Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi Interview
(Interesting Alternative Show)
DPRP’s Phil Chelmsford
At DPRP we wanted to branch out a little and talk to people (other than artists or bands) who are in some way still involved in music. I had the great pleasure of meeting Steve Davis… yes the Snooker player… don’t adjust your sets… to talk about Prog, music and his radio show. As a bonus, also joining in the conversation was his radio show co-presenter Kavus Torbai, who incidentally, also runs the band Knifeworld as well as his own record label. We met at Phoenix Radio Studios in Brentwood, Essex (UK) where the two unlikely DJ’s run their very own radio show playing avant-garde / left-field Prog related music.
Phil: Before delving into music…. Steve how’s things for you in the world of Snooker and what is your current world ranking?
SD: Mmm? That is perhaps the hardest question that you will ask me! I’m probably into the “Survival” stage of my career. It would be easier to retire but I still like the challenge so I bumble along and the only task I set myself is to try and enjoy myself. My current ambition within the game is to try and keep my ranking lower than my age!
Phil: Have you come across any other Snooker players that share your particular love of music? Or any other Sportsman or Celebs come to that?
SD: No, although in the UK Prog Rock Magazine they have a regular feature that highlights a well known person. I think to date I’m the only sports person who’s come out of the closet.
Phil: Turning to Kavus… Can you give me a very brief insight into ‘Kavus the musician’?
KT: Well, briefly, it seems to take up most of my time. My main thing is my group Knifeworld, purely because it’s my songs and I oversee most of the aspects, because of that it seems to be the thing that takes up most of my time. I am also very much a part of the terrific instrumental avant-progressive rock group, Guapo, for whom I play guitar and co-write. We’re just about to record a new album. In addition to that I do various playing/ co-composing/ sessioning etc. with the likes of Bob Drake, Karda Estra and Mediaeval Baebes. I also have a record label Believers Roast which, in addition to my own music, has released recordings by Redbus Noface, The Gasman and soon Thumpermonkey and Stars In Battledress.
Phil: Well it seems that your Knifeworld project and musical escapades should be the subject of a whole separate interview in dprp… You happy to arrange that for some time in the future?
KT: Absolutely. We have a new EP, Clairvoyant Fortnight, coming out at the end of May/ early June. Perhaps we can sort something to tie in with that?
Phil: Yeah OK sounds like a plan… So How do you two know each other? And how did you come to doing a radio show together?
SD: I will let Kavus answer that one.
KT: We actually met at a Magma gig in Paris. It was during the month they were playing the Mythes Et Legendes shows at the Triton. My wife and I had booked tickets for a few shows and we started chatting at that and hit it off straight away. Steve had me as a guest on the show a little while later and I think we agreed it was such great fun that we should do it again. This turned into the regular thing that we have now.
Phil: I think it’s great how you both seem so chaotic but fluid in the way you run with what you play in your show? Is it a case of well-planned chaos? (laughing)
Phil: Steve… How long have you been a fan of Prog ?
SD: I suppose it was part of my youth so I’ve had the sounds of Magma, Gentle Giant and All the Canterbury bands floating around in my head since about 1972
Phil: Do you class actually yourseves as Prog fans or do you prefer to be known as music fans?
SD: In some ways the word “Prog” seems very restrictive. I don’t feel that “Prog” fans necessarily will like Henry Cow or even Gentle Giant. So there are many Prog fans who have totally different listening habits to mine and therefore you could argue that there is another Genre that is out there. On the positive side though, it is good to have the term “Prog” out there because it does prepare the ground for the fact that what you may hear is going to be somewhat different from the norm.
KT: I agree. I like tunes. I’m not bothered about genre at all, nor what technique or instruments were specifically used to create a piece of music. Music’s like alchemy or voodoo or something. When it’s right it can create a real change in the listener, regardless of the process behind the end result. It’s the closest thing we have to magic. There’s terrific, unique and otherworldly and conversely there’s uninspired, rank and dreary music in every genre. To restrict oneself to a particular one seems such a shame, like a waste of ears
Phil: I must admit I’m not a fan of music ‘genre labels’ from the point of view in that you ‘must seem’ to comply and fit in with a certain music style or people that follow it. As far as I’m concerned ‘I like what I like’ but people want pigeon holes to allocate people/artists to. I know from a marketing and targeting point of view you do need it but lots of people get too hung up on it. What’s your view on this?
SD: Genres are like women. “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em!”
KT: It’s funny how many folks tie themselves and remain completely loyal to them (genres, not women. Although…!!??!!) (laughing)
Phil: If I’m not mistaken Steve you follow a lot of Jazz music and stuff that’s considered a bit Psychedelic? (There are a lot of crossovers between Prog and Jazz)
Phil: Are you an avid collector of music? From what I can tell you seem to champion new or lesser known artists?
SD: I think we all like to discover new music and Artists however it’s not difficult doing my radio show to find undiscovered bands as to some degree they are ALL undiscovered!
Phil: What was the first album or band that really took your interest?
SD: If we are talking during the 70’s then it was probably Gentle Giant followed up very quickly by Magma.
If we are talking since I’ve been doing the Interesting Alternative Show I think that it would be hard and unfair to pick a winner. There is so much new stuff out there let alone the swathe of music that I missed out on as I went through the 80 and 90’s exclusively listening to Soul Music
Phil: Can you give us some examples of recent acquisitions you have made to your music collection? Stuff we would hopefully know and maybe stuff we might not?
SD: I would say that since Kavus Torabi (Cardiacs, Guapo and Knifeworld) has become my “partner in crime” (on the Interesting Alternative Show – Phoenix Radio) I would have to say that he has introduced my ears to so much new music. Many of the Cardiacs related bands are superb. William D Drake, Stars In Battledress, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Redbus Noface, Arch Garrison and of course Knifeworld. I’ve been lucky enough to bump into some great British bands recently. Sanguine Hum, Diagonal, Trojan Horse, Max Tundra, Karda Estra .. actually the list goes on and on, however none of them would I put into the genre “Prog”
Phil: Magma… you paid for them to come to the UK and gig once why not just jump on a plane and go and see them?
SD: OK, you’ve spotted a flaw in my thinking process during that period! I’ve got a feeling (trying to remember back) that it just didn’t occur to me! I’d just bought an LP in 1987 that I stumbled upon in Virgin Records Oxford Street. “Christian Vander” it said on the sleeve, as well as the words “Offering”. It sounded like a softer version of Magma and a bit Jazzier. I thought it was great and also I was delighted that Magma were still alive and kicking. I was so smitten with the LP that it inspired me to phone up a few old friends and perhaps track down the band and invite them to once again play in London. Little did I know that at the time Christian Vander had put Magma into stasis and was concentrating on his John Coltrane inspired band Offering. After contacting them and setting up the concert it was a bit of a shock to find that there were 14 members in the band and actually the band wasn’t Magma but regardless of those blips the concerts were fantastic fun. The fact that they were still touring in France went completely unnoticed to me and also the fact that I could have saved a few quid was totally irrelevant.
Phil: Prog is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, which is great, what is your view on why that is?
SD: Yes it does seem to be less embarrassing to call yourself a Prog fan these days! I suppose it’s down to the Internet and also the age of the original fans who have now reached a period of their life where they are in the throws of their second childhood. Seriously though there is probably something to be said for revisiting the music of your youth. It was probably a happy time for most people and also the music is hard wired into the brain. It is also bloody good music and the genre had (and continues to have) a multitude of brilliant artists who’re probably more inventive than any other genre you care to mention.
Phil: I think the scene needs to attract a lot more young people to survive though. Many of the gigs I go to I notice most of the fans of this varied music scene are middle aged. Without youth injection to help it along it will fizzle out in the next 10 to 15 years or so. Any ideas how the varied music boundaries of Prog Rock can exposed to a younger audience?
SD: Nope! Sorry!!
KT: Again, I think this is only music that comes under the banner of ‘Prog’ for which I suppose there’s a specific ‘scene’. Like genres, I have no time for scenes either! There has always been and will be an audience for complex, far-reaching and inventive music using more involved time signatures, chords, and structures etc. In the last few years alone we’ve had Shudder To Think, Squarepusher, Don Caballero, Michael Riessler, Deerhoof, Aphex Twin, Extra Life, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Autechre, Max Tundra, Jaga Jazzist to name just a fraction. If the snobs still hung up on Mellotrons and dreary airbrushed sleeves won’t acknowledge it as Prog then the scene may well fizzle out.
There seems to be rather a lot of these groups that pretend they’re from the old days, not only in Prog either. In Heavy Metal there’s bands trying to sound like they’re from the NWOBHM and there’s a big audience for that. In the mainstram we’ve had this glut of stuff trying to sound like Joy Division or Depeche Mode. I’m not remotely interested, glorified tribute bands them all as far as I’m concerned.
My heart sinks when I read interviews with bands going on about how they’ve only used vintage instruments or microphones or whatever on their new record. So what? Like that’s what made those old records good? A band or a record or an MP3 or whatever stands or falls by the tunes. Of course I care about ‘the sound’ of something but Jesus, the way these bands wear ‘vintage equipment’ as a badge of honour. Why would you want to inhabit a territiry mapped out by someone else? Where’s the fun or adventure in that?
As for unique, non-derivative and original music…someone will always be making it, just as the likes of those bands from the 70s that so many people try to copy were at the time. Whether it is called Prog or not is unimportant. The difference is, I suppose, that some of those bands from back then not only made a living out of it but actually managed to become fairly famous and wealthy from it at the time. Very little has changed though, the stuff I tend to like has almost always been relatively obscure.
Phil: Tell us a bit about your radio show at Phoenix Radio?
SD: Phoenix FM finally managed to get a full time license as a community radio station in the Brentwood and Billericay district of Essex a few years back and at the time I was doing a Soul Show for the occasional month we could get on air. When we went full time I decided that I wanted to do something far more radical. I asked for the Monday evening graveyard shift (10-12 midnight) and off I went. It’s probably easiest to take a look at the playlists to get a feel for what we now play. There are a few shows that are downloadable, especially when we have a guest in.
Phil: Steve you were also asked to stand in for Jarvis Cocker on radio 6… how did that come about?
SD: Not sure really, other that Jarvis was going back on the road with his band Pulp and needed to find a solution. A few celebs were asked if they would fancy a one off and a few agreed. I think I was on the shortlist because they thought I was a massive Northern Soul fan. I don’t really think that they were expecting a show that was more similar to Stuart Marconie’s Freak Show than a trip down Motown Memory lane!
Phil: Do you ever manage to get out to gigs?? If so who have you been to see most recently?
SD: Best gig I’ve seen recently was the one Kavus put on in London. All his friends (many of the names I’ve already mentioned) turned up and played. To finance the gig Kavus put out a limited edition various Artists CD called Believers Roast “The Central Element”. All the artists supplied one track and they are (as I speak) only available via that CD.
Magma Gigs are still brilliant and I’ve been to France (now I know where it is located) on many occasions to see them.
As far as actual Prog is concerned I’ve been to the High Voltage Festival for the last two years and it was great to see Dweezil Zappa perform live and also watch Pye Hasting and Geoff Richardson take to the stage to play a few old favourites.
KT: I’ve been stupidly busy with this Knifeworld EP but I did see Field Music a few weeks back and they were absolutely magnificent. One of the best bands in the UK, I reckon.
Phil: Who would you really like to see but not managed to yet?
SD: Too many to name but I suppose for a Gentle Giant reunion I would fly around the world to bear witness
KT: One band off the top of my head? Cheer Accident.
Phil: Steve do you still have the means to play vinyl? If so do you still play them?
SD: Yes I’m a big collector and it’s interesting to see the prices go through the roof of Prog stuff. Of course the big money is in the first Issues but regardless I will always seek out the Vinyl over CD
Phil: One simple question… mp3 or CD? And please elaborate on why.
SD: I feel like I need to “own” something so it’s CD by a mile. It will be interesting though once they start issuing music in 24/196 format
Phil: Finally, and something I like to pose to all my interviewees as a bit of fun, do you know who in music (or maybe otherwise) you share your birthday with? Would you like to comment?
Steve’s birthday: 22nd August 1957
Shares with: John Lee Hooker (1917) Blues Guitarist; Lex Humphries (1936) Jazz Drummer; Frank Marino (1954) – Mahogony Rush; Ian Mitchell (1958) Guitarist with Bay City Rollers; Tori Amos (1963); Layne Staley (1967 – 2002) Singer with Alice in Chains
SD: Interesting!!! Also the birthday of Claude Debussy but far more impressive than that is it is the date of the first sighting of the loch Ness Monster and Rhodesia was expelled by the IOC for its racist policies
Kavus Birthday: 5th Dec 1971
Shares with: Ronnie O’Sullivan – Snooker player (1975), Phil Collen – Def Leppard (1957),
Walt Disney (1901), Johnny Rzeznik – Goo Goo Dolls (1965), Tele Savalas – Actor – Kojak (1926)
KT: I knew Walt Disney and was very pleased to discover Ronnie recently. I think The Beatles may have signed their first record deal on that day too. Good to find out about Terry Savalas though.
Phil: Thanks guys for taking the time to talk to myself and dprp and we wish you every further success in music and snooker.
SD: Keep up the great work!
KT: Thanks and hope to talk again soon about Knifeworld.