“Celebrating the glorious twelve” - Anthony in conversation with Alan and Jonathan about the fifth album in the series. Interview conducted on 23rd August 1998. (originally published in #14 of The Pavilion).
INT: Where did the inspiration come from for the album?
AP: It was originally inspired by Peter Cross’s book, Trouble For Trumpets and I always wanted to write a piece of music around his book but that wasn’t really possible to do in conjunction with the book and so, with the time limitations, there was the need to do a simple album for a variety of reasons. Obviously there were no advances coming in from major record companies, people weren’t exactly queuing up at the door saying: “Here’s a fistful of Drachmas” so you had to pare it down and it seemed to kill two crocodiles with one tomahawk. I hadn’t done much guitar music for a while and so why not do the Peter Cross project which I had hoped could be orchestral, for guitar?
I think I selected a tuning by accident I don’t think I deliberately chose a weird tuning but it just sort of happened and I thought; “We’ll stay there” but I did get quite stuck actually, because the thing about these tunings is that if there are a lot of open strings, it is difficult to modulate into keys because you have to use barre shapes and barre shapes on a twelve string are very difficult and I wasn’t going to use capos and stuff. It was difficult to get enough variation into it and I know a lot of people find it, not dull, but it is in one timbre.
It doesn’t matter if you are Julian Bream or whoever you are, its just the fact of one whole project, one whole CD, one band of music all on the same instrument,. It is just very difficult to hold people’s interest. So, there was the double problem of the tuning but also the fact that it was on one instrument. However, it was good in a way that one had to try and look for new sorts of techniques and different sounds, to try and hold the interest; sitting on the guitar, banging it loudly (laughs) hence a few of those funny techniques and things like the shimmering technique. It was difficult to get enough harmonic change given the fact that it was difficult to change key and so that was a challenge, and certainly getting a suitable mood to go with some of the tracks was difficult.
I mean, everybody has their own strong feeling about certain months, there’s the obvious “Hot” and “Cold” and “Sad” and “Happy” ones but there are also the middling ones which are slightly more undefined in character. I definitely found one or two of them difficult o get a grip on, actually. I wasn’t always sure where I was going and there was definitely a point mid way through where I felt I’m not going to get this, and I remember thinking : “let’s pack this in, all the bits sound the same and it’s a muddle…”
INT: Was it all new material on the album?
AP: Yes, it was all new material and I think that often happens. If there’s a deadline and someone is pushing, and it all seems quite clear now but at the time I remember getting quite foggy about it and thinking this all sounds the same; there’s not enough clarity here and do I have to go on with this? And of course, the answer was I didn’t, so why did I? (laughs). And something kept me going on I suppose. Although Passport weren’t clamouring for an album of twelve string music, I suppose there was enough of an ongoing thing with them that they were saying: “Let’s have an album”. It had come on the back of one or two disappointments really, and it was a bit difficult in a way to keep going at it because I had this house full of lodgers and I thought that I should be out there trying to bring in the pennies. But at other times it was obviously a thing of great solace, when I occasionally touched those moments in certain months.
Some of the months weren’t inspired by Peter’s work overtly, but there were others that were. There is that kind of misty shot in October and that feeling that we all know when you get the smell of bonfires and stuff with those slightly sort of darker hues creeping in to it, and things like November were easier with the sort of rampaging storms. Oddly enough, I found December quite difficult; I didn’t quite find it clear somehow. Obviously, if you are writing a piece hat is partly personal for you but is also about the weather and the landscape, then it can get muddled. December is a bit of a mix up; you’ve got Christmas but the weather is often strangely mild, whereas in November I tend to think of it being a bit dodgy in terms of the weather and then in January, you definitely have a feeling of cold and stalactites or whatever. Obviously, that’s just a personal thing and everybody feels differently about it.
May was another one I couldn’t make up my mind on because May from my cricketing experience cold be quite grim, actually sitting in the pavilion in the rain (laughs) so the exotic feeling of summer wasn’t quite there, and of course, now if we updated it, with the weather being so weird, who knows where we’d be!
|I was happy to do the album but it was quite difficult and it always helps if you know that people want it and it was against a backdrop of indifference, so that didn’t help. If someone is ringing you up saying: “How’s it going?” it does help. It’s a mixture of the carrot and the stick which you need. It’s a bit of a lonely world when you are doing these kind of things because you are imprisoned inside a thing which one moment you are thinking: “this is going to be lovely” and the next you are thinking: “this is going to be rubbish and do I want to make a fool of myself?” And you veer between those two points and in the end I was quite happy o do it. I knew that the album was long, and I never bothered to time it, and of course, in those days the length of the sides mattered because of vinyl when you couldn’t get too much on. I remember the cutting engineer’s face when I told him Side One was thirty six minutes, because you weren’t supposed to do things loner than twenty five minutes. And of course, he didn’t know that it was all just twelve string and he went white! He was a very nice guy; Ian Cooper.|
The twelve string sound is another thing, I mean I haven’t listened to the album for ages, and it would have been nice to use another guitar for it. The high end of that Alvarez was good but it lacked bass. Mike Rutherford’s Zemaitis had more bass and I think that some of the heavy strumming ones would have been better done on a guitar that had a better response. You just would have got more power from the lower chords and it is a bit light on bass. The top end is good; I think it shimmers nicely and all the high timpy stuff shimmers but it needed a bit more guts down below and that’s no criticism of the engineer. You can only put in a certain amount, you can’t recreate what wasn’t there.
INT: Was it all recorded on just one guitar?
AP: Yes, on the Alvarez. I didn’t have the Guild at that time and so it was all on the Alvarez and it was all in one tuning. I should also mention that at the time I had a lodger called Edward Cooper who did leave very early one morning, slamming the door very loudly just as I was recording the quiet bit in October, hence the credit and you can still hear the front door. Having said that, even on Tarka, which was recorded in a so-called “proper” studio, you can still hear the South Circular Road.
INT: Over what period of time was the album written?
AP: I think it was done during the Promenade season of 1984, although I can’t exactly remember when I completed it. I guess it was probably about September 1984. I had to get on with it in the knowledge that I couldn’t spend that much time on it because of other pressures to pull in the cash. That was good because I do believe that if you have too much time, you dither, which is just human nature, isn’t it? I mean, unless you are monstrously inspired.
INT: If you find yourself with plenty of time on a project such as this, do you find yourself coming back to them and trying to over embellish them. Is that another pitfall?
AP: Yes, often you keep on getting second thoughts and often your first thoughts are the best ones to go with, undoubtedly.
INT: Was Peter already doing the cover at the same time or had he the basic ideas for it?
AP: It was done afterwards actually. I would still love to have done the little orchestral suite based around his book and funnily enough, while you mention that, I would love one day to orchestrate it although some of the pieces obviously wouldn’t work - they’re too “guitarist- ic” as my guitar teacher used to say. Although there are others that would work; like February with those moody chords. Again, I was trying to get a lot of effects in terms of moods and stuff and playing on the frets where you can get a sort of dampened harpsichord effect and obviously within an orchestra with pizzicato strings you can use all sorts of things and some of those pieces would lend themselves to orchestration.
I would like to do that because then it could sound better. Things that are very arpeggio-ic those are the things that don’t translate very well. I remember adopting some of Tarka which was very difficult from that point of view, but guitar was more of a challenge and you never know; that is something I really would like to do one day.
INT: Was this a project totally isolated from anything else; or were there other projects going on at the same time?
AP: No. I think it was pretty much isolated. I had always wanted to do the thing as an orchestral thing for Peter and there hadn’t been much guitar stuff and in a way it was a sort of second best but then it became quite constructive because it did kill two crocodiles with one tomahawk. I was pleased to do it because twelve string is probably my most original area actually. I regret now that I am not spending as much time on that now as I should be and I hope to get the chance to do that again because it is a good area.
I suppose the truth of is that in terms of people listening to the album, it probably would have been better to have done something which had more variation of timbre, like a guitar quartet where you have got the variation so maybe you have a classical guitar with the sound of the nylon which all helps to keep people’s interest. I think it is quite demanding and I think that perhaps four, five or six pieces at the utmost would hold your attention but seven or eight, and my attention would definitely be wandering I think. No matter how good the music is, its just the nature of the timbre and the similarity of whatever you do with it. Perhaps it’s a bit too long and it may have been better of the pieces had been a bit shorter. Perhaps when Quique is back in Europe we may ego back and do some of them.
There is still quite a lot of old guitar music still outstanding . There’s a guitar quintet in fact, still outstanding and it would be nice to do that with him, so we shall see.
INT: How was the album recorded?
AP: It was done on two track; one Revox, two microphones, and it was recorded without compression. Even when I was working with good engineers like Simon Heyworth, we were always worried about compression for specific effects because you need it for vocals and sometimes compression flatten s things out too much and it creates a sort of spongy effect which is not so natural really. The trouble is that I was going without an engineer from some really quiet harmonics and shimmering things to big strumming and that meant I had to peg the level back for the big strumming, so the quiet bits were probably too quiet. On the other hand, that is the kind of dynamic you get within so called “Classical” music set with natural dynamics except that some of the dynamics are a little bit too quirt and a little but hissy. But nothing like as hissy as Chinese Walls was at the beginning! I mean that was a serious hiss problem and Chris Thorpe performed a major miracle to make that even vaguely presentable.
The recording was done with the AKG 451 microphones which I got in 1972 - four of them which I’ve still got, so it was done with two of those and I may have used a Neumann as well or bass with a third microphone. I don think there was much editing between takes although I would be lying if I said they were all straight down. Inevitably when you do these pieces which are pretty technical, there is bound to be the odd error. There were definitely reject bits from it, but no fully fledged pieces that didn’t make it to the final album.