Phil Miller Bio
I am a self-taught musician. I had my first guitar at 8 and have been playing seriously since 15. My first band was Delivery formed in 1966 when I was 17.
It included my brother Steve on piano and vocals and our childhood friend Pip Pyle on drums along with bass player Jack Monck. Later on we were joined by veteran jazz saxophonist Lol Coxhill, a friend of Steve’s from the London blues scene where he was already in demand as a pianist. Jack Monck was replaced by Roy Babbington in 1969 and with the addition of singer Carol Grimes we recorded the album ‘Fool’s Meeting’ (1970) for the B&C label. Delivery had had the distinction of backing visiting American blues legends such as Lowell Fulson, Eddie Boyd and Otis Span and were playing upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s quite regularly. The band’s repertoire started to include pieces by Keith Jarrett and Tony Williams and I began my own writing career at this time. Compositions of mine were included on Fool’s Meeting : ‘Miserable Man’, ‘Blind To Your Light’, ‘The Wrong Time’, ‘Fool’s Meeting’ ‘and We Were Satisfied’.
In late 1970, Delivery underwent some personnel changes with the departure of Pip Pyle to Gong and his replacement Laurie Allan. Eventually Roy Babbington left to join Nucleus and Carol Grimes was replaced by Judy Dyble, formerly of Fairport Convention. The band’s name changed to DC & The MB’s – for Dyble/Coxhill and the Miller Brothers. This line-up made a tour of Holland and the UK during the summer of 1971, playing almost entirely improvised music.
A close friend then recommended me to Robert Wyatt who had just left Soft Machine and was in the process of forming his own band Matching Mole which I joined with Dave Sinclair (organ) from Caravan and Bill MacCormick (bass) from Quiet Sun. That combination remained together for just under a year with one line-up change : Dave MacRae from Nucleus was added, then took over from Dave Sinclair.
We recorded two albums, the first, Matching Mole included one piece of mine: ‘Part Of The Dance.’ and on Little Red Record a three further pieces of mine were included: ‘God’s Song’, ‘Righteous Rhumba’ and Nan True’s Hole’, all of which were later performed by Hatfield and the North (live versions of the latter two even appeared under different titles on the compilation album Afters) Matching Mole toured opposite Soft Machine in Holland and France and opposite John Mayall in the UK.
In the summer of 1972 while work was underway on the second album, I began rehearsing with my brother Steve and Richard Sinclair (bass and vocals) both having just left Caravan and Pip Pyle back from his stint with Gong in France. That line-up took the name of Delivery and played a couple of gigs in August, notably at the Tower of London.
After various shiftings in the keyboard department involving Alan Gowen (who went on to form his own band Gilgamesh) and Dave Sinclair (who eventually rejoined Caravan) the band settled down early in 1973 with Dave Stewart on keyboards, Pip Pyle, Richard Sinclair and myself and became Hatfield and the North. During its two-year existence Hatfield recorded two albums, both including several of my compositions : ‘Calyx’ & ‘Aigrette’ on the first album and ‘Lounging There Trying’ and ‘Underdub’ on the second. My aim as a composer in Hatfield was to write pieces that while not as open as those we had been using from my Mole days still had this freer element in them. They contrasted well with Pip and Richard’s songs and Dave’s instrumental and vocal epics.
My next band National Health was an idea born in the minds of keyboardists Dave Stewart and Alan Gowen following two double-quartet gigs by Hatfield and Gilgamesh in 1973. Alan and I had been friends since 1968. I only provided one composition to the group: ‘Dreams Wide Awake’ included for posterity on the second album: Of Queues And Cures. The music of National Health was extremely complex and heavily written. My own output was virtually nil, preferring to concentrate on playing it rather than writing it. And anyway the sort of things I was able to come up with were not really relevant to the rest of the music. Quite definitely Alan and Dave were then far superior writers to me.
Between the break-up of National Health in March 1980 and the formation of In Cahoots in 1982 I was involved in various projects including a duo with ex-NH fellow guitarist Phil Lee and a trio with Lol Coxhill and my brother Steve.
I was also asked by Alan Gowen to join him on his last project, the album ‘Before A Word Is Said’ to which I contributed four compositions : ‘Above And Below’ ‘Fourfold’ ‘Nowadays A Silhouette’ and ‘A Fleeting Glance.’ This music was recorded when Alan was extremely ill. He died on May 17th, 1981. It is a testament to his stoicism and to his love of music that he could even contemplate embarking on this recording project.
In the weeks following Alan’s death we reformed National Health with the line-up of the second album – Dave Stewart, John Greaves and Pip Pyle and myself. After a couple of gigs, the aim of which was to raise money for Alan’s funeral, we went into the studio and recorded an album of Alan’s unreleased compositions: D S al Coda. (still available from us at Crescent Discs)
In Cahoots was formed by me in 1982 and has been a vehicle for my compositional output throughout its various line-ups.
Rehearsals began in November 1982 with Richard Sinclair and Pip Pyle soon joined by Elton Dean. The music slowly gained shape out of countless improvisations and new arrangements of old compositions. With the addition of Peter Lemer on keyboards we gigged around London with occasional forays elsewhere and recorded for the BBC’s radio 3 Jazz Today. We also did a tour of Holland and France, and made several demo recordings which have remained unreleased thus far.
In February 1985, Richard Sinclair was replaced by Hugh Hopper. The resulting line-up recorded most of the tracks for the album Cutting Both Ways (1987) later that year playing ‘Hic Haec Hoc’ ‘A Simple Man’ ‘Eastern Region’ and This was supplemented by ‘Second Sight’ as a band. two other of my pieces: ‘Hard Shoulder’ and ‘Figures of SpeechStewart in the ’ made in collaboration with Dave previous year. We made extensive use of MIDI for these – this was my first brush with the medium, having just acquired my first MIDI guitar.
Following an extensive tour of Europe and a performance at the 1987 Bracknell Jazz Festival, Steve Franklin replaced Pete Lemer and after further European dates, Fred Baker (previously of the Ric Sanders/John Etheridge band, among others) replaced Hugh Hopper. With the new line-up In Cahoots recorded 4 new compositions: ‘Your Root Two’ ‘And Thus Far’ ‘Truly Yours’ and ‘Foreign Bodies’ for my second album, Split Seconds (1989). Also included as MIDI collaborations were three more of my pieces recorded with Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin: ‘I Remaim’, ‘Dada Soul’ which also featured Richard Sinclair on vocals and bass and ‘Final Call’ recorded with ex-National Health drummer and percussionist John Mitchell, now sadly dead.
More European touring followed, which eventually resulted in a live album on Mantra Records ‘In Cahoots Live 86-89’ which included pieces recorded with the previous line-up in 1986. My compositions on that album were ‘Red Shift’ ‘For The Moment’ and ‘Above and Below’. Also included were a piece each by Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean and Steve Franklin. Later that year, In Cahoots resumed touring with another line-up without keyboards but with the addition of American-born trumpet player Jim Dvorak.
Most of the year, though, was spent working on Digging In (1991), which made extensive use of MIDI. Drum parts were programmed by Pip Pyle, while Pete Lemer and Fred Baker added keyboards and bass parts. The compositions were ‘Digging In’ ‘No Holds Barred’ ‘Bass Motives’ ‘Down to Earth’ ‘Speaking To Lydia’ ‘Birds Eye View’ and ‘Louder Than Words’. In December that year In Cahoots went on tour to Japan thanks to my old friend Henk Weltevreden who set up the tour. The line-up of In Cahoots was reinforced with Peter Lemer and another live set, Live In Japan (1993) was recorded during that tour.
Meanwhile Fred Baker and I started working out as a duo, making our live debut at the Vortex in the autumn, and eventually recording a CD Double Up (1992) mixing some of my material with two of Fred’s. The music was not scored as such for two guitars. The arrangements came about as a result of Fred and I playing together. He knew the music from the point of view of being the bass player in In Cahoots, and when we worked out as a duo he naturally transferred to guitar things that would normally be voiced by another instrument. Other things had to be reworked and were technically more difficult for us both. We worked at voicing the chords and getting the melodies where they should be but otherwise the arrangements came about as a result of working things out together, finding new ways to do it better. I would find myself playing one part and listening to Fred playing something else in a completely fresh way; a way quite different to my own approach. It’s always a surprise for me, what Fred does and I think the music benefits from our working it out together.
In March 1993, In Cahoots recorded Recent Discoveries (1994) at Gimini studios in Paris. The line-up was Fred Baker, Pip Pyle, Elton Dean, Jim Dvorak and me. My compositions were ‘Recent Discoveries’ ‘Trick of the light’ ‘Chez GeGe’ ‘Breadhead ‘ and ‘Tide’. The album also included a piece each by Elton Dean and Fred Baker. Occasional gigging followed but at that point my main live activity was with Short Wave, whose debut CD Shortwave was released that year also. My compositions on that were ‘Nan True’s Hole’ and ‘The Fox’.
In 1994-95 I gigged occasionally with Short Wave, the Miller-Baker Duo and In Cahoots. The duo was augmented by Peter Lemer on several occasions, some gigs were done as a duo with Pete Lemer. A major British tour was undertaken in January and February 1996 with new material which was recorded in the studio during the summer and released in October as Parallel. These compositions were ‘Parallel’ ‘Simmer’ ‘ED or Ian’ ‘Half Life’ ‘Sitdown’ and ‘Billow’. To celebrate its release, In Cahoots was invited to open for Caravan at their London concert on October 31st and two gigs in Holland in September 1997. In Cahoots toured England again in early December 1997 and did a French tour in March 1998 with the brass-less quartet line-up, followed by more dates in France, Belgium and the Netherlands in the Autumn (some with the full line-up).
In May 1998 my brother Steve was diagnosed as suffering from terminal cancer. In June we played a reformed Delivery benefit concert for Steve at London’s Vortex Jazz Bar with Pip Pyle, Lol Coxhill and Carol Grimes with Fred Baker replacing Roy Babbington. Steve died in December that year.
I wrote the music for Out Of The Blue during the period when Steve was ill. I had originally hoped that Steve would play on the recording but, as his illness progressed, that ceased to be a possibility. In a way this album is a tribute to Steve and is dedicated to his memory. It is something of a return to the roots for me, harking back to earlier days when Steve, Pip and I played together in Delivery and is my first venture into the blues for 30 years. The writing is simpler and there is more of a groove in the rhythm section and its release co-incides with Cuneiform Records recent re-release of the Delivery album ‘A Fools Meeting’.
Out Of The Blue had the usual In Cahoots sextet line up of Phil Miller – guitar and synth guitar, Fred Baker – fretless bass guitar, Elton Dean – alto sax and saxello, Pete Lemer – keyboards, Jim Dvorak – trumpet and Pip Pyle – drums and was augmented on two tracks by Doug Boyle on Guitar.
Interview from Tone Clusters Issue 64 Feb 1997
Phil Miller takes a moment out from reinventing progressive music to chat with Ken Egbert. Mind those sharp ninths, Ken. He doesn’t win jazz guitarist polls, but you rather get the feeling he could do without it. He swims against the dumbing down of music in the 1990s (as well as all the other decades in which he’s recorded) with humour and a pointillist’s tonic brush. The rest of the musical world doesn’t appear to influence him overmuch Phil Miller is progressive music’s Georges Seurat, a man of details who puts a record out in his own good time; that is, when it’s done! A concept some other fellows could learn from. And with his new release PARALLEL ensconced at #1 on the Tone Clusters 1996 Top 40 Best Records, it seemed only proper to look the man up and see what he had in mind to discuss. Thanks to Dave Stewart for passing on to Phil our TC 58 overview of his work since 1981 (see the Music Appreciation Dept. for a review of PARALLEL), and, of course, Izzy our intrepid Transcriber for many nights we dare not replace. In front of the word Processor transcribing.
TONE CLUSTERS: We got several confused letters from confused readers when we did our overview of your work between ’81 and ’95 (TC 58)–no one got the reference in the title of the article (“Lever Neally Reft”); they didn’t realise it was a Spoonerism for “Never Really Left.” Guess few of us Americans recall the Reverend Spooner [ an English cleric of the 18th century, if memory serves,] who used to mistake his lead-off consonants, eg. “May I sew you to a sheet?” instead of “show you to a seat.” [Ken, really, get on with it!–Ed.]
PHIL MILLER [politely]: Yes, I enjoy that sort of thing. Thanks for having a good listen all these years, that’s jolly decent of you.
TC: Not at all! Now, this is an anecdote I told Dave Stewart when we chatted in February, I don’t know if you’ve heard it but in the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan there are these ticket machines for a local commuter railway called the PATH system. They’re located on the lower concourse and they make occasional odd noises to remind you that they exist. One of these is the exact same tonic swoop you do in the opening of the recorded version of National Health’s “The Collapso.” So whenever I go to the lower level to take a PATH train I often find myself whistling that tune.
PM [mischievously]: Be quite dangerous after a while, latching onto any sound that you hear. [Laughter] Might go into a reverie and miss trains, you know. Well, travelling is tedious, isn’t it, you have to find anything to give it sense and meaning. For me it is, anyway, I hate being on public transport, you know. It’s slow! I like travelling, but not internally, in cities I know very well. I rather like having people busking, that’s quite nice, I like having music being played, that’s quite good. They do that in France, baroque music sometimes. Quite pleasant.
TC: Such as on the Paris Metro.
PM: Yeah. I also like the buskers one gets in London, say, such as Lol Coxhill. There’s a free concert for you! Not that he does it any more, he didn’t really like it. Played the best he could, though, turned it on.
TC: But there aren’t buskers on, say, the London Underground?
PM: There are, but they’re not really supposed to be there, you know. They’re there, but they’re moved on [by the local constabulary]. Some get taken to court. In the subways it’s different, that’s not London Underground property. But once you’re by the escalator you could be a distraction with people stopping to listen. But a lot of people do that, it’s better than practicing really, sitting somewhere and playing your tunes, people might like to hear it. I don’t do it myself..
TC: I think you might have outgrown that a bit.
PM: You never know.
TC: Just as an example of cross-purposes within the idea of music proper, I recall walking through the New York City version of the tube trains a few days ago and there was this fellow just off the platform in a Scottish kilt playing “Good King Wenceslaus” on the bagpipes! I’m sure he gave it his best reflective reading, but unfortunately anything played on the Scottish pipes sounds like music to go invade the Home Counties by. [Laughter]
PM: Oh, yes, very aggressive statement, isn’t it? Bagpipes, particularly, they put the fear of God into you, but that’s why they were invented, after all.
TC: A thousand years ago and change.
PM: Indeed, and there are other pipes that are much different, the uilean pipes, the Northumbrian, they’re really rather sweet, aren’t they? And quiet. I think it’s just the sheer volume and stridency of tone I think, that makes the Scottish pipes such mad music.
TC: Now as to muse made on instruments invented in this millennium… One thing we like about PARALLEL is, as with Zappa’s 1972 release THE GRAND WAZOO, it seems tailormade to the talents of the people in your group.
PM: That’s very nice of you to say so, and I do try to make the pieces so that they are within the emotional and stylistic range of the people in the group. You get used to working with people, and gradually it dawns on you what it is, the combination of one’s own writing and someone else’s playing. You learn what you need to write in order for them to do it for you, rhythmically and harmonically, melodically. Yes, I’m pleased, well, reasonably pleased with that. And people like playing the tunes, that’s very gratifying for me, when your fellow musicians say, “That’s pretty good!” That’s why I do it, largely, in a sense, that’s the most selfish part of it for me. The musicians have to enjoy playing it; without that you’re absolutely snookered. There’s nothing you can do unless you have musicians who like the challenge. As to fitting into the parts like a hand in glove, I think the musicians are very good, all of them. I daresay they could play anything I put before them. But it’s nice to tailor it as well.
TC: Also wanted to mention the title piece, a sort of Bartok funk, and “ED or Ian?” which again put me in mind of Zappa’ s more sedate tracks like “Waka Jawaka” or “It Must Be A Camel” [from HOT RATS]. With that lengthy modulated melody line it comes across as almost a bit of a fond farewell. I miss him, but I suppose we all do.
PM: Yes! He was an absolute genius, Zappa, superb. It was just one of those pieces one writes and which I thought would contrast well with everything else on the album. Didn’t want everything like the “Parallel” track before that, it’s very sort of dense, and harmonically wrung out, though it opens out nicely later on; I thought those two tracks worked well in their relative keys. That’s another thing I tried to do, to try to contrast the pieces’ tempers and keys, moods and all that sort of thought.
TC: When “Half Life” came up I thought, “Well, fancy that; In Cahoots doing reggae!” But then the pattern keeps changing in little ways and somebody wigs out nicely in the middle, perhaps (trumpeter) Jim Dvorak, and of course at some points the rhythm phrase disappears altogether as if to say, “Haha, snuck that one past you…”
PM: Yeah, on that one I was trying to, sort of, write something very open to play with very broad harmonic areas to fool around in. I hit that objective! It’s ostensibly very simple, you can be engaged in it for quite a long time and not find it terribly challenging. Of course the challenge is to make it interesting, and rhythmically develop the “reggae” feeling into a jazz feel and perhaps show the link between them somehow. That was in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about hopefully what the drummer might be getting up to if not what they’re playing. What the actual piece demands is of course what they have to bear in mind. I’m quite interested in shifting the rhythmic feels around. That always appeals to me, and I quite enjoy it.
TC: Well, you certainly have the right percussionist in In Cahoots for that.
PM: Yes, Pip [Pyle] is very inventive, I hardly ever have to suggest anything for him to do, and he’s always got free rein to work in some of his stuff. Which is what musicians like to do, especially for drums, isn’t it? I couldn’t really work with any other drummer half as productively as Pip, you know. He doesn’t need any invitation to figure out his own sort of thing and try and push the material into useful and healthy directions. Rhythmically it wouldn’t be half as good without Pip doing his business on it. He’s well up in the mix on this one and he’s got a good sound so he comes off pretty well.
TC: On the two recent Gong tours of the U. S.I was floored to see how small a drum kit Pip was forced to use and how much he got out of it anyway. And it’s especially a fine achievement when you think how immense other percussionists’ drum kits are, like Bruford and Mastelotto in the recent King Crimson or Neil Peart of Rush or Billy Cobham and his three-bass-drum setup of a while back.
PM: Generally, yeah, Pip uses a conventional kit, If you play it all your life you really do know how to draw the most from it. And if you spend all your life tuning your drums you learn how to do that. Whereas another guy who’s been getting into electronic drums… well, the goalposts are shifting constantly with all that technology, so you might think you’re up to doing something happening and then it’s superseded so you’ve got to learn that one! And then you have to get equipped out for that. It’s never really a part of you, like, say, a horn or a kit or an ordinary electric guitar. You know its drawbacks and all the rest of it, its plus points, and you know how to deal with it instinctively. But electronic instruments, you have to be with them for decades, quite a few years to get the best out of it, I’m certain of that, with a degree of sensitivity. Certainly a guitar synth is useful for short musical chores, but anything that’s really expressive, you know, well, that’s why some people need the variety because the expression isn’t there! Certain drummers might like to have loads of gear on the face of it because maybe their ideas come up and get them to shift their kits around to get a different emphasis on it. Maybe that does push you into other areas, but maybe not quite as personal. You’re not necessarily as in touch with a larger instrument, I suppose.
TC: You still have only two hands and two feet to play the damn kit with.
PM: There’s an infinite variance of sound on a snare drum the way someone like Pip or Tony Williams plays it. You can do so much with that one very sensitive drum there are no triggering problems, you can tailor how you tune it in every place you play it differently… people aren’t able to do that with electronic drums, are they? I mean, who ever heard of an electric drummer altering his samples? I suppose he might do, but not as easily. Do you know? The way you play what you play, you can affect so much with acoustics. You can tune it differently each place to make it sound good. Although I think Pip was using a different kit on each date of that tour! So that’s even more the battle for him, you know, a bit of a nuisance for him, I think he didn’t like that.
TC: I believe so. Can you imagine walking in the door and saying, “Oh, I’m to play this artfully arranged mound of cardboard boxes, am I?,,
PM: I wouldn’t like it; having to play a different guitar every night? All the tuning’s got to be put right and all that, it’s not going to be set, up how you like it, and all the angles are going to be different every night [chuckles]… yet to his credit he did well on that tour, he came back and played very well, I think it did him a world of good, actually. To be playing every night, I think it does help a musician, getting out in front of an audience and doing it! Really gives you a serious bump up in your playing levels after three weeks of that.
TC: Now, would you give us a bit of description about the rest of the fellows in the band?
PM: Well, let’s start with Freddy [Baker], who was introduced to me by Elton [Dean] when Hugh [Hopper] left for whatever reason, and it was an inspired choice. He’s a brilliant bass player and a superb guitarist He’s an asset to any musical event, he’s absolutely spot on. Perfect pitch, he hears all the chords. I never have to explain anything at all; quite the reverse. It’s all there with Fred. Obviously he takes time to learn stuff but there’s nothing he couldn’t cope with, there’s nothing he couldn’t play given enough time. It’s a nice feeling to have from the rhythm section. Elton is my favorite saxophone player, Jim likewise on the trumpet, he’s a fine musician and he and Elton get on well as a team, and that’s very important. They blend nicely; Elton’s soloing is extremely strong and inventive, powerful, a very good listener. He always picks up on things. You play something good and he’s on it like a shot, do you know what I mean? You do something and think, “Oh, that’s quite nice,” and suddenly you find he’s there with you. Not ignoring what everyone else is doing, but he’s suddenly latched onto you! That’s very much the strong point for a musician who’s an improviser like him. And Jim likewise, they like to play openly and that’s nice, create quite a bit of solo space. They’ve got a beautiful sound and they’re quite diligent, they get into the writing. They come around here with their horns and go at it, pick apart pieces and go through how they’re going to be phrased, it’s nice. They pay a lot of attention and do a lot of work. And Pete [Lemer] is a favorite musician of mine, like Fred there’s nothing he can’t play, it just doesn’t exist. And that’s a nice feeling. You know, if you’ve got a good idea that’s difficult, Pete’s the man who can sort it out and realize it onstage for you. And of course he’s got brilliant ears, he’s always been very supportive of my writing and he likes getting involved in that. He likes playing the pieces. I like playing with a keyboard player, obviously I like to keep the band adaptable, not bound to have full membership; I don’t have to have a sextet, I’d like to add a few to that. The more the merrier, as far as writing is concerned. I’d happily add another three players, but for a normal working band it’s quite large enough. As a composer I think having keyboards just makes sense, you know. To my mind there are so many more options of how you can do things.
TC: Where Elton and Jim are concerned, they open your LIVE IN JAPAN CD with a marvellously ‘off’ reading of the head to “No Holds Barred”
PM: Yeah, they did a nice job on that one.
TC: Their playing had a cockeyed kind of grace, if that makes sense.
PM: Yeah, between Elton and Jim things are quite open, really, it’s pretty simple once you’ve got the basis of it really. That worked quite well for Jim, he and Elton were always vying for which one should do the which, you know; now and then Jim hadn’t been able to make gigs and Elton had to leap in there and we’d have to change the arrangement ’round. But that’s quite nice. It’s one of the things I like about having a band of such strong individuals. When someone can’t make the odd gig that comes up you’ve got to do it anyway for whatever reason, there’s always more than enough people to take their place, give everybody a bit more space and a bit more time on, actually playing. Because in the thick of it, very often it’s quite creative not to be playing! Arrangements can get overcrowded and overfussy and it’s nice to break it up anyway. So in other words, it’s good to change things around a bit.
TC: Speaking of solo space, I’ve noticed that you very often parcel out the solo space to the other players and don’t bother to give yourself any. PARALLEL for example features fewer guitar solos than I have fingers on my right hand [Never bothered to say how many, eh? -Ed.].
PM: Well, the way I look at it is, there are certain points where you “hear” certain people playing, and obviously you could do something, and obviously I’ve instigated this, people are playing my tunes, and I think it’s a matter of form to let someone else have a go. You’ve made the first statement, you’ve pushed it off and it’s quite nice to let someone else have a say or it becomes really too much of one person, you know. I like plenty of times to play on Hugh’s compositions in Short Wave, in any way I choose, and it works other ways as well. I’d like to do a bit more soloing, but you know, certain things work well for me to solo on, and I’ll do those. Some others, not. I know what I can do best, in a sense, and who can do the best job elsewhere, so it’s nice to let people get on with it. For instance, when it gets to bebop-like areas, Fred and Pete are just so good at it, they can eat those up. You need some ferocious chops, right, to play some of my stuff, you know.
PM: And that’s why I’ve got them there, because my chops are not up to that, not quite, I wish they were. I’m working on it still, I might get there in another decade or so, but more seriously that’s their personality. Fred’s musical personality is one of sheer bravura or the elements of it, and it’s nice to hear him do it! There’s always got to be something in the set like that or I think it would be incomplete. They’re the guys that can do it.
TC: Fred has a nice rubber-band sound to him, which I’ve always enjoyed.
PM: He likes that because he does a lot of gigs where he uses the stringy sound, woody, the funky sound to his bass. And he likes to play it in a fairly different kind of way, but he also plays a lot of jazz stuff since that’s his bread and butter. Not to demean it in any way but he does a lot of that, and lots of people who would normally play with a double bass, including drummers who like that kind of feel, Fred can do that for them, set his bass guitar up like that. He can use a right-hand technique to bring that out, but I think the instrument naturally has that percussive, woody, thwacky kind of feel to it. I like it, it’s quite nice.
TC: Where Elton is concerned, I’ve noticed a certain acknowledgement to John Coltrane from time to time.
PM: Oh, yes, and Elton would agree. There can’t be a saxophonist who doesn’t sort of acknowledge the greatness of John Coltrane, and I know Elton listens quite a bit to him. He’s often telling me about this album he’s got or some other, that it’s beautiful or whatever. He’s an inspiration and there’s no finer inspiration. Not to my way of hearing, anyway. There’s an element in Elton’s sound as well, piercing, haunting; Coltrane’s in there somewhere.
TC: In fact, on Elton’s latest release SILENT KNOWLEDGE [on Cuneform] there are a few bits in there where the band is playing as ‘out’ as they are playing ‘in.’ One hell of a balancing act, I have no idea how they did it.
PM: That’s the one with Paul Rogers and Sophia Domancich? [former members o I’Equip Out]
PM: Good, that, I’ve heard it, I’m not that conversant with it having only listened to it once. It’s another thing I’ll have to hear again!
TC: You’ve recently been on the road and back at the end of October you played a gig at the London Astoria…
PM: Oh, yes, with Caravan, that was really good fun. I had to play in front of a big audience that were really enjoying themselves, so that was quite a turn-on. It was nice of Caravan to insist to have us there, that was good. Very pleasant. And it was nice to meet the old Caravan crew again doing their thing. They’ve got a nice melodic guitarist, Doug Boyle.
TC: Doug Boyle?
PM: Yes, he’s quite a good player, very good touch, I mean it’s nothing extraordinary in terms of breaking new territory but he’s a good player. It’s funny; when I was in Matching Mole, Robert [Wyatt] thought that Dave Sinclair’s material, you know, “Nine Feet Underground” and all that, might be good stuff to play on, stretch it out. The tune is pretty broad, you know, and it was Robert’s idea to do something with it more, do it like that, but somehow that never came to fruition; new material got written or whatever it was. Anyway, it was quite interesting to hear this guy playing guitar on this stuff and he was able to bring it forward quite a bit. Good to hear a guitarist doing what maybe I should have been doing 20 years ago! [chuckles] [Ed. note: as we all recall, class, Dave Sinclair was in Matching Mole early on and is featured on their first album.]
TC: Would it be rude to ask why In Cahoots didn’t headline the bill?
PM: Well, I wouldn’t think it would be rude at all, I can tell you why: because Caravan draw, the last time they played in London they’d drawn one and a half thousand people, you know. I don’t draw that many, I wish I did. So it’s a simple economic fact, they can fill that hall out, there were a thousand people there. I daresay a couple hundred came to see us or whatever, that was nice. But that’s why, really, I mean they’re a very good pop rock group and they do that well. It’s ‘popular’ music, I think my music’s a bit more difficult than that. Anyway, they’ve built on that gradually through the years, haven’t they? Caravan is very much a known thing, it has its own momentum that’s built up from quite prestigious times and I think they can still tap that. I would have loved to have played for as long as they did, they played for an hour and a half and we were on for 45 minutes. Nice to play to a big audience, though, it reminded me of something I needed to be reminded of. the scale at which you can operate, and it’s nice to make the sale of a few CDs afterwards. Helps oil the wheels of commercial concerns.
TC: Could you give us a typical set list from your most recent set of gigs?
PM: On the last tour , actually the Caravan support was a one-off, we were preparing for the album [PARALLEL] at the time– we would do “No Holds Barred” and sections of “Digging In,” the last two sections although we have done the whole piece, but we were doing the last two sections because of lack of rehearsal time; you tend to do things you know thoroughly well when you’re short that. And we’d do parts of “Green and Purple,” we’ve been doing that as an open bit, and we’d do a couple of my ballads, you know. Typically we might do part of the medley on CUTTING BOTH WAYS, “A Simple Man” it’s called; we did that one as a sort of guitar feature. And obviously we’d have areas of open bits where we’d start something openly and build it into something else. And we might on occasion, Fred and I, do some things before everybody, build it up gradually, as it were. We might do “Arriving Twice” by Alan Gowen–
TC: So glad you guys still do that one!
PM: –and then we’d do a piece of Fred’s and then Pete would join us and we’d do a trio thing, and then a few pieces with the band. We’d break it up a little bit occasionally like that when we felt like it, especially when we were doing things as a quintet without Jim for a few gigs because he had to go back to America. So it’s nice, Fred knows a lot of my material, although it’s a bit unfair to ask him to play guitar, classical guitar and bass guitar, you know it’s too much. You might not know which string you’re supposed to be playing after a while! But it’s quite gratifying to have a fair amount of material that’s available on tap. We can go back and do “Second Sight,” tunes like that, old Hatfield things such as “Calyx,” “God Song”; Fred and I can do those things at the drop of a hat. So we fit one or two things like that into the set just as a dip in the dynamic level, we like to swap it around.
TC: Another thing I enjoyed about PARALLEL was the density of the writing, the secondary, tertiary and, er, quartemary? themes and their variations, unison bits and other sections swapped back and forth between instruments; as before, the pieces seem very through-composed.
PM: Composition is what I do when I’m at home, it’s what I do for pleasure, all right. I do a lot of it and I do a lot of thinking about it, it’s a massive subject. There’s a lot of work to be done on it and it’s pleasant work when one can get the time aside to devote to that. I’m lately enjoying composing more, it’s come more fluidly of late. I can get stuck occasionally but sometimes I get a flow on and I can get things out quickly. I enjoy that. Not haphazardly, but things that you can do with a bit of flow, that’s quite nice. Obviously there’s kinds of music that don’t require performance: you can construct it, it’s beautiful and everything else, but it’s got nothing to do with performance. The music I like best does have people performing it, I think that’s something I have to bear in mind while writing. And I probably spend time composing to the detriment of the amount of time I spend practising my guitar! They aren’t the same thing by any means. It’s a lot to do to try and run a band and compose and be a reasonable guitarist. I work quite hard on that.
TC: As to your playing I think your solos often sound as if you wrote a guitar break out for yourself and then transposed the entire solo backwards! (Laughter) As we said in the article in Issue 58, you seem to spike outward at odd angles from the tonal center while soloing. Hopefully I’m making some vague sense here…
PM: No, no, I like to, I’d often like to be further outside it to be honest with you. I like it when people can hold the paradox of music for all to hear. Bartok was for me an absolute master at being outside the harmony, you know, while making it all very simple to hear. [You won’t find that in your average musical theory book!] and it all works and it all sounds natural, it doesn’t sound forced. And I’d like to be more on the outside of it, oscillating between. I don’t want to be intellectual about it, in the end you’ve got to sing with it as well. But the guitar allows you to pick some odd intervals, the pitching of it is not a problem. It’s fairly mechanical. But obviously the ideas have to sing out. At the same time you want to keep the melodic and harmonic bits in opposition to each other, at least temporarily. It’s an area I like to be in more and more, outside the harmony but logically there.
TC: Well, I’ve never heard you play illogically, although the logic may be your own given the circumstances.
PM: Very kind of you to say that, but yeah, I know I’ve got a long way to go on the guitar, it’s one of those things that you think you’re not giving it the full amount of time that you should. One gets involved in composition, blah blah blah, this, that and the other, the guitar is a time-consuming instrument even if you’re only playing it plectrum style. It’s a lifetime’s work and I really still enjoy working at it — it’s my yoga! Gets me really feeling good; I really like having the guitar in my hands, you know, get to grip with some really difficult stuff. I loved doing all that for Dave [Stewart], playing all his stuff even though it wasn’t monstrously hard all of the time. There were some times it was a nice challenge, I’d really get stuck into it and figure out different ways of doing it and working hard on it; very gratifying! That for me was a good grounding in things you might be asked to play and music to understand and hear. I wasn’t writing much in those days anyway, and it was nice to be devoting time to the instrument, just as it is when you’re on tour, and you’re then the guitarist and nothing more. It’s simplified, and you don’t need to do any producing of parts, you just have to concentrate on the playing of the instrument. And that’s something I love to do. Or if Fred comes to town we can fit in quite a lot of playing together, so that’s good, you know. It’s nice to have someone to ‘kick my lazy butt,’ [Laughter] and make me say, “My God, help!!” [Same again]. So it’s nice, I like working with younger people who are so dedicated. Fred pushes me a lot, and even though I’m not quite capable of getting into the areas I should be, he’s pushed me into some areas I didn’t necessarily think I might find myself. But having got thereI sense a bit more achievement and I found myself developing because of that. That’s been good for me.
TC: A paradox I’ve found interesting in 20th century music is how relative logic has become: I get a big kick out of how for example Schoenberg wrote his THEORY OF HARMON’Y [or HARMONELEHRE] and then kicked the whole thing out the window! But then you have to know the rules in order to discard them.
PM: Oh, fantastic, yeah, what an absolute genius. There’s no doubt about how his way of thinking brought forth some incredible music. It showed merely one of the many varied ways of hearing and composing music. For me it’s not quite how I hear it, I’m more of a Hindemith man myself
TC: Not sure why, but I wouldn’t have guessed that.
PM: I strongly believe in the harmonic theories of music but I love what you can do with the postulates Schoenberg put down. What it sounds like is what matters. How it’s arrived at is also interesting but how it sounds is what really counts, and much of his music is of the highest order as are Stravinsky, Bartok, Hindemith, whoever you want, Messiaen, they all had their own theories, right, about how music works or how it should be pursued and what are the newer avenues. And it’s all had a great influence on what people are listening to today and where it’s gone. In my humble opinion! Now, you were saying you wouldn’t have thought I’d liked Hindemith or thought about music along his lines: it’s just that he’s quite a theorist. I’ve read books by him and heard his reasoning and thought about it. And there is a lot of sense there, you know, the ear does search out tonal centers. However you might construct music, it’ll find one. It balances; you can fight against it, and Schoenberg did, but in the end he came ’round to tonal writing. In the end he and Stravinsky swapped places! Stravinsky was writing serial music and Schoenberg was back writing fairly diatonic stuff. Not that I particularly liked it, but it just shows that principles don’t really count for anything in music, it’s what you want to hear, isn’t it? But it is quite interesting to see how people view things intellectually and what they can derive from it. You can derive very interesting music from thinking about it, but in a sense you’re not really hearing it; you’re just thinking on a logical plane. But that can produce some interesting results that you can use in a more pleasing way.
TC: Now, tell me what you feel music is, and what it’s supposed to do; and sorry if this is beginning to sound like an exam! [Laughter]
PM: No, I don’t mind, it’ll probably be nonsense what I’m saying, but– [Same again]
TC: Not at all.
PM: For me, when I play well it’s because I’ve got something inside of me to say. So it is a kind of saying something to you even if it is raw emotion at a basic level. It should have that. When Roland Kirk was paralyzed and could only play the ‘black notes’ on the saxophone, he could still do it and it was even more powerful in its simplicity. The first thing it’s got to have is raw emotion, and after that all the other criteria fall in place. But what one musician says to any two different listeners is anybody’s guess. A performance has to have commitment, and emotion. Obviously you’ve got to control it but it’s got to be there! And the more control you’ve got over the instrument of emotion the more refined and sophisticated the music can be, but you’ve still got to have that penetrating passion to it. There are different ways to achieve the same effect, that’s the interest and variety that is infinite in music. There are many different forms and types and substratas of music that can give you a similar feeling, I suppose. It’s a universal language but there are many messages. The humor of Zappa, the sheer exuberance of his work, it’s phenomenal. That stays with you as much as the grandeur of some of his melodic statements. I don’t know which of these emotions is more important, but there’s enough music out there to satisfy one’s curiosity or desire for a particular brand. Beauty, humor, sheer brute force or sheer delicacy, in the end there’s music that appeals to you and music that doesn’t. Generally people of my ilk tend to gravitate around the same things and say, “Yeah, this is what we agree is a pretty good standard. All of the emotions have to be there, but preferably not all at the same time!” With Zappa there is so much there but there will be elements that won’t be there that you can only get somewhere else. I think he had a very big palette from which he drew, a large view that he had there. He’s a favorite of mine, along with John McLaughlin, Mike Gibbs.
TC: I find a lot of humor in your 1992 release DIGGING IN, examples of which are the secondary theme on the title piece, the opening of “Louder than Words,” or the entirety of “No Holds Barred,” all of which had much of the devil-may-care silliness of a Hatfield album. And isn’t it interesting that you can synthesize a smile on a person’s face with a series of chords?
PM: Yeah, it is interesting. For me I think it’s a bit more unconscious really, at the time of doing it. You do it, and it makes sense. You can justify it afterwards but I don’t think you do at the time. It’s just there! You aim for it instinctively. I think that in working with Dave Stewart and the Hatfields, Dave in particular, some of it rubbed off on me. Given the amount of his music I’ve played I’d be surprised if it hadn’t! [Chuckles] Definitely! And Alan Gowen as well, Alan being a particular favourite of mine. I worked a while with Alan, played a lot of his tunes, and something rubbed off. Whatever influences he had, I’ve now got them by proxy.
TC: I was wondering if you would remember Alan Gowen for us, given that we’ve dedicated our Canterbury Decameron series of articles to his memory, and also given that in the opening track of PARALLEL I noted Pete Lemer making a keyboard statement that made me think, “Oh! Nice solo,” but then three minutes later that exact same statement pops up again and I suddenly realized, “Oh, Phil’s having me on there.” It had been a written section of the tune’s chart, and it made me think of something Gowen says on the liner notes of the 1980 Gilgamesh album ANOTHER FINE TUNE YOU’VE GOT ME INTO–
PM: Merge the composing and the playing, you mean.
TC: Yes, exactly.
PM: Well I think that’s right, you want the freshness of playing to the writing, I mean very often the first time you play a tune it’s not necessarily the best played, obviously. But it has that freshness, doesn’t it, it’s a bit like painting. There’s something nice about making a line on a piece of paper and it’s done. And in a sense it’s nice to have a piece played as if it were the first time you were doing it; the excitement of hearing how it’s all turning out. It’s quite a turn-on, it’s nice to have that first-time feeling of a real person playing it. And I think Alan’s writing, however intricate it might have been, still sounded natural and imbued with that freshness. I think he’d definitely got that, yeah, and I hope to achieve the same myself at some point. The players do that as well in my group, instinctively they get their stuff in there, coming backwards and forwards from the tune. Pete quite often likes quoting stuff, humorous chap that he is. When he gets a bit bored with something you’ll hear television jingles coming up and then you know its time to move on to the next composition! [Laughter]
TC: Quoting the theme from “Eastenders,” perhaps? [Same again]
PM: Yes, then you know it’s time to give that one a bit of a rest.
TC: Or throw the television out the window, at any rate. [More]
PM: Indeed. I think it’s natural to use a quote from a piece and integrate it; well, not always but it’s nice if you can weave some stuff in.’
TC: A friend of mine has a private collection of Hatfield and other similar groups’ live gigs from various times when he was travelling in Europe and was luckily enough to attend these shows, and he has one he’s let me hear from Hatfield’s February 1975 tour of France. You fellows were Performing Dave Stewart’s “Mumps,” and there was an electric piano bit just before going into the “Prenut” section in which Dave just blithely tosses in a few bars from “Arriving Twice.” And whenever I’ve heard that, it never fails to move me.
PM: Yes, good piece, that, a lot of people like that piece. Good bit of writing Alan did there. It’s a beautiful melody and there it is, the chords work well with it. They don’t need to do any more than that. I still enjoy playing it and there’ll probably be a solo guitar version of it eventually. Fred’s working on it, because funnily enough it’s something that you could just about do on one guitar, you know. To get all the chords in, perhaps you should get someone with supersonic technique like John Williams to play it. Not that Fred couldn’t. But it’s a beautiful piece and it could work well for classical guitar. I can’t personally play it; there’s the matter of the odd bar here and there that’s a bit awkward. Quite a technical feat, but it works well for the piece. We did a good version of it as well with Jimmy playing it up in Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh with Dave.
TC: Jimmy Hastings?
PM: Yes, and the tune works well in so many different ways, you know, with two guitars or played fast on the piano as Alan did it [on the first Gilgamesh album], or regally with Jimmy and Dave playing it as a slower piece; it’s very adaptable, yeah.
TC: I always wanted to express my appreciation to you fellows, yourself, John Greaves, Dave and Pip, for getting back together in 1981 to record an album of Gowen’s tunes [D. S. AL CODA].
PM: Should really have done it with AI, it’s sad he wasn’t there to put his print on it. But yeah, it seemed quite the logical thing to do because when Alan died we did go on and do a benefit for him, Dave was instrumental in getting that done. Having worked out quite a lot of the material with Dave for that one gig, it seemed a shame to let that sort of slip. And we’d been offered a chance to do it; there was a lot there, the pieces showed the strength of his writing. They were very fully scored, almost 95% complete. So it was good to finish that up. there was a lot of Alan’s material that he would shudder at the thought that anyone else might poke their nose into it and resurrect one or two pieces that he might rightly or wrongly put aside. He wrote a lot, Alan, there’s a lot of material there, what you’ve heard is the tip of the iceberg really. All you’ve heard was the most finished stuff.
TC: Had a feeling to that extent.
PM: There’s a lot there, I just don’t know how quite finished the rest of it is. I know his friend Geoff has stored Alan’s scores and stuff. He’s a lifelong friend of Alan’s, a librarian. One of these days I must go down there and have a look at them, see what else is there. Must remind myself to do that. ‘Cause we did a piece with Gilgamesh and Hatfield, the double quartet things, and some of them were really nice, I enjoyed it. There are probably some ideas in there that emerged in better form later, as the starting point for other compositions in later years, but there were one or two things. There was one on that London Roundhouse gig you spoke of [during an earlier conversation, the Hatfield 4-13-74 gig reviewed in Issue 59], one piece of Alan’s we’d done that hasn’t appeared on anything else. Be nice to do a decent version of that at some point!
TC: Wow! Do you remember anything about it?
PM: I don’t remember what it was called; I haven’t even got the score, unfortunately. But that is an example of the stuff lurking around. Actually that particular piece was more successful in double quartet form and not quite so much in quartet form. Alan had originally written them for the two groups to play at Notre Dame Hall in Leicester Square, and up in Leeds. The pieces themselves were perhaps more than the arrangements as it’s always difficult to get two drummers to work together. If you were going to have two drummers chundering along, bashing and crashing about, their parts would have to be a bit more worked out.
TC: Absolutely, or you’re going to forget which drummer to follow.
PM: Yeah, I mean it does get to be a bit too much, you should try to split things up a bit more if you’re going to have everybody playing at once, things must be better defined. I think the dots, the bass lines and the chords, those were pretty well worked out but what the drummers were doing was less developed. Might have been better with one drummer! There were also a couple of pieces we wanted to get on for the MISSING PIECES [National Health’s archive release, 1996, ESD Records].
TC: You mean “The Towplane and the Glider.”
PM: Yeah that’s right, there’s a whole front bit to that as you may know, that we tried to get on but it was deemed that the quality of the performance or the quality of the tape wasn’t quite right. But, yes. There were a couple of compositions it would have been nice to include but we needed better versions and didn’t have them. That piece you mentioned, there was some ten minutes missing, perhaps more. Shame, that. We performed it quite a bit but we never really recorded it. Maybe someone will get around to doing it.
TC: That friend of mine who saw a lot of your gigs in those days has several recorded versions in his private collection of the full-length “Trident Asleep,” which I think was the name of the entire thing. It usually ran 15 to 18 minutes when performed.
PM: Yeah, it’s a shame, but there again people have heard it, various recorded versions are about and if you really want it you can find it. But there are certain things that I would have liked to see on MISSING PIECES, we spent quite a while rehearsing tat piece you mentioned and it would have been nice to see it on the record to bump up against Mont [Campbell]’s and Dave’s stuff . Fair enough, they should be there too but that piece was a major part of Alan’s input in the band, the first version. God knows how many times we rehearsed that one. Anyway, it was one that escaped, so far.
TC: Well, if you’re going to put it on CD, and somehow I am certain that Dave Stewart would agree with me here, the version you put on has to be as close to perfect as possible. And first, these tracks are not dashed off on the back of an envelope. They’re difficult. They have a few more chords in them than, say, “Walking the Dog.” Second, in a live situation something always goes wrong. Tell me I’m full of it.
PM: Not at all., especially when you want to record it. If you know you’re recording it and you definitely want something from that recording it definitely tends to impinge on your gig relaxation, and sound balances tend to get fractured and you get more and more wound up. And it registers as the old recording light syndrome there’s more pressure and consequently leads will break, notes get missed and the MIDI patches get stuck, or whatever. [Laughter] Monitors will feed back, and all this will occur because you’re recording. Unfortunate, but it’s just a fact of life, you know.
TC: Yes, there’s proof of Jungian synchronicity : A. Turn on the mikes. B. Someone’s beer explodes, and never, never, on the beat [Laughter]
PM: Oh, yes, self-fulfilling prophecy. You really, shouldn’t even talk about it, it only makes the situation worse. You introduce these things into your subconscious and you’re better off just saying, “Oh, I’m just a musician, I play at the same level now I did minutes ago. I’ve got a good sound anyway, that’s it. Just get on with it, don’t interest me in it, I’m just playing and I don’t want to know about it. If you haven’t got it switched on in the beginning I don’t care!” [Laughter] Do you know what I mean, you do have to divorce yourself from it, otherwise you can’t perform. You have to clear your mind of that and it’s difficult, you often don’t have enough people to take your mind off it completely. There’s always sound balances being off or cut by half, it’s pouring down with rain outside and people are desperate to get in, the promoter’s going berserk, the audience is in a filthy mood… all of that stuff impinges on a live gig. Not so much in the studio, of course, but generally I do quite a bit of recording live, in terms of “live in the studio.” You’ve really only got two or three goes at it, that’s the maximum. And it takes a lot of concentration not to be conscious of time ticking by, you want a breath of fresh air after 40 minutes of high concentration. You can’t really keep it up all day. There is that expectancy of nowness, which of course is what a performance is, but at the same time you do have to settle for something, say, “We’ll do it later.” I’ve noticed that, having my own studio; it’s nice being able to spend as much time as you want but there’s a limited amount of times you can play something. Even over a fairly long time span such as a month, you can’t keep going and visiting it day in and day out like some sort of obsession. You have to choose a day that you’re going to do it and work to that so that you’ll have the best conditions for all of the performance for that particular tune, that you haven’t overstudied and that you’ve done enough and swapped it about and left it for a bit and come back to it. Do you know what I mean? You’ve got to do it then. You can’t do it five times, it just won’t be any good. You have to seize the opportunity. But working live the pressures make you play safe a bit. That’s what happens, and then a bit of the power and joy goes out of it when that starts. It helps to be able to take some risks and get away with it. Which is nice on stage, one does take risks and it’s an enjoyable thing since it doesn’t matter quite so much; the benefits outweigh the possible failures. It’s a different psychology.
TC: I recall seeing the supposedly infamous Hatfield video of the set played at the farewell show for the London Rainbow, and in Dave’s Hatfield memoirs he said he felt the performance wasn’t up to snuff at all. But as I was watching everyone seemed to be doing just fine. Or is what Dave was talking about only something that you would have had to have been onstage to catch?
PM: Yeah, it was our own fault really, we’d got a bit of a bad write-up for complaining about the sound balances and stuff. It’s the old thing, you get onstage and everything’s completely different from the way you had it. The tunes don’t sound quite right, you can’t hear what Dave’s doing because he’s not in the monitors, the time’s wobbling around and you’re struggling basically. We got it together in the end a bit more, had a good go at it, but I think it was a bit foolish of us to go on about it as if it were someone else’s fault. It’s your own fault, of course; you get out on stage and hope to do well, but if you don’t you’ve only got yourselves to blame.
TC: You were particularly good early in the video with this utterly seamless sequel out of the theme to “Halfway Between Heaven and Earth” and into “The Yes No Interlude.” I knew the tunes were there but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly at what point one leaves off and the other starts.
PM: We were rather good at that, I mean, Pip and I were reminiscing about it because Richard [Sinclair] has compiles a Hatfield radio tape we were thinking we might put out just out of interest, but Pip and I were listening to it and the best bits of it were all the little links we wrote to join one bit to another, and we were saying, “Oh, I haven’t heard that for ages!” or “I remember that…” [chuckles] so as per what you were saying, that’s quite true, we did find good ways to join things up, we spent quite a lot of time doing so. I can’t quite remember why, but for some reason or another we didn’t like stopping playing. We liked to get the momentum going and sort of get on with it.
TC: Well, Soft Machine began doing that early on and Robert Wyatt continued it when he left to assemble Matching Mole.
PM: True, yes.
TC: And the method of playing without a break between songs, I think, always assisted in the feel of a typical Hatfield gig: a balance. between studious involvement and utter chaos [Laughter]. To say nothing of a certain maniacal glee.
PM: Yes, persistence! Don’t give the audience a chance, you know, great masses of musical information at a sustained level. Quite nice. the idea of ‘no breaks for waffling.’ I don’t think we could do it now, there’d be too many parts flying around unplayed! That’s the trouble with guys that read music, you know, you have to be well organised on the stand in terms of picking this up and putting that down. But without the no-waits method I can do running repairs on my tuning between numbers, that sort of thing. Of course, we rehearsed day in and day out with Hatfield; it’s a different thing now. I love to rehearse, before a tour or otherwise. but being spread out all over Europe as we are, Pip living in Paris, Fred living in the north of England and some of the time in Germany, Jim living in Holland and sometimes in London, well, it’s difficult. Elton and I and Pete are in and about London. It’d be nice to be able to work together more but I don’t think it’s really as easy any more. In the Hatfield days Pip and Richard and I were living in the same flat! So we could rehearse any time we wanted to, providing.
TC: Go ’round the corner, collect Dave, and away you go!
PM: Yes, that’s it exactly, he lived about five minutes away. And there was a friendly landlord [pub owner] who had a room in the back where we could rehearse.
TC: As time goes on and I play the old albums and think of all the mad anecdotes I’ve heard it becomes more obvious to me that Hatfield and the North was one of those marvelous accidents, you know, a tightrope walk on a razor ribbon that, no matter what the circumstances, was simply a sum of diverse parts that by some happy coincidence fit together perfectly but only for a short period of time. I think that as in all great collaborations it was a process of growing together, holding together, growing apart and coming apart. Plus I think you can only do something that maniacally intense when you’re young!
PM: Yeah, it had its natural time span and it was those four people. They went into making that band, and when it split up it was good that it was over. There was a certain sort of honesty about that. The band wasn’t going anywhere towards the end, but up until the point where it started to go wrong, that was great, you know. And at that point at which it started to go haywire, we stopped it. It was a fairly short career, it wasn’t a great career move by any means. but on a musical level you’re left with what we did when we were enjoying ourselves’. and that was the two albums we made. Better to have been like that than there to have been a million versions of Hatfield and the North. It would have made it less unique, having to go out and find a new bass guitarist or whatever, do you know what I mean?
TC: Yes. Hatfield had a very inner-directed psyche; everyone had to be on proper terms. or perhaps the better word would be “certain” terms. As long as those terms were met the group mind was effective. Cops. I’m quoting Jung again. [Ed. note: Yes. and every time you do it our circulation plummets, so STOP IT!]
PM: Absolutely. it’s true, we did do that later gig in 1990 for the television, but that obviously wasn’t Hatfield [the TV show in which Sophia Domancich played keyboards with Richard. Pip and Phil as Dave had declined to participate]. Hatfield was Dave, Pip, Richard and myself, and that was it. Anything else was an aberration.
TC: We at TC tried to lay the whole matter to rest — of course, we failed– with a short series of articles in late ’95 and inid-’96. After we did interviews with Richard [TC54,551 and the overview of your post-National Health career [TC 58] we began getting deluged with demands for a Hatfield survey and as a result we did these articles in TC 59 and 62 called “A Treatise On The Concept Of Time Considered As A Helix of Smashed Gnomes.” [Laughter]
PM [chuckling): Ah, yes, that period of the band. I don’t know why Pip liked doing that, suddenly he just got into breaking gnomes [trad English garden statuary, usually made of plaster or concrete, kayadoua –Ed.], I mean he got quite maniacal about it. I recall one such incident, Pip doing that at the start of a set in Holland, to the tune of a passage from “Son of ‘There’s No Place Like Homerton. ” That was the normal accompaniment, of course. [Chuckles] And along with that he liked breaking teapots, as you know! One other time we were doing a gig with Gong, as you may have heard, and we told him, “Don’t do that tonight”. We all told him that, mind you, it stands to reason you don’t smash gnomes and teapots before a Gong gig, but sure enough he went ahead and did it anyway and a great shard near took his eye out! [Gales of laughter, however sympathetic]. Might say the prophet of doom set things aright. [Laughter]
TC: I would say that this anecdote is evidence that there are such things as Octave Doctors.
PM: Gnomes got their revenge that night!
TC: Poor man! To David Allen’s credit he certainly is a forgiving fellow, given that Pip’s been drumming on the last two Gong tours of America.
PM: True, that; he might have sworn him off after that, altogether.
TC: Tell me about some of your other gigging relationships; for example you’ve done some duo gigs with Pete Lemer.
PM: Well, Pete as I said is a virtuoso. he’s a fan of my writing and he likes to play my tunes, and on that level we’re very close. He gives a lot of time to me, and I’ve always liked his playing. I first got to know him via John Mitchell, he was a contemporary.
TC: Mitchell was in National Health for about an hour and a half or so, if I recall.
PM: That’s right, he and Pete were buddies, and I met him when I became friendly with John, which of course I still am. Pete had a band with Francis Moze and Laurie Allan at one point, at which time I had a listen and found him an excellent player. He also lives round where I was brought up when I was a child, so he’s melded into my background as it were, before I was doing anything in music, given that he lives in an area I know well. We have done a few duos from time to time and hope to do more. I’d like to hear Pete do more of his own stuff but he’s really such a perfectionist he never sort of gets round to doing it. He does other people’s work when they ask it of him rather than get up and do his own. He may have difficulty motivating himself, perhaps he needs someone pestering him, saying “Do it!” But he has been recording recently in Israel, he’s been out there doing some recording with his band, which is a trio, with an Israeli drummer whose name eludes me at the moment. So lately he has been productive but I’d like to see him do more because he is an excellent composer; it’s just that much of his music hasn’t yet seen the light of day. Apparently he’s going to be doing some arranging for [saxophonist] Barbara Thompson, that’ll keep him busy. And I think that her band could benefit from more of what he can do, because although she’s a good player in her own right her writing’s not as original. It could do with some of Pete’s tailoring. He’s done that for me a couple of times, brought things out for me using changes of emphasis. He works well with compositions. he focuses them quite well. Good man to have aboard the ship. I’d like to hear him on the acoustic piano more often, come to think of it, but it’s not easy to find good pianos about. It’s nice what he does on Elton’s tune ‘Jana’ on that older record of mine IN CAHOOTS LIVE 861891; it’s a very stylish approach and I don’t think you can do that with a sampling keyboard, not really. It doesn’t lend itself to that type of piano playing. Shame, really.
TC: Now, if you would, some thoughts about Short Wave. Playing with them must almost be like a vacation.
PM: A little, yes. I have a bit more time to just get my head together, think a bit more selfishly rather than be the bandleader doing his duties. And it’s nice playing with Didier, I haven’t done much of that. He’s very quick-witted, a lovely bloke to play with. We have a good empathy on stage, 1 like what he plays basically. And he’s into so very many different areas of music, he’s got a very broad view of music. He’s able to play anything, he’s not locked into any one style or approach. And it’s nice to play Hugh’s compositions, the way Hugh writes them he leaves lots of space for you to do your own thing. So I like reharmonizing them and annoying him– [Uncontrollable laughter from the interviewer, regrettably] –tinkering with them, you know. They’re very broad. It’s nice to have that freedom to do things differently, and his tunes tolerate that approach. Often you will find different ways to do a tune each night, and I enjoy that. I like playing a written part as well, if it’s a good part I love to play it. Nine times out of ten I’ll do exactly that, but where Hugh’s stuff is concerned they’re not written like that, there’s a lot more stuff that you have to put in to make it work. It’s rather a bit like what Pip has to do for me when I present him with a piece that has nothing more than the structure and the bar lines. You’ve really got to make your own niche in it and say that this is how you propose to do it. So I like Short Wave for that, it’s nice.
TC: Any plans for 1997 yet?
PM: Hopefully Pip and I will start working on some material for the next Short Wave album, we have some gigs coming up next year, so hopefully we’ll be doing some work on our various computers swapping stuff’round and trying to get some new material. Or perhaps we’ll do some stuff track by track; Didier has a pretty good home studio with an ADAT like I have, so we may do a few compositions at home and write a few things that we can do in the studio; it’s a matter of making time for it, as usual. I’m going to see Hugh over the holidays and present him with a couple of pieces to have a look at himself, looking forward to that. And Fred and I have various plans to be touring next year in Europe, and hopefully we’ll have a new album out. We’ve got four or five pieces we’re pretty pleased with, we’ll try to get three or four more and see what we’ve got. So those are the most immediate plans I have in mind. I’m looking to be touring and doing a few festivals in the summer, waiting to hear just now. But basically I’m now gearing myself up and writing, generally getting on with the chores of getting concerts together. I’d love to come to America and play, maybe that won’t be so much of a dream soon. I’d love to come over, maybe if only as part of a duo or trio.
TC: Well, obviously we’d love to have you.
PM: A friend of mine, Charlie Ringas, said he could probably put up some concerts for me in the U. S. so we’re gradually piecing a list of likely possible gigs together. So maybe I’ll be able shortly to summon up the energy to get on the phone and work out something for Fred and I, or Pip, Fred and I. I can’t imagine getting the whole band over there, I’m sorry to say.
TC: It’s disappointing, but I can well imagine it would be horrendously expensive.
PM: Perhaps three I could do; in fact, that’s why Fred and I do a lot of duo gigs, because it’s viable economically. And artistically it’s viable as well. It would be nice to have a larger palette but the economics of it dictate occasionally. So it’s possible that Fred and I could come over, we just have to decide that that’s what we’re going to do. Grab the phone and get on with it! Pip said he had a good time when he was over there, the audiences were fantastic; of course the Gong audience is larger than the one I could command, but it would still be a turn-on.
TC: I won’t insist, but.
PM: It’s been too long, really, I’ve got a lot of friends there. I’d like to see America and do a bit of playing, meet everyone face to face. And there are so many good musicians there as well; the last time I was very impressed by so many phenomenal musicians, really, beyond belief.
TC: That was when you were on tour with National Health in late 1979.
PM: Yes, exactly. Good fun, that tour.
TC: A question about other of your influences from one of our resident Grey Eminences, Michael Bloom. Are you a fan of the late Antonio Carlos Jobim?
PM: Oh, yes, I liked his songs. Beautiful melodies, absolutely.
TC: Michael once pointed out to me that he once noted an implied bossa nova feel in “Lounging There Trying.” [Laughter]
PM: Yes, I can see that, exactly.
TC: And now, from the sublime to the ridiculous. A jazz buff friend of mine and myself on our college radio station used to have lengthy pointless drunken arguments as to whether Hatfield and the North were a jazz or a rock band!
PM [amused]: Oh, I think we were a rock band, myself.
TC: No kidding!
PM: That’s the way I felt in those days, although, yes, there were a lot of jazz influences in the harmonies, while in Dave’s case Stravinsky was and is his biggest influence, and of course there were also the song structures from Richard. And if you listen to Jobim you know there were some beautiful songs as well! But I think really it was a rock group, although it doesn’t really matter what it’s called now; still, jazz is a different rhythmic and harmonic sensibility, even given that it’s not a million miles away.
TC: I mention this because he had a standard set he would occasionally resort to when creativity flagged, and this is the reason why the Jobim question Mike brought up had some resonance: this set consisted of the McCoy Tyner Trio doing “Wave,” then “Lounging There Trying” and finishing up with the Dexter Gordon Nonet playing “Insensatez.” [Ed. note: since Ken won’t tell you, 1 will; “Wave” is to be found on Tyner’s SUPERTRIOS Mlestone, U.S.] and “Insensatez” –listed on the label as “How Insensitive” — from Dexter Gordon’s SOPHISTICATED GIANT [Columbia/Sony, U. S. ]. Of course, I would then retaliate by sticking “Son Of ‘There’s No Place Like Homerton”‘ in between Yes’ “Roundabout” and King Crimson’s “Book Of Saturday.”
PM: I remember that Tyner album, I loved Tony Williams’ drumming on that one. Lost it a while ago, unfortunately, just one of those things.
TC: All right, last question about merchandising: tell me about some of the advantages or disadvantages of running your own record company. One of the pluses. I would assume, would be that you can do a record whenever you like.
PM: Yes! You’ve hit the nail on the head. That for me is the main advantage. I can do it when I want to do it, I don’t have to ask anybody else. If I’ve got the money to do it, the people are available and the conditions are as they should be, I can more or less do an album whenever I’ve got one together. Which won’t be too often, it’s too hard to do really! It’s a nice feeling not to have to go cap in hand and ask permission. I can start the ball rolling here at home, I’ve got a modest studio of my own, it’s enough to get things moving. Or I can use it to complement what I do elsewhere. I can bring it here and tinker with it, add parts or phrase things differently. And I can also put it out when I’m ready to do so. Not that I wouldn’t refuse if someone came to me and offered me a fair contract, of course!