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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Steve: ‘Every Record Tells a Story’

Every Record Tells a Story logo

When I embarked on what I now like to refer to as ‘the Words and Music project’, I did so with the dual conviction that: i) a lot of human experience in relation to rock music, and fan experience in particular, is neglected and under-described; and ii) such experience is both valuable and entertaining and ought to be captured.

It’s always a joy, therefore, to come across writers and other fans who’ve been inspired and motivated by broadly similar thoughts.

One particular joy is Every Record Tells a Story, a website/blogsite that is maintained and populated with considerable dedication and aplomb by a gentleman we may refer to as ‘Steve’.

Steve’s frequent, informative and humorous articles have not just provided succour to his regular music-loving readership, they have also caught the eye of national newspapers, rock magazines and television documentary makers. He also recently put rock music on trial! Want to know more? Then please read on, and check out the first Words and Music interview of 2014 …

Hi Steve! “Every Record Tells a Story”– excellent name, and very true, what can you tell us about it?
Chuck Klosterman - Fargo Rock City book coverI started writing Every Record Tells A Story a couple of years ago, but the genesis of the whole thing came in 2001, when I stumbled across the newly released book Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman. Here was a guy who grew up in the middle of nowhere, listened to a derided genre of music – heavy rock – and could still talk about it with enthusiasm and with his critical faculties intact. It was brilliant. Wouldn’t it be good, I thought, if I could do something like that, but talking about life in the UK? There were similarities: Klosterman lived in a part of the world that I pictured as a wilderness, whilst in the UK I grew up in a cultural wilderness, musically speaking, thanks to the national radio stations that played non-stop Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Of course I did nothing about actually writing a book, but the idea remained. I can’t review new records as well as Pitchfork or Drowned In Sound and I can’t approach an artist and say: “I’m from Rolling Stone and can I have an interview?” But not many people write about heavy rock, and those that do tend to (rightly) take it quite seriously, and tend not to write about other genres. So I had something different, because all I want to do is make stupid jokes and write about Jack White as well as Whitesnake. The Blogs-With-Stupid-Jokes-About-Heavy-Rock-And-Indie-Bands-niche is not a large or particularly strongly contested niche in the blogosphere, so I think I have a free run at it. I am trying to make a virtue of a lack of focus.

I like to think that blogging is to writing what punk was to music – a DIY ethic – that whole “here are three chords, now go form a band”, only with words. It isn’t of course – it’s basically me, typing into a computer, which is about as far removed from punk as you can imagine. However, my blog is the culmination of years of  just being a fan of music, reading countless music biographies, storing up all these ideas and events – things that happened at gigs for example, and then gobbing them, carefully, onto the page.

I still have doubts about the name, but you have to call it something – and you should have seen the other ideas – they were far worse.

I’ve been following your blog now for about 18 months, and you’re pretty prolific – it must be quite a commitment?
I post something new every three days. It’s always fun, but the family and day job come first (I have a wife and a couple of young kids). I work in London and work long hours, but I write it all whilst I am travelling on the train.

Motivation is rarely an issue – it’s fun to do. Music is full of quirky things – from the idea of playing Dark Side of the Moon alongside The Wizard of Oz, to the daft song titles in Blue Oyster Cult records, so there’s never a lack of inspiration. It’s even better when people leave comments – it’s great to hear what people think. My favourite page on Every Record Tells A Story is something I wrote about the much missed heavy metal record store Shades, in Soho. Not so much because of what I wrote – the article is okay and The Guardian published a shortened version online on Record Store Day 2012 – but more the comments that people have left – including guys who worked there, former owners, people like me who visited to buy records and a former Kerrang! magazine scribe. It must be approaching fifty comments and has become a mini-shrine to a much missed record store.

Kerrang! WASP cover 1985You pointed out to me that we seem to have “ploughed similar furrows, musically speaking”. Tell us more about your own route into rock fandom.
The blog started with my looking back at early musical memories, which made it one of the few Status Quo-heavy blogs out there. Quo were my gateway drug to heavy rock. I also remember seeing Wham! and Queen on Top of the Pops once and telling a friend at school how great Queen were, whilst Wham! just left me cold. Buying my first copy of Kerrang! magazine in 1985 was what confirmed my interest in all things rock. It was all downhill from there …

So, is it possible to say what music means to you?
I’m part of a club of people who seem to be into music more than “normal” people. I have found a few of us. Music can be a pick-me-up or a calm-me-down, a thirst-quencher or a hangover-cure, an ice-breaker or a solo-pursuit, a mood-setter or merely background noise.

Has your taste changed much over time?
It has widened. In his book 31 Songs, Nick Hornby wrote that Led Zeppelin and loud music generally is something you grow out of. I disagree. I now find something to enjoy in most genres, but there’s still nothing quite like the sound of a Gibson Les Paul plugged into a Marshall Stack.

Three bands, three albums and three (music) books you rate highly?
Difficult to narrow it down … of bands around now, I really like Queens of the Stone Age – I think Josh Homme has built up an amazing body of work, including Kyuss and Them Crooked Vultures. Of bands from the last twenty years I think The White Stripes were outstanding. Jack White and Josh Homme together saved rock ’n’ roll in the last couple of decades, if it ever needed saving. And from the Sixties, it’s hard to look beyond The Beatles.

Masters of Reality - Blue Garden album coverAlbums-wise, my all-time favourite record is Blue Garden by Masters of Reality, although the follow-up Sunrise in the Sufferbus had Ginger Baker on drums and was quite brilliant. My favourite album of 2012 was Crown and Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim – it’s a great record and deserved more attention. This year, I have chosen Drenge by Drenge – they’re a two piece from Derbyshire and make a great noise.

Ian Hunter - Diary of a Rock 'n' Roll StarBooks-wise, I have a list of fifty great rock biographies on the site but three of my favourites include: Ian Hunter’s Diary of a Rock ’n ’Roll Star, which is a journal of a slightly bewildered Englishman Abroad on a tour of the USA. It paints a great picture of the US in the early Seventies; STP: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield which is superb throughout and just pips Keith Richards’ bio for the best book on The Stones; and Billion Dollar Babies by Bob Greene – about a young Alice Cooper – which is  similarly close to its subject although is out of print and hard to find. On my “to read” list is Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah, which was released this year and is a history of the UK charts.

What, for you, makes a rock gig special?
Getting down the front, in as small a venue as possible. The best gigs are the ones where you are closest to the band, and you get the feeling of a communal spirit, everybody’s jumping up and down and singing along.

Your most memorable gigs?
There are many. Kings X played The Marquee a couple of times and absolutely blew the roof off the place on both occasions. In the second show the boys from Anthrax were in the audience, stage-diving into the crowd. Badlands at The Astoria was incredible because they were amazing, but had already split up acrimoniously before going onstage. Jimmy Page’s solo show at Hammersmith Odeon in ’89 stands out also when he played ‘Stairway …’ with just a spotlight focused on an empty microphone stand, and the crowd just sang along. Then there was Robert Plant playing a warm-up show at a tiny basement at Colchester University and I missed my last train home, sleeping overnight at the station on a cold January night covered only by jeans, denim jacket and a t-shirt.

They say never meet your idols. What are the best and worst encounters you’ve had with an artist?
I have had very few encounters to speak of. I think I have only ever met three or four musicians. I interviewed Will Rees from Mystery Jets last year. It was a cold day, I was the last of a dozen people he had met, and he was freezing cold – literally shivering. I had a quick chat – he was very nice – and let him get back into the warmth.

You put heavy rock on trial recently, tell us more about that.
I had been building up to those articles for a while. Heavy rock is an odd genre, and splits opinion like no other. I wanted to deconstruct rock’s appeal and work out why people like or dislike it. Why did I like it so much when I was growing up? Why do I look back at some of it with fondness and at other bits with embarrassment? I loved heavy rock when I was a teenager. Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi – all those guys. But for many it’s just noise, or stupid, or sexist.

Maiden's Maiden

Maiden’s Maiden. What’s wrong with being sexy?

I wanted to work out why the genre splits opinion, and came up with ten reasons why people dislike heavy rock. These included the way bands dress, the way they sing, the propensity of guitarists to show off, the sexism, the possible lack of innovation. I mean, look at the way Manowar present themselves. It’s ridiculous. But I had a couple of their albums, and I overlooked their farcical dress sense. Other questions asked include: Are you more likely to suffer a nose bleed listening to Mariah Carey or Geddy Lee? Were Kingdom Come influenced by more than just the sum of Led Zeppelin’s quiet songs, plus Led Zeppelin’s louder songs? And does David Coverdale really have to be such a dirty old man? Using the pretext of a “trial” allows me to present the arguments for and against in an engaging way, and lets readers be judge and jury by voting.

So, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Somewhere in between. There has been some great music inspired by the first two – Appetite For Destruction is a good example – but also some pretty dire stuff too.

How do you view the role of the rock writer, and the ‘blogger’ in particular?
If I have a role, it is to entertain people with the writing, make people laugh and hopefully get them to dig out a new or old record. That’s all. Every Record Tells A Story will appeal to gig goers, vinyl lovers, and fans of indie, rock and metal. It’s like a poor man’s Mojo Magazine, only not as well written, but with (hopefully) better jokes.

There are many very good music blogs out there, much better than mine, a lot of which tell you about new music and new bands, and they play a great role in promoting new bands. Well, that’s not the kind of blog I write. Who wants to only listen to new stuff when you haven’t heard all the old stuff? It gets exhausting to keep up with. I start to doubt someone when they recommend their eightieth new band of the year as being something special. So I’ll write about say, six new bands a year, and I’ll really like them all.

Of everything you’ve presented on the site, is there anything of which you’re particularly proud?
I once took on a bet that I could buy all the Beatles albums on vinyl in a limited time and budget – that was a good series and was as much fun to do as it was to write. I had to do a fair bit of research, which I enjoyed. It ended up being part record collecting, part Beatles history and part comedy caper. Well, I thought it was funny anyway. I enjoyed it so much I did a follow-up with Bowie’s records six months later. As a consequence, I now own a lot of Beatles and Bowie vinyl. Which is no bad thing.

Has the Every Record Tells a Story site led to any other opportunities?
One of the first pieces I wrote for the blog was a jokey thing about my memories of taping the charts off the radio. Somehow a BBC researcher found it and invited me to take part in a BBC documentary called Pop Charts Britannia: 60 Years of the Top Forty. They found a boom box and got me to tape a recording of the top forty countdown from the early Eighties. It was a lot of fun.

More recently the editor of Classic Rock magazine got in touch to ask if they could publish one of the ‘Rock on Trial’ articles about sexism in rock. I pulled together a few Pie Charts to illustrate the point, so it had a quirky visual element to it. There are very few Pie Charts in music criticism, I find. It was very flattering to rub shoulders with “proper” writers. It was encouraging. Maybe, I thought, I should carry on doing this blogging thing just a little bit longer …

I had no expectations or ambition that blogging would lead to anything else, so these things are nice to do when they come up.

Are you involved with music in any other ways?
I play guitar at a rudimentary level – I can manage the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ on a good day. But I’m no Jimmy Page. Or even Patti Page for that matter.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Dick Rowe of Decca Records said that guitar bands were a passing fad back in 1962, just after he passed on signing the Beatles …

Manowar Into Glory Ride

Manowar: “farcical dress sense”, and records, one suspects, that have many stories to tell!

CHEERS, STEVE!

Please check out the excellent Every Record Tells a Story blog and Facebook page

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Matt Cohen (The Reasoning)

Matt Cohen - The ReasoningKilled by punk? The British prog scene is thriving, mate. A prog stage at the High Voltage Festival, the birth of Prog magazine from the Jack Daniels soaked thighs of Classic Rock, the inaugral 2012 Prog Awards, the Hard Rock Hell Prog Festival, Marillion playing not one, not two but three biennial Weekend conventions, the annual Summers End festival in Lydney, the Celebr8 festival. What more proof do you need? Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Panic Room, Anathema, Amplifier … music that moves you. I could go on … and on. And, of course, there’s The Reasoning, a band described in Words and Music as “one of the great hopes of the current British prog rock scene”.

I caught up with bass player, songwriter and producer Matt Cohen to talk a bit about prog, a bit about The Reasoning, and a lot about his thoughts and experiences as a rock fan.

Hi Matt, let’s go for it. Can you tell us what rock music means to you?
In some ways it means very little to me. I’ve spent a lot of time recording, analysing sounds and getting involved in the production of music. It’s only since starting this new band [Foxbat, a new side project with guitarist Keith Hawkins] that I’ve started getting excited by other people’s music again. I’ve taught myself to listen again. So ‘nothing but everything’ is probably the answer to your question.

Why has starting the new band made a difference?
How I listened to music and what it meant when I was a kid discovering bands like Purple, Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin is nothing like it usually is when I’m writing and producing music. But now I’m listening again. There are three rooms in my house where there’s always music: the office, the lounge and the bedroom. The office is usually where I’m working on The Reasoning stuff. But I’ve moved a sofa in there and now call it “the listening lounge” and I can lie there and listen. I try to listen to one complete album every day – and I’ve not done that since I was 21. I’m getting back some of that initial excitement I felt when I was a kid.

So what did rock music mean to you when you were a kid?
It was excitement and mystique 24/7 – it pointed to a world you never got to see. The music was overwhelming. It got your head nodding and made you want to dance. Not many things do that, and that’s fantastic, that’s magical.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Queen, then Status Quo and AC/DC. My first single was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.  I was only four or five and got it while out shopping with my mum.

Matt Cohen - photo by Ant Clausen

Photo by Ant Clausen

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Song: Iron Maiden – ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’. It was the first time I heard Maiden groove and it blew my mind.

Album: Iron Maiden – Killers. Hearing everything rising up and coming together. The power! The melody!

Lyric: Queen – ‘Mother Love’ from Made in Heaven. Those lines Freddie sings about not regretting a thing and wanting to go back into his mother’s womb. It’s very moving. Also ‘How Far to Fall’ by The Reasoning [from Dark Angel]. Rachel wrote it about a dream I had.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Iron Maiden. Steve Harris has been one of the biggest influences on my life musically. I remember seeing Maiden in Cardiff on the Piece of Mind tour. Just to see this guy with long hair flying across the stage and ‘shooting’ people with his bass was awesome. But also the way he used the bass as a lead instrument and the melody of his bass lines. He’s still in my top five bass players of all time.

So who are the other four?
John Deacon, Roger Glover, John Paul Jones and John Myung. John Deacon plays some ridiculously clever stuff. Roger Glover is so solid and plays some nice little things. I also love his production work. John Myung is very flash, not that I really want to play like that myself, and probably couldn’t anyway, but I’ve got to have one flash player in there!  And John Paul Jones is the master of melody. In fact all four, along with Steve Harris, are very melodic bass players.

I often wonder about song writing and bass players. Steve Harris, for example, is a big prog fan isn’t he? I wonder to what extent he writes on bass.
Well, I’ve never been to a Steve Harris writing session (laughs), but I write on bass … usually anyway. I also write on guitar and keyboards as well, as this helps me get a different perspective/feel for a song.

What makes a rock gig special?

Ritchie Blackmore

Guitar God Ritchie Blackmore – kicking fans at a venue near you!

The first gig I went to was Rainbow at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, on the Bent Out of Shape tour. I reached up to pluck one of Ritchie Blackmore’s strings and he kicked me in the shoulder! I had a big bruise. I showed my Mum and she was worried … “Oh my angel, my angel!” … but I was proud of it: “Ritchie Blackmore did this. Ritchie Blackmore kicked me!” The only other thing I really remember about that gig is it being very hot and loud, and the smell of patchouli.

The last really special gig I went to was Dream Theater on the Octavarium tour, 2005. Jordan Rudess’ opening to ‘Octavarium’ was so atmospheric/melodic/real and it genuinely made me cry.

So, to answer your question, what makes a gig special is when a band believes in what it is doing and gets you engaged, makes you believe that they’ve written songs for you. I saw Martin Simpson at St. David’s Hall. Not rock music, just him and an acoustic guitar playing on Level 3 (i.e. not in the auditorium itself). It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Karine Polwart in Swansea. Not rock but classy folk music, and beautiful. Too often these days, things seem to be all about the show rather than the music.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
I’d have to say Queen at Wembley in 1986. I’d been, and still am, a massive fan so this was a dream come true. There was also a real vibe around Queen after Live Aid, real Queen fever, and it was nigh on impossible to see them. So just to be there was awesome. And Freddie, his voice – he had the best voice in the world.

Your most notable gig as an artist?
Ooh, there have been a few. Some people might expect me to say our first Marillion support at the Colston Hall, Bristol, and that was truly awesome/overwhelming. High Voltage was bloody amazing too, as was the Marillion gig in Cardiff last September. But I’d have to go for our gig at the recent Fish convention in Leamington. The audience were fucking unbelievable. We played out of our skins and after coming back from a great tour, we were gig-ready and so up for this show like none other. It was also the first time, believe it or not, that I realised that we really had something going on.

The Reasoning - Fish support

The Reasoning, supporting Fish at Leamington 2012

Dylan or Morrison?
Neither, I can’t stand them! I just don’t get them. Dylan writes incredible songs, I just wish he wouldn’t perform them!

Gabriel or Collins?
Collins. I like his pop sensibilities plus he’s a shit hot drummer and comes across as a really cool guy with a great sense of humour.

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
“Where’s the bar?” or “Can I buy you a drink?” or just “Nice to meet you.”

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
I’ve met loads of brilliant people. The Marillion guys have been nothing but sweethearts to us. Steve Rothery is one of my favourite guitarists and is a wonderful/lovely man, and I’m sure I have come over all ‘fan boyish’ with him a few times – ha ha ha ha ha.

But to answer the question, I’d probably say Fish. Misplaced Childhood was the first Marillion album I got into and is still one of my favourite albums. The lyrics, the phrasing, the whole way he blends the lyrics with the music. When we played at the convention last October, and I don’t normally go up to people and tell them how much I like their music but, I just had to tell him what his music meant to me at the time and still does. We were having a drink in the backstage bar, the vibe was amazing and everything was friendly and comfortable, so that’s when I decided to say something. It was a cool moment.

It’s an odd kind of thing isn’t it, the relationship between fans and the bands and musicians they like.
Yes, it is.  As I say, I’ve met loads of brilliant people, I’ve had photos taken with other musicians, chatted, shaken their hands, horsed around, but some of the mystique has gone for me now. I still have my heroes but some of these guys I just wouldn’t want to meet. The Led Zeppelin guys, for example. I’d be too awestruck. I saw Jimmy Page walking round at High Voltage, and I thought about trying to get near him to say “Hi”, but what are you going to say to him, really? I met Ade Edmondson once and got drunk. I was mortified afterwards as I made a right knob of myself. Bad News was and still is one of my favourite sketches and I just fell to pieces. Rach laughed her arse off at me. I met Sting too as I was doing some work as a roadie and we had to move a load of stuff into his house for some recording he was doing. When we finished we were sitting down on this kind of window seat when he came in. We jumped up quickly, a bit in awe of him, but he told us to sit back down and thanked us for moving all the stuff for him. That was very cool.

Matt and Rachel Cohen of The Reasoning with Geoff Downes

Matt and Rachel Cohen with Cardiff City fan Geoff Downes

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
It’s unbelievable some of the things people say to you, it really is. This guy came up to us after one gig, said hello, shook our hands and then said, “So what are the sleeping arrangements in the band?” What are the fucking sleeping arrangements in the band? (Laughs) So I said, “Well, I sleep with the drummer, Rach sleeps with the guitarist and everyone takes it in turn with each other.”

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
It has its place. Everyone does it in one form or another; it doesn’t have to be a rock and roll thing. Most people like a few beers to unwind. Most musicians don’t push things too far – they know what a grind the next day is going to be! Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a kind of euphemism for life, isn’t it? After all that’s what we’ve been brought here to do – fornicate, eat and get intoxicated!

Rock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
Well, it’s certainly not the spawn of the devil (laughs)! It’s a force for good. Anything that makes you smile and nod along happily has got to be good. Rock music is an escape, a way of life, and hopefully it should make you think too. It takes you out of yourself, takes you away. As a youngster I totally bought into the rock image, long hair, tattoos, I wanted it all.

Your music is often labelled ‘progressive rock’? Do you think that’s been helpful or limiting?
Well, I’ve never met anyone who can define ‘Prog’ and really tell me what it is.  We’ve got good cross-over in our audience, so being labelled prog has not been limiting. Actually, it’s been good to us, so I’ve not had a problem with the prog tag.

Progressive rock is often associated with demons and wizards, fantasy and fiction. Can it, and should it, have social relevance?
Uriah Heep Demons and Wizards album coverI think heavy metal has more to do with that kind of stuff, demons and wizards and so on. I can’t think of many prog bands who write stuff about demons and wizards. People only think like that because Rick Wakeman wore a cape (laughs)! Some of the prog bands had the fantasy artwork, but metal bands had plenty of that too. Yeah, who does write about demons and wizards? Uriah Heep, Demons and Wizards, The Magicians Birthday and so on. That was good, but was it prog? To be honest I don’t know how to define prog, as stated earlier, but music to me is about engaging people and entertainment. What matters is that the music is good, and the melodies are strong. If the music’s good you can write about dragons and unicorns and people will like it – I do!

Someone said in a BBC documentary that progressive rock musicians are frustrated jazz musos who should really have kept away from rock and roll. What do you say to that?
I got into prog much later in life, I was always into the heavier side of music. I’ve never really been a jazz guy but I do appreciate it. I listen to jazz sometimes, but for me personally, finding that one note, that point when everything comes together around that one note, is everything. Why play a million when one will do?

When progressive rock does get TV coverage, things often seem to stop with the big 70s bands. You don’t get a lot of coverage of the scene today.
The scene today is still in the process of re-establishing itself and has probably been building for the last 12 or 13 years.Things have been diluted too by modern media, social networking sites and so on. Everyone today thinks they can be in a band and that setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account should be enough to get you coverage. But it’s hard work getting coverage and you have to really work to get it. I still go to magazines rather than the internet to see what’s going on. I think the music press still has a huge and important role today in providing a kind of filter for us. You can’t listen to everything and not everything merits public attention. You can’t assume that just because you put yourself out there your work deserves attention.

We could talk about the impact of the internet on the music scene and the music industry, but to what extent do you think the advent of the CD changed the way people approach their music?
I think albums should be a maximum of 45 minutes long, maybe 50. Lots of people don’t usually have an attention span beyond that. Adventures in Neverland is the longest album we’ve done (56 minutes), but I’ll never do a double album and we won’t make one quite as long as Adventures in Neverland again. Just because you can get 80 minutes of music on a CD, it doesn’t mean you should! Shorter albums sometimes provide you with a better listening experience. I like that thing Tom Petty did on one of his CDs when he put in a little spoken interlude telling people where the sides of the original albums ended, helping them to listen to the music in the way originally intended – genius and inspired!

The Reasoning Adventures in Neverland album cover

CHEERS MATT!

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Matt Stevens (Solo, The Fierce And The Dead)

Matt Stevens rocking

Poignant, moving, genre-defying, unique, resourceful, inventive – just a few of the adjectives you come across as soon as you start delving into the musical world of Matt Stevens. He’s been called “a one man guitar orchestra” by Acoustic Magazine UK. “His music is increasingly hard to ignore,” said Classic Rock Presents Prog, he is “a singular voice speaking a new language and getting the message across with skill and fierce intelligence.” Reference points offered by reviewers include Brian Eno, John Martyn, Anthony Phillips, Yo La Tengo, Sigur Ros, Robert Fripp and even Radiohead.

Matt already has three solo albums under his belt, Echo (2008), Ghost (2010) and Relic (2011). He has recently opened for the likes of Barclay James Harvest, Fish, Touchstone, The Reasoning and Panic Room. He also plays in “instrumental rock band” The Fierce And The Dead, who recently toured the UK with Knifeworld and Trojan Horse on the Stabbing A Dead Horse tour.

It may or may not be ‘prog’ Jim, at least not as we know it, but Matt’s music is both ambitious and progressive. That’s what I think, anyway! We are grateful to Matt for taking the Words and Music Q&A.

Matt StevensHi Matt! For those who don’t know, tell us about the kind of music you play.
I do acoustic solo guitar stuff with a loop pedal. I also play in a very noisy instrumental rock band called The Fierce And The Dead. I do a lot of gigs!

A lot of artists these days seem to have multiple projects on the go, different bands, or solo work running alongside band work. How difficult is it to write for different projects concurrently? To what extent do you think your writing as a solo artist rubs off on the band and vice versa?
It works like this. Solo stuff is me and my ideas with production by my friend Kevin Feazey. The Fierce And The Dead stuff is often my ideas (or someone else in the band) put the through the filter of the band, their arrangement ideas, often adding new sections. The band is very collaborative and no one is in charge. It’s a true democracy, we know each other so well and very rarely argue (over music). Often by the time we finish there is very little of the original idea left.

Your music is often associated with ‘progressive’ or even ‘post-rock’? Do you think such labelling is helpful or limiting?
It depends on the person’s perception. If they think prog is godawful widdly neo rubbish then it’s a problem, but if they think prog is ambitious rock music like King Crimson or the Mahavishnu Orchestra then it’s great. The best prog is amazing. I have no problem with people calling us prog but if they are expecting Dream Theater then we’re not fit for purpose, not a lot of soloing or flash playing. It’s more about ensemble performance, composition and the songs. A lot of stuff that people say is ‘progressive rock’ I can’t stand, some of it is horrible derivative retro crap. Some of it is bloody wonderful. A mixed bag.

Post-rock is more tricky cause we like a lot of post-rock but it’s not a major influence. I prefer US punk stuff or jazz/rock or metal or indie rock. It annoys me when people compare us to post-rock bands we’ve never heard of, stuff that has no influence because we have never heard it.

Matt Stevens - spotlightIs it possible to say what music means to you?
It’s good for my mental health. Through playing I achieve a state of flow that makes me want to be alive. Those moments where music lifts you, that’s the best.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Guns N’ Roses, closely followed by Iron Maiden. Izzy and Slash and Adrian and Dave. Brilliant.

Can you tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
I like ‘I Didn’t Understand’ by Elliott Smith. It’s heart breaking and wonderful; very special musician.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Robert Fripp. I’ve followed him since I first heard Red when I was 15. I love the way he’s been brave all through his musical career. He’s taken risks. Brilliant.

What makes a gig special?
The connection between the band and the audience. Even if the sound is shit or you’re tired if you make that connection then it’s worth it. It’s not about the band, it’s about the experience of the crowd.

Your most notable gig as an artist?
The Lexington, London. 2012 the last date of the Stabbing A Dead Horse tour with Knifeworld, Trojan Horse and Fierce And The Dead. Close to a sell out crowd and it was just a wonderful gig. We all got on stage with Knifeworld. I cried. Very emotional end to a wonderful tour.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
Slayer, Decade Of Agression tour maybe or Faith No More. Or Bob Mould from last year, that was really good, when he did Sugar’s Copper Blue album. I loved that one.

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
I’ve never really had that. I’m from Rushden and no one came there when I was a kid. We did meet Roddy Bottum and he was lovely. I met Jimmy Page once but I was too freaked out to be able to talk to him. I just kept thinking ‘Stairway To Heaven’ over and over again.

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
Most people are lovely and just want something signed or a photo. One guy wanted to take a photo but didn’t want to chat he just stared at me. That freaked me out a bit.

So, what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
If I meet a person I don’t really want to put them on a rock star pedestal cause I think thats already a socially awkward position and I’m quite a shy person really and socially awkward enough already.

The Fierce And The Dead On VHS coverSex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
We drink. That’s it. We’re not rock and roll but we do drink.

Progressive rock – music for the many or music for the few?
It’ll always be niche unless you can have a crossover. Like Sigur Ros and the nature programs. That exposed them to a new audience, I think only a fluke like that would do that for us. We’re very very lucky to have the audience we have. As a conventional progressive rock band Fierce And The Dead aren’t really fit for purpose. We don’t do much flash playing for example, well not soloing anyway. We’re an instrumental rock band really.

What would you say to someone who thinks that progressive rock was killed by punk?
Well it wasn’t and the best punk bands took progressive elements anyway. Bad Brains loved the Mahavishnu and Dead Kennedys had a Zappa thing going. I love the good punk stuff and the good prog so they both were there for me.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
It isn’t, it’s just more niche. There is so much choice out there in the internet age, you can do really weird stuff like we do and still sell thousands of albums.

What kind of future do you see for progressive rock?
It need to actually progress or it doesn’t have one, well not outside those who want to enjoy nostalgia for the past. Not that there is anything wrong that, it just means without new stuff happening the music will die off with the generation that first heard it.

Matt Stevens Ghost coverOf everything you’ve written and recorded to date, of what are you most proud?
I like the last Fierce And The Dead EP ON VHS a lot and Ghost is my favorite of the solo stuff. But I’ll always be excited about the next project, the next thing. That’s what keeps me going, I’m not really into dwelling on the past.

And finally, what next for Matt Stevens and The Fierce And The Dead?
Solo gigs – 6th March Catch Bar London, 23rd March The Cluny Newcastle with Mike Mike Keneally and Godsticks, 11th May Celebr8 Festival Kingston, South London.

Fierce And The Dead Gigs – 16th March Y Prog Festival Sheffield, 4th May Electric Garden Festival Blackpool.

We’re working on a new Fierce And The Dead long player and I’m doing a solo EP. The new solo one is mostly acoustic and the Fierce And The Dead is quite different to the first one. I’m really excited about the future. And I want to do something with vocals.

More info at www.mattstevensguitar.com and www.fierceandthedead.com

Matt Stevens live

THANKS MATT!

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Jeff Strawman (Achilles Last Stand)

When it comes to fansites, there can be few as extensive, impressive and well-established as Jeff Strawman’s all-singing, all-dancing, all-things-Zeppelin website: Achilles Last Stand.

Achilles Last Stand is a truly fitting tribute to one of rock’s greatest bands, and provides an excellent information service, online forum, and more, for fans. Indeed, in drafting the Led Zep sections in Words and Music I often found myself popping over to check out the odd fact or reference.

Achilles Last Stand is an astonishing achievement, and the music of Led Zeppelin clearly means a lot to Jeff. So I tracked him down and was delighted when he agreed to ‘Ramble On’ for the Q&A Series.

So Jeff, how did your work on Achilles Last Stand come about?
The first incarnation of Achilles Last Stand was put online in early 1996. At that point, the World Wide Web was just a small child and finding information about Led Zeppelin was very limited, mostly coming from Usenet Newsgroups, Digital Graffiti, a mailing list (R.I.P.!) and various fanzines.  A lot of the information found at that time was just flat out incorrect. I’m sure that it originated from fans when the band was still active and just got twisted around as new people heard it or misheard it. So, I had decided to create the most accurate, most informative Led Zeppelin website.

It’s a very extensive site. It must be quite a commitment?
It truly is. There were and still are Led Zeppelin websites that focus on one aspect, like lyrics or photos or news. I felt like I wanted to have a website that had everything. The only thing that I don’t put any focus on is the live trading and bootlegs. There are a few websites out there that are very informative and if I were to add this onto ALS, it would be too similar to what’s out there. A lot of time had been spent collecting and researching information, then compiling it into a straight text formatting and then adding HTML coding to make it presentable for the website. I still mostly rely on a text editor to create individual pages. It may take longer, however I get exactly what I want to see. I have several update projects that I always am working on, trying to make everything look as perfect as I can. If the money was there, I could easily make a full-time job out of it. In addition to juggling life outside of Led Zeppelin, my actual hours spent currently are quite minimal.

Why Led Zeppelin? Is it possible to say what their music means to you?
I am a lifetime musician, having played piano and various instruments in school bands, as well as the bass guitar for nearly 20 years. The instrumental music in the songs of Led Zeppelin attracts me the most out of any other band that I have listened to. I really enjoy the unison of the bass and electric guitars in riffs like in ‘Heartbreaker’ or ‘Black Dog’ as well as the complexity of layering in their later work. Their music has a good groove. Some songs are heavy as hell and other songs float across the air with the grace and weight of a feather. Some bands are very typecast, meaning that they are really known for one style of music. You absolutely cannot say that about Led Zeppelin. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in October 1970 when Led Zeppelin III came out and people were expecting another song like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with different lyrics & they were treated to ‘Gallows Pole’ and ‘That’s The Way’. Wow, that would have absolutely blown my mind. Can you say that about any other band?

Ever meet any of the band?
No, unfortunately not.

They say it’s often a mistake to meet your heroes. Presumably your experience with Led Zeppelin has been different?
That’s hard to say. Honestly, I think the members of Led Zeppelin are just ordinary people and that’s how they have mostly tried to be.

So, in your experience, what should you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I have about a thousand different questions that I could possibly ask each of the remaining members of Led Zeppelin that would shed light on or correct misinformation that is currently floating out there.

Your first Zeppelin gig?
Unfortunately, I was 5 years old when Led Zeppelin decided that they could not continue, however my first Led Zeppelin live recording that I heard was from June 23, 1977, the famous Badgeholders show at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Being able to hear the various instruments clearly was something spectacular. A 30-minute version of ‘No Quarter’ was amazing. I wondered how a bunch of human beings could possibly continue to play for such a long time. Plus, the banter in between songs, the Plantations as it were, were so hilarious and unique, I believed that what I read in some of the unauthorized biographies were actually true, you know, the rock-and-roll excess, sex, drugs and rock and roll?

Your best Zeppelin-related gig (and why)?
I saw John Paul Jones on the second leg of his first solo Tour, on March 25, 2000 at Park West in Chicago, Illinois. Zooma had been out for seven months and although I was very familiar with all of the tracks, seeing it and hearing it in person was totally different. I was so utterly overwhelmed with the sound that was penetrating my core. It was general admission that night and so I spent most of the evening holding onto a set of stair railing. I had to hold on to something because the three performers on stage could have easily knocked me over.

Your top 3 Zeppelin albums?

  • Led Zeppelin II – it was the first LZ album I listened to. It opened my eyes.
  • Led Zeppelin – the first is always the best.
  • Physical Graffiti or Presence – it’s hard to choose between the two. Physical Graffiti has the light and shade, the heavy and the not-so heavy & everything in between, but Presence portrays a mature band, familiar with each other, wanting to branch out into the unknown and create melodic masterpieces.

Your top 3 non-Zep but Zep-related albums? (You know what I mean!)

  • Zooma – John Paul Jones. After listening to this album, you can truly tell who was the heart and soul of Led Zeppelin.
  • No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded – I really like the Arabic interpretations of the songs, plus the new material is a delight. The 2004 reissue includes remixed songs from the original, plus the inclusion of two songs that weren’t on the original.
  • Live Yardbirds: featuring Jimmy Page – the 1968 Yardbirds bootleg that Jimmy Page didn’t want released. Canned applause or not, it still is a well-recorded live concert from a band in all of their psychedelic splendour.

Some (not me, obviously) might say running a website or a fan club is an unhealthy obsession. What would you say to that?
Perhaps. It does require a fair amount of time to maintain and you do talk to some interesting and unique fans, even ones that had passed the classification of insane. Instead of calling it an unhealthy, I think that the proper way is to call it “a labour of love”.

Of everything you’ve done with Achilles Last Stand and Led Zeppelin, what are you most proud of?
Just putting the information out there. I enjoy getting emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter from fans of the website, telling how much they enjoy it.

Are you involved with any other bands or music in any other way?
I was active in cover bands for about 15 years, but I’ve slowed down in doing that as of late.

In your experience, is it the sex, drugs, scandals and occult mystique that attracts rock fans to Zeppelin or is it more about the music?
It depends on what type of person you are. Obviously, sex, drugs, scandals and occult mystique sells in this day and age, however you’re going to find some musicians and fans that may want to emulate their heroes or those that really dig the music or the words.

How do you view the role of fan sites and fan clubs in the current era? Do you think they have a future?
Official websites for bands may be limited as to what they can post from management, record companies or even by the band themselves. Fan sites and fan clubs often fill in the blanks and tell the whole truth. It’s a way to unite as a community of like-minded individuals. As long as there are fans of bands, you’ll have fan sites and fan clubs.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Music trends are very cyclical. There are always points in time when one style of music rises up to a new generation, becomes popular and knocks the previous trend back down. In addition, various types of music mash up together to form something new. I think that we are currently at a point that rock music has morphed off into new hybrids. Elements of rock are still there, you just have to try and find it.

And finally, who do you listen to when you’re not listening to Led Zeppelin?
Honestly, I really like any type of music that has guitar, bass and drums. I’m quite a fan of classic rock, like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull , Iron Butterfly & Black Sabbath.

CHEERS JEFF!

Vist the Achilles Last Stand website: http://www.led-zeppelin.org/

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