done so already, check out his autobiography, ‘White Line Fever’. It’ll have you howling at times, and re-evaluating your attitude to life at others. It’s one of my favourite rock books.

Lemmy - White Line FeverHis music, like his approach to life, was uncompromising. I always found that Motörhead’s music had a certain charm. I loved the humour and quirkiness as well as the power. Lemmy had a wry wit (“I really like this jacket but the sleeves are much too long” from ‘Back At The Funny Farm’)  and was a master of tautological overstatement (‘Killed By Death’). His music was the music of fun, rage and hedonism, all on the same album and all at the same time. Everything louder than everything else! He influenced many and he will be missed.

It was both an honour and a pleasure to be asked to do a feature and tribute to Lemmy with Alan Thompson for his BBC Radio Wales show. Not that it should be a surprise to anyone that Radio Wales would want to pay tribute, especially given Lemmy’s childhood links with Anglesey, the National Assembly for Wales plenary debate he inspired (‘Heroin. Is Lemmy right?’) and the presence in his band for nigh on 30 years of Welsh guitar whizz Phil Campbell.

The piece was broadcast on Sunday 24 January 2016, a few short weeks after Lemmy’s sudden passing. It features music and chat – classic tracks from Hawkwind and Motörhead and a closing song that, I hope, surprised a few people, as it showcases a more sensitive side of Lemmy’s character.

You can hear the full piece here on Alan’s pages on the Radio Wales site, via the BBC iPlayer. The Lemmy piece kicks in at around the 1hr 26 mark with ‘Silver Machine’. Enjoy!

As for this short article, I can think of no better sign off than Dave Ling’s recent paraphrase (in his Classic Rock magazine send off) of Lemmy’s own on stage battle cry:

“He was Lemmy – he played rock ‘n’ roll!”

Motorhead - Snaggletooth - No Remorse album cover

Born to lose; Live to win

Rest in Peace, Lem!

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Tim Bowness – No-Man/Solo

Tim Bowness

Perhaps best known for his work with No-Man, a longstanding 28-year, six album collaboration with Steven Wilson, Tim Bowness has recently resurrected his solo career, with 2014’s well received Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and an astonishingly speedy follow up Stupid Things That Mean The World.

In fact, Stupid Things That Mean The World is a cracker that’s sure to feature well in ‘Album of the Year’ lists. It’s wistful, reflective, and very moving with Bowness’s voice, as I wrote in my review of the album “bringing every track within touching distance of common hopes and fears, past and present.” It’s a prime example of what words and music can do, working in tandom on an album that comes on like a reacquainted friend. I jumped at the chance, therefore, to speak with Tim about Stupid Things That Mean The World, his lyrical themes, his influences, playing live, and the death of rock. It’s an honour to be able to add his thoughts to the Words and Music Interview Series.

So Tim, what would you like to tell people about the new album?
Always difficult! Obviously, I hope that each album is a progression in some way from the last and that it shows some level of personal development. I think all performers like to feel that their career has a forward momentum and Stupid Things That Mean The World did feel as if it was taking aspects of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams further. Like a lot of my work, a lot of thought went into things like track listing and arrangement, though in some ways I would describe the final product as being a combination of accident and intention. Quite often it’s the accidental beginnings that you don’t control that provide the material you shape into the finished album.

In what sense ‘accidental’? Can you elaborate?
Well, in the sense I think everything is for me. When I write I don’t go in with a particular intention, although I did have an overall intention of perhaps developing ideas in Abandoned Dancehall Dreams further. I wouldn’t necessarily say: “Right, I’m going to sit down now and write a piece that is this, or a piece that is that.” ‘Press Reset’, for example, was something that surprised me as it went along. I certainly didn’t realise what the outcome would be when I started writing. It was similar with ‘Know That You Were Loved’, which was written on guitar in a very different way. In some ways the material is created in quite an instinctive and spontaneous way and then once an outcome emerges you shape it as best you can. So I meant accidental in the sense that there would never be a deliberate intention to write in a particular style or write a particular type of song.

‘Press Reset’ is my favourite track on the album, by the way.
‘Press Reset’ and ‘Know That You Were Loved’ were my two favourites actually because, as I say, they turned out to be nothing like I was expecting and it surprised me where they ended up.

‘Press Reset’ emerged from a computer studio experiment. I just followed it through to its conclusion and then heightened aspects of what the experiment suggested. At the end of the process, I felt I ended up with a song quite unlike any other I’d written and a lyric and lyrical subject I really wasn’t expecting. It’s a subject that’s always quite fascinated me, the idea of people who seemingly have happy family and work lives and then completely escape them, you know, due to various internal pressures and so on. And I realised that it had actually happened in my own family as my step-brother had done exactly the same thing, even though it wasn’t something that had particularly influenced me while I was writing it. It’s a subject, to be fair, that a lot of English people will know via the Reggie Perrin route. And it was quite interesting to me that in a sense it almost became semi-autobiographical, in that it dealt with someone I’d known.

I still feel a novice when it comes to being a musician, as opposed to being a singer, so it’s always a thrill to finish a song. In the case of ‘Know That You were Loved’, it was compositionally quite detailed, so I was pleased with my writing, which was something different for me.

You mentioned forward momentum just now, but your lyrics are, well, I would describe them as wistful and reflective, and they seem to have quite a lot to do with the past. Can you tell us more about some of the lyrical themes?
I think that melancholy and nostalgia are two themes that I’ve always visited in my lyrics. Even when I started writing lyrics in my late teens, and was in my first band, I think the themes were in many ways similar. The actual stories and the style of writing may be completely different but there’s always been this sort of impulse, if you like, to dwell on that halcyon time that is no more. And often it’s difficult to explain away those things because you’re naturally drawn to them. I can only think that there might be something in my history or in my family life that always means that in terms of my interest in literature and film and perhaps in the songs that I write, there’s a strong aspect of almost trying to reclaim innocence or reclaim happiness. Also, I think with lyrics sometimes, that whatever one does, one’s worst fears tend to be articulated in one’s work, almost as a form of exorcism. And perhaps there’s always a fear, certainly as an artist, that your best work is behind you, that your best times are behind you. However much you’re enjoying the creative process, however much it feels vital to you, I think that most musicians, artists, filmmakers have a gnawing sense of doubt. In some ways I think that’s good because it’s what propels people to do better or to change and it certainly provides some creative momentum.

What about the title of the new album Stupid Things That Mean The World?
The new album’s title concerns the small and seemingly trivial things that make us who we are, or help us through our lives. It could be an old toy, art/music, shared intimate language, a belief system, an annual holiday, the image or idea of someone you loved in your youth and so on.

Tim Bowness - Stupid Things That Mean The World album coverSo, yes, it concerns the myriad tiny things that in some ways make up personalities. I was also thinking of something like the significance of the seemingly insignificant Rosebud in Orson Welles’s film Citizen Kane where one incident with a toy in this huge media baron’s childhood seems to have been the key to his personality.

That said, the lyrical content in the individual songs is quite separate. For example, while it completely ties in with the idea of stupid things that mean the world – in this case, the person’s attachment to the idea of a holiday – a song like ‘At The End Of The Holiday’ is also very much a separate story about a person very separate from me. As with ‘Press Reset’, it’s almost a short story set to song.

In terms of influences, and things from your musical past, who are the artists who’ve made an impression on you?
There are far too many to mention! I still actively buy, listen to and enjoy music, so I’ve heard a great deal of music through the years. Probably the first artist is not one people would expect. It was John Barry the film composer. When I was around five or six, my dad used to take me to the cinema to see James Bond films, partly because my mum hated them, and I fell in love with the music. I thought it was incredibly haunting and expansive. Then, probably like a lot of kids even in the mid-70s, the Beatles and their offshoots, like Wings, had some level of importance, as did some of the bands influenced by them like 10cc. So I liked an odd combination of film music, experimental pop music and even some classical music from my parents’ collection. As I got older, and into my teens, that’s when rock, experimental rock, art rock – anything from Bowie to Floyd to Zeppelin to Genesis to Kate Bush – became extremely important.

Peter Hammill OverAnd obviously a couple of people who are on the new album are people whose music I absolutely adored when I was a teenager – Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music is one. Roxy Music were a major influence when I was younger. And Peter Hammill is another, because several of his albums, in particular his confessional album ‘Over’, meant a great deal to me. ‘Over’ was very intense, very raw, and in some ways showed me a completely different way of making music. It was something that wasn’t airbrushed or artificial in any way and dealt with subjects that most pop music didn’t – children leaving parents, the death of a relationship, the death of a friend, and so it was a series of meditations on things being ‘over’. It really resonated with me when I was in my mid-teens and I still think it’s a fantastic album.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve liked music by Mark Eitzel, Flaming Lips, Elbow, Keaton Henson, Bjork, Midlake, Troyka – a new-ish experimental UK Jazz band – and more I can’t remember. In terms of all-time favourites, Joni Mitchell’s Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, David Bowie’s Low, Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon would all be in there somewhere.

Your music often seems to be labelled ‘progressive rock’ or maybe ‘art rock’. Are you happy with those tags?
To a degree. I certainly don’t go in to make what’s considered to be art rock or progressive rock but my music has a tangential link to that, partly due to some influence from art rock and progressive rock, and partly due to the musicians I work with. In some ways what I do is more a combination of art rock, art pop, prog, experimental and, of course, singer-songwriter elements as well. There’s quite a strong singer-songwriter influence, perhaps, and, again, when I was growing up people like Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, John Martyn, were huge influences. But I have great respect for musicians who work in progressive rock and art rock territory, and in some ways it’s extremely nice to be held alongside those musicians, even if, musically, I’m not entirely sure whether what I do sits with that.

It would seem quite natural to me to relate to your music one-to-one, listening quietly on my own, though I also like being part of an audience. Do you enjoy playing live? And how do you think your music translates well to the live context?
I think it can translate well. Certainly when No-Man played live on the last two tours there was a real energy and a real sense that the band, as a live unit, developed an identity above and beyond the studio work. It really energised what we did. And I suppose if one were to apply terms to it now, we developed a vocabulary that was part art rock and part almost minimalist classical – we were working with a classical violinist called Steve Bingham who had very much come from a background of listening to Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Arvo Pӓrt, composers that Steven [Wilson] and I like as well. That, combined with a slightly more aggressive rock attack that No-Man had, worked really well and was incredibly enjoyable to play, and, I felt, almost pointed at a potential new direction for the band.

So, I think that the louder rock aspect works quite well, as does the more experimental, extremely intimate ambient-tinged singer-songwriter work that I do with Peter Chilvers. It’s perhaps the work in between that doesn’t fare quite as well, and what’s interesting is that when you do play live the venue and audience to an extent dictate the success of the material.

It’s an interesting process and I enjoy the two extremes. I enjoy the potential noise and havoc that No-Man at their loudest can inflict, and I certainly enjoy the near silence of some of the ambient singer-songwriter gigs that I’ve done with Peter Chilvers, partly because every word and every single sound can be heard. Usually the venues we choose are appropriate for that.

Generally speaking, I love the musical aspect of playing live because sometimes songs can come alive in a different context, they can develop in different ways, though sometimes the actual act of performing is quite an alien thing. I think for any adult human being to be playing in front of an audience is something that can render most self-conscious.

Tim Bowness

Is there a particular piece of music, or album, or performance to date for which you’d most like to be remembered?
I’ve honestly no idea. That’s always for other people to say. There are pieces of mine that I’m particularly pleased with – from ‘Press Reset’ and ‘Know That You Were Loved’ from the new album to ‘Smiler at 50’ from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams to numerous No-Man songs like ‘Things I Want To Tell You’ or ‘Days In The Trees’ or ‘Things Change’. There are a number of pieces that I’m extremely pleased I was a part of, and, obviously, if people are touched by work I’ve made there’s definite validation for making it that feels really pleasing.

There’s been a lot of talk recently the death of rock or the death of the rock era. Do you think the people who are proclaiming the death of rock are right?
I think it’s changed. I don’t necessarily think that rock or popular music is dead and nor do I think that creatively it’s dead. If people look around there are still some very interesting albums being made and there are still some statements that are quite fresh. I think there is life in it, but maybe the rate of progression, if you like, has slowed down. Not only that but I think that music that perhaps isn’t at the forefront of the mainstream struggles more than it did to be heard. It’s an ironic time in a way. We have the internet, that provides instant access to everything, and we’ve also had the advent , over the last ten years, of 24 hour music TV and 24 hour digital radio. And yet, less genres of music and less bands seem to get covered.

I think it’s interesting, when you look at something like VH1. When VH1 emerged it was an adult music channel, and initially you might find anything from documentaries on King Crimson to interviews on XTC to what might have been the chart of 1999. But probably within about three or four years, this became the constant streaming of the same videos by the same small group of artists. That aspect is disappointing. One episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test or The Tube may have dealt with ten more genres and more varied artists than the 24 hour digital channels will do now. So on some level it’s bizarre that we live in an age of information and yet we’re exposed to considerably less styles of music and therefore considerably fewer possibilities. It does seem as if the algorithm has won out over the art.

That’s certainly the case if you look at local radio. I was brought up in the North West where the major cities, Liverpool and Manchester, were very active in breeding new talent. Each city only had one local radio station at the time – Piccadilly in Manchester and Radio City in Liverpool – and yet the BBC stations and these local stations would always have three to four hours of new music every evening. When I did my original demos in the mid-1980s – and this is inconceivable now – I’d get played on a show by Mark Radcliffe. He’d play the new Kate Bush single, a track from the latest New Order album, then my demo, then someone else’s demo. It was bizarrely open and eclectic. These days, Piccadilly may have four or five radio stations, but it’s Piccadilly Gold recycling the top hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and Piccadilly itself has become more of a commercial station. Equally the local BBC station that was around when I was first making music has become more of a talk channel.

It seems bizarre that despite having more stations, fewer things are being covered, and, generally, there has to be a very strong commercial reason for something to be covered. No-Man were managed by the Talk Talk manager, and Talk Talk were a million selling band. But I remember hearing that Talk Talk were considered “too small” to be played on VH1! So a million selling band were considered not important enough, and I think that since the 90s, that level of corporate control has perhaps got stronger. Obviously, if you’re prepared to search via the internet there are many worlds of possibility, so all is not lost in some respects.

I think you’re right, though for music that you could broadly term ‘progressive rock’, there does seem to have been some sort of resurgence of interest in the last 5 years or so?
There probably has been over the last 10 years. I mean certainly with Burning Shed [Tim also runs the online label and specialist music store Burning Shed – Ed.], when we started out progressive rock was obviously one of the genres we dealt with, and definitely since we started in 2001 the interest has got stronger. My personal belief is that there’s more interest now because of what I said – that in some ways things are very diffuse, very ephemeral, perhaps more corporate, and that people are actually searching for more depth. In a way it explains the resurgence of vinyl as well. It’s the vinyl against the download. In some ways the music is everything, but a download as a commercial property has very little to it, is very easy to produce and so on, and perhaps people are going back to vinyl because there is a craft in the album cover, there’s an expense in it being done, a real sense of effort and depth in, or implied by, the format. I think that ties in with progressive rock, in that in an era that seems, perhaps, more superficial, there are people outside the mainstream hunting for something that actually means something to them.

 

Tim Bowness

CHEERS TIM!

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Heidi Widdop (Cloud Atlas/Stolen Earth/Mostly Autumn)

Heidi Widdop

So, if I were to say ‘Cloud Atlas’ to you, what would you think of? The 2002 poetry collection by Donald Platt? The 2004 novel by David Mitchell? The 2012 film of the novel? Or the new ‘progressive rock’ (careful now) outfit, fronted by former Stolen Earth and Mostly Autumn musician Heidi Widdop? Well, given that you’re on the Words and Music website, there are no prizes for guessing what it makes me think of! Debut album Beyond the Vale is a corker too, so it was great to catch up with Heidi to find out more and to “pick her brain” a little.

Hi Heidi! For anyone who hasn’t seen or heard Cloud Atlas yet, tell us about the band
Cloud Atlas came about after I left Stolen Earth. I felt it was time I moved on and started working on my own material, I had so many ideas and songs floating around in my head it was becoming over crowded. I needed to get them out so that I could allow space for new ideas. Stolen Earth wasn’t the platform for it, so I departed. I knew immediately I wasn’t going to wait before the next phase kicked off and asked Martin Ledger if he would come on board, as he is a great guitarist. We have worked together before and also he is unknown. Sometimes it’s nice to break the mould and not use the same or obvious choices for fellow musicians. Martin has really got something going on and I knew he understood where I was coming from. I think a lot of people will be amazed that they haven’t seen him out there before. I immediately thought of Stu Carver for the bass as he and I had worked together many years ago in the original line-up of Mostly Autumn, he is one of the finest people I know and a very good human being to have around. Neil Scott was drafted in on drums by Martin – he’s very talented and we knew he would do a splendid job on the album. He’s a very busy chap though so at present we are using dep drummers for most of the gigs. Last but not least, Dave Randall, he joined Stolen Earth towards the end of its life and never reached the live phase but I knew he was massively talented and as time has gone by we seem to have had a meeting of minds.

I find it difficult to describe the music – it is what it is. I don’t think I can label it, it comes from within, from the heart, from feelings and thoughts, certainly not the most cheerful stuff you will ever hear but in its own way uplifting, I hope. I have to be honest to myself, I can only write what moves me and if it moves others as well then hallelujah. Beyond the Vale is only the first offering, almost, you could say, something I needed to get out of my system. The next album will be more advanced, I think, more attention to detail, braver somehow and perhaps more experimental.

You’re the band’s main songwriter. What sort of things do you write about?
See last answer! I transfer my feelings to music, usually sadness, passion, the dark side, the things that move me, the things that have hurt me and left a scar within. I’m actually extremely happy but I don’t seem to be able to use that in my music yet. Perhaps I need to reach a higher level of happiness for that to become possible.

Heidi Widdop - Cloud AtlasTell us about your personal musical influences and inspirations?
There has been music in my life for as long as I can remember. My father has always listened to music daily, and fortunately has a really good collection! When I was very small he would play Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Wishbone Ash, The Moody Blues, Lindesfarne, Fleetwood Mac, Roy Harper, Renaissance, Barclay James Harvest, Al Stewart, Neil Young and many more. I would lie in bed and listen to Octoberon by Barclay James Harvest and it would make me cry; I was very young but it touched me. Year of the Cat (Al Stewart) and Rumours (Fleetwood Mac) were also favourites when I was a nipper. Those magical sounds have never left me and although I had a few rebellious years in my early teens where I listened to some 80s’ crap, I came full circle and found the music from my childhood again and it feels so good. I still listen to those bands but they have been joined by some others. Porcupine Tree astound me – when I listen to them I feel a strange kind of dark joy, but also a sadness that I didn’t write that material myself. The realisation that I will never be able to produce something so wonderful leaves me with mixed feelings. I also love Coldplay and Radiohead. At this precise moment I am listening to ‘Snowdrops’ by The Pineapple Thief.

Is it possible to say what music means to you?
It just is. Without it my world would become one dimensional. If I cannot create, I am mute. A slow death would ensue for sure. I would no longer be me. In fact the thought gives me those horrid butterflies, like the ones you’d get when you were small and knew you were going to be in serious trouble at school the following day, when school was your life and seemed to consume everything.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Barcaly James Harvest – they made me cry. I must have been around seven. My Dad gave me his copy of Octoberon on cassette as he bought the vinyl version.

Tell us about an album, song and/or lyric that means a lot to you?
Octoberon – Barclay James Harvest
A Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay
Deadwing – Porcupine Tree
Together Alone – Crowded House

All the above for different reasons. There are many more albums. They all reflect a time in my life that I don’t want to forget, even though some of them may have been unhappy or hard. As for lyrics that mean a lot to me, again there are many but today it is ‘Always in my Head’ by Coldplay:

I think of you, I haven’t slept
I think I do but I don’t forget
My body moves, goes where I will
But though I try my heart stays still
It never moves, just won’t be led
And so my mouth waters to be fed

And you’re always in my head
You’re always in my head

This I guess is to tell you
You’re chosen out from the rest

There’s been much in the rock press recently about ‘the death of the album’. What’s your take on that?
The internet has changed things for sure, sharing, downloading, YouTube, getting your hands on stuff for free, and a lot of bands and artists don’t produce albums anymore, just singles, by all accounts. But I think it depends on the genre. I honestly think that where rock and prog rock are concerned, we are fairly safe. The people that love that music love the physical copy of the album in their hands and everything that goes with it: the artwork, the credits, the lyrics, just to hold it and own it, to open the shrink wrap for the first time, to have it signed etc., to hear the letter clip clatter as your pre-order drops on to the mat. It’s a pleasure in itself, so the artists will continue to create those albums and put them out there. The world is ever changing and yet the album has survived so far.

Cloud Atlas live

What would you say makes a rock gig special?
Apart from the obvious, which is a great sound – nothing worse than going to see a band and the sound is terrible – great venue, great crowd, great material etc., it has to be the delivery from the band. For me it’s more about the vibe on stage and the belief the performers have in what they are doing, it’s an energy thing. Of course, if you get a great sound, great venue, great crowd and great performance then you are in for a treat for sure.

What’s the best gig you’ve been to as a fan?
I’ve seen a lot of live music over the years and Pink Floyd has to be one of the best experiences – how could it not be, they are epic live. But I think the gigs I have enjoyed the most, the ones that have left me ‘affected’, are smaller gigs by much lesser known bands. Probably my most memorable gig would have to be by a band called You Slosh, who are no more unfortunately, though you can still find their music drifting about online. Most people who read this are likely to know their front man, Troy Donockley, who is now a member of Nightwish and has worked with artists including Iona, Mostly Autumn, The Bad Shepherds and Barbara Dickson. Their gigs were amazing, the energy and passion that came off the stage would send the audience into a frenzy. Another memorable gig was Big Country in about 1992 – Stuart Adamson, what a guy, class.

Tell us about the most notable or memorable gig/s you’ve played as a musician?
One memory I have was a small gig in York at a venue called the Bonding Warehouse, now posh city apartments. I performed a song called ‘The Last Leviathan’ alongside Bryan Josh and Duncan Rayson. Duncan was the former keyboard player with You Slosh and has now sadly departed this world for another. The song has so much meaning and passion and everything just came together. You could hear a pin drop, there were tears in the room. Going from one extreme to another, on stage at the Cambridge Rock Festival is always a buzz. You don’t forget those performances; the audience is always so great there – and we’re playing at the 2014 festival.

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
Ok, this is easy. I went to The Hackney Empire to see a benefit gig being held for a charity called Rock-a-Baby. It featured Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason, Paul Young, Paul Carrack, Andy Fairweather-Low, Pino Palladino and Andy Newmark. Afterwards there were crowds of people waiting outside the exit round the back and Dave Gilmour came out. He was mobbed and I wasn’t able to get near him but as he got into a car I decided now’s my chance! I leapt in the back with him and went to give him a kiss on the cheek, at which point he turned round and it ended up square on his lips. He said to me: “Oh, how sweet”. I will never forget that. I was young. I think now I would just walk up to him and say hello!

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
There are many things I could say here but I think it’s better that I don’t!

Your music seems to get labelled ‘progressive rock’? Do you think that’s helpful or limiting?
I get asked this a lot. I think it’s helpful more than anything, because whilst I don’t think it’s entirely prog, there are elements in there and the label allows those who choose that genre to make the choice to give it a chance. Those who don’t do the prog rock thing are still able to make the choice to hear it and they may like it, or not. I don’t mind. You can’t please everyone, and I’m not aiming to be internationally up there. I just want to write, perform, sell some albums, make people feel something and leave something behind when I am gone, for my son.

Heidi WiddopDo you think it’s harder for a woman to break into progressive rock than other forms of music or rock genres?
Hmmm, I think it’s sometimes harder for a woman to be taken seriously, to gain respect and to be listened to without being judged, but I guess that’s the same in everything, not just prog and not just in the music industry. I believe that progressive rock fans are open minded. If something is good, they will appreciate it, whether it is delivered by a woman or a man. I have found it harder being accepted by other musicians than by listeners.

Progressive rock is often associated with demons and wizards, fantasy and fiction. Can it, and should it, have social relevance?
I love demons and wizards, so that’s cool! But yes, it can have social relevance and it’s right that sometimes it should. But it is what it is. It’s a creation that comes from someone’s mind. There are no rules. It can be one thing or another and there is so much prog rock out there that has a social message, meaning, relevance to the world and the horrors within it, relevance to love and harmony, fear and hate, reality and fiction, wizards and demons! I love prog because it’s a journey, much like life itself. It draws you in, it sets you down, it stays with you.

What would you say to someone who thinks that progressive rock was killed by punk?
I’d say clearly they are mistaken. I think in the mainstream punk arrived and the attention was shifted, but those involved in the prog scene would remain so forever. I don’t think it’s something that goes away. It’s not a fad, or a phase that those listeners go through – it sticks. I think punk was more of a phase and it’s a good thing it came about. Change can be good. It had its influence for sure and there have been some great bands to emerge from that but prog will never die. It goes on. My father gave it to me and I have given it to my son. He is eight and his favourite bands are Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues and Hawkwind. I am astounded at the number of people all over the world, far and wide, in places you would never expect, who are part of the prog world. They are dedicated. It’s a lifestyle almost.

How do you view what you do as an artist?
I still feel I am in my infancy. There is much growing to be done. It excites me. I don’t feel I have a choice really – it’s something that I must go with and see where it takes me. I think I have a responsibility to produce something incredibly good in the future. I feel I have a responsibility to perform my ass off on stage. The people we play to deserve it. I am amazed at the dedication and enthusiasm of them. You simply cannot pull the wool over their eyes.

Of everything you’ve done in music, of what are you most proud?
So far, Beyond the Vale. I’m overwhelmed at the response it has received so far.

And finally, what next from Cloud Atlas? What are you up to at the moment? Where can people hear the album and catch you live?
We are performing on the main stage at this year’s Cambridge Rock Festival [7-10 August 2014, Ed]. It’s a brilliant festival; so friendly. The vibe is great, there’s great music, great beer, wonderful people. Then we have a few more dates in September. We are supporting Winter in Eden at their album launch on 5th September  and headlining a Classic Rock Society gig along with a few other bands on 20th September. Other live outings will be announced shortly on the website. Things are buzzing behind the scenes and I already have some new material that is taking shape in my mind. The album can be ordered direct from the website but will also be available in other areas shortly.

 

Cloud Atlas - Beyond The Vale cover

CHEERS HEIDI!

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John Dexter Jones (JUMP)

 

John Dexter Jones - Summers End Photo by Martin Reijman

John Dexter Jones – Photo by Martin Reijman

JUMP! A band, not an order. Ever heard of them? You should have. I caught them at HRH Prog 2014 and thoroughly enjoyed their performance. I thought I spotted an early Marillion influence, but singer John Dexter Jones was quick to point out the folk and blues elements in their music. Turns out they have a rich and productive history, a wide range of influences, don’t sound much like early Marillion and might not even be ‘prog’! (I blame it on the beer!) Thought I’d better let JDJ set the record straight. Are you sitting comfortably?

Hi John! You sing for a well-established band called JUMP. What can you tell us about the band?
JUMP has been around for 24 and a half years, so next year is a big one for us! Four of the original six members are still in the line-up – that’s me, Steve Hayes on guitar, Mo on keys and Andy Barker on drums. The other original guitarist, Pete Davies, was replaced by current member Ronnie Rundle over ten years ago and original bassist Hugh Gascoyne has had a couple of successors, with Mark Pittam joining us in 2013. JUMP has released 13 studio albums and two live albums and to date we reckon we’re close to having done 1500 gigs.

I gather you’re a North Wales boy? How did you end up in a High Wycombe-based rock band?
Yes, I’m a Bangor lad through and through. I’d already spent ten years gigging out of North Wales when I decided to make the move to the south of England. I’d learned a lot by then, done loads of gigs and realised that whilst I was gigging a lot, I wasn’t really moving forward. I had some fantastic times but I needed to go. I knew a few people in the Wycombe area and saw a really interesting ad within a week of moving, that wanted a front man for a  rock band, no beginners. They gave me a tape (!) of a couple of pieces and asked me to write parts for them. Both ended up on the first album and both knocked me out on first listen.

I saw you on the prog stage at this year’s HRH Prog event. Do you think the ‘prog’ label suits your style of music?
To be honest I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. I know that people like labels – perhaps it helps them sift things by genre – but I couldn’t tell you what we are. If progressive rock is about fusing different music forms and shaping them into a sound then yes, that’s definitely us; we draw on a wide variety of six people’s musical tastes and that becomes JUMP music. If progressive rock is sounding as close as you can to early Genesis then … er … no, that’s not us. We play electric and acoustic music that turns out the way it turns out. Our last album was predominantly acoustic; the next will be full-blown electric.

Progressive rock is often associated with demons and wizards, fantasy and fiction. Can it, and should it, have social relevance?
All music can have social relevance. Does it have to? No, I think it can be whatever you want. It’s an art form and its limitations are only defined by the player and the listener. Personally my own style is rooted in the narrative. I like stories and I like the idea that we can learn from stories; we can see our lives and our principles held up and think about things. So JUMP tends to be a vehicle for a loose social commentary illustrated by examples (the songs). On the other hand, if I want to write wizardy fiction, I won’t feel constrained not to. If a band writes a wizardy concept album full of golden threads and four headed cats then good luck to them and their fans – if they go to gigs, love the band and enjoy themselves, there’s nothing better.

John Dexter Jones Photo by Martin Reijman

Photo by Martin Reijman

What would you say to someone who thinks that progressive rock was killed by punk?
I’d say they needed to get out more. Punk was great, it was dynamic and inclusive and rebellious and the best of its music was as sonically appealing as anything before and since. But it didn’t kill anything. It’s a popular myth to suggest that it had this profound effect on ‘bloated’ and ‘self-aggrandising’ establishment music. Well, it had no negative effect whatsoever on my musical tastes, just added to them, and Dire Straits played Wembley Stadium, so work that one out. The spectrum of music gets bigger … things come and go … but killed … nah!

Is it possible to say what music means to you?
It means a lifetime of enjoyment … listening, writing and playing. It means meeting people over a 35 year career and exchanging views and thoughts, drinking beer and valuing their company. It means magic and excitement, special moments, travelling thousands of miles. So that’s pretty good, eh?!

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Gary Glitter. Is it ok to say that?! As a kid in the early 1970s, the glam rock bands switched us all on to pop music. Gary Glitter is, of course, not an individual whose company any of us would crave now, but it was ‘Leader of the Gang’, ‘Hello, I’m Back Again’ and ‘Rock and Roll’ and those records that engaged me and made a first musical impression. Very quickly, by about the age of 12 or 13, bands like Zeppelin and Sabbath overtook the pop, but it was ‘Leader’ and the Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ that lit the fire. I hope that doesn’t offend your readers but it’s the truth.

An album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Too many to list. Different music for different moods. Let’s go with the Led Zeppelin catalogue. If everything else was lost, I could get by with that.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Robert Plant. Don’t know if there’s anything he’s done that I haven’t liked.

Dylan or Morrison?
Morrison. Dylan doesn’t appeal to me. I acknowledge his contribution etc., etc., but not anyone I’d go and see. I’d have gone to see a Doors gig though!

Gabriel or Collins?
In the context of Genesis, don’t care … I’m not a fan. Beyond that, Gabriel … I prefer his music.

Jump - Summers End 2013 - Photo by Bo Hansen

Photo by Bo Hansen

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
In 1984 I travelled as a guest on The Firm’s European tour and spent an hour chatting at the bar of the Intercontinental Hotel in Frankfurt with Jimmy Page. We met in the lift on the way downstairs, we had mutual friends, and he was an absolute gentleman. We talked about life in general, the state of the nation and North Wales. Obviously, having done many tour supports I’ve met many notable artists of whom I’ve been a fan, but the encounter with Jimmy Page would probably count as the one to dine out on!

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
In 24 years of JUMP there have been many, many, many … though I think the one that sticks out the most, without telling the whole story, was when a young man who, having lost his girlfriend to suicide over a year before, told me he had felt able to go out to a gig for the first time since it happened. Apparently she loved JUMP and he said he thought she’d think it was ok if he came to our gig. I’m not normally lost for words but for a moment I was floored. It was a lesson in humility – just how important music can be to people, how it can help heal as well. If not ‘strange’ it was certainly the most profound.

What makes a gig special?
I couldn’t tell you. Every gig is unique, every set of circumstances different, every sequence of events that got the band and audience there has never been before and won’t be again. It sounds a bit ‘worthy’ but I honestly love every live performance we do. If I stopped enjoying it I’d pack it in. I suppose sometimes all those circumstances come together and it’s ‘special’ but if we could put our fingers on the secret we’d have taken over the world by now!

What’s the most notable gig you’ve played as an artist?
I couldn’t give just one. Gigs are notable for any number of reasons. My first one was in the Angel Hotel in Aberystwyth – that was pretty notable. If you’re looking for ‘status’, well, The Forum and Shepherd’s Bush Empire take some beating … but then we’ve played the NEC – long story – and even Abbey Road Studio 2 … so I’ve no idea, really. My first gig in London was The Mean Fiddler in Harlesden and the venue I’ve played the most was the legendary Nags Head Blues Loft in High Wycombe.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
Ginger Baker and friends supported by Bangor heroes Fay Ray. My first proper ‘big’ gig at the Student Union in Bangor. It lit a fire. I figured if I worked at it I could be up there one day.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Certainly a brilliant phrase. For me, one is my private business, one is my public business and the other is for mugs … by way of a neat little rhyme. Nuff said!

John Dexter Jones - photo by Bo Hansen

Photo by Bo Hansen

How do you view what you do as an artist?
Mostly through rose-tinted spectacles! When we were kids in the band in Bangor we used to finish rehearsals and go to the pub and, to coin a phrase, “drink each other under the table and tell each other how good we were”. Trust me, I’m 50 now and I still do it. Any artist, somewhere deep down, must think that what they do is worthwhile and want to share it. Other people have to judge its real worth … we just sit in that pub and hope!

Is there a particular album, track or performance of which you’re most proud?
No. Live in the moment and keep on doing it! I’m proud of what we’ve done, of course, but no one musical thing defines me or the band.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
The same thing as I’d say to anyone who asserted that punk killed anything. Get out more!

Do you see a future for progressive rock?
I can see a future for all types of music … music just is … it evolves and as it does musicians of all kinds hoover up influences new and old. It’s all there, waiting for another bunch of kids, or even grey old fools like me, to sort it out and give it some legs. Progressive rock? Well, like I said earlier, what is it anyway? Yes, there’s a future for all of it, whatever it is. Give a kid an electric guitar. That’s all you have to do.

What next for JUMP? Where can people get your albums and catch you live?
We have our extensive catalogue available through Bandcamp, via www.jumprock.co.uk and, of course, we’re on Facebook. Anyone who wants to know more can always search for me on Facebook – there aren’t too many John Dexter Joneses out there! All our live stuff is there too. What’s next? As I said, next year marks 25 years of JUMP. There will be more gigs, a new album, beer, road miles, laughs, bleary eyes and 100% every time we hit the stage. What else is there?!

John Dexter Jones - Jump!  Photo by Bo Hansen

Might as well Jump! Photo by Bo Hansen

CHEERS JOHN!

Visit the official Jump site at: www.jumprock.co.uk

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Deep ?urp!e

Deep Purple - Now What?! chart action

Unlike, say, Black Sabbath (who have faced different sorts of challenges), since their 1980’s reformation Deep Purple have kept going as a creative force, keeping their core line-up pretty much intact, or, at least, allowing it to evolve in a way that has ensured stability and continuity.

I made my peace a long time ago with the Steve Morse and, more recently, Morse/Airey line-ups. Indeed, for me, the Purpendicular album (1996) was an extraordinary creative rebirth which has had me on tenterhooks in anticipation of each new release since.

Deep Purple - Now What?! album coverWhile there’s not been a bad album with Steve Morse in the band, 2013’s Now What?! is probably the strongest since the aforementioned Purpendicular. It is undoubtedly their most experimental and progressive album for quite some time – certainly since Purpendicular and probably since Fireball (1971). It has a looser, fresher feel, as producer Bob Ezrin encouraged the band to jam, have fun and just play. Sometimes in the past, the band seems to have felt constrained by what they take to be popular notions of what ‘Deep Purple’ stand for and what they should sound like. In contrast, most fans I know (admittedly a very small subset) would agree that what made Deep Purple great was their desire to be exciting, to follow their instincts, to experiment, and to push at musical boundaries. For those of us who feel like that, Now What?! is a very, very pleasing album.

So, what of the songs? The quiet and beautifully sung opening to  ‘A Simple Song’ doesn’t so much lull you into a false sense of security as set the tone for the unpredictable nature of what follows. I hear hints of ‘Black and White’ (from the House of Blue Light album) in the melody – possibly and playfully deliberate given Gillan’s use of the phrase in the lyrics.

The next two tracks pick up the baton and drive us deeply into the album. ‘Weirdistan’ has an understated eastern-flavoured riff and features a wonderful spacey keyboard solo from Don Airey. (“Oh yes, it’s beautiful”!) ‘Out of Hand’ has an atmospheric opening, with Airey’s prodding keys yielding to a trademark big riff, more eastern stylings and a stand out Morse solo.

First single ‘Hell to Pay’ initially appears to be standard fare until we’re treated to some sublime guitar/keyboard soloing and interplay that has always been a feature of Deep Purple (whether we’re talking Blackmore and Lord, Lord and Morse, or Morse and Airey) and that no one, but no one,  has ever done better. Of course, it’s all wonderfully underpinned by Glover and Paice. This is some band!

‘Bodyline’ has a funky opening and rolls along nicely. But surely I’m not the only listener disappointed that lyrically it turns out to be a vehicle for an oversexed Ian Gillan to indulge his whims again. I was hoping for a song about cricket and past Ashes intrigue!

Deep Purple - Above and Beyond coverAs good as it’s been up to this point, the heart of the album is the run of three tracks spanning the ever so proggy ‘Above and Beyond’, the cool and sometimes laid back ‘Blood from a Stone’, and ‘Uncommon Man’. The latter features a wonderful extended guitar-led prelude with orchestral arrangements (a fanfare?) before Paice’s drums usher the band effortlessly into the verse. Again, there aren’t many bands who could, who would, write something like this. (The Enid, perhaps?)

‘Après Vous’ is a more standard rocker, which picks up the pace before settling into a nice bass groove and featuring yet more cool Morse/Airey interplay. “C’mon man. Fill your boots,” sings Gillan, with thoughts of “another life, another world.” His ‘Woman from Tokyo’, and other women from other places, clearly still make him sing.

‘All the Time in the World’ is a gentle and touching ballad – the kind this incarnation of Purple do so well (think ‘Clearly Quite Absurd’ from the Rapture of the Deep album). Morse’s solo is sublime. He can shred with the best of them, but when he wants to go for the heart he just reaches right in there and grabs you. Gillan recycles and adapts a lyric from Purpendicular‘s ‘Soon Forgotten’: “Sometimes, on a good day, I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit.”

The closing track on the standard version, ‘Vincent Price’, is loads of fun, featuring a church organ, a crash of thunder, an operatic intro, a mock-horror riff, multi-tracked vocal effects and a lyrical run-through of every horror film cliché Gillan can summon. “It feels so good to be afraid,” he sings, “Vincent Price is back again.” The video is a lot of fun too – haunted castles, wax-work dummies, roaming monsters and a pole-dancing nun! Really! Don’t take it too seriously but check it out:

Vincent Price promo shot

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BEWYRRaxFhU

As you can see from the picture at the top of this piece, the album charted all over Europe, reaching number 1 in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Norway, and entering the top 10 or top 20 in numerous other countries. (I don’t wish to pitch Black Sabbath and Deep Purple against each other, but there was a feeling in some quarters that while Sabbath worked hard to rediscover their mojo – turning in a decent album, 13,  which incredibly achieved number 1 chart success in the UK and the USA – Purple were, with Ezrin’s help, able to give free expression to theirs, raising the creative bar a notch or two in the process.)

It must be very gratifying for the band, and, indeed, for long-term fans and supporters, that the album has been so well received. The music deserves it, but it’s also been better promoted than previous albums. It even got the band an interview appearance on Jools Holland’s BBC television show (Tuesday 14 May 2013). At their age as well. Who do they think they are?!

The success of the album was tinged with sadness, of course, given the passing of former keyboard player Jon Lord. While the whole album is dedicated to Jon, the track ‘Above and Beyond’, is a poignant and more direct tribute. It includes the following beautiful lyric …

Souls, having touched, are forever entwined

Now What?! is a fitting tribute both to the memory of Jon Lord and to the musical legacy that he and his Deep Purple bandmates have bequeathed to us. Highly recommended!

Deep Purple promo poster

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