Nothing, say the Buddhists, is permanent, everything changes; not accepting this impermanence and clinging to the past leads to suffering. If all this holds true then Tangent fans must be Zen masters by now, such have been the chops and changes to the line-up over the years and yet even their nirvana must have been sorely tested when Andy Tillison announced the disbandment of the previous line-up.
With the pending release of Le Sacre du Travail it was high-time to catch up with Andy to get the whole story around the new album and the big split straight from the horses mouth…
Greetings Andy, seems like yonks since we last spoke together for DPRP (previously: Part I, Part II, Part III), but in fact it’s only 18 months. There’s been an awful lot of water under the proverbial bridge since then, but perhaps we could start with the new album – Le Sacre du Travail (The Rite of Work) – the first true Tangent concept album?
The problem with most prog concept albums for me has always been the fact that you get locked into them, but the story is often just not involving enough of the listener him/herself. However much I LOVE the pieces I refer to here (and I do) I am not Rael, I am not Tommy, I am not Merlin, King Arthur, Rhyader, Snow, Henry The Eighth, Frodo – and none of these characters have any relation to who I am or who I want to be. They are about lives in myths legends and fantasies. Very valid forms to be sure, but it’s Jimmy in the original album version of Quadrophenia that is the true hero/ anti hero I can relate to. (This did not apply to the film where I saw him as a horrible whining prat!).
There’ve been a couple of FANTASTIC hybrids in recent years – outside the world of music that were particularly influential. One is the Fantasy world of JK Rowling where her genius has been to write a novel appearing to be about fantasy and magic, but firmly based on reality because it’s actually a story about school – to which everyone has a binding memory or current experience. The other is the American espionage/action series 24 which although appears to be a James Bond style romp, it’s actually at its heart a programme about working in an office. People can watch 24 and read Potter and recognise themselves in both. Situations they have been involved in juxtaposed with the fantasy elements. Office politics, bastards, super-bitches, alpha males, school bullies, frustrations, hierarchies power brokers, unfairness, scary teachers – these are things that actually MEAN something to people – far more than the Lamia, The Slippermen, Orcs, or indeed the Shastric Scriptures.
I wanted my concept piece to involve as many people who listen to it as possible. I wanted them to see themselves in it and for it to mean something to them directly, not through clever metaphor. In that respect it’s more Stan Barstow than J.R.R, more Ian Banks than Iain M Banks. The lyrics are the school and office, the music is the magick and the espionage. That’s the idea, I hope for some I will have succeeded.
But that’s not the only concept in Le Sacre Du Travail – there’s another set of ideas running through it too, this time musically, the way the piece was written was to try an revisit and if possible re-boot the Classical/Rock large scale piece idea that was originally pioneered by Jon Lord and Keith Emerson amongst others. I must confess to having loved the Concerto For Group & Orchestra and The Five Bridges Suite as a boy. I remember playing them to my music master to try and impress him with rock music. He was pretty open minded about it for the time, but he disappointed me by saying that the fusion wasn’t really good and that the Orchestras and the Bands were playing in blocks, just taking turns. It was a disappointing reaction, but there was a lot of truth in what he said and I told myself that one day I would write one that took that critique into account. It took forty years. And I hope I’ve got it how he’d have liked it.
Ha, I remember giving Close to the Edge and Relayer to my music teacher when I was 14, she said they were “interesting”, which is positive I guess. You put out a video on YouTube a while back of your interpretation of Debussy’s La Mer, but Sacre is a different beast altogether.
Er – to follow up on the first bit of that question, you know, we DID have a problem that the “kids of today” simply don’t have – that need to get our folks and older peers in tune with what we were listening to. We needed some kind of acceptance for the fact we were listening to this electric music that was alienating to our parents. For me it was simply the desire to be able to sit down with my Mum and enjoy Close To The Edge together. That didn’t happen ‘cos the drums and vocals were just too far removed from her comfort zone. But when Tubular Bells and Ommadawn came along, we had that starting point. I guess a lot of the rock press at the time saw that as an anti thesis to their definition of Rock & Roll which was about either knifing cinema seats or S & D & R & R, but that had to change anyway and I have enjoyed listening to music with my own (now adult) children from both the eras in which we operated.
In the end, I think my Mum’s record collection influenced me a lot more than mine did her, but hey, I got a lot out of that collection, and Debussy was one such thing. I have developed my writing the most effectively when taking other peoples work, dismantling it, re-assembling it and thereby learning how it was made. This happened when Guy Manning and I recorded an album of Peter Hammill songs back at the beginning of the 90s. Both of us gained an insight in how to write an arrange a long format song. I seriously doubt that I would have written In Earnest or Afternoon Malaise, or that Guy would have written The House On The Hill without the stuff we’d learned from Hammill’s Flight. (From which we also, it has be be said, made many educational mistakes)
As you may know, I did the same thing in 2006 when I recorded The Tangent’s version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Learning how Stravinsky had done it enabled me to draw up plans for how I would do it. And because almost 6 years had passed since then, I did the Debussy to refresh my memory. I found it hugely helpful to work in and around a piece that had no rhythm section, not even a stable tempo, and a lot of the problems I had to solve came in useful as tactics within Le Sacre. Naturally, they are totally different beasts as you put it, but the Debussy is me simply trying to learn from a past master and give myself a familiarity within the form I had chosen to work with my own composition.
If I remember well, not an easy feat at my age, then you actually had the intention to recreate The Rite of Spring with The Tangent, but were thwarted by copyright reasons?
Yeah, that’s what happened. Boosey & Hawkes denied me permission to release the album because Stravinsky wouldn’t have liked it. Thing is, I could almost (but not quite) accept that someone at Boosey & Hawkes might have had an inkling about what Stravinsky would (or would not) like – however as nobody at B&H ever ever heard our version (they refused to listen to it) it just descended into the realms of authoritarian company sticking its head in the sand and being arch snobs.
Anyway, we couldn’t afford to take on their lawyers so we couldn’t release the piece. We’ve let the fan club hear it, and of course this means that Boosey & Hawkes have stopped their estate from receiving any royalties from us, which we were keen to pay and get sorted out properly. Honestly. What dreadful “stick in the muds” and I sincerely hope that no-one as narrow minded and willfully ignorant as them is ever put in charge of my music after I’m dead. We actually got as far as demoing the first half of the piece The Adoration of The Earth as it’s subtitled, and we changed that to The Abhorration of the Earth in order to reflect the changing priorities of mankind on the planet. We’d changed the subject matter from pagan rituals in the countryside, to that of contemporary bank holiday activities in the countryside and the way in which we so disrespect the natural environment in these days. We’d added lyrics to the second movement and – well, our version would never have erased or replaced the original. just can’t see the logic behind the ban. Still – it did help inspire this piece. So maybe they did me a favour in the long run.
So what came first, the work-day concept or the idea to make a symphonic piece? And then how did you go about writing the music?
It WAS the subject matter that came first. The idea of a journey through a day did require a linear unfolding in the concept album format. And of course I have to point out that a voyage through a typical day was actually the study of one of the very first prog albums, The Days of Future Past by The Moody Blues. Now that’s not an album I particularly like, listen to or am inspired by but it did do what I’ve done more than four decades ago. But it’s not on my list of influences for this album – I only feel that it’s fair to mention it. Upon deciding to go for the long scale work, I then had to decide on the style and, well you know this ambition to do the big orchestral rock hybrid – I guess its time had come. We’ve hinted at this on tracks like In Earnest, Titanic Calls Carpathia, Live On Air and The Full Gamut. This time the whole album was going to go that way, I wanted to develop, recall, rework themes – intermesh them in the way my classical heroes had done. And of course I wanted it to sound like a group of musicians playing this together.
Writing it was accomplished in my normal way of coming up with the simplest of songs and then embellishing those songs with the “Prog” if you like. As I think we’ve discussed before I tend to use an instrument with which I am not totally comfortable (a guitar) to write the songs kernels, and then work out all the fireworks, developments and variations using piano and organ improvisation around the themes written in the songs. I just bookmark parts of the impro that seem to have worked and then apply them to the song. Takes ages, but writing good progressive music isn’t a quick hit operation, it takes a lot of work and it’s not about having 3 sung verses followed by a guitar solo, then a keyboards solo, then a sax solo over the same verses that you’ve just heard. I still maintain it’s the MUSIC itself that “progresses” when I talk about Progressive Rock, it’s not a manifesto of intent, it’s not about Mellotrons, it’s about Music travelling somewhere. There’s a lot of “Prog” around that is really straight rock/pop/folk with “Prog Accoutrements” added to sound the part but not provide the content. A lot of that can be really really GOOD, so don’t get me wrong, but what I want to create is stuff that really does travel. I want you to see a lot out of your window as we move along.
And at what stage of the process did you get the other musicians involved?
Almost immediately after the dissolution of the 4 piece band that had been The Tangent since 2009. That unit was a very good band and it was a sad day that I had to fold it – none of us really wanted it to happen but it HAD to happen. Luke and Dan have just made the most important album of their lives – it’s taken them all their time to do that, if I’d kept that band together I’d probably still be waiting now. As it is you get our album now and theirs a little later. Jakko came forward the minute we made the announcement. Same day at least. He’s been a long term friend and ally of the band, already played on 2 albums and a couple of gigs. I like him a lot and his involvement re-invigorated me after a very depressing time. He was pretty excited about the music from the off and got straight onto it. He realised we were gonna need one Mother Of A Drummer to pull this off so it was he who talked to Gavin Harrison and brought him on board. From then it was dominoes. With a drummer like that, we needed a bass player like Jonas…. ya know, everything needed to be right. By the beginning of 2013 we had the whole team decided, I went back and switched off all the previous contributions by the old crew and we started again. Jonathan Barrett and Luke Machin had done some pretty cool work on it by that time, so that was a difficult day, saying goodbye to some potentially great bits. But I didn’t want the new people to have to work around the legacy of other players of their instrument. They needed a blank page, so they got it.
How did you present the music to them?
I just let them hear mp3s of the work so far and once they’d agreed to it I sent them some projects to which they could develop their parts. Pretty standard Tangent modus operandi, that’s how we’ve always done it. Fortunately my first choice candidates all said “yes” immediately, so I didn’t have to go off searching. That was lucky, and quite affirming and satisfying actually!
Gavin is one of the most respected drummers on the planet how was it working with him?
For ME, incredibly easy!. I sent him the tracks, he sent the drums back. They were perfect first time. I met him just the once – Sally and I visited his studio just after he’d finished the parts and we transferred everything to a portable hard drive. I need to specify that he wasn’t doing this as a “member” of the Tangent, it was, for him, one of many many sessions that he does. I do know that he only accepts sessions these days of music he feels he’d like to play, so it was nice to know we’d got that far. I can’t say that I KNOW Gavin, he is a very good friend of Jakko of course, but to me he’s a phenomenal professional who I was lucky enough to work with on an album where I most needed someone with that type of discipline.
Did Gavin work out the drum parts first and then you pinged over to Jonas to add bass, or was it a more iterative process? Strikes me that they’re both quite evenly matched in terms of technical standards on their chosen interments (which is to say VERY high).
Gavin worked out his parts before Jonas had even been approached to do the project. The drum recording took place in November-December last year. He worked from a demo on which I had played the drums (electronic) and his first observation which made my little heart pound with pride was that I’d done a good job. He asked if I wanted him to follow my parts. I obviously said no, but that I’d like him to follow the flavour of each section. I hoped this allowed him to be his own man but play my piece. It worked. He evidently understood exactly what I meant. The parts he delivered were utterly amazing to my ears. He’d found so much to DO with the music yet he never intruded onto its heart. There are (and always were – even before we knew GH would be involved) two short drum solos on this album. The first one was a pretty specific thing I wanted. I wanted the drum solo to sound as if the drummer was bored. Not “A Boring Drum Solo” but “A Bored Drummer”. I don’t think it could have been any closer to how I’d heard this in my head. It absolutely (to me) conveys boredom – without becoming boring itself. That is, on his behalf, not one but several hundred Master Strokes. He is an amazing musician, thoughtful, incisive and dedicated to the overall good of the music he’s involved in.
Jonas of course came in later. He had no problems at all with the other half of the rhythm section! Jonas started work on Sacre in January this year and I had the finished parts from him by early February. Jonas is a simply wonderful player, fluid, imaginative, aggressive, subtle and deeply funky. Giving him a Gavin Harrison drumtrack to play with was a pretty good enticement to get him back into my life and he totally excelled with such inspired accompaniment. However I want to say that Jonas was very much into the composition too, he had a lot of belief in it and felt that it was strong in content as well as strong in performance. I think that also had a bearing on what he achieved on this album.
What freedom did they have to add their own ideas?
Maximum really. I don’t send a list of instructions because I hate it when people do that to me, I don’t over edit what the musicians send either. All of them were free to play as themselves. For example I’d always seen this album as being fairly heavy on fingered fretless bass. A lot of it had been written with Jonathan Barrett in mind, so that follows naturally. Jonas who plays both fretless and fretted decided to do the whole album as fretted bass with a lot of plectrum work in there. He didn’t even use a fretless at all. Gavin, I didn’t have to ask for any re-takes – the guy is just amazing, he changed a few things which concerned me on the first listen but he won me over on the second. Jakko got into the spirit of it from the off both Vocally and Guitarlly and I had very little to complain about with anything I had received. The real biggie on this album for me was an entirely new role in The Tangent’s music. That’s David Longdon. Now he’s an established and well loved lead singer in another band as we already know!. But I didn’t want a lead singer although I know there will be some who wish that’s what I HAD wanted…. I brought David in to do something different – to add his voice as another part of the orchestration. He’s a one man choir on this album and he takes the whole thing into new territory for us. New harmonic systems, textures and a massive buttress to my own more fragile singing. These ideas were all his own, I had no part in their creation. David simply sent me them as possible ideas for me to accept or reject. I kept 90 percent of them. A great great job. Finally – possibly the most important development on this album was to make Paul Brow a co-producer. Because that totally changed EVERYTHING.
I must admit that I didn’t realise you’d collaborated on the production, but indeed listening to the album it’s quite obvious as it sounds totally different from any previous Tangent albums. No coubt the orchestration is part of that change and the Jakko/Jonas combination evoke Not As Good As The Book, but it’s different. So why did you choose a co-producer and how did it come about?
Paul and I have known each other for many years. We go way back, even further than Manning and I. Back when he was a lad he was a drummer in a local rock band and essentially he gave up playing other than for his own fun and just got on with a hard working and decent life in technical work mainly for universities and colleges. I met him in 1990 at the college where I still work from time to time. He was my boss, which was quite a hard job for him really. Musically he likes Camel, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and stuff – he’s not a major progger or anything, not obsessed. He likes what he likes and that’s it. He’s always had a really good ear for sound and I got him involved with the Tangent for the first time in 2004 when we did the Drive Through album. He helped me master it, in other words balance the overall eq and volume of the already mixed product. He’s helped me do every Tangent release since then and he’s also the guy who filmed and edited the “Going Off On Two” video. When we were recording and mixing COMM we were constantly sending mixes over to him for his opinion and Paul became more and more critical. He’d pull us to bits for something, say we’d done this wrong, that wrong, this too loud, something too quiet and stuff. Nine times out of ten we saw his point and fixed it. This time around I thought I’d just cut to the chase and ask him to do the final mix.
He’s retired recently, he had some more time. We both went off to a Cubase seminar, both bought ourselves the latest version of the recording software and we set up compatible mixing systems in our two houses. So I did a kind of pre-mix project which Paul then got hold of and adjusted to how he thought it should sound. The first results were incredibly impressive. I was nervous about it all of course… as anyone who’s just handed a two year project onto someone else would be. Paul was very incisive and certainly forthright in his approach to it all. He took it to bits, asked me “what the hell is this doing here?” talking about some strings pad that had been put into the piece a year earlier and then forgotten about, “TOO much going on, not enough SPACE” – I got it for weeks. Bit by bit he chipped away at it, sometimes with me there, sometimes while I was at home. Every day there was a new permutation to listen to, something that he’d improved, spotted, latched onto. I’d often get instructions to change a part, re-sing a line, whatever. I once remarked to Sally that it was like making an album with Brian Clough producing (a notorious English Football Manager who got the results but not always the happiness of his team!!). I have to admit that the process was quite difficult for me to handle, after all I’d had carte blanche on all my productions since “Afterlifecycle” in 1997. But I realised that I still had “Carte Blanche” because I’d actually asked Paul to do it.
Eventually the whole thing started to take shape as a production and there were times when I played his new mixes back and was simply flabbergasted by what I heard. It sounded rich, deep, powerful, and he had this ability to focus on the tiniest thing and make it the most important sound at exactly the right instant. He swept through the piece like a tornado. He got rid of all the deliberate “Lo Fi” bits that plague many modern records… no telephone vocals, fake surface noise or low bandwidth bitcrushers. This thing was going to be Hi-Fucking-Fi. Max bandwidth throughout. He studied it on analysers, and spent hours looking at the resulting waveforms making decisions about the mix from visible faults in the wave, not just sound. I found the process amazing. It was like watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon. I think it’s his first major sound production job, achieved in a study and a living room with a PC computer and a selection of decent Hi-Fi speakers (not a reference monitor in sight) ranks alongside some of the best productions I have ever heard. Jonas always used to tell me to “listen to how you want the piece to sound in your imagination, then switch the tape on and hear if it matches up”. When I dreamed of writing this thing, I imagined how it would sound. It was like this. Honestly.
Sounds like a win-win situation and very necessary given the orchestration on the album. On that subject, are all symphonic instruments on Sacre synths and sound modules from Cubase played by yourself? Sounds tremendously authentic if that’s the case…
Some of the orchestra is of course Theo, the clarinets, most of the flutes and a few oboe parts played on a soprano sax. The rest are, as you surmise, electronic instruments. i wasn’t actually trying for authenticity as a major goal. I work a lot on the basis that fake instruments develop a sound of their own anyway – prime examples being Mellotrons and Hammonds which of course are just replacements for earlier instruments. For my orchestral sounds I use a very outdated plugin module called “Edirol Orchestral”. It’s been around years and years. In the world of music tech it does become tempting to just grab what ever is new and move on. You can now buy huge orchestral libraries and have every nuance of what the respective intruments can do available to you. My problem is I do not and never did have the patience to sit and go through all the sounds these things provide to find out which I want to use.
There’s a load of musicians out there who do what I call “Preset Stripping”. They don’t want to get involved in programming their own sounds so they just grab all the virtual intruments that get released, listen to all the presets provided and use the ones they like and the move on. Fair enough, but I reckon they actually spend longer having to go through hundreds of sounds to find the one they want than I do actually making the one I want. Just a question of preferred methods really. The Edirol orchestral plugin isn’t really about programming, it’s just a small collection of useable reasonably good quality orchestral sounds. It’s not a vast library, it has not got much to mess with. I just treat it like a more advanced Mellotron, which is exactly what it IS. I find it works for me pretty well expressively and has a sound of its own that I have always liked – it’s a warm and simple device. Discontinued years ago. Everyone’s moved onto Garritan or something by now, but I like my Edirol. Over the past 10 years I’ve cut down the number of computer intruments I use. I use one organ , an ancient shareware electric piano, a Minimoog emulator, a prophet 5 and a modelled piano as the core of my “rig”. All of them are old kit, I don’t auto update to the newer version.
I have stayed with the very first version of “Amplitube” – a virtual valve amp, because the first one was like “my amp”. The subsequent version have offered the choice of Fender settings, Orange settings, Marshall setings and so many other permutations. I just liked the unbranded simple amp. And it was quicker! I will make the sound I want with the controls, long before you’ll find the sound you want from the thousands of presets. QED.
As you said earlier, Sacre’s not a “collection of songs album” and really stands as a single piece despite having five separate tracks; even after hearing it ten times I still feel I’ve hardly scratched the surface. Do you worry that people won’t “get it”?
Yes!! I am worried! Course I am, that’s what we musicians do. We work for two years to make something we’re not sure if everyone likes! Then, we worry about it. But if what you have said is really true, that you’ve listened 10 times but not scratched the surface, well maybe that IS a good sign for the future. We all know that slow release albums like Passion Play, The Lamb, Tales are ones that earn their place in hearts. Because they don’t give up all their secrets on the first few listens. That doesn’t dispel the worry though – this is a different world where people don’t necessarily have the time to give to such involved listening, so I know that we have a crucial short window in which to get this into people’s heads before the Flower Kings album comes along.. or whatever next. In the prog world, that’s pretty much what we all do anyway isn’t it? None of us are really taking shortcuts to success are we? The album is a single piece of work, yeah. It does have sections which are like little songs in their own right, and the finale is a big uptempo cheerful Typical Tangent piece.
I’m even more worried now that you’ve asked that question. Everyone’s gonna hate it!! Oh no!!
Nah, as a long-time Prog fan I’m really happy with it. I don’t know ANY albums that have stood the test of time that weren’t slow-burners, needing quality listening time to unravel and appreciate. It’s my impression that “traditional” Prog is really thriving at the moment and I’ll think you’ll ride the tide with this. Of course you’re not going to get any airplay on Radio One, probably not even Radio Two either…
Coming back to the recording, it must have been a bit “back to the future” for you, after Down & Out and COMM where you worked together as a band you were back to the Internet collaboration mode. How did that feel?
Surprisingly good actually. Changing working styles is a refreshing thing. of course the idea of “let’s work together as a band” is really alluring – gets the fans on board, cos everyone likes the picture in their heads of us all working together. But 2012 wasn’t my favourite year of “being in a band” – quite the opposite and to just find myself embroiled in the writing and creation was really good. A writer does need time alone, and I’ve had plenty of that this year. Time to really work hard on minutiae, get focussed on the sounds and pieces, embroiled in the story. During the recording of the album I didn’t meet up with Jakko or David Longdon (who I have still never met in person despite this being my second collaboration with him – the first being both English Electric albums.) I do KNOW him though and he’s a friend and ally – the net and modern COMMs make this possible – we all are aware of this. I met Gavin for a couple of hours at his studio, I met Jonas at a Flower Kings gig and whoopee, Theo actually did come and record all of his parts here with me. I had much more face time with Paul as I mentioned earlier. In the short years since out last Internet collaboration album Down & Out the tech has marched on apace. Speeds have rocketed and it’s so easy to get the files to where they should be. The recording was not beset with ANY technical difficulties and the immediacy of everything made it all feel so much more real anyway. There was one bit when I sent a rough mix to Gavin, he heard a triangle part I’d played that he didn’t like and there was a Gavin Harrison triangle performance in the piece in my master project within an hour. 200 miles away.
I think I did need time to get this album together on my own. Writing by committee has its advantages but can often be compromised by having to be a fair a decent human being – something I don’t always succeed at despite my desire to be so. I didn’t have to be that this time. I was for the most part, alone. The other players realised that I knew what I wanted and that I was going to get it – they pretty much left me to it, interjecting positive ideas now and then – but really letting me guide the album where it was going. ‘Cos I had the map! Oldfield would never have made Tubular Bells in the way he did had he recorded the original with other people in the same room. I felt that with this album. It is very much my baby this time and has my name on the front as well as the band name. On this title I feel I earned that distinction from a “Band” name. And of course there will be other albums in the future when I record in the same room again. And that will be good too. There’s all sorts of ways to make music and skin a cat.
You alluded earlier that one of the reasons that you disbanded the previous line-up was that with the recording of the first Maschine album, which we’re all eagerly awaiting, Luke and Dan wouldn’t have been able to give the necessary focus to The Tangent. Is that the whole story?
The split of the English Tangent band was a very sad, difficult and emotional affair. It was brought about by a large number of factors which for the first time I’m going to try and explain, but none of these “new”reasons in any way invalidates the primary reason given last year – we were all skint, we lived a long way from each other and we simply could not afford to continue. I guess that had these other problems not have existed, we might have tried harder to overcome that financial problem, but we didn’t, we split up, I still don’t feel good about it, and I still feel we lost something.
Before going onto “what happened” – I need to say that I very much liked ALL the members of Tangent 2009-12 both as people and as musicians. They were all committed and loyal, and took my music and their role within it very seriously to heart. Without offending any of the others, I am on record as having said that Luke Machin is the most wonderful musician that I have ever had the honour to play with, and even now with the remarkable cast of musicans I have recently worked with – that statement holds true. His command of the guitar is majesterial and he effortlessly eclipses his own heroes while still wishing he was like them. Not only that, he has a fantastic ability to deliver what the music needs rather than what he wants to deliver, his work is thoughtful, tasteful and jaw-droppingly technical yet musically accessible. He spent a lot of time trying to tell me how wonderful Guthrie Govan was. I agreed with him, of course, but the words “he’s not as good as you” were never out of my thoughts. If Luke ever worries about some other guitarist having a better technique, (which is doubtful) – all he needs to do is keep on delivering the melodies that he makes with his guitar during some frightfully complicated work. That’s where he scores.
As the Tangent fought back between 2009/2011 it was quite a struggle to make ends meet. The lack of Jonas and Jaime DID have an effect at first on how much we could get paid for gigs. We’d had to retreat a little, from headlining Rosfest and Britains Summer’s End, the first proper Tangent appearance with Luke was third down on the bill at the Progeny festival – which in itself was not a particularly well attended event. I didn’t really want to let on to Luke how much debt we were in at the start, I thought it might lose me the chance of working with him which meant that I was rushing around constantly trying to make things work using crisis management. I should have said something earlier. Subsequent touring was pretty much “on a shoestring” – not done in comfort at all, for any of us. The relationships in the band did start to break down in the last nine months of our time together. But I don’t blame anyone, it wasn’t anybody’s fault – we were just four blokes, often a long way from home with no money. Even when the better paid gigs and headline slots came back in, we were on the back foot, still paying off debts from previous outings having financed the early outings with my personal money and CD sales – for which we were now in debt to the wholesaler…
Our conversations did start to centre more around money than music – the touring party became a bit factionalised between the natural lines of younger and older. The last Tangent gig was in Spring 2012, and we didn’t meet up as a band for 6 months. Luke & Dan were working on the Maschine album down in Brighton, I was up here 250 miles away in Yorkshire, Tony was stuck in the middle in Essex and we couldn’t afford the petrol to get down there to meet up, and they coudn’t afford the train fare to get here. Sacre just sat there – already written waiting for contributions from Luke & Dan. After a while I just realised it wasn’t going to happen, so I just pressed on with it alone. Doing that meant that they became outsiders to the project. I got depressed about it all, lost faith in it and decided to split the group up. I was in a band that coudn’t afford to meet up, that couldn’t afford to gig, and a band I couldn’t really enthuse with my new music from such a distance.
As I say, no-one’s fault. Well, it might have been MY fault, but it was nobody elses. The Tangent story is full of departures, arrivals and reunions. I try not to close doors. My decision inevitably disappointed the other guys and there were a few edgy emails and phone calls. I try to look on the positive side. In a month or so from the time of writing, Luke & Dan will release the first album by Maschine. I think that will be a great release, hopefully the birth of a new generation of true prog music, one that can look forward to taking a place on the main stages at Glastonbury and Reading. That will not be too early, will it? I think their destiny lies in that band, not bumming around Europe with a grouchy old keyboards player from the late 70s. I dare to dream that they may go all the way and restore the music I love to the public awareness and favour and that somewhere in the first few pages of their full colour biography there will be a photo of me with the amazingly young looking Luke Machin & Dan Mash to show to my grandkids the day they come back from Download Festival having just seen the legendary Maschine play a greatest hits set.
As for Tony & Jonathan, both of them are people who I love and had no desire to hurt. Being in a band involves hard decisions, often decisions that hurt friendships and sometimes putting them on hold. Jonathan returned to the band last year but somehow didn’t mesh into the Sacre project – I had failed to come up with something that engaged HIM. I think he saw it in the same way as Rick Wakeman is purported to have seen Tales From Topographic Oceans. It was way off the mark for his tastes and had gone way too far into the “over complex self indulgent pretentious” drawer in his mental filing cabinet. I needed someone who was totally on-board with it and at Christmas 2012 I rang Jonas. After the hell of the previous six months, I just had to have a team who would believe in this stuff.
And so the ongoing revolving door slices us up again. I realise that I cannot be fantastically easy to work with for some people – although I hasten to point out that Theo never misses a recording, that Paul is always there for production and mastering, that Sally is behind the band as she always has been. Thomas Waber and Insideout are still there, and Jonas & Jakko came back. There are some constants in all this and they are very strong constants.
Thanks for your candour Andy, that must be the longest answer of all time and it all makes sense. It was a big, big shock to the fan base and totally out of the blue really given what a great live band that incarnation of The Tangent were – Dan’s bass added a certain smoking’ funk feel to proceedings and I think many people, myself included, are disappointed that this band never got recorded in the studio.
Yeah – I’m genuinely disappointed too, but you know David, the first ever recording of Gavin Harrison and Jonas Reingold playing together isn’t that bad a consolation prize really! There are many days of my life yet to come, and many days of Luke, Tony and Dan’s. We’ll see what the future holds.
Oh yes, no complaints about what we have now and who-ever would have foreseen Jonas returning?
No Ed Unitsky artwork this time?
No There wasn’t. Ed is a very specific artist who has delivered us some remarkable work in the past. He’s given us artwork which has communicated the band’s desire to be a no holds barred Progressive Rock Band to the prospective audience really really well. You know that I love his work. This time round he did submit some terrific stuff for us, but in the end we decided that we wanted to present this record differently. We chose Martin Stephen’s work because it had a great similarity in its influences to the music itself. Martin obviously has an Abstract Expressionist influence in some of his work – and the Kandinsky, Klee elements that are there are polling from the same epoch as we were looking at with Stravinsky. The artwork and the music are very suited to one another – the riot of colours and texture clashes are hopefully apparent in the artwork AND the music.
Inside the sleeve we went for the work of a close friend of the band, Brian Watson, who only became an artist recently after a very difficult time in his life. We found his work exceedingly interesting and we were only minutes away from using his work as the front cover. There will come a time!. The Ed Unitsky cover was more literally based on the album’s lyrical content. He did a vast cityscape, used ants and did very successfully put into a visual image what the album was about lyrically. My choice was to either let the cover be influenced by the SOUND of the music, or by the content of the lyrics. It was a very very hard choice and in the end I had to ask a few people which they preferred. When I got almost equal opinions, I decided to do something I’ve never thought of doing before. I asked the record company!. They went for Martin because they thought the colours were eyecatching and they liked the way it presented the album like a classical record sleeve. But they still left me the choice, I weighed it up and just thought Kandisnky, Stravinsky, Music, Colour – this is too good to pass up. So that’s where I went.
So, are you gestating any plans to play Sacre live?
Well of course it’s in our minds – my mind – yes we’d like to. Before we get too excited about it, i’d need to say that it’s hardly likely that it would be the album lineup – that was a one off collaboration with people who are exceedingly busy with all manner of things. If the album is a runaway success on a par with Tubular Bells, then maybe, however I don’t think that Gavin Harrison is really going to want to do weeks of rehearsing to travel in a Transit to Reading and hope we sell enough CDs to get the petrol money. In fact, neither am I any more. I have done my time in that arena, so I’ll be looking at the situation closely and analysing whether people are actually bothered about seeing The Tangent, and if the answer is “not really”, then i shall gracefully accept my fate and get used to not being a live musician for a while. However, Jonas and I ARE keen on putting something together with some other people and that might be a bit more practical. So yes, there are plans, but not to do an Original Cast tour unless the floodgates open. Once again, we don’t know sufficently what the future holds, whether the Prog Rock fans of 2013 really wanted an album like this or whether they just wanted something straighter and easier to put on shuffle. We will see.
As always Andy it’s been a pleasure to speak and thanks for the considerable time you’ve put into this…
Thank you all for DPRP’s continued support!