DPRP's Menno von Brucken Fock speaks with
Francis Lickerish of Secret Green
on 18th September 2009!
Francis Lickerish started his musical career as guitarist with the ENID, he already knew Stephen Stewart and got to know Rob Godfrey when he and Stewart were writing music for the Swansong of their school “Finchden Manor”. This meeting in 1974 resulted in the birth of a band in a later stage named The Enid. He was a member until 1981. Subsequently, Francis left the music business after having been a session musician (amongst others with Kim Wilde) and after his graduation from Sheffield Hallam University, he began his ‘other career’ as an addiction counsellor at Clouds then moved to RAPT (Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust) in HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Coldingley. He became a senior counsellor and then acting manager. He moved to Phoenix House in Sheffield and then a Street Agency in Rotherham. He returned to Clouds as a Senior Counsellor, then Family Counselling Coordinator and he became the head of treatment at Harmony, Devon. Ultimately he moved on to be a freelance Family Consultant. Special areas of interest are Families and the Social Context of Addiction. All these years he incorporated music as well as storytelling (myths and legends) in his treatments and workshops. About three years ago Francis started to work on the new Secret Green album and was willing to share his background and the road to Secret green, having rehearsed with the band all day ...
MENNO: Hello Francis, congratulations on your superb new album!
FRANCIS: Well thank you Menno, we really appreciate all the enthusiasm coming to us from England as well as your country in particular!
MENNO: My colleague Mark Hughes would like to say hello, to you all. He’s glad you’re back and he wondering if and when your lute recordings will become available, perhaps as download?
FRANCIS: Thank you very much, please give him my best regards! Yes I’ve been contemplating about those recordings, but eventually they will become available on CD or download, that I don’t know yet. But it is definitely a ‘work in progress’.
MENNO: Before we get to the current album I’d like to go back in time and go over some of the important events in your life. I know you are an autodidact but can you tell us something about your background musically?
FRANCIS: As most youngsters I started to play guitar when I was around 14, maybe 15 I guess. One of my main influences was Captain Beefheart, but also other West Coast North American bands like Little Feat. I got interested in English folk music as well, particularly the ‘grandfather of English folk music’ Martin Carthy was one of my heroes back then. At the same time I was getting fond of classical music too. I thought it would be awesome to combine these three musical styles somehow.
MENNO: When and why the interest for the lute?
FRANCIS: Once I saw a performance by classical guitarist Julian Bream, playing the lute and I was really captivated and I felt I had to try and learn to play the lute as well from that moment onwards. Do you believe in reincarnation? You know, in fact I grew so fond of that instrument, it’s sound and the music I almost felt I had been a lute playing minstrel ages ago. Anyway, I much prefer the lute to the classical guitar. Thanks to the current technology it’s finally possible to play the lute even in a band like ours while in the seventies this was virtually impossible.
MENNO: How did you learn to master all electronics needed to create an orchestra? Was it in the new millennium you succeeded in doing that or did you pick it up earlier?
FRANCIS: It really started in the early days of electronics. But it surely has been cumbersome to find the right sounds using monophonic instruments like the mini-moog or the first synthesizers and I spent ages and ages to find a proper violin-sound for instance. Nowadays, using the computer, there are all sorts of samples available and I have a whole orchestra in my grasp with a few mouse-clicks! Since I fell in love with the sound of all the instruments in the orchestra, I’m very pleased that the technology of present day gives me the opportunity to use those ‘instruments’ as well. I have been able to get acquainted with a fair bit of the available software and I can arrange my music accordingly.
MENNO: Can you really produce these huge orchestral sounds live as well?
FRANCIS: We do try! Perhaps the live arrangements are a little cut down, but we do have two keyboard players live so the majority of all the sounds on the album is actually produced live. We don’t use a recording as a backing track, also because this would mean we’d have to stick to a definitive matrix, we wouldn’t be able to change pace, interact with the audience or perhaps improvise a bit.
MENNO: With the Enid you were renowned as a storyteller. Did you read a lot as a younger boy?
FRANCIS: Yes, that’s correct. I’ve always been reading, especially folklore. There are so many enchanting and beautiful stories out there and with the Enid on many occasions I shared some of them with the audiences that came to see our shows. Since I travel by train often, I have the opportunity to read many books these day too. If you take King Arthur for example, most people think of him as the king who founded Camelot and lived around 500. Actually the stories go back far beyond these early medieval times to even before Christianity! To read all those stories and myths is absolutely fascinating and the never ceases to amaze me. It’s like a sort of treasure hunt for me all the time!
MENNO: You’ve always been interested in British music and folklore; from what period in time did you succeed to recover original music?
FRANCIS: When it comes to tablatures or written music, it is certainly very difficult to find music before 1300. The origin of folk music as we know it, goes back even further but has never been written down; it was passed on from father to son for many generations. My influences also come from composers like Benjamin Britten but in conclusion and above all I’d like to have my music to sound ‘English’ opposed to ‘American’ if you know what I mean. Not that I don’t like American music, on the contrary, but my music has to fit a certain English tradition.
MENNO: Do you think you share the same kind of interest with former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore?
FRANCIS: Absolutely! Although I don’t know him personally I admire him greatly because he is a fantastic guitar player, very subtle. I really enjoy his Blackmore’s Night music as well. He happens to play the lute beautifully too. Did you know your fellow countryman Jan Akkerman is a extraordinary lute player? Because he really is actually!
MENNO: What happened between 1980 and 1988, didn’t you quit the Enid after the Six Pieces album in 1980? How did you get involved in the last show in the Dominion (Final Noise) in 1988?
FRANCIS: I left the Enid in 1981 and went to play with an Irish band “Rutterkin” until 1985 but it was in 1988 that Robert Godfrey asked me to perform with the Enid for just a few gigs. It was just a short reunion, I never joined. In fact I quit playing music almost completely from 1985 onwards and went on to pursue other goals in life.
MENNO: How was your contact with Stephen Stewart? Did you ever have contact with him after you left the Enid?
FRANCIS: Only thing I know is Robert and Stephen founded the Lodge studio and Stephen became more and more interested in working as a sound engineer. He produced one of the albums by Katrina and the Waves (1995). I lost contact with him regrettably, I really don’t know where he lives or what he is doing at the moment, probably still working as a producer.
MENNO: When did you study, for instance at Sheffield Hallam University?
FRANCIS: How on earth do you know that? Must be the internet of course! Yes, I’ve studied in Cambridge and Hallam (1988) among others (graduate and post graduate studies) to become a therapist.
MENNO: Obviously you were older than most ‘ordinary’ students; why did you decide to pursue those studies? Did you get a scholarship or something similar? How was it like to work as a counsellor?
FRANCIS: I wanted to find out more about ‘me’. I have a very unusual background; among other things I was expelled from school (that’s why Francis ended up at the same institute RJ Godfrey had been to: Finchden Manor, a very extraordinary ‘school’ and a number of extraordinary people having been there as well – MvBF). I started my training for therapist on my own, no sponsoring or scholarship. After my graduation I started working at Clouds House, an institute helping people with an addiction, then I moved on to work with convicted criminals at Coldingley, a prison. This, I can tell you was very difficult, it was HARD and to be honest, I’d never do that kind of work again.
MENNO: Did the story telling abilities play a role in becoming an established counsellor?
FRANCIS: Absolutely! Because of this, I was used to speaking to larger groups of people and I developed an ability to captivate an audience, using my knowledge of myths and legend. This ability proved to be a great value for my workshops: I use both original stories as well as my own imagination to communicate with people having all sorts of problems.
MENNO: When and why did you decide to use music within your therapies?
FRANCIS: At some point I realized that music can reach a part of a man’s body, other forms of communication cannot. It makes people feel at ease, allow them to forget all their worries for a moment. Mostly I use the lute, because it is such a nice, intimate and enchanting instrument. Many people don’t know anything about a lute or how it sounds and they are captivated easily. I have found the lute to be a very powerful and useful instrument or ‘tool’ in many of my workshops.
MENNO: Do you still work for the Capio Nightingale Hospital?
FRANCIS: Yes. Although I’m a freelance counsellor now, they hire my services on a regular basis, like several other institutes as well. Next to those services I run my private practice for families, individual patients, groups and so forth.
MENNO: How come did you establish such an interest in addiction problems?
FRANCIS: From my personal history I regret to say. I have had a disastrous relationship with both alcohol and cocaine for about 22 years! I wanted to help people to prevent them from going down the road like I have done to such an extent.
MENNO: On Godfrey’s site he mentions drugs amongst others; were you or any other member of the Enid ever seriously involved?
FRANCIS: I really don’t remember this being a problem in the band in the seventies. My struggle with alcohol and cocaine began after I left the Enid, so from the early eighties onwards! When I was around 33 it was very obvious to the outside world AND to me I had a serious problem and I decided I had to do something about it. It was a very long road but with help from my brother and a few good friends I eventually managed to stop using those ‘substances’ and I am totally ‘clean’ for a number of years now. I found out however, it takes many, many years for ones constitution to recover completely.
MENNO: Throughout your “counselling” website there’s lots of philosophical statements; do you agree with every one of them? One of your most evocative slogans is: Things do not change, we change..; Why do you think this is important?
FRANCIS: All those statements are there because I agree, for this moment anyway. As for the philosophy about ‘change’, the truth of the matter is: things, abstract substances, do not change (at least not overnight, if at all) so the next best thing and on many occasions the only thing one can try is to change the environment: ourselves! It would mean a constant struggle to ‘change the world’ so in many ways you’re far better off to change yourself and adept.
MENNO: Wasn’t philosophy a shared interest by Godfrey and you?
FRANCIS: Indeed. We share the same philosophical drive, although our approaches are quite different and we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. Many of his ideas are different from mine but the mutual interest in philosophy we have in common.
MENNO: Did Godfrey’s homosexuality annoy you at any time or was it more the fact the both of you were strong headed men?
FRANCIS: Definitely the latter. Although in those days being homosexual was not as accepted by society as it is today, it was not an issue within the band. The obvious facts he was gay, as was Steve and I was not, didn’t bother any of us really. It’s not unusual in the music business; may artists are homosexual but it surely didn’t play a role in the split up of the band.
MENNO: In the early eighties you were in a band named Rutterkin with amongst others Hilary Palmer. Why didn’t it work out then?
FRANCIS: I think above all because of me. I was in no decent physical shape back then. The band demanded much more energy than I had at the time and I didn’t have the stability I have now to make it work out. I guess it just wasn’t the right time.
MENNO: A few years ago there were some events leading to the birth of Secret Green, the name of the band, derived from a song composed some 22 years ago. Is the fact you live in Dorset and Willie Gilmour in Scotland of major importance the two of you can’t write together as much as you would like to?
FRANCIS: Yes it is unfortunately, because Willie and I write so very well together. He is a very gifted composer and he has this particular touch. You can hear much of him in the track Echoing Green. I would love to write with him again, also because we lost touch all those years before Secret Green became a real band.
MENNO: Did you think of the possibility to use the internet for composing together, using webcams etcetera?
FRANCIS: I really haven’t thought of that and it seems a good idea! I’m sure that if we can’t manage to match our time schedules, we will probably use the internet and work on the files we send to one and other. I will definitely insist on his input for the next album!
MENNO: The song Tom O’Bedlam refers to the chaotic period you went through after leaving the Enid: why chaotic?
FRANCIS: I was all over the place and it was a very chaotic, dramatic period in my life. I got married in 1978 and divorced in 1987. Some years ago, in 2006, I married Helen and I’m ever so happy. I have even got a grandchild playing behind a computer at the moment and luckily I have been able to maintain a good relationship with my children. They are supportive in many way and they are very proud of me I have picked up music again. Since neither of them play an instrument themselves, it is a side of me they didn’t know about, also because they were too young at the time. Actually it was Helen who encouraged me enthusiastically to pick up music: her wedding gift was a lute! I owe her a great deal.
MENNO: Some of the songs on To Wake The King are actually from the Rutterkin period. Is there a special reason to use those songs or did it feel like unfinished business?
FRANCIS: I think it’s exactly that: unfinished business and in spite of the fact I didn’t record any of them, some of those themes were still in my head, though the songs came out quite differently than I had in mind originally.
MENNO: Are there themes used from either classical composers and/or traditionals or is everything “original” and how come quite a few songs on the album are quite complicated musically as well as the vocal lines??
FRANCIS: I can’t deny having been influenced by classical composers, foremost Ralph Vaugh Williams and I definitely use and arrange old traditionals. Complicated? (laughs) I really don’t set out to make them complicated but they just grow like they ended up on the album. What’s complicated are the orchestrations, but since I think ‘orchesterally’ because I love the sound of the orchestra and it’s instruments some of the songs are destined to be complex. I compose the vocal lines as well but fortunately for me I have Hilary, who is able to sing them!
MENNO: How do you compose? Still using the guitar and some sort of recording device?
FRANCIS: Sometimes I use a guitar and record it, most of the time it starts with a feeling: I see a landscape and then I contemplate how to capture the feelings I have with that landscape or perhaps should I say ‘tone-scape’ in musical context. It’s more like an impression of me at that particular moment, than an actual tune. An example of this is the song Secret Green: it starts with firing guns. It’s not specifically a musical idea but rather a feeling or an atmosphere and then I use the music to translate those sensations. On the album To Wake The King I have tried to capture that misty sort of atmosphere. It could start with any instrument, a trumpet sample, or stings and surely also the guitar. Sometimes I’m driving my car and I have a tune in my head, I write the basics (in notes, which I find very useful!) down on paper and come back to it when I have more time.
MENNO: Where did you learn to read and write notes and how do you present the ‘rough’ song to the band?
FRANCIS: Writing and reading notes is a thing I’ve learned myself. Sometimes I write everything down and send it to the band-members, sometimes I make a demo or it’s both. I never present ‘all finished’ songs however, they are always just ‘rough ideas’ to work with and to let each band- member have the opportunity to come up with their own arrangement.
MENNO: Changes between seventies and present day?
FRANCIS: For my own perception my song writing has improved markedly through the years: I’m much more focused than I used to be. And at present the computer is my life line. I use it for recording, sequencers and it’s got all the samples of the orchestra. It’s not like on ordinary working day though, it’s based on moments of inspiration. My ordinary working days from 10 AM until 8 PM are for the musicians I work for, which is great and for about two days a week I’m working as a therapist.
MENNO: When did you decide to start playing and composing again?
FRANCIS: After an extensive visit to India, I really love that country. I have been to the Himalayan mountains, I’ve met the most extraordinary people and heard extraordinary things. So ancient…. I just can’t describe it, but I can’t imagine anyone going there and not be touched! That’s what triggered me to start thinking about music again.
MENNO: It’s no secret you like jazz and blues; what kind of music do you listen to at home?
FRANCIS: It depends really, when I have a bit of in between time, I’d probably listen to some sort of Folk music. On the other hand it could be Gustav Mahler just as well. Folk music is hard to find; you have to look around. Did you ever hear of a band called Imagined Village with Martin Carthy and Billy Brag among others. They are fantastic in the way they blend folk with modern music. Early Clannad and of course English folk music are
MENNO: In an interview you stated you didn’t want to become an Enid tribute band. Still you incorporate Enid-themes in Secret Green’s music for example in On Merlin’s Ground. Is there a particular reason for that?
FRANCIS: That’s what I call ‘a reflective moment'. It’s a theme from the first ENID album and this is a very important piece of music to me.
MENNO: The recordings were made in The Lodge, the studio owned by Godfrey and Read (the Enid); why this choice?
FRANCIS: Only the drums, guitars and vocals were done at The Lodge, the rest of the recordings I made at home. Since Max is a very good producer and I got a very special (cheap!) rate because I used to be in the Enid, it was a logical choice.
MENNO: Secret Green probably still is a side project for you; are you aiming for more?
FRANCIS: Yes. I am really very serious about this and I’m striving to let Secret Green be the main thing. It’s hard to get bookings for shows these days however unless you’re a tribute band.
MENNO: You are about to gig together with the Enid and you probably play Enid songs together? Will there be a recording from this show, a DVD perhaps?
FRANCIS: Well, there are talks about the two band performing live at the same venue and play a few Enid songs together, possibly Fand, but it’s not certain at this point. I absolutely don’t know anything about a live recording but it surely would be interesting!
MENNO: On one of the pages of the booklet from the album you state at the end of the ‘Secret Green thanks’ section: “And Terry, this is all your fault!” Who is Terry and what was his deadly sin?
FRANCIS: It’s Terry ……; he’s been a long time friend, a very dear friend. He nagged me, nagged me and nagged me again for ages and ages to get back into music. When I finally decided to do so, I felt it was the right thing to do to give him credit for his endurance and willpower to keep on trying to persuade me.
MENNO: Any specific comments about To Wake The King?
FRANCIS: There are several themes on the album and they all return from time to time in different instrumentations, but in each song there are references to at least one of the main themes. Just like in that landscape I described, you see different things wherever you look and sometimes you have sunshine and sometimes the rain is pouring down. The twin guitars you here are Jon & me playing the same guitar, a Stratocaster. Jon is more the rock-guitarist, Hillary has done vocals and flute and I covered the orchestrations, bass and most of the keyboards.
MENNO: What will happen next? Any plans for touring outside of the UK, a second album? Supporting Blackmore’s Night maybe?
FRANCIS: There are some shows planned but we hope to be able to play more shows preferably also outside of the UK. We are a good live band and it’s quite a spectacle, you know. We would play anywhere! Of course we will be working on the next album, more as a band than before however. It would be fantastic to share the stage with Ritchie Blackmore and we will certainly try!
MENNO: Well Francis I thank you for taking so much time to answer all my questions and I hope to see you live in Holland in the near future.
FRANCIS: Thanks Menno, I appreciate it and I thank you for this comprehensive interview!
Secret Green - Official Website
Secret Green - MySpace Page
Francis Lickerish - MySpace Page
The Enid - Official Website