Musical Influences

Musical Influences (11)


Today's album is "The Polite Force" by Egg. In truth though it's not EGG per se that I'm referring to - really the career of Dave Stewart and a whole raft of bands that we refer to as The Canterbury Bands - and I could have chosen "Of Queues & Cures" by National Health, or "The Rotters Club" by Hatfield and the North - Even "One of A Kind" by Bruford. It is mainly thanks to these particular bands featuring Stewart that the Tangent wove the "Canterbury" influences into our music - starting right back on the first album - and still usually there, lurking in our music.

These bands along with the Soft Machine and others were Britain's home grown Jazz fusion scene - a scene that was much more underground than that built in the USA. As mentioned in my book "Not as Good As The Book" - where Chick picked up Grammys, Dave Stewart picked up very little in terms of recognition. Despite the influence of the Canterbury Scene - I don't think there's so much as a Soft Machine Cafe & Grill anywhere in Canterbury. And Dave Stewart was NOT from Canterbury.

Stewart's music was highly organised, very complex.. mathematical ambitious etc, but also had a lovely warmth about it and a sense of humour. It was whimsical, often self referential - ocassionally recounting stories of being in the band, making the music etc with a lovely self deprecating smile. On the Egg album, the wonderful song "A Visit To Newport Hospital" tells stories of the bands early life on the road ( as Uriel) in a small town style parochial tale of vans and hotel gigs... and of trying to avoid "Skinheads and the Law" - I later found that my love of that particular line was shared by The Damned's bassist Captain Sensible....

The Tangent's "Canterbury" style songs include the two "Lost In London" pieces, "The Canterbury Sequence" (of course) "Ethanol Hat Nail", "Tech Support Guy" and "Clearing The Attic". And those are just some formally declared Canterbury tracks - the influences permeate everything we do to some degree, as a writer who delivers mostly from the keyboards, a great deal of my musical vocabulary was learned from Stewart. I liked the whimsiness of the Sinclair lyrics and voice and this has come to bear on my own work a lot over the past 15 years or so.

Caravan of course should be mentioned here - "The Land of Grey and Pink" and "For Girls who Grow Plump In The Night" are both huge faves of mine. They were the most commercially successful of these bands I guess - but I discovered the lightning bolt of Stewart through the John Peel show as did many - and something about the way he did stuff just stuck to me and never went away.

He centred on Organ, Piano, (Egg) adding Rhodes and Pianet and some synths later in the Hatfields and The Health. By the time he was in the Bruford band he was another successful exponent of the Polyphonic Synth, choosing the Prophet 5 as his weapon. He then formed the sadly unrecorded Rapid Eye Movement a band which featured Jakko as the singer and guitarist - went on to have a bizarre number one hit with an electro version of "It's My Party" - and then made some very interesting "Grown Up Pop" records with his partner Barbara Gaskin many of which Jakko and Gavin Harrison also played on - including my favourite - "Sing Jerusalem" from the album "The Big Idea". Ian Oakley and I have often thought that The Tangent should cover this piece.

Gong are sometimes seen as a Canterbury band, so this mention is for completism's sake, however, I always saw Gong as a totally unique entity that doesn't belong to any real movement other than its own. I LOVE Gong - and look out for shades of "Master Builder" in our instrumental "Doctor Livingstone I Presume" on the new album.

I think I've probably spent more time listening to Dave Stewart play than any other keyboards player, if there is a contender it would be Chick or Keith - but my guess is it's Stewart. I see him as a British Bach, a genuine musical genius who could dazzle and make me smile and laugh all at the same time. He was never in the Eurythmics - his namesake was another nail in the coffin of any reputation he could have had. One of the great unknowns - I believe I'd be right in telling you that Mr Manning once in his then capacity as Students Union Events secretary booked the Health to play in Manchester just so that he could see them. And from what I hear - just about ONLY Guy went to see the gig. And there's another thing we have in common...

My appointment to see the band was cancelled "due to lack of interest". Written on the door of the Wolverhamptom Polytechnic SU concert hall. I thought "bollocks". Then I realised I was the only person stood there reading it. Amazing what we miss when we're not looking.

The Canterbury Bands were bundled (no pun intended) out of the door by the Music Press at the same time as the mainline Prog Bands - many of them never really having had a chance to shine. Though pockets of huge respect still exist for Henry Cow and National Health - even the Dutch Canterbury band Supersister - it's a case of 20/20 hindsight - and the truth is, these bands were grossly overlooked by the media - and by US. We just didn't turn up. In this light, these bands shared the same fate as I sadly expect many of us involved NOW to suffer. What one has to admire is the fact that through all this - the bands DID turn up. They left a remarkable legacy. "The Polite Force" by Egg is a token sample of that legacy.

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The Sex Pistols

It's only in the past 30 years or so that the word "Reboot" entered our lives and even less time since it gained its alternative use as a metaphor to indicate "starting something already established again in order to get a clean slate" Now possibly overused (which Superhero film is NOT a reboot?) - the idea has worked well in the cinema/TV industry where reboots of many franchises from Star Trek to Batman and the Addams Family have made great stories and characters relevant to a new generation.

Whether one likes the album or not, whether it is any good or not, whether it's the best of the genre or not, "Never Mind The Bollocks" is possibly one of the most important and far reaching re-boots of the 20th century. It was a reboot of the whole of, what was at the time, one of the largest contemporary artistic phenomena in the world, Rock music itself. And in 70s Britain, Record albums were our NUMBER ONE retail leisure spend. No small thing. As such as well as an artistic reboot, it was a reboot of the business structure that surrounded a music industry which had around 60 years of history behind it at that time

I don't play this album much - and if tracks other than the obvious ones randomly jump into my playlist I usually press "skip". There are punk albums which are way more important musically, lyrically, politically and socially. There are even predecessors which we could argue about - were the Ramones more important? had Peter Hammill already done this on "Nadir's Big Chance"? etc etc....

If this were an article for Q or Mojo.... I'd have a lot of beating around the bush to do to get my reason for choosing this one - but here it's fortunately easier... the reason for these articles is to look at some albums that affected one other band - namely our band The Tangent. The Sex Pistols are not, really, all that influential on the way we currently write our music - The 2 minute "punk" bit on our new album is a lot more 80s hardcore anarcho punk than late 70s posture. In terms of our band, it's more on a personal note this time... because my entire life in writing music has been affected, for both good and bad, by this remarkable record. And one of the main reasons for that is purely lottery. When it was released, I was 17 years old.

Funny to think of it this way, like Brexit, it was something that happened - changed everything and after it happened we all had to find new ways of dealing with the new world it created. Those of us who were 16/17/18 years old when this reboot of music happened (well trodden turf for me here I'm afraid) were in a very interesting and odd position. We were at a crucial stage in our personal artistic developments either as listeners or musicians. We were at the great age of reception - where our senses are as open to stimuli and new ideas as at any other points in our lives. We were young - adults in the making - eyes on the future. We'd been absorbing rock music since we were 12, we loved it, it moved us. And in 1977 - this album arrived and the music press -along with the BBC offered us a binary choice and the majority of the media voted to leave. It was a huge dividing line - a line that many did not want to cross, and a line that people just 2 years younger than us would never want to go back over. This reboot was so intense, it was almost like a wilful destruction of the past - the tearing down of an ancient temple. Even now I have friends just a year older than me whose hatred of punk and all its manifestations is still part of their makeup and younger ones whose view of prog is as bizarrely distorted as that seen by the former group.

I do not like to be too self analytical, but if there is one thing I feel I have, it's an open mind that cannot easily be swayed by binary forces. In 1977, I was not prepared to make the choices that the NME were asking I made. I was not going at 17 years old to be what they so nastily referred to as a "Boring Old Fart". I was NOT going to surrender my love of Classical, Prog and Jazz music gleaned since my Mum first played me "Peter And The Wolf" - probably in a cot. Reboots are fine, but when they seek to obliterate the history of a story, character or a whole musical genre, they display a totalitarian and dictatorlike set of properties that I just don't get on with. For a good long period in 1977, John Peel was playing a selection of music that included Punk rubbing shoulders with Reggae, Left field prog (he was more Henry Cow than Yes at this point). He'd have Tangerine Dream butted up to The Damned similarly juxtapposed with Neil Young. Sure - Peel moved with the times and there did come a day when all references to Prog had gone - but during that exciting period.. Peel spoke well to me and I grew to love both sides of the musical Checkpoint Charlie that had suddenly been foisted upon us. In a Six month period I was fortunate enough to see gigs by Yes, The Pistols, Van Der Graaf, Steel Pulse, The Damned, Stranglers and Manfred Mann's Earth Band among many others. It was the time of my life. Many reading this will share that fabulous experience.

The disadvantage of Punk was primarily that it took over like a massive cloud. The record companies saw this method of regaining control over artistic output - as -to them - the lunatics had really taken over the asylum. Greek bands writing concept albums about the Book Of Revelation, English ones doing the Shastric Scriptures in response, bands with no singles, no fashion sense had been hard to control as they gained their own power. Similarly in the early 70s experimental film directors like Russell, Peckinpah, Polanski had been bamboozling the finance guys in big studios... and 1977 was the year they regained control. The arrival iof the Blockbuster Movie of Lucas/Speilberg did not happen at the same time as punk for no reason. This was strategy. And business strategy is never really that great for pure artistry. The punks soon learned this. We had this whole "insulting each other" culture for a while, the "Boring Old Farts" versus "Punks" We weren't exactly bigging ourselves up were we? And the press whipped us up - NME versus Melody Maker. Sound familiar? In the end though - objective completed. The media companies were back in CONTROL. And they'd accomplished this, astonishingly, using a dream of Anarchy!

But my goodness me - there were some HUGE advantages. And those advantages are what got me into playing and writing music in the first place.

I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, so forgive me if I knock over your favorite garden parasol here - but in all honesty, Progressive Rock had some of its leanest ever years between 1975 (mid 74) and 77. There was good stuff - to be sure, new stuff, certainly, but many of the key drivers of the movement were in hiatus. Yes descended into lineup troubles again, Genesis split with Gabriel, ELP were AWOL after BSS, Floyd were in some legal wrangle and, like them though I do - enormously in fact - Camel were left in charge. They and the Canterbury bands put up a strong hand - but the world was not ready to just forget the big fish and just take on a new shoal. Well - of course... that IS what happened, but it wasn't Camel or Canterbury that was the shoal that benefat. ( new past tense of the day)

As a musician I was feeling the pain and frustration. I KNEW I wanted to play, but the demands of progressive rock bands for keyboards players were very very high. How could I even HOPE to get into a band when most people were looking for someone with an LRAM qualification? They wanted Rick Wakemans, Keith Emersons, Peter Bardenses and Vangelii - and I was at that time a Lieutenant Pigeon in a world that needed Generals. Even being in the college cover version band was difficult, "Freebird" was a big ask (not just for the guitarist) - but hey - we could do punk songs dead easy. I wasn't going to let the fact that there weren't keyboards in the Pistols stop me playing on our versions. And The Stranglers were there too - my first real inspiration to learn what Dave Greenfield could do - picking apart his fast but easily playable arpeggios was the start of learning to do what I do now. I didn't have to own a 700 GBP (in 1977) synthesiser, I could use a crappy tinny organ from the local second hand shop - and it sounded great in punk as long as you has an Electro Harmonix "Big Muff" (sic) fuzz pedal - but sounded awful if I'd tried or even been able to try "Karn Evil 9". Punk was my gateway, my way in. I was going to enjoy every moment of the music that was around when I was 17/18 and no music paper was going to stop me.

The Punks started THEIR progression on day 2. For every Sham 69 who just wanted to do "that" and not much else, there was a Siouxie, an XTC, an Ultravox, a Talking Heads, Buzzcocks, Magazine and a Joy Division who in their legendary album "Closer" got about as near to Pink Floyd as you can get without actually being Porcupine Tree. Public Image quickly supplanted the Pistols as Lydon's chief vehicle. The Damned had a progressive 17 minute epic within just a few years of "Neat Neat Neat". The Clash were studio innovators, concept album creators, advocates of true Progressive Politics in a heartbeat - and XTC just thrived on the whole spectrum of Pop, Punk & Prog from their earliest days... How many times did they remind me of Gentle Giant's "Freehand" album in their long and wonderful career? And how great that Dave Gregory ends up in one of the UK's best prog bands right now. His work in Big Train has been a delight from the off with the added bonus of me feeling smug that "I always knew XTC were like minded".

The 80s saw the growth of harder, more genuinely earnest bands whose definition of Anarchy was more of the "political alternative" variety than the feathers-flying pillow fights we'd seen earlier. Bands like Flux, Crass, Chumbawamba and Conflict echoing many hippy ideals in a more realistic, angrily frustrated and gritty way.

Yet - as with Brexit - our media here in the UK took this polarised view, with its target demographics and editorial policy and bias. There are still, thanks to this ignorance peddling, people who think that Progressive Rock is about ice skating pantomime horses and huge light shows and trucks full of gear. Though we all know these things existed at some point , the fact that Progressive Rock is less known for Hammill bashing out his songs with his jugular vain glowing large in his neck on one acoustic piano and guitar, less known for its ceaseless quest for fusion, less known for its political commentary, less known for its poverty ridden grim determination at the lower end of the commercial success scale, than it is for these easily mockable "Codpieces And Capes" of which we have sung. Likewise there are those who think that punk was all about how cool it was to not be able to play (that lasted a few months only) - that the music was just basic noise and everyone was on drugs, but not the approved ones of the late 60s.

The great re-set that was Punk enabled a whole new type of person to enter the world of music making. It was tremendously inclusive and thereby anti elitist. It challenged authority "by name" (see "God Save The Queen") it spat anger, had humour, great choruses and was in my mind a wonderful, optimistic and liberating form. It was spoiled once again, by the erection of Chinese Walls like those which had existed between "Classical" and "Rock" in the first place. This was, in my opinion, a totally commercial strategy. A few scaled these walls - Hillage, Daevid Allen, Hammill etc from "our"side and I felt that Howard Devoto and the Jon Foxx Ultravox were certainly broadcasting both ways. On my first ever commercial release in 1987, the sleeve notes to "Where Do We Draw The Line" say that "When they Draw their line, they can SELL on both sides of it" I think that's what was done. A lot of us fell for it. A lot of Us missed out. And so did a lot of Them.

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Strawinsky - Rite of Spring

This continues a series of articles about albums that have been influential on The Tangent's music. It is neither a complete list, nor is it a list that would be the same if you asked me next week, it is not a guide to what I think is best in the world even if some of these albums are just that. It may also go on longer than 10, it also may not.

This one is obviously a little different. I fact it's different from just about anything else in the world. Even now in 2017 in a much freer and enlightened world there is still a "Classical" critical elite who can make any commentaries one makes on their turf seem like ignorant spouting. Back in the 70s - that elite was as much behind the "pretentious" tag that was attributed to Prog musicians as the UK rock music press. For this reason, I'll try to write about Le Sacre Du Printemps in the same way as I wrote about UK. As if it's just one of my fave albums. Which it is. But it's NOT, never was, never will be "Classical" It has as much in common with Greek columns and Roman literature as a Volkswagen Passat, The people in the area of "classical" music think it's their property (and defend it as such) but they can't have it. No way. Its ours as much as it is theirs.

The first reason why it relates to the Tangent is obvious to those "in the know". We've done a cover version of half of it (which was released independently as a guerrilla release on our album "A Place On The Shelf" as we were not allowed to release it by the sanctimonious and hypocritical goons at Boozy and Dorks. ) - and we made an album inspired by it in the form of "Le Sacre Du Travail" - and there's various quotes from Strawinsky's work dotted around our other albums - "Where Are They Now" being just one example.
"The Rite of Spring" came into my life when some friends of my parents left a copy at our house for my folks to listen to. My folks didn't like it much - but I was into it from the word go. I was probably about 8 or 9 - can't really remember.

It is a musical riot.

It's like a garden of vividly coloured flowers that has unexpectedly gone wild, been overtaken by bindweed, creepers and multifarious insects and fauna. if you are walking along, say, an old railway line, you'll occasionally come across an unruly gathering of impossibly violet Rosebay Willow plants chanting "here we go here we go here we go!!". With a load of Convolvulus trumpets vuvazela-ing and winding their way around and various other hortensia jostling for attention and a selection of bees butterflies and micro-moths all having a beanfeast. If you could get that chaos, bottle it, pour it out as music - you'd have something that was a bit like The Rite Of Spring.

Breaking just about every rule in the playbook, The Rite paved the way for the music of the 20th and 21st century - possibly more so than any other single piece. Its influence caused seismic tremors in the world of "Classical" music - went on to set a template for a new medium, the film soundtrack as which it famously appeared in Disney's "Fantasia" where Boozy & Dorks were curiou$ly not being as militaristic. Its pagan themes further separated mainstream music from the establishment - by now Composers were moving away from the almost compulsory formal sacred pieces - building up the independence of artists the world over, and of course it spilled like a shelf of multicoloured paint pots onto the broad canvas of Progressive Rock which in my mind it had both anticipated and inspired.

The dissonances, brutal rhythms, fragile melodies, clusters of instruments aping bird calls, the sound of cattle in the fields, folk dances and the wonderful fight between the old and the new that's going on here - is so well re-demonstrated in "The Gates Of Delirium" just a bit over half a century later. Smash cuts - stop-on-a-dime musicianship, brilliant non-sequiturs and about half a million things you can do with an orchestra that even Beethoven hadn't thought of. Combining instruments in new ways to create new sounds and textures almost like the process of additive synthesis, this shake up of sound itself was an acoustic equivalent of what the Progressives were to do to the 3/4/5 piece rock & roll combo half a century later. Supported - no - symbiotic, with the lush and rich colour of abstract expressionism in Art at the time - Wassily Kandinsky was transitioning from his early impressionistic art into his "Blue Rider" period where the abstract came more to the fore. Strawinsky was travelling in the same direction and at this lovely crossroads there was this gorgeous looking back over previous symphonic structure in one direction, and a look forward into the (as yet) unknown. The traditional critical view of Strawinsky does seem to indicate that his successors were Boulez, Steve Reich, Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Philip Glass and Michael Tippett. Astonishingly these academic views of Strawinsky's legacy have yet to focus on the impact he has had on electric music, it's as though a Chinese Wall was erected upon the invention of the Electric Guitar and neither side refers to the other... which is something that needs to be remedied as I believe that Yes, King Crimson, National Health, Henry Cow, Magma and now perhaps even Snarky Puppy are as important on his CV as those earlier pioneers.

Although on our new album it's Gustav Holst we quote directly, this contemporary of Strawinsky would (in my uneducated opinion) have had as much admiration for the Rite as I do - and the Planets Suite shared a similar window in time - in the same way that "Close to The Edge" and "Tubular Bells" do - just a couple of years apart.

A friend of the band - Mike Briggs, knowing my love of the piece was moved to take a copy of our "Le Sacre Du Travail" album and photograph it on Strawinsky's grave. A touching gesture to be sure. Great to know that someone appreciated the importance of this man, not just to me, but to the musicians and composers that we grew up with. I reckon he will strongly influence musicians not yet born and they will do things we cannot yet imagine. I would have loved to show him my synthesiser. Strawinsky would have loved Yes and Groove Armada. And Boozy and Dorks can go home in the rain for all I care

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Here is the FOURTH of the albums I have chosen to represent some of the influential albums on The Tangent's career. Once again to stress that this is not a chart, a "best of" - nor is it an effort to say or imply that The Tangent sound like this. Because today - i do not think we sound anything like this band, who (like the previous artist) hail from Canada

So far my choices have been street credible and artistically laudable I think - and there will be those who heave a sigh of disappointment when they see that I chose an album by Rush. Indeed, I spent many years not having a great deal of time for this group and they didn't really hit me until the mid 80s. But when they did... they did.

What I find so appealing about Rush - is something that Sally had also identified, independently of me before either of us met.. and that to us - to try an explain, is the MOTION in which Rush songs set themselves. Where many progressive bands take a stand on the hilltops- taking a view of the broader vista, Rush are always IN the landscape, travelling through it - usually at some speed! They're looking at the hills that others are standing on - as they whizz past gas stations and motels, steel works and a very very familiar real world environment.

Whether you're travelling in a gigantic 18 wheeler rig down a massive interstate highway as the swaggering pace of "Tom Sawyer" suggests, screaming across desert plains in a Red Barchetta, or hurtling through Space toward Cygnus X-1 - Rush always makes me feel I'm in motion. No surprises then that this album formed a soundtrack to Sally and My journey on the interstate from Colorado to Wyoming in 2015. After all, Brad Birzer had almost certainly deliberately left a copy in the car he had lent us.

I'm not alone here. As I've mentioned before... the film director JJ Abrams (who has used Rush before now in soundtracks eg "Tom Sawyer" in ) actually used the storyline of "Red Barchetta" (A young boy rebelliously driving a red sportscar across a desert landscape, in the future, pursued by robotic police vehicles) in his reboot of the Star Trek franchise. Sadly the music "cho$en" for this scene was not the song which so inevitably inspired it - and has neither the motion or excitement of the original.

I always wanted The Tangent to be a Rock Group. That phrase which means so much to all of us "Progressive Rock" is two words.. and that's the music I always wanted to make. And if anyone represents the most succesful marriage of these two words, it's Rush. On our first album the song "Uphill From Here" along with many others like it since expressed our desire to keep the band firmly rooted in the wider Rock & Roll idiom. Jonas had that rock and roll in his bass playing - born perhaps from his young love of bands like Kiss and certainly Roine, Luke have always had different eras of Rock manifest in their playing

Maybe the fact that Peart is himself a pretty intrepid explorer and traveller has something to do with the way he leads the band on. His travelogues are as exciting on paper as they are in his music. Sometimes his lyrics utterly utterly hit my sensitive spots with hammer blows. The lyrics to "Spirit Of The Radio" specifically reflect so much of what I believe about the music industry and music making itself....

"Glittering Prizes and Endless Compromises shatter the illusion of integrity" - lines that come into my head every time I see a band begging us to vote for them in some poll or award ceremony which usually benefits the publication more than the artists who are invariably "better than that" They are belittled in their quest - in a world where they deserve so much more real attention for the great things they do. And that's the negative side that Rush identify.

The positive side is even better - and the cry of "All this machinery making modern music can still be open hearted" is a personal mantra of mine. That they saw this, anticipated nearly everything that makes music what it is today in 197? and were able to only see good in it is testament to this wildly open minded and innovative band whose career has been loved - and mocked by so many.

Rush are their own blend of styles and inspirations, their own unique Prog recipe that used ingredients of Zep, Sabbath, Yes, occasionally Genesis, Purple and ELP. They plough their own furrow - use their own rules and have stayed resoloutely together in the same lineup since their second album. For this they have my admiration and respect. Like Van Der Graaf Generator they would include references to academic philosophy and literature in their work and this had the wonderful effect of several thousand biker types throwing their fists at the sky to an idea that might have had its roots in Nietzsche. Rush aim high. Always did.

I love their North American take on the world... I liked the way on this album they tried to include us Brits by - having mentioned Manhattan as a focal place for Americans - they chose "Westminster" as the British equivalent. A place that means very little to the Provincial British(I am one of these) who know Big Ben as being "In London" and who for every 20 US dramas and movies about the US presidency have one grubby comedy show about politics in the UK. The last American show on this subject (3 this year) I completed was "Designated Survivor" where an impossibly virtuous man accidentally and unintentionally succeeds to the office and overcomes all the political ordeals to become the very embodiment of the American Dream. The last UK one I saw had the Prime Minister having sex with a pig. Ha ha! Westminster!! Nice try guys! We loved you anyway already! I even like the way Rush live shows feature a lot of their humour - which the audience here (including me) just don't get.

A fantastic band of fantastic musicians. Now if the publishers of Mojo had been watching this rollout of influential albums thinking "here's someone we could work with - good choices" I just blew it forever by choosing something desperately unfashionable and untrendy that hasn't even had the decency to have a dead member a drugs casualty or an acrimonious fallout (that I know of) in 40 years. But that just echoes what I (and everyone else in this genre) chose to do with my life. To quote another of my influences....
"And We Don't CARE"

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