Interview with Lifesigns
DPRP’s Alison Henderson
As this year promises to be another tremendous one for prog, one of the first releases of 2013 this month (January) will be Lifesigns. This is a project which brings together John Young, Nick Beggs and Frosty Beedle along with four distinguished guest artists on the album. The music has been written by John Young, the classically-trained keyboards player, singer and composer, whose CV is one of the most illustrious in rock, (Scorpions, Strawbs, Asia, Fish, Greenslade, Uli Jon Roth). Joining him is Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman stick & vox), former art student, erstwhile Kajagoogoo member and now the bass player of choice for both Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson. He has also worked with many top artists from Robert Fripp to Iona, John Paul Jones to Steve Howe and most recently, he went on tour to South America with Rick Wakeman. The third and fourth members of the band are Frosty Beedle, drummer with the Cutting Crew and also sound engineer Steve Rispin based at Liscombe Park Studios in the Buckinghamshire countryside where the album was recorded. With John touring of late with his own John Young Band, the Strawbs and Bonnie Tyler, and Nick out on the road with Messrs Hackett and Wilson – and Kim Wilde, they have been working on Lifesigns on and off between their other time-consuming commitments; and now, the final result is ready for release.
Last year, DPRP’s Alison Henderson journeyed to Leighton Buzzard and the studio to talk to John, Nick and Frosty and was privileged to hear a very early mix of Lifesigns last January, then the final version last month (December). Here follows some of the extracts of the conversations that ensued with the three of them during the two meetings that explain how the Lifesigns project came about and what we can expect.
Alison Henderson: My first impression, I have to say, is that this is going to be one of the “must have” prog albums of the year. The early mix was impressive enough but this final version sounds simply mind-blowing.
John Young: Thanks, Alison. You never know how people are going to react to music. We have been so close to it for so long that it is always great to get another opinion, especially such a positive one. I often wonder what it must be like to listen to it with fresh ears. I have to say I am thrilled with the way it has turned out.
Alison Henderson: What strikes you first is how atmospheric it is especially the wall of sound on the opener Lighthouse. When did you first start work on it?
John Young: It was an idea which came to me about five years ago. In all the time I have been touring with my own band and others, I had never done a prog album so it was a conscious decision to write one and let the prog out… so to speak. However, it really began in my old house where Steve Rispin, our much-esteemed sound engineer and producer lived next door. I started writing pieces and used to bang on his door at 2 am and say “listen to this Steve!” Nick and Frosty then joined in about two and a half years ago and helped me to take it so much further and really explore its full potential.
Nick Beggs: Originally, we shared ideas on disc and then we moved on to internet file-sharing. John then moved to Leighton Buzzard, not to be closer to me I hasten to add, but it did make the process much easier.
Alison: So in essence, what is the album about?
John Young: It has been deliberately written in a way so that each individual listener can find his or her own interpretation, but generally, it contains all the big themes, questioning why we are here and about our lives, past, present and future. It is all set in a fairground with different rides taking us through aspects of our existence. For example, one of the tracks is about a Carousel on which we can travel backwards to regress to past lives and move forward to future ones.
Nick Beggs: Above all, we wanted to make a record which is representative of the band’s friendship and we hope the way we synergise comes across in it.
John Young: The most remarkable part about it is I feel as though it was in some way “given” to me. It evolved from a basic concept and when I invited Nick and Frosty to come on board, the fairground idea came about which then divided itself quite organically into five tracks. From then on, it seemed to conjoin and arrange itself all on its own so that it crystallised into what you heard on the very early preview. We then worked on it to take it to the next level. I think it is referred to as channeling which happens with a lot of composers, authors, artists and such like. It was an interesting experience to write something and then listen to it again and again in order to understand it.
Alison Henderson: You have certainly attracted some Prog royalty to appear on it with you. Tell us about their involvement.
John Young: When you first heard it, we had finished about 85 per cent of it. By then, Steve Hackett had already made a significant contribution. He too heard it and loved it, so instead of sending us one track, he came back with two, lovely man that he is! There were more instrumental passages to fill in so I approached Thijs van Leer who was really taken with the music and agreed to play something on it. He can be heard on Fridge Full of Stars. This is particularly exciting for me as I grew up playing a lot of Focus and they have always been one of my favourite bands. Even more exciting is that two days after the album’s release (January 28), the JYB will be supporting Focus at Islington Assembly Hall in London on Wednesday January 30. That means four of us from the album will be playing together on one stage – Thijs, Frosty and myself, along with Steve who is taking care of the sound. Also on the album is Jakko Jakszyk, who I have always greatly admired and with whom Nick worked on Kompendium’s Beneath the Waves album, and also Robin Boult who is a fabulous guitarist and has also given us some beautiful work on acoustic guitar.
Alison Henderson: And Frosty, what about the part you have played in Lifesigns?
Frosty Beedle: It has been one of the best experiences of my life. It has not come about overnight. It has been incredible to see how it has all evolved over five years, then to be part of the process right up to mixing it and nurturing it to what you heard in the final version. It has been like putting together a musical tapestry and I have been honoured to be a part of it.
Alison Henderson: One thing which has struck me on projects such as Lifesigns is the flexibility that Prog now offers musicians working within it. It appears that everyone is making guest appearances on other people’s albums. Is it all about camaraderie rather than rivalry these days?
Nick Beggs: I think it is because now we are older – and hopefully a little wiser, we all respect each other for our musical abilities.
John Young: The procedure for this album has been extremely democratic that said if anything had to be put to a vote, we would generally agree nine times out of ten. It’s been a very rewarding process…… and long may that continue!
Alison Henderson: It really sounds as though it has been a labour of love rather than a deliberate attempt to write something commercial.
John Young: Yes agreed, it has not been done with financial gain in mind. I think we just wanted to make something that we are all proud of and that we hope the prog fraternity (and maybe beyond) will enjoy it too. There is still a massive market out there for music in the vein of Yes and Genesis, and with both Steve Hackett and Rick Wakeman issuing re-makes of some of their classic material, now would seem like a good time to release some new product… but that is more luck than judgement.
Alison Henderson: There was a bit of a time lapse between the early preview you gave us and the completion of the album last year.
John Young: Much of it was down to our own personal commitments last year especially touring with our various other musical connections. It also gave us some time to approach a few record labels and we are delighted that Esoteric Records will be putting it on release this month.
Alison Henderson: If I can turn to you, Nick. It has been quite a couple of years for you, playing and recording with Steve Hackett and Steve Wilson, and more latterly with Rick Wakeman. What have been some of your best memories?
Nick Beggs: Actually there was other stuff I also enjoyed greatly throughout last year such as touring with my great friend Kim Wilde, though being with all of them was wonderful. Steve Hackett is such a hero of mine, whose music has always been with me, so every show I played with him is an honour. Whenever we played Spectral Mornings, it felt like ‘the mother ship taking off.’ Having him contribute to the Lifesigns project is just fantastic for all of us. The Steven Wilson tours were tremendous and he has even more things lined up for this year. There’s a new record, tour and planned. Having played live with him, I realised I’ve been waiting 20 years for an artist like him to come along. He represents everything that’s great in English music and makes me proud to be a Prog-head. I also have great memories of touring with Kim, who went out on the road just over a year ago with Roy Wood and Status Quo. Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt were terrific; Francis is a genuinely warm guy. Rick appeared to be retracing his steps and kindly showed me a collection of photographs which looked as though they were taken in the 1950s. He looked like a Mod.
Alison Henderson: John, you have been on many travels in your life. What memories abide with you most about life on the road?
John Young: I think luck plays an important part as like Nick, I consider myself very fortunate to have played with many major players over the years. I think it would be difficult to pick out a memory above all others. I’ve played solo shows in the States to one man and a dog through to major festivals and the memories from both ends of the spectrum are just as important to me.
Alison Henderson: Finally and purely out of interest, how did you (John and Nick) originally meet as even simply talking to you both, I sense there is a tremendous bond between you which goes way beyond music?
Nick Beggs: I think I went to the Wheatsheaf pub in Leighton Buzzard sometime between seven and ten years ago to see John perform when I was still playing with John Paul Jones. We then met up several times after that, most notably when both of us were touring in Europe with Kim Wilde and Bonnie Tyler. Somewhere between Austria and Czechoslovakia, I picked up the phone, called John and said: “Where are you, darling?” and we met halfway up a mountain!
John Young: Oh yes, I remember that tour. It was so cold, the keyboards froze!
Thanks to John, Nick and Frosty for taking time out to give DPRP a fantastic insight into Lifesigns.