This interview with Richard Sinclair was conducted by phone on September 10th 1994 by Ken Egbert and published in his magazine "Tone Clusters" (issues 55 and 56). Thanks to Ken for allowing Calyx to reproduce it online.
Well, I got up late the other night, a sort of sleepless night, and ... in England there's four sorts of television channels, and one of them's on all the time and into the early hours of the morning, of course I flipped it on and it went through all the current videos, you know, Peter Gabriel and Sting, and one or two other things that l'd not really sort of noticed too much. I'd heard the music but not really caught their videos to see what they've been doing to make themselves successful. Sting, and the Police in their day as well, really did spend a lot of money directing attention to individuals, didn't they, dancing around candles and things like that? I quite liked them, even if I have heard them over and over on the media system. It's not one of those things l'd actally buy, but on TV that's certainly one thing I can put up with. I liked Andy Summers' guitar parts with the Police as well. Other thing was, I haven't really ever sat down and listened closely to Peter Gabriel, even when he was with Genesis. I'm not a media-oriented sort of listener....
You don't pay attention to the things that
we're generally all but commanded to.
No, I really don't listen to all sorts of stuff like Yes and all that. And listening to Peter Gabriel, even though it's not the type of music I get off on, it is a feeling sort of vibe that we'd like to aim at, but with an even more complex kind of music-magic, that people might pick up on. Watching Peter Gabriel, I was thinking, now that they've got the money they certainly do put on a good show, don't they? Even if you don't really get off on the music itself. The actual show's really theatrical, isn't it? Although his stuff's always been that way.
If you had seen him with Genesis in the early
1970s when he was parting his hair with a razor, you'd know how right
I certainly didn't see him that early on, I was too busy with the bands I was in, naturally. People often equate Caravan with Genesis' early days and Yes' early days, and I suppose we were all about the same age at the same time. Caravan didn't continue, as you know, in the original lineup and it sort of fizzled for a little bit, and then Pye [Hastings] managed to resurrect it back again; but it had become something else by then, it had become a vehicle really for Pye's tunes as well as for those other musicians that joined him. I think the music, for me, took a bit of a dive even though Pye's music is very beautiful, nice songs and all. It was the musicianship that went through it; it seemed a bit standardized for my taste, all one way, a bit like the West Coast of America rather than the English vibe. Obviously the rest of the world heard it as more Caravan music, but so it goes on. Funny old career, isn't it? I mean, here I started out in 1968, and here we are closing in on 1995. Getting on, isn't it? (chuckles)
Regarding what you were saying about videos
before: considering videos as they are used these days, do you
consider that one problem with them is that they tend to restrict
what a person can think about a song? I mean, once you see the video,
you have great difficulty banishing it from your mind's eye whenever
you hear the song afterwards.
I'll tell you what I think about that, I couldn't agree more. Standardization's not got anything to do with what I feel music is. Most of the music that I do, because of it's... well, for me it's not complicated. But even for the musicians that play my music, they find it so. Now why that is, I don't know; we've had a lot of discussions recently with everybody that's played on R.S.V.P. Even the people who are able to read and write and think and hear music very quickly and hear exactly what you're doing - and l've been playing with some very good musicians, as you know - still find many chords and notes and melodies and things that have been made up and aren't taken from other types of music and things a bit difficult. I can only play what I play, though, really. My dad had a similar style. He'd make up chords and things, bits and pieces, but mainly to standard tunes. He'd have his own way of, if you could sing the melody, he could play the chords behind it to support that melody. The bygone hits, the Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, right away straight until now. He died just recently and all that. He could invent chords and songs from them, and to me that's what music is, people doing their own thing, finding their own shapes and chords and melodies and how best they work. And it can get quite busy. Of course it's not how you turn on lots and lots of people, I've got to have just 3 or 4 chords and it chunders and it goes ga-gon-ga-gon. Like Peter Gabriel and his (to a marching beat) "Bi-ko, Bi-ko...". As I say, chundering along, funk-a, funk-a.
It is unfortunate that he's gotten into that.
Well, some of that stuff can be very good, I mean there's nothing like African music done properly with all those cross-rhythms, that sort of thing, it's really super. African, yes, but if you're going to refer to rhythm and blues as he has on "Steam" and "SIedgehammer", you have to do something new with it, and he hasn't. "Shock the Monkey" was pretty strange because he tried to do something different, and it was a hit. So why's he grown timid over the last few albums? "Steam" and "Sledgehammer, I mean, so what? We've heard it and we've heard it. I think so, a little bit; it's nice to move between labels of music, categories, and all that. People will say, "oh, yeah, he's playing this, he's playing that, he's playing jazz...". Well, what the fuck is jazz, anyway? It's an extension of all musics, really. I mean, jazz will give you traditional jazz and Miles Davis and John McLaughlin, and it goes on, but it's such a wide field. Forms and forms. When you get individual characters that play only themselves, that's what l'm interested in. Luckily in my career l've been involved with people like that. And so you get this problem with videos, which was what this conversation was initially about, wasn't it? If I was to make videos they would have to be a documentation of how the music was happening, who was playing what, how he was playing it, rather than this sort of story from when we used to do things with Caravan and all that sort of stuff, which would be magical pictures and pictures of castles and all that. Now for sure, if I was in southern Italy, where I often am, if I can get there - we stay with some lovely friends of ours in Puleo - lovely scenery - I'd fly the musicians down there and we'd film them playing the music. Not miming it! Not jumping up and down behind a load of candles! (chuckles). Some artists are really good actors, they're able to dance, they're able to sing, play, and look good doing it. But some of the music we play, sure, you can move about and do things like that. But l'm not able to really dance about to single notes and go ba-bunga-bunga, I'm a bit trapped because l'm not really physically balanced to do it, you know. Or mentally, either! It doesn't appeal. I do get off on the actual playing of the instrument, to me that's a dance in itself, trying to express out through your fingers, your mouth singing, that's the dance that matters. How do you get that onto video? Most of the ones l've seen have more to do with collages of effect and exposures. Peter Gabriel makes a good job of it, but I keep thinking, so what? The music sounds the same, the film looks the same. Where's the endeavor to take people's imaginations into where the musicians are? Really doing it and hearing each other play and reacting to what each other play, rather than being all set out like Camel used to be. I got very bored with Camel's music as I was playing it, because it's so set up. There were thousands and thousands of people who don't play instruments who obviously got tuned into Camel and that type of music, and they want to hear it again. And that's what I find quite difficult because I want to draw them forward with the music, to find the same amount of joy we get of actually playing it. When you get that competent you want to draw people along with you. I find the easiest method is to actually teach them my tunes directly. As the fans come round to my home, which they do, I say, "Well, it's easy. Bring your guitars and we'll play these shapes!" They're great, and they really do get off on it. To some they're unusual melodic shapes but to me they aren't, really. Funny. And suddenly they're even more into the music because they can feel it and hear it and also play it! They can actually take part, it's really good. I am not too precious about any of my music, I don't think any of it's particularly wonderful, I get the wonderment out of it when l'm actually doing it.
Sounds like you'd like to figure out how to
smash that "fourth wall" barrier that separates the Musician from the
Well, yeah, a lot of my listeners are musicians anyway. I got known for playing the bass in sort of weird and wonderful ways as opposed to the normal. I don't consider myself to be any great shakes on the instrument, but a lot of people have said, well, we really like your bass playing," and some of them are starting to say the same about my guitar playing. Funny, ah... what was your question again? My brain stopped... Listener as opposed to musician, er... Oh, yes, thank you, for sure. Some of my gigs I do are very much like that. When I played in America like the gig I did at The Fez [back room of the Time Cafe in downtown Manhattan] or the Wetlands [a club in TriBeCa, also downtown Manhattan], though they were really fun, it was more traditional. A stage. An audience. And most of the rest of the night was taken up with other loud forms of music, whether it be on the sound system or some such. The whole thing is geared toward punching out entertainment on the P.A. That's what the form has been for so many years, loud P.A., big audience, pump it to them. And yeah, that works, but it's not the only way to do music. You can arrive in people's homes, do it very simply, and be paid to be there all day and play the music. And I quite like that approach as well, you know, people actually pay you whatever they can afford. You sit in their home and they get to know you, and they hear you and they get to participate at close range. And sometimes you have a party that lasts all day! Where people play music with this person who they know and whose music they've enjoyed, and it's really good fun. And there's lots of other things that don't work when people expect you to be like something else, a more dominating rock musician type who controls things, who gets the whang bar going on the old guitar, a million and one sorts of effects pedals... they call those "shredders," don't they?
An effects pedalboard called a "shredder"?
Sounds familiar, but if they don't call it that, they ought to.
All these amazing electronic things....
Oh, yeah, the last time I heard that term was
in 1973 when Robert Fripp was in King Crimson. I saw them at the
Academy of Music and he had this huge pedalboard for his guitar
input, and one of the pedals he had I believe he referred to as a
"shredder." Most of the time after I saw them my ears were ringing
afterwards. Deaf, but ecstatic!
I saw him recently myself, two years ago, I was doing some concerts in Italy. It was Perugia, we'd taken Caravan out there to play as well earlier, and Caravan of Dreams as well, later. One of the concerts was called "Rock In Umbria", and the other was called "Jazz In Umbria". Obviously my bands were part of the "Rock In Umbria" show. And also on the bill was Robert Fripp and David Sylvian and one other fellow. And it was well uninteresting, and I was surprised, because they'd gone for the pop-rock stuff. I mean, you either like the angular stuff or you don't; some of it's great, I especially liked Robert when he was with Adrian Belew, you know, [imitating Belew], "it's only talk!"
Yes, quite interesting. Something new. But this stuff... there was a 2000-seat theatre, full if I recall properly, sitting pretty numb in those uncomfortable seats, and the tickets were expensive too, in English money about 20 quid a hi... and Fripp and Sylvian played this sort of lightweight stuff that made me so I'm not going to sit here and listen to this because l've heard them do better than this! And I haven't paid this money so I don't feel I have to stay here, l'm out of here, l'll have a drink outside. Found it pretty boring, actually. And he's a great guitarist, Robert. I guess it's just one of the things he's tried. David Sylvian certainly can sing and the bass player certainly can play, but it was all so turgid and down and incapable of lifting off at all; in fact the only thing that did lift off were these scatterlights wheeling above them.
Not very helpful if your light show upstages
Well, if you like that sort of thing... but afterwards I was asked by Italian TV, "do you think this is the most progressive happening sort of thing?", and I said, "well, actually, no". I said, "I saw Soft Machine in 1968, they were far more progressive than this stuff!" (laughter) They were! Even with Kevin Ayers playing bass, Robert Wyatt playing drums and Mike Ratledge on keyboards, they were phenomenal. It was a shift of gears! The musicians didn't think so, but musicians never do, and it certainly was a change of direction for many people. Soft Machine drifted off into a jazz band, true, but it was still nice music, a lot of my mates played in that band. Roy Babbington, John Marshall, exceptionally good drummer and all that. But Soft Machine had something going between audience and the musicians, I've got a feeling there, and it was definitely them doing their thing. And that's exactly what Caravan tried to do, doing their thing, however special it was to themselves, drawing the audience towards them there. I've always tried to do that. Help the audience take part, rather than be "better than thou", you know, the musicians ruling. Not for me. In fact, that's the way it was in the Hatfield days, when the musicians really went for it, and if the audience didn't really discover what we were doing, well, it was their fault. Which was really very much a Hatfield approach, they really worked 24 hours a day on the music. Learned it upside down, inside out, played it forwards and backwards, we even did it on the way to gigs! I remember traveling in a Ford Capri with Pip [Pyle] and Phil [Miller], and Dave Stewart and Phil and I would be in the back of this Capri traveling at 90 miles an hour with Pip driving or something like that - we'd be learning the set backwards!!! For sure, putting the music together 'round the other way. Because we wouldn't try to play the same set every night!
Yes, l know! I've got live gigs of Hatfield
strewn about from 1973 to 1975 and no one live tape's set list in any
way resembles the set list in any other.
Whereas Camel, which came after Hatfield and The North, it was a bit of a downer for me 'cause they played the same old music every night and expected to get all the notes in place. Usually went "dong, dong, dong..." Started off very simple, and I found it boring after a while. The thing I didn't find boring about Camel was the big audiences that you could play to! In the end, I actually did get the sack, you know, they got rid of me. They could actually see me coming. Because I wanted to change the band in a way that would move its music on. And even the music I wrote with Camel was very gimmicky, they were used on the albums as gimmick sort of things. l wasn't into that sort of pop-rock.
Yeah, like that song "Down On The Farm" that
you wrote for Camel's 1978 release "Breathless", and the increase in
jamming on other tunes on that album like "Echoes" and "The
Sleeper"... I mean, Camel were never big on improvisation.
True enough. Now, when I joined up with Pye just before I joined Camel, we did a few sessions and things in the studio that never got used; well, my music didn't, and in fact we did a version ol "Emily", and a version of "Down On The Farm", which was slightly better than the one Camel did because ours didn't have that Camel "rock star" beginning. Andy Latimer was convinced that would work. And then the song turned into this sort of like, "how-many-words-can-you-sing-without-taking-a-breath?" (laughter)
Had some oxygen on hand for you during gigs,
did they? (laughter)
(imitating Andy Latimer) "Can you sing it this way?"... No, I couldn't, actually! Now I can, but l've moved on from that chord form!
All right then, tell us some things about
Canterbury's the most amazing place, several people have asked me to write about it and all that stuff since l've been here for ages, 46 ages to be exact. But you know, everybody loves it and hates it, who lives here, because they all go, "well, nothing happens here". But in fact it's one of those places where you're surrounded by artsy-fartsy people all doing little bits and pieces and things like that, and you can live right next door to someone and not get on with them because they're doing their own thing, and then one day, "your mower's too loud!". It's really a bizarre place, it's really the biggest village we've got in this part of England. Everybody half-knows each other and has been involved in something with cross-references. Which is why I think, the music situation is quite unique, that has happened here. I mean, everybody was at college here, and other people who came to school from elsewhere played music here for a little bit and then these bands formed like Caravan and Soft Machine, and the family tree went on from there. And the press took it on and made it widely known. It's gone funny now because it did die out for sure, when Caravan stopped playing music in the early '80s, and Soft Machine were no longer a unit as they were with Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt and Hugh [Hopper]. But now they've got quite a bit jazzy, like what Pip and Hugh are up to.
What did you think of Soft Machine afler Mike
Ratledge left in 1977 and Karl Jenkins turned the band into a fusion
Don't know their late stuff all that well, l mean I quite liked "Bundles", although it's not quite my kind of thing. I also rather liked Dave MacRae's music when he played with Matching Mole, Wyatt's band afler Soft Machine, I thought he was a fantastic keyboard player. I mean, him and Robert, I thought they were a great team. Really like Robert's playing as well; busy, busy boy. It's a shame he doesn't come out and play more often, but I think he finds good reason. His body's really only half there, after all. We miss him not doing all that stuff. I've noticed he's done some things with Ultramarine, do you know them?
Vaguely; who are they?
They're an English band, they've got this sort of monotony-type dance stuff going with techno, but a sort of oddity to them. They're very into the Canterbury scene, Kevin Ayers, Lol Coxhill, and that type, though I don't suppose that Kevin and Robert consider themselves to have anything to do with Canterbury, really! Robert was asked in an interview a while back, "what about this Canterbury scene, then?" and he said, ~It's probably the Italians' fault!". Well, that was 2000 years ago when the Romans invaded, so they've got a lot to answer for, don't they? I mean, thanks to them, you New Yorkers have all those nice orderly squared - off blocks, all your streets left and right, no squiggles anywhere.
Nice to have dead civilizations to borrow
things from, isn't it?
Well, when you don't you have to rely on your imagination, and I find there's quite a lot of it in America. Obviously it's less visible on the media system, but there isn't any there anywhere in the world. They have to do what they can make money from. That's what slows everything up. We've gone through a phase in England here where once Thatcher got in and did that stuff to us where it was all about "well we must have quality" changing to "well, no, we must have profit". And what made profit was really "quantity", and things that didn't last. So you could turn the same item over and over. Like the Japanese, they still do it. It's called "design for obsolescence". Make something like a fridge that lasts for 3 years, and then something in it gets noisy or the thing starts to defrost odd. Or a camera no longer clicks properly. I mean, there used to be a time when people built things to bloody well last. And I think the same thing's happened with music and things like that "oh, we can sell this, it's got 2 chords, it goes bash-bong-bing-bong!". I'm sure my father said the same thing to me: "God, why do you play your music so bloody loud? I'm going deaf, for God's sake turn it down!"... Just what my kids say to me!
Well, he also used to say, "Why don't you play a few more chords and make it a bit more friendly?". In fact, once he heard the bands I was in he then said it the other way around, "why don't you take a few chords out, make it a bit more like a nursery rhyme and get successful?" (laughter). "For God's sake, you've got too many chords in there, boy, you're never going to make money! Take a few out, sing it to them, they like nursery rhymes!"
Your dad was no fool.
No, he wasn't, was he? He charmed quite a few people off their seats at dinner dances. With Hatfield and the North, there was no attempt at charm; that's why we played that music LOUD, so it couldn't be talked over. Strident, loud, bang-it-down-their-necks!
As a vocalist you're not a shouter, really, but
then nobody in what's referred to as the Canterbury School ever was.
Well, l can only tell you about myself. Where Hatfield was concemed, the quiet bits often captured the audience, and of course I got to sing a bit at those points. And whatever the musicians I play with are, at times they're too bloody loud. You can't pissing well sing over that, you can really only scream. Apart from two l've played with just recently, it's the first time in my life l've done something with musicians who can play something that supports you singing. One is Dave Rees-Williams, he's a keyboard player, trained as a chorister somewhere, and he's a great player, all ears and he can do anything. The other one is Tony Coe, the clarinet player. And they find drummers too bloody loud as well, you know. From a drummer's point of view you've got to whap it, you don't want to sound puny, do you, so you're going to give it a ding. You try to sing against that! You're going to have to come up with something to shriek like, say, "Biko!" or something like that.
Now what songs on R.S.V.P. does Tony Coe play
Only on two tunes, and only just one the whole way through. And we did play it together. Also on that track that Tony's on is the first time in my musical career l've played with Pip Pyle and Hugh Hopper in the studio at the same time. Or anywhere, for that matter. It's great fun, because Hugh is a great bass player with Pip. Pip is equally amazing, all these ideas coming out, and I was able to play guitar, an unusual situation since I don't usually play guitar. Or haven't done until now. And it was really good fun to do. It wasn't quite "there" in the studio, it was designed to have another instrument go on perhaps later, and I was actually considering having someone like Tony Coe do something on this unfinished track. I asked him, "this is the track, Tony, can you listen to it and play over it? It hasn't really got a melody, it's just a series of chords. I've got melodies in my head, but rather than give you a melody to play, just play what you do well, which is just extensions of what you can hear and play"... And it went on for a bit, and he said, "what do you want me to do?"
That's the sign of a good session musician.
"what do you want?"
Well, l said to him, "I want you to do what you want on this". And he said, "well, give us a clue!". and all I did was I pressed the record button and said, "I avant-garde a clue, mate!". Ever hear that joke? "I avant-garde a clue...".
(blindsided) Ouch! Ouch!
Took a few times for that to sink in, didn't it? (laughter) I think Tony found it amusing, and then he switched out and did it. He's a very peaceful person as he's playing. He really goes into the melody deep, he's a great listener, Tony. And he does a lovely piece on my bit of music, right. Which takes it away from what l'd have thought of for a melody, and he just plays beautifully. Now I think a lot of people will miss it unless they actually listen to it in a studied way where you just calm down and listen to it, for real, hear what he does. It's not just a load of old notes. It's amazing where he places what he places. A phenomenal player. The idea of the tune's name "Barefoot" came from Heather, she may have got it from that American movie, l think, "Barefoot in the Park"...
Oh, that horror...
(laughs) Or for me, it reminded me of when I used to stand on stage in hot countries with no shoes on. People will say, "oh, you've got your shoes on!". Sometimes I flick 'em off onstage because they're bloody uncomfortable. A very dangerous thing to do, however, if you're playing a pop festival in the rain. Tony also is on the beginning of "Videos," a tune I did with Hugh in the mid-'80s when we went down to do a duo album which hasn't yet been brought out. It nearly was, on the Voiceprint label, but I got a bit fed up with Voiceprint not delivering money back for things. Well, there'll be a lot more things out on Voiceprint, but l'm not all that interested in them, they're doing very well, it's just another bunch... They picked up on the Canterbury scene, came down and picked my brains, and they got in touch with everybody and took all their tapes and brought them out as the Canterbury Scene! For me, I like to draw the musicians onto the stage, live, onstage; that's what the Canterbury scene is to me. Draw them in, let them play the way they want to play, but that's an amalgamation of musicians, wherever they come from, and that's what the Canterbury scene is for me. Why they call it Canterbury I don't know; they come from all around the world, sometimes, but that's what it is. And they epitomize all this stuff from the past. Well, so bloody what? It's happening now too; the Canterbury scene is going on. It's so funny, l mean, that's where this conversation started off, because when I came back to do the music about four years ago, people would occasionally talk to Phil Miller about his music and to Hugh about his, and it was a joke! Something that was from the past, I mean, "Oh, Soft Machine, yes, dead and gone, isn't it? Caravan, that's dead and gone...". What they didn't realize is that there's an audience out there that's always loved and liked what they did. And Canterbury could be anything you like, it could have been Birmingham, but it wasn't, it was Canterbury where they all were. And now suddenly, on everyone's CDs they're claiming to be part of the Canterbury scene! Which is exactly what I wanted to happen. But it does self-defeat the purpose, if you want to call yourself Canterbury and all that, because in one way the musicians are almost like working against each other. They're all heading for the same gigs! But anyway, they're in there now, they're all putting cathedrals on their CD covers, which I find amusing. Even Pye recently put out that album we talked about before, you know, called "Cool Water", and he called it a Caravan album, which no way it was Caravan at the time. It's a terrible collection of recorded tunes; they're very nice chords, I suppose, but the actual recording of it and the up-ness of the music isn't there, and I'm really surprised at Pye to do it. In fact I was quite upset that he did it because he didn't ask any of us "do you want this to come out?". He just brought it out for the money and I was really very upset with that.
What were the circumstances of these sessions,
and why didn't they work out?
Well, Dave Sinclair wasn't in the band; it was Richard Coughlan, Jan Schelhaas, myself and Pye, and it was mainly directions from Pye. Arista, the company that Pye had been working with, said they'd put up some money to make some demo tapes to see if the band was worth recording to try to draw it back to make an album. Now obviously they would have used the name Caravan for that and all the rest, but I certainly wasn't part of Caravan then and I wasn't a session musician in any way, and after the sessions, I realized I quite enjoyed to do my own music but I didn't really care to do Pye's because I'd moved away from that sort of music. I'd had more endeavor from Hatfield and the North, the instrumentation had become more complicated, the chords had become more elaborate, the melodies had been more resounding, more jazzy and classical-influenced, than Caravan had been. Pye was by then very much more into the pop tunes to get to the people, to make money. Well, I've never been very good at that. And I felt the actual result of our recordings were a bit of a disappointment, and so did Arista.
Their reaction may have had a lot to do with
the general industry feeling in 1976 that progressive rcck was not
the thing any more and that what was then called "punk rock" was. I
mean, remember all the crap National Health went through trying to
get a record contract...
Well, perhaps that was a factor, but there's also the music we did on those sessions, which I thought was a bit weedy. I wouldn't have done anything with the tapes. l thought we could do a lot better than that! Because the actual band hadn't gelled, it wasn't really a band, anyway. We had fun doing it, I always have fun playing with Pye and Jan and Richard and all that, but it hadn't moved in any real musical direction. It was ordinaire, right. We had the same problems later when we reformed with Dave Sinclair in 1982 and made "Back To Front". Because there wasn't enough endeavor, enough time taken to get on with each other to find out each other's musical differences and possibilities. They were still living in the past hoping the thing would work, and of course it didn't, anyway. Now when I was calling my band Richard Sinclair's Caravan of Dreams, l think it affected everybody who had been in Caravan later for sure. I had left off in 1972. And it created a few problems for them, they were all disappointed because some promoters in Europe tried to drop the 'Of Dreams' against our wishes. Well, even so, what of it? I can call a band of mine what I want to, it's a different band. Anyway, it meant that there was a possibility that people were coming to see Caravan instead of my band. Well, not many did. I only had one complaint from an audience, saying, "well, we expected seven musicians, whatever, because of your CD, and where's Pye?". Only once did I get that in a series of concerts, but anyway... it developed a rather bad taste for everybody and I fell out, l think, with Geoff Richardson, who at one of Pye's parties said "well, what have you done for Caravan recently?". I said, "why should you mind if I call it Richard Sinclair's Caravan? You haven't done anything recently yourself, you haven't come to Italy, and you were invited to come and play, and you didn't!". Get on with it! A name to me doesn't mean anything, it could be Richard Sinclair's Camel of Dreams! It really doesn't matter, as long as the music's happening and people love and like it. And it really opened the floodgate for Pye.
He thought, well, look at Richard, he's printed a few T-shirts and all that shit, which I did because I did reorganize Caravan to play a few television shows and a few concerts in Italy, and did the old music again. They all wanted to do it and worked hard, they were all a bit disappointed in it, but we did it, it worked quite well, the people who have the tapes and the CD were all entertained; I thought it was better than what we'd done before, but the rest of the band didn't. And that was because it didn't have that same solidarity we'd had before of all going in the same direction. I'd pull in a different direction from what Caravan turned into. And I think now the situation is, well, Pye's brought these tapes out from 1977 as a CD without telling us, and I felt pretty hurt by that because l've been going on for weeks to Pye, saying, "look, you must come round and play some music, I'm playing music, this is my new music, be on my album, come out, la-da-da, and lots of people are coming to my home to play, let's do it, let's get on with it", but I find it's very restrictive how he's only got one way to do it; it's very much in the media system, which isn't my thing. I think for me, Caravan is well gone, now. I couldn't be bothered to play music that doesn't actually develop its style further into the future, with good chords and good melodies that you have to get 'round. You have to sit there and work hard on them and enjoy them. I can't play down to an audience, l can't be bothered with it, I'm not like Peter Gabriel who can provide music for people to throw up along and get off on. People do say to me, "well, you should, Richard, because you could make lots of money!". Well, it's not what l'm there for doing! Yes, I want the money, for sure, and I am a bit silly if I don't do it, l suppose, but in the end, no! I enjoy this other stuff that's, you know, desperately trying to climb into the camps of the great musicians' that we have on this planet, that l'm nowhere near. And maybe before I die, I might be able to achieve a bit of music that I actually like. Something that's entertaining rather than simplifying! One always seems to have to simplify! I think Robert Wyatt wrote a tune about that; he's good at categorizing all this stuff, you know. A lot of people do say to my surprise that I sound like Robert; well, I don't listen to him enough to be able to copy or emulate him, I'm sure! I am greatlty stimulated by Robert's thing but I like Tony Coe as well, lots of different players, Jaco Pastorius is another. There are more younger players available as well, and quite a few of these are out of my range. But that's what I'm heading for, to move my musical ability and listening ability along. I'm hoping to drag some of the people along who used to listen to my music with us. But if not, not.
"Whimsical", they called me, matey, and that's even from one of the great writers in the "New York Times"...
I'd say that's the kiss of death in
"Whimsy, you little bimsy doomsy dimsy dumsy", for sure, that's what's come out on CD, you can't always get your music out on CD as you want it. Now I'm attempting it, and I think I'm going to lose quite a lot of people in the process, and gain some I hope because the art of putting stuff onto CD and collaging it at different times obviously isn't one of my crafts, I've realized that because I've only ever sold... I think the last CD, Caravan Of Dreams sold about 15,000 and this one, R.S.V.P., has only done 3,000 so far, I know that because we've manufactured it ourselves and there's only 3,000 manufactured... I've only done these two CDs that I've worked hard on; now I'm working even harder and hoping my next CD will be a good musical statement for me because I've considered the playing on the other ones, they're nice CD's for sure. I think they're as good as In The Land Of Grey And Pink and all that stuff, a lot better for me, because on Land Of Grey And Pink, I wasn't able to direct. Now I'm getting near to the point where I want to direct a really good strong album which hopefully picks up on the time now, 1994, '95; it's something I'd love and like to do. It's got to move in some way. And you know, there's a lot of players I've been wanting to play with that are exceptionally good, maybe they'll be on the album and maybe they won't, maybe I'll just do a solo album, at the moment there's nothing caught. It's just the music. It might not be a progression, hopefully it will, it will certainly be an extension of how I play my instrument, which will mean hopefully I'm getting better at playing it. I'm not doing the same things because I know they make money, I've actually moved on from that sort of thinking. I can't stand 99% of what I hear on the TV and radio unless it's a very considered jingle where the music is obviously played by musicians, or a composer or arranger or a competent studio man. 99% of the media music I hear, it bores me shitless, to be honest with you. Sorry about the language but it does.
Quite all right. What's puzzling is that I
think most people agree with you about that sludge. So why does it
exist, do you think?
I sit there and I think, for Christ's sake, this is being pumped out every day on the radio, and the only reason why it's there is because it makes money. And the companies like Coca-Cola and Budweiser realize that and they're financing these things. And all the record companies, why are they there? Well, they've made loads of money out of all the musicians they've ripped off for God knows how long. And now they're pumping it out, right, they're picking up on the kids, they're certainly only aiming at money at the moment and not music at all. And I find it pretty boring; I'm sure I sound like a boring old fart, getting old, but I know my parents and their parents went through the same thing... but I'm looking for the ones that want to play and stimulate you, and sometimes I wonder what the hell, why did I land on this planet? (chuckles) What am I doing here? Of course, I can turn it off, you know. Radio off, TV off unless there's something specific I want to listen to.
Or, as you say in "Heather," listen to the
Or listen to other music that I like. I certainly play with birds! (chuckles) Or the passing trains.
I'd wanted to point out that in what you've
mentioned you seem to be looking for what classically has been
considered part of the jazz idiom, you know, like "The Sound Of
Surprise". Like on R.S.V.P. when you told Tony Coe to play what he wanted to play on
the existing incomplete track of "Barefoot", you reminded me of the
time Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane were in Thelonious Monk's band
in the late 1950s and he gave them sheet music they couldn't read.
And when they went to Monk he told them, "The music is on the horn.
Between the two of you, you should be able to find it"...
Oh, I suppose so, that's a nice story; I don't know that sort of music really. I'm just starting to hear music like that now. The only time I've been exposed to any of those musicians in that way was maybe when I got to hear Eric Dolphy early in my career. And he certainly used to listen to birds and animals and God knows what else, you know. And one of the albums that's my favorite is Out To Lunch; it was my great favorite in early days. I've moved on a bit, but I found it on CD just recently in America and listened to it again and played it to my girlfriend Heather here, and I was quite delighted to find it again. It was first played to me when I was about 15, I think, by Hugh Hopper, on the back of a tape he'd sent me of one of his tunes. And of course Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper and all of that lot, they've listened to a lot of jazz. Robert's always been a great listener to earlier creative jazz musicians, I've maybe missed out because I didn't, but I've been happy trying to struggle through with my own bits. Just being involved with the people who've come to play, on R.S.V.P. most recently as you know.
Now I want to talk about the new CD some
Yes,the whole thing about that is, you see, I have a series of ideas, right, I've written a lot of different tunes and bits, but they never get completed until other people play them or I'm asked to do a performance of it. And then it doesn't ever really get completed, I always like to change my music; even while I'm doing it I like to change it. I had a lot of difficulty with Hatfield and The North at the end because all the notes had to be right in place; you write a piece of music, it goes that wav. Well, I'm not a free player, totally free, I do like to have musical structures but I do like to have the empathy within the band that the thing can change. And change very radically as you work your way round, change squareness to roundness or whatever. Some things are opaque and some things you can see through, in music, all that sort of thing. It's listening ability, just knowing the other musicians and your actual imagination takes over and then you do it! So the whole thing about R.S.V.P. was, OK, I'm going to get a series of tunes here, probably ten, which was what happened, they were being written right now, and then I'll be taking them to the studio, I've had these ideas hanging about my head, ideas in different ways, 'cause they usually come in the way I play chords, I took them to the studio with them more or less completed for my own imagination but not for the other musicians', and I got them to play them in the studio. Dave Cohen started it off, he came over from Kansas City, he's a drummer. He's easily my favorite drummer of all time. He's sensitive. he's imaginative, he's powerful, he's quiet; he's not a stage performer, he only plays with weddings and clubs and things in Kansas City, but he's easily my favourite drummer. And my dream band would be certainly to get him over to England to play with Tony Coe and Dave Rees-Williams, for me if I had the money I'd draw those three musicians together straight away because I know they're the best musicians I've played with easily by far. And so there we have it, a situation where I'm in the studio, allowed to play for two weeks and we did it in little stops and starts and jumps. So as the musicians were available here in Canterbury like Didier Malherbe or Pip Pyle or Dave Cohen or Andy Ward, all the people I enjoy to play with, I took them to the studio and we just put down backing tracks, or parts of tracks, or I got them to extend tracks, and then I built the album that way. And these tunes "appeared", the words were written as I was doing it, mainly. And a lot of the tunes didn't get "completed", they're not complete tunes, that's why I got Tony and Didier and Jimmy Hastings to play things, melodies I half-suggested to them, letting them play a bit of their own melody. And so they're not complete musical forms from my point of view. I like them, they were put down on CD, great, they sound great, I'm sure people will love them like that, but it's not a complete form, it's just one way the music could be played. Next week the whole tempo could change, it could go up, go down, there could be chords added, they could be linked, two of the tunes could be amalgamated into one tune, and so it goes on. And that's how I feel about my music. That's why I found it very hard to go back and do music like Camel, after I'd been with Hatfield and the North.
Why in heaven's name did you take that job,
I was doing woodwork; I was making tables for restaurants here in Canterbury - I was doing my music myself always - but my other endeavors are that I'm able to make furniture very well; I've always been able to make things and do things, my father was a master craughtsman. He used to restore furniture for the Archbishop of Canterbury here, he was also a musician in the evening, and so the two things were a part of our household. I was born to sort of make do! I can make the instruments I play. It's just one of those things. Some people do it, I enjoy woodworking, metals, making peoples' water systems work, gas and electric, I'm able to do it well. Designing these things to work in peoples' homes, that's special. And I've worked with marble sometimes, whatever, tiles and things... So, what was I doing, why did I join Camel? I was making tables and playing music locally here in Canterbury, things like that, and suddenly I got a call from the Camel management saying well, they were making an album, and they'd just lost their bass player who'd actually been moved on because he couldn't play some of the parts that Andy Latimer wanted him to do; I think that's what it was about, that's a shame but there you go. And I was asked to join as a session person to do the recording sessions. And I went down there and I played music with them and I quite enjoyed it; it wasn't my particular music but I enjoyed it and I got on with it. I thought this was better; I'd rather earn a small amount of money with Camel than doing it just to play music, and there's a possibility to make a nice album. And I was asked to do the singing, which is quite nice. When people ask me to play, whoever it is, I always go along and try it out and certainly if I get on with it, even if it's not quite the right thing, I'll try and play and do a good performance, and that's exactly what I did. And at the time it was acceptable to Camel and I joined Camel; I was asked to join as a permanent musician but I'd be paid a wage and all that, and I'd be able to take part in this band which I hoped eventually I'd be allowed to write music for, but of course I wasn't. That's how I joined Camel and I ended up playing in this band for two years. And the nice thing was we traveled Europe and got to Japan and went to America over a short period of time. And for me it was good to see what might have happened if I'd stayed with Caravan, because Caravan had then got to that stage where they could play to audiences of l,000-plus. And for me that was the first time that I was playing to an audience that was regularly over a thousand a night. And it's a very pleasant experience. The only thing that didn't really work for me was, it wasn't my music. I was having to play other people's identities that rather limited what I can do.
Of course you wouldn't be happy in a band like
that; I'll bet that's the same reason why you left Caravan in 1972.
As a matter of fact, I had a tape of a 1976 Caravan gig... Now this
is not to say anything against Caravan, I wouldn't, but the thing
that struck me was that when they opened up with "Memory Lain, Hugh"
and "Headloss", as God knows they always did...
As they always did, and a similar thing with Camel!
Well, Jan Schelhaas played Dave Sinclair's
solos note-for-note, and I had to think, "all well and good, but
where's your personality?"
That's it! That's what happened in 1976 with us. That's what happened, you've captured it in a nutshell; it was frightening, the same bloody announcement every night with Camel, I couldn't believe it [imitating Andy Latimer, very deep sepulchral voice]: "And now we're going to play a piece from our opus The Snow Goose..." I mean you hear that a hundred times, you're with it! I mean, play something else, anything! I nearly got snowed good! (laughs)
Problem is there's nothing wrong to have heard
and enjoyed, but Dylan wasn't far off when he said "He who's not busy
being born is busy dying"! I will never throw away that Caravan
No, absolutely not, it captures an important musical moment in time....
But let's move on, man, let's take chances,
there's a future out there!
But then how do we get the radio stations and the media systems to say, well, we'll risk it? But they don't. They all immediately think they're going to start to lose money, and then they do because they don't get behind projects. There's so many good musicians now out making good music that are really on the breadline. They have to stop playing their music because of the stuff that gets pumped down all our throats. For sure, I'm not bitter about anything because I'm well happy with my own music. It's just that other people expect you to be this famous rich person that everybody knows, and I don't tend to relate to that sort of thing. I don't know what it is. I'd rather be a sort of ordinary person that makes music, try to make it as well as you can, you try to entertain other people... You know, I find nothing special about people like Prince or Michael Jackson or Boy George.
Listen, those people are not musicians, OK?
They are not personalities. They're Thanksgiving parade balloons.
Oh, yes, Thanksgiving! I've been there, on my first solo visit to the United States, it was great. In fact, that was when I arrived for my first solo round 'round the States. It was a wonderful experience, because I met these people again a month later on the other side of your continent, they'd all rushed across to see their mums and dads and friends and things. I said, What a nice thing, much better than Christmas! Everybody gets together to thank the air for good food and all that's been and it's a nice thing to do, Thanksgiving. Delightful. A lot of people in England don't know about that.
You must have eaten a lot of turkey.
Well, in fact, once I'd arrived, I think I was heading for somewhere and I had to pass through Cincinnati and they'd let a fan know I'd be at an airport at a certain time. I was sitting there thinking, God, I've arrived in this country, I haven't been playing music for years and no one knows me at all, isn't that wonderful, what an exciting experience. And suddenly someone very kind, a lovely fan, a guy called Peter Kurtz, who's written things, he's always been a fan of the Canterbury scene, he appeared with a piece of pumpkin pie his mum or his aunt had made, in cellophane with a little fork, and he said, "are you Richard Sinclair?". And I went, "Well, yeah. How did you know I was here?", and he said, "well, I tracked you down, I'm a fan of your music and I was told you may be a little bit hungry, as you may not have got this airport stuff together..." and he gave me this piece of pie. Wasn't that nice? And that's how I arrived in the States. As I went through I stayed in people's homes, I played music in their little local clubs and had great fun. Nothing supersonic and starry about it at all, it was just pleasant to be there. I've done it four times now, once with the band including Rick Biddulph and Andy Ward. Had good fun, didn't make a lot of money, but that's not what's important anyway. See, I've been learning to play the guitar, with someone else playing bass. Now, I'm spending a lot of time playing bass and guitar. And I'm changing my band format so it's like if I play I have a keyboard player or a horn player and then sometimes no drums, you know, or whatever's available. No special thing like it is this set band. I mean, in the last few years we've gone through Going Going, a band with Hugh Hopper and Andy Ward and Mark Hewins, and Vince Clarke, he played percussion; they've all been on the albums. And then we got into Richard Sinclair's Caravan Of Dreams, that was the next thing up, we reformed Hatfield and the North and Caravan for sure, but then the other one, this latest one's R.S.V.P. and it's already had like ten different members, in fact I think slightly more than that now. I keep chopping it and changing it and making it because it is, you know, it's change. It's progressive! (chuckles)
Change is good. We hear that on commercials and
the like, so it's suspect, but it is. So what part of Canterbury are
Well, I'm just relaxing at home here, in front of the windows I've just repaired; we've got a huge window, we've got a massive view of Canterbury Cathedral. We've got the center rooms in the old Mayor's home. It's a lovely building in Roper Road, and it looks out across Canterbury so we see the Cathedral beautifully. I've been here eight years in this house, Heather's had it nine, ten years, and I don't think the windows have ever actually been serviced. This house must be about 150 years old, and these are those really big sliding sash windows. I had them out about three weeks ago and it was so nice to be able to them open wide, you know. Getting a bit chilly here, now, though... Summer's gone, Ken, what are we going to do?
Talk about the next time you plan on coming to
America, if you've thought that far, I suppose.
I was hoping to be in America next year, actually; I'd wanted to tour around it for a whole year. One of the ideas was that we'd get people to sponsor something in the way of making a CD. And it was just a matter of adjusting the amount of money people might have to pay, saying like a hundred dollars per share. You could actually advertise it out and say, are people interested enough to take part, let the whole thing work out through magazines and radio. I've mentioned it and people say "oh, yeah, we've paid you $400, $500 for a concert last time, OK, we can afford $100 to send back across to England". We'd have to organize a bank in New York or Boston or one of those places so that all the money could be sent to one spot and then it could be sent in one job lot to England because that's the easiest way to do it. Rather than everybody sending hundreds of dollars to our address in notes and all that and them disappearing in the post, get it done properly and professionally. And I was hoping it could be done in New York, because Andy Meyers of Musician Magazine could help get it organized and sent to England to make an album of a group of Canterbury musicians playing here in Canterbury. See, supposing a thousand people did it, that may be a bit amazing exaggeration but supposing a thousand people did pay, oh, a hundred dollars each. Right? Well, that's a lot of money. We could make a very good CD and with the money we could fly people over to come and play concerts in America. I'd come over and I'd organize a mobile home for myself and my girlfriend Heather; we'd travel in that and we'd organize during the year maybe three or four visits of musicians to meet us in, say, Kansas City,or L.A., or New York, and I'd play the music with them and either accommodate them or find accommodations for them. And everybody who paid their hundred dollars would get a set of ten CDs that they could sell and get their money back, if they liked. Or perhaps they could sell their shares at a later date once the project has been concluded. The whole thing is just a platform, really, to get musicians to play music in America that people want to hear. Well, maybe that works, maybe it doesn't; I'll just try to put pen to paper and advertise it out to the fans: this is what we'd like to do, would you be able to afford to do this? Send no money now, just give us a yes or a no and we'll provide the details.
I think that's an excellent idea. You're
working towards a kind of collectivization here that the Communists
never had the nerve to try! If it were to work, it actually would
give the lie to something that Robert Wyatt said in an interview in
Musician Magazine in 1992: "It's a romantic illusion that you can
exist outside the system. Systems are a bit tougher than that.
Systems are the way society is constructed".
Well, that's the reason I want to go outside the system of promoting and record companies and all that, and I'm sure Robert would agree since the system's not been kind to him either. I mean, all the 1960s and 1970s Soft Machine BBC sessions are now available, and where's Robert's share of that money? Courtesy of Sean Murphy [former manager of Soft Machine], incidentally. The music industry doesn't work the way I'm proposing we do this share-selling idea, obviously, you know that; you have to go into a shop now and buy a bootleg Caravan CD for $25 or something, and you have to think of this alternative: for three to four times that amount you could be involved with the actual members of those bands. We were going to call it the "Share It" idea, you know, the Hatfield song of the same name. We really have been trying to carry on on small amounts of money. Obviously for the idea we would have to give receipts for the amounts forwarded, along with a direct letter from Canterbury along with the signatures of the musicians who were going to be on the CD and the tour. Most of the musicians who would be on the CD do have their own mail-out business anyway, such as Hugh Hopper and Pip Pyle; Pye [Hastings] and Dave Sinclair don't but they'd be happy to send back letters. I think it'll work because the only people who would send the money as I mentioned would be those who know the music anyway, so they'll know what they'd be getting. I mean, Heather and I could come over for a whole year if we're successful enough in our share-selling. I thought it might be nice to start it off in June of next year, again depending. Each concert could be organized by the shareholders, whether they be in small halls of 200, 300, their own homes, back gardens, barbecues, etc., and so it goes on! Robert was right, everybody only works within this media-based system, "oh I've got this concert coming up, it'll cost 2,000 quid," everybody only thinks one way and it's nice to do other stuff. Now among the musicians I've had on R.S.V.P., Tony Coe's really keen to come and play. Whether I could drag him across the Atlantic I don't know, because he hates to fly. I might have to stick him on a boat if we can get the money up, whatever. Probably we'd play our way across on one of these QNR things...
Wouldn't that be fun? Would you ever do that?
Well, not on the big boats across the Atlantic, but I've done it across the English channel, it's quite funny; especially when you're playing like a bluesy tune and it's slow and the boat's going with the swell, you can time the music with the swell of the boat as it rolls side to side. Or the saxophonist playing to the microphone that's gaffer-taped to the ceiling above him; it's quite funny, especially when the boat's pitching and the microphone's moving about... (laughs)
Then I suppose you just have to time your
That's it; go where the music goes...