A CALYX Interview

This interview with Richard Sinclair was conducted on September 10th 1994 by Ken Egbert and published in his magazine "Tone Clusters" (issues 55 and 56); this is part 2. Thanks to Ken for allowing Calyx to reproduce it online.

"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 America...
"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 birds.
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 more...
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, anyway?
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 show...
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 you in?
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 swaying...
That's it; go where the music goes...

Back to Part One