It has been a traumatic year for English prog rock band Galahad following the tragic, early death from cancer of their bass player Neil Pepper last September, he was just 44 years old.
But the band has bounced back with the release last month of its new album Battle Scars and a second, Beyond Realms of Euphoria, due out in September.
Formed in 1985, the ensuing 27 years have seen Galahad release 16 albums, sell tens of thousands of copies and play gigs in twelve different countries.
This year is shaping up to be a busy one for the band, so DPRP’s Alison Henderson spent the day talking all things music with Galahad’s lead singer Stu Nicholson; hearing all about his quest to get people dancing at Prog gigs and even discovering how he once caught sight of Mrs Robert Fripp’s underwear.
It must have been an incredibly difficult time for you, Spencer Luckman, Dean Baker and Roy Keyworth. How have you all managed to cope with Neil’s death?
Stu: It has been a weird process coming to terms with it all. However, the really wonderful thing is that we managed to get all the recording done for both albums with Neil. The last time I saw him was at our recording studios, so it is a really nice memory to have of him, but at the same time the irony is that when he rejoined the band three years ago he was so enthusiastic about it all.
So, is this the band now turning a tragedy into a triumph?
Stu: We really made a conscious decision that this was the way we wanted to do it and that we would promote and sell the album – available on both CD and vinyl – through our own website. Because I am self-employed, I have been able to devote a certain amount of time doing this work while my wife Lin is Galahad’s administrator. It is very much a cottage industry but I think this is very much the case with quite a few bands these days.
From what I have seen so far, reaction to Battle Scars has been very positive. This must have made it all worthwhile for you.
Stu: Very much so. About 95 per cent of the reaction so far in the music press, fanzines and online music sites has been fantastic. The only negative comments we have had are from people criticising the CD for sounding too modern, with too many influences, would you believe! The strange thing is we have never been signed to a major record company, but still we have sold aconsiderable number of albums in at least 50 countries which is amazing and something which we are very proud of.
Tell us more about the album and what you wanted to achieve with it.
Stu: There were so many influences which went into it. I am a great fan of modern bands like Rammstein, System of a Down, Muse and Faithless, so we deliberately wanted to create an album which was modern and contemporary sounding and which pushed a few boundaries but still contained ‘progressive’ elements and which still sounds like a Galahad album.
When we first started in 1985, we were pilloried for sounding like Genesis and the like, but that was a long time ago. We were very young then and you tend to wear your musical influences much more transparently when you are younger, plus a lot of music has flowed under the proverbial bridge since those days and I think the band sound has changed a lot over the years. The hardest job is convincing people that this is the case, but we believe that each album we release is a progression on the last in the true sense of the word.
One of the things I really liked about Battle Scars is the production. Tell us more about that.
Stu: Both Battle Scars and Beyond the Realms of Euphoria have been engineered and co-produced by Karl Groom who was also behind our Empires Never Last album. It is so helpful that he is also a guitarist (with Threshold) as he really understands what we want and has a terrific empathy, and can come up with ideas which he thinks may enhance the sound. I think he has done a brilliant job as he has captured what I would call the ‘Galahad sound’.
What else would you say is different about it?
Stu: Well, most of the songs are quite short, and I would also say there is a great deal of light and shade. One theme is about those people who you occasionally meet in life who cause you aggravation and much of it is to do with them distorting the truth. It is something I guess we all have to deal with at one time or another.
Obviously Neil’s situation made it all the more emotional and two of the songs revolve around this. The others are quite reflective and we ended on a high note with Seize the Day which looks to a brighter future. We did discuss the songs with Neil of course and he was quite happy for us to say whatever we wanted in the lyrics; that in itself shows the huge part he played.
Of course, there are the modern sounds in there too and we will be doing more of the same for Beyond the Realms of Euphoria which will be a much more colourful sounding album.
The other reason for doing it is we would love to see more people dancing at our gigs! Who knows, it could catch on!
While we are talking about inspiration behind songs, I worked with someone who became the subject of Perfection Personnified. It did not matter what you had done or where you had been, he had always done something or been somewhere better, he did actually hear the song and the album and to this day, he still does not realise it is him I am singing about. I think that is so funny.
Who else do you like in the current crop of prog and rock bands?
Stu: Definitely Rammstein and also what Greg Spawton of Big Big Train is doing.
Funny you should mention him because you are very much near neighbours down here on the south coast near Bournemouth. In fact, this area is quite a fertile ground for rock legends.
Stu:: Indeed, Greg Lake was from just up the road in Parkstone, Al Stewart is also local though he spends most of his time now in the USA and of course, Robert Fripp was just up the road until recently.
What is more, we recorded most of Sleepers at Robert’s old house in Cranborne, Dorset – and I don’t know if I should be telling you this but the mother of a friend of mine lived next door to Robert Fripp’s late mum, Edie, in Wimborne. We went around to meet her one day and we noticed some clothes, including underwear in a laundry basket in her kitchen. She told us she did all the washing and ironing for her son and his wife, Toyah Willcox. The last time I heard, they were living in Worcester, closer to where she originally comes from.
So is it time for Galahad to shake off the past now musically speaking?
Stu: Very much so. It is funny because we formed in 1985 around about the time bands like It Bites, Twelfth Night and IQ were coming to the fore, except we were just a little bit later. Saying that, it took us until 1991 to put out our first album, Nothing is Written!
Having said that, we did acknowledge our past on Battle Scars by including a bonus track, a 2012 version of Sleepers, which first came out in 1995. We shall do the same for Beyond the Realms of Euphoria with Richelieu’s Prayer from the first album.
I believe among the live dates you are playing this year, there will be one in the Netherlands. Where will this be and what other gigs do you have lined up.
Stu: Indeed, we will be playing at the Progmotion Festival at De Pul, Uden, on September 1 with Wolverine and Minor Giant. Btt first of all, we will be playing a warm-up gig at a local pub, The Thomas Tripp in Christchurch, before coming over for the festival.
After that, we will be launching Beyond the Realms of Euphoria in the House of Progression at the Peel in Kingston-upon-Thames in London. Then, I am helping to organise an inaugural prog festival at Mr Kyps in Poole on Saturday October 15 where Galahad will be playing along with The Cryptic Clues, which is effectively Twelfth Night, the Paul Menel Band – Paul having been singer with IQ, and Alan Reed who was with Pallas.
Then we shall be at Danfest 2 on November 24 at The Musician in Leicester with Also Eden, Konchordat, The Gift and a couple of other bands.
Although we had said we would carry on as a four piece after Neil’s death, Mark Spencer of Twelfth Night will be joining us for these dates. But before all of that, Roy and Dean will be playing as part of Twelfth Night at the Peel on Sunday June 3.
So it sounds as though the Galahad days of Genesis and Marillion – and any accusations of you sounding like that are long behind you now.
Stu: I hope so! In all honesty, we moved on from that years ago, probably around the time of Following Ghosts in 1998 when we started experimenting with break beats. But Battle Scars deliberately takes us even further away from what many perceive is being traditional prog rock – and also away from the dreaded neo-prog tag in my humble opinion!
But we all have to move on musically. Perhaps, what brought it home to me the most was when I was down in Bristol to see the Genesis tribute band, The Musical Box. To my amazement, Peter Gabriel walked in and stayed for the set. I did actually turn to him for his view afterwards to which he replied: “That was quite strange watching me 30 years ago only thinner.”
Thank you so much Stu for talking to us and we wish you every success with the albums and the live gigs later on this year.
To order a copy of Battle Scars or to find out more about what Galahad are up to, go to: www.galahadonline.com