This interview was conducted (in French!) in Pip's dressing room a couple of hours before Gong's gig at the Bataclan in Paris, November 21st, 1996.
Let's talk about Gong for a start. It's been
almost five years since you came back into the line-up for the
"Shapeshifter" sessions. Would you ever have thought you'd stay so
Well, I don't know, cause you know until this year it'd been a very occasional thing. Only this year did we start touring a lot... maybe a bit too much, actually!
You don't have time for anything else, that is
Yeah, I don't have time to care about the other bands. But it's okay, you know, cause I'm playing, and that's nice. Still, it's true that... For instance I wanted to finish my solo album, which is almost completed, and I couldn't...
How much do you enjoy Gong's music
Oh, I like it. I'm having a lot of fun doing this, actually. I can't complain, but I'm really exhausted after all this touring in the last year. I'm really looking forward to three months without any gig, which I don't generally do... Although I have a few one-off things with Mimi Lorenzini and Emmanuel Bex, in February, but otherwise the next few months will be a quiet period for me.
So you're back from a Gong tour in the States.
How was it?
Oh, it was great. We didn't do as well as the last tour, though, the one we did in March. I guess it was a little too early to come back, especially to play in the same towns, or almost. I mean, we did well, but I couldn't really see the point in going back there just six months afterwards. Well, the story is that they've just released "Shapeshifter" over there, so the record company wanted us to do a tour to promote it. But they didn't really, as we say, put the money where the mouth is. So we didn't make an awful lot of money out of it...
Can one make a living out of touring with Gong
Oh, not really. It was never a way of making a living. I mean, it's all right, but I'm not making millions of pounds out of it. Cause you know, Gong is a band with a lot of expenses. First of all, we have to fly Daevid and Gilli from Australia to Europe, or whatever place we're touring. And there's many people on the road, lots of hotel bills, and so on... So, yeah, we're earning the bread... but no caviar! (laughs)
I've seen you with In Cahoots in London opening
for Caravan, and heard the new In Cahoots album, "Parallel". I think
it's your best album since "Cutting Both Ways". I must admit I was a
bit disappointed by "Recent Discoveries", which was too purely jazz,
and a bit under-rehearsed, to me... Did Phil want to do something
different this time?
Not really. I don't think he's changed the musical direction. It's just that sometimes when you do a record things fall into place, and sometimes they don't. You're right saying "Recent Discoveries" was done very quickly, I think it took three days, which is really the minimum. And for "Parallel" we had the opportunity to play the new stuff live a few times. We did a couple of tours earlier this year in England, about ten gigs in all I think. Whereas we'd never played the stuff off "Recent Discoveries" before we went into the studio. It was really a question of playing while reading the scores. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, still I think some of the stuff on that album was very good. The sound was a big problem. The drum sound was OK, but the sax and trumpet really sounded awful. When we did "Parallel", we had this engineer, Benji Lefevre, who is an old friend of mine, and an excellent sound engineer. So although it was recorded in a post-production studio, where they'd probably never recorded a drum kit, ever, the record sounds great. He's working with people like the Rolling Stones, George Michael and stuff, you know.
Your solo album seems about to be completed at
last. What sort of work do you have left to do on it
Well, I have a few things to record with Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin. Dave is playing three keyboard solos. And I'm also doing a cover of The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever", with a big brass arrangement which turns into 'jungle' madness towards the end. And we'll be adding George Martin samples, thanks to a friend who works at Abbey Road. So we'll mix that...
What sort of stuff will be on the album? I
understand it's mostly song-based...
Yes, it's mostly songs, songs I never managed to have my bands to play. I wrote them over the last five or ten years. There are seven songs, some of which are pretty 'classic', almost pop, and some which are a bit more weird... And three instrumental pieces, sound collages...
What does the completion of the album depend on
now? Time? Money?
Oh, mostly time, now. We were supposed to work on it with Dave in September, but he had this gig with Barbara, and as the guy's such a maniac, he didn't have time to do anything else. And now I'm too busy, with these two months of touring with Gong. So we'll do that early in January, I think. Then we'll have to mix it. And then it will probably be a money problem cause I need at least ten days of mixing. I'll have to find a very cheap studio, and get a friend to do the engineering... It's taken such a long time, this album. I've had all sorts of problems, with producers, loss of master tapes, etc. I think my next solo album will be very simple, just a plain jazz trio...! (laughs)
So you've been working with Dave Stewart
recently. He's back into working with other people rather than just
doing his programmed music, alone at home?
Well, I don't know. I hope so. He does great things, he's a superb musician, a real maniac. But he's stopped playing live, although he sometimes does with Barbara Gaskin and a guitar player. He likes to have that sort of control, which he never had before, even in a band like National Health. With bad boys like me and John Greaves, it was slipping out of his hands and he didn't like that.
What do you think of his career move
He's made a choice, I think. He's decided that it's better to play three chords to twenty thousand people, than play a hundred and twenty chords to an audience of thirty. So at one point he decided he'd had enough, and changed paths. I don't think it's the same sort of challenge for him, as a writer. But still, there's always some amazing things on his records. Always a song with some extraordinary things.
What about you? Do you miss the sort of music
you were playing with Hatfield or National Health?
Well, I'm still playing that sort of music, actually. In Cahoots and Short Wave, that's quite the same sort of stuff, don't you think ?
It's more jazzy and
Well, there was already a lot of improvisation in Hatfield. Maybe not on the records, but on stage we improvised a lot. And it's the same with Gong, you see, there's a lot of improvisation, and fortunately so otherwise it would be just a psychedelic band. It's like being at the edge of a cliff, in a way, and that's what makes it interesting. You always run the risk of falling down the cliff... and that's nice !
(c) 1996 Calyx - The Canterbury Website