"Straight from the rocking horse's mouth" - TWR talks to Brian Coombes about the Rocking Horse Music Club, their trubute to Anthony Phillips and Mike Rutherford and their recently released project: Circus Of Wire Dolls. Photographs by Kenny Brown and Tony Bridgeman.

TWR: So Brian, what were your earliest musical influences?

BC: My earliest musical influences were various and diverse. I'd say my first influence was The Monkees. My sister and I watched The Monkees' TV show in syndication every day after school. That was the first time I thought I'd like to do something like that. When I got a bit older, I was influenced by what all the kids were listening to in school. This was mostly the popular rock bands of the day - Styx, Foreigner, Journey, Asia and the mellower pop stuff off the radio at home.

But somewhere along the line I diverged from the popular music of my friends and branched out to more interesting sounds, first The Beatles and then The Doors (I wanted to be a "poet" like Jim Morrison), Pink Floyd (I thought I'd be able to sing as well as Roger Waters),Rush and finally Genesis. Wind & Wuthering was the first album I purchased with my own money. There was no going back from there, I had found my favourite band for life. It was such an amazing time for me digging into the band's past and all the solo projects whilst also following along as their careers progressed. Good days!

Running alongside my love of Progressive Rock was the influence of intelligent pop bands that descended from The Beatles: Squeeze, Crowded House, Tears For Fears, Joe Jackson, The Cars...All of these acts instilled in me a love for strong melodies and vocal harmonies that exists to this day.

But when I go back and listen to the classic rock of Styx and Foreigner I can see how they left that impression on me to this day, mostly from a production standpoint of what a record should sound like.

TWR: What was the idea behind forming The Rocking Horse Music Club?

BC: It is just a name for the session musicians, singers and song writers that work here at Rocking Horse Studio. Similar to LA' s Wrecking Crew back in the 1960's our session musicians have worked on lots of records that we have produced here over the last seventeen years but for the first ten years of the studio's existence we didn't have much time to write our own material. That changed when Patrick Gochez and I were asked to write a song for a specific project. That song became our debut single: Everywhere Is Home which was wonderfully sung by Justin Cohn. The song began to attract some radio interest so we scrambled around to find a name for our anonymous studio band. That became Rocking Horse Music Club. The band line up is fluid but is based around the core team of Eric Wagley (drums), Brendan Harisiades (Bass), Patrick Gochez (Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars), Myron Kibbee (Guitar), Mike McAdam (Guitar) and Justin Cohn (Vocals/Guitar). It's similar in a way to the Alan Parsons Project , where there is a core group of musicians and songwriters augmented by other frequent collaborators.
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TWR: You have managed to work with several artists on a variety of projects. Are there any artists you would particularly like to work with?

BC: As you have said, I am very fortunate to have worked with so many fantastic musicians who have been big influences on me; Anthony Phillips, Chris Difford and Greg Hawkes come immediately to mind. If I were putting together a dream team list of other musicians together it would include Tony Banks, David Gilmour, Neil and Tim Finn and Joe Jackson. I wouldn't mind getting together to write with Sir Paul (McCartney) or Brian Wilson either!

TWR: How did you get in contact with Anthony Phillips?

BC: I believe I got in contact with him through Martin Hudson, the founder of the Classic Rock Society in Rotherham. Martin had been a big supporter of my previous band,Tristan Park and was a supporter of Progressive music in general. Martin became my connection to a number of English musicians including Chris Difford and Ian MacDonald.

TWR: What made you decide to organise the tribute gigs to Ant and Mike?

BC: Ant's music was a huge influence on me as a musician, probably more than any of the other Genesis solo projects. When Michael Clifford at Trading Boundaries in East Sussex asked me if I'd be interest in putting together a tribute to a Genesis project, I told him I'd be happy to do it if we could do the music of Anthony Phillips. Michael loved the idea but I told him that I would only go forward with it with Ant's blessing. Michael and I met with Ant at his place in London in January 2019. Ant was sceptical about the project's commercial viability at first, but he agreed to let us test the waters by putting the shows on sale to gauge the interest. We ended up with two sold out shows in November 2019.

At some point in our meeting with Ant, Michael asked if there was any way we could involve Noel McCalla in the project. I suggested that perhaps we could include a few songs from Smallcreeps Day as both Noel and Ant had contributed to that record so it would be a logical extension. Noel expressed an interest and off we went. I am still very proud that our album version of Which Way The Wind Blows includes Noel and Steve Hackett contributing to a recording of an Anthony Phillips song...That combination of talents does not exist elsewhere.

TWR: How hard was it to reproduce the music live? Was any of it written down in score form? If not, how did you go about transcribing it for live performance?

BC: The band took to the music straight away. Nothing was transcribed. We learned it all by ear (and some would say our ears made a few mistakes along the way!). Ant was gracious with his time, communicating with our guitarist, Myron Kibbee about various twelve string tunings etc. And I believe Ant did write out a few parts in question for Myron as well. But otherwise we learned it as a band and recorded as we went along so the tribute album really started as a by product of learning the material.

TWR: You managed to give a broad sweep of Ant's music at the gigs, were there any tracks you would have liked to perform given the opportunity?

BC: Magdalen was on my initial list as it is one of my favourite Ant tunes. But it never made it to the show. Ant worked with Myron on this one, even supplying a tutorial video (filmed by Dale Newman) in which Any goes through each section of the tune and comments on the tunings etc. So that's definitely one I would have liked to perform at the shows but we simply ran out of time.

Regrets from Wise After The Event and Last Goodbyes from New England were others on my list. We tended to focus on Ant's "rock" stuff because we were performing it as a rock band but I wish we could have done a bit more of his twelve string guitar and piano music.

TWR: Was there any reaction from Mike with regards to performing some of the Smallcreep's Day material?

BC: Nothing that I heard directly but I believe that Michael Clifford may have received an email from him wishing us well.

TWR: You mentioned at the time of the gigs that there were plans to perform Smallcreep's Day in its entirety. Are these still being worked on?

BC: I don't think the band has the time to learn and perform Smallcreep's Day in its entirety but I can see us revisiting some of the music from that album in the future. Stay tuned!

TWR: What are you currently working on and what are your future plans?

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BC: We have just finished a ninety six - twenty two song genre defying concept album/musical called Circus Of Wire Dolls. The album tells the story of a performance artist who creates a miniature circus of dolls made out of wire and cloth then performs his circus as "performance art" in homes throughout the US and Europe. But in his mind the members of the circus come to life, tell stories that reveal the inner thoughts and fears of their creator.

Because it is presented as a musical the album features a number of guest singers who voice various characters. Noel McCalla as the Ringmaster, Chris Difford as the Oldest Man Alive, Amy Birks as the Trapeze Artist, Caroline Carter as the Fire Breather and the Prima Donna and Tim Bowness as the Roustabout, Evelyn Cormier as the mother, Patrick Gochez, Justin Cohn and I have also voiced various characters throughout the record

In addition to the guest singers, we are also blessed with guest performances from Greg Hawkes (The Cars) on saxophone, David Cross (King Crimson) on violin, Kate St John (Dream Academy) on oboe, for anglais and accordion, John Hackett on flute, Kenwood Dennard (Brand X) on additional drums and Rob Townsend on soprano saxophone. The record will be released on 16th September on CD and 21st October on vinyl. We have shows at Trading Boundaries on 17th and 18th March 2023. These shows will combine our performance of Circus Of Wire Dolls with some Genesis related material. Stay tuned for details!

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Our thanks to Brian for taking the time to speak to us. A review of Circus Of Wire Dolls and the shows at Trading Boundaries will be in our next edition.