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Luca Pacchiarini View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Ken Elliott (Second Hand, Seventh Wave)
    Posted: April 09 2009 at 10:56

An interview with Ken Elliott (Second Hand, Seventh Wave)

Did you know that Second Hand was going to become peteer Gabriel's backing band?
Did you know what tragic event made them a keyboard centered band?
Did you know about the film Death May Be Your Santa Claus?
This interview started casually: I knew Ken’s sister by accident, after I read a Youtube comment.
Then I asked her if it was possible to interview his brother. They were both incredibly kind and patient: they agreed, and the last part of the interview was done on the phone (I wrote the questions to Fran Elliott, who read them to her brother)

Please note that this is a re-translation: I translated Ken’s interview in Italian… but then I lost the original file (in English) and so I had to translate it back to English!
This means that the following text does not comprehend 100% the words said by Ken, but around 90%.

The italian version already appeared in the prog website Arlequins.
Please, tell us about your recent activities… Are you still involved in the musical world?

Yes, I’m still involved in the musical world, even if of course, my music is different from the one I played in the 70’s: nowadays I’m mainly working as a sessionman. I do not have any other occupations. During the last few years I have worked with Chris Bemand (45dip) composing for musical libraries, but also making  audio effects for animations, this kind of things.
I’ve also worked to for a musical project of mine and I’m now thinking of how to produce it.
In 1999 I moved to Galway, in the western part of Ireland, and  I stayed there for 5 years; I played in rock and Irish folk bands, playing live again after many years. It has been a great exercise.
Last October I moved from London to a called place March, close to Cambridge, to concentrate more on the music, without all the distractions of a great city. 

I have visited the Seventh Wave website:  in the “Photo”  section there is a document owned by Polydor which is about you. Under “People who have been a infuence” we find names like Graham Bond, Bach, Steve Winwood, Shostakovitch and the Beatles. What or who influenced your music? Are you self-taught? 

About influences, as an adolescent I went to see Graham Bond and I was impressed by his version of “Wade In The Water”, and by the way he mixed classic and Rhythm and Blues. McCoy Tyner (the pianist of John Coltrane) was an other infuence, and so was Arthur Brown. I visited little underground clubs in London, also jazz clubs, so I received various influences. Dave Brubeck, Brian Auger, Keith Emerson, Moody Blues and Mike Rutledge of the Soft Machine were extremely important for me. When I became a pro, the psichedelia had bloomed, so the Nice and Procol Harum were an enormous source of inspiration.
I am self-taught, I do not know to read music very well and so I have not transcribed any of my compositions. 

Well, we begin with the first group, Second Hand. Two albums which are truly high regarded in the Underground-Prog niches. Which was the atmosphere in the band, what were the relationships between the members like? 

At the beginning, the atmosphere in the group was truly magical. We had met each other when we were little students and we got on well quickly. It was all new and fresh so creativity flowed freely. The things had started well for us: we had a good following and we had the chance to record Reality, our first LP. At the beginning, I think, we were seen more like a guitar band. But suddenly the father of our guitarist, Bob Gibbons, died tragically.
Bob fell in depression and he began to miss reharsals (in the meantime the bassist George Hart had already joined the group). Bob came with us in tour in Holland but, for his depression, he had to return home before the end of the tour, that included dates in France and Spain.
This meant that the empty spot left by the guitarist had to be filled up, so I started to play solo keyboard. There was a lot of pressure and I had to learn in a hurry. So that’s how we became a keyboard-centered band, defining the sound for “Death May Be Saint Your Claus”.
The relationships between us were good, but then unavoidably we became sad because we really missed Bob.

On the Internet I once read an interview in which you stated that the drummer Kieran O'Connor was a difficult person to work with, and that to collaborate with him was not a pleasant experience.
If it’s not particularly personal or embarrassing, would you tell us what the problems were?

Briefly, the problem with Kieran was his alcoholism. Not to be critical towards a person who drinks, also because I myself like to drink, but the Kieran’s behaviour sometimes caused plain havoc.
There were various embarrassing scenes in front of club owners, promoters and other musicians: he was the cause of some brawls and he tried to smash the recording studio a pair of times.
Sometimes he was too drunk to play, usually we arranged things in order to keep him away from booze and I remember some occasions when we had to recover him before recording: sometimes we had to wait until 4 in the night before we were able to record a backing track.
Despite this, Kieran was an incredible talent and he had extraordinary natural abilities…

for me he’s still the most talented drummer I’ve ever known.  We got on extremely well when he was sober, we loved each other, but as time passed by, we found working together increasingly difficult and we ended up not speaking to each other anymore. I think he missed one of our better opportunities (see ahead). 

For those people who like labelling (I don’t)  the group can be considered part of the English underground scene. Were there friendships with other similar bands? 

We knew the Egg very well, and indirectly Soft Machine and Hatfield And The North, too. We also knew the Paraphernalia, Colosseum and the Villane: we all played in the same gig circuit .
We met the great saxophonist Lol Coxhill and Peter Robinson of Quatermass, and we received influences from all this people.
We once saw Klaus Voorman near the studio and Mike Hugg ( of Manfred Mann)… in fact we used their mellotron on “Reality”.  We once played in a jam with Steppenwolf and I remember Alexis Korner came to see us.
I have read somewhere that our first album, “Reality”, was one of Pete Townsend’s favourite albums, and it seems that he talked a lot about it. 

Why did you release the third LP of the group under the Chillum name? Has it to do with contractual issues?

No, it was not for that reason. In that moment we had a little different lineup because the guitarist Tony McGill had joined us, and he brought  some changes in the musical infuences.
That was the reason of the change: we wanted to make it in an anonymous way. Thus, we gave ourselves  fictitious names: I was " Elliott Neck”, Kieran was " Max Fish" , George Hart became " Sticky Schmultz" and Tony " Buddy Cuddy".
The album was recorded quickly, as we were making auditions for a new guitarist and Tony came.
We instantly found a great musical relationship and so it became a jam.
Mike Craig (the Co-producer in our albums) turned on a two tracks recorder and recorded what we were playing. Our producer Vic Keary liked the sound so much that he decided that the material had to be published.
We recorded some other numbers, in one of them only Kieran appears.
" Land of 1000 Dreams" had a weird genesis: Kieran had fallen asleep under the piano and Vic recorded his snoring and his breaths. It was made very silently, not to wake him up, it was a kind of lullaby.
Then, it turned out that Tony could play acoustic jazz guitar, so we made a jazz number, which was originally called “Stairway To The Skies”, but then the name was changed in “Promenade Des Anglais”.
All of this was absolutely not programmed, it only happened.
And then I believe that we changed our name in “Chillum”  for a bit of notoriety, since the Chillum is a relative of the Cannabis.
One of the photos which appear on the album was taken in the bathroom on the other side of the Abbey Road studios… we were smoking a joint while peeing.

Speaking about your successive creature, Seventh Wave, did you expect more in terms of sales, since the band some radio passages? And in qualitative terms, are you more satisfied of the Second Hand or of the Seventh Wave albums? 

The Seventh Wave had more acknowledgments of the Second Hand, but our songs did not receive much radio air play in United Kingdom, only a little in local and pirate stations.
We were better known in France and Holland, and we reached the seventh place in the FM charts in America.
We did a promotional tour in Europe in the university circuits, then in the USA.
We had a good feedback from record labels… and we hoped that success would materialize, but it did not happen. For some reason the sales did not take off.
It looked like we were a marginal thing and that it was not possible to find a “vehicle” that allowed us to reach success.
All we did was to look for new ideas, the creative flow was very impulsive, we did it for fun, without any business planning.
Speaking of satisfaction, I remember listening to “Metropolis” and “Old Dog” after we recorded them and I felt myself extremely satisfied of the result. All we wished was to create a completely new and unheard sound, different from what it had been done before.  And I think we succeded. 

Since Seventh Wave was a duo, did you choose this kind of lineup to have a greater creative freedom, without having to do with an entire group of 4-5 musicians?

It was not for that precise reason, but in effect that’s how things turned out to be, in the end.
It was only because the Second Hand had broken up, and I did not have any plans to form a new group, and also I didn’t have much money.
Even if, in reality, Seventh Wave was Kieran’s idea:
We had not worked together for a while…I was working as a sessionman and jingle composer, using the same techniques that I used later in Seventh Wave, while Kieran played with several groups.
Although we were not a true band we had a little time available and we decided to return to record music together.
The producer, Neil Richmond, was busy in other projects, so it was something done in the free time. It was a vehicle to express our creative ambitions and to experiment with the sound, something similar to an artistic project.
“Things To Like”, the first album, was created just by me and Kieran, we did all the arrangements too. Moreover, Kieran figured also as producer (Neil Richmond was the Co-producer).
For the second album, “Psi-Fi”, we were helped from other musicians: Pete Lemer (previously with Gilgamesh and Gong, then future collaborator of Mike Oldfield) and Hugh Banton (VDGG) both keyboard players. Steve Cook of Gilgamesh played bass in some tracks. They also played with us in the promotional tour. 

Both groups we have mentioned were probably too ahead of their time: Second Hand showed psich-prog tendencies before other bands and Seventh Wave was an original synth duo.
Do you think that the importance of these bands has been neglected, even in the niche of the progressive fans?

Yes, I think both have been underrated. Second Hand was totally ignored by the media and Seventh Wave did not have an adequate promotion. It seemed that we could not fit into the two main scenes of the time, Prog and Glam.
Looking back to the past, things could be gone in a different way.
I remember that Peter Gabriel, after he left the Genesis, wanted us to be his backing band, but Kieran did not go to the reharsal, so we lost that opportunity. 
Extra: Death May Be Your Santa Claus... THE FILM!

I have read somewhere that the album " Death May Be Saint Your Claus”, (1971) was composed like as the soundtrack of an obscure film. is it true? And was it published? 

Yes, It is true. The film " Death May Be Saint Your Claus” was published in 1969, but it was banned shortly after the release date, because it was too much “controversial”.  But not every song of the album appeared in the film, just a couple. We, the band members, briefly appear in the film, playing a chaotic jam session. The film contained the first version of the title track “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”, later re-recorded for the LP in 1971.


Fran Elliott (Ken's sister):  I tried to get hold of a copy of the film for twenty years: until recently, all I could find on the net were just a few lines, but the film was not available anywhere.
It also appeared in the " most wanted banned films" list, and I have discovered that it was directed by Frankie Junior Dymon (also in " Sympathy for the Devil" of the Stones).
But recently, during researches in the British Film Institute Library, while I was looking for another film in their archives, I found it! I could not believe to my eyes! In the archives it's described as “an intriguing look to politics and sex seen from the perspective of a black English".
It’s a pity that those films can’t be watched online, so some weeks ago I booked a viewing position at the BFI and I went to see it. It’s a homemade film, very strange and artistic, typical of the period: Second Hand appear shortly in it, as zombies in a strange scene set in an old ruined house.
The song “Death May Be Saint Your Claus”  is featured in the film, and it’s been beautiful to listen to a version sung by Ken, who has a sweeter voice, different from Rob, Ken’s brother.
Rob has a harder, raucus and rockier voice, in fact he later became the vocalist of Strider.
I must write to the British Institute Film to make them aware that the credits at the end of the film are wrong, Ken was not pleased when I told him… in fact there’s written " music performed by Second Hand, written by " Mott the Hoople" (?!?) Ken has always felt a bit displeased of the fact that Mott the Hoople took the name Second Hand for one of their songs. But they have nothing to do with the film… Who wrote the credits of the film made a mistake! 


A big THANKS to Ken Elliott for the kindness and the helpfulness.
An enormous thanks also for his sister Fran, who gave me the possibility to contact Ken, and who gave me new informations. Without her, this would not have been possible.



Edited by Luca Pacchiarini - April 09 2009 at 10:59
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 11 2009 at 11:50
Clap Absolutely brilliant Approve
I missed the opportunity of seeing them live, but have been obsessive about Seventh Wave since the release of "Things To Come" - as it says in the interview, both bands were a head of their time - if it had been 1980 instead of 1974 who knows how big Seventh Wave could have been.
I'm now intrigued about the music project Ken is working on - I'd love to hear new music from him.
Thanks Luca for an excellent and well researched interview and thanks to Ken and Fran for making it  possible.Clap
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It’s this thing called nuclear weapons.
And other things.
Like lots of things are done with uranium.
Including some bad things.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 11 2009 at 13:25
^ Same goes for me. 'Things to Come' is in my personal top 50.
When I ordered the album back in the 70's the record shop made a bit of a blunder and got me the soundtrack of the film 'Things to Come' from the book by H.G. Wells. After listening to it I decided to keep it and re-order Seventh Wave. Two great pieces of music.

Edited by limeyrob - April 11 2009 at 13:29
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 01 2009 at 15:15
Second Hand is not an MtH tune, Death may be your Santa Clause is, it's on Brain Capers

I got Things to Come in an HMV sale for 99p, it's an whole lot better than Psi Fy or whatever it was called, Gull Records IIRC

Edited by James Blast - June 01 2009 at 15:17
If I had all the money I've spent on drink, I'd spend it on drink.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 27 2009 at 23:52

I really wanted to see Seventh Wave when they made it to LA and I do not know what prevented me from seeing them ... there was a small review of the show later and they said something like it was a show with 7 keyboard players ... but I do not see any mention about that ... and if so, it was a massive keyboard blowout just like the first album was ... Things to Come, and Psy-Fi still are massive albums for my enjoyment ... Camera Obscura and Star Palace of the Sombre Warrior ... remain in my memory ... to this day ... and let him know that I burned up at least 2 LP's and I know that Guy Guden (Space Pirate Radio fame) blew out more copies playing Seventh Wave than you can possibly imagine ... and eventually other folks in the station played Only The Beginning from the 2nd album.
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