INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS FRY
BY DPRP’S BOB MULVEY
In March this year Chris Fry, known to many through his work with Magenta, released his first solo album. Composed is predominently an acoustic guitar album, although throughout the eleven tracks he is joined by violinist Emily Travis and fellow Magenta band member Rob Reed who adds some string arrangements to a few tracks. As Chris seldom undertakes interviews I took this rare opportunity to ask him some questions about his solo work.
BOB: Hi Chris many thanks for taking the time to talk to our DPRP Readers …
CHRIS: It’s a pleasure and thanks for your support.
BOB: Before we start can I just say how much I’ve enjoyed listening to your first solo album “Composed” which came out at the end of March – you must be extremely pleased with the end result?
CHRIS: Thanks, I’m glad you like it. I’m very pleased – Dan did a great job of capturing the performances and as a first venture into a solo recording I’m happy with it.
BOB: You obviously have a passion for the acoustic guitar – and I’ve read that you started out playing classical guitar and hold a Diploma of Licentiate from the London College of Music. Was there a point when you switched from classical to electric guitar, or have you always run the two together?
CHRIS: I’ve always played both – I enjoy the energy electric guitar and all that goes with it – playing in a band and the sound of the amp and experimenting with effects etc. but also the classical guitar where you are in control of the whole arrangement within your fingers – it can be hard work but very rewarding.
BOB: When you first muted the idea of a solo project was it always your intention to do an acoustic release?
CHRIS: Yes, originally it was going to be an album of pieces from the Spanish guitar repertoire but there are already lots of great recordings available so I thought it would be nice to try to write some original tunes – I had being doing some gigs with Dan and we were having fun playing cover songs in the Guitar Trio style so it felt natural to write that way.
BOB: There are a couple of tracks that I think lend themselves to a full band arrangement? So did it ever cross your mind to make “Composed” a band project – by this I mean introducing a full band and adding electric guitar?
CHRIS: It was always intended to be an acoustic based album – I felt that the electric side is documented enough on Magenta albums so wanted to put something out that showed the acoustic side of my playing – also, as mentioned above, it was intended to be a classical guitar album from the start so I guess acoustic sounds were in my head.
I know what you mean though with regards to a band arrangement – Secret Garden, for instance, was intentionally written with a ‘band’ feel in the style of Magenta ‘Seven’ that I wanted to capture on 2 acoustic guitars. There is one tiny little bit of electric guitar on the album though – the last minute!
BOB: Can you tell us a little about the tracks on the album? I was wondering if they were all written specifically for “Composed” or were some pieces written over a longer period and perhaps modified or rearranged for this album?
CHRIS: All the tracks were written for the album – although it took a long time to get around to recording it! Most were written with the duo arrangements in mind as Dan and I have played a few of them live. The tracks with strings on them were written that way originally – writing parts in Sibelius (score writing software) and trying to recreate them live with the synth guitar. There were parts that were added as the recording was taking shape, for instance; ‘Prelude’ was written as I wanted something that could settle us down in a live setting – as we usually start a gig with Diablo 21 and it’s a bit ‘busy’ without a bit of a warm up. The Bach lute suites have Preludes that would warm up the player before launching into a Fugue etc. so that was the idea behind that.
Spain originally didn’t have the violin melody in the chorus but I always felt it was just a ‘riff’ that needed a ‘tune’ over it – so back to Sibelius and into the hands of Emily. I do miss that phrase if we have no violin for gigs.
Parachutes always had a ‘hole’ in the middle and we would always ‘gloss’ over it in gigs so I wrote the string quartet break to give the ears a rest from the guitars for a few bars!
I also borrowed Rob Reed’s 12 string for the recording and he threw in his Mandolin for good measure so that ended up on a few bits too.
BOB: Can you talk about your influences and inspirations on “Composed”
CHRIS: Oh gosh! Big inspiration is the McLaughlin/ Di Meola/ De Lucia trio stuff – the Friday Night and Passion Grace and Fire albums are amazing! The virtuosity combined with a rock attitude on acoustics – fantastic. Also as part of the same ‘family tree’ I suppose – The Mahavishnu Orchestra – The chord structures/arrangements/ melodies are truly from another planet!!! ‘Down’ originated as trying to write a tune like ‘Hope’ with that spiraling chord changes but ended up elsewhere – definitely an influence though.
Julian Bream for pure classical guitar – I have been fortunate to witness a few of his concerts. I also lean more towards the south American guitar writers and players such as Villa Lobos, Baden Powell, Jorge Morel and Astor Piazzolla whose Verano Porteno I put on the album.
I also like score composers like John Barry, Ennio Moriconne and James Newton Howard. Shadow Dancer started off in a Piazzolla style but turned into more of a soundtrack type of tune.
BOB: I note that you also perform as part of a guitar duo, playing Spanish, Latin American and Gypsy Jazz – who is the other part of the duo and how much influence has your playing here influenced “Composed”?
CHRIS: Andy Mulligan is the other half – he is also a member of the choir ‘Only Men Aloud’ who have had big success in the UK. He is also a guitarist who plays electric and classical so we like to perform duo pieces from the guitar repertoire but then have fun with some lighter Django type stuff too where we can improvise a bit. I guess this side of playing must influence ‘Composed’ along the way.
BOB: Emily Travis is delightful on the album… can you tell us about her involvement?
CHRIS: Emily is someone that Dan knew as she has played on his MLE project – she is great fun to work with and has a good ear for the style of the songs. It would be great to do some gigs with her along with Dan – she has had a lot of experience playing in bands as well as the more formal classical setting.
BOB: You’ve enlisted Rob Reed to add orchestrations to some of the tracks – again was this always the intention – or was it something that evolved during the recording?
CHRIS: The orchestrations were written but it was how they were going to be realized was the big question. I would have liked to have real strings for everything but it was down to time, money, availability and the winds blowing in the right direction.
Rob kindly offered his services to programme the parts – and did a great job too. He did add some ‘fairydust’ to make some bits a lot bolder too – Timps, glocks, choir and kitchen sink to the end of Secret Garden for instance! Emily played all violin and some viola parts.
BOB: It’s probably early days yet, but will there be a follow-up solo album do you think?
CHRIS: Yes, I’d like to do another one in the not too distant future – I’d also like to do a few more gigs supporting this one too.
BOB: Is there anyone you would like to collaborate on a future project with?
CHRIS: It would nice to do something with Steve Hackett – he is a great player – maybe I could just strum some chords in the corner and watch and learn? Also Nick Beggs with his Chapman stick – maybe a little trio? I’ve met both and are absolute gentlemen so I know we could at least have a cup of tea and see where it goes from there.
BOB: Who are you currently listening to?
CHRIS: On the prog front I’ve got the new Squackett album and the Rush album – both sound great. Also revisiting Map of the Past by It Bites – they always deliver some good songs.
BOB: If you could pick – which are your five all time favourite albums and why?
CHRIS: This is tough!
Jimi Hendrix – Everything
The Guitar Trio – Passion Grace and Fire
Ennio Morricone – Theme from Once Upon A Time In America
Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire, Apocolypse, Visions of the Emerald Beyond
Yes – Relayer, Drama
Sorry I cheated – we’re all different and this just some music that really does it for me!
BOB: Many thanks Chris for taking the time to answer our questions ….