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Direct Link To This Post Topic: John Greaves interview, October 2007
    Posted: November 05 2007 at 06:18

Interview with John Greaves :

 

[The interview was held at John Greavesí Paris home and is build up as a blindfold test]

 

 

 1. Claude Debussy : ę Colloque Sentimental Ľ

[ after a poem by Paul Verlaine, Gťrad Souzay : baritone & Dalton Baldwin : piano]

 

[John Greaves has just recorded a record with songs/poems by French poet Paul Verlaine.I didnít knew at the time of the interview, that John had recorded the same poem.]

 

John recognizes immediately the song.

 

JG : I knew there were various versions of some of the songs , but I deliberately not wanted to hear, particularly the ones of Leo Ferrť [famous French chansonnier, who recorded a record with poems by Verlaine & Rimbaud] and I am really glad I didnít hear it before.

 

PA : Why Paul Verlaine?

 

JG : I kind of discovered him. We read him at school, but I couldnít remember very much and I knew I wanted to do a record in French. I did originally wanted to write everything myself , but as I write about one song in French every five year it would have taken quite a long time really. So somebody suggested, that I should try the classics : Baudelaire, Appolinaire, Aragon, Rimbaud and I just took a few books out of the library at random and looking at Baudelaire again and at Rimbaud and itís not there. I mean Rimbaud is great I love him, but I didnít wanted to put poetry to music. There is something in the Debussy version you played thatís nice. Itís a song, while Ferrťís version is so declamatory : text with some music, but they are not songs. Just picking up Verlaine, looking on a very superficial scan of it, you can see, that these poems are songs.

 

PA : How do you approach the poems?

 

JG : Verlaine is very easy because it rhymes. Thatís a very good start for a lyricist, especially he goes often ABAB, and he is so formal and classical in his construction. First I looked at it superficially, then I got deeper into the meaning of the words and it kind of grows from that. I am doing that for a long time now and I know how to open the channels to it and how a note will fit with the syllable an will be appropriate to the song, that comes quite naturally.

 

PA Whatís the difference in  your approach to lyrics in French as opposed to English ?

 

JG : Itís more like a discovery for me, even so I've lived here in France now for a long time, there are still things to discover, especially in the singing. Writing the songs, turning the poems into songs, was in a way the easiest bit , but then I had to learn how to sing them and I spent a long time doing that. It may not sound like it , but it did , because it has to be convincing and these are not 19th century songs, and they sound like they sound and the interesting thing is that bridge between this 19 century poet and a very contemporary sounding record. It has not only to do with the composition of the song, itís the way it was mixed and recorded and the way itís sung. I am not a virtuoso singer like Gťrard Souzay , and I wouldnít want my versions of these songs to be treated that way. Also I must say I have a version of them with Jeanne Adedd. [French classical trained singer who worked with John on several projects recently] singing and they are nice too, but that Ďs for another time. So in terms of Verlaine, luckily I come across him again or he appeared out of the mist of time and I am very pleased with it.

 

2.Count Basie (arr. Neal Hefti) : ę Lilí Darliní Ľ

 

JG : [Immediately] Itís Basie! Freddie Green on the guitarÖ great songÖ. I love this one.

 

PA : I read in your bio that you started to play with you fatherís big band. Was that the kind of music you played back then?

 

JG : In an earlier time yes, but by the time I got to play, this period was kind of finished. My earliest memories, when I was very young , between six and nine, was  seeing the big bands, probably 40 or 50 musicians. It didnít sound quite as good as Count Basie, but it did to me at this time. In the late 50ís and early 60ís we lived in North Wales and the nearest biggest towns were Liverpool and Manchester and my father took me to the most wonderful evenings when the big bands come over. I saw Basie twice! My father would rent a van and take all the band and me going to see these people who were idols. It was like me seeing John Lennon, this was my father going to see Count Basie. He was in heaven and he wanted me to share this with me. I saw Ellington two or three times, Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman... I was brought up with it. This was just about as exotic as you could get. They came from America. The music was played by big black men, who were just from another planet. I was so in awe for these people. It still is gorgeous, listening to the arrangements, Neal Hefti, fabulous! I suppose it was a big influence on me. I donít know where, and if it comes out and I am very grateful to my father for introducing me to that. And thatís where it stopped for him, anything that happened later he wasnít really interested. The music kind of stopped in the 50ís with the big bands, and Ellington was his favourite. He had a big collection of 78ís that I just got back I have to get them transferred to digital. Itís very interesting that someone from a completely working-class background, my grandfather worked in the coalmines and my father came out of that industrial wasteland Birmingham and just fell into this American jazz music. It saved him, and it saved me. He would have been, Gd knows, otherwise - and I benefitted from that.

 

PA : Did you get any formal training before playing with your father?

 

JG : On the bass I had no formal training. I did piano like anyone else, from the age of seven till ten and I started with great enthusiasm. I íd seen my father play and I wanted to play the piano. He didnít teach me himself,  he send me to a piano teacher. And over the course of three or four years, all my enthusiasm was completely drained by this horrible woman. I really lost contact with music and became more interested in Rugby and school work. And it was only revived in me because, as I said, we were living about 30 miles away from Liverpool and in 1962 the Beatles showed up, and that was an explosion for everyone. It was as big for me as the black American music for my father twenty years before and then everybody was in a band, everybody! I was slightly ahead of the game, because my father saw, what was happening , and he asked me, if I wanted to play in a band, if this was the kind of music I wanted to play. Things had changed, they were called beat groups and all the old-fashioned bands either changed their act or moved on to something else, and my father was really smart : he realized that he had to do that, and precipitated by the death of the double bass player -  who seemed to me at least a hundred years old ,but he was probably younger then I am now! When he died and my father didnít hesitate : he bought me a bass guitar. Actually I had a few double bass lessons, but that must have been after. The bass guitar was much more versatile. My father didnít count on the huge amp, that I bought with it, but thatís another story. So he bought me the bass guitar and I was in the band the next night and I played with him every night, for the next four years. And because I had done piano lessons, one thing that stayed with me was, I could read music.

 This was a semi-professional band, the musicians in the band were mostly miners. So my father picked them up when coming out of the mine, they put on their dinner jackets and their bow ties, and they were going off to play. We didnít have any time to rehearse. My father just wrote out the parts and then at 4 o'clock in the morning he dropped them off at the mine and they got back down to the pit! I would occasionally go to school, but not all of the time. That was a great training. I donít regret not being in the big bands, because then new stuff was happening and my father being very open.  Inbetween the waltzes and the formal dancing, I arranged a couple of James Brown and Otis Redding songs and we did a soul section. Being at that time in the North of England was very exciting. This revolution of groups from Liverpool started, but there was still the tradition of old fashioned dance bands. We would support, open for some of these rather famous groups like Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Fourmost. The Beatles had gone - I never met them unfortunately , but I met all the others, and I met Brian Epstein with my father. It was an extraordinary time, and I donít think I ever worked so much as a musician since. I had a great time. I was still at school and I was working four or five nights a week. I had lots of money and then I decided to leave, but thatís another storyÖ 

 

3. The Kinks : ę Waterloo Sunset Ľ

 

[John recognizes immediately]

 

JG : ...One of the groups that we supported with my father was The Kinks in exactly the same way. We played at the Manchester University in 1966 and we were on first, and then people threw things at us, they didnít want us! And then they threw things at The Kinks too, because there were drunken students! And The Kinks traditionally, especially Dave Davis would fight. I was in a group parallel to being in my fatherís band - I had my group as well, at school -  we were called The Jades. In my school there were twenty bands. That was such a great time, everyone was just in a band and some were very good. And our repertoire was whatever, was in the charts, the important stuff, like The Beatles,The Stones and The Kinks ...we would do "You Really Got Me" - everyone could play that! - "All Of the Day And All Of The Night" ... All this  wonderful songwriting that Ray Davis managed.

 

PA : Do you feel yourself more as a composer or a songwriter?

 

JG : I think I am more a composer, but obviously I am both, because I do both. I find my artistic satisfaction in the composition. If I write a lyric thatís satisfying too, but itís rarely that way. The lyrics that I managed to do are quite good, but itís the song that carries the lyrics, makes them distinctive and me. Without any disrespect to Peter [Blegvad], what carries the music are the lyrics. They are great songs, you canít really disassociate, but thatís what Peter is : heĎs a songwriter and I am not. I actually find it very hard to write a song just with two chords in it. I doesnít correspond to what my need is, my creative needs. Maybe the next album would be an album with Greaves lyrics, but it takes me a long time. If I am getting onto a composition, I know where I am going. For lyrics I need to have inspiration.

 

4. Pacific Drift : ę Yes You Do Ľ

 

[A lesser known Liverpool band, that John doesnít recognize. I solve the riddle.]

 

JG : Liverpool was a pretty extraordinary place. Liverpool, from the early 60ís through the 70ís was a really happening place. Obviously of what we know the most internationally known were The Beatles, but then in England there was a huge theatrical revolution: the Everyman Theatre. It was really important, in a way, that all changes in art forms are important. They represent a reappropriation of the means of production ... I am talking here like Chris Cutler, [he laughs] !... by the people who are involved in it, because they were ahead of the business. Inevitably all pop music has been like this, the theatre too and the Everyman Theatre was putting this back on to a working class daily. It was the Everyman Theatre, it was about working people, who repossessed the theatre, that would become this sort of icon over here, that belonged somehow to a different class of people. I am not necessarily talking about "class" in the Marxist sense, but about a new public that didnít went to the theatre before. The Everyman Theatre really changed that. They made it quite clear, that art is for everybody. And Liverpool had always had that feeling.

 

5. Luciano Berio/ Cathy Barbarian : ę Recital for Cathy Number One Ľ

 

[John Recognizes.]

 

JG : I discovered Berio thanks to Henry Cow really. It was particularly Fred who knew everything about everything! And we had the great honour of performing just before Cathy Barbarian at a Festival in Bordeaux in 1974. Cathy Barbarian was doing a thing called "A la recherchť de la chanson perdue", which she did just on her own with a piano player and she was in full diva regalia, with this wonderful little piano player, who was obsequious with his hair greased back, slightly kind of scruffy dinner suit... and Lindsay Cooper was the page turner. She [Cathy Barbarian] employed Lindsay just before we met. And I have never seen Lindsay in a dress [ laughs], sort of 19th century dress with her long beautiful hair, and she was turning the pages for Cathy Barbarian. I discovered Berio and this was a time, I suppose in everybodyís live, when you are in your twenties, you discover... and you have to be lucky, that you got the right people to give you the information. I think, if I havenít gone to university, I might have stayed in North Wales playing a kind of pop music. When I got to Cambridge and met Fred [Frith] & Tim [Hodgkinson], it was a kind of revelation. I'd never heard of any of this music. Iíve never heard of Frank Zappa or Soft Machine or Berio. I played Count Basie, thatís what I knew about. I studied English literature in Cambridge. Still I knew that I was going to do music somehow. I arrived in Cambridge with my bass guitar, and thatís the way life goes - Fred came down to find me, because he heard that I got a bass guitar, and he invited me down to a rehearsal  that they were doing : just Tim and Fred. It was one of those epiphanies. I didnít understand anything of what was going on. They were playing this very strange music, with very strange time signatures, that I didnít understand at all, but I just felt it was wonderful. I was very happy to get involved with it and to learn and to discover. Fred began to bring along Frank Zappa records and contemporary music like Berio, whom Iíve never heard of before. I hadnít had a musical education. So I discovered a lot : Berio, Varese, Ligeti or even Kurt Weill.

 

6.No Secrets In The Family : ę Overleaf Ľ

 

[John does not recognize, but the music sounds familiar]

 

JG : Itís amazingÖDo I know her [the singer] personally? I would have gone through a whole lot of people from Julie Tippets to Patricia Barber.

 

PA : How did the ĎKew RhŰneí- live project started?

 

[ĎKew RhŰneí is a record by John Greaves and Peter Blegvad released in 1977, that was never performed live as such until June 2007]

 

JG : When ĎLe Tritoní [ Famous jazz/prog club in a Parisian suburb] turned down point blank the ĎPeter Blegvad TrioĎ, because it wasnít "prog" enough, Chris [Cutler] suggested : "Why donít you do, what we wanted to do, come up with Jeanne Added and do a sort of ĎKew RhŰneĎ? ". So I send [ Triton manager] Jean Pierre [Vivante ] the "Kew RhŰne" record which he didnĎt knew, because itís not "prog"... But Jean Pierre didnít hesitated with that one, so we had ĎKew RhŰneí in the schedule, and we hadnít played most of it for thirty years ... I had to work like hell, because I couldnít remember any of it! And I am not good at transcribing. It took me ages. Jeanne could have done it in an hour, but it took me weeks. So that was how the concert came about and itís now up and running again and we want to get more gigs for it .

 

PA : Are there other projects ?

 

JG : The project with Alan Blťsing [ former guitar player of the  Zeuhl band, Eskaton, who did a project around a series of progressive rock classics among them Soft Machine, Henry Cow & Hatfield compositions, first presented live during a jazz festival  in Nevers in 2004, and now released as a record "Songs From The Beginning" ] had some interesting things in it, and I just had fun singing on it. I sing "Beautiful As The Moon" [ a Henry Cow composition], and he and his band playing this piece : itís quite extraordinary and itís transcribed from the record [ Henry Cowís "Concerts"] - the very wonderful [clarinet player] Catherine Delaunay got the job to transcribe "Beautiful as the moon" from the record. Alan gave her the first side of the "Concerts" album. So I turned up for the first rehearsal, Hugh [Hopper] was playing bass, and she'd transcribed it perfectly. But then it goes into "Nirvana For Mice", and I am hearing Hugh playing the part that I wrote for the bass!...  that poor woman has transcribed twenty minutes of the most complicated music in the history of rock 'ní roll, and I couldnít do it : she had done it! And we got two rehearsals to do that and five other songs, including "Mumps" [Hatfield and the Northí] and she has fallen in love with it, she discovered Dagmar [Krause]. I said, 'but we donít have time to do that, even to get only "Beautiful As The Moon" together!' And they played it better then we ever did! And it was very interesting, this meeting between the conservatory students - who are amazing, they can read anything - and  this bunch of self-taught people, who did these most extraordinary things, because they didnít know whether they were going! I love it, and there was this great moment in 7/8 [John sings it], and then on the score it was  written : Ďbar 325 : accelerandoí, so everyone speeds up, just because on the record Chris and I couldnít keep it down and now itís there! Itís íofficialí! We were just speeding up and now itís íaccelerandoí!

 

7. Kurt Weill/ Bertolt Brecht : ę Seeršuber Jenny Ľ

( sung by Lotte Lenya)

 

[John recognizes immediately.]

 

PA : Did Dagmar Krause brought the influence of the Eisler/Weill tradition into Henry Cow?

 

JG : When Dagmar appeared to us she was in this pop band [Slap Happy] Did the music evolve to accommodate Dagmarís potential? We'd only heard her singing with Slap Happy. She was great, fantastic, but did we imagine her then singing her post-Eisler stuff ? I suppose we did imagine it a little bit. I think that gave mainly Tim some ideas. The major piece for her was "Living at the heart of the beast", that exploited this direction. I am not sure, but I think we deliberately avoided going down the easy identifiable routine of 'Germanitude'. It  happened very naturally : we met Dagmar at that time, and we learned how to write and compose together as a group. We fed off each other and thatís what created this very special beast called Henry Cow, and the songwritnig evolved in that way too. And because we didnít had a singer - unlike Fred or myself at the time, we tried occasionally with varying degrees of luck and success - Dagmar could sing. So obviously that opened things up immediately for Fred and Tim. It took me more time. I wasnít really composing until the second album. But somehow it was there! I mean "Kew Rhone" was obviously influenced by Weill & Eisler, and this was one of the reasons I wanted to go to New York to get away from this side of the music. I wanted to find Lisa Herman to sing "Kew RhŰne". We arrived with "Kew RhŰne" pretty much formed musically, but of cause we could have gone every other way, we could have had Bill Bruford on drums and Dagmar singing, it. It would have been something completely different. But what makes it for me so special : I did want to go to New York and get Andrew Cyrille and Lisaís thoroughly NYC attitude to it : uninhibited disco style, sheís fantastic. I mean "Pipeline" would not have been the same, if we had done it in Europe, a phenomenological text sung to a rhumba with these two chick singers.

 

PA : What about ĎUnearthedí ?

[record by John Greaves&Peter Blegvad]

 

JG : Peter was approached by the label Sub Rosa, a Belgian label. Theyíve done a lot of weird stuff. I think spoken word is pretty popular now, but this was quite early on. They wanted Peter to do a spoken word record. I wasnít invited at the beginning. It wasnít first a common project, but it became one. Peter suggested that we did it together and they were perfectly happy. I enjoyed that project a lot, because we had a very short time to do it. I think we had three days, because there was no budget for it. So we had to work very fast. I had to use stuff that I already got and then wrote pretty fast. I wrote them on a beach in Turkey on a little machine a Yamaha QY. And most of the stuff was written on that. Itís the only record I made this way : four  or five tracks are completely off that, untouched and then Peterís voice. Something consistent in my working relationship with Peter is to keep up a kind of equity between the words and the music. You can hold 'em both up separately but itís not desirable to do so. I mean there is a lot of stuff where you can see why a spoken word has been used there, a lot of rap is like that. One is there to sustain the other. In "Unearthed" there is an integrity on both sides .

 

8. Frank Zappa : ę Apostrophe Ľ

 

[After a moment John recognizes Jack Bruce and "Apostrophe"]

 

PA : Do you enjoy playing the bass in a rock context ?

 

JG : Every time I get the bass out, I feel a little bit inhibited, because sometimes I just donít play enough. When you saw me in Carmaux I havenít touched the bass literally for six months, but yes I enjoy playing the bass! I donít do it enough, what have I done in a rock band context? Very little!

 

PA : Did you improvise onstage with National Health ?

 

JG : Yes, especially later on when the band went more jazz, when Dave [Stewart] wasnít there anymore. But that wasnít rock it was more a kind of jazz. And in fact itís not jazz either it is jazz-rock. I íve never been a fan of jazz-rock and I canít play it if my life depended on it! Iíd love to play especially in respect for Jack Bruce. He was a hero! Cream were back in our days a revelation, and I love the way he sings.

 

PA : Jack Bruce also played Cello - an instrument that you used, especially with Vincent Courtois and the other day with Jeanne Added. Is it a sound that you  particularly like?

 

PA : The cello is such a romantic instrument! Jack played it because I think he studied the cello at school. Itís complementary to the bass, but itís the absolutely opposite of rock. Itís a perfectly romantic instrument. A musician like Pablo Casals makes you fall over with emotion, because itís so direct. But I donít think that there any relationship you can make, even so I love the instrument. I was very lucky to have Vincent play with me - heís so great. You are really lucky to have someone this great on his instrument in your band, or even if itís just him and me, which weíve done a lot. But that is more about Vincent Courtois then it is about the instrument. Still I like the frequency range of the cello, not too high and annoying like the violin is. Itís a nice register with a comfortable warmth, that I do like and it does fit with my voice very well. The things I did with Vincent and Sophie [Domancich] worked very well .

 

PA : What about the accordion?

 

JG : There has been an accordion an all my records since "Accident", which is the first one I did in France. The first serious apparition of the accordion was David Venitucci and I thought it was perfect like in "Chansons" for Elise [Caron], and this was to be my first really French record with Christoph Glocknerís texts and the accordion just seemed so perfect for it. And as for all music you could have done it in a hundred different ways. I donít think I could have done it with a rock band, but I met Venitucci and it seemed right and he was absolutely perfect. It couldnít have been just any odd accordion player, but somebody who is technically as good as he is and as sensitive to the songs. I think itís astonishing, what heís playing on this record. He worked two or there years with his wife Annick Cisaruk, who is a singer. He spent a lot of his time to accompanying her so, obviously he knows how to play with a singer. Itís a very overwhelming instrument and especially his double-chromatic accordion, quite a rare instrument. Itís like having two grand pianos. Itís huge! He had to give up playing all others and studied for eight years, just this. And yet he uses it with a delicacy and finesse, when he accompanies Eliseís voice. So again I was very lucky to get David and I always liked the accordion. Then I was very happy to do this record in French with a great text by Christophe Glockner. Then I wanted to get to the next stage : I wanted to sing myself in French, because Iíve been here for twenty years now. I think I owe it to myself and the three French fans [ laughs] to do something in French. For the Verlaine record I didnít start with the idea of having an accordion on it, but it just kind of grew, not much, just two or three tracks, where the accordion seemed appropriate, but then I was very pleased not to have a French person doing it, just to keep it balanced, having Scott Taylor play it, who does not play like Venitucci. We did a sort of premiere with the Verlaine songs a couple of weeks ago, just Scott and me, in a nice little bar with a restaurant. On the record there are lots of people, itís very sophisticated and developed with lots of arrangements, but Iíve been, from the beginning fairly convinced, that the songs should work, if I just play on my own with the piano and I wanted to try it just with Scott on the accordion. So we did the whole thing, just accordion and voice. And we are going to do a festival in Tulle : La Nuit De Nacre [an accordion festival], and itís puts an edge on it : an American accordion player and a Welsh singer singing French poetry, me with my accent and Scott he doesnít play bal-musette and itís great, that we are doing that!

 

9. Fabrizio De Andre : ę Gorilla Ľ

 [Italian version of a song by French singer Georg Brassens]

 

[John recognizes the song but not the singer.]

 

JG : Brassens is so unique, it flattens it out, nobody can get the movement like Brassens does! That sounds very good so, I like it. Brassens is so fluid within the time frame vertically and horizontally. Itís never quite where you expect it to be! You know an English guy called Erik Zachary, this really strange guy. I saw him on the TV in the 60ís. He would come along on late night TV and play those really strange songs, his own compositions mostly, and he became a kind of cult. It was only years later, when I was in France that I made the connection, that this guy had obviously listened to Brassens, but not just translated from French, altough he did. He invited Brassens over to England. They did songs together, but he just got a whole style, completely his own, but he got the voice. Most people seemed to be happy with my version of "Saturne" [a Brassens song that John had recorded ] which was a major breakthrough for me. I wouldnít have dreamt of doing this years ago and then taking an icon, singing Brassens. Itís nice to find out, that you can get hold of the songs, and in a certain way I can do that as a foreigner much more easily then a lot of French singers could do .

 

10. Flying Lizards : ę Money Ľ

 

[John recognizes immediately. He has recorded with David Cunningham ]

 

JG : Who would dare to do this ? He [Cunningham] did! This is Dave Stewartís favourite guitar solo!

 

PA : You worked with David Thomas and David Cunningham. What do you think about post-punk?

 

JG : I think post-punk was quick thinking! It has been very fast! Here the guitars donít play! Using that in post-punk and post-modern situations where you could go into a studio and you could make a record like that, would have been inconceivable five years earlier, because to be able, to be in a studio, you had to pass some sort of exam. You had to have some sort of credibility. When they came along, David Thomas and David Cunningham, they just ignored the rules and went in to the studio and recorded among the most amazing, extraordinary stuff, that nobody else would have possibly dreamed of doing, probably for various reasons, but it is too late! There it is! Itís done! It exists! Itís an object ! And itís available on record! David Cunningham spent all his life doing that and David Thomas too.

I just said this was Dave Stewartís favourite guitar solo, which coming from where Dave Stewart comes from is the absolute opposite of post-punk! David Thomas got in touch with him, he wanted him to produce a version of  "Sloop John B." [John makes an imitation of David Thomas singing the song] and Dave Stewart did not understand where to begin. It was wonderful - they met in the Virgin offices [Pere Ubu and Hatfield had both been on Virgin Records] and it was just a complete clash, with all goodwill, but poor old Dave, he did not understand and why should he? There is this big guy who canít sing, and he wants to make a record in a key that he only just invented. And Dave said, 'I am sorry, I canít do it'! And I think David Thomas and David Cunningham were very important people and all the stuff that David Cunningham was connected with, both of them from Pere Ubu, the Raincoats and David Cunningham on his side with the Flying Lizards, the Slits, Patty Paladin, Peter Gordon. It was getting back to using the studio as a simple tool, you donít need to be George Martin to use te studio, you just do it! David Cunningham is a fine technician,  he was doing sampling before samplers existed, cutting bits of tape. He was quite a pioneer. I havenít seen him for ages...

 

11.Gilgamesh : ę Arriving Twice Ľ

 

[He recognizes immediately]

 

PA : What do you think about the term ĎCanterbury soundĎ?

 

JG : I know these categories are invariably created from outside. I donít know, who out of these designated Canterbury artists would think of themselves as a Canterbury artist. None would, I mean the only band that were from Canterbury was Caravan [and the original Soft Machine ed. note]. None of Henry Cow were. I think itís probably quite useful, as a generic label. At that time it actually helped everyone to continue to create. I remember when we did our first John Peel session with Henry Cow, which was a major breakthrough for us, I think we probably only got it because the producer, the wonderful John Walters, thought we were from Canterbury! We were actually from Cambridge. It did help people in the media, like John Peel and they tried to slip us in on the same level as Caravan, Matching Mole and it kind of helped in that way.

Musically it seemed so terribly diverted to me now. I wouldnít really put it in the same category and I wouldnít have thought of it as "prog". I can see that as a more credible category. Surely King Crimson are "prog", arenít they, I would say with a great deal of proficiency, which I donít think applies to the Canterbury scene. If Gong were Canterbury, they were anti-prog, itís very sloppy, itís not tight rhytmically and never has been. You had bands who played incredibly tight and you had bands that donít. Is that a criteria for making good or bad music? I donít think it is!
 I became a fan of the Soft Machine from the first time I heard them, which was I suppose late. Fred probably gave me Soft Machine One and Two. In think I saw them in London when "Volume Two" came out. I suppose I vaguely knew that they had something to do with Canterbury and we got immediately quite close to Robert Wyatt, who liked us. And trough Chris Cutler came Dave Stewart, who was associated with Steve Hillage. He lived with Steve and then played with Gong. We listened to each other, we had this thing called the Ottawa Music Company. There was a kind of collective element to that, but I never thought of it as Canterbury. Who the devil invented the term "Canterbury" ? Are there musical similarities? I donít think so! I mean, without any arrogance, Henry Cow were apart, completely different. But then Hatfield and the North were unique too. I think they would crossover into the jazz-rocky kind of area. Kind of slightly 'whimsical' jazz-rock I would say Hatfield and the North were and Caravan. Henry Cow were never in that category at all. There was no jazz-rock and we couldnít have played jazz -rock. So I donít think that Henry Cow was part of it and I never considered myself to be part of it. I donít think my music corresponds in any way at all, so I wouldnít probably never get invited to a Canterbury festival, unless we can get "Kew RhŰne" in there through the back door. I mean NYC is a long way from Canterbury, and thatís where I wanted to go in 1976 and I think that says it all really. And now I live in France and we find ourselves in Les Lilas [Parisian suburb where you find the Le Triton club], which seems to be a suburb of Canterbury. Kind of strange! But people seemed to need these categories and itís sad for, as you saw with the Blegvad TrioĎ[which got a rather mixed reception at the the Rock In Opposition festival in Carmaux, April 2007], it was one of the most interesting things on that festival and if there is a spirit of "Rock In Opposition" itís represented by Peter. If there is a spirit of openness, which is what any movement should be about, and the absolute opposite of closing it in, Peter represents it! Daevid [Allen] certainly represents it! Jean-Herve Pťron [Faust] represents it! Itís supra-musical! You can get the music - Present itís great, but there is something more required I think. So finally all categories are there to be broken, without being a militant, it seems to come naturally to me to do that. And it makes things difficult. I have different ways of expression and people find it quite hard to put me in a category! And at my ripe old age, I pretty love to do different things, trip-hop, [John recorded a trip-hop record with guitarist Jef Morinís band Maman : "In And Out Of Life" (2007)], Verlaine and "Kew RhŰne" - itís a very privileged situation in a way, and I am very grateful to being able to do that!

 

12.Vaughan Williams : ę Vagabond Ľ

[after a poem by Stevenson sung by Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel]

 

PA :Are you connected to your Welsh roots?

 

JG : Yes, I am attracted to the more primeval aspects of language and if I get it right in my compositions itís not in that way, as good as that is, itís fabulously sung, the composer obviously knows what heís doing, but I think it lacks because of itís formality, the raw power of the language, there is not the blues in it. And again I think this is a misreading of traditional poetry of Dylan Thomas or Shelley or Blake. A lot of people tried to approach poetry and I think Mike Westbrook gets quite close, because heís got a feeling for jazz. I am working in a very different way from the traditional classical composers. That approach to songwriting is not mine and I think they are missing the beat. The sound of the words is right, the melody is gorgeous and the interpretation is great, this guyís technique is astonishing, but is that bringing across the real meaning of each word of each syllable it? It doesnít get there for me. It has too be much more raw, much more rockín roll. Thatís what I try to do and if I get it right thatís when I am successful as a composer or a setter of words to music. I realize that I am denigrating a whole lot of important work, with a sweeping statement and I donít want to say that it doesnít work too. And I havenít gone further with the Dylan Thomas thing, but maybe I will, having done the French for the last couple of years to go back to the English language, even the Welsh language. There is some Welsh language stuff that is absolutely astonishing and I donít think anybody has ever done it. There was one period when I was very interested in getting a male voice choir of which there are several in Wales, the choirs that come from the mines and itís a fabulous sound - hundreds of baritones and tenors, an earthshaking sound, but I havenít yet found the right vehicle to do it. There is something very powerful in doing that , but I have to get a lot of money to be able to do it. I did a budget for it ten or fifteen years ago, but every item on the budget you have to multiply by a hundred, you have to get them all to the studio to do a session and you just add two zeros to everything and it gets large very quickly. And they need some rehearsal. I mean these choirs are good, but they do not sing like Bryn Terfel. They just work in a a mine, but maybe one day I can do it!

 

PA : Thank you for the interview John!

 
...and a big thank you to Aymeric Leroy for corrections! 

 

 

:::Martin Horst Nov. 2007:::

 

 



Edited by Alucard - November 05 2007 at 14:08
Tadpoles keep screaming in my ear
"Hey there! Rotter's Club!
Explain the meaning of this song and share it"

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 05 2007 at 08:36
Great stuff! I really only know John Greaves for his invaluable contribution to OF QUEUES AND CURES (surely one of the best prog albums of the 1970s?) and I've only just started discovering Henry Cow, but interviews with intelligent musicians are always worth reading...
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 05 2007 at 08:51

Indeed Fuxi and he's not only a gifted musician, but also a great human being.

BTW check out his solo records, for a start I recomend 'Songs' and you HAVE to check out 'Kew RhŰne' an absolute masterpiece!!

 
 


Edited by Alucard - November 05 2007 at 09:01
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Explain the meaning of this song and share it"

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 05 2007 at 09:14
Fantastic interview, Martin! One of the best I've read, very interesting and well done.
 
Great to read about John, who's an interesting musician and whose various works I know I like a lot.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 05 2007 at 09:41
Splendid interview! Really interesting readClap
RIO/AVANT/ZEUHL - The best thing you can get with yer pants on!
EXERIOR Experimental tech/death/progmetal from Norway!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 05 2007 at 13:34
Thank you, Martin, it was a pleasure to read! A very informative and enjoyable interview, indeed. John Greaves is a fascinating person... and now I will give "Of Queues and Cures" and "In Praise Of Learning" another spin!
@fuxi: I have to agree with Martin, Kew Rhone is a mandatory purchase (I have the enhanced Voiceprint edition)! What a bliss is this disc, I got immediately hooked on!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 05 2007 at 16:01
Wow, Martin, I have been looking forward to this since you first told us of its happening. Fantastic interview, my hat is off to you, plus thanks to John for providing such detailed and entertaining answers. 
ďgood men make good rhinoceroses, unfortunatelyĒ
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 05 2007 at 18:02
Superb work Martin, very well thought out and you got some very interesting and revealing answers. It also sounds like it was a very enjoyable interview for all concerned.
'Like so many of you
I've got my doubts about how much to contribute
to the already rich among us...'

Robert Wyatt, Gloria Gloom


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 06 2007 at 11:06
...thanx a lot for all your feedback!!!
 
BTW I will post here a note as soon as the new John Greaves record is released!
 
 
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Explain the meaning of this song and share it"

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 13 2007 at 23:13
Great interview! Very informative. I've been a longtime fan of  John Greaves. His CD "Songs" is simply amazing!  Anyone interested in the song as an art form must listen to this. Thank you.Tongue
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 21 2007 at 10:29
Pete you might be interested in this one:
just in time for Christmas the new John Greaves  record, it will be available in feb 2008 but you can already buy it on the Zig Zag site and you have some  samples on John 's my space page
 
 
A propos de John Greaves

Le nouvel album de John Greaves consacrť ŗ Verlaine sortira le 21 fťvrier 2008 chez Zig Zag Territoires / Harmonia mundi

mais vous pouvez dťjŗ le commander ou le tťlťcharger sur le site de Zig Zag Territoires



Edited by Alucard - December 21 2007 at 10:33
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Explain the meaning of this song and share it"

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 17 2008 at 23:38
That was just a joy to read,especially when he's talking about Canterbury and the related bands.Anyone who hasn't heard "Playtime" by NATIONAL HEALTh should check out Greaves wonderful bass playing in that live context. Excellent interview Alucard!!
"The wind is slowly tearing her apart"

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 04 2008 at 19:24
Greaves really pissed me off when he "couldn't resist re-recording some of the vocals" on the CD release of  "Parrot Fashions"....  He ruined (at least) a couple of great songs, prompting me to re-buy the original LP on vinyl. 
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