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Joined: March 04 2008
Location: Retirement Home
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Posted: October 23 2011 at 14:47
ARK came into existance in 1986, following incarnations as DAMASCUS and KITE. ARK's first line-up consisted of Ant (vocals & flute), Pete Wheatley (lead guitar), Steve Harris (guitar synth), Steve's brother Andy Harris (bass) and Gary Davis (drums).
Three albums was released by Ark. I got in touch with Steve Harris for the Ark story.
Your biography has been covered in your ProgArchives profile so let's bypass the biography details. But which bands were you influenced by ?
Ark were influenced by a wide range of progressive and non-progressive bands - early influences were some of the obvious bands - Genesis, Yes, Tull, (early) Rush. We also tried mostly react against the bands that were around us at the time - Marillion, (Nichol's) iQ, It Bites, Pallas - hoping to carve our own furrow. Strangely enough, considering I now find myself playing with Paul Menel, it was his version of iQ that had the positive influence from our contemporaries - we supported iQ on the 'Are You Sitting Comfortably' tour and we all admired the strong songwriting and intelligent pop.
After John left, we made a conscious decision to drift towards metal/pop rock, cumulating with Spiritual Physics. Then we changed management and direction, reverting to neoprog - we recorded half an album which we were going to call 'This Black Country'. Sadly we never completed it.
Please tell us more about your first bands Kite and Damascus and why did you choose the name Ark.
Damascus - that's ancient history! I think Damascus was formed by Tony and Pete and it went through several incarnations before I joined. I think I played several gigs with the band as Damascus. At this point the name began to attract unpleasant connotations and we were casting about for a new name. We were courting a manager who suggested that we should find a long name then shorten it into an acronym over a couple of years - his example was 'First Find And Pick A Pose-ey Name' but since FFAPAPN never struck us as catchy we decided on 'Kite', which I think lasted three gigs.
Then we had one of those 'we're not leaving the room until we have a name we all agree on' meetings. Andy (Harris) and I wanted to call ourselves 'Isis' and Pete wanted to call us 'Nowhere's Ark'. We compromised.
None of these name changes were associated with a change in songwriting or approach - the only influence here was who was in the band contributing ideas at the time. Overall there was a gradual and constant movement from 'quirky' to 'anthemic' I guess...
The biography tells the rest of the story so let's go straight to your outputs, the albums. Please tell us more about the now deleted album Archives 1983-1990 from 1990. Any chance for a digital or CD re-release ?
The masters have been lost long ago and even if we could find them, I doubt they would survive the baking so they could be played. I think Barbie has some of this material on the Ark Appreciation pages so that would be the place to look but the quality will be low. Quite a bit of Archives found its way onto other albums - the best version of Flag Day by far is on WUI. However I have a not-so-secret desire to do something with 'Feed The Fire' one day.
I think someone might have digital masters to the part of an unfinished album that was to follow Spiritual physics. We should try to get those out at least...
Please tell us more about your second album The Dreams of Mr Jones from 1988 (or 1991 ?)
Dreams was really the cumulation of the entire project from the inception of Damascus, and contained our best work to that date. My only regret is we didn't have the budget to put more tracks on it! The recording was in part for a session on BRMB which we won in a national competition. AFAIR there were non-Birmingham bands at the start but in the first heat we managed a near perfect score from the judges and a lot of bands - especially those who had to drive - just gave up!
Please tell us more about your EP Cover Me With Rain from 1992
Cover me with rain was part recorded at Rich Bitch Studios where we recorded Dreams, and in part at the BBC for a Tommy Vance Session. Train was something John had started to write just before he left, but it was taken in a new direction by Gel and Paul. Rain itself was a classic 'Ark tries pop breakthrough'. 'Message' was about a friend of Tony and Pete who took his life a few months earlier. Celebrate was just fun! If you listen carefully you can hear Paul shouting 'Wayne, get off the fishtank!' imitating the wife of our rehearsal studio owner. He's the one that says 'bostin!' at the end too.
Recording in Maida Vale was a real experience - even the security guards on the door spoke in perfect BBC English. The engineer - who had worked on Jimi Hendrix sessions - appeared in the control room in black leathers and full-face helmet, took it off to reveal a huge, thick beard and exclaimed in perfect, cultured English 'Tally ho and off we go'!!
Please tell us more about the Spiritual Physics (The White Album) album from 1993
Up until this point, the mood of the band was uniformly upbeat. As we were writing for Spiritual Physics we rehearsed in a cold, underground industrial unit and Tony was having real problems in his personal life. The album reflected this - Stargazer, Today and So What were the only songs that didn't have intensely personal lyrics.
(Song writing and arrangement in Ark was a completely democratic process, but the lyrics were always written by Tony once the song had taken form. Listen to the lyrics on the album - you can put two and two together.)
I suspect 'Stargazer' is written about Barbie. For 'So What' we wanted to chant the title during the song, but it sounded a bit like a Nuremberg rally so we left it off!
Then you broke up. What happened ?
It just ran out of steam - sacking our management, failing to find new management, personal problems and a desire to get on with our lives all took their toll. Despite wide acclaim and a strong cult backing, there seemed no way to convince the mainstream music industry to take us on. Pete and Tony wanted to continue to chase the big break and move in an Indie direction - which they did with their new band 'Grass', I wanted to return to our prog roots and become a cottage industry - for several years I played in a three-piece prog-metal outfit called Red. Paul and Gel were keen to move onto new things. We just called it a day, I guess.
You have now returned. What is the story behind the return of Ark ?
JJ! He made it all possible.
We'd considered reforming a year previously but it had petered out. John had the drive to make it happen. We just turned up in Base Studios and it was like 20 years had disappeared.
Please tell us more about your new Wild Untamed Imaginings from last year.
The main driving force behind WUI was to do a proper job on New Scientist - the engineering on the original was disappointing. We have rhythm tracks for all of the songs on Dreams and New Scientist - I hope we get to finish them someday.
Even after all this time we have a huge amount of faith in the music we made - and can make. The difference today is there is a network of prog fans to play to.
What is the main difference between Ark anno 1994 and Ark anno 2010, but music wise, business wise and in all other possible respect ?
None and everything I guess. Its full circle really - we play for the joy of playing and performing just as we did at the beginning.
How is your creative processes from coming up with a theme/riff/idea to you got it down onto an album ?
It usually starts with some riff or section from someone. We knock it into a song within 15 minutes and take a recording. Then we try to forget about it for a while. If someone likes the idea they'll work on it and bring ideas to the rehearsal room and it will get another 15 minutes. This carries on until the idea becomes fossilised or it catches fire. If it catches, we'll finish the arrangement and Tony will write some lyrics and then we'll gig it a couple of times and maybe tweak it.
Just to give those of us who are unfamiliar with your music a bit of a reference point or two: How would you describe your music ?
Unashamedly neo-prog. What the neo-prog bands understood was that 1971 was about pop songs that were developed with prog arrangements. That was forgotten even by the big bands which lead to excess and the revolution against prog that punk stood for.
If you don't have a good song, then all you have is some meandering instrumental with instantly forgettable lyrics. A good prog album should work as well on the first listening as it does 20 years later. It should catch your attention immediately and hold that while you explore its intricacies.
You would have to come and see us live too. Ark is theatre - you have to be there.
How is the availability of your albums from the 1990s and what is your experience with the music industry and the new internet music scene ?
Poor at the moment. We hope to do something about this
Are any of you Ark members involved in any other bands or projects ?
Sadly we've had to take a bit of a break - Tony's availability is limited by his mother and his very young daughter, although you can still see him gig with the Festivals occasionally. Pete can be caught around the black country gigging in all sorts of bands, as can Andy.
John is back with Arena, Tim is playing with Dec Burke.
I'm helping Paul Menel finish off his solo album, 'Three Sides to Every Story', which started out as a pop album but is turning more neo-prog. Hopefully it will have the kind of balance between pop and prog that AYSC when its finished - if not the next one will!!
We're also thinking about touring Nomzamo on its 30th anniversary which is next year, and AYSC two years later. That would be another full circle for me!
To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview ?
Freshly ground black pepper. I add it to everything.
Finally, something useful in a ProgArchives interview
Thank you to Steve for this advice & the interview
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