"Talking about Feedback" - Steve in conversation about the Feedback 86 album and his recent Italian tour. Interview conducted at Crown Studios on Tuesday, September 12, 2000. Interview by Alan Hewitt.
SH: Congratulations on the book, by the way.
AH: Thanks very much.
SH: Did you get my e-mail? I tried to send one to you yesterday to congratulate you on the book; very well done!
AH: Well, Steve really I think this time we should talk a bit about the recent "Italian job" and the new album, Feedback 86, how did the tour go off...?
SH: I just got some e-mail about that saying I hadn't put anything up on the web site about that and I ought to. Very good, it went off very well. There may be a live album at a future date from those shows but it is somewhere down the line to find out if that is the case.
AH: You played some new stuff in the set this time round. Is that off the new, forthcoming rock album?
SH: Either that or this may be the forum for it and it may be that I release the new stuff as part of a live thing. It is an idea that I have mentioned to Billy and I am waiting for him to say "That's a great idea, Steve" or "Don't be so bloody stupid!" (laughs) To be honest, I don't know, to this very day if my ideas are going to fall on stony ground with the Camino crew or not.
AH: Well, from the reviews that have reached us here, from their comments about the gigs, the new stuff seems to have gone down well...
SH: That's good, I was excited about doing some of the new stuff and we did do it all live, the vocals were, you know all live and that was the thing I was most concerned about, yeah. It was quite interesting sort of, we kind of staggered it so that it was the song part wrapped with harmoniser to make the voice deeper. There were various things like that. As an over all approach it kind of worked.
AH: I was intrigued by the set list - apart from the new stuff, by the fact that you have exorcised a lot of the past this time round. It is a newer set and I was delighted that there was stuff off "Darktown" and stuff off "Highly Strung" as well as other albums that had previously been under-represented in the live set and that is another thing that has got the thumbs up from people as well...
SH: I did something off "The Lamb..." as well, which was "Hairless Heart" which hadn't been done by any band member for over twenty five years and I figured that it was about time to see if it still made sense. It is a nice version that the guys did.
AH: I suppose the biggest surprise of all was no "Horizons"...
SH: I didn't play any acoustic guitar apart from at one of the gigs. It was really an electric show to keep it moving, keep it rolling and I had tried to put it together so that the numbers would run from one to the other. It was a show that did not revolve around announcements as I tend to get rather tired of bands that say "And now we are going to carry on with another number from..."
AH: The set list seemed to have a flow to it...
SH: It was arranged so that it would be along continuous piece of music up to announcing the band and to "In Memoriam" at the end.
AH: I remember when I read that in the set lists I said: "I should have gone..." and if I had had a couple of days more notice I would have been on that plane!
SH: Yeah, it worked and it was an interesting set up and I would refine it even further if I was doing more gigs but there you go.
AH: And now we come to the next album... this archival release that has been finally dragged kicking and screaming out of the archives...
SH: And you know what the irony is, you know what has happened? The oil crisis means that we can't get hold of any copies - people have reserved copies...
AH: (laughs) yeah, John has been taking orders while I have been here...
SH: Pre-sale has been very good indeed and now after waiting for this album for fifteen years or so (laughs) and now the problem is that we can't get the album out to people because we can't get hold of it ourselves so and I am quite sure that there will be acts who are releasing their albums this week and they will be wondering why it didn't chart and their careers went down the tube and I think there will be a lot of problems this week, in our industry but from my point of view we no longer attempt to achieve chart positions, we make things available.
AH: Well, this is certainly the one that has... it certainly took me by surprise because it is an album that has generated a lot of speculative interest over the years from a variety of sources; so can you run through it for us...?
SH: Well. As far as I can remember, because I am not sitting with a copy in front of me [I dash across room to fetch one for Steve, at this point - AH], this is the pause while Alan goes and gets the one and only production copy (laughs), it is supposed to have a slip case but personally for my money I like the way it looks like this with the artwork untrammelled as it were.
AH: Actually that is the first question for me; obviously it is another one of Kim's paintings. Is it from the "Genesis Lyrics" book?
SH: Yes, it is - it is from "Blood On The Rooftops" and the strange thing is, that when she painted this at the time I loved it so much I wanted it for an album and she said "No, sorry it has got to go in the Genesis Lyric book" and so after all these years, yes it is a re-use (laughs) but it is one of her lovely paintings. In fact she did another version of this in oils; this is a watercolour; but the oils version which was larger had a red checked tablecloth and she was looking for a title for it so we called it "The English Channel" (laugher) at the time. To my mind, this has charm and it is the same two characters who appear on the "Please Don't Touch" album so there is a thread. In fact she painted "Please Don't Touch" to specification because it was these same two characters and the grim look on the woman's face says it all. I thought this one was fabulous little painting, this one.
So, to the tracks; the first one is "Cassandra" and I should say that this is probably closest in spirit to a Pop album than it would be to an atmospheric rock album. I will be absolutely honest and say that I couldn't get a record deal with a single record company in Christendom (laughs) never mind Pagandom so, I think that my standing at this time, in the record industry was at an all time low and that was fifteen years ago. I felt "that's it, I must have reached thirty five and that's it; the doors are all closed to me, now". All I can say to anyone who finds themselves in the same position in the business is donít lose heart because in those fifteen years, things have turned round totally and we have the outlets now; we have the record company and one and a half studios at this point! (laughs) One at home and one down the road, not quite finished which has doubled as a useful interview room and rehearsal facility for the band, we did some rehearsals there. So, we did some quiet little rehearsals with an electronic kit and it is a very good way of getting ideas across to people in a small space but I digress...
Back to the album; "Cassandra". It has the Marillion rhythm section which is Ian Mosley and Pete Trewavas on bass and on vocals it is Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann and Brian May of course, I was forgetting; how dare I forget! So there are two of us soloing at one point; he comes in...
AH: And you both ladder your tights together...
SH: Yeah, that's right. I tell you something, somebody made the comment that it is very close to "Layla", and it is and if I had written it now, I would have changed the lyric and develop it in a different way, but there you are.
AH: "Cassandra" was the ancient prophetess of doom and gloom, wasn't she?
SH: Yes, she was; she was able to predict disaster but nobody listened to her at the time, therefore the gift of sight was considered to be a curse in her case. As is often the case in life where intuition perceives disaster and the truth is often unpopular especially before the event. I am sure there are many women who are similarly frustrated.
"Prizefighters" has two vocalists; it starts off with Bonnie Tyler and it was originally a tune that I had written for GTR and Max Bacon sang it first so there is a version of this that is on the live GTR album. Anyway, "Prizefighters" was... the track was very much designed for GTR and then Kim came up with the suggestion of having recorded it with Chris Thompson who did a fantastic vocal on it; she said; "what if it was two singers?" - two singers who were both real belters and who were both really going for it and having said that, because we all know that Bonnie is a fabulous belter she sings the first verse very gently and then she opens up and bloody hell! She has such a fabulous control and she doesn't undersing most of the time they... most producers want a "heroic" vocal from her and she is certainly good at that, but she sings wonderfully when she sings gently and she can break your heart. She is one of our finest singers and a lovely, lovely lady and very modest, very down to earth. I haven't heard from her for a while. The last time I worked with her was on the "Rock Against Repatriation" thing, ten years ago at least. So, they are both on that and I should mention that Nick Magnus is also on "Cassandra" as he is on "Prizefighters"; the drums are programmed by him on that one as they are, indeed, on most of the album. Terry Pack is on bass on that one; playing some fretless bass. It is, how can I put it... it is very anthemic and very much part of a writing style that I have in more recent years left behind.
AH: It is a stadium rocker really, isn't it?
SH: It is, yeah. It's a kind of power ballad; it's a stadium rocker and no matter how powerful the ballad is you always want the snare to sound bigger and in the end you end up with "Total Eclipse Of The Heart", you know. There is very little restraint on the album and in some ways that qualifies it and in others that disqualifies it because... all I can really say is that I donít really write in this style anymore.
Then we move onto "Slot Machine" which again has... you know, Brian May and I were talking about doing something when GTR was ending for me and I felt again like working with another guitarist which had proven to be an interesting combination and I felt that GTR was a little bit light on guitar if anything and between Brian and myself... I had started this track off and then he said; "Well, give me the tape and I will work on it" and he re-wrote one of the verses and put in loads of guitar work and it really rocked and so you've got Chris Thompson doing vocal on that and you've got Brian singing away on it and you have also got all three of us singing on some of the choruses. It had been around the houses a bit as had the rest of the album.
"Stadiums Of The Damned" which was also known as "A Woman Like You" because nobody could really make up their mind, not so much about the stadium rock aspect of it... it was actually a line from Dylan here, I'll be honest. A line quoted to me from... I don't know what the album was but a friend of mine was very much into Dylan and he said "Stadiums of the damned/Nightclubs of the broken-hearted" and that certainly stuck with me an I came up with this introduction that was almost Wagnerian although that would probably be the wrong composer but a dark sombre mood. Funnily enough, the opening of it with the sampled brass is something that I might use on something else again and do something long form with it as I have got more into Classical music and I realise that I have not really concentrated on brass and I have tended to specialise more on strings and guitar and I have wanted to understand brass more, and it really is a brass figure. This was already released on the re-issue of "Till we Have Faces" you see the rest of this album was plundered quite severely for various other things; so you will hear riffs cropping up and you will say; "Hello, didn't I hear that somewhere else?" and "isn't that a re-use?" (laughter).
Then I get to the next number "Don't Fall in Live With Me". There were two versions of this tune; one of which was a love song which Brian May and I were trying to write and then there was this kind of heavy kind of drum and harmonica riff which ended up being used on a track on the album "Blues With A Feeling" called "Solid Ground". So, it is the same riff and as this was never used, I thought, this is never going to come out; so I'll use this! (laughs). And, of course, it has come back to haunt me; the whole album has come back to haunt me.
"Oh How I Love You"; I should mention it is Chris Thompson on vocals who does the lead vocals on "Don't Fall" and does the lead vocals on most of this album. "Oh How I Love You" is the same thing; it is Chris, Nick Magnus and myself and it is really an acoustic thing with no drums and again, a very powerful vocal. An instrumental version of this was released on "The Unauthorised Biography" and on "There Are Many Sides To The Night", the "Sicilian" live album with Julian Colbeck. In many ways I would say that this album is for completists only but there has been a tremendous amount of interest in it because it has been held back for so long and people have been wondering what the hell it was like and so this will answer the question.
AH: I think they will be pleasantly surprised when they hear it, as well...
SH: Have you heard it, then?
AH: I heard a less than perfect copy of it years ago and I thought a couple of tracks... "Cassandra" and "Slot Machine" in particular were... I thought "why were these never released?"
SH: I think it was just because the climate in the industry at that time was and... things have their time even if it is fifteen years later. I would love it obviously if a film maker at some point, picked up on one of these and it became part of a soundtrack and twenty years later it became a hit and I said; "Told you so..." But we can all dream of course, and...
"Notre Dame Des Fleurs" was an acoustic piece the tremelando... I used to play it live. It was a difficult one to play; I used to struggle through it. It is almost... what's the word? It is almost "Catholic" sounding if I may be so bold, it is very much... It is very much a kind of "Ave Maria" for the guitar. The other thing is, the title was something which funnily enough I didn't take anything ecclesiastical; it was from a book by Jean Genet that I was reading at the time. Who was largely talking about his experiences in prison; his homosexual experiences in prison and so even though it has got this very pretty, pretty ecclesiastical title it is anything but. But I loved the title and it always evoked the image of the... it was designed to float really, the idea of... to trickle and float you know, and it is a style that I have obviously expanded on more and more as I went forward.
The last track "The Gulf" is again, something that I believe was issued on "Till we Have Faces"; a re-issued, expanded and re-ordered "Till We Have Faces". It was an attempt to give people value for money with the re-issues.
Then what we come to is the... on a normal CD.. this is thirty five minutes in length which is a bit short for an album but it has got all this extra stuff on the MP3 format a whole other album's worth of stuff...
AH: Yeah, I've been having a play around with that while waiting for you to get here, actually...
SH: I can't remember exactly which ones they are because itís not on the stuff here (looks at the CD booklet), I suppose when they put it in there they will find out what is on there and you can order things from it and join the mailing list from it; basically it is a Camino catalogue sampler and there is a vast amount of information there if you have it hooked up to your computer That certainly seems to be the way the world is going.
AH: I think it is a great way of doing things and I am sure that it will draw a lot more people's attention to the material that is available and to what you are doing as well. That covers the actual tracks themselves. How did you come to get some of the people involved on the album?
SH: Do you mean the people who are on... "Feedback"? I think if I talk to Ian (Mosley) and we decide to do anything musically - for instance I have just played on something of Ben Castle's what's nice about it is that whenever Ian and I talk it is always an extension of our social life, I mean we immediately plug into that time when we were working together and doing two shows a night in America and flogging our guts out, you know? The nice thing about working with Ian is the sense of humour which is paramount where that defuses many a difficult moment. It is always fun working with Ian, he makes it fun and it is important to me that the people I work with... the people I have worked with the longest are the ones with the funniest sense of humour. That and the fact that they are virtuosos in some sense of the word (laughs). It is great to have people who have got the technique but it is no good if it is all po-faced it makes such a difference and I enjoy working with Ian and I enjoyed working with Pete (Trewavas) who I met virtually for the first time working on this and we did it and learnt it on the spot and we just... it was really just a two pipe invention really it was a repeated sequence for blasting away on guitar and a verse sequence which is marginally more complicated but we probably just wrote down the chord changes for Pete and that was it. I think I had actually already recorded the guitar parts already to a click track but it has got something, it had some fire.
AH: How did you come to work with Brian May on this...?
SH: I met Brian in Brazil when they had just played "Rock In Rio" when Queen... you know when Freddie were all still together and Brian and I started talking and I said how much I liked his playing and he said; "I remember you doing 'Musical Box'" and he said "I liked the guitar playing on that" and I had no idea up to that point that he had... this was probably in the mid 80s maybe a year before this and he said that, and I had no idea that he was aware of anything that I had done and it was great to get that from one of my peers. It was nice to hear from somebody that they liked what you did and ironically I remember Queen's demo tracks; before they had a deal and I heard them at the Charisma Records offices when they had been.. when they were shopping for a deal. I didn't meet them at the time and I head the demo tapes and I said; "Oh, these guys sound great" and the guitar work sounded great and for demo tapes I think whoever was in the room listening at the time said "Oh this is very interesting". It was John Anthony in fact who brought the tapes in, and I couldn't tell you who had produced them, whether he had produced them or whatever but they sounded very professional and the vocals and guitar work sounded tremendous and I remember thinking these guys have got tremendous panache.
So, that is how I got in touch with him and he and I had talked about doing something. I think perhaps we were talking about doing an album together and then his commitments didn't really coincide with mine at the time and I felt that I needed to get something finished and there were months between and so I said "Look Brian, I feel that I am going to need to play on with this...", and he said "well, maybe it should be a guest appearance of me on something of yours" and we have stayed very much friends since and the occasional letters... I wrote him a letter the other week and he replied to me and said that he remembered these tracks and wished me all the best with them. There is another track called "Don't Fall In love With Me"... another version which is a ballad which he wrote the lyrics to and he just wrote to me and said "Have you got the original tapes for that?", and I had to write back to him and say "I think you have got the master for that" because I remember looking for it at the time and I couldnít find it. Either that or I will send him a multi-track of what the song became when I sang it and then he will sing on top of it and maybe that will come out at some point, who knows? As I said, it has been a long time coming this album and so my thoughts on it may not be as clear. I remember that at the time I was very disappointed that I could get any companies interested but I suspect that it was a case of whatever I was trying to do at that time, it would not have found favour with. I think had I been twenty years younger and come up with this album then.. and here I am fifteen years further on and not feeling the age gap at all (laughs).
AH: Now that we have covered the album, there is just a brief trip slightly further back... Obviously whether you will be able to tell me much about this, I donít know or indeed how much you have been involved, but the second Box Set is almost upon us...
SH: It is indeed, I was only involved in that in as much as that I was one of the original perpetrators the choice of tunes has entirely been... Mike and Tony's as far as I am aware. I think there are some interesting things on it.
AH: Is your... is there much of... are you represented...?
SH: I think I am either on four tracks or I have had involvement with four tracks in terms of there being an input a writing or a playing input.
AH: Are these studio tracks or live...?
SH: Studio tracks: one is called "Inside And Out" which I always felt was strong and which was intended at the time we were doing "Wind & Wuthering". There were three extra tracks, all of which are on this Box Set and that came out only as an EP at the time and there was a fourth track which I can't be sure if I remember the title it may have been "Your Own Special Way"...
AH: There was a B-Side to that track called "It's Yourself"...
SH: "It's Yourself" which I think was the introduction to "Los Endos" on "A Trick Of The Tail" so a tiny bit of that was used on the 1976 album so you have several out-takes some of which I think were stronger than what appeared on the album. I would say that "Inside And Out" for me, musically, was stronger than "Wot Gorilla?" Although "Wot Gorilla?" is a fabulous rhythm but "Inside And Out" was very much in the style of the band at that time. It was a song with a narrative story of course I mean, not quite concerto form (laughs) but long form. Medium form if not long form shall we say. And lots of good noises; lots of good ideas; lovely twelve string work, if I may say so. Interesting playing from everybody... a good tune! It was almost in the mould of "Ripples". So, I was a little disappointed that that didn't go on the "Wind & Wuthering" album at the time and it is only right and proper that it should be released now. It is the strongest. The other tunes on that - "Match Of The Day" and "Pigeons" you know, are musical jokes and should be taken in that spirit and may bear repetition, they may not bear close scrutiny; they are not played as precisely as things were to become. You know, they are a product of their time and things were recorded in a certain way at that time and all of the stuff you hear from that time is not as spot-bollock-perfect as it was. I mean, it preceded the era of the almighty click track with which you defined things more fully but then a band played live and there was a certain amount of latitude.
Once again thanks to Steve and Billy for their patience and to John for allowing me to explore the CD on computer, the tech heads will love it and the musos won't be disappointed either - thanks a lot guys!