AH: So, Nick… the new album … Hexameron… you said yourself previously that this is a follow-on from Inhaling Green in many ways so I suppose the first thing is when did you start recording this album ?
NM: Back at the end of March last year. March 27th if I look in my diary (laughs) for some reason I remember that. There was some planning that took place just on paper s it were while I was thinking what to do as a concept. It was actually Dick (Foster) who suggested doing Hexameron as a prequel to the Inhaling Green title track. I never went to any great lengths to explain what the Inhaling Green track might have been about to anyone. I think with that kind of stuff especially when it is largely instrumental music really with little or nothing verbally or vocally to give you any clues although Inhaling Green did have the computer …the Mac doing his little monologue. When it is largely instrumental music I think it is largely down to the listener to make up their own story about what the music is about.
One of the nicest comments I heard about it was that it was a movie for the ears and I thought …yeah that is what I would like it to be and to feel like when you shut your eyes put your headphones on and take you away somewhere like the move that just takes you out of the present and away from what you are doing, to somewhere else. So, Inhaling Green did have a concept which was a Science Fantasy look at the end of the Universe basically with little things in there that basically…you never know if people realise what they are the horns… the conch shell blasts just before Stripping Of The Flesh is supposed to symbolise the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse but in a cartoon style, there is never anything serious about it... it is slightly tongue-in-cheek the whole thing.
Being that that was about the end of the Universe, Dick suggested well why not try one about the beginning of the Universe. And I thought…well it has been done... Haydn's "Creation" and all that kind of stuff and it could be regarded as being cliched doing that kind of stuff and he said rather than doing it in the cod sort of Seven Days... let's do it from a totally different point of view… from a mythological point of view. Various mythologies and the title comes from the Greek word for the Six Days of creation, they had six…
AH: That was the one thing that threw me… I knew what the word meant but I didn’t know what the connection was in the context of the album so that makes sense now.
NM: Basically… I hate to say it but it is another word for… "Genesis" if you like. It is the Greek version, the Greek mythological version and another similar word is Decameron which was Peter's old band which came from the book. So we got that ,that is where it came from and so we planned out on paler we had a variety of… starting points… just notes, possibilities of things for tracks most of which, in the end never happened but like most sketches, things turn put quite differently when you get to the final thing. The important thing was to get something to wrote about; some starting point and that is why I enjoyed doing the Inhaling Green track so much because it was like writing music for a film and music to picture which is great. As I have got older I have found it more and more difficult to write music in a vacuum... just to sit there and think "I think I will write something today" and pick up an instrument and I think it has got to be about something and especially if it is instrumental you haven't got lyrics or issues that you want to get across that are a vehicle for the music there is nothing else really to go with it and on the occasions when I have written music to picture I have found it SO much easier. You look at the picture and immediately something comes into your head straight away and when you start working on it you have got a guideline and it was very much the same doing the concept thing, and so Inhaling Green was the first concept thing I had attempted to do and so I thought… I have got to do it again but I need a peg to hang it on and so that is where it all came from really. Each of the tracks looks at an aspect of the beginning of the world from slightly different perspectives.
AH: Run us through it…track by track..
NM: Track by track… some are less easy to explain than others (laughs) and I was saying to Dick... "what’s this one about?" (laughs). Singularity… that is a metaphor for the "Big Bang" basically I had got the idea of... years ago many years ago when I was in The Enid… Robert (Godfrey) had talked about a creation piece which as far as I know he never did in the end but the thing was that it was in the very early days of Quadrophonic and his idea was to start with a piercing celina that went into all four speakers and started spinning around and I thought "Oh, that would be great" but it never happened.
My first thought was… well I can't really do that; that was somebody else's idea but I need to somehow get the loneliness of a single entity across. In fact the track's working title for ages was just N T T (laughs)… I was going to call it NTT1071 but I thought the joke would be lost (It is a pun on NCC1701 the number of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek in case you were wondering, folks). The idea was that this is this lonely entity and the piano bit I had written actually back in the November before. It was just one of those ideas that came out of nowhere and I kept it on file and I thought, this could be a really good way to start. Or it could… albums normally either start with a bang or something unusual but I thought people might like this piece of Classical piano or they might think it is very boring or whatever but I felt that it worked for the context and I will stick my neck out and do it and everyone seems to like it. People frequently comment that they really like that bit and so I am glad I did it now.
There were figurative things that came in as the piece went on like as the final piano chords fade away and it goes all big and spacey I thought this was a bit more subtle than having a Big Bang. I thought that would be too tacky and so I thought I would avoid that and just go from the loneliness of the entity to the vastness of space. So one has to assume that the Bang has already happened because without it there wouldn't be any space. The first figure that comes in (Nick hums tune) it is all alternating bars of 7/9 and 7/10 and it was a conscious decision… what happens after a Big Bang? You get chaos… and so I thought. "OK, Chaos silly time signatures, that's chaos" (laughs) so that is the little metaphor for chaos and eventually it gets a bit more resolved when the tune comes in and seems to fit in a very relaxed way over a the unusual bar structure and ultimately what happens when the solo comes in is what happens in various mythological versions of this is that the entity is screaming and yelling for form and I just wanted something that was angst ridden and at first I thought of having all sorts of screaming noises and completely wild out of control noises on the guitar but I wouldn't have been able to direct somebody how to do that and I didn’t actually know myself what that ought to be like and so I thought rather than try and be difficult and probably end up with a bloody mess on my hands; lets actually think about developing the themes here (laughs). So, Steve's guitar solo comes out of that and the little tune that happens earlier on in the quiet bit (hums tune again)and basically he played it with all guns blazing and that is the screaming for form and hen it finally comes to that big climax at the end; it just literally drives off the end of a cliff and the last thing you hear as it goes off into the distance is an "aaahhhh" which is actually a sample of Clare (Brigstocke) I had her singing D's into the microphone for a long time (laughs). Saying "can you do it any longer , Clare?" (laughs). "Can you keep it steadier than that? It has got to be really steady no vibrato " (laughs) and in the end I got a suitable bit which I copied and cross-faded to the appropriate length so the last thing you hear is Clare flying off into the distance. It is part of the entity as it splits in half basically. It is all highly descriptive and massively pretentious (laughs) .
AH: But it works! I suppose one of the key questions is… before we move on to the other tracks is… when people read the sleeve notes they are going to want to know about the other people involved. How did you assemble that cast of musicians again? How much bribery and blackmail was involved?
NM: Very little bribery and blackmail at all (Laughs). I was very fortunate that everyone was very keen and willing to take part. The Enid connection was me! Geoff (Whitehorn) is Procul Harum and Whitesnake... Geoff has been in loads and loads of bands. Geoff is very widely travelled as a musician; he has done all sorts of stuff.
Siobahn (McCarthy) oh yes. Siobahn and I worked together back in 1997 on an album called "Celtic Dream" which was one of those outside production jobs I got which was basically produce 18 Celtic-ish tunes and here are the ones we would like you to do and a couple of my own as well and I picked a couple that I wanted to do and it became obvious that we were going to need some vocals for this and at least three of the tracks needed to be a female vocal and I didn't know any Irish lasses that could sing well so I phoned up my mate Rod Edwards who used to be the keyboard player with Gordon Giltrap and he is MD on Blood Brothers now in the West End and I said: "Do you know any Irish female singers?" and he said… "Siobahn; you have simply got to use Siobhan" she has done Blood Brothers and he said "You have got to give Siobhan a call… she is really nice and I am sure she will want to do it" and so I phoned her up and she did want to do it and we did it and she sung beautifully on that and she is an absolute joy to work with and so when it came to doing this I only had the one thought in my head… "I really hope Siobahn is going to be around..." Fortunately she was around and more than happy to do it.
AH: So now we will move back to the next track… Dancing On The Waters…
NM: Dancing On The Waters, that's really that came from a phrase that Dick came up with which was the archetype moving across the face of the waters.
AH: God's face upon the Deep?
NM: Yes, and that simply is what that is... it is just a very nautical and slightly Celtic… the rocky bit in the middle... I wouldn't want to put a label on who it reminds me of (laughs) but it starts off with what became my classic Dinosaur shape you know… thin at one end… gets big in the middle and then thin at the other end (laughs) and I had to carefully had to avoid letting all the pieces have that structure to them. Starts dreamy.. goes rocky and then ends dreamily again (laughs). That particular piece it just worked very well building up all that sort of swell of the sea at the beginning; not literally but those lovely brushy synth things and at the end where you actually DO get the swell of the sea at the end which creeps in briefly. Developing the themes for the thing; the various themes that have occurred during the tracks they get used and re-used and recycled. Basically I wanted to try and get something that I could say was symphonic in writing where… going back to something that Robert (Godfrey) said years ago… in fact on my audition day for The Enid when I played some of the tracks that I had played with the band I had just been in which was a three piece instrumental band and he stopped after one of these tracks and said…"there's enough material in one piece to write about three albums" (laughs) and I thought "what do you mean? What do you mean?" and he pointed out, and quite rightly; that there was no structure to it… it just went from A to Z every other idea in G minor crow-barred together (laughs) and work damn you; you WILL fit! (laughs) and that was how I did it …that was what I call schoolboy Prog Rock and it is what you do.
It was that point in time when I was introduced to the idea of symphonic writing and what that meant and of course, unless you are writing big long pieces you don't get the chance to put that into practice really and so now that this is the first actual album length conceptual thing now was the time to actually do some of that stuff. So all of these things of course as well as what their subject matter is ways and means of developing on the themes to the ultimate conclusion.
AH: Did you, or did Dick do any real…did you suddenly find yourselves digging out the Larousse Encyclopaedia Of Mythology or whatever in terms of looking through it for ideas?
NM: Dick is an Art Historian so he has a vast font of knowledge for many of these things and yes; he did go on the Internet and do bits of research looking up things such as all the stuff about Marduk just getting the basic facts sort of straight. Our version of that story is slightly different in fact I have read a review recently where somebody came out with a completely different interpretation of it which was probably no less valid and I am sure that there are probably lots of different Marduk stories. We have given Marduk a very different role; basically he is the hero in this story. Basically there are two characters: Marduk and the other character is Tiamat the dragon who isn't mentioned by name but essentially in this Babylonian version Marduk has to cut Tiamat in half in order to make the heavens and the earth and he has no choice; he has to do it but he is scared about doing it. Tiamat as in Debbi's section in that basically goads him on and says "You can't make up your mind; you're a coward you can't make a decision you can't kill me…" and so he goes psst and WRONG and he does it (laughs). In its simplest form that is what that is about it is just the tale of him facing the challenge to slice the dragon in half. The final bit is Clare singing "Now the sky's above and the Earth beneath.. in the light and darkness, peace"
AH: It works so well but there's another person who has been involved in this project; is someone I know quite well; Mr Patterson. How did you grab hold of him for this project?
NM: I had wanted to do something with Tony for ages but I had never met him. In fact the first time I met Tony was the day he turned up here to sing it but I had been to see tons of ReGenesis gigs and we had been in regular contact via e-mail for a couple of years and each time I had gone to see a ReGenesis shiow it would be… "Come and see us afterwards" but something always happened to stop that… either the bouncers at the Astoria throwing us all out which is the usual thing or being…. Usually in a party of half a dozen people and everyone saying "We're starving let's go and eat.. we don't want to hang around outside a bloody stage door… let's go and eat!" and thinking… "Oh...right…I'm starving too, let's go and eat" (laughs) and so we never got to meet up. But Marduk took quite a long time to write… that was one of the first ones I started and one of the last ones I finished , because it is almost a mini opera… The three vocal characters in there it was almost like casting for a mini opera (laughs).
I really didn't know who should be singing it for quite a while into it because there weren't any words for a long time; only me I played the vocal… what was to be the vocal melody just on a synth as a reference and lived with that for ages and ages and when the words were finally written I just thought this has got to be a Tony thing ; it has to be and so I 'phoned him up and said do you fancy coming and doing it and he said yes straight away and so again that was it. I sent him a backing track of it and the lyrics and a guide vocal… I couldn't sing it for toffee so a friend of mine very kindly demo'd it up for me and whether or not he was upset that he didn’t get to sing on that I don't know if he was upset that he didn’t get to sing that (laughs).
I wanted it to be butch sounding basically (laughs) and Tony can sound quite butch in a musical way (laughs).
AH: So now we come to Sophia's Song…
NM: That actually does have a Biblical reference in that it is loosely based on the Song Of Solomon in the Old Testament which I don’t know if you have read that …I had never read it but Dick showed it to me and it is actually extraordinarily rude … but we cleaned it up! (laughs) and basically Sophia is the Goddess of Love and this is her song basically; she is making her claim to fame which is that when the Entity was the being that actually did the physical act of making everything but she was the one who suggested it to him; it was all her idea and so while they are treading along the herbal lawns (laughs) she is saying… "Ere… Ent… I 'ave got this brill idea..." and "Oh what’s that Soph…?" "Oh why not make one of those Universe things?"… "Oh… alright then!" (laughs). So, that is Sophia's Song which is loosely based on the Song Of Solomon and it is her saying "It was all my idea".
AH: Brother Sun, Sister Moon… now to me, this is definitely, to me… Alchemy…? All about alchemy...
NM: It is. Spot on. Yes, basically tuning anything into anything else and of course the gruesome deaths that happened as a result; "Mercury vapours" huge explosions that nobody really expected. It is basically like a Medieval acid trip that is what it is. With the enormously simplified Periodic Table! I 'phoned him (Pete Hicks) up to ask him if he would like to do it because once again it was one of the last pieces to be written and the lyrics followed the music... the music was written first and I only knew roughly what it was going to be about and I had no idea about the tone of the words and so it wasn't until I got those… because I had been on the 'phone to Pete on and off recently prior to that and he had said it would be nice to do something together and so this could be a perfect opportunity let's see if he is up for doing it.
I actually didn't know if he would like it or whether he would imagine it was suitable for him. I could imagine him on there but will HE imagine himself on it and he came round here on one Saturday afternoon and I played him the track and he said… "Right… great shall we start then?" (laughs) ad I said "What? Don't you want to take a disc home and go home and learn it?" and he went… "No! let's do it now!" (laughs) and I went… "Oh... alright.." (laughs) expecting it to be an ok afternoon and him saying "OK... I will do better when I come back to it" but no that was what he did and it was just spot on.
AH: It was just done straight…?
NM: Yeah, he just did it in an afternoon. One Saturday afternoon first attempt. It was just great … it wasn't the first take obviously we had to do some takes and compile the best ones but no prior acclimatisation or …
AH: I had almost forgotten just how powerful Pete's range was.
NM: He hasn't lost it!
AH: Double Helix is next… oh no… we've missed one out... how could we miss out Double Helix…? (laughs). Is that to do with DNA?
NM: Yeah… basically… we aren't all just mythology we are actually moving forward in time as well. Ninian Boyle I have known for donkey's years since the early 1970's when I was in a local band and he was in a different local band (laughs) so I have known him since then. I have never worked with him before but I thought both this and Sophia's Song really needed violin and I thought… "I wonder if Ninian would be up for it?" and I had only recently got back in contact with him again because in this big scourge of Friends Reunited everyone was having school reunions (laughs) and although we hadn't gone to the same school it was meeting up through friends who were still in contact with him themselves and so that was a fortuitous reunion.
AH: You have made reference to the continuity from Inhaling Green and musically you can hear the echoes on various tracks..
NM: There are echoes… there are a couple of chord colours which characterised Inhaling Green and which re-appear in this as well because I thought if you are going to make it a prequel in a musical sense as well by having pre-echoes as it were but not taking any of the actual themes or tunes from Inhaling Green but taking a couple of the characteristics of it... a couple of chord shapes that characterise that and transplant them into this. All very Stephen Baxter but yes (laughs).
AH: Seven Hands Of Time is the one that I must admit I have no idea what that one is about… I cant grasp that one at all…
NM: It is an extension of Brother Sun… obviously not just in the fact that it follows on from it but the same sort of time period as well… Medieval times in that when there were only… Sun, Moon, Earth and the four planets that anyone knew about… the seven celestial bodies… basically those seven celestial bodies; the Solar System as known then was seen as a very convenient clock… A celestial clock that was put there for us to measure out accurately the years and the seasons and the months and everything and so a lot of astronomers did see it as a giant celestial clock so the Seven Hands of Time are the planets hence the audio pun of what anyone takes to be hi hat but it is not it is a ticking watch! (laughs). I sampled a watch very, very loudly… normalised it so that it was very loud and then spliced it up so it all fitted into time. I don’t think anyone has picked up on that yet .
AH: That brings us to the final track The Power Of Reason, and my Latin is rusty so please translate…
NM: OK… I will show you… (reaches for postcard) This is a painting that Dick did some years ago… which was called The Power Of Reason and he made a hexagonal frame for it into which he etched with a soldering iron... very nicely, this inscription… which I shall read out for the benefit of the machine…
"The awesome power of one soul and supreme reason
reconciles the disparity between all things of Heaven and Earth
By due proportion. This same sweet concord itself alone unites what
Seem to oppose each other because of their base origins and contrary
Natures into a single exalted and well tuned harmony".
And that is courtesy of Abbot Suger who was a French abbot who lived between 1081 and 1131. So, basically, Dick knows more Latin than I do….my Latin ended in the Fourth Form at school… I preferred to make plasticine roller coasters on my desk at the back of the class (laughs). It was very cruel we had a blind Latin teacher and everyone took the piss out of him too far and I used to sit at the back of the class with a whole packet of plasticine and make these roller coasters a bit like the "Mouse Trap" game (laughs) and then roll these marbles down. He did catch me one day… a marble fell on to the floor with an enormous clatter and he said "what have you got here?" and he ended up with a handful of plasticine! So, I learned very little Latin but Dick did… So the Latin in the lyrics is a very precised translation of that… "Vis Mirabilis" is "Awesome Power" and so on. The basic message although I am not explaining it very well is that the awesome power that he mentions brings everything together in a logical, non chaotic ordered reason.
The intention was to bring the three principal.. well I thought what to me are the three principal tunes together which are the Vis Mirablilis tune which is in Dancing On The Waters as well. The Singularity theme... the Singularity flute theme and the original Singularity piano theme which again is the first thing you hear and which Steve plays LOUD at the end.
AH: Now for the more technical bits… first of all, how long did it actually take to record the album?
NM: A year basically, just over a year… I started in March and finished mid way through April.
AH: Was it all recorded here?
NM: Yes, apart from the flute on Double Helix which was recorded up at John's place in Sheffield. Other than that everything was done here.
AH: Now it is over to Mr Barnes for technical questions on your keyboard set up and other things…
SB: You mentioned normalising things like the watch and stuff like that what set up were you using for that? Pro Tools? Logic…?
NM: Sonar. I have been using Cakewalk sequencers for quite a few years now but before that I did so much stuff on the (Roland) MC500. What a great little toy that was and people used to say "You can't do anything professional on that!" and I would reply… "You might not be able to but most people can!" (laughs). They were superb things and it took me a long time to wean myself off them and I started on Cakewalk III and had all the versions until it got up to Sonar… I skipped Sonar I, I didn’t get that and then got Sonar II and that is when I did the album on Sonar II. I have only just uprated to Sonar III now only to discover that they have brought out Sonar IV! (laughs). You cant keep up! It was all done on Sonar II all the sequencing, all the audio. I have also got a Soundscape system as well which… before I got Sonar… Soundscape did all the audio stuff. It meant running the Cakewalk IX in synch with the Soundscape system which works fine but is a complete pain in the arse if you have recorded lots of audio and subsequently want to add some more sequencing while listening to the audio you have recorded it is a total nightmare trying to do that and so I was only too pleased to get a system where it all worked in one programme and it works so well that I don't use the Soundscape any more.
SB: What keyboard set-up were you using at the time? Was it predominantly Roland or do you...?
NM: For this album no… one of the catalysts that got me starting to write after having done all the on paper preparation for the album was going to… the December before I started, going over to a friends house for a "boy's toys day I have got so much software stuff to show you" and I was so not interested I really didn’t want to know … I like my hardware toys... you know where you are with knobs and buttons! (laughs). LCD displays... you know where you are!
Nevertheless I went over and within twenty minutes I was going… "I want it … I want it VERY badly!" (laughs) and I got the bug instantly and so...
SB: Was that Soft Synths and stuff like that?
NM: Yeah, Soft Synths all of that plug-in effects. So I wanted to get into this but the computer I was using was totally incapable of doing it and it has been demoted to the office machine (laughs). So, I got a new computer system and I got Sonar II and a handful of Soft Synths to start me off and discovered that I loved it but I still love the hardware things as well so basically it is very much a half and half thing this album. The hardware things that get CONSTANT use all the time and will do regardless of what software I get are the Roland XV5080the JV1080 and the JV2080. Those things I just love them so much. They just have a thing (laughs) they are really great.
SB: I take it you have all the expansion cards and stuff like that ?
NM: Yeah… a number of them not all of them the ones I like the best which are the orchestral board the vintage synths keyboards of the '60's and '70's and various other ones a rather bizarre studio… what do they call it...?? I cant remember what it is called now but it is one of the SRX ones for the XV and it is really bizarre, it is full of rubbish but there are one or two sounds on there which are really good which I have kept it for and the Dynamic Drums SRX and the World Board of course. They are just really great boards and my favourite is the orchestral board because you compare it to the stuff you can get now like the Vienna Symphonic and it is all miserably tiny and limited but for some reason its very limitations kind of set you free which I know doesn’t make sense but the fact that you can ONLY do a certain amount with it makes it very clear what you can do with it and very easy to do it. All of the brass and stuff on the album is from that board… the JV1080 because it is so easy to set it up to be very expressive just assign the filter to the breath control and off you go and it just comes to life in away that lot of sample libraries don’t seem to do even when they assign every control in the universe and all the parameters you can think of and yet all these simple sounds just come to life, I don’t know why but they do and I love those synths.
What else hardware wise? D550 I still love my D550 that got used for a lot of the string pads all that stringy pad stuff on Singularity is a mix of the D550 and Chamberlain samples on the top of it. It is a really lovely rich sound that doesn’t come out of anything else really. Other hardware… Piano was two main things; the Singularity thing the Gem Real Piano module believe it or not and doubled up with another believe it or not a Roland P330. A fifty-fifty balance between the two and it has this lovely Classical tone it sounds absolutely shit when you use it in Rock music (laughs) it doesn’t work in Rock music but as a stand alone sort of plummy Classical piano it really works very nicely and all the other stuff in the other tunes was the Giga Piano sample coming out of the computer which works really well for all those gentle sort of arpeggiating things.
|What else hardware wise… I have got the Oberheim OB3 (squared) organ module but I abandoned that the day I got the B4; the B4 does all the Hammond organ on the album and I just love it, it is just like playing the real thing sound wise it is really it kicks ass in the way that the B3 or the C3 would (laughs). That is pretty much it really, hardware wise. Oh…. How could I forget… my dear and beloved Supernova a Novation Supernova the 48 voice pro MKII the last one they did basically with all the bells and whistles and when I bought it I said "I want it with EVERYTHING!" and that is most of the synthy stuff you hear is that. I have got several Soft Synths on the computer, a number of them and the V Station which is like a software version of the Novation K Station and the Moog Modular V and the CS80 V and things like that and they get the occasional appearance but the synth that really does all the donkey work is that... the Supernova. It is a cracking thing, I love it.|
All the rest is software basically... lots of Native Instruments… Kontakt is my sampler of choice which I love to bits because you can do so much with it like streaming off hard disc no limit to the samples you can stream entire tracks off one key and there are bits of that going on in the album as well… very long passages playing straight off hard disc being treated and phased and flanged and little bits of Reactor, B4 of course. FM7 does all the spacey effects on Singularity and loads and loads of free downloads off the Internet (laughs).
SB: So you prefer working with Soft Synths now…? Sorry the Soft Synth equivalents of the hardware versions… like the CS80 a big old beast. You would need a fair bit of room and a couple of weightlifters to move it around…but now you can get it as a CD now. Do you find that sort of thing a lot easier to manage?
NM: No, not prefer I like them for different reasons. I am perfectly happy using simulations.
SB: You have obviously been around long enough to have used the real thing… Things like the original Hammonds and stuff like that within the set ups. Things like Moogs and stuff so you have worked with the original hardware and so the Soft Synths are they up to scratch? Or are they good enough to do the job?
NM: Yes they are otherwise I wouldn't. I would be very dissatisfied if they weren't up to it. Yes, there ARE differences; for every aspect of the real item that they don't do quite right there is something that the real item does wrong that is solved by the software version so it is all swings and roundabouts; you lose a little but you also gain a little but at the end of the day it doesn't break down… assuming the computer doesn't crash of course! (laughs). When it is all running properly it is just like having a brand new out of the box version of the original thing in many ways. I never had the same problem that a lot of problems with simulations and I don’t quite know why even though the simulations are completely indistinguishable from the original item.
The point is, at the end of the day it is about the MUSIC and not the technology. Not the means… nobody... it is absurd with people saying… "You can't use sampled Mellotron because it is just not the same". Well… I am sorry but it IS the f*cking same… it is just the same (laughs). It is such crap . At the end of the day in the context of the piece of music I defy anybody to say what you use. They won't know and the only thing that is going to give it away is if you hold a note for more than eight seconds and it keeps going then somebody is going to say… "that's not a Mellotron" and you just go… "Oh, f*ck off!" (laughs). There are so many times when I have been in situations like this when you are putting opinions to the crossing public where I think that I cant be too vocal about my opinions because I am going to upset people and then I think… but they upset me with their stupid opinions and so there are really times when I want to respond to… a couple of… the most commonly levelled criticisms of my stuff is that I do programmed drums and I just don’t understand why it is a problem for people. I could understand if I did them BADLY then yes you could say it was played badly but there is this assumption that because it is programmed drums that basically they are not performed… no human was involved in their creation. If people could see how many days and days I put into just getting eight bars of drums just sounding right with all the right emphases and things like that it takes a bloody long time to do and I really love doing it. I do it because I like it and basically because I am not in a financial position to go into a big studios and hire drummers. It is as simple as that. If I had the money I would love to get a drummer; I would love to hire Ian (Mosley) or even Simon Phillips if I had a big enough cheque book. I would love to but unfortunately I am not made of money and I can't do it.
That’s the point I am trying to make… Ian Mosley wasn't there... Simon Phillips wasn't there… Phil Collins wasn't there but I WAS or whoever else puts care and attention into a drum programme. It is a performance and you sit there and play it, it isn't as if you sit there clicking little dots on the screen or whatever you are actually playing the instrument either on pads or on the keyboard or whatever and it becomes initially out of necessity you eventually develop a skill for doing whatever it is… imitating drums; imitating an orchestra or whatever. For some reason, particularly with drums; people don't like to acknowledge that it is actually a valid performance of some kind and I don’t understand why.
In fact I have noticed this with lots of different kinds of music and Progressive Rock is no exception and you get people laying down lists of acceptable instruments. I am sure if these people had their way the only keyboards that keyboard players would be allowed to play would be Mellotron; Hammond; Mini Moog but only if it goes whizzm, whizzm; whizzm… (laughs) mustn't be imitative (laughs). And a piano and that would be it. It has to be a specific kind of piano too, of course a Fender Rhodes would be considered de rigeur; you wouldn't be allowed to use a digital piano… There is this prescribed set of acceptable things you are allowed to use. And I say don't bloody tell me what I can play! I want to be creative and inventive and do things I like to do. People want to categorise and label and restrain things and it all turns out being Neo Prog and stuff.
SB: What they don’t seem to realise is that thirty years ago when Prog was getting started that was the ONLY equipment that was available for them to play. You had a string of mono synths; the odd Polyphonic string synth and the only thing that was really polyphonic was the organ! That was it. The only reason you used something like the Pianette was because it was easier than carting a grand piano around. That’s why the CP70 became popular with bands; you could sling it in a truck; drive it half way across England and it would still be in tune! You can't do that with a Bosendorfer unless you cart around people to; A) lift it and; B) tune it.
NM: Again, it all comes down to practicality and to come back to your original question; I have no problem with using those things because ownership of the originals is impractical and expensive and in a house this size; completely impossible. So, as long as the thing… the whole important thing at the end of the day is that you put across the sonic impressions that you want and if you can do it using the software and it works and it gets the end result across then that is fantastic and I am all for it and yes; it would be lovely to own those things and you do get very attached to them… there is something kind of irreplaceable in a sense about them but at the same time the impracticalities outweigh all of that.
SB: Are there any specific things that you do get nostalgic about?
NM: Funnily enough yes; my RMI Piano. I loved it and it still exists and Gordon Reid has it… he has it in his garage up in Cambridgeshire. This is the one I used with Steve... it is the second RMI because I had one back in 1974/5.
AH: Was the Mellotron really that bad a thing to play?
NM: Oh no, it was a fabulous thing to play. I loved playing the Mellotron and when I discovered that part of the gig with Steve was having a Mellotron to play I just couldn’t believe my luck. They are only a pain when on stage, they're always behaved in the studio. Well, the one we had in the studio always behaved perfectly in the studio; never put a foot wrong. The moment you took it on stage it sulked. The main problem was it didn’t like extremes of temperature. It was basically; hot truck; cold gig; hot lights; cold bit in between sound check and gig; hot show and you would get condensation on the tapes and it would just dissolve the oxide off them and you would end up with brown glue on the tape head, so you would hold a chord down and you would let go and you would hear the rustling sound of the thing rewinding and it hadn't rewound! (laughs). So we would end up with Ged (Fitzpatrick) sitting behind the thing with the back off just pulling the tapes down by hand as I was playing it. He did a fantastic job... he rarely missed a note! (laughs).
And with that trip down Mellotron Lane we leave this fascinating chat
with Nick. My thanks to Nick for his hospitality and to Stuart for his technical
know how. Hope you enjoy the finished result!