Giving A Little Bit
A Conversation With
by Jerry van Kooten
photos by Sandra Zwagerman
The date: 3 December 2005
The place: Hotel Kempinski Gravenbruch, Neu-Isenburg (Frankfurt), Germany
Five years it's been, hasn't it?
Yes, it has. June 2000, right after the second time you went to Amsterdam.
Right after Open The Door...
We went to the show last night and enjoyed it a lot!
Did you enjoy it yourself?
I did, actually. Yeah, it was a strange night. Different combinations of different things, but I enjoyed playing. Different things that were happening on stage... It wasn't a simple Roger Hodgson show, which is all I am doing. I had rehearsals with the string section, then the band.
They made the string arrangements themselves?
No, I sent them. They said they could get a string section, so I sent them the charts and they learnt them. We rehearsed them a couple of times during the day.
I thought it worked very well.
It did, actually, they did a very good job. They were... "with me", which is nice.
There were a couple of songs where they didn't have anything to play, but they were still very very enthusiastic during those songs as well. I think you had the Hodgson and Supertramp fans among the orchestra!
Yeah! The thing is I learnt about an orchestra, or philharmonic orchestra, it's like an independent orchestra, they do a lot of different things, not just the classical stuff. So they're more open, maybe. And that's good. It was good.
And a saxophone player! That's a new element...
That's the main thing that people missed, and I missed, in the solo shows: the saxophone. I found him in Canada. And he's great, he cares about what he plays, he practices, and he's just very good. It's wonderful to have discovered a new young talent. It's great having him. And between the two of us too. If you don't mind there not being drums, we make a big sound.
Is this the start of something bigger? More musicians?
I don't think so, I am really enjoying the simplicity of the solo shows. And when I say solo, I am including him. Because it's really simple: I can hop on a plane and go anywhere in the world and not have to take the whole production with me. Yesterday, I flew in for a few days, and the sounds you've been hearing, especially the grand piano sound, have been coming from my computer. So in a year or two, I hope to be able to put my computer under my arm, and that will be everything I need, get the promoter to hire me a keyboard, and I can do a show.
Obviously you had a real grand piano yesterday...
I did, yes. Generally, although they look beautiful, they don't sound as good as what I've got in my computer! Occasionally you get a perfect one, but when you put a microphone on a grand piano, you lose so much. The feel of a grand piano is wonderful - well, some of them. Yesterday it was quite a nice piano.
And the acoustics in the audience were amazing!
The building was amazing, the PA really was not what it should have been... The organizers yesterday were not professional in this field. They didn't know quite a few things. So it was a real struggle, but we pulled it off. And I've got a good sound man, and he made the best out of it. I have my own sound man with me, and he takes care of everything.
I go to a lot of venues who use the regular sound man, who don't know the artist.
It's hard to do that... I rely on him, 'cause I am wearing in-ears too, as the monitors. I am hearing everything he lets me. My whole experience is his experience. Whoever's mixing sound, if they do something wrong... I am hearing it exactly how they hear it. And some people hear music in very strange ways. So I am glad to have him.
Does a solo performance make the monitoring easier instead of having to mix five or six musicians?
Funnily enough, it's easier in some ways having the whole picture, including drums and bass and everything. What I am trying to do with one man, is trying to create a real full sound. I have some great sounds, I have a great grand piano sound, and other different sounds I use to create a big sound. But it still has to translate into a PA system. It's quite tricky, and not so easy.
Did you notice anything about the mixed audience - the difference between people there to see you and people there for it being a charity night?
Last night I felt the difference very much, yeah. I could feel there were quite a few people who were there to see me, and I could feel there were quite a few people who were there wondering who the hell I was!
But then you played some very familiar songs...
Yes, but there were some quite old folks too, supporting the event. Hopefully they enjoyed it...
If you compare it to the other show you did, the day before, in Heilbronn? How was that?
That was just a straight Roger Hodgson show. It was good, actually it was very good, I really enjoyed it. I had just come from England the day before...
There goes my next question...
I felt a lot of pressure in England. It was a good show, and it took a lot of energy. I was very happy to be in Germany again, where I don't feel as much pressure, so I was more relaxed in Heilbronn than I was in England. It was a very sweet show.
The London Show
How was it, to go on stage in the UK?
I really tried to think of it as just another show. Even though I don't think of any show as "just another show"... But I tried not to think of it too much. There were a lot of people who were there who knew me personally, a lot of history of old people, it was England and I had not played there for 22 years, my family were there... So I was really trying to think I was going to do what I normally do. And I was pretty successful at that.
And after you got feedback from the audience?
The hardest thing, actually, was that I was very tired. I was still suffering from jet lag. I was feeling great at 5 in the afternoon, but when the concert came around at 7:30, I felt like going to bed! So it was hard on that level.
And the audience, how did they react?
Very enthusiastically! They loved it and they were very happy to see me again. We've had more e-mails from that one show than probably every other show I've ever done.
Well, after 22 years... What did you expect?! Did the reaction from the audience relieve some of the pressure you felt?
Well, it's got me thinking maybe I should go back sooner! I think it was the real pull. I am at a point in my life where I am not interested in conquering the world or conquering the country where I go, instead I want to go where I'm wanted, where people want to see me. I never realized that England had that much pull. Probably because the media have not been so kind to Supertramp over the years. I didn't realize there were quite so many people who would want me to go back. But now I probably will!
So the media is painting pictures that are not so realistic then.
Someone said to me the other day, actually it was someone in the media, he was a radio DJ, and he said the media have always been very cruel to Supertramp, very hard. And it was true, we were not the media's darlings. Maybe they found us boring, because there wasn't any scandal to write about. And I don't think they really resonated with the music either, because it wasn't angry or angst, or it didn't really have to do anything with what was the fashion at the time. We were out of step with fashion. So I don't think they knew what to do with us. We didn't leap about on stage, so if they weren't there for the music, then they came to see the band and probably got bored. But for the people in the media who liked the music, they were the opposite. It almost feels like the reaction... not just the media [in general] but the media where you feel it or see it written, the people either fanatically love it with a passion, or they don't like it and they find it boring. Or they don't even know the band, they haven't even heard of the band. There are many people who have never heard of the band. It's really interesting, it's like black and white. There's no "oh yeah, Supertramp, they're OK"...
Until they hear some of the songs, I guess...
Yeah, then they put two and two together and then they know who Supertramp is. They know the music more than the band. You don't get radio nowadays that say "that was Supertramp" or "that was Genesis", they don't announce songs, so how are people going to find out?
Plus there are fewer radio stations who play the music anyway. Well, the biggest hits are played, but not other album tracks.
Well, it's still played in an amazing round, though, around the world. It's still on the radio very strongly.
I think maybe that's why the anthology, this new compilation, is doing so well. People have seen or heard six of the songs they're familiar with on the TV commercial and then they see the name and they put two and two together.
Did you have a say in compiling the anthology?
No, I didn't. It was Rick, he put the choice of songs together, with the record company. My only involvement really has been offering to go out, because I am out, to do concerts and help promote it. It's still my music and it's very much part of my legacy.
Of course, approximately half of it was written by you.
Yes, and it's funny when you look at the sticker, the songs mentioned on there are all mine except one of Rick's, which is Summer Romance. So they've stickered the album with a lot of my songs.
How do you feel about the compilation? Do you think Rick did a good job of compiling the tracks?
I can understand why he chose the songs he did. From his perspective, it's Supertramp from day one to what it is today. I probably would have done it differently, because I see the music as it is today as a whole different band, a whole different era. I can't see the connection, really. That's obvious because I haven't been in the band. But I think people still... There's a huge gap between people who still love the golden era, the golden years or whatever you call the combination of the five of us, and what it became afterwards, which is Rick's solo project really. I don't know what I would have done. If I would make a compilation, I would put more focus on the golden years, and would put more extra tracks or demos, making it more interesting on that level.
Are there a lot of unreleased tracks?
There aren't too many, but there are demos, different mixes, Brother Where You Bound with me playing on it, for example, Hooked On A Problem, Only Because Of You done by the band.
And the 1975 single, Land Ho...
Well, that's on there! It's really only Land Ho and Summer Romance that you haven't got.
If I were a big fan of the band, I would have every album and I don't know if I would need it. But it has been, what, 22 years since Famous Last Words, and there's been a whole couple of generations, with a lot of young people who haven't got a clue who we are, we were, or anything. That's why I like the idea of it being out there, so many people have a chance to discover it.
There were a lot of young people in the audience yesterday.
Were there? Good... good... I am getting more and more at my shows. I am hearing more and more young people who are discovering our music.
The Set List
If I look at the general set list for the whole set of shows, I notice you had to leave off some songs yesterday.
Yesterday I dropped Even In The Quietest Moments. I need another guitar for Along Came Mary. I would have done it if I had another guitar. The trouble was I could only bring one guitar. I did Open The Door the night before. It felt a more classical concert last night. Everyone was a little quiet, they weren't singing along. Open The Door didn't feel like the right song last night. I decided that just before the show. It also takes a real toll on my voice. If I am voice tired, which I was a little bit last night, it wastes my voice, so I couldn't risk doing that. If I'm in good shape and have a lot of energy, I'd do it. But I was a bit tired from the three shows in a row, so I decided to not risk it last night. Obviously, I'd like to do more solo songs if I can! Especially Along Came Mary, I love that song.
But you did play a new song, To Keep The Pigeons Warm it was titled?
To Keep The Pigeons Warm, yeah.
Is that an expression in English?
I could not understand all of the lyrics, but you sing "brother" several times. What's it about?
Erm... [Hesitating silence followed by nervous giggling...]
Well, only if you want to tell about it...
Oh, my god...
If you want to keep this to yourself until you've recorded and released it, that's OK.
Hm, yeah... The lyrics aren't actually finished yet... Hm... No, I'll leave that one for the next interview!
OK, no problem. What's the status of new songs, a new album?
Well, there's nothing planned at the moment. I've been away a long time, as you know, since you know my history so well. It's good to be back out here, playing again, and making my presence felt again. I'm having more fun than I've ever had, I'm happier than I've ever been, and I am feeling the least pressure than I've ever felt. I am really going with the flow of what's called for. There's a lot of people wanting to have a DVD of the concerts, so that's been our priority, to come up with a DVD that feels good enough to put out there.
You have been recording the shows?
We have recorded a few shows, yes. We actually recorded London, so we're waiting to see how that showed up.
And how's things with songwriting?
I've probably told you last time that I've always had such a backlog. I still have 70 to 80 songs to do something with. Maybe... one day... When the time's right for an album we'll do it. It's like a building block, we're building step by step. It's pointless to just make an album and put it out without the machine to promote it. I don't want to spend five, six, seven months making an album and then have go... [gestures of disappearing smoke] So all the pieces have to be right, and obviously the climate's different in the world. So it just has to feel right, all the different things needed and for different reasons, to put an album out. I am not on a contract and I am not feeling any pressure. So it's fun to play a few new songs, tease people... Meanwhile, the concerts are doing really well, people are really happy to see me. I am having more fun than ever, and it's really all going very organically. I've got wonderful managers, who are taking care of me excellently, as a man as well as a musician, keeping things very sane. We're learning as we go.
You said that if the audience liked the song enough, you would record it. The reactions to To Keep The Pigeons Warm were good enough?
Yeah, that's a bit of a teasing thing I do each night... I don't know why I chose that song to be the one I play live, since I have many other songs. But I'll probably record it. It would work well with an orchestra that song, I think... That's another thing I've been doing: I've done orchestra shows in Canada... It's really working, people are liking that.
Isn't that a good idea for a DVD?
Well, visually that's so much more interesting... I mean, forty minutes of just me, on stage, I don't know how that's going to be interesting...
Come on, people are watching you for ninety minutes!
There are only so many angles to my face you can put on the screen!
It's not just your face, it's the music, the atmosphere...
To me, a DVD is really bad in capturing an evening that was really something electric. It's tricky, every show really works, but occasionally you get that one where it's just electric, it's just magic! It's to do with the feeling, something is just happening, there's a connection that I can't put to words, it's beyond the music. It's beyond anything the people came for before they entered the venue, it's like an energy of love. It just explodes, it ignites. We've had a few of those. Actually, in Heilbronn I felt that! Heilbronn was very special.
You had to postpone one of the shows to February 2006. Will you try and do more shows around that time?
Yes, we are trying to put together a lot of shows [in 2006]. I've got a show in Dubai in February. We're trying to put some shows around that, so I am not flying half around the planet for just that show.
It has been five years since you were in Holland. Are you able to do more shows, will people all over the world be able to attend your shows?
I am able to more shows now. I've been through a divorce, that's probably why you haven't seen me in three or four years. It was a very difficult one. But I am at the other end of that now. I am older, wiser, happier... and I'm free-er. So yes, we're looking at every offer that comes to us. And that's what I take with me: those two racks over there and my guitar. And I won't even need half of that with my computer working with us. Hopefully I am slimmed down even further. That makes me very portable. And that's great, not having a huge entourage, a huge machine you need to put together for 20 shows to let it make sense. I really only need my sound man, who is actually Dutch, who is ready to drop anything to join me, and off we go. It's great to be that portable, that free.
And the saxophone player?
Actually, there's another guy from Argentina who's living in Europe right now, I use him occasionally too, but Aaron's probably going to be my main guy.
The first songs I heard him play, I thought he was sticking to the original very much. After a couple of songs, he was letting go of the original, which is something I like.
It's tough for him, because people actually want to hear to original. It's a matter of finding that balance of changing a little bit and still capturing the spirit. It's a hard place for him, because he's a great sax player. I thought in that last song yesterday [the World Vision song, played and sung by all artists], especially his playing was the best.
Oh yes, that song was getting very long!
He saved that song! I was thinking "thank you Aaron!"... You had to be on stage: [with a weary face] "Erm... Who's going to stop this?! Who's in charge of this?!" Haha!
Giving A Little Bit More
It's amazing how Give A Little Bit has become such a real anthem. It's interesting starting and ending the show with it. What I'm finding is, that when you start the show with it, people love it at the beginning, but they haven't shifted, they just come in to the concert from their stressful job, so they just begin to open up. But by the time we go back to Give A Little Bit, then they're really ready to open up... go wild! It's a real measure of how it has all come together, how the spirit of the whole night has integrated. Even the audience last night, which was a pretty subdued audience apart from the people who came to see me, the faces I could see was not my audience, but even they got up and clapping!
It was good to see some suits stand up and clap too. Maybe it was the music of their youth...
Yeah, maybe. It worked. They too got into it. And that's good. That's why I like pacing it and not burning out, is that part of my job is enjoying myself. When you go and see a performer enjoying himself, it's infectious. It's very hard for an audience to enjoy themselves if the performer is not enjoying himself. If I am really having fun myself, I find it allows everyone to have fun. In a way, a performer is like a mirror. You're only playing to one person. Whether you have an audience of 500, 5000, or 50,000, you're only playing to one person. And you just have to connect with that one person. They're all different people, all different personalities, from different places, but everyone's got a heart, and a place where they want to enjoy themselves.
You see that as a talent?
It's not really something that I analyse, except that I've just analysed it... Yes, I think it's something that is who I am. I don't think... I don't know, it's funny in this business. It's rare when you see musicians smiling. What's wrong with people? Does no one want to be happy? I wouldn't want to go one stage and seriously playing my songs about how screwed up life is. Even though a lot of my songs have pretty deep lyrics and there's a lot of pain in some of them. But in terms of what I want to do in concerts, if I have to name one word, it's love! Really, it's love. Love is a huge word that covers a lot of things. But it's all about what feels good inside, and makes us forget all the other stuff for maybe an hour or two hours. That's what I want to do and hopefully what I can do for the audience. And that is Give A Little Bit, which is to me is all about love: give a little bit of your love to me, give a little bit of my love to you. To me, that symbolizes what I try to do in concerts. That's why I like beginning and ending with it. It's a measure of how successful it's been. And it's a great feeling to go home with. So, it's perfect! It's one of my favourite songs, that one. Such a simple song, but it's very profound in its simplicity. I was about 19 or 20 when I wrote that song.
And it still works...
It does. Better today than ever, actually! The more complicated life is, the more we need simple truths to remind us. And I am not saying "give a lot", just give a little bit, and then it feels good. And then maybe we get a little bit more. It's the secret to life, I think.
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