Andy Tillison in discussion with Dave Baird
With the imminent release of COMM (DPRP RTR Review), it seemed a good moment to catch up with Andy. When I first interviewed Andy back in 2008 sitting in the tour bus outside Spirit of 66 he was quite a tortured soul. Having been living in France, with half of his band in Sweden, and having just split up with long-time girlfriend, Sam, he was missing the green grass of home and the camaraderie of close band-mates. FFWD 18 months and we locked-horns again in a lengthy discussion that Andy described at the time as “cathartic”. Back in his native Yorkshire it was all-change from before, but still clearly not quite settled. So to the present and on the eve of the release of COMM I chewed the fat with a less agitated Andy Tillison, but still as ever with plenty to say…
Dave: Hi Andy, nice to speak again. In the past, The Tangent’s revolving-door policy was beginning to resemble Premier League management appointments, but we’re now in perhaps the most stable period of the band’s history (albeit for a little musical chairs on the drum-stool)..
Andy: Oh Ye of far too much optimism. In fact we have another change to announce soon, this being that my best friend Jonathan will be leaving us. There are a number of reasons for this, not least that Jonathan needs to get his own musical career and band going again, he has an album to make and he’s had a terrible year in which he lost his father, had several medical problems including one directly related to bass playing, and had a lot of his income lost to internet piracy – keeping great musicians like Jonathan in a band that literally cannot “capitalize on its success” is surely going to become harder and harder. I am devastated that he will leave us, but I totally understand and I will continue to be his friend and associate with the greatest of pleasure. The replacement guy has already been secretly sworn in. He is Daniel Mashall who is already a friend and collaborator with the band, having helped us with gigs in Italy and the UK . He’s a very young man, and comes to us via his friendship with Luke Machin – indeed he is also the bass player for Luke’s band Concrete Lake. This should tell you that he is a staggeringly good bass player. All of us in The Tangent are really looking forward to working with him.
His joining means that the average age of members of the band is now down to 35. There are however NO members of the band in their thirties. When Jonathan joined the Tangent, he originally assumed that it was to play bass on our Down & Out in Paris & London album. I do tend to make people do a lot more than they bargained for… he should have rung all the Swedes up who were going to make “one album” in 2003 and were still traveling around Europe with me in 2008. Nonetheless, I consider “stability” whilst nice, to be a bit of a metaphor for “comfortable”. The changing blood in this band has allowed us to operate in a manner not unlike King Crimson – changing and developing as we go. The difference is that with Crimson – that was “anything as long as Fripp is there”. I think that the Tangent is more about the music is it’s core. No one musician can claim it, and I do include myself. We are more like a Football team or a symphony orchestra We may have different players, but we are still the Tangent. I hope the Tangent will continue when I am too old to do it. You’ll have a long wait for that though. So sorry to disillusion you with this, but life goes on… and so does our band.
Dave: Jonathan’s bass has become such a feature and added a lot of character. Having met him also he’s a smashing bloke with a keen sense of humour, shame! But the show goes on. What was the story with Tony and Nick then?
Andy: Yup. Jonathan has been a great partner and a brilliant addition to the band We always lose something when someone goes, and of course we always gain something when someone arrives I have high hopes for Dan too. Well Tony is the real Tangent drummer. He’s the man who actually defined the job I think. I always felt that we were “borrowing” our drummers before Tony. Like Jonathan, earlier this year he became very disillusioned as he watched people just take our music from us – he got a bit down and went off to earn some money from his talents in a cabaret band on a cruise ship. I missed him terribly – he’s a great character, but Nick Rickwood stepped in and toured with us and played on our album “Comm”. He’s a very able drummer, very tight, lacked a bit of the personality of Tony, but he did have a good groove and he did an amazing job for us. There were some personal reasons why it didn’t work out with him, stuff we don’t really like to talk about in public, suffice to say that shortly after the tour all three of us decided we needed to find the “real” Tangent drummer. And lo and behold, Tony had got seasick, homesick – and he wanted to come back; we took no convincing. Of course I’m sorry that Tony didn’t make the album – but he himself is pretty impressed with Nick’s work. Now of course, I can never rely on a permanent band I think for that we’d have needed to grow up together. I hope that we can keep delivering though.
Dave: And of course we get the studio debut of Luke Machin, I must say he’s a bit more competent that the fella who played guitar on the opening track on the last album…
Andy: There is a moment in any long “interview relationship” and I think it’s nearly 4 years you’ve been doing me now, that the interviewer decides that it’s time for some extreme cheek!! This is that moment. For those readers not savvy with Tangent history, my interlocutor is referring to the fact that the said guitarist on the last album was me… But fair enough, I am a very limited guitarist who only played on the last album, because there was nobody else to do it at the time. And now we have Luke who is just something completely “out of the ordinary”.
When I first heard him, I knew he was great. When I first rehearsed with him I was blown away. A year and a half on and a man whose age is way less than half my own (52>22) has changed the way I work, the way I see music, the way I play, and become a genuine friend – from a generation of young people I had rather stupidly consigned to the dustbin of music in my own head. I have had some wonderful opportunities in my musical life, I have played with 2 members of Van Der Graaf (my all time fave) had the chance to work with greats like Roine, Jonas & Theo, but if ever my line “You can’t find the future, ‘cos it finds you” was true then the moment I met Luke was that moment. Searching for replacement musicians of the calibre of someone like Roine is almost impossible. Where would you find someone like that? In the end, Theo found him via Francis Dunnery from It Bites with whom Luke has had a long term fan relationship.
But impressed as I was with his recordings, it was meeting the man that did it I don’t think anyone has ever understood the music I make as well. He is, and I’m sure my colleagues past and present will forgive me, the most amazing and complete musician it has been my pleasure to meet in a career that has lasted 10 and more years longer than his life. In a decent world he will be a major force in future music. He is a man who could restore Progressive Rock to it’s desperately needed youth market, along with his excellent band Concrete Lake Whatever his story is, all of us in the Tangent are really pleased to have got into Chapter One, at least.
Dave: Seeing Luke play live, he seems to have the ability to know when not to play and when not to use distortion, but when the time comes to crank it up he shreds like the best of them. When you played Mind’s Eye it was the first time I’d seen him ‘go for it’ and, I was more than a little impressed. What was also evident at the Verviers show was that there was a band atmosphere, something you always missed with the earlier incarnations of the Tangent, almost a family feel in fact.
Andy: This is true. I have been very impressed by his subtleties – on Titanic Calls Carpathia from COMM you get to hear a full range of his talents from really dirty grind, shredding, open throated solos, through to jazz tones and runs, and gorgeous Cocteau Twins style textures. Imaginative use of echo and effects… the guy is far too clever and I intend to cause him harm for being a smart Alec! Yeah – there is a family atmosphere within the band now, and even with Jonathan leaving, that’s likely to continue. Our new player, Dan, has already been out on the road with the Tangent around Europe, helping with sound and the like, so of course he’s not that “new” to us – already a part of the team. I think that this atmosphere is something I really did want to get back to after the The Flower Kings era, where I didn’t really know the guys that well and despite liking what I saw, and there wasn’t that much chance to develop those key relationships. The current band is a riot, and it’s usually left to Luke to keep us in order. I actually really enjoy Tangent gigs now, because I know the other guys are enjoying it too. This is what I was so wanting to happen last time we spoke together for DPRP, and it all came out as planned.
Dave: Not to mention Sally of course!
Andy: Ah! – the engine behind the whole thing. Yes. Sally and I met at a gig nearly three and a half years ago. There’s probably a script for a “Working Title” Rom Com starring Hugh Grant one day in the storyline. For the moment there’s just a few key lines in some of the “Down & Out” stuff that celebrate the personal side of it, but Sally is a very active and enthusiastic member of the band team. In a world where progressive music is rejected by most of the media, and where so much of the interest IN Prog can result in serious negative vibes, well Sally just believes in us all enough to make up for the rest of the human population that doesn’t. I know that this applies to everyone in the band, not just me. Sal was a Tangent fan before she ever met any of us – right since early Po90 days. She’s a total Prog and Jazz Rock nut and her work for us on the Internet takes a good positive approach which reflects her broad minded attitude to music in general. She’s genuinely interested in the scene and a part of the scene that is attractive to new people – because of her positivity. I thrive on it – it’s a gift.
Dave: I would assume that the whole approach to COMM was fundamentally different from previous releases given the closer relationships between the band members?
Andy: Yes of course. For the first time really, everyone involved had so much personally “riding on it”. This time it wasn’t me and some other guys with 9 other albums to do this year!. We just slowly plodded our way through the writing and recording, taking our time and discussing it: at rehearsals, at gigs, on the phone etc. I decided for the first time ever to do the final production as a shared job. Three of us were involved in that, Luke and I camped out for 10 solid 15 hour days in our house, and Paul Brow (one of our indispensable tech support guys) was working remotely on it. As it happens, I got a nasty ear infection at that time, so it is a good job that I had the help.
But it was more than just HELP. The three of us did the mix, together. I am really really pleased we did that, and it makes me wish I’d had a bit more faith in others on previous albums. Luke brought a load of new ideas about “Bottom End” to the table, and Paul (who’s been prodding me in that direction -unsuccessfully – for years) was delighted by the vindication. Once again, it was a good Tangent exercise in COMMs – and great ego-free attitude between the co-producers, which just made getting what we wanted easy on a personal level, even though there were many technical trials and tribulations. We will remember it as a difficult but worthwhile and generally fun project And we are pretty damn proud of our album!
Dave: COMM is certainly a bit more “in your face” than the more mellow Down & Out in Paris & London, certainly took me a few listens before I began to take some of it in.
Andy: Down & Out in Paris & London – My personal favorite of the Tangent albums WAS evidently a more easy listening album at first listen. That’s because we deliberately wanted to do a “night time” album, slightly smoky, relaxed, yet urban and gritty. It was a more City experience. Yet I feel it had all the depth of the preceding albums, in fact i reckon its waters run deeper than the other albums. And COMM is different again in feel. Depends where you want to start pulling us to bits. Sure. It starts with a 20 minute long song with a big instrumental opening, has some verses, some impro, goes quiet, comes back… ya know – like the Tangent. If that’s where your comparison ends, it’s just like all our other albums. If you actually listen to the piece though, it’s not You can hear Po90 in it, VDGG, the noisier end of what we’re about.
It’s got some dark stuff, new structures, new sounds and new people. from the same pen. This is the crucial balancing act in modern day prog. Not to disappoint those who have really enjoyed the previous five albums, and not to simply rest on our laurels. I think we’ve alternated a little between easy albums and more demanding ones. This one IS more demanding for the listener – we’ve had a few “immediate success” reactions from our friends – particularly the younger ones, and a few wasn’t-sure-at-first’s, but so far we haven’t had anyone who says its crap. I’m sure that the internet will oblige very shortly! In prog, people are really, really fussy and just one step left pisses everyone on the right off, and vice versa. I know this, because I am exactly like that myself.
Dave: The album’s called COMM and obviously The Wiki Man, Tech Support Guy and Titanic Calls Carpathia fall into the concept, but what about Shoot them Down and The Mind’s Eye?
Andy: Well we don’t really DO concept albums in the traditional sense, – but there are always some themes within each one. Our “concepts” – if there are any at all – are usually quite broad, not fixed to a particular plot or anything. This time around I’d just found myself being particularly interested in communications, wanted to say a few things and in a few ways. The COMM mainline stuff on the album is as usual poking people in the ribs and asking questions of the listener, something that we often do. We’re often accused of being too preachy, but I think that people sometimes miss the fact that I’m a lot more critical of myself than I am of everyone else. So perhaps when I’m singing about people being over – opinionated on the net, I’m as damning of my own behaviour as everyone else’s.
The two “non COMM” songs are firstly Shoot Them Down, Jonathan Barrett’s beautiful lament to Northern England and the towns ruined by the behaviour of a Tory Government in the 1980s. This song has been around since we knew each other, and I asked Jonathan if we could re-record it for COMM, which he was happy to do. Of course it didn’t pass our notice that we again have a Tory government in the UK, and things are not looking bright unless you own a Range Rover Vogue or an Audi Q7. The Mind’s Eye is in fact a companion song to the largely acoustic song A Sale Of two Souls (Ed: from Not as Good as the Book) – a relationship with the bathroom mirror which obliges you by making you look exactly the same as you did yesterday, for your whole life. You never get older in the mirror, and this goes further – you never feel older in your head, and I often still see myself as Rock & Roll rebel, biker, anarchist, punk rocker – even though I’m now the same age as Judges, Chief Surgeons, Headmasters and retired Generals Hmmm… I just never grew up, as the people who surround me know to their cost…
Dave: Titanic Calls Carpathia is quite a sing-along piece I think, almost anthemic in fact, which isn’t the sort of thing The Tangent normally come up with…
Andy: Well… I agree that it’s easy to sing along with in bits, but to simply say “Sing Along” does evoke images of Karaoke nights and knees-ups at the “Old Bull And Bush”. Its a 16 minute long song with a dark and ominous orchestral opening that gradually turns into a song with quite a few giddy hairpin turns, a 5/4 high speed piano section, a shred-solo, some doom metal chords, a couple of fast jazz rock keys solos, some very delicate sections and some Earth, Wind & Fire brass. The lyrics span 100 years of communications passing from Titanic through Apollo 13 to the present day. But a complex piece of music that you can sing along to, well, maybe it’s more successful than I thought if that’s true. I do think it has a decent tune – I hadn’t seen it as anthemic myself – that’s for others to decide. This is in my opinion the best track on the album, and I’m looking forward to people – hopefully – enjoying it. No – this track IS different, I don’t think there’s another Tangent song quite like it – to my mind it’s as uniquely US as it gets. Where you could probably make comparisons between someone like Transatlantic with The Wiki Man, I do think that Titanic is out there on its own this year. You may disagree of course David. I’d be interested to know, because from what I’ve surmised, you’re having more difficulty with this one than previous efforts. I think that the album starts off with “Where We Have Already Been” and goes through to Titanic, which perhaps is where we are going?
Dave: Well, it’s really just the chorus that singable, if one were to sing along with the whole lot then you’d probably end up with a stroke Struggling? Not really, but it’s not a first listening album for sure, but thirty years back it took me two years to get into Van Der Graaf Generator’s Still Life, so I don’t see that at all as a problem 🙂
Wiki Man, you say is all about internet opinions. I spoke with Jordan Rudess a few weeks ago and we touched this subject, he said a lot of what he read was just “poison”, but on the other hand it was addictive reading. What’s your take on that as an artist?
Andy: And for me, Still Life was the easy one that made the hard ones more alluring!
Hmmmm, Internet opinions… This has really fascinated me, and it was something that I just had to write something about. I remember a wonderful album sleeve with a monkey sitting at a typewriter on the front. The album was called “The Quality of Mercy is not Strnrn…” and it was by fellow Leeds band, The Mekons. Obviously alluding to the hypothesis of giving an infinite number of monkeys, an infinite amount of time then one will come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. The sleeve just really tickled my sense of humour in that their Monkey nearly did type the line from “the Merchant Of Venice” And here we are a few decades later on, a (while not infinite) VAST number of people with what essentially constitutes not only a typewriter, but a publishing company, a television station, an encyclopaedia, all at their fingertips, we have opened up the world of BROADCASTING to every single person capable of getting their broadband fee together. And the wonderful communications network which so many of us dreamed of is now so full of opinion, that the value of opinion itself has been devalued. “Free Speech” – something once so highly regarded and sought after has become a laughable exhibition of stupidity, selfishness, hatred, bile and lack of “knowledge”.
To compare: Back in the late, CB radio enthusiasts had to campaign to get their hobby legalized in the UK. Eventually they succeeded and formed one of the first electronic truly social networks on this planet. It started off well, people chatting to each other – sometimes about the weather, sometimes about their radios, sometimes about – well anything. It was good. I was there. At the time people thought I was some kind of geek (Ed: I hate to break the news to you Andy, but…) for doing it. Now all those people who thought I was a geek have Twitter accounts. I don’t! Not long into the legalized CB, some guys bought radios and their sole reason for doing so was to sit on the calling channel insulting everyone who came on it. At first they started off by telling everyone that “your radio’s not working properly” – escalating to “your radio is crap”, moving upwards towards “You are a w**ker”. Then they’d find a conversation going on, interrupt it, make insulting remarks, swear and gradually make CB into a place people were scared to go. They had used their right of free speech to stifle everyone else’s.
The internet has places where this kind of fear is rife and apparent. In our tiny world of prog rock, even here, there are scary places where I don’t feel comfortable posting, for fear of insulting backlashes, manifestation of hatreds which I do not pretend to be able to understand. The “Progressiveears” forum is one such place – somewhere I am genuinely scared of going. I don’t look forward to telling them that we have a new album out because I’ve seen them rip other bands to shreds for just existing. I think the globalization of conversation has reached this level of elitism for the following reason….
Before the Internet, somewhere around where you lived there was a newsagent from which you would buy a weekly magazine about music. Depending on how much you took in, how deeply you read it, how many facts you remembered about who played what on what, who had been with who, who had fallen out with who, you could build up your own knowledge of the “scene”, and some people became your local “guru”. Back in my schooldays, I was the prog rock guru. Boy oh boy, nobody knew more about prog than me. I NEVER missed the “Alan Freeman Show”, listened to John Peel, Bob Harris every night. I read NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, cover to cover every week. I knew that David Bowie played saxophone on a Steeleye Span record.
I suggested to my parents that Italy would be a good holiday destination simply because I wanted to buy some Italian prog albums at the age of 14, and I knew what Magma were all about and knew some words in their language even before that. If ANYONE wanted to know about prog – they’d come and ask me. Of course, out there in the big wide world, unbeknown to me, were millions of other “experts” who knew just as much, if not more than me. And in the same way as “Friends United” put us in touch with a whole load of kids from school that we probably wish we’d never re-met, pretty soon, all the local Prog Rock gurus were suddenly in the same room, and the gloves were coming off. Your knowledge of Prog Rock was suddenly GLOBALLY challenged.
I have watched on as “discussion” in the 90s turned to stacked monologues of non interacting opinions in the 2000s. In the 2010’s add racism, homophobia, aggressive right-wing politics, spam, advertising, scams, weight-loss programs, trolling, virii and piracy to the mix and the Internet I was so happy to be a part of in 1990 has become a place I sometimes abhor. I used to LOVE it man! And of course there are places where we can find some intelligence, but the original mistake of letting everyone use aliases for anything they want has bred a hate culture which I feel is becoming more and more problematical. In the past 24 hours, someone has referred to our band as a bunch of “wanabees”, and the insults we’ve had in the past are way worse.
Unlike Jordan, I don’t really find it addictive. I just feel really sad that something so good got spoiled this much by people who shouldn’t ever have been given a typewriter. Too many opinions, too many bands, no quality control for any of it. At least this opinionated diatribe is going to pass through some sort of editorial system before it finds its way out onto the net. I think as the unedited fora and comment/opinion banks and social network sites become more and more difficult to gain knowledge from, the old edited WWW sites, such as DPRP will regain their former stature as places that people can trust to give a balanced and informed opinion in a professional way, rather than the “pre-show bar atmosphere” of a lot of the forums. I am hopeful for that future. Please visit http://internetisshit.org
There, you knew eventually you’d get me going.
Dave: I’d bet my house and kids on getting a rant at some point! Of course at the end of the day, music is art and as such purely subjective. There is no good, bad, better or worse, only personal preference. So from that point of view does it really matter too much?
Andy: An intensely philosophical question that I will have to struggle to answer. If all ART is to be classified as purely “subjective” to opinion, well how far do we go? Surely there must be some safeguards that somehow guarantee that Beethoven’s 7th symphony is indisputably BETTER than Gina G’s “Ooh Ahh Just A Little Bit”. Or rather than admit that, do we wish to say that human opinion is so unchallengeable that someone holding the opinion that the latter is better than the former is just as right. As a matter of fact, I enjoy BOTH these records. I also love fine restaurant cuisine and I love fish and chips in newspaper. But of course, in this age where everyone’s opinion counts apparently for something, you cannot make the de-facto statement that Beethoven’s piece is BETTER than Gina G.
However, you could say that Beethoven’s is more structured, organised, balanced, deep running etc, only to be ripped to shreds by the next person who takes up the thread. Most of us who enjoy progressive rock music do so because we actually want something better. Something that gives a full cerebral experience when listening to music rather than a background sound for another activity. Other musical forms share these ambitions too, not just prog. The appreciation of art is something that an inspired teacher can instill in someone. I personally subscribe to the idea that there ARE right answers in art, that some art is factually better than other art. Whether I personally LIKE that art is my problem, my opinion, but my opinion does not make it the right answer for anyone other than myself. It’s a tough question, one I have to consider, but am I ready to say that the opinions of bloggers and forum writers super-cede the musical statements of J.S. Bach and National Health because they have a right to their opinions? Dunno
Dave: Bearing all this in mind, how did you choosing the “best” entrant for the “Search for the solo” competition, and what was the response overall?
Andy: Andrew Roussak (the winner) was one of more than 100 people to get involved with the Tangent competition which was of course, all about communicating and sharing some of the making music together around the world experience which we’ve already pioneered. It was a no glitz competition open only to instrumentalists no vocalists allowed. We’d have been bombarded with teenage girls if we’d opened it to vocalists we got as many complaints from vocalists as we did actual entries (Ed: now there was a missed opportunity!). We got loads of great entries, french horn, guitar, keyboards, saxophones, acoustic guitars, pianos… even a guy on an iPad. Members of the Mars Hollow, Dorian Opera. Bezh Mezh and other bands were really cool about it and sent entries in, and we had people from all over the world involved, doing something with us.
That was really good fun and I presume Radiohead are already working on how to make millions out of it in 8 years time. In the end, we chose 10 solos that we thought fitted the mould the best and put them on our website and invited our fans/visitors to say which they liked the best. It was a closely tied thing between a french horn, a guitar, a wizzo thing on an iPad and of course Andrew’s solo. COMM… for us, this is what it can be about! The album sleeve credits Andrew as a part of the team for this album – he’s not listed as a competition winner or anything. What he did was a real contribution to our album, not some “Jim’ll Fix It” (UK TV programme that made “dreams come true”) thing.
Dave: It was a nice idea that clearly captured many people’s imagination, but the Tangent aren’t strangers to innovation, of course, and earlier this year you took a slightly different approach once again with the filming of GooO2…
Andy: Going off on Two was (to us at least) one of the highlights of the band’s career. The idea of filming a studio performance of the band for our fans was essentially inspired by the fact that most of my favorite videos from the 70’s were usually from the Old Grey Whistle Test studios, or the Belgian “Rock of The 70s” series. Van Der Graaf Generator’s “Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”, the Genesis show, Atomic Rooster on the latter, and Focus, Bowie, the Who and National Health on the former, well these were just great and we saw no reason why we couldn’t do a similar thing. Just focus 100 percent on the music and the players with no lighting, crowd or imitation low budget Floyd sets. So we just filmed a long long rehearsal, playing our songs a few times and filming each one. The whole thing was carried out by our team of associates and friends from the filming to the editing and final DVD mastering – the whole thing was carried out by the expanded Tangent family as it were.
Paul Brow, who has mastered nearly all the Tangent albums took the director’s chair and totally threw himself at the job and the results were so much better than we expected. To my mind, every song on that DVD is better than the original, and we were just on top of our game that long weekend. It will be a lifelong memory, I haven’t enjoyed myself as much in years. Reaction to it was great, across the board – with one notable and quite notorious exception which I now regret ever becoming involved in, but hey, this is a tough business. Toughest of all was the fact that this “Fan Release” – pre-financed by our most fantastic supporters, was leaked onto the internet within a day of first delivery and sales just stopped – that day. The pirate site hosting it reported over 500 downloads in two days and we “charted” at number 14 for illegal downloads that week, Lady Gaga taking the number one slot. For us, that was a catastrophe that led to cancelled gigs, and ultimately members of the band finally giving up hope of ever seeing reward for their efforts. Jonathan left the band recently, disillusioned by the way everyone seems to be OK with the whole download culture.
Dave: Well it was tremendously well received by the fans and critics – DPRP awarded it two 10’s in and RTR, that’s a very rare event (although not unprecedented – your good friend Manning also picked up 2 x 10 for Charlestown).
I must admit that I was personally shocked to hear that the drop in sales seemed to be intimately linked with the sharing of the files. Jonathan’s departure and the FaceBook discussion at that time deeply affected me. So I’ve since deleted my whole MP3 collection and started re-ripping my CD’s (to lossless) -> no CD = no music for me now.
Andy: Well, it did go well critically, for sure. It’s difficult really to quantify it… I mean, what we DID sell was really good. The fans did actually cover all our costs, we did successfully put the whole thing together on the budget afforded to us by our fans. Over a thousand copies went out of our own front room in a very short period of time which is pretty neat for one single website – don’t forget this had no distribution from Inside-Out. But I think all of us, and by “all” I mean the musicians, the journalists, the sites and publications need to look at the way piracy has changed from “piracy” to what is more like digital looting. Only 8 years ago, the somewhat sudden success of the Tangent was directly attributable to the reviews and good vibes from a number of key sites, of which the DPRP was a major factor. Yet the (amazing) double 10 out of 10 review on DPRP for this album generated – and here’s the truth – ZERO SALES during the week of publication. We didn’t sell a single copy. Not one! The same was true of Marcel Haster’s video review. The genie was already out of the bottle, and we saw our numbers of illegal downloads move into the thousands.
This little period of time we are going through is undoubtedly a period of transition. The internet CRAZE is here at the moment, people are currently dispensing with “old ways” and bringing in the new, rather carelessly. Social Networking, cloud-computing are the things of the moment and magazines, edited websites are very “passé”. Global jukebox systems are what people say they want – the story is much like the way CD’s killed vinyl and samplers and digital synths made old behemoths like the Mini-Moog an undesirable relic – for a while. I had to sell my now highly desirable Mini-Moog to offset some piracy issues. And Vinyl, well it’s making big inroads back into the arena. The vacuousness of the Internet of 2011 with it’s sea of non referenced and often ill-informed opinion can only really stay around a while before people once again start to search for some proper information, or a real CD/vinyl with a cover. A well motivated review, written by people they can trust, not “Geddyrush506” – some member of a rival band slagging our album off so they can sell more of theirs.
The Progarchives “Album Of The Year” was a farce last year, and all the good intentions of your DPRP poll which used to be an independent barometer for the way prog was turning were smashed to pieces last year by a couple of bands canvassing for votes, which they got. The same happened with the CRS awards (different band) – I was leaked information by an un-named official of a sudden surge in “votes” for a certain artist, and to me, well it’s just Cowell style corruption come to roost in a totally inappropriate setting. I think we should all ditch the polls. They are valueless now beingso malleable by a decent Facebook campaign. The poll used to be for “best album of the year”. Now it’s for “best orchestrated campaign”. Sad but true.
Dave: I’ve seen other artists introduce a VIP lounge for the ardent fans with an annual subscription. Is this a model you ever considered trying out? Might work well given you’ve a strong hardcore fan base.
Andy: Yeah – it’s a good idea, but we’re not running that yet. It would take a lot of our attention away from music making, and I guess I’d have to “make it worth it”. I see our fan releases as being a similar type of thing – it allows us to promise a product and work hard to deliver it. We’ve got two new “fan” projects on the boil for 2012 and I think folks are going to be keen to get in there!
Dave: In addition to the Tangent you’ve some solo projects on the go as well with a recent release called Murk – can one assume the titles lexical similarity to Fog might give a clue as to the musical content?
Andy: Yes… Murk is the second in my FOG series. Once again it’s a blend of Berlin School style electronica and Tangent style jazz fusion. This has been a hobby of mine since I was 17 years old, and I find it a very relaxing and enjoyable experience to do. It’s nowhere near as precise or disciplined work as doing the Tangent, I don’t have to follow as many rules, and of course I don’t have to sing, write lyrics and all the other major time consuming stuff that makes a Tangent record so stressful! I think FOG was done around the time as Not as Good as the Book and was the stress reliever for that album. When I was still a teenager I called my band “The Tangent” because I thought it would be a good way to sell the album because all our records would be next to Tangerine Dream’s in the records shops. And – well, er.. they are!
Dave: Now with the release of COMM in a couple of weeks the attention will turn to touring I guess?
Andy: Well in fact you ask this specific question just as I get back into the house after a seven day rehearsal in which we’ve inducted our new bass player Dan Mash and learned a whole new set. I’m very pleased today. Yes, we have a spate of gigs approaching including the Summer’s End festival here in the UK. We’re very pleased to be doing that – we were slated for NEXT year but we got the invite to do this year’s after Stephen Lambe saw us at Blackpool. We’ll not be headlining as a result, rather playing the special guest slot to Arena. I LOVE Summer’s End though, it’ll be my fourth time there, the third time as a performer. A week later (15th Oct) we’ll be at the Prog Resiste convention in Verviers Belgium, then in the Bar Riga (where the band recorded the first DVD) at Southend-on-Sea on the 16th Oct. Couple of weeks after that it’s off to France to play on the iBoat – on the River Garonne in Bordeaux – 29th Oct. Then we make our first trip to Russia for a short 3 date tour including gigs in Moscow & St Petersburg, then it’s back to Britain for our rescheduled FREE “home bash” at our current favourite pub, the Jolly Tar near Crewe (17th Nov). We’ll finish off the year with a headline appearance at Danfest in Leicester with Grey Lady Down and Guy Manning. Next year should see us back into Europe again, and there’s a Canadian Festival under serious negotiation.
These gigs are going to be fun. We’ve decided NOT to do a whole wadge of COMM – although of course we will play some of it. We’ve settled rather for a balanced set of songs taken from most of our albums, hoping to make these gigs “crowd pleasers” rather than just a showcase for the new album. We do have 6 albums to choose from, and we have spent a little too much time with the first album in the past, so we are going to rest that material for a little while. That gives us a chance to play some older stuff that has never been played in Britain before. The latest version of the band is terrific, I love all the guys in it, and although I will always miss Jonathan, we have found a great guy to take his place and he’s going to win a lot of fans I’m sure.
Dave: Bordeaux – that’s quite a trek… Hey, maybe you’ll bump into Gilles (Lefevre) while you’re there!
Andy: Regrettably Gilles has an engagement that night and we won’t be able to meet up. I was so looking forward to meeting him and chatting about some of the amazing things he’s seen….
Dave: Comparing studio recording versus live performance, does one give you more pleasure than the other?
Andy: Each has its great moments, and each has its totally black, black moments. So starting with LIVE, there is nothing to compare with being on stage in front of a good-natured prog crowd. It’s a special thing that a lot other types of musicians just don’t have the experience of. Those moments are among the best in my life and of course are my favorite of all. Of course there’s nights when there’s a huge crowd but the sound is all wrong and you just know you’re not reaching the crowd because they can’t hear you properly. That’s pretty depressing. Even more depressing is when that’s someone elses fault, either an awkward sound engineer, or an over egotistical co performer on the same bill who wants a 2 hour sound check at a festival, or spends three hours setting up video projectors that aren’t really needed at such an event We’ve had all of these and more many many times.
And then there’s the fire escape in the rain, a long time after everyone’s safely tucked up in bed, broken down vans, horrible food at UK service stations and not much money to show for it all. But for all of those shitty things, that 90 minutes on the stage when it’s going good makes up for all of it. And I’ve been doing that since 1978 – year of my first fire escape in the rain. The first gig I ever played there was a fight, the second one some fans of “Cock Sparrer” smashed up my gear saying that keyboards weren’t “punk”. They are probably estate agents now and I still hope they die in pain. I did a support gig with “The Ruts” in Leeds in 1979, who were so awful as people (“we hate f***ing shitty little support bands like you so we’ve brought our own and you lot can f*** off if you don’t like it!”) that I felt compelled to open the stage trapdoor to see if I could get their lead singer to fall down it. When he didn’t I just ended up throwing chairs UP through it, until their road crew caught me and chased me out of the building. Fortunately I was faster than them. I loved “Babylon’s Burning”. Great track.
Studio – well of course the whole thing is done at my home these days save for a couple of days recording drums in the cheapest studio we can find. So the food is better and there’s no fire escapes to deal with. But of course, it is actually a very lonely task. COMM took two years, and there’s a limit to the amount of info that I can share with people about a recording on Facebook, I mean, how many people actually want to know that it’s all going well and I’ve just redone the backing vocals on Tech Support Guy a year in advance of the release date. I can understand the enthusiasm of some of the newbies who do this all the time, ya know the “Great rehearsal Last Night” with thumbs up from the bass player and the singer, but in the end, people just aren’t all that interested in minutiae unless it’s a big name band, which we are not. So, it’s really tempting, of course I wanna tell everyone that I’ve written a great new song, but in the end, a few thumbs up on Facebook is no large reward even if it is genuinely appreciated.
For a couple of years you just hang onto this dream that THIS TIME the world will recognize you, and you build all your hopes up. Then there’s days when the mixes all sound shite, and you remix them again, only to find they sounded better before. Every other record on EARTH sounds better than yours, including Earthbound by King Crimson. The sparkle and bass solidity of Boney M’s Rasputin puts everything you do to shame, (well that is excellent) but even the lyrics to that song start making yours sound like the work of a 14 year old. You wonder is there too much bass? Is there too much treble? Is it all loud enough? Can you hear the vocals or are they dominating everything else?.
Food starts to taste the same. Days merge into one. You wonder if your partner will leave you and you wouldn’t blame her if she did. You watch TV to take your mind off it and the incidental music on “The Apprentice” is gloriously imaged in stereo and the News tells you that piracy is on the up and record sales are falling. You look at the Internet and Touchstone are on about their new album and you end up worrying that yours won’t be as good as theirs and you make secret plots in your heard about how to involve them in a head on collision on the M4 with Magenta or preferably with a large nuclear shipment that might just take out South Wales thus ridding yourself of at least half the competition all of whom are going to make better records than you and get infinity thumbs up on Facebook…..
But I love recording (Ed: thanks for that clarification!). It’s the composing that is the most rewarding. Making the first demos of a song that was originally thought out on a rural bench, hearing the thing start to unfold, that’s great times. Playing them to the band, that’s usually pretty good too. Adding the real instruments from the real musicians is fun, watching the thing take shape, metamorphose from a demo to the real thing is fantastic. And although the mixing is a nightmare as I described above, finally, when it’s all over you get to make the decision as to “whether any of it was any good” about six weeks after you’ve finished and the record company are about to release it regardless of what you think. Those six weeks are necessary to distance yourself from it, to forget the thousands of tiny details that have been in your head for so long. Sometimes (like this time, fortunately!), the six weeks reveals an album you are pleased with. There are times when you realise that it isn’t what you wanted to make at all (“The World We Drive Through” and “The Time Capsule” being notable in my own mind for that).
Guy Manning and I usually liken the whole process to building a boat, spending yonks and yonks attending to every little detail and rivet. But there comes a time when we have to just let the thing sail, at the mercy of the waves of DPRP and the Tsunamis of Progressiveears.com. Regrettably, a lot of this album is about the Titanic. And Guy’s last album was about a ship that got wrecked…
Dave: You’re not really painting a very rosy picture of life as a prog artiste Andy, but the crazy thing is that The Tangent are in fact one of the more successful acts out there. I mean you’re making (or is it scraping) your living from you music alone – very few artists are managing that these days. Did you ever think to get a “proper” job and just do all this as a hobby without the stress?
Andy: Rosy Picture? Depends on your point of view of course. The Tangent is for me a full-time occupation. That is, in effect to say that music is all I do. I get up in the morning and priority 1 is the Tangent, and that’s what I do until bed time. I don’t have a day job, I don’t claim benefits, I don’t get any grants. Everything is dependent on how many records we sell this week/month/year. In times of struggle I can earn some extra cash by doing an online freelance writing job, but obviously I try to avoid this because the band suffers. It IS a question of day to day survival, but I grew up with the dream of a rock & roll life. So I don’t have very much money at all, but I still have my dream and I’m actually living it every day. There are some very very rich and successful people who cannot say they are living their dream.
So in fact, I LOVE the life I chose. And while it’s sometimes a bit irksome when we arrive at our gigs and all the other bands have got stacks of really expensive gear, Kurzweils, PRS’s… ya know, the best of everything, I just have to ignore it. They are either selling a lot more records than us (fair enough) or they are doing music as an expensive hobby and ploughing some returns of their day job into their hobby. And that’s fair enough too. I get rueful when I remember selling my beloved Mini-Moog because I needed to pay the electricity bill. And setting up my two cheapie plastic midi controllers with an ebay laptop on the stage makes me feel a bit of an under-achiever when there’s a band just before us – who have more money invested in professional flight casing than we do in all our gear put together.
This is where I firmly come down on the side of the punks. You never needed millions of quid to be in a band. You still don’t. And we sure as hell haven’t!! This is PROG! If I was wanting money I’d be a long way from here, probably buttering Jem Godfrey up for some session work. But Sally and I, the rest of the band, this is IT. We’re not hobbyists, we’re not big stars either. We ARE however, the real deal, and COMM was not an album sandwiched into weekends and evenings when we weren’t too tired. This is how we live. I think someone has to do it. Roine does it too. Good on him, good on Us, and good on everyone else who takes this risk. A proper job?? You sound like my Dad!! (and that’s a great, great compliment).
Dave: Obviously a high part of your music is the lyrics, and this is clearly an emotional, philosophical and intellectual outlet for you, did you ever consider writing? (I asked the same question to Peter Hammill)
Andy: I have several novel projects on the go, but just keep on getting interrupted by music. It just worms its way into my head and halfway through a book project I get and idea for some songs, and the book hits the back-burner which usually ends up burning the book. I’ve only managed to complete one novel so far, the one that accompanies the “Not As Good As The Book” album. In order to finish that book I had to get stranded in Sweden without a passport with no access to a keyboard instrument for a week. I DO want to finish some of my projects. The only way to do it will be to kidnap me, put me in a heated hut in Antarctica with no internet connection, no hi-fi, no musical instrument of any sort, throw in a lot of food and coffee, and a decent word-processor on a computer with all its sound producing facilities left behind on Ascension Island. And for god’s sake, no radio. I can waste more time with radios than a normal human being can possibly begin to imagine They are 9 million times more interesting than the internet, and I’m already interested too much in THAT! Now I bet Hammill didn’t say that. Did he?
Dave: Indeed he didn’t! Peter published a couple of books back in the 70’s, but he’s not really interested any more other than as a vehicle for music. Radios? What is it you do with radios? And are you also a compulsive reader? If so, any particular genre, any recommendations?
Andy: Well of course Peter is a bit of a benchmark for me. I’ve met him a fair few times, been an admirer since I was 12 and he’s undoubtedly my biggest influence and “raison d’etre” in the field. It’s funny, but his VDGG and solo work has been such an important thing for me throughout the years, that somehow their/his work has become like a “Complete Works Of Shakespeare” on my internal shelf. A book never taken down that just gathers dust. I know and love its contents cover to cover but am not about to read “King Lear” if you see what I mean…
As for radio, give me a good radio with a comprehensive short wave section, and I can just nudge my way through the myriads of stations out there, listening to those glorious static bursts, whines, whistles and unknown languages. Radio Tirana, American Evangelical bible-bashers, Mullahs calling to prayer, Abba playing in Bulgaria, Radio Hams calling for long distance contacts, Shipping reports in Danish, the news in English on Radio Moscow, even better back in the old USSR days with reports from the fields and factories, – mysterious “number stations” where people just read out apparently meaningless strings of numbers. “Woodpecker”, Radio Teletype, (decode Reuters news feeds) Weather satellites in radio borne fax, Slow scan TV from amateurs, CB’ers from France, Fishing boats swearing at each other off the coast of Iceland to say nothing of the cops (they’ve moved now to digital comms), the fire brigade, the airports, armed services, morse-code (still plenty about).
Bizarre yet fascinating music from Kenya swirling through the magnetosphere which colours the sound in a way more extreme than vinyl did, yet just as lovely. Auroral propagation bursts that suddenly let you hear Australian morning news fleet in and out of your radio in the evenings, and then all the pirate radio stations out there: some musical, some politically or religiously clandestine. What can you do with a radio???? On the TV and the net you can read about things happening. On the radio it’s happening now. Sure, the net is catching up with live feeds, but there’s still life in the old radio yet, and I think it will always be so.
Dave: And here was me expecting you to be a bit of a sci-fi nerd…
Andy: I *am* a sci fi nerd… my favorite is (Arthur) C Clarke really. He can write a book where no-one dies, there are no action sequences of any type and everything just quietly bumbles along in the worlds he creates. He’s amazing. I really enjoyed his “The Light of Other Days”. he’s written so much good stuff and hardly any films have been made of his books, just 2001, 2010 and a currently static project to make Rendezvous with Rama which Morgan Freeman is backing. Hope Hope Hope.
Dave: Since we began, COMM has been released, reviews are popping up, CD’s are being ordered and fans are commenting on Facebook. What’s the reaction to it so far and can you afford the groceries this week?
Andy: It’s been a very exciting week with our biggest ever mailout of orders! There is loads of positive feedback, we’ve even been smiled on by progressiveears today which is a turn up for the books, we’re obviously waiting for Christina from Magenta to disguise herself as a hairy American biker and come on and write a review saying that the album sounds like a misfiring Japanese Harley Clone, but we will spot her!! Honestly, before I met Sally I asked her (Ed: Christina) to marry me and she said “no”. She’s had it in for me ever since :-).
Sally and I have in fact been living it up this week, we have had take-away bacon and egg sandwiches three times! The mood here is currently of cautious optimism, we can’t say for sure whether the large increase in sales is an “across the board” thing or just a lot of Sally’s work paying off and thus diverting a lot to our rather amazing website which has become a part of the band’s artistic output.
Dave: Your website, this has grown into quite an endeavour – are you doing all this yourself? Must take a hell of a lot of time!!
Andy: Since we started with Po90 back in the mid 90s we always realised that our website was the “way in” to our music and what we do. Of course we now have to accept that the “way in” is through the social network sites that have destroyed the power of the world wide web and the abundance of shite sites, spam sites advermedia sites etc. has rendered even Google pretty ineffectual at actually finding what you want to find. There was a time (he said rolling his eyes nostalgically) when the words “Progressive Rock” typed into Yahoo would bring up Po90 as the first result. Now Wikipeadia is number one, and there’s this bunch of marauders called the DPRP just towards the bottom of the first page of results. That’s bloody good going (ed: hit #9 on google for DPRP, not bad, eh?)
Our website is an extension of the music though. We don’t want it just to be a bit of biog, a discography and a list of upcoming tour dates. We’ve always tried to make it interesting, informative and entertaining. It has a graphical interface, loads of music to listen to for free, videos, explanations of concepts and lots and lots to READ. Sure it takes a lot of work. We have a few people who write the text for it, we all put ideas into it, and the technical and graphic side I handle myself. It’s a big commitment, and it’s just part of our general philosophy of putting as much in as is humanly possible.
It’s not made using templates or cloud website construction, and at the moment it’s written in SWISHMAX 3, a third party Flash generator. We opted for Flash some years ago now and of course there’s a nasty war going on now between Adobe and Apple, so Apple have decided not to allow Flash onto their mobile iThings. They have a large number of supposed reasons for this, some technical, some moral, all of which translate to “If you could run Flash Games on an iPhone we would not make as much money through the iPhone store”. It’s a great shame.
We will be examining the future development of the site as soon as the much vaunted HTML 5 comes up with some system where a human being can create a site in a graphical and artistic manner without needing a degree in Astrophysics. Until then, Apple mobile users are still denied access to a great deal of content on the internet (I believe a higher proportion of blocked sites than a Chinese internet user) essentially because two companies fell out and one of them wants to make a stack of cash. I wish these guys would sort it out.
Dave: Interesting that you mention social networking sites, in fact it’s fair to say that The Tangent have a very healthy Facebook page that generates a lot of interesting and often good humoured discussion. Do you find a lot of people’s arrival point to the band is through Facebook and given that Facebook is perceived as as a “youth” thing doesn’t this suprise you? After all, The Tangent are a band for 40-something, mid-life-crisis, real-ale, pipe-and-slipper brigade, are they not? Surely youngsters don’t listen to prog, well certainly not the gritty type the The Tangent have on offer?
Facebook has suddenly started working for us, I have to say I was skeptical about this, but we have managed to get a pretty nice group going there and I’m very proud of Sal for setting that up and persisting against my pessimism. I don’t think there’s any age barriers on Facebook, and of course that has in itself started to show signs of breaking that huge barrier that has existed for prog – the generation gap. We are living in a world where mainstream media organizations have deliberately pushed prog rock out of the picture – for what reasons I can only speculate. I would imagine that the whole “longer than 3 minutes” alienates the Youth audience and shuts the egotistical DJ fool up for too long, and the 20 minute pieces that COULD be welcome on classical stations are too rock and roll for the audiences there.
Of course, both philosophies show our broadcasting organisations to be patronising, unimaginative twats who lump us all together for their convenience. The BBC are particularly bad at this, and people should send dog turds in parcels to the director general immediately and say “Thanks for shitting on us for 35 years” in the accompanying mail.
Young people in my new experience are nowhere near as half-arsed as we crones believe. A test Tangent concert miles away from any long term prog fan last year was played in front of a pretty decent crowd of 18 – 25 year old students who were mainly “passing trade” attendees. The reaction was incredible, and I mean – incredible. After a set I fully expected to have bamboozled the lot of them and sent them running for the doors, we were besieged by people asking “What kind of f***ing music was THAT!!???”,”Amazing!!”, “It’s like watching a cool film, but with no film!”, and the really really telling question “WHY HAVEN’T WE HEARD ANYTHING LIKE THAT BEFORE?” Simple answer, BAD education from a huge nationally owned body whose motto is “To EDUCATE, INFORM and ENTERTAIN”. I think that puts the BBC on a 100 percent failure rate in this case, scoring a big round zero.
We have 2 people aged 22 in The Tangent. they are not here because I pay well, or because they think we are going to be big stars. They are in the band because they LOVE prog rock. This music WILL live again, it will be taken to heart by a new generation who are not going to be fobbed off with the day to day humdrum crap that the BBC popular music stations turn out. Radio 6, the closest thing to being decent, is an appallingly cliquey thing with its constant love of Punk and Ska eras from Britain. it seems we will never ever get rid of that stuck-up-the-arse generation of Jo Whileys who are so far up their sadly departed hero Peel’s posthumous arse that they wouldn’t know creative music if you managed to get the ghost of Bob Marley to come and tell them that prog rock rules.
We are the f***ing punks, we as prog rock fans are the ones who would not do as we were told, we utterly refused to listen to Charles Shaar Murray, Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill and all those destructive idiots who tried to get us to choose a side in 1977. I chose both. The BBC, The NME, and many many other long established bodies are still keen to try and market to a generation gap that no longer needs to be there. Fathers and sons CAN enjoy the music together now. The generation gap that existed when we were kids is now the nostalgia of the broadcasters and pundits. Bollocks to ’em I say. Power to the people!!!
Dave: And I think on that point we’re pretty much done!
Andy, I’d like to thank you very much, not only for your illuminations, but also for the obvious time and effort you’ve given to the DPRP reader’s here. I’ll see you and the gang at the Prog-Resiste gig in Verviers.
Andy: Thanks David for your time, and as usual to everyone at the DPRP. Real boots on the ground progressive guidance since before my Mid Life Crisis. Very much appreciated!
Official Tangent Website: www.thetangent.org
Up-Coming Tour Dates
October 6 – The Hydrant – Brighton – UK
October 8 – Summer’s End Festival – Lydney Gloucs – UK
October 15 – Prog Resiste Convention – Verviers – Belgium
October 16 – Bar Riga – Southend on Sea – UK
October 29 – Iboat – Bourdeaux – France
November 11 – Club B2 – Moscow – Russian Federation
November 12 – Meridian – Yarik – Russian Federation
November 13 – Jagger Club – St. Petersburg – Russian Federation
November 17 – The Jolly Tar – Nantwich Cheshire – UK
November 26 – Danfest @ The Musician – Leicester – UK