Mark, how did it all start?
Well, I personally certainly wasn't instrumental (ha!) in bringing the band
together - I simply got lucky. Paul and Phil, our bassist and guitarist, met
at the Whitchurch festival in 1998. Paul had been planning to put together a
some form of complex musical project for some time but, despite many
contacts, had failed to find the sort of people he'd visualised until hearing
of Phil and hearing his solo album, 'Fear Of Fantastic Flight'.
The meeting seemed to be a marriage made in heaven in terms of vision and
ideology - plus Phil had long known Simon, our vocalist, so the hunt was on
for a drummer and keyboard player. Paul was aware of the demise of Grey Lady
Down and tracked me down. One listen to a tape convinced me that there was no
way I'd EVER be able to play this stuff, which is probably why I got in
quickly, before they could find an adequate keyboard player, so that by the
time we did I'd be considered a permanent fixture! So far, the game plan
seems to be working!
The fifth man - Wolfgang - took a hell of a lot of finding. It eventually
took a lucky ad of ours in a music store to achieve that.
Thieves' Kitchen seems quite an odd name for a band. Who came up with it
and what does it mean?
The name was my doing - it clearly lodged itself in the back of my mind when
I took an American friend of mine, a first-time visitor to this country, for
a river trip along the Thames in London. Thanks to the tide being high, we
passed under Tower Bridge and swung back round to dock - at which point the
tour guide pointed out the location of Fagin's Thieves' Kitchen in Charles
Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' - the place where all the orphans lived and from
which they practised all manner of 'arts' such as picking pockets and
Some four months later, we were looking first and foremost for a band name
that had not knowing been used before - we checked and double checked in the
National Band Register before a brainstorming session led to the one name that was an
easily memorable, well known phrase and yet appeared never to have been used
for a band's name before!
With our tongues in our cheeks too, it was fun to choose a name that openly
invites sarcasm regarding plagiarism when I can think of no less derivative
band than TK, within the prog sphere, from England for some time.
The title of the CD is Head. Other than that it is a title which lends
itself perfectly for all sorts of puns, what does it signify?
Quite simply a beginning of sorts... plus perhaps a degree of intellectuality
which, without wishing to sound elitist, is clearly present in our music. Any
connotations towards oral sex are entirely in your own mind, Derk... ;) But
seriously though - it's just short, catchy, memorable, and yeah, open to lots
of fun with an advertising campaign!
Can you tell us something about the (musical) backgrounds of the
musicians you're working with in Thieves' Kitchen?
Aside from myself, Phil is the only one to have released material before,
with his aforementioned solo album on Mellow, the Italian label. But in terms
of influences - whereas I guess I'm a Bruford wannabe without 10% of the
talent, Phil is a truly incredible fusion talent - so fast, so inventive, and
yet full of feel. And Wolfgang compliments his jazz side perfectly - never
could we have found a more appropriate player, after many false starts. This
gives us a wonderful balance between the rock and jazz forms, and the ability
to fearlessly dive headlong into either when opportunities permit!
Paul's roots are perhaps the most eclectic of all - he shares Phil's love of
the jazzier end of the Canterbury spectrum, but also adds in-depth classical
knowledge plus a perverse love of off-beats and of intense harmonies a la
Just to add to the mixture, Simon's voice is that of a full blooded rock
singer - he's drawn comparisons not only to Gary Chandler, but also to Ozzy
Osbourne! All in all, it's a wonderful blend that imposes no limitations on
(left to right:Mark Robotham, Simon Boys, Phil Mercy, Wolfgang Kindl, Paul Beecham)
During your time in GLD you've often expressed a dislike of the so
called neo-prog scene. What do you consider to be truly progressive music and
how do you think you achieved that kind of progression with the Head album?
Dislike would maybe be too strong a word, but certainly I felt there were too
many bands in the UK doing too much the same thing, with a very narrow sphere
of influences. We only really began to break out of that ourselves, with GLD,
with 'Fear'. I guess that gave me a taste of the possibilities that a degree
of increased comfort with my own playing was presenting to me - and I was so
lucky to be present at the start of such a challenging project.
Truly progressive music? It seems that the conventional structures of time
signatures that you can happily tap your feet to and keys that are safe,
harmonic and hummable impose great limits on a musician in any genre. We can
still write great tunes, but we'll still choose the less obvious harmony or
some completely outrageous time signature like 29/8 when there is the
opportunity to do so!
Writing a piece of music begins with a blank page - and to immediately limit
yourself to a major key, a 4/4 measure and predictable harmonics seem to deny
90% of the possibilities to that blank page...
In the first newsletter, you mention that TK's music will probably not
appeal to the programme managers of Radio 2. What kind of audience
do you want to reach with the music?
Quite simply, those with open ears - who are prepared to take a chance with
something in which the structure is unconventional and where they truly don't
know what will hit them next...
You became available for Thieves' Kitchen because your previous band Grey
Lady Down called it a day in 1998, concluding their career with a farewell
show at London's Astoria 2 theatre. Now it seems the band had been
resurrected. What do you think of this situation and did you ever consider
I certainly wish the new line-up of GLD every success. I was committed to
Thieves' Kitchen well before such a 'rebirth' was even mooted, and therefore
wouldn't have retrodden the past anyway as to me, the end is the end - you
don't change your mind a few months later. But aside from that, the line-up
on 'Fear' and the live album was the first and only one in which I felt truly
comfortable with the abilities of those concerned including myself. With
Steve Anderson returning to his commitments with Sphere (with whom we hope to
do some shows this summer), it would always have been difficult for me to
consider rejoining even if I'd not already been committed to TK.
Will you take the music on the road?
Absolutely, and as soon as possible. The only reason we've hesitated is that
we recorded as soon as we had in excess of an hours' worth of material ready.
Clearly, we need more material for live work and to develop for the second
album - so we're back to writing right now, with a view to our initial gigs
being in June or July.
Head is being released independently. Why did you decide to take this
more difficult road?
Putting my managerial hat on, I think the main reason was that we felt that
the market outside of the UK is a little bit more open minded. I especially
feel that the US will be a strong market for the album. I have many contacts
over there and I was confident we'd be able to sell independently to far more
of these if we weren't tied to one label over here. Malcolm at Cyclops is the
most genuine, music-first guy I've ever met in a record company role, but
even he admitted he wouldn't be able to help us exploit opportunities over
there as well as we perhaps could ourselves. He's been so helpful as always,
though, in terms of helping us avoid all the little pitfalls that can crop up
when you do your very first album completely under your own power.
Yes, it's more difficult, but it's even more rewarding! And certainly more
What do you think of the role of the Internet in the future of the music
I think the future's already here, and the answer is - absolutely vital!
There is other no way that we could have communicated cost effectively and
quickly with prog aficionados in the US and elsewhere - it would have been
impossible for five guys with day jobs to get our CD distributed and out into
the market place in the spare time we have.
If you are thinking more in terms of MP3 - I personally remain to be
convinced. The hassle of downloading from a PC when you can simply slip in a
CD just doesn't work for me, particularly at today's download speeds. Maybe
I'm being a Luddite, but I feel that CD is still as excellent a format as it
was in 1983, and I really can't see the general public embracing anything
else for a good while yet.
As a drummer, who do you consider to be your greatest influences?
I can split those into people I love to listen to and to those I maybe sound
a little like. Bill Bruford remains my idol, but also Neil Peart - and more
and more, drummers with a jazzier feel like the amazing Vinnie Colaiuta. But,
not being in the same class as those, I maybe have some of the (still
excellent) Andy Ward, ex of Camel, in my playing - to whom I listened a lot
in my formative days before I understood what on earth Bruford was doing!
Of the current British circuit, I probably admire the much underrated Steve
Christey from Jadis the most. He's a really excellent player.
Any specific musician you'd love to do a jam session with someday?
I couldn't wish to be challenged more than by the musicians in TK. I'm
flattered that they've tolerated my imperfections, and I cannot believe that
musicians of any greater talent still would be as patient! So I'd probably
have to answer 'no' in all honesty!
The trivia questions. Name your favourite...
Goodness, how do you weed through them all and pick just one? Erm - King
Crimson - 73/74 period.
Easier - 'Pieces Of You' - Jewel. By a mile.
Looking back over so many of them - perhaps my very first. Queen in Hyde
Park, London, playing for free in front of 100,000 people in summer '76, not
long after Night At The Opera was released. Truly astounding for a kid barely
I'm tempted to say Jewel again, but let's stay prog and think male - I'll go
for Richard Sinclair.
Tough - generally, I feel it to be a less 'expressive' instrument although
equally vital... how about Eddie Jobson, if only coz I've never seen anyone
play as fast, close up!
John Wetton, 73/74, run a close second by Chris Squire.
Back to Mr Bruford again....
As a conclusion, anything you'd like to add?
A couple of inches on to my... no, no, no....... ;)
Seriously, we're very much hoping to play in Holland before the year is out - and many
thanks indeed for taking the time to do the interview!
Thank you, Mark.