In Thirty Minutes
interview with Roye Albrighton by Jerry van Kooten
photos by Jan Buddenberg
1970: a group of English musicians living in Germany, started gigging as Nektar. After a range of successful and critically acclaimed albums, Roye Albrighton leaves in 1976. In 1978 they reunited for a short tour. Twice, in 1980 and in 1999, Roye and original keyboard player Alan 'Taff' Freeman came back together to record a Nektar album. In 2002, Nektar reunite in the complete original line-up again and play at the NEARfest festival. It feels so good they decide to take this further. What has happened during all those years in between?
2004: for the Evolution Tour that's taking them to Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, and, mainly, Germany, I got a chance to talk to Roye Albrighton, guitarist / lead vocalist. Having been a Nektar fan for more than twenty years now (I was too young when the 1980 album was released), their 2003 London show was my first Nektar gig, and I was looking forward to this tour and interview very much. What you're about to read here is the transcription of a very pleasant conversation that took place in a small tour bus, with a soundcheck audible in the background, just before their first gig of this tour and their first gig in Holland for a long time.
It Was Thirty Years Ago Today...
Welcome! Do you remember how long it was since you were in Holland?
Vaguely. I think it was just before 1974. It must have been on the Frank Zappa tour, yeah, definitely. I remember we were here before. We did the Paradiso in Amsterdam. Is that still going?
It is, although there are more dance shows now than rock shows, because of the turnover.
We did Holland again, or I should say Netherlands. I think you prefer it that way, right?
Well, that's the official name, but we don't care, really.
OK, I was just playing safe there! So we were in Holland again with Zappa. I don't remember where it was, but it must have been Amsterdam or Rotterdam. So the last time we were on our own must have been 1973. Before Remember The Future was released.
And now, thirty years later...
I know! ;-) You'd think I'd behave myself and have more sense than start a tour again...
Not really, we're only human!
That's right! Well, I'm only old! ;-) The story behind this really is that I had a serious health problem, four years ago. It was touch and go whether I was going to pull through or not. But they pulled me through. I had packed in the music, stopped it all together, you know. For four or five years before that, I was into something completely different, with computers. I never expected to get back into the music again. But you can have that thing when you wake up first thing in the morning and think "today I'm going to do this!". I woke up from a near-death experience and thought, "I've had enough of this, and I want to do now what I want to do the rest of my life". Not have to do things that I don't want to. And the best thing I want to do is music. I feel best doing music. I shouldn't have left the music business really. But I got a bit depressed about the whole thing.
More about the scene than the music itself?
Yeah, really. I thought, well OK, we're never going to be rock stars, we're not going to be a name for everybody that comes off their lips every time rock bands are mentioned. But you don't have to be a pop star or a rock star, you can just do what you do and enjoy it and let people come and see the show. And that's what I want to do. And here I am. Again!
This is what you want to do.
Yes. It's the original band except for the bass player. It's just great, I love playing Nektar music. It's what I want to do.
There have been many years without Nektar music.
I left the band in 1976 when we were in America, and I came back to Europe. I was with three or four other bands, some you may have heard of, some probably not. I came back to Germany, because that's where we lived before. I hooked up with Curty Cress from Snowball and we did an album. Things started to become a bit serious. They wanted to play in front of musicians, and I didn't, I wanted to play in front of people. I could hack it, but I like to see people get off on it, not musicians going "how's he playing now?". I wasn't into that. So they went their way, and I went my way. I went to London.
I was rehearsing with a band in the rehearsal room of Manor Recording Studios. I bumped into Brand X there. They said "there's a band here who want another guitarist, because their guitarist has left to join Cat Stevens". So I listened to them, and it sounded good. It was Quantum Jump. Remember them?
I have their two albums, yes. They played quite complex music at times.
Yeah, it was a bit off the wall type. I jumped in there, got the job, and we started playing together. And then Rupert Hein, who was their main songwriter, was getting into the production side more than anything else, and became a producer. And the bass player, Geoff Richardson, is the guy who designed Wall Basses. He was getting pretty popular with that. So everything started splitting up. I went back to America.
So you didn't record with Quantum Jump?
Well, I stopped in some sessions to do some overdubs, but most on the Barracuda album had already been done. I just did a couple of little bits here and there they needed to finish it off. I never did an album with them.
I have the Barracuda album, but you're not mentioned in the credits...
No, but I mentioned Rupert Hein in the credits of my album. And he feels bad about it! ;-) I said "Put it on there, make him feel bad about it!" ;-)
So that fell apart, and I went back to the States. Basically, I wanted to put Nektar back together, as best possible. This would be in 1980. The only person who wanted to do it at that particular time was Taff Freeman. I said to Taff, "let's write some songs, and let's find a rhythm section.". This was for the Man In The Moon album. We auditioned and came up with Dave Prater and Carmine Rojas. Since then, Carmine's been really busy with Rod Stewart, David Bowie... So he's done quite well. He's now living in Vegas. David would become the producer of Dream Theater. So they did quite well.
We did Man In The Moon, recorded it in a studio we bought ourselves. We toured in Germany. We didn't do Holland on that... I think we did a few dates in England. It went down well, but quite rightly so, the audience said "well, it's not really Nektar". And it wasn't. It was an off-shoot of Nektar. Well obviously I was playing guitar and Taff was playing keyboards, it was more rock orientated than we usually are. I liked it, because I was at an age when I wanted to get my rocks off, and you could get your rocks off. I was still a bit younger then! ;-)
Now I'm looking back on it, we had a go at what was maybe pop rock. It didn't really sell. It was a national secret the album was even released.
Yes, it was only released in Germany.
That's right. And only just!
Well, some copies made it into Holland!
Did it? OK then. I don't even have a cover. I have one copy and it's just the vinyl, that's all I've got. But Mark [Powell, manager] seemed to find it all, and got it released on CD. He's good at that.
I remember that during the tour, Taff had to go back to the USA?
That's right. Tommy Schmidt stepped in, a really good synth player. A good keyboard player - very good, in fact. He did the tour. The first six, seven days it was great. We were doing the state theatres in Germany, which was good. Then I think the person who was touring us just lost interest, and we ended up in the smaller places. One place we played, we virtually had to dismantle half the club to get the band in. I said, "enough is enough. Forget it, there's no point." So the tour finished abruptly and everybody went back to the States.
I hung around in Germany a little bit, doing a few sessions, and then I went back. I was sitting in rehearsal with a band in New York, just to have something to do, and out of the blue came a phone call from Miles Copeland, who used to manage Nektar at the very beginning when we went to America. He tracked me down. I was on Broadway, with a friend, rehearsing with a band in his house. I said, "Miles, what do you want?" He said, "what are you doing?" "Well, nothing much, just messing about." He said, "I've got an idea. Go over to England, meet this guy from Climax Blues Band. He's just left the band. You've just left the band. Well, not just left, but left again... Go over and see him, and see if you guys can get something together writing music." I said, "OK, you pay the tickets, I go anywhere."
So I got back to the UK, met him [Derek Holt] in Stafford, and we sort of hit it off. Again, it was a poppy type of music, Grand Alliance, but it was enjoyable to play. We found a drummer, Brendon Day. We did the album [Grand Alliance, 1983], and we did a tour of the US and England. The first time was OK, but now we know what direction we really want to go in. And all of a sudden, Copeland just pulled the plug on us. He wasn't interested anymore. Obviously, no investment, no product. And that was the end of that.
And it was his idea in the first place?
Exactly right, it was his idea. And I had just enough of it. That was when I packed in the music business altogether. I thought, "I've had enough of this. I've tried and I've tried..." Then I was working for a company, working with computers, because I had been doing that a long time before. And it ended up where I became ill. And here I am again now. I was fed up with that as well, so I went back to music. No more computers, except at home, for making music.
Out Of The Music Business
All the time, you didn't write songs at home?
Yes, I was writing all the time. Well, on and off, when you feel like it. If there's no pressure, you don't write continually, just now and again. I always found the synthesizer guitar very interesting. When it first came out, I thought "Wow... what you can do
with this...". The keyboard players had it great all the time, the guitarists now can really do something! All those keyboards you could plug into it! I went and bought the first synth guitar. Unbeknown to me, an old friend of mine, Steve Hackett, also bought the same guitar. And John McLoughlin also bought the same. So the three of us, unknown to each other, were using this synth guitar and trying to get as much out of it as possible. I think Steve used his one live a lot more than I did. I used mine with Snowball live a bit, but never to the extent that Steve did. And certainly not to the extent that John did.
Being off the road and not touring, I used it a lot at home. Just having fun with it. Buying a sound module, plugging it in... When Mark [Powell] said, "let's re-issue all the Nektar stuff", I said "I've done a bit at home with the synthesizer guitar." He said, "well, send it down!" So I sent down all these songs I'd done with the Roland synth. He said "you mean to tell me you did this all with synthesizer guitar?" I said, "yes." "No drums?" "No, the drums are played by guitar!" Everything was played by guitar, except for the vocals of course, and the real guitar. He said, "we have got to release that!" So it came out as The Follies Of Rupert Treacle. Nothing but guitar.
I took it to Roland and said, "look, I did this with your GR-300." They said, "oh, OK." "You're not interested?" "Not really, no." "That's OK, I've finished using it now." So I threw it in the bin! ;-) Serves you right! I thought they at least could give me a plectrum for free or something! ;-)
How did Mark find you?
Well, it was a coincidence actually. When Taff and I were doing The Prodigal Son , my brother-in-law was looking after my business for the band until I could find a manager. He said, "there's a guy here who wants to do an interview for a magazine. He's a free-lance writer." I said, "send him up, the more the merrier!" And Mark [Powell] turned up, listened to some of the songs on The Prodigal Son, and he said, "that sounds Nektarish. That sounds like you're getting back to what it should be."
After the album was released, I said to my brother-in-law, "I want to take this further now. I want to go all the way with this again. Just try." He said, "well, I'm not the guy to do it. Why don't you get in touch with Mark Powell. He runs Caravan and a few other things. He might be interested." I rang Mark up, just out of the blue, and he said "I think I know someone who wants to do it." "Oh, who?" He says, "me!" And I said, "fine! OK!"
And at the same time, oddly enough, I got an email from the guy who does NEARfest in New Jersey. He said, "Is this Roye Albrighton of Nektar? This is Rob from the NEARfest. You wouldn't by any chance be thinking about putting the band back together?" Now I never told anybody, but I had it in mind. How it got to him, I don't know. And then I thought, "I got to get the band back together first!" So I had to ring everybody, trying to find out where everybody is. They all have got businesses and other things, and I said, "it's only a one-off thing, we've only got to rehearse a little bit before it and get to remember all the stuff."
We did five days of rehearsals, that's all it was. And it was just like riding a bycicle! I thought, "I'm never going to remember this stuff", but as soon as you start... Except for some little bits you throw in after a few months playing it, but it was there. So we got back together and did the show. But we enjoyed it so much, we thought "we're going to do some more of these!", so we did Town Hall [New York, 2002-10-04] and it went really well again. Then we did a couple of shows, some in Germany: Darmstadt [2003-07-20] and Herzberg [2003-07-19] and it went really well again. I pulled Mark to one side last year and said "we're going to have to decide here whether we're going to take this any further. We've got the remasters coming out, we've done a few shows, we've got the DVD out. Do you think that's it or do you think we should take it further?" He said, "absolutely take it further! But you've got to start from the ground up again. Let the people know you're out there."
I said I knew the bass player wouldn't be able to do it. Mo's health is not as good as it used to be, he's got a huge family and a big business. It's just impossible. But the rest of the guys can. It was going to be difficult to find a bass player who could do it. Mo's not your average bass player. It's not that it has to be flashy, but it's the sound, it's got to be right. Taff knew this guy, Randy [Dembo], and said "it's just like listening to Mo." I said, "yeah, right..." "Well, come over and listen!" I flew over to the States and he just knocked me out completely. You close your eyes and you wouldn't know the difference. But the beauty of Randy is that he puts in his own little bits now and then, which makes it Randy. And that's alright with me, but he's absolutely spot on.
Back Into The Music Business
So here we are! We're going to do this kind of tours this year, we're going to do an album in June. With that album and a coalition tour with Caravan in the States, we'll see how this year goes. And hopefully this year we can bring it up another level, start pulling more people. If we do that, we're in with a chance. There's a lot of reunions out there, I know this, and a lot of reunions are not good. Sometimes there's one person left of the original band and it sounds nothing like the original band. We're lucky here, because three quarters of the band are here plus another member who sounds like the old bass player. So I think we're in with a chance.
We haven't got the light show with us, for obvious reasons. We can't spend that kind of money right now on light shows, Larry Fast, singers, percussionist. We would just going to lose money. You've got at least to break even. If we would start losing money, we would only do it once and wouldn't be able to do it again. We've got a lighting guy with us, some good lights with the music, and we've got to show people that we're out there, that we still sound good. Once they've seen that, one tells two and two tells four, you know the way it goes. And hopefully next time around, we'll have a little bit bigger place or spend a little bit more money, we could charge a little bit more and bring maybe Mick or Larry with us. I mean, Larry is working with Tony Levin right now. He's got a good income. Why would he come with us and get paid one hundred pounds a night while he can get paid six hundred pounds a night with Tony Levin? Makes sense, doesn't it? He's got to pay his mortgage! So we're bringing it all up again, but it's going to be work for us. But we think it's going to be worth it in the end, because it pays off - we'll be better.
Randy was available to join the tour? What was he doing?
Randy was with a Genesis copy band, you know, like The Musical Box? And the next week he'd be in a band doing all Yes stuff. He's really diverse with this kind of music. He's always been a big Nektar fan from day one. His first album was Remember The Future and he bought it when he was seventeen. He told me his age when I first met him. I thought, you bastard, you make me feel like an old man! ;-) Why didn't he tell me he bought Remember The Future when he was fifty or something, you know, and make me feel young?! ;-)
Ron and Taff, they were not too busy to do the tour?
Taff has got a job, marketing stuff or something, but he's got a fantastic boss. He invited his boss to the NEARfest show, and after that he said, "any time you want off, you take it, lad, it's OK with me." Ron is almost as free as I am, he's really putting himself into this now. He has got a job, but his heart is in this totally, one hundred percent. If I'd ask Ron to do a six month tour, he'd be there. Randy owns his own business - photos, posters, framing etcetera, but can take time off. So we're geared up for it. All we need now is a product and the tour and we should be on our way. Again.
June 14th to the 28th we're doing the new album in the UK. We've written about forty minutes of music. There's a lot of work to do on it yet, but I'm writing all the time. Taff's writing, and we're putting ideas together. What we do on a tour like this is like we did in the old days. While we're touring we would rehearse, except for this first day, because everything's crazy out there. Tomorrow when we get there [Verviers, Belgium], we'll probably have a longer soundcheck and we'll try a couple of the new pieces out and work on it as a band. One of us writes a piece and puts it to the band. We pull it apart, and we put it back together, and Nektarize it. If we'd do it exactly like I do, it would sound like me, and if we'd do it like Taff it would sound like Taff. So we pull it all apart and everybody puts their bits into it, and it sounds like the band then. We do this throughout the tour. By the end of it, that entire forty minutes ususally has turned into an hour. That's how we wrote all the stuff - actually on the road. Ideas come out, and we stick more bits in and as the tour progresses, it gets longer and longer and turns into an album's worth of material. What you've got to do then when you get to the studio, is to record it, write the lyrics, and sing the vocals. A few overdubs, and there you go.
So the music is completely finished before you even start writing the lyrics?
Yes. Well, I sing what you call dummy words. I'd go like 'la la la wah woh go'. "Hey, what that that sound like? It sounded like 'go'. OK, I'll write 'go'!" ;-) We have a storyline for this album, but I won't tell you what it is yet, because that would spoil it. I won't say it's unsimilar to the Recycled idea, but it's a modern day type of Recycled.
Well, I've always been amazed at how modern the Recycled theme and also the music still are.
I think it's got something to do with the synthesizers on that album. I know, the synthesizers used on the album sound very dated now, but when it was recorded, synthesizers were in their early stage. Like when we did Journey To The Centre Of The Eye. That was the first portable Mellotron. Way out of tune, that's what made the sound. I remember doing Journey, and I asked Taff to play these chords. And he played the two-finger chord, then the three-finger chord, and when he put the fourth finger on, the motor in the Mellotron went "oh, I can't do this", and the sound pitch dropped! But that way you could get it going up and down for effect. That was the beauty of Journey, it was that sound. You couldn't reproduce that if you'd try. Even if you'd sample those old Mellotrons, with a modern day technology, it would not sound the same. If you listen to Mellotron on its own, it's horrible, but if you put it in the back of a track, with its reverb, it's wonderful. Ask Bob Fripp, he knows! Yeah, In The Court Of The Crimson King is fantastic, I just love that stuff... It was making new paths. Lovely. All to Bob Fripp, a great man and a great musician!
Magic Is Nektar
The first time you went into the rehearsal room in 2002, you said the magic was there almost instantly?
Oh yes. My wife was with me, everybody's got their families with them. We went into the rehearsal room, and all the families went into the back and say hello to each other because they never met, we just set the gear up as we used to set it up, got on the stage, tuned up, "shall we try Tab? Yeah, OK", keyboard intro, bang - it was there. Just like that. Of course there was the odd "oops, what was that you played?!", but it was there. Some of the more difficult parts like Marvellous Moses, we tripped on some of the arrangements, like "did we do four there or eight" and by the time you thought about it you missed it and it had all gone wrong, but that's the way it happens when you do stuff like that. I think eighty percent of it just went straight away. It was just like we'd never been away. Like Mick Brockett said, "like somebody pressed 'pause' in 1976, and pressed 'play' again in 2002!" Was that 2002, NEARfest? Yeah... Gosh, two years already!
There's a big difference between the 2003 tour and this one.
Yeah, we had Scott Krentz on percussion and he was helping on some of the vocals. Great, I love percussionists. Then we had Maureen [McDonald] and Michelle [Eckert], the background singers, which was good, but I didn't want to get too far into the overpowering Pink Floyd scenario where you've got so much going on, you forgot what the music's all about. I love Floyd doing that big thing, orchestrated Yes is wonderful as well, but the older I get the more I want to get back to the rock and roll of it. We did Recycled when we went to America, without Larry Fast, and it sounded powerful as well.
Back then, nobody knew how to work with the synthesizer. Larry did. But now that they've become more available, it's just getting a disc and you have the sound you want, or make the sound you want. Larry is great for some of the stuff, he's a whizz kid. But Taff can cover that stuff as well, now. Nektar at the end of the day, is a rock band. We're not an orchestrated band, not an orchestra, we're a rock band at heart. That's what this tour is all about, it's the Evolution Tour: back to the beginning. Maybe not quite the beginning, not as raw as it used to be. But when we hit Madison Square Garden or something, we'll augment it again! ;-) I like the rock and roll in it.
We're doing some little different things tonight than we did on the last tour. We're doing a quick fifteen minute acoustic part which we've been working on, with tunes off the Man In The Moon album: Telephone and Angel. Then we swap back to electrics and do Man In The Moon. Just to make a bit of a break in the middle. It was a toss-up actually, whether to do You're Alone or Telephone. I opted for Telephone, because I think it's a little more interesting for Taff to play, and also nicer on acoustic guitar. You're Alone is a nice song, it's a bit dramatic though, and maybe it's a bit too much. We'll see how these two will go down. If they don't go down too well, maybe we'll think about it again. I just wanted a change from the straight ahead rock all the time. Let's see what people can do, absorb every word you sing, get the reverb from the room. And then freak them out with Recycled or something! Good to do something different every time you tour. It's no point in doing the same thing all the time, because people are going to be fed up.
You have to make it interesting for yourself as well.
Of course! I like a challenge! And we did get some challenges... During the rehearsals in London, we kept blowing bass amps. My guitar I always use, I had to sent home. Something with the electrics inside went wrong, and I had to hire a guitar for this tour! One thing after another...
Nektar Is A Rock Band
You said you were a rock band. Have you always considered Nektar to be that? Are you afraid of the 'progressive rock' label?
No, people want to call us progressive rock because they can't put any other label on Nektar. Nektar is not progessive rock by any means. We're not an orchestral band like Yes, we're not into the big darkness story lines like Genesis, we're not like Spock's Beard or Porcupine Tree. One minute we might do just a straight ahead rock song, and the next we might do something totally different. That's the thing about Nektar. This is what the people in America couldn't quite grasp. The Germans did. Because we released Remember The Future [in 1973], then we did Down To Earth [in 1974], then it was Recycled [in 1975]... This is how we write, how we feel at the time. We don't stick to the formula. You hear Genesis when it goes on, not only because Collins is singing, but you hear it's Genesis by their mark on the way they do things. You know it's Yes, not only because of Anderson, but the way that they play. With us, you've got no chance. Especially the Americans, because they heard Remember The Future first and then Bellaphon released Down To Earth [while Recycled was already finished and would have been a better choice for the relatively new US market]. We had to educate the Americans into that. The Germans were expecting anything. Whenever we would come out with an album, they knew it was going to be different again. We had to educate the Americans by touring a lot. That's why we moved and went over there, to play there, to say "this is Nektar, we can play anything anytime anywhere, we're not bound to what we should play. We're a rock band, not a pop band, not a blues band, not a jazz band. We just play whatever comes into our heads to play, whether it's a three-minute piece of music or an eighteen-minute piece of music." That's the way we are...
Brice Dickinson once said that there were two real progressive bands at the time: Van Der Graaf Generator and Nektar. Changing styles every album, that could be a definition of being progressive, right?
I guess, yeah... Total album changes, you could be right there. But you've got these progessive nerds on these websites, who define progessive rock by 'time changes and a Mellotron'. That's not progressive rock! That's what they think.
I started referring to that kind of people as the 'prog police'.
Ha, that's right! They want to define, they want to label. There are bands out there that don't sound like anybody. But they've got to label them. What did they say about Marillion? Marillion didn't stand a chance, because everybody said "poor man's Genesis". The band must have been devastated! They must have said "no, this is the way we write music, we're not trying to be like them!" They just liked the band, like we were influenced by The Beatles and by Hendrix. But they didn't stand a chance, and I think it's terrible that people do that. If you listen to one of their latest albums, you'd be biting your hand off, because they've written great stuff. Unfortunately, many people judge the book by its cover and don't look on the inside.
Roye is required at the soundcheck and has to be excused. Lots of other questions could have been asked, but we're glad we got about thirty years covered in thirty minutes!
We're looking forward to the gig tonight, the remasters later this month, the new album probably released around September, and hopefully new tours! Thank you Roye for the conversation!
Jerry van Kooten