Neal Morse Interview

Neal Morse and BandSpock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Flying Colors. Neal Morse has been a founder member and integral part of some of modern progressive rock’s most celebrated and popular bands and collaborations. And yet, since leaving Spock’s Beard, he’s also been an astonishingly prolific solo artist, releasing an impressive string of prog and non-prog albums that have continued to dazzle and wear their creator’s ‘Testimony’ on their sleeves.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Neal for Über Röck and spoke with him about his productivity, the connection between his creativity and his faith, Mike Portnoy and, of course, his first release of 2015, the Neal Morse Band album ‘The Grand Experiment’.

You can read my interview with Neal here:
http://www.uberrock.co.uk/interviews/53-february-interviews/13801-neal-morse-spocks-beard-transatlantic-flying-colors-the-neal-morse-band-uber-rock-interview-exclusive.html

And my review of ‘The Grand Experiment’ here:
http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/22-february-cd/13758-the-neal-morse-band-the-grand-experiment-insideout-music.html

Neal Morse Band

You can read more of Michael Anthony’s interviews in the Words and Music Q&A Series

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Fireworks, Rocktopia and Uber Rock

Regular readers may have noticed the relative paucity of new interviews and articles on this site recently, for which I apologise. This is partly due to general busy-ness (work and play) but mainly due to the increase in time I’ve devoted to reviews and interviews for other publications, most notably Fireworks Magazine and Über Röck.

Uber Rock logoWith regards to Über Röck, it’s a pleasure writing for a magazine which prides itself on devoting column inches to bands who fly below the radar, as it were, bringing great new music to your attention without pandering to PR companies and major record labels. Better still is working with a group of writers who do it purely and simply for the love of the music. If you want to know more, joint-founder of Über Röck, Gaz, tells it like it is here:
https://wordsandmusicbook.wordpress.com/?s=Gaz+Uber+Rock

Those interested can read my Über Röck reviews here:
http://www.uberrock.co.uk/component/search/?searchword=Michael+Anthony&ordering=&searchphrase=all

Recent reviews include (among others) albums by Yes, Vertica, Dead Shed Jokers, Neal Morse Band, Agent Philby and the Funtans, Jouis, Amberjacks, Lande and Holter, Beardfish, Corvus Stone, Pain of Salvation and Martin Barre. You can also check out interviews with the likes of Neal Morse, Adrian Belew, Graham Bonnet, Robbie Cavanagh and Michael Schenker.

Fireworks Magazine CoverFireworks Magazine is published every other month and is available in the UK in all high street branches of W.H.Smiths. it is also now available in the United States and Canada. Most Fireworks reviews and interviews are subsequently made available on the Rocktopia website. You  can access the site here: http://www.rocktopia.co.uk/

My recent contributions include reviews of albums by Von Hertzen Brothers, Anathema, Curved Air, Voyager, Perfect Beings, The Answer, Starset, Blitzkrieg, Meat Loaf, Arcane, Man and Melissa Etheridge (to name a few), and interviews with Cormac Neeson of The Answer and Brian Ross of Blitkzkrieg.

Prog fans might also have noticed Michael Anthony’s Prog Magazine article on Twelfth Night’s excellent ‘Fact and Fiction’ album (in ‘The Albums That Saved Prog’ series) a while back. More information about that is available on the Twelfth Night official website.

Look out too for Michael Anthony’s occasional appearances on BBC Radio Wales on The Alan Thompson Show. Recent chat and music has included features on AC/DC, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Prog Rock, Bob Dylan and Jon Lord.

Rock ‘n ‘Roll!

Prog Magazine Cover July 2013

Read Über Röck’s review of Words and Music

Read Fireworks/Rocktopia’s review of Words and Music

Read Prog Magazine’s review of Words and Music

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!

For more information, please check out the Cloud Atlas website and webstore

Hear the Beyond The Vale trailer

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Geoff Mann (Twelfth Night/Solo)

Live And Let Live gatefold shot

Those who’ve read Words and Music will know that there’s a whole chapter devoted to ‘God and the Devil’ in rock music. I spend some time there discussing the work and influence of Black Sabbath and Geoff Mann, and reach conclusions that might surprise some people.

While Sabbath have recently reformed and have over the years, courtesy mainly of Tony Iommi, continued to add to their oeuvre, Geoff left us at the age of just 36. However he left behind a significant, challenging and thought-provoking body of work that I still believe deserves much wider exposure.

The interview below was conducted way back in 1986, in the (nearly) daze of SMF – Southampton Metal Fanzine. Geoff had left Twelfth Night – still one of my favourite bands – and had embarked on a solo career. I was delighted when he agreed to do the interview, but the Fanzine never got off the ground, so the interview was never published.

Until, that is, I created the Words and Music website. Initially I offered it in the Bonus Material section as a thank you to those who had purchased the book. However, now that the Words and Music Q&A Series is up-and-running and picking up readers, this seems like a better place for it. (A slightly longer version is still available via the Bonus Material tab.)

Mannerisms - A Celebration of the Music of Geoff Mann - album coverI would encourage all rock fans, particularly those of an open-minded and progressive nature, to seek out and explore Geoff’s work. I’d particularly recommend Twelfth Night’s Fact and Fiction and Live And Let Live, his first two vinyl solo albums – I May Sing Grace and Psalm Enchanted Evening – and the tribute album Mannerisms. The latter features covers of his tracks by bands of the stature of IQ, Pallas, Pendragon, Galahad, Jadis and Twelfth Night, and provides ample demonstration of the esteem in which he was held by his peers. But that’s more than enough from me. Here’s the interview …

SMF: Why did you leave Twelfth Night?

GM: Because I felt I had to, for personal reasons as much as anything else – to be honest I don’t want to go through the answer to that anymore because it’s now a long time ago, or seems it to me. Yes, we are still friends, and no, I don’t regret it at all.

SMF: Our present understanding is that you found Christian principles irreconcilable with the adoration that would follow from your success as a musician. How do you respond to the suggestion that although your motives for leaving Twelfth Night were admirable, your lyrics will not now reach the audience they should?

GM: I never mentioned ‘Christian principles’ (someone else’s words). I didn’t want to put money above beliefs, certainly, and felt confused as to my own motives in seeking success – certainly it made me aware of how limited my understanding of Christ was, not to mention my experience of this power in my life. There’s no audience in need of me and my work, unless God makes it so – it’s more important for me, and anyone I play to, that I know what I’m doing and why as far as possible.

SMF: Can you tell us about your plays? Do they deal with the same themes as your Twelfth Night lyrics did, or are they more directly religious?

Review of Geoff Mann's 'A Convenient Day'GM: My plays – right … ‘Sydney’s Armchair’ is a surreal living room drama about nostalgia and decision-making – sort of black comedy, I guess. It hasn’t been performed by anyone yet. The trilogy of plays I wrote for ‘Sola Energy’ at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1985 was called ‘Crossed Paths’. The plays were based on the time of Christ’s ministry, incidents and characters apart from Christ Himself, vis: John the Baptist / Herod / Herodias / Mary / Magdalene / Nicodemus / plotting priests / Satan/ Judas / Priests / Pilate etc. They were concerned with reactions to the turmoil that Christ caused in the hearts and minds of those in Israel. I tried to give the characters a modern slant in the psychology of that time, more modern language and mannerisms – rather than giving history an up-to-date slant, I did it the other way round. The reception was mainly very positive, both in Edinburgh and London. The first play of the trilogy, ‘A Convenient Day’, was performed in London by ‘Three’s Company’ at the Latchmore Theatre. I have no plans to write any in the next few months, not without a commission anyway!

The plays are not ‘religious’, if by ‘religious’ you mean ‘not primarily drama’. As an extension of my work with Twelfth Night, well I suppose my concerns in work don’t really change, as what I’m concerned with are very fundamental themes – life, death, freedom, responsibility … love, hate … you know, the usual stuff.

SMF: Do you think that there is a big difference in the sort of audience you will reach in the theatre and the audience at gigs or the kind of audience that will listen to your records? Which is more impressionable?

GM: Dunno. I think different arts influence people in very different ways – although rock/pop etc. does generally reach a younger audience, and they tend to be more easily led.

SMF: What sort of link do you think should exist between religion, art and politics?

GM: My faith is my life, and I don’t see ‘religion’ as something which exists on a separate lane to ‘real life’. Whatever the norm is in some churches, you will find that Jesus calls us to a complete change of life. Basically I believe that all human life should be centred in God, and everything that does not take His will into account is less than it could and should be. (This also shows why we all need constant forgiveness, if you think about it; thank God it’s available.)

SMF: Do you think that there is a more particular need for Christian/loving lyrics in rock and roll? Did you see the Newsnight feature about the youth village in America that exists to protect teenagers from rock music?

Geoff Mann performing at Reading Rock 1983

Geoff performing at Reading Rock 1983

GM: Well, there’s certainly a great need for people to hear about the unending love that God has for us, as shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There’s a great need for Christians to get involved with everything that’s going on and live our faith, confident and glad in the spirit which Jesus gives to re-new our lives, because actions speak at least as loud as words! It’s important that people do what God wants them to do, and that depends upon their own relationship with Him through prayer, fellowship and the Bible. Writing ‘Jesus’ in every song doesn’t validate bad music – nor does great music with ungodly lyrics mean that that’s ok, either. ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’ has been an evil influence more often than not, I think, but no more than advertising (as a force for accelerating desire for material gain in society), TV, newspapers, science, religion, (often the same thing) … need I go on? This world is fallen (and is falling) from God, and only Jesus can save us. As for the village … well, I don’t believe it is realistic as a way of life, however sincere its motive or correct its basic inspiration. It’s good for all of us to have quiet and put the influence of outside forces into perspective, regularly too. I’m not very interested in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’; I’m trying to come to terms with music where I find myself, to prise the truth out of the mush.

SMF: On the music front, is the new album out yet? Is it musically similar to I May Sing Grace, or has there been a progression? The track listing – Creation, Dance, Gethsemane, Waves, Peacemeal, Flowers – suggests it might be a conceptual piece. Is it?

Psalm Enchanted Evening coverGM: It’s out on my own Wobbly Records label (WOB001). I’m very pleased with the material. I think it’s different to ‘… Grace’ – there’s certainly been a progression in the actual recorded sound of the album. As for the music, it’s moved somewhere or other! It only features one other musician mostly, Dave Mortimer on ghastly green Gibson guitar etc., although there is some added bass guitar courtesy of the engineer, Steve Millie. The instrumentation on the album is lots of guitars with many and varied treatments, synth, emulator ‘Linn’ drums – and vocals, naturally! There is no particular ‘concept’, not deliberately anyway. Much of the basic work on the album is improvised.

SMF: We read it was finished last February – why the delay in release?

GM: Severe lack of funds, basically.

SMF: You’ve played some strange gigs. Presumably you went down well with the Pendragon, Lahost and Pallas crowds, and at the Marquee, but what were the Six-String Whiplash and [anarcho-punk band] Icons of Filth gigs like?

GM: Most of my gigs are pretty strange. Certainly when I play solo I find that there is no guarantee that supporting a ‘proggy’ type band means instant success by any means. The Six-String Whiplash gig was an odd one; the people at the gig let me know they didn’t think much of it. The Icons of Filth and their audience were supportive and encouraging!

SMF: Will you be touring in the future?

GM: My new band is called The Bond, and yes, there will be plenty of gigs coming up. We do have a gig at the Marquee in May – Sunday 11 May in fact – but we’re looking for lots of ‘em. We’re doing some gigs around Manchester. We did a free gig the other day – I hope we’ll be able to do some more of those.

In the course of the interview we asked Geoff one or two questions about other bands and artists. He declined to answer, offering the following explanation.

GM: Forgive my not answering your questions on other bands. It’s purely that I don’t want to appear to single anyone out for criticism as there is very little that I can honestly say I think is really very useful/helpful in terms of rock lyrics and so on. But many things do, none the less, have some virtue. Fish, I think, is trying to be very honest about his feelings. The Icons are very properly aware of much injustice and hypocrisy in ‘the system’ … but it is my sincere belief that the prime of all ills in the world is human sin, that it has become our nature to sin, and that only Jesus has the power to forgive us our sin and start putting it to death in our lives.

I listen to music and enjoy/reject etc., taking it as it is. Some things, by nearly all artists, I find quite impossible to take – but there are really few artists who I can’t find something of worth in. (Sometimes all of that I find of myself!)

Geoff on stage with Twelfth Night at Reading 1983

Geoff on stage with Twelfth Night at Reading 1983

Opening photograph – Twelfth Night Live and Let Live gatefold shot – by Nick Powell

Reading Rock photographs by Mark Hughes

To find out more about Geoff Mann, please visit the official Geoff Mann website.

The albums Geoff recorded with Twelfth Night are available from the official Twelfth Night website.

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Rodney Matthews (Artist)

Rodney Matthews - artist

Art and music often seem to go hand in hand. Great albums are often accompanied by compelling and powerful artwork. It’s hard, for example, to think of Dark Side of the Moon without visualising the iconic prism of its cover, or to think of Led Zeppelin IV without seeing the hermit or the ‘Four Symbols’ which help give the album such a distinctive and magical feel. Art can both reinforce the way we feel about a band or an album and give us a means of expressing that feeling. We wear t-shirts, patches, badges and tattoos, proudly displaying logos or symbols and proclaiming our love for a band.

One artist who made an impression on me in my formative years, and who has continued to do so, is Rodney Matthews – a man with many artistic strings to his bow who is perhaps best known for his (ongoing) work with Magnum. Indeed, his cover for The Eleventh Hour album remains one of my favourite ever, dripping as it is in rich and provoking imagery. (There is an extended discussion of the album, including the artwork, in Words and Music.)

It was a real pleasure, therefore, to meet Rodney at the 2013 HRH Prog festival in Rotherham, and a thrill when he agreed to take part in the Words and Music Q&A Series. So, here we go …

Hi Rodney, tell us first, how big a rock fan are you, and what does rock music mean to you?
My taste in music is quite varied, encompassing the genres of classic rock, progressive rock, folk rock, jazz and classical.

Obviously, I listen to the music from the albums I design covers for, and like most of it, but if I’m listening to music for my own pleasure it’s most likely to be prog – King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd – or jazz – anything from New Orleans to the present day, which would include Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Dave Brubeck, Modern Jazz Quartet, Weather Report and so on.

Many of my earlier pieces were painted to the tune of a particular favourite at the time. For example ‘The Ice Spirit’ and Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge.

I believe you were a musician yourself for a while?
Artist Rodney Matthews playing the drumsMusician? Well, a drummer, that’s right. I ran several of my own bands from 1962 until 1974, and later played in various jazz bands until recently.

In the beginning we played Shadows stuff and general rock ‘n’ roll, following the various trends until around 1967 when we wrote most of our own stuff or plundered the classics.

Recently, I have dusted off my drums and commenced some recordings for my various projects, including an album with U.S. guitarist Jeff Scheetz.

Who was the first band or rock artist to make an impression on you?
The Shadows.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you.
Let’s start with a song. That would be ‘Second Star to the Right’, from Disney’s original Peter Pan movie. I heard it when I was about 10 years old, and still whistle it to this day.

Then an album, a different one – I’m stuck between Dave Brubeck Time Out and King Crimson In the Court of the Crimson King.

And a lyric – I’m tempted to say something by Simon and Garfunkel, but in the end I’m going for ‘How far Jerusalem’ by rock poet Tony Clarkin. That said, it has a different meaning for me than the meaning he intended.

Obviously, first and foremost you are an artist – is it possible to say what art means to you?
After my family, art is my top priority, and has been ever since I was old enough to wield a pencil. I can’t stop myself day-dreaming artistic visions and scribbling ideas on bits of paper. Art has been my life for more than 60 years, and I would not have had it any other way. It is God given in its raw state, but I have had to work hard at it.

How do you see what you do as an artist?
At my most pretentious, I might consider myself a purveyor of truth via various allegorical processes, but I also like to entertain given half a chance (‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘The Gasbags’).

I’m pleased to learn that there are people who have been encouraged, challenged, or have had their imaginations enhanced by my stuff. I think you either embrace fantasy art or you hate it.

In my 1988 calendar intro Terry Jones expressed his view that “an imaginary world can give quicker access to universal truths”.

My art tends to follow my own character, in that it flirts from high and mighty aspirations, down to lavatory humour and back again. Sorry folks – that’s me!

Rodney's cover for Diamond Head's 'Borrowed Time' album

Rodney’s cover for Diamond Head’s ‘Borrowed Time’ album (1982)

Art and music can be closely connected, and often are when one thinks of some of the great progressive rock bands. How do you see the connection between rock music and art?
In my view the two are inseparable. I first became aware of the connection, when I was at art school during the sixties. Art students often played instruments in the common room (Terry Barnett did a tidy version of ‘The Cruel Sea’ on his Fender Telecaster, the very instrument he used to bludgen an aggressive yob at one of his gigs in the ass-end of Bristol one night!)

To be more serious, The Beatles were art students, and had it not been for Chuck Berry, might have stayed that way. The two ‘arts’ of sound and visuals are made for each other.

In rock and jazz, many albums have been enhanced or complemented by good cover art. Examples that come to mind are In Search of the Lost Chord – The Moody Blues, Fragile – Yes, Time Out – Dave Brubeck and Sergeant Pepper – The Beatles.

You are known in rock circles primarily for your album cover work and perhaps especially for your work with Magnum. How did you get involved with Magnum?
In 1975 I had given up my rock ‘n’ roll dream of becoming a famous and well paid musician, in favour of a career in fantasy and music-related art. I’d done stuff for Nazareth, Thin Lizzy Album cover from Magnum's 'Chase the Dragon'and others by 1980, but now as punk (which I did not like) had elbowed in, it left me only the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, of which Magnum are a part. I read an article in one of the music papers featuring an interview with Tony Clarkin. I thought to myself, “I like this bloke’s world view, and truthful talk”. Later, I listened to one of Magnum’s early albums and decided to contact Clarkin via Jet Records. He liked my imagery, and had someone commission the Chase the Dragon artwork.

Were you a fan of Magnum before you worked with them?
For a couple of months, yes.

I love your Eleventh Hour artwork and the added dimension it brings to Tony Clarkin’s lyrics. Did you consciously try to enhance the lyrics and themes of the album in your work? And, if so, is that the way you always work with Tony?
Strange as it may sound, I don’t often hear Magnum lyrics before commencing artwork. It works like this: Tony invites me to the studio as the album is being recorded, and, on any old piece of paper that comes to hand, lists his requirements for the image and usually sketches (poorly) the scene he has in mind. As the meeting goes on, he adds to and subtracts from his original brief (much like my old studio manager at the advertising agency), until I start to think, “This is crap, how am I going to make it work?” Somehow it works out in the end!

Regarding The Eleventh Hour album, Tony told me what he wanted, and I did it, but he does allow me to add a few of my own embellishments or ‘in jokes’, in most of the albums.

Cover for 'The Eleventh Hour' (1983)

Cover for ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (1983)

Some artists are very closely identified with the work they’ve done for certain rock bands, for example you with Magnum, Derek Riggs with Iron Maiden, and Roger Dean with Yes. In general has this been a good thing for your career as an artist?
Undoubtedly so. Album art has been a good ‘shop window’ for me over many years but because of changes in the way music is now sold, most of my current album art jobs are done at a loss.

Aside from Magnum, what would you say are the most notable album covers you have done?
Personally speaking, perhaps Tiger Moth for Tiger Moth, Arena for Asia, Time to Turn for Eloy, and The Mystery of Time for Avantasia.

Of all the rock-related work you’ve done, of what are you most proud?
Cover for Magnum's On a Storyteller's NightOn a Storyteller’s Night for Magnum.

Of everything you’ve done as an artist, of what are you most proud?
The Heavy Metal Hero.

What are you currently doing and what can we expect from Rodney Matthews in the future?
Right now I am working on Magnum’s latest release Escape from the Shadow Garden, another Clarkin idea, but with some Matthews additions.

I’m also (with my other hand) doing some work for the Atkins May Project, (Al Atkins and Paul May) and am working on a couple of my animation projects: ‘Oddney’s Otherland’ with Pipe Dreams 3d, London, and ‘Thunderbolt’ with Jamie Anderson, son of the late Gerry Anderson. Both these animation projects will most likely go the Kickstarter route – so stand by, with your dosh to hand!

This year I will be materialising (to flog and sign stuff) at the Steelhouse Festival (Sunday 28 July), Cambridge Rock and Hard Rock Hell (North Wales).

For news, gallery, show reel and more, visit: www.rodneymatthews.com or check out Rodney’s Facebook page.

Rodney and author Michael Anthony at HRH Prog

CHEERS RODNEY!

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