Interview with Paul Charles
DPRP’s Basil Francis
Hailing from Northern Ireland, Fruupp are one of the most astonishing overlooked bands of the 70s, seamlessly fusing progressive rock with many other influences whilst remaining highly original in their output. Between 1973 and 1975, the band released four albums, all on Pye‘s progressive Dawn label. With each album, Fruupp explored new territory, and built up an exciting catalogue of well-crafted and highly memorable music. Although not an actual member of the band, Paul Charles was more than just a mere manager for Fruupp, and has an incredibly good memory of the years the band were together.
BF: Hi there Paul, it’s very nice to have you here on DPRP.net. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you meet Fruupp? Had they already formed when you began managing them?
PC: My then best friend was Vince McCusker and he was in a group called the Blues by Five and I was the manager. I was 15 years old at the time, and I couldn’t sing and I couldn’t play a musical instrument and my dad didn’t have a car to ferry the group and instruments to gigs (the three basic requirements for being in a group in those days) so I couldn’t join the group. Instead, I became the manager to continue to hang out with my friend Vince. When I was 17, I moved to London. The deal was always that Vince would form a group, while I would get them some gigs in London, get a few managers and record companies down to see them, and they would get signed up and go on to fame and fortune, while at the same time I’d continue covering the Irish music scene for papers back home in Ireland. This group became Fruupp and they formed and rehearsed in Belfast and moved to London in July 1971. None of the managers or record companies materialised so by default I became the manager.
BF: I know a lot of our readers will be puzzled by the name ‘Fruupp‘. Can you clear up once and for all how the name is pronounced?
PC: Fruupp to rhyme with cup. The name came, not from the name of a ghost (Fruupp’s Face who haunted their initial rehearsal room) as mentioned in their early bio, but taken instead from letters remaining on an much-used Letraset page and they added an extra U and a P to get FRUUPP. On reflection it was a terrible name for a group. Promoters were always misspelling the name on posters and in adverts. On top of which absolute everyone had trouble pronouncing it. When I do my music-business talks I always use Fruupp as an example on how important it is to get a great name for your group, right from the get-go.
BF: While your official role in the band was ‘manager’, your liner notes to the recent Esoteric reissues reveal that you had far greater responsibilities in the band. Can you outline a few of these responsibilities?
PC: It wasn’t that I had extra responsibilities, it was more that, in those days, you had people who made music and appeared on stage and you had other people (like myself) who helped those people get on stage and helped them find their audience. It was a bit of one for all and all for one and everyone chipped in above and beyond their role. Peter Farrelly for instance did all the early amazing artwork, the first two albums and the famous Fruupp’s face gig posters. I was writing a bit then and wrote the wee stories to link some of the songs for the live show. Vince kindly took some of my lyrics and made them into songs, e.g. ‘Graveyard Epistle’, ‘Wise As Wisdom’, ‘White Eyes’, ‘Three Spires’ and ‘Janet Planet’. We wrote one other song together called ‘Be Glad’ which was never recorded. For the final album Modern Masquerades, I wrote the lyrics for “new boy” John Mason’s fine piece of music and that became ‘Sheba’s Song’, parts of which were used for ‘Soon The New Day’ which appeared on Talib Kweli’s album, Eardrum, which made it to No. 2 on the Billboard top 200 Albums in 2007 and Norah Jones Billboard USA top 20 album, …Featuring in 2010. By the time we started work on the third Fruupp album, we decided instead of writing links to the songs as an after-thought I would write a story and we would base the songs, as a concept album if you will, around that story. The story I came up with was The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes, which also because the title of the album.
BF: On to the first album, 1973’s Future Legends you state in your liner notes that ‘Decision‘ is your favourite Fruupp track. Can you explain just what you like about it?
PC: Decision, to me, is really the best of Fruupp; what Fruupp were always meant to be. It’s a very adventurous piece of music but it works perfectly and I love the way Vince uses the guitar as another voice. In hindsight I would just love for it to have been afforded the production it deserved. Some nights on stage it really took off and I’d be given glimpses of what it could have been, what it should have been.
BF: The Esoteric reissue includes a bonus track ‘On A Clear Day‘ that was used on the first hundred pressings of the album. Subsequently it was withdrawn from the tracklist, despite being one of the best songs on the album. Why was this track removed?
PC: Okay, what happened was that we recorded ‘On A Clear Day‘, co-composed by Stephen Houston & Holst (part of the Planet Suite) nearly 100 years apart. The album was completed, test pressings were being approved when Holst’s people refused permission to Stephen taking a liberty with his work. We hastily returned to Escape Studios in Kent and recorded a popular tune from the live set called ‘Graveyard Epistle’ (a McCusker & Charles song see above). ‘Graveyard Epistle‘ replaced ‘On A Clear Day‘ on the album. There were never any final versions of the album, Future Legends, featuring the track, ‘On A Clear Day‘. Just those initial couple of dozen, while-label, test pressings. Many years later when Holst’s music fell out of copyright we were allowed to use ‘On A Clear Day‘ for the first time and it appeared on the Songs For a Thought Fruupp compilation CD.
BF: Future Legends not only has arguably the best Fruupp album cover, but one of the best album covers in progressive rock! Bassist and lead vocalist Peter Farrelly did the artwork for both this album and Seven Secrets. Was he an artist in his spare time?
PC: Yep. Peter’s magic art is on the first two album sleeves and he also created the art for the famous Fruupp’s Face poster. This Fruupp’s Face was supposedly the face of the ghost who haunted the house in Belfast where they originally rehearsed. Peter also did a beautiful colour version of Fruupp’s face for me which was used on the Songs For A Thought collection CD.
BF: I was wondering if you knew whose idea it was to include the rock ‘n’ roll instrumental in ‘Lord of the Incubus‘. It’s one of my favourite parts of the record!
PC: That would have been Vince. Composition-wise, Vince was beyond his time. He spent a lot of time on his music and would create mini-operas where he’d have the music tell the story just as much as the lyrics. I’ve always thought he’d be perfect composing music for films.
BF: For each album, you wrote a little story, except for The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes, which we’ll come to later. The story on Future Legends is entitled The Tramp and the Priest, and suggests that the album’s tracks are tales from a long forgotten book. Where did you get the inspiration for this story?
PC: With The Tramp and The Priest (the liner notes for Future Legends) I was trying to bind the songs together, give them a theme but at the same time age them. Also I suppose it was also just a longer version of my title, Future Legends.
BF: Why are ‘Lord of the Incubus‘ and ‘Olde Tyme Future‘ the only songs to have lyrics published on the album sleeve?
PC: That’s all there was room for.
BF: Did Fruupp have any influences as a band? Any progressive names?
PC: Yes definitely but that’s probably more a musicians question. I had no involvement whatsoever in the music. Composition-wise, it would have all been down to Vince and Stephen. The one composition Fruupp composed together would have been Prince of Heaven, which was a single about the album but not on it. It’s a brilliant track, I love it!
BF: Let’s now chat about Fruupp’s second album. Seven Secrets was released in 1974 by the Dawn label. The opening track ‘Faced With Shekinah‘ was the first Fruupp track I heard – besides ‘The Seventh Secret’ which we’ll come to later – and remains my favourite song by the band to this day. This track is quite an outlier on the album, as it is significantly heavier than the other songs, and arguably more complex and intricate. What were the influences in this song?
PC: Stephen was a self-confessed classical head and it’s no more evident, to my ears than on this track and ‘On A Clear Day’ and ‘Elizabeth’.
BF: The other tracks are more relaxed and calm, especially the pastoral ‘White Eyes‘ and the sublime ‘Three Spires‘. Was this an artistic move by the band? A breather perhaps after their explosive, bombastic debut?
PC: I’d agree that the overall feel of Seven Secrets is more chilled than Future Legends. The feel would have come from Vince’s very definite style of writing at that time. Also, as a vocalist, Vince is more evident on Seven Secrets.
BF: Talking of ‘White Eyes‘, I’d love to know what a Kelpie is, as mentioned in the lyrics.
PC: Kelpie is from Celtic folklore; it’s a supernatural water horse that haunts the rivers and lakes of Ireland.
BF: Both ‘Wise as Wisdom‘ and ‘White Eyes‘ contain long, quiet introduction sections. Any comments on these parts?
PC: Like I mentioned earlier Vince has a talent for making his music very visual. With ‘Wise as Wisdom’, I believe, when I started to write the lyrics, it was going to be several verses long but when I finished the first verse, which would in fact turn out to be the only verse, I felt that was all I wanted to say, all I could say. Vince told the rest of the story with his beautiful music. I feel it helped that Vince also knew who I’d been writing about in the lyric.
BF: While I don’t usually find lyrics especially interesting, I must say that the lyrics of ‘Three Spires’ are absolutely beautiful, yet at the same time enigmatic. I don’t even mind that the chorus takes up the second half of the song. Any idea on what these lyrics mean?
PC: Thank you so much. The lyrics are about the same lady as the one in ‘Wise As Wisdom‘ and marks the time I returned to my hometown only to discover that it was no longer my hometown and people and situations had changed. I set out to celebrate several shared memories to help deal with the loss of a love.
BF :Who plays the strings on ‘Elizabeth‘? It’s yet another sublime piece, with an absolutely superb melody. I’m pretty sure Dream Theater stole the descending chord theme from this track on ‘Vacant‘ from their album Train of Thought.
PC: Michael Rennie and The Future Legends strings led and arranged by Stephen Houston.
BF: The last track, ‘The Seventh Secret’, is a short piece consisting of a folky Irish poem. Who had the idea to do this? Who reads the poem?
PC: Again I had come up with the title Seven Secrets for the album. We had six pieces of music and Vince duly wrote the Seventh Secret in the studio to tie it all together for us. Stephen read the poem.
BF: ‘The Seventh Secret’ is also included on the recent 4CD progressive rock compilation Wondrous Stories, despite the fact that it clearly isn’t representative of the band as a whole. Do you have any idea why this track was chosen ahead of better songs like ‘Decision‘?
PC: I agree with you, it was totally the wrong piece to put on that sample compilation, on any sampler compilation in fact. I’d have to assume that it was a ‘length of time available’ issue but if they’d only made the call we could have come up with several suggestions to accommodate their time restraints.
BF: Your story on the cover of this album is titled ‘The Planet Suite‘. Any hints on the meaning of your piece?
PC: It’s my description of the four individual musicians in Fruupp.
BF: What’s your favourite track from this album?
BF: Later in the same year, The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes was released by Dawn. On top of an ambiguously pronounced band title, you now had an album title with ambiguous meaning. After all, it could be the Prince that belonged to Heaven’s Eyes or it could be the Eyes that belonged to the Prince of Heaven. While I’m 90% sure it’s the latter, can you verify this, and can you also explain why his eyes are the subject of the title.
PC: The eyes belong to the Prince of Heaven and it comes from the fact that when I was growing up I always felt that a rainbow looked like the eyelid of the Almighty, whomever you Almighty might be.
BF: With the other albums, you wrote a short story, but with the purchase of this album, the reader received a free novella, written by yourself, which told the story of Mud Flanigan. How long did it take you to write this story? Is Mud the Prince of Heaven in this tale?
PC: It didn’t take long to write The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes. Again, as a kid I’d always been intrigued about the legend that there is a pot of gold buried at the end of the rainbow and I’d always wondered about where the legend came from so in lieu of an answer I came up with my own. Mud is not the Prince of Heaven he’s just someone who discovered that the journey is more important that the destination. This story has just been published as an e-book. It’s the first time it’s been available as a novella since the album was released in 1974.
BF: The album by Fruupp was then to be a concept album that revolved around Mud and his adventures. How closely do you feel that the album stays to your story?
PC: I think Stephen and Vince nailed the story perfectly with their songs and the band delivered an amazing version of it.
BF: On the latest reissue by Esoteric, the track times of the second half of the album are not quite right, the confusion being caused by the fact that ‘Knowing You’ segues straight into ‘Crystal Brook‘ and that ‘The Perfect Wish‘ has two seperate halves. How does this make you feel?
PC: I’m totally fine with it. The music was written, recorded and sequenced so that it would work as a live performance interspersed with some spoken word links effects and what have you.
BF: ‘It’s All Up Now’ has a beautiful introduction sequence, reminiscent of a musical. Were there any specific influences for this track?
PC: A question for Stephen but as you suggest it is a beautiful introduction to the album (and the live show). This was a very popular song in the live show.
BF: Either I can’t hear right or Farrelly is inaudible, but I’m pretty sure I hear the lyric ‘Killarney hasn’t changed’ in the first verse. What does this mean?
PC: It’s a place in Ireland where Stephen used to holiday in his youth.
BF: I detect a classical theme in the centre of ‘Annie Austere’ played on the organ and guitar, but I cannot place the original. Can you help me clear this up?
PC: A question for Stephen but it sounds like a Bach influence to me.
BF: ‘Seaward Sunset’ is a beautiful, yet different track. Who wrote this piece?
PC: This is a one of Stephen’s six songs on the album. I agree it is beautiful and perfectly paints the picture of Mud’s visions at that part in the story.
BF: Why exactly is ‘The Perfect Wish’ split in two halves? I adore this song to bits, and the outro is beautifully executed. However, I can’t help feeling that the guitar solo is a little low in the mix, and isn’t quite as powerful as it should be. Would you agree?
PC: ‘The Perfect Wish’ was originally two songs written by Stephen, ‘The Clearing Shower’ and ‘Giants Causeway’. During the recording process they became one majestic piece. ‘The Perfect Wish’ turned out to be the perfect way to complete the album and the live show. The mix of this track has never been a problem to me.
BF: The inner gatefold shows a beautiful lake, which I can only assume is in Ireland somewhere. Can you give away its location?
PC: The inside of the gatefold is a photograph taken by Brian Lynch. The location is Killarney.
BF: We now move on to Fruupp’s fourth and final album, Modern Masquerades . This was quite a different album, as keys man Stephen Houston left the fold to be replaced by John Mason. Any notes on Stephen’s leaving the band?
PC: I believe no one had a problem with Stephen wanting to leave the group. I also think it would be fair to say that we were all extremely disappointed in the way he did so. You can find out about it in my liner notes to Esoteric’s reissue of Modern Masquerades.
BF: My favourite track from this album has to be the loungey ‘Gormenghast’, based on the novels by Mervyn Peake. What were the influences for this track?
PC: That would be a question for “new boy” John Mason but he did love his jazz albums.
BF: This album was produced by former King Crimson member Ian McDonald. What was it like to work with this legendary musician?
PC: Working with Ian was great. He was always very honest, had a great sense of humour, industrious, never made false promises, had a lot of energy and, most importantly, delivered. He wasn’t a big fan of the band’s equipment though. As well as his excellent production work, he played some beautiful saxophone parts on Gormenghast.
BF: What’s your favourite track from this album, and why?
PC: My favourite tracks on this album would have to be ‘Misty Morning Way’, ‘Masquerading With Dawn’ and ‘Mystery Might’, all by Vince and all, in my opinion, hinting at a very exciting musical development for Fruupp. The early work on what was going to be the fifth Fruupp album, The Flight Of the Dove, was definitely going in the direction of the above three songs. The album was going to be another concept album based on a story of mine called The Flight of the Dove and the songs were to be set against the music of the ‘1812 Overture‘… yes that 1812 Overture! Adventurous? Most certainly, but the demos clearly showed it was going to be mighty.
BF: Do you think the demos will ever see the light of day?
PC: There’s a reel to reel tape somewhere with a rehearsal room performance of The Flight Of the Dove (the alternate name was Doctor Wilde’s Twilight Adventure) from beginning to end. The track listing is:
1. Ulster 1676
3. Journey Thro the Night
4. Louise to Solitaire
5. May Day Fair
6. Autumn Leaves
1. Sonny’s Serenade
2. Evil Wins
3. Queen Golden Eyes
4. The Baron’s Castle
5. The Twilight Adventure
6. Our Lost Felicity
7. The Flight Of the Dove.
I haven’t see the tape in years so the question is not: will it ever see the (public) light of day but: will I ever be able to put my hands on it?
BF: All those tracks on one album! They must be quite short.
PC: Well it was kind of two long tracks; one with 6 parts (on side one) and the other one with 7 parts (on side two) all linked into the 1812 Overture.
BF: Any notes on the short story included on the reverse of Modern Masquerades, titled ‘A Theme for Young Masqueraders‘?
PC: The short story on the album sleeve was inspired by the painting on the front of the sleeve and the translation of words in Irish at the end of the story is: “For best results please play this album loud and as often as possible.”
BF: Being with the Dawn label, I wonder if Fruupp ever got to meet or play with the obscure but brilliant band Jonesy.
PC: Yes I knew Jonesy quite well; I remember getting gigs for them.
BF: How come Fruupp split up in the end?
PC: In my opinion Fruupp split for two reasons. One: Stephen left. And Two: the birth of the punk movement made it very difficult for all acts who hadn’t achieved a degree of commercial success by that point.
BF: What have the band members and yourself been up to since then?
PC: Vince plays around and is a very successful guitar tutor. Martin has played in local bands and is on YouTube. I haven’t heard of or from Peter since but I believe he was doing some incredible art with glass. Stephen joined the ministry. I’ve been continuing in the music business and writing – full details available on my web site, www.paulcharlesbooks.com.
BF: Has there ever been speak of a reunion? If not, why not?
PC: I believe Stephen was trying to raise that particular flag a few years ago. Personally I don’t see it ever flying.
BF: How happy are you with the Esoteric reissues in general?
PC: Yes, very happy. I’m still disappointed with the use of ‘The Seventh Secret’ on the Wondrous Stories compilation instead of something more appropriate like, as you suggested, ‘Decision’.
BF: Thank you Paul, it’s been a pleasure to interview you.