Interview with PENDRAGON
There's a thriving progressive rock scene nowadays. Still, it's not as diverse as in the golden era when the Earth was inhabited by dinos of ELP, GENESIS and YES kind. Anyway, if we want to pursue some pedigree and feel the real vibe of so called "neo-progressive", no sense to go further than PENDRAGON.
They started back in the Eighties, together with MARILLION, yet only improve their thing without betraying the "roots" progressive. Highly melodic and ineffably clever music should inevitably be made by interesting people. So, please, welcome - England's own Peter Gee, serious like all bass players in the world, and Clive Nolan, whose humour is not as black and white as keys he's a master of.
- There's an obvious influence from the old bands in the PENDRAGON music, but what do you think of a current progressive rock scene?
Peter GEE: I think, that there are some good bands and not so good bands. It is good songs, good melodies and strong compositions, which are the key for me. If something is good and strong, then it doesn't matter really what you call it. The new progressive scene is quite small really. Unless you anyone can break through to the mass appeal of bands like PINK FLOYD, GENESIS and YES, then its always going to be that way.
Clive NOLAN: I personally think there are too many bands around with not much to say. Any modern influences do not tend to come from the progressive scene.
- Do you agree, PENDRAGON and IQ are the only neo-prog bands, who still carry the torch?
C.N.: Well, being in ARENA... No, I don't agree. Then, there's PALLAS. And SPOCK'S BEARD. Besides, I'm not really sure what "neo-prog" is supposed to be.
P.G.: Well, from the early Eighties crop of bands, MARILLION are still going, though in a different direction. And PALLAS are back now also, so there probably four bands there still going strong.
- Clive, isn't it difficult for you to be involved in several projects at the same time? Which of them you consider the main?
C.N.: It is not difficult if you plan ahead, which I always try to do. And I never consider the question of "main", because I put 100% into each thing I do, and love doing it.
- How your approach to PENDRAGON differs from, say, ARENA?
C.N.: In ARENA, I write the music. In PENDRAGON, my main involvement is as a musician, and an interpreter of music. Both of these things are excellent challenges.
- For 1985 "The Jewel" should have been a strange album in terms of prog rock absence from the scene. Yet it somehow corresponded with the spirit of times. How can you explain that?
C.N.: Well, this was before my time in the band, but I think the band had plenty of time to prepare this album. This always helps a band to be "in tune" with the spirit.
P.G.: The songs on "The Jewel" were already several years old when we recorded them. We had been playing them live for a few years previously. We were just recording and writing what came out. "The Jewel" represents our enjoyment of instrumental passages, as well as our struggle to try and find a writing style of our own. The production is very thin sounding, as a result of bad mixing. But we were still learning about mixing and production in those days. Compared with the power pop sound of the Eighties "The Jewel" is certainly an aquired taste, and definitely not mainstream! "The Jewel" is all about our struggle and striving to find a career and some kind of success in music.
- Peter, your approach to bass is of permanent soloing kind. Who was your main influence and whose work you like the most now?
P.G.: I was a guitarist first, even a lead guitarist, though not a very good one! So this might have something to do with it. Plus I love expressive bass players.
- Your bass seems to jive throughout debut album. Did jazz and fusion influence your playing?
P.G.: Yes, to a certain extent. I love bands like STEELY DAN, WEATHER REPORT, THE PAT METHENY GROUP and Jean Luc Ponty. My top three bassists still are Jaco Pastorius of WEATHER REPORT, Richard Sinclair, who used to be with CAMEL, and Ralphe Armstrong who played with Jean Luc Ponty's band.
- Has "The Jewel" title anything to do with the early song "Chasing The Jewel"?
C.N.: I'm sure there's a connection. (Laughs.)
P.G.: It was written around the time of "The Jewel", but "Chasing The Jewel" never made it to that first album, because we already had enough material for it. The song was meant to be a clever link which would be on the second album, conceptually linking the first and second albums. But in the end we didn't think it was strong enough as an album track so it ended up as a B-side on the "Saved By You" EP. Both the album title and the title of the song refer to the same kind of idea of pursuing our dream of fame, fortune and recognition within the music industry and with the public. Success and the dream of it was "The Jewel".
- At the time PENDRAGON had an identity of its own, but GENESIS (and some of FLOYD) traces still could be found in there. Do them a justice and tell about their role in your music.
C.N.: There are always going to be influences from other musical sources, that's natural. GENESIS and FLOYD have both been much listened to in PENDRAGON, so, I guess, that's inevitable. These bands are probably what lead us into this area of music.
P.G.: GENESIS and PINK FLOYD are right up there in the best five bands of all time for me, along with CAMEL, STEELY DAN and THE PAT METHENY GROUP. Especially GENESIS. There is still a wonderful magic whenever I put on one of those classic GENESIS albums. They are stunning and timeless. Incredible when you think thay they were quite young men when they produced this wonderful music. For me personally, you cannot beat "A Trick Of The Tail", "Selling England", and "Foxtrot". And as for PINK FLOYD, the atmosphere they create is awesome, and Dave Gilmour's guitar is truly mighty. "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is classic and "Dark Side Of The Moon" speaks for itself. So, yes, we are influenced by these two great bands, as well as CAMEL and others. Yet, we do still have our own identity and sound and style.
- Why almost all of the PENDRAGON material is credited solely to Nick Barrett? It's obvious he couldn't stand behind every solo part...
C.N.: No, but he is the basic songwriter. Our job as musicians is to enhance and develop what is written.
P.G.: Nick is the sole writer, at least since "The World" album, when I wrote half od "The Last Waltz". It is true that some of Clive's solos he writes himself, but when they are definite melody lines, then they have been written by Nick. So Nick writes perhaps half of all the keyboard solos.
- You know Nick for so long. How do his lyrics appeal to you?
P.G.: I think, Nick's lyrics have got better and better over the years. I think that the words on "Not Of This World" are his best ever lyrics. I also like the words on the "Masquerade" and "Window" albums. I think, he is good at painting pictures with his words, which is a very hard thing to do well.
C.N.: I often get the enjoyment of knowing exactly what or whom he is writing about, that gives me an extra insight into his lyrics. Usually we write lyrics to work on different levels, so, I reckon, I can reach certain "deeper levels" sometimes.
- What did Clive Nolan bring into the band's formula?
C.N.: I think that's more for others to decide. Perhaps, my musical personality and style of keyboard playing.
P.G.: Clive brings a very positive, focused, hard working attitude to the band. He is very good on the technical side of programming, choosing good sounds, and bringing ideas to arrangements and concerts and recording etcetera. So yes, Clive brings many talents to the band.
- What determined "KowTow" taking the band into more pop direction?
P.G.: Two reasons. Firstly, we were trying to get a major record deal. What many people don't realise is that "KowTow" was recorded as a demo album paid for by EMI Records, because at that time they were close to signing us up. Secondly, we were still trying to develop our own style of writing, and this involved exploring the avenue of shorter, more commercial songs, as well as the more progressive longer songs. On "KowTow", you see a wide range of song writing styles, going from the short songs through to the longer stuff.
C.N.: It is the nature of a band to try and reach a wider audience. It comes from a need to survive and be heard by more and more people. "KowTow" was just one part of PENDRAGON's developing and learning process.
- Nick once said he considers "The World" as a real start. Do you agree?
C.N.: Yes, I think that's when the mature PENDRAGON came into being.
P.G.: I think, "The World" was perhaps our most important album for its time, in the sense that it represented the first time we had probably found our own true style. It had short songs on it like "KowTow", but there was an overall style to the whole album, summed up by the artwork of Simon Williams. It was the first completely professional and individual package that we had done. So, I think we were still learning up to "The World" album!
- "The World" tracks are marked by place and date. Why?
C.N.: Because Nick based them on particular thoughts and experiences he had during his travels around the world.
P.G.: Nick wanted to capture the moment and atmosphere in which he first wrote the songs. They were written in differend countries at different times. And he wanted to convey a sense of this atmosphere and the background to each song.
- There's a dialogue in the beginning of "Shane" lyrics. What's the reason of its absence from the song?
C.N. (laughing): I really don't know.
P.G.: It was done as an afterthought and addition to the song. It's a tounge-in-cheek piece of talking between two astronauts in space looking down on the world. It's putting the song into perspective. The song alludes to Nick's falling out with his brother, and his desire for reconciliation, and the importance of putting things into perspective. Hence the little intro.
- "Queen Of Hearts" consists of three different songs with the third part being written earlier. Does this happen often?
C.N.: Sometimes, if there's a good bit of material that hasn't been properly used. Not often though.
P.G.: Sometimes, when you get stuck part way through a song, especially a longer song, then you often go back to your old tapes and old ideas to try and join an old idea up with the new song. This is exactly what happened with the end of "Queen of Hearts", it just seemed to fit.
- Could you, please, depict the characters appearing on the covers beginning with "The World"? Why one of them became the Toff Records logo?
P.G.: You'll have to ask Nick this one. But my understanding of them is this: The boy on "The World" represents Lord Toff, who is the character who featured in the song "Higher Circles", about the aristocracy in England, on "The Jewel" album. The boy also represents Nick himself, and the struggle to find your path and direction in life and the voyage of discovery that is life in this world.
The girl on the "The Window Of Life" cover represents the grieving of those left behind when a person dies, or when a relationship or a friendship dies. The girl may also represent Nick's old girlfriend at that time, whose mother had died when she was quite young.
The two men duelling on the "Masquerade" cover represent good and evil. The Toff represents the good, and he fights with the positive power of music. The man in black represents evil and destruction and the things that tear good things apart. Perhaps, an allusion to the future losing of Nick's wife to one of his former friends.
The new one, "Not Of This World", has two Adam and Eve type characters on it. Evil and destruction came into the world because of their sin in eating of the apple. It is a piture of the trust and innocence that a marriage starts off with, which can be broken and destroyed by outside influences or by betrayal.
- Do the musicians have a big say in the artwork?
P.G.: Nick usually has a picture in his mind of roughly what he wants the cover to look like and the images he wants to use from each song. So it is usually all his work, and the rest of us don't usually have that much input into it.
C.N.: Nick has a close rapport with the artist, and because he is the main writer, he can give the artist indications of the elements he wants in the cover.
- Was "The Window Of Life" a real concept album? If so, what you were aiming at with this concept?
C.N.: I'm not sure that the album was intended to be a "concept" album, merely "conceptual". It had some constant themes running through.
P.G.: It could be viewed as a concept album, or as just individual songs. It can be either. The main message is about having faith in life after death. The fact that we live on forever.
- Why your next album is called "The Masquerade Overture" while it seems to close, not to open the trilogy beginning with "The World" and "The Window"?
P.G.: There was no particular idea to do a trilogy of albums, although they have a similar style musically, and the same style of covers. Perhaps, we should have called it something beginning with a "W"?
- How did "The Masquerade Overture" chorale come about?
C.N.: Nick just thought it would be an interesting and atmospheric way to begin this particular journey.
P.G.: Nick's dad lives in Vienna, which is the European capital of music, and of opera too. Nick was inspired by the opera there, and Italian, which is the language of opera and of love.
- Peter, now the PENDRAGON music seems to have become more spiritual, and you're a religious person. What was your input to the band in this context?
P.G.: Not much really. I have a strong Christian faith. But it would be unfair and inappropriate to force my spiritual views on the other three guys. That's why I do solo albums, so that I can express my faith in my own songs in complete freedom. But you're right, Nick, Clive and Fudge are all quite spiritual guys in their own way.
- Your solo album - what were you trying to achieve with it?
P.G.: It was a dream really, just to do something completely on my own. I wanted to see if I could do it, if my songs would be good enough, or liked by anybody! And it gave me the chance to write my own lyrics, put across my own message, and explore styles that were not necessarily a PENDRAGON kind of style.
- Will you first album be re-issued?
P.G.: Yes, most definitely. It's just a question of money. But I'm hoping that I might be able to re-release it soon now. Either at the end of 2001, or early in 2002.
- Tracks for "As Good As Gold" EP, spare for the title one, were written after "Overture". Why did you release it in this form and didn't keep to the next album? Or did you know, this next one would take long to complete?
P.G.: It's nice to have the choice to be able to put songs either straight onto a new album, or onto a mini-album. Nick wanted to use those songs, but didn't feel that they were necessarily right to go on a main album. Also he wanted more time to write the next album, and this was a way to give people new songs without having to do a whole new album. Also it was released initially just for the fan club.
C.N.: They were pieces of material that had emerged during the "Overture" era, so it seemed right to keep them separate.
- "Not Of This World" is built on another, different concept than previous albums. I mean, now even artwork presents something more realistic, not fantasy.
C.N.: Yes, I believe it is somewhat more based in reality.
P.G.: "Not Of This World" is based on the idea of searching for something deeper from life, something spiritual, the search for God. And this is in the context of suffering, in this case, the breakdown of Nick's own marriage and the betrayal of trust, and the loss of everything that you held dear. It's asking what is life all about, and where do you go from here when everything crumbles around you?
- How "Not If This World" corresponds with "The World"? Or this thing was not intended?
C.N.: Pure coincidence. There is no connection.
P.G.: In a sense, there is a link, but I don't know if Nick consciously intended it. "The World" was about finding your path and your place in this physical world. "Not Of This World" is much more about looking outside of the physical world, and to the spiritual for answers.
- There's a sign on the cover across the flag, saying "Betrayed". Who and what?
C.N.: That's one of those "deeper layers" I was talking about. Those are questions for the lyricist. (Laughs.)
P.G.: This refers to the lyric about Willian Wallace in the song "Dance Of The Seven Veils". It is a Scottish flag. William Wallace was the leader of the Scots who fought against the English in about the 13th century. But he was betrayed by his own fellow Scots, and was put to death by the English. It's about betrayal by your friends.
- Whose idea it was to quote Leoncavallo's "Pagliaccio" in the first part of "Not Of This World" piece?
C.N.: Nick's idea.
- But for you, Clive, is classical training of big use for the music you do?
C.N.: It is mainly useful when I'm writing.
- You added acoustic versions of "Paintbox" and "King Of The Castle" onto the end of "Not Of This World". Are they original versions that were developed further on or other way round?
P.G.: No, they had already been recorded before the album recording started, as bonus tracks for a PENDRAGON compilation CD called "The History". But because "Not Of This World" was such a long album we needed two very short tracks as the bonus tracks, and these two were ideal.
C.N.: They were acoustic versions, created and performed specially some time after the originals came out.
- Is there a chance to have a complete unplugged album?
C.N.: I would think this was unlikely, but not impossible.
P.G.: There is a possibility that there may be an unplugged live album in the future. We are recording an unplugged show in Poland when we go on tour in November 2001. So, this may possibly be released in the future.
- Why your fan club is called The Mob? Because Pendragon's a king's name?
C.N.: The word "Mob" just suggests a crowd of people, which seemed apt for the fan club.
P.G.: I think, Nick came up with the name in the early Eighties, when we were playing in the Marquee a lot in London, and we had this loyal London crowd who were a bit noisy. So I think they were referred to as the mob, and the name came from there when we started a fan club.
- You've been playing together for more than fifteen years now. What keeps you together?
C.N. (laughing): The British press. They always attack us, so we stay together just to annoy them!
P.G.: More than anything else, friendship. We are four very good friends. We all get on very well. We have sorted out all the problems that bands tend to have, money arguments, writing arguments, egos etcetera etcetera. We all know where each one of us stands on all of these things. We have a good understanding on everything. Clive, Fudge and I all have other writing avenues through solo stuff or through other bands. But we always come back to PENDRAGON because we still love playing the music, and because people keep buying our CDs and coming to the concerts. If people didn't like us any more, and stopped coming to the concerts, then that might be the time to stop. But, for now, we all enjoy it as much as ever!