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IQ

The Story Of The Wake

The so-called neo-progressive bands were a cut-throat bunch, with IQ, Pendragon, Pallas, Marillion and their ilk all fiercely competing to establish themselves as the leaders of the movement. By June of 1985, Marillion had an unpredictable, breakthrough success with Kayleigh and Misplaced Childhood and although commercial acclaim may have overlooked IQ, they released a similarly iconic album in The Wake that summer which is rightly regarded as one of the genuine highlights of early eighties prog. The album was IQ’s second full length release (third if you include 1982’s tape only Seven Stories Into Eight) and captured the band trying to produce a professional and cohesive release to match that of their contemporaries and outshine their low-budget earlier albums.

“All of those bands were seriously competitive,” recalls singer Peter Nicholls. “With progressive music being such a clique area, everybody was vying for the limited success there was to be had. The rivalry wasn’t exactly vicious but we were determined to make our second album a more polished affair and something which was a clear indication of what we felt we were capable of. What is often forgotten is that we really were doing ourselves no favours at all by choosing to play progressive music and we knew that by pursuing that avenue, the chances of any mainstream success were very remote. At the time, the popular music was very slick, polished and professional, and even bands like Yes pursued that avenue with their 90125 album. We were always fighting against a perception that to play progressive music you had to adopt a very retrospective, 1970’s prog rock lifestyle. Of course we loved that music but we also loved Human League and The Psychedelic Furs, and we always tried to drag those influences in. We were never about slavishly recreating what had gone before and by the time of The Wake we really started to sound like IQ. We knew what we were doing was really unfashionable but we thought ‘Well, if it’s not in fashion, then it can’t go out of fashion’.”

Yet the writing of the album was to prove exceptionally demanding for IQ, and the period was unquestionably the darkest in their history. The pressures were centred on their decision to live together in a single flat, which although meaning they were able to concentrate on musical creation, it also resulted in an unhealthy and claustrophobic atmosphere which was exacerbated by a lack of money and the squalor of the flat.

“At the time, most of us were living in a communal house in Harlesden, which was every bit as chaotic and unhygienic as the one inhabited by The Young Ones in the TV series,” explains IQ’s then keyboard player Martin Orford. “I have vivid recollections of mould in the bedrooms, a dead mouse in the toaster, a tape machine which cut out every time the fridge came on and lots and lots of arguing.”

“The problem was that minor disagreements became exaggerated and everything was under the microscope because we could never get away from each other,” adds Nicholls. “We could never really crank up the music because we had a neighbour in the upstairs flat, Nancy, who used to scrutinize us like a hawk. After gigs, we would all be walking on tiptoes at three in the morning trying to get all the instruments back into the flat without being discovered. I have a lot of fond memories but at the time it was very arduous and we survived on next to nothing in terms of food. I think we each spent about two pounds a week on bread and beans.”

In spite of such turbulence, the band had spent months piecing together the tracks which would ultimately form The Wake. Orford and Holmes crafted tracks such as the brooding Corners and Headlong during regular escapes from London to their hometown of Southampton. Widow’s Peak which would become a cornerstone of their live set, had already been recorded for a session on BBC Radio One’s Friday Rock Show and a session in Glasgow also yielded rough demos of The Thousand Days and The Magic Roundabout – the latter named because a section of it reminded bassist Tim Esau of the theme tune to the children’s TV programme of the same name.

“Yes I admit responsibility for that one but I think I did vote against keeping it as a title,” says Esau. “As a punishment from that day forth, whilst Mike was giving it everything on his guitar at that point in the live set, I was thinking of Zebedee, Florence and Dougal and singing The Magic Roundabout theme in my head.”

The band’s domestic cabin fever was partially alleviated when Peter Nicholls moved back to his home town of Manchester from London in early 1985. Yet although that might have solved one predicament, it led to the singer feeling increasingly remote from the band during the writing of The Wake and was the origin of a rift within IQ that would ultimately cause the singer the quit the band later that year.

“We knew had to have personal lives. So that was vital and without that, I honestly think the band would have folded around that time,” recalls Nicholls. “To this day I don’t really know what the score was, but there was certainly a distance that grew between the rest of the band and me. There wasn’t a huge argument or one particular moment, but I think we were all kind of spreading our wings and there was a division that was growing between us.”

“Peter had moved out of the band’s communal base by then,” confirms Orford. “I think he was having a few personal problems and though I’m not entirely sure what they were, he was clearly not a happy soul at the time. Plus communal writing was a complete pain in the arse, especially when you’ve got a bunch of highly opinionated people to deal with. There was an incredible tension present in the band during that period and I felt that someone, and it didn’t enormously matter who, had to go. I’d got pretty cheesed off by then with being in London with no money and having to live on a kind of ongoing and constantly replenished vegetarian stew.”

The upside of that seemingly unsurpassable schism was that the gloomy atmosphere and tension that was enveloping the band was captured in both the music and the lyrics, helping to create an emotionally charged and wonderfully dark album.

“Yeah, I think that is a pretty good observation really,” agrees guitarist Mike Holmes. “It was the old adage that out of conflict and frustration often comes something very creative and having people going through bad times usually equals pretty good music. You only have to hear that Phil Collins is going through another divorce and you expect that will create a set of great lyrics. Certainly with The Wake, I think that’s true. What I really like about that album is that it is really heavy with atmosphere and that was undoubtedly influenced by the mood of the band at the time.”

Matching the moodiness of the music was the interlinked lyrical concept of death that Nicholls had conceived and written. Although not a traditional concept album with a single storyline, IQ were determined to record an album with a consistent and central theme that permeated all the songs.

“I had always had a thing about death and that was a theme that was filtering through the lyrics,” explains Nicholls. “There was an Edgar Allan Poe story which was about someone being buried alive and that really hid itself in my mind somehow. Outer Limits had working title of The Bridge and I just had this idea of somebody walking across a bridge. At the end was heaven, but if you fell off the bridge it was hell. It all sounds very simplistic and a bit like sixth form poetry now, but we combined that and it became the story of someone who dies at the end of the first song and then an account of what happens to his soul after that point.”

The album was recorded at London’s Falconers Studios in Camden, which in an uncanny visual reminder of the divisions within the band, was split over two levels.

“The actual control room was in the top area of this building in Camden, the recording room was on the floor below and there was no camera to connect us,” recalls Nicholls. “I was on my own in this strange dark room trying to sing in tune. From a singing point of view, because there seemed to be such a lot of tension in the band, it was hard to loosen up and let go and I can hear that when I listen to the album now. But it’s a piece of its time. Occasionally we talk about re-recording it but we never will because what’s the point? Why would you? Every album is only ever as good as you can make it at the time and no piece of work is ever going to be perfect. I remember when it came out we all felt really positive about the album. It has a really strong atmosphere and we were really were going for it on The Wake. It took us from being just one of the progressive bands of the time to being in the top three or four bands”

Although there may have been some disenchantment that the album failed to make a commercial breakthrough, it remains a potent high point in IQ’s back-catalogue, and as Martin Orford notes, the longevity and bewitching nature of The Wake is particularly notable given the manner of the album’s creation.

“I think we got to No. 72 in the national album charts with The Wake,” says Orford. “Considering we were all on the dole and still living on that terrible stew made from the discarded veg from Portobello market, we were really pretty impressed with that . . .”

Originally printed in Prog magazine.

 

Biting Back 

Interview With It Bites

It was on a typically smouldering Los Angeles summer evening in 1990 that the first incarnation of It Bites came to an unexpectedly abrupt end. The band had relocated to Los Angeles in an aborted attempt to write and record what would have been their fourth album. But within days of drummer Bob Dalton, John Beck (Keyboards) and bassist Dick Nolan rendezvousing with guitarist/frontman Francis “Frank” Dunnery, it was all too apparent that Dunnery had other ideas. With an endearingly honest manner that’s taken straight from the Noel Gallagher school of straight-to-the-point, no prisoners and no bullshit, Dalton recalls those events.

“Frank’s first conversation with me after I arrived in LA was ‘Let’s get rid of John [Beck].’  I asked him what he was on about and he said ‘We don’t want to do that sort of stuff any more’. He had decided that the best thing would be for us to become a guitar band like The Black Crowes. He then said that he was leaving the band. I think he’d just got to the point where he wanted to do something himself. I told him he could do that anyway but that wasn’t his plan. He tried to change himself into some blues thing, even changing his name to Tombstone. It was ridiculous really and I don’t think he had any idea what he wanted to do. So anyway, he decided to go off and become Tombstone Dunnery, the Blues god. And that didn’t work either because people see right through that sort of shite.”

Within a few years though, there was talk of a reunion with their former frontman, following the band’s guest appearance at a Dunnery solo show at London’s Union Chapel in 2003. Over the period of about a year, the band even convened to write new material and rehearse their back-catalogue in preparation for a possible tour. Yet that arrangement, as Dalton succinctly puts it, “died on its arse”, with their various other activities and Dunnery’s residence in the US making the project unfeasible.

“Another problem with Frank was that he wanted to make us a more west coast version of It Bites, and I don’t mean the west coast of Cumbria either,” laughs Dalton. “But that was never what It Bites were about. Can you imagine if Robert Plant had gone to the rest of Led Zeppelin and said ‘Look, I’ve got this idea that we should be doing Bluegrass. We should forget everything we did and just do that.’ Robert Plant’s not stupid enough to come up with that suggestion but unfortunately, Frank is. He’s an odd character Frank. He’ll say everything that goes on in his head and every now and then, some good stuff comes out. Ideas people are like that, they put everything on to the table.”

A replacement was not too far away though. John Mitchell had worked with Beck and Dalton in the Kino project. With that band only having an album’s worth of material to perform live, they lengthened their set by playing a couple of It Bites songs. Having been a fan of the band and possessing the ability and presence to replace Dunnery, Mitchell was a natural choice. A short tour followed at the end of 1996 and encouraged by the reaction, they recorded The Tall Ships album – much, it appears, to Dunnery’s chagrin.

“Frank’s response to that was ‘It’s the biggest mistake you’ll make. There is no It Bites without me.’,” recalls Dalton with disdain. “I said ‘Well alright, whatever.’ Frank always had an overblown opinion of himself but I guess it goes with the job. I suppose if Van Halen told David Lee Roth that, he would have said the same thing. But that’s the great thing about bands; it’s never just about one person. We knew after those live dates that we weren’t going to fail in terms of the live shows. The good thing about John Mitchell was that he brought a fresh injection of interest into it. I suppose me, John and Dick were as jaded as Frank was about the whole thing. When John Mitchell came in, he was a more modern thinking songwriter which is always a good thing.”

“The first gig we did was in Cumbria, and I remember a couple of Scottish people came down to see it and walked out in a huff halfway through,” says Mitchell. “My attitude is that if you have spent that much money coming down and buying a ticket, why would you leave? Surely I wasn’t that offensive? We didn’t come on stage and do Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. We played It Bites songs and largely did them a fair amount of justice. The whole It Bites thing is not without baggage and of course Frank has this huge charismatic personality and he’s a fantastic guitar player. So it wasn’t easy but on the whole I’m very pleased with the way that it has gone and I’ve largely been accepted. If you don’t want to see It Bites with me fronting it, then you don’t have to turn up.”

The band’s original bassist, Dick Nolan, had been involved until his failure to arrive in time for a gig and what the band perceived as a lack of enthusiasm saw him being replaced by Lee Pomeroy.

“He let us down at a couple of gigs and threw his toys out of the pram,” reflects Mitchell. “At the time it was a big deal. It’s all water under the bridge now, we’ve spoken since and it’s fine. To be fair he was a bit spineless about it but he just wasn’t into it. I also get the impression he didn’t really believe in my ability to do it and that’s fair enough. I got on with him fine personally but he was just happy continuing to work with [ex-Kinks frontman] Ray Davies.”

Perhaps naturally, there were detractors who felt that the band’s legacy had been sullied by Dunnery’s omission from the reunion. Yet even the most hardened sceptic would have immense difficulty in denying that 2008’s The Tall Ships was an accomplished album that captured the essence of It Bites.

“It was very important that The Tall Ships sounded very much like an It Bites album,” explains Mitchell. “I know that sounds like an incredibly cynical thing to say but it had been fifteen years and people were expecting that. It had to sound like It Bites and I think we ticked those boxes. Also because I grew up listening to Francis Dunnery, a lot of his influence has rubbed off on me. For the new album we’re writing now, anything goes really. I mean, it’s not going to sound like Crowded House or anything, but it fits the remit. And don’t forget that It Bites changed their style quite a lot. There was a prog album, a heavy rock album and a very eighties sounding album. It will still sound like It Bites.”

 

Dalton also agrees that despite the success of that album, the band are extremely keen not to repeat the formula for their next studio album which is currently being written by Mitchell and Beck.

“We’ll be approaching it differently as all of our albums have been different. Virgin Records were always asking us in the eighties ‘Can we have another Calling All The Heroes?’ [their only Top Ten single in 1986] and we were like ‘No. Can you fuck’,” deadpans Dalton. “The Tall Ships had to be a link between the old and the new. We couldn’t just jump into something that didn’t sound like the old stuff. So we realised that and made an album that sounded like old It Bites although it did show some progression. The new stuff will sound different even if all the classic It Bites traits will be there. There will be vocal harmonies and keyboards, longer and shorter songs, pop song and prog songs.”

Yet it seems Dalton has an unexpected surprise waiting for him. With Mitchell and Beck left to work on the album alone before presenting the material to the rest of the band, Mitchell reveals that the next album is set to break new ground.

“It’s going to be It Bites’ first concept album, though Bob doesn’t know that yet, so when you speak to him don’t mention it. I want it to be a complete surprise to him when he reads this interview,” he chuckles conspiratorially. “I was looking at a picture of my adoptive great grandparents in Launceston in Cornwall from about 1903 and it set my mind running about the way a photograph connects you with a certain time or a place. So there’s a theme to this album and John Beck loved the idea. I remember when we did The Tall Ships album, Bob hated This Is England and said ‘We’re not putting that public school crap on the album’. But we did anyway and it won an award, so who was right?”

Originally published in Prog Magazine 

 

Happy Ending?

Interview With Fish August 2009

 

For once, Prog is nervous. Twenty four hours earlier, British newspaper The News Of The World had published a typically salacious, headline-grabbing piece on Fish which was crammed with tawdry allegations of drug, drink and spousal abuse made by his German ex-wife. Today might not be a great day then to be a member of the press speaking to Fish. Fortunately any sense of trepidation was soon dispelled as he seems to be his usual ebullient and humorous self.

“Well it’s something else to do other than talking about fucking ex-wives,” he laughs.  “It was a bit of a shocker yesterday. It was deliberate and we’ve known about this for weeks. I mean I just got married two weeks ago. We knew two or three weeks before the wedding that it was waiting to come out. So let’s just say that there have been a lot of phone calls and e-mails flying around today. And it’s just sad. It was eight years ago you know what I mean? But anyway what are we talking about?”

Astonishingly, it’s over a quarter of a century since Marillion’s initial rise to prominence when, after the relative success of their Market Square Heroes single, their debut Script For A Jesters Tear appeared. The impact of that album can be measured when you consider that, two weeks before the release, the band were playing the likes of Plymouth Polytechnic and Guilford Civic Hall. A matter of a few weeks later they were performing two sold-out nights at the Hammersmith Odeon. By any standards, that seemed – superficially at least – to be a pretty meteoric rise in fortune.

“People often thought that we were the band that came from nowhere but we had done something like a hundred and eighty gigs before we even signed with EMI,” Fish recalls. “So we were well rehearsed, I’d been learning my craft and by playing in pubs we’d got that side of it together. We were all young boys and just getting our first album together, which is what you always dreamed of as a teenager. So that was a particularly exciting time and at that point the touring was exciting as well. We were getting good reviews and we were starting to play bigger venues. It was the first time that you’d been to a lot of British cities, unlike twenty-five years later when you’re thinking ‘Oh God. Bolton again!’”

This was of course the time when certain members of the music press delighted in admonishing and denigrating the band for being mere Genesis rip-offs. Such criticisms were particularly tricky to defend given the glaring comparisons between Marillion’s twenty-minute epic Grendel and Supper’s Ready by Genesis. Looking back now, does Fish think that it was a fair cop?

“I said it was fair cop back then,” he says defiantly. “But if you take Grendel, I was the first one with my hand up at the back saying ‘We shouldn’t do this, it’s too much like Supper’s Ready.’ But it was a case of ‘Oh well we’re going to do it.’ And of course, although you’ve got the dream in your head that you could be a major band one day, we didn’t think at the time that we had just created this huge millstone. In fact one of the Genesis boys, it might’ve been Tony Smith, said that if he had heard the track before we signed he would have sued us! But we were a progressive rock band, everybody was into Genesis, so it became prevalent in the music. When you first start you tend to wear your influences a lot more on your sleeve. I mean, you didn’t go out and rip-off songs or anything like that. So there wasn’t anything deliberate or cynical in the way we approached it. It was just the music that we wanted to play.”

Listening to Script For A Jester’s Tear today, it’s startling how fragile the band sounded. The power of the music is undeniable, with songs such as Garden Party, Forgotten Sons and the title track possessing the dominant mesmerising keyboards, soaring guitars and thought-provoking, poetic lyrics that became their trademark. Yet the music comes across as shackled when compared to live recordings, emphasising that Marillion were always at their most potent when on stage.

“Absolutely,” agrees Fish. “I found it really interesting when the Early Stages live box-set came out and I listened to some of the performances. I thought ‘Fucking hell, there was some really punky energy knocking around.’ I was looking back at some of the material like Script For A Jester’s Tear and thinking how the fuck did I sing that? My voice has dramatically changed and I was singing unnaturally high back then with all that falsetto. I think I listened to far too much fucking Jon Anderson when I was younger. But I’m still really proud of what we did back there.”

Looking back at the neo-progressive movement of the early eighties, while many of the bands such a Pendragon, IQ, Pallas and Twelfth Night made sturdy and respectable albums, it was only Marillion who made the transition through to the mainstream. What does Fish identify as the reason behind that?

“None of them had a really definitive front man,” he says. “I think when you are six foot five, Scottish, called Fish, and you’ve got a painted face it’s really easy to get press. Plus if you do listen to some of the Early Stages stuff, the band had a certain something that you can recognize now when you hear it. I mean, Pendragon’s Nick Barrett is a great friend of mine and some of the stuff they’re doing now is really interesting. But as for why none of them broke through? I don’t know. It’s difficult to say. I think you might know the answer to that question more than I do.”

Certainly their material was far more edgy and polished, and from a live perspective, the highly visual stagecraft that Fish adopted must have helped separate them from their contemporaries. Aside from the greasepaint mask, there was the helmet sported for performances of Grendel, his dressing as a soldier during Forgotten Sons and the nightly annihilation of a rubber plant in The Web.

“It really was great fun. At the time they were great assets for us, when you’re out there playing the pub circuit, and you are wearing makeup and had a few bits and pieces it caught people’s attention. And our PR guy Keith Goodwin did a masterful job on the press side. He looked for every nuance that he could find that would get the band some press. But loads of people were doing the visuals on stage. I mean, Alice Cooper and Alex Harvey were doing it but I think because there was a Genesis comparison everyone thought I was doing a Peter Gabriel. But the face makeup was really a bona fide attempt at basically covering up my shyness. I was very young I really didn’t have that much confidence. When you put the make up on you become somebody else and it made us very different.”

Part of their continuing evolution was to lose original drummer Mick Pointer who was unceremoniously fired following the second of those Hammersmith Odeon shows. Viewed as falling behind the band in terms of ability, Fish is often represented as the force driving Pointer’s sacking.

“Everyone always portrays me as the man that ousted him because it just suits them,” he claims. “It was like ‘Fish is a bastard’, but it was nothing like that at all and it had been going on for a while. Even when we were recording Script For A Jester’s Tear, the producer Nick Tauber was questioning Mick’s ability. He was taking ages to put the drum tracks down and everyone was trying to be very diplomatic and suggested drum lessons. But Mick was just totally arrogant and just couldn’t see his own failings. We kind of supported him because he had always been in the band and was one of the founder members. Once we got the album out of the way and went on tour, everyone was keeping their fingers crossed that he’d improve. But to be brutally honest, we knew it was going to happen. There were discussions all the way through that tour before we got to the Hammersmith Odeon. It’s always been portrayed as me because it was me who delivered the alleged coup de grace. I told him the day after the gig and that was because nobody else had the balls to do it.”

Pointer was replaced by Ian Mosley, who remains the band’s drummer to this day,  and who according to Fish, “Made a hell of a difference. I think the band went up a couple of divisions you have someone coming in from the outside who was a pure professional and have a lot of experience. When he and Pete started to play together we knew that we had the line-up.”

The Fugazi album followed, which at the time seemed to pale when stacked against the debut. Producer problems and an acute bout of writers block ensured that it conformed perfectly to the clichéd “second album syndrome”. Yet it’s an album that has undeniably matured over the years, and material such as the title track, Punch And Judy and Incubus still sound incredibly fresh.

“I actually think Incubus is probably my all-time favourite Marillion song,” reveals Fish. “There’s rock and pomp in it, it’s got drama and a great arrangement. If there was one song that summed Marillion up, that was it and certainly not Kayleigh. But Fugazi was difficult. We had some bits and pieces left over from Script . . . but it was the first time that we were professional musicians and having to go in and write properly. I remember we went into the studio in Wales and after two weeks, we came out with six minutes of music in Assassing! But as any of the guys will tell you, the recording was a laborious process. I’ll never forget the day when we were up in Liverpool on tour and they played us the album. We were like ‘That will be alright once it’s remixed.’ And they said ‘No, this is the final album. It’s done.’ So I do think Fugazi would’ve benefited from maybe another couple of weeks just getting it sorted out.”

The follow-up album, Misplaced Childhood, would of course provide two unlikely hit singles in Kayleigh and Lavender and was recorded in West Berlin. Although the band may have had a reputation as serious, straight-laced musicians, their confined existence in that city before the wall was demolished brought out their more hedonistic side. Tales abound of drink, drugs and even a bottle of Bourbon – with the band’s name emblazoned across it – reserved for them at a local brothel. That must have been an “interesting” time?

“Yeah it was,” stonewalls Fish with a hearty laugh. “There are a lot of areas that I’ll discuss in my book when I write it and not in an interview with you! It was a great time to be in Berlin you know? We picked up a lot of bad things at that time, one of them being my fucking ex-wife. And that’s why you should stay away from drugs kids! But the thing about that album was that EMI never really understood us. They didn’t understand why we were successful. I think when we came out with the idea of a concept album for Misplaced Childhood, they really weren’t keen. So we just put our feet in the ground just said ‘Well this is what we are doing’, and it just happened to have two huge singles.”

The success of Kayleigh brought with it mainstream acceptance and celebrity, which initially appealed to Fish before the pitfalls of fame began to hit home.

“It was great at first. In the first couple of months it was really exciting and then you suddenly became aware of the pressure. You were dealing with journalists who had been slagging you off for the last year-and-a-half in papers that wouldn’t even touch you and who suddenly wanted to talk to you. Plus we also had the tabloid interest with the Daily Mirror going who’s Kayleigh? As the spokesperson, or whatever you want to call me, of the band, I found it hard keeping shit together and determining friends. It was strange to be very famous and also very lonely at the same time.”

By the time the band reconvened to write the material for the album which would become Clutching At Straws, internal tensions were already beginning to manifest themselves. Lyrically dark, the album is seen as Fish’s resignation statement, but what was fuelling the hostility?

“I think it was a mixture of frustration and cocaine,” explains Fish. “Let’s just say there was a lot of powder about in 1987. That did lead to some tense situations. I don’t want to discuss the other guys, because they’re all friends of mine and have got their own personal views. But yes they were tough times. I think the writing of Clutching . . .  had been hard. But it has some great songs I think is probably my favourite album. But the tour bus was not pleasant environment most of the time and yet it wasn’t as though we were all at loggerheads. There was never any fisticuffs in the band. It was just a lot of sniping, a lot of bitching and a few arguments but it wasn’t that bad. It was mainly that we just been together for too long. We’d been together solid since 1982 and we never had a fucking break from each other.”

With the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom gained from unsuccessful battles with the music industry in the early 1990’s, Fish lays the blame for his split from the band firmly at the door of their then manager. Caught in a never ending writing-recording-touring cycle, they were trapped between an industry wanting them to continually keep the cash flowing in and a desire to take a break from each other.

“When you got management who are taking 20% of the gross earnings, it’s very attractive for them to keep you on the road and keep you doing albums. The management thing is still a real bugbear with everyone who was involved in that band. I still think that things would’ve turned out a lot differently if certain decisions have been made in the mid-80’s. By the time you got to 1987 or 1988, none of the band were making money, we were being sent on the road every fucking two months and everybody was struggling to pay mortgages. So I was getting trapped in this area of not having a personal life and it was very difficult. And of course then you get caught in the whole alcohol and chemical sort of vibe, when it’s a case of how do you relax? What should have happened at the end of that tour was everyone should have taken the year off. It should be ‘Fish go away and do your fucking solo album. Go and do your acting stuff. And the rest of you go and do what you want to do.’ But we didn’t. The management didn’t want us to take time off, we were sent into the studio again to try and write an album, and it was a recipe for fucking disaster. I think in retrospect, if someone had the foresight to tell us take a year off, then I think myself and Marillion would still be together.

“I also think there was a lot of paranoia then in that some of the other guys thought I was trying to take control of the band. So when I turned round and said it was either the manager or me, the band turned round and said goodbye Fish. I was young and very impetuous. I think if we had a manager like Steve O’Rourke then the history of Marillion would’ve been very different. I think if you combine my first solo album Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors with their first album with Steve Hogarth Seasons End, you would have got a fucking great album.”

With the release of three Fish-era Marillion live albums this month, thoughts naturally turn to that old question of a reunion. The live re-formation for a rendition of Market Square Heroes in Aylesbury two years ago proved that there are no lasting recriminations from the split, and given that the current incarnation of Marillion tend to avoid performing material from that era, is there ever the possibility that the two parties might reform even for just a handful of fun, nostalgia-fuelled live dates?

“Yeah, Aylesbury was a laugh and there was nothing cynical about it. It was great. The five of us got up on stage and that was it. But of course the next day everybody started going on about reunions again and I don’t see the point. I’d love it if Mark [Kelly] and Steve [Rothery] came up and did some work on my next album but that doesn’t mean to imply a reunion. Why can’t it just be musicians who are friends who get together in twos or threes and do something? What’s the big fucking deal about it? I think one of the biggest problems has always been the kind of tribal factions that exist within the fan clubs, where you’ve got a lot of fans in the Marillion camp who came in when Steve Hogarth joined the band. They are very protective towards him and that’s fair enough. But number one, Steve Hogarth is their singer and it’s disrespectful to talk about me in context with the band and reunions. He has been their singer for a lot, lot longer than I was and the guy does a great job with them. And on top of that, in all reality, my voice has changed so much. I mean with all the high stuff in Script For A Jester’s Tear and Fugazi, we’d have to get two fucking eunuchs in to do all the high stuff . . .”

 

Counting Out Time . . .

Interview With Genesis 2010

 

“I think we’re probably done but you never know,” affirms Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford in an unexpectedly cheery manner given that we’re talking about calling time on the career of Genesis. “But we all stay in touch and of course Phil’s had problems and he can’t drum at the moment. It will probably all go away in time but the kind of drumming he did with us, I’m not sure he’d ever be able to do again. So nothing’s planned.”

Rutherford’s reservations are understandable. With Genesis only managing to record one album and tour twice in the last 18 years, they’ve been far from prolific. And that was before Collins stated in a recent interview that he felt “Genesis are no longer. I don’t foresee doing any more Genesis shows and it doesn’t fit in with my life.” Seemingly the neck problems that have made it excruciating for him to drum coupled with a desire to be around with his young family rather revisit the write-record-tour cycle have led Collins to write off any future reunions. Yet Tony Banks is less pessimistic.

“Well I think it may well be the case but I never like to say anything quite so final because I don’t see the point really. Why put yourself in a corner?  I always just describe Genesis as being mothballed. Phil probably isn’t in quite the same position because he has physical problems in terms of playing. Phil feels that there’s more pressure when he’s with the group, because if you have to cancel a show it’s a much bigger thing than a solo show. So I think it’s very likely we won’t do anything else, but I never say never. I’m sure we could still write well together, so those sorts of things are always a possibility. Whether Mike and I might do something together again, I mean, who knows? That’s a different thing though and it wouldn’t be Genesis if we did. I think if Genesis exists in any form now, it has to have Phil in it.”

The relationship between the band members remains genuinely affectionate, and displays that trait of smiling through adversity that has seen them survive for over 40 years. Even the superficially distressing recent footage showing Phil Collins literally having to gaffer tape his drumsticks to his hands in order to play is also playfully dismissed. As Banks wryly and practically notes, “Well, it stops the sticks flying everywhere.”

“Oh, I think that’s quite funny and Phil laughs about it too,” adds Rutherford. “But you know what? I had a bad injury before the last Genesis tour, when I snapped a tendon in my left hand. The body recovers and he’ll recover fine. At our age, it just takes three years rather than one year.”

It appears then that, unpalatable as it sounds, the 2007 Turn It On Again Tour was the last opportunity to see Genesis. Reminiscing about that summer, Banks reveals that they were genuinely surprised at the level of demand for tickets, something which he attributes to the band’s internal ongoing perception that Genesis aren’t openly respected in the UK.

“In England in particular, our profile has always been a strange one really as we have closet fans,” ruminates Banks. “We don’t have many people out there who think we’re fantastic but when the shows are put on sale, they sell out pretty quickly. So it was a surprise for us that we were able to do the stadiums, it was like we’d never been gone and that was what was weird about it.”

“We kind of fucked up in England,” says Rutherford. “We put Twickenham on sale, and I wasn’t over confident because you never know. It turned out that we could have done three or four but we couldn’t fit the dates in as they weren’t available, so I felt bad about only being able to do two shows in the UK.”

It had taken a decade for the band to reunite for those dates which led many to speculate that it was effectively a farewell tour. Was there a perception within the band at the time that that round of gigs may prove to be their last?

“Well we did it thinking it was the last time that we were going to visit it really,” explains Banks. “But then you do it, everyone was happy and at one point we thought it might go on a bit longer, but we decided against it. Phil for one didn’t want to do too much touring, he wants to try and be with his kids more this time around. So there were various other things going on. The Genesis machine is a very big one. You do an album and a tour, and if you really did the whole thing, two or three years of your life is mapped out ahead of you and it’s whether we really want to do that. The last tour was one of the best we’ve ever done so maybe it was nice to end with that.”

There’s still a glimmering hope though of a full reunion with Gabriel and Hackett to perform The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, something which would of course be dependent on Collins recovering to an extent that he could perform as well as persuading all the band members to do it. There have been well documented and apparently protracted discussions over the last decade about such a re-formation, but they’ve never reached any consensus. The sheer logistics of revisiting the album would also seem to be prohibitive, even for a solitary charity gig.

“We talked about doing The Lamb two years ago but Peter’s quite difficult to tie down and he blows a bit hot and cold on it,” reveals Banks. “At one point he seemed quite keen and the next minute he wasn’t. When we did all those re-releases, we talked about perhaps putting The Lamb out first and doing a show. Peter was keen on that, but then thinking about it, it was all the practicalities of what it meant. How does he do it now? We’d have to change the key of everything, which isn’t really a problem, but he can’t really play the part of Rael any more as it wouldn’t look right. And one charity gig to do The Lamb? To rehearse and get it playable, even for one show, would take a long time. I think the whole thing just became quite a big thing and Peter started thinking ‘Do I want to revisit all this?’ Personally speaking, I’d be happy enough to. I don’t have a problem with it and I’d enjoy having a go at it but the chances of getting Phil and Peter into the same spot? I don’t think you’d have quite so much trouble with Steve [Hackett], Mike and I. It’s just that Peter and Phil are busy chaps.”

“I think it’s pretty unlikely us doing something like that now even if Phil could drum,” laments Rutherford. “This is the year we’re all sixty, and I must say that if you’d said to me on my fiftieth birthday that in ten years time, I would be playing in a small club in London with Mike And The Mechanics, I’d never have believed you.”

If this is the conclusion of their career, they leave behind a legacy of fine work that ensures their rightful place amongst the progressive greats. Banks puts their success down to the variety within the band’s music as well as an identifiable element to their sound, with Rutherford also noting that they were aided by “luck and timing”.

 There are those that would suggest that such luck was, during the 80’s, aided by a decision to commercialise their sound. Whether intentional or not, it gave the impression that Genesis were trying to capitalise on the solo success being enjoyed by Phil Collins, leading to a mass market appeal for the first time in the career. To some, their progressive reputation had been tarnished by pop and left those fans who had immersed themselves in such innovative albums as The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Foxtrot feeling disenfranchised by the likes of 1986’s Invisible Touch. Does Rutherford understand that feeling of resigned, barely repressed annoyance that a sizeable proportion of their fans still harbour to this day?

“Well yes of course. Anyone who gets into a band when they were originally a cult, feel betrayed once they get mass appeal,” he reasons. “You were their baby and that’s second nature really. But a lot of them carry on listening to us, which is funny. I think that because of MTV, a hit single overshadowed the whole album. All of our albums right until the end, there were always a couple of ten minute songs on there and my perception is that the singles were so high profile that they could often dwarf the rest of the songs on the album.” 

“Obviously it doesn’t feel that way when you’re inside it and besides, I never know where that break comes,” argues Banks. “I think we pretty much had a straight line in the way we thought about things right up to an including Duke. It wasn’t until Abacab when we thought of changing our approach. If anything, we just got much better at writing hit songs, which was something we never set out to do, but suddenly, once you got played on the radio we became a radio band. You then had things like Turn It On Again, which really wasn’t an obvious single as it has a funny time signature, or even Mama, which were able to be released as singles. I’m obviously not denying that there were simpler things on some of the later albums, but there were also longer pieces on there too.”  

There’s also a certain irony in the fact that albums like Invisible Touch possessed that 80’s, all consuming electronic drum sound which makes them now sound more dated than some of their older albums.

“It’s a bit like flared trousers from the seventies as they didn’t last very well,” says Rutherford. “In a sense we were always trying to do something that you hadn’t heard before and sometimes it didn’t work. If you try and be brave, when things didn’t work it’s really not great.”

With the likelihood of a live or studio Genesis reunion being slim, and assuming that we are now discussing Genesis firmly in the past tense, how do Banks and Rutherford want the band to be remembered?

“I’m very proud of our live career,” says Rutherford. “We did an awful lot of live shows and I always felt that the communications at Genesis concerts was always very good. There were no journalists in the way and it was just a natural reaction from the fans. They either liked us or they didn’t.  I’m also so proud that we have remained such good friends.”

“Oh I don’t know,” says Banks with an air of self-conscious humility. “I guess just to be remembered would be quite good.”

 

Riffs That Changed The World 

Metallica's Enter Sandman / And Justice For All

 

The opening track and lead single from Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ was to become a massive worldwide hit single, and undoubtedly helped that album to sell over 12 million copies. The song also showcased the band’s intention to move towards simpler and more succinct tracks away from what some had perceived as the somewhat formulaic nature of some of their previous albums.

“That riff came to me about three in the morning after I’d been out hitting the bars one night,” recalls guitarist Kirk Hammett. “Soundgarden’s ‘Louder Than Love’ had just come out and I wanted to write something on that scale of heaviness. All of a sudden the riff just came out of nowhere. I like to imagine that the clouds parted and a big hand came down and handed me that riff! But the motif was originally just played once and it was actually Lars [Ulrich] who suggested I repeat the first part to make it a bit catchier and meatier.”

As with the vast majority of Metallica tracks, James Hetfield was responsible for providing the lyrics. But, as Hammett explains, producer Bob Rock was uncomfortable with the original lyrical content.

“The lyrics that James originally wrote were about Crib Death and were a bit harsh and graphic. Bob had to tell him that in certain ways the lyrics weren’t happening and James went back and re-wrote the lyrics. I really didn’t want to tell you that, but it makes sense in context and we had to change them.”

The track has since been covered by numerous bands, including both Motorhead and Apocalyptica, with Hammett being suitably stunned with the results.

“I love it when other bands cover our material and to hear how they interpret it,” he says. “I was tickled to death to hear the Motorhead version and for Lemmy, who is a God to me, to play one of our songs was a vindication of sorts. Apocalyptica covered a bunch of our tunes. They’re a four-piece cello outfit and they actually opened a show for us in Finland a few years ago. The sound of four cellos coming through a PA at that volume was incredibly powerful.”

“But ‘Enter Sandman’ changed our lives. It was a huge single that turned everyone on to the album and turned us into the band we are today. It was the beginning of a major shift in our career.”

As the centrepiece for the album of the same name, ‘. . .And Justice For All’ is constructed around an onslaught of riffs that extend the track to lmost ten minutes. Yet for all its complexity, the song remains one of their most recognisable and rightly remains a central part of their live set to this day. Based on an Al Pacino movie of the same name, the song was crafted in rehearsals with reference back to some of Metallica’s renowned “riff tapes” of left over ideas.

“That song was a conglomeration of a couple of my riffs and a couple of rhythmic things that James [Hetfield] and Lars [Ulrich] came up with in the studio,” recalls guitarist Kirk Hammett. “But ever since the ‘Ride The Lightning’ album we had always put down our riffs on tape. When it was time to put a song together, we would pick the best ideas off the them and ‘Justice . . .’ was definitely a result of riff tape exploitation.”

Apart from the riffs, the track is also crammed with twisting guitar solos that showcased Hammett’s adept fretwork. As Hammett explains, this was both deliberate and a product of the times.

“Music around that period was very technical. There were a lot of trick guitar players out there and bands who wanted to prove their musicianship. It was an outgrowth of that and the riffs just came out of that frame of thinking. So we had a lot of weird time signatures and long arrangements that we indulged in. But when we first started jamming on that song, all the complexity of that song still made sense to us.”

Despite the success the riff tape writing approach has given the band, they’ve deliberately veered away from that technique on recent albums.

“Well, nowadays we all write together in a room and riff tapes aren’t allowed,” confirms Hammett. “We’re expected to come up with music spontaneously together and to just go in there with nothing pre-planned. But although that sounds difficult, it’s really easy for us to do. Someone will get a riff and we’ll all start jamming on it. Then before you know it there’s enough for an arrangement and we’ll have a song.”

 

Up, Up And Away

Interview With Coheed & Cambria 2010

 

You might imagine that self-motivation wouldn’t pose too much of a challenge when you’re the frontman of a captivating and thriving band. Yet for Coheed And Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez, who away from music has continued to foray into the literary world, the mere notion of having to sit down and write and record another album was seemingly filling him with dread.

“The idea of picking up my guitar and writing a song again sounded a bit redundant,” says Sanchez candidly. “I felt that I was having a lot more fun creating in the literary world as opposed to the music world, as it was more of a challenge. So I’ve been doing my fair share in that world of creativity, with my comics and now a novel, but I knew it was inevitable that a record had to happen. I remember we were in Chicago and one of the guys bought up a sitar. I was so enamoured by this fucking sitar, it was awesome. I mean this thing could drone all fucking day and I loved it. So I went into Manhattan, picked up my own and started to fool around with it. And though there’s no sitar on our new album, it just kind of opened the door for me. It made me think that I can start writing from a different place as opposed to just writing the same old way, and then music started to become fun again.”

Those desires to challenge himself musically and creatively first appeared in the late nineties under the guise of the band Shabutie. An amalgam of wide-ranging influences that Sanchez now describes as “a band just looking for an identity” came to an abrupt on-stage demise in early 2000 when, apparently frustrated at the drunkenness of his bandmates, Nate Kelley quit the band mid-performance. The drummer even resorted to petulantly dismantling his kit mid-set, leaving behind him an astonished audience and bemused set of musicians who valiantly tried to carry on without him.

“If I remember correctly, he started taking cymbals down, threw one of them on to the stage and walked off,” laughs Claudio at the memory. “It was just weird but it was down to being young and confused, and things happen. It was a trying time but for me I always loved playing music and being creative so I knew that no matter what, I would endure as this was what I wanted to do.”

With Kelley being replaced by the former 3 drummer Josh Eppard, and joining the already established creative core of Sanchez, bassist Michael Todd and Travis Stever on guitar, the new line-up made a conscious effort to hone their sound into something more cohesive and distinctive.

“At the time, I was doing a little side-project called Coheed And Cambria,” explains Sanchez. “It was just a fun project and was basically just myself doing songs and mixing a more acoustic intimate sound with a heavy electronic vibe. I’d taken this trip to Paris which had really opened my mind to the vast unknown wonders of the world. I really wanted to explore having a piece of fiction accompanying the music, so this project was created and I started writing conceptual pieces. In fact, songs like Time Consumer and Everything Evil, which were later released on the first Coheed album, were born at that time. The name Shabutie really didn’t make whole lot of sense for the style of music we were playing, as we’d matured and had a new sense of direction. Everyone seemed to like the name Coheed And Cambria, and so I brought that project into the fold.”

Central to that project were the sci-fi lyrics penned by Sanchez which form the narrative to an expansive tale, dubbed “The Amory Wars”, the storyline to which would eventually spread across all of the band’s five albums. The central characters are named Coheed and Cambria who, along with their son Claudio, are the focus of the tale. Mirroring some of the techniques used in the Star Wars saga, their latest release Year Of The Black Rainbow, is a prequel to the tale. So how did Sanchez come up with the idea for such a grand and expansive project?

“I think it was about the time that I wrote some of the tunes when I was in Paris. The concept idea was there and the characters were based on myself and my significant other at that time. So the idea was always there, it was just kind where I was drawing the inspiration from that changed. As the project crossed over and became a rock band, I saw that it wasn’t really about myself any more and was really a reflection of my parents. And so the inspiration changed and these characters were born.”

In stark contrast to the confident persona that befits a frontman, away from the spotlights Sanchez is innately shy, preferring to keep his own company and finding it troublesome to write songs that are personal in nature. Using fictional characters enabled him to mask his own experiences and diverted attention away from the true origin of his lyrics.

“I’m a very introverted individual and I find it incredibly hard to wear my heart on my sleeve,” he says. “So it was easy for me to hide everything and put it into a concept. People would ask me what the songs were about, and I could just tell them that it was a ‘concept’ because I didn’t really want to convey the truth. It’s funny, because when writing the song Everything Evil on our first album, I accidentally ended up singing my name in the outro of the song. That meant that I then had to create myself as a character in the storyline. So that gave the game away a bit and started to hint that all of this was coming from some place very real.”

 

From the perspective of an outsider, Coheed and Cambria’s world is a daunting one. With a series of comic books accompanying the multifaceted and intricate musical storyline, their albums could readily be dismissed as impenetrable. With the limited edition of their new album even coming with an accompanying 352 page novel, does Claudio accept that there is a real danger that newcomers could be put off or bemused by the sheer scale and complexity of it all?

“Yeah, I do think that, but it’s not imperative that people have to dive into the mythos to enjoy the music,” he argues. “At first glance, it might seem a bit overwhelming to find out that along with this project comes all this mythology. Not everyone wants to invest their time and effort into diving that deep, but it’s really not necessary as the songs are very universal and they are coming from a place very real. It’s not like I’m singing about places in the story, or turbine engines, or anything like that. I mean, OK the first album was called The Second Stage Turbine Blade and the meaning of that title certainly has its place within the mythology, but it’s actually the name of a part that my father worked on in a factory. The titles might suggest science fiction but it’s grounded in reality.”

That 2002 debut, whilst not as openly progressive as their later releases, attracted plaudits from both lovers of EMO and prog with Sanchez’s voice also being favourably compared to that of Rush’s Geddy Lee.    

“I hear Geddy’s voice and I understand that the register is kind of the same,” sighs Sanchez. “I was young, didn’t have any technique and my vocals were really at the higher register of my range. But as I grew and realised that I was going to be singer, I found different avenues and techniques that I wanted to explore. I’m not sure that I even sound like him. On the other hand, we are talking about Geddy Lee here and there are other people that you could be compared to who aren’t nearly as cool!”

Those comparisons led the band to record a ten-minute, solidly progressive track, playfully entitled 2113, (on 2003’s In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3) which Sanchez describes as “the most progressively extreme song we could have created at that time, and was recorded with a wink and a smile at those Rush comparisons.” The follow-up album, the intricate Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Vol. 1, peaked in the top ten of the US chart and even spawned an unlikely hit single in The Suffering. Superficially at least, Coheed And Cambria seemed to be on the cusp of acquiring an improbable mainstream acceptance. However, behind the scenes the band was on the threshold of being shattered by the drug dependency that was seizing Josh Eppard and Michael Todd. With the band set to leave New York in the summer of 2006 for a series of European festival dates, the problems facing the band swiftly became all too apparent.  

“We were going to get a plane at 5am and fly out to Europe. That morning, I got a call from Josh and he said that he physically couldn’t come down the stairs,” reflects Sanchez grimly. “Then Mike arrived at the airport and he looked like the walking dead. It was very apparent that it was a situation that needed to get dealt with. I felt bad and I really didn’t know what to do. So at the last minute, we decided that the drum tech [Michael Petrak] knew the tunes and maybe he could sit in for a while, and then we could get Josh the appropriate help. We thought that we could continue and fix it at the same time but I think we were asking a lot. That’s why about a week into the tour, we cancelled it to come home and try to fix everything. Things had started to fall apart. The stresses of touring and the changes in people’s lives got to them. I myself always grew up with chemical dependencies around in my family. At one point, I thought that part of my life was behind me and never thought that we could suddenly fall victim to that. But I was blind to it all until one day the harsh realities of it hit and it was really a problem.”

The tour staggered on for a few more dates before it was apparent that the heroin addicted Todd was unable to continue. Returning home, Todd’s problems spiralled and culminated in a failed suicide attempt when the bassist slashed his wrists. Waking up in hospital, Todd had what he has subsequently described as a “moment of clarity” and he was checked into rehab.

“We had opened our doors and tried to communicate and help everyone but it just didn’t work out that way. Everyone just kind of disappeared. There was no communication and I don’t think that it was until around Christmas that year that Mike’s father reached out to our manager Blaze James and communicated that Mike had entered rehab.”

For Todd, that action undoubtedly saved both his life and his place within the band. With Sanchez, Stevers and new drummer Chris Pennie taking tentative steps to begin writing material for what would later become the No World For Tomorrow album, the singer received a call from their manager to say that the recovering bassist wanted to meet with the rest of the band and apologise.  

“It wasn’t so much that he was trying to find his way back into the band but he just wanted to express his humble apology,” reflects Sanchez. “I have got to tell you that I had quit smoking up until that meeting, but when he came around to the house I literally went through packets of them, as I was so nervous. But his story was something else and ultimately we loved him. We had such a good time talking to him that after he’d left that day, Travis and I sat on my porch and we were thinking we really missed him. We gave him a call and asked him to come and maybe sit in on a tune and see how he felt and the rest is history.”

For drummer Eppard however, there would be no triumphant return to the fold. Yet as Sanchez explains, the errant drummer never tendered his resignation and was never officially fired. 

“Nothing was every truly expressed. At least that’s the way I remember it. It just got to a point where there was no communication and it was a case of ‘Let’s move forward’. It just kind of went away. I haven’t actually spoken to him since the last couple of days of that tour when we were talking about the rehabilitation and getting help. It was all very sad, as I like to think that we were all very good friends. The next record No World For Tomorrow will always have a special place in my heart though, given all the problems. We’d endured and that was a statement that we made in the face of adversity. We had conquered those problems and moved on.”

For all the punchy opulence that dominates their studio recordings, it’s in the live arena that Coheed And Cambria shine. In 2008, the band took the bold step of performing each of their then four albums in full – one album per night – on consecutive days in a series of concerts around the globe. Dubbed the Neverender gigs and later released on DVD, such an ambitious streak has raised expectations that they might perform their latest enthralling release, The Black Rainbow, in its entirety on their forthcoming tour. However, despite the obvious merits of such a performance, Sanchez reveals a surprising reticence to such a plan.

“When we play live, the one thing that we really like to do is to feed off the energy of the crowd, but that really comes with familiarity. So there’s been talk of doing the album front to back, but at the same time we’re concerned that we might not be as entertaining. We’d just be in our own world and presenting music that only we are familiar with. The Neverender concert series was awesome. So part of me is thinking we should save the front to back for a second Neverender where we play all of five of our albums.”

Such a challenge would surely be within the reach of this most ambitious of bands who are clearly more than comfortable tackling elaborate live projects. All of which might appear to be somewhat of a dichotomy given Sanchez’s confident, on-stage persona which would appear to clash with his more reserved natural personality. How can he reconcile the two?

“I really don’t know. I know it must seem odd as they are two extremes of the spectrum, but for some reason it’s very comforting for me. There’s something about being on the stage that means there is that transformation. It’s like Clark Kent goes into a telephone booth and turns into Superman. That’s just my way to act out the fiction . . .”