from nfte #230
In February 1999 I visited Steve in Vancouver, BC. Though he was in the midst of recording THE LADDER with Yes he happily consented to a conversation which became the basis of Notes From the Edge #215. Shortly thereafter I acquired two new releases featuring Tomorrow, the '60s band that had fleeting fame in the UK.
The first was TOMORROW, re-released by EMI, where the original album is augmented by rare tracks, including ones from Tomorrow singer Keith West and from the Aquarian Age featuring Tomorrow bandmates Twink (drummer John Alder) and Junior (bassist John Wood); Steve played on the former and not the latter.
The second CD was 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM from RPM Records, featuring a live set performed by the band at a show called Christmas on Earth Continued. The CD also included rare tracks, some which have appeared on other RPM releases and the same three that are on the TOMORROW re-release.
While preparing the interview for NFTE #215 I thought a couple of questions about these releases would be an added bonus for that issue and asked Steve if he'd discuss it over the phone for a few minutes. I had relayed to him how much fun I had rediscovering the TOMORROW tracks, including ones I'd previously glossed over. Steve had just gotten the CDs himself and as he was actively listening to them as well he was very eager to talk about them, so we set up a follow-up to the original conversation.
But as I was listening to these releases and reading the extensive sleeve notes included with both I found that many questions arose, more than what would comprise a brief addendum to what I already had. I decided that an entire conversation exclusively about Tomorrow would be more appropriate, and Steve enthusiastically agreed.
MIKE TIANO: Tomorrow: it really must have been an exciting time when music was opening up with improvisation, different styles and getting away from the whole concept of three or four minute self-contained tunes. The band went from being a cover band, as the In Crowd, to a psychedelic band named Tomorrow. Can you talk a little about the transition there?
STEVE HOWE: Well, we used to rehearse in this basement somewhere in southwest London, and I remember us being there one day, and Keith said this is going alright, but how about if we did more new songs, and we leaned more toward the groups that we liked, so enthusiastically we all said yeah, let's go there, let's do this. So we were all tired I suppose--we were really playing soul before that, we'd gone into R&B/soul, but we were really into Wilson Pickett and doing a lot of Otis Redding and that stuff, and gradually we were starting to improvise more, and then Keith said that he has more songs he's written with Kenny Burgess, and they did have more songs and we started to play them, and then of course Keith and I eventually wrote "Revolution" together, and so the songwriting and the style of group that we wanted to be definitely changed in some period quite early on in 1967.
MOT: There was more improvisation then there was before, isn't that correct? I always thought that Tomorrow was probably a little bit like Pink Floyd, and that the tunes that they actually played onstage were different from what went down on record.
SH: Yeah, that can be analyzed, that's why I have been kind of analyzing by making notes on the three albums that I've got in front of me, is 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM and the re-release [of the album TOMORROW], and also PULLING STRINGS that comes into the story somewhere only because I play "My White Bicycle" on it. The way the group was headed was fantastic; we were a confident band as far as a well-played in as a soul act called the In Crowd, and living off a little bit of their success with the song as I joined--similar to when I joined Yes--as I joined the In Crowd they were having a success with a single of an Otis Redding song called "That's How Strong My Love Is", and I didn't play on the b-side, which I think we've already corrected, so that was on the back of that, and we went out, and then we got tired of that image--we lost our bass player; he went to prison. The band was kind of evolving between being at odds with itself about being a soul band, and us getting into more obscure music and the Beatles were heading that way--everything was kind of heading that way.
MOT: Listening to all of those live tracks, Tomorrow really sounded like a really full band as a three-piece, usually with a three-piece band there is some emptiness 'cause the rhythm drops out at some point. John [Junior] Wood is an incredible bass player.
SH: That's right. I so much wish that he was still playing, unfortunately he fell victim to much of the difficulties of sustaining music as a career, and after Tomorrow and the other conceptualized thing they had going, the Aquarian Age. When that kind of went down the tubes, although Twink naturally persisted, Junior went to some other fields of work to create income, but lost touch with that. But if he ever came back on the scene and said he was playing bass and he was hot again, he'd complete the original lineup.
MOT: Yeah, he was really a good bass player; that's one thing that stands out on those tracks.
SH: A couple of things he was good at; he was originally a rhythm guitarist when I joined the band, in the In Crowd he was a rhythm player, and he knew his place and he held that position while his did all the rhythm stuff, and also he did all sort of this front of the stage stuff--you know got all of the girls screaming and all that because they were a kind of posey kind of band when I joined them--Keith was quite posey, and it was good fun, but it was slightly tongue-and-cheek as well, but it was bit like getting the girls going and all that was the only time really I was involved directly in that, although I didn't contribute very much I must say [laughs]. So, Junior was this kind of character really, more than rhythm guitarist, he was a character. When he went to bass, he had quite a lot of technique that suddenly he pounded away--he had a perfect right-hand style of tremendously pounding, and really, at some stage as you can tell on that record sometimes he went a bit over the top, but he was very exciting, I mean we all went a bit mad back then anyway.
MOT: I guess that explains it a little, because usually the story goes when someone who is a guitar player moves over to bass that they tend to overplay a little bit.
SH: Yeah, this a good ingredient I think we had; I like that ingredient a bit--a busy bass.
MOT: You mentioned the Aquarian Age, which is also on the TOMORROW CD, and that is kind of bizarre, and what is interesting is that one little vignette about the good wizard and the bad wizard, and I understand that there was like mime onstage for Tomorrow's performances.
SH: That's correct, yeah.
MOT: Was that little wizard thing a kind of indication of the type of things that happened onstage with Tomorrow?
SH: Not knowing the Aquarian Age material too well, I did listen to it briefly with Keith about three weeks ago, when we were in Amsterdam together which was quite nice--we were there doing an interview for A TEENAGE OPERA...about the TEENAGE OPERA, and so that thing they did I don't know anything about it.
MOT: It's basically all-spoken, where there's this little jazzy musical undercurrent to the background; it's almost like a little playlet with a good wizard and a bad wizard--there's no singing, it's all spoken.
SH: There was a kind of mystique about the band as far as what the hell we were doing onstage, and I was the guy who got off easiest; I provided the music for these semi-fiascoes of mine, and they weren't really discussed ever, but they started to happen, and they were happenings I suppose in themselves, and they were augmented occasionally by this Susie Creamcheese character who came along in the UFO period of Tomorrow's acceptance in London, and I suppose she was a dancer, and so when she came onstage, then Junior started dancing around with her, and they use to pretend they were making love and stuff, and Keith would kind of go a bit nuts in his own sort of rock-and-rolly sort of way, I would keep playing, sometimes Twink would keep going with me for a while and he might stop as well, and listening through to, if we can talk about the 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM, that CD is in two parts, and the first part is a collection of unreleased material which we will come back to in a minute, but the live stuff, since we're talking about it, is really quite a revelation for me...
Part two is my tape that I kept for thirty years, the best parts of it are used on this, and I kept a quarter-inch tape--seven-and-a-half IPS--for thirty years in various boxes, various places always considering that it was valuable, that this Tomorrow recording is valuable, so I'm pleased that it's coming out, and what happens on it is that the first couple of tracks, the second track in particular, it starts with track nine is "Caught in a Web", which is kind of a standard, but it was an unreleased track at the time. Then track ten is "Shotgun and the Duck" and that was a hangover of our soul--it was actually a soul song...[sings] "there ain't no shotgun gonna shoot my..." it was actually a soul song. But somehow we overlapped it into the psychedelic era just because we liked the song; and nobody had heard it and nobody ever knew where that song came from, and it was an American song, and we got it from somebody we knew on a record label who kept giving us rare records at the time.
So we souped it up and on that recording track ten of 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM, for the first time in thirty years I've heard what I was doing on stage...farther, when we come to it, the earlier tracks on there, "Why" and also "Caught in a Web"...those two tracks in particular are the studio versions of songs that you get in the live tape, and "Shotgun and the Duck" is the first time you're going to kind of hear like how I did it--it's about a three-minute solo where nobody else really does much, and I go through about ten different moods in that, you know, it kind of starts, not much happening then gets busy and kind of climaxes, decrescendos, almost fades out, and then suddenly a note sustains and goes woooo and then another whole thing starts off. All I can say, and I'm responsible for those sounds, but they were inspired by the atmosphere of the times, they were like the events that I thought were the best parts of the show.
Interestingly enough, it gets good again when track fourteen is "Why", and that has the intro missing on the tape, obviously they stopped the reel or changed tapes or something, but that time we lost the beginning of "Why". I thought "Why" was so important that we did a bit of jiggery-pokeey with the end and stuck it at the beginning to match up the idea of it being an almost-complete song, and I'm really pleased with the way that improvisation takes off. And then we do "Rainbow" ["Hallucinations"], which is such a solid arrangement...[sings] "light in the sky, glass glassing by, top of my rainbow"...it's a really good arrangement, and then of course we finish with "Strawberry Fields Forever", which was our kind of tribute to the impact that we got from Vanilla Fudge doing the Beatles, so we did that in a guitar trio--it was almost like a kind of power trio--which I suppose in a way we were.
If we want to carry back to first part of the album, I'd like to say a couple of things. When it starts--the 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM--first track is "Am I Glad to See You", which has some interesting volume and tone pedal effect on it which I really, really like or I wouldn't have chosen that to introduce this album particularly...
MOT: Before you go on I have a question about that track. Were you actually using a volume pedal? I was wondering if you were--
SH: It was a volume and tone pedal, so what you're hearing is the tone going from bass to treble, and those pedals were used on pedal steels a lot, and Chet Aktins used it in his great recordings like ONE MINT JULEP, and TEENSVILLE and on other recordings Chet used to use it in the early days. I want to get back to using it again; they're lovely pedals. I use it a bit on "Children of Light"; there's one on there... [sings] "children of light." There's a few funny kind of backwards...it helps to make it sound backwards when the tone changes as well. That's a tone pedal made by DeArmand, DeArmand volume and tone pedals; they're lovely things. They're quite hard to get, and I've got one, but unfortunately I didn't have it with me on this album [THE LADDER], and I've often said well, I wish I had a volume and tone pedal.
MOT: You know, I could have sworn, just from the sound of it, that it wasn't a pedal at all; it was you turning up the knob as you hit each chord.
SH: No, it was the funny kind of pedal. So, you got "Blow Up" ["Am I Glad to See You"], which is a rock song, really straight rock song; "Caught In a Web", which is similar to...I like the improvising I did in the studio all over that one, quite busy really.
MOT: Now "Caught In a Web" is the new title for it, it was actually called "Now Your Time Has Come".
SH: Well, that's confused by what EMI called it, because I believe EMI put it on there, and now there are two "Now Your Time Has Come" on the TOMORROW CD, but let's start by saying that the 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM, for the right technical reasons, we retitled that song on there and called it "Caught In a Web". The fact that Keith keeps singing [chuckling] "Now your time has come" has got to be ignored just for the exercises of publishing. Now there is another song which Keith doesn't sing much about "Now your time has come", track ten, I believe that is as it was on the album, so it was very confusing; I don't want to go any further--can't say anymore about that. It was a very confusing situation made worse by the TOMORROW confusion, the EMI one.
I thought that when it gets to "Why", and you got the studio track version of "Why", I think very much how I tried to develop that style into Yes, you know, the kind of solos I was doing even in the studio, where I was a little more self-conscious about improvising and whaling and all that stuff. I was subtlety playing similar ideas, shifting the moods and shifting the tone of the improvisation, a little bit like the sitar style on that record, but that was really what I was doing with Yes, you know when you hear early Yes, particularly in 1972 kind of era when we were getting more bombastic and confident, and we went out and played "Yours Is No Disgrace", and the guitar solo was not that dissimilar to the kind of thing I was doing with Tomorrow. You had to be a little bit more stylish and not so Indian...but that's how I feel, I feel good about it, because I can trace it back myself. So I've said what l I want to say about 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM; I'm pleased it's got those live tracks and I'm very pleased that "Why" is in there. I'm not so impressed with "Caught In a Web", although I thought I would like it.
MOT: You mean the live version or the studio version?
SH: Well, track three, the studio version is quite nice.
MOT: And in fact weren't "Caught In a Web" and "Why" really popular songs for Tomorrow?
MOT: At the time?
SH: Yes they were.
MOT: And in their infinite wisdom, the record company ignored that?
SH: Yes. Yeah, they could have started with either of those and the album would have kicked off better, but for whatever reason, they did it.
MOT: Before we leave the live portion, you say that this isn't the whole thing, that there are more tracks. How many more tracks were there?
SH: Well, I think there were always eight tracks; I think there are eight tracks here, and I think we pulled everything we could from it. I thought there were two versions of "Strawberry Fields Forever", for some reason that night we played it twice, and I got very confused because I didn't think that either one of them really good enough for inclusion, and then Mark said to me, of the record label, well we've got to have one of them, so I said, well, neither are really good enough so I don't mind which one you use [laughs]. They just used one of the versions, so I think that's it.
Actually there was another piece we played. Keith and I couldn't really work out what the hell we were playing. We played this song that seemed a bit like the B-side to the In Crowd song that I mentioned, the B-side of "How Strong My Love Is", there's a little bit of that song in there, and then it went into this wild, craziness, and the balance got atrocious, so we actually ditched it partly because we couldn't recognize it, we weren't sure what it was, and also it seemed really wrecked by bad balance.
MOT: And Keith's voice being distorted, that's more a matter of the recording of the show.
SH: The way the show was recorded, obviously what happened was the bass was much louder than he thought it was going to be, and they never managed to get it down on the balance to sit with an offer...all the instruments are good, you know a good balance, so the bass interferes quite a lot--sadly, not knocking what he played, I'm just saying that the balance of it interferes somewhat, so we have to kind of choose between the fact that on the unreleased studio tracks Keith's voice is very clear and sometimes almost too loud and having it really bad on the live stuff and sometimes almost inaudible. So it was really a question of trying to cover all the usable material, so it is really all the usable material.
MOT: I have a question about the liner notes for the 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM, because there's something that is unclear in relation to "Blow Up" It quotes you as saying that one reason the band was dropped--it didn't make the film--was because you wouldn't smash the guitar, but you go on the say that Jeff Beck smashed a phony guitar that was originally made for you, so was it the idea of you smashing the guitar that repelled you.
SH: Well, it did. The idea of breaking the guitar was pretty bad for me, and the way we got around it, they said that you won't be breaking a real guitar, we'll just make some cardboard copies of your guitar. So they did this, then they dropped us primarily because we weren't big enough, you know we weren't a big enough name to add to the film, and not so much because I wouldn't break the guitar because as you pointed out they got some guitars made for me, but I was a little bit reluctant to do it, but I don't think I actually lost the film because of that. I was under the impression we lost it because Jeff Beck or the Yardbirds were bigger than us, and therefore we lost it through that kind of scale. Certainly he does break a 175 cardboard copy, for a split-second it is visible, and that's about all I remember. I remember us doing a lot of work on it; we went on the film set, and we did all sorts of things: we wrote songs for them, recorded them. We seemed to be quite in the pocket, and then suddenly we were out of the pocket and the Yardbirds were in.
MOT: So you're saying that you rehearsed for the film?
SH: Yeah, oh yeah, that's why we recorded those two songs.
MOT: Did they film you?
SH: I don't know. We were on the film set; I don't know what we were doing on the film set. I think we were there to see it. I don't know whether we played on the film set, but we were definitely...I remember us being on the film set miming or playing, yes, at one point we were, so there may be some film of us actually doing that. That would be amazing if there was.
MOT: So, possibly what happened was they did actually film you for the movie, but at some point they determined that they wanted a bigger name, so maybe they retook those takes with the Yardbirds instead.
SH: Well, I think it was more a rehearsal, you know I think it was more like we went there to do a kind of rehearsal to what we would look like doing this. I don't remember the guitars being there at the time exactly; I don't remember. I definitely went to a place where this film being made.
MOT: So the bottom line is you would have done it as long as you smashed a phony guitar.
MOT: OK. So that really clears it up, because the liner notes were a little confusing as far as that goes. That's funny because Jeff Beck was pretty much quoted the same thing; he was saying I'm not going to smash my guitar for this movie [laughs].
SH: All right! Great, Good for him, too.
MOT: Well, that was Pete Townsend's thing, you know. If Townsend...if they got the Who like they apparently wanted, I'm sure Townsend would have smashed his own guitar, no problem.
SH: No problem, there, yeah.
MOT: On one of these it mentions the fact that what survives is actual footage from some TV show that you guys did.
SH: Oh yeah.
MOT: I hope that sees the light of day sometime.
SH: I think Keith's working on that; we're trying to get that.
MOT: Did you play live on there, or were you miming?
SH: I just can't remember what Keith told me. He did tell me what it was. It may be live, yeah.
MOT: That would be marvelous to see, definitely. Let's talk a little about Jimi Hendrix, I mean that's a well-known story that you've told many times, but one thing that interests me is that the liner notes states that he played the bass guitar because you wouldn't let anybody play your guitar.
SH: Well, the way I remember it was that nobody knew he was even going to come up on stage, and it was because Junior put down his bass and started looning and dancing, and I seemed to remember Hendrix just causally got up and saw a guitar laying on the floor feeding back and picked it up and started playing it. What happened in the next ten minutes was no problem for me; I carried on exactly what I was doing. I was improvising, and we were droning, and we were...you know and he just played the bass, and I don't know what happened other than he stopped and left the stage and everybody applauded. I'm thrilled that Keith tracked down or somebody tracked down a picture of Hendrix playing the bass with us. Have you seen that picture?
MOT: Yeah, yeah, in the liner notes.
SH: That was astounding. Maybe I would have been quite shy of Keith's admiration for--[laughs]...you've seen Keith is on his knees bowing, to him.
MOT: That's right [laughs].
SH: ...isn't that me over on the other side playing, although I can't see a guitar in my hand. Is that Twink playing on the drums; I'm really not sure. It's an unusual picture, and I'm really pleased that it exists because there it is. He did join us, and my conception of it, in my relatively spaced-out state of mind was just that he arrived, played, and left. But we knew him...I mean we weren't like his best friends or anything, but we ran into him--you know I may have told a story too of Blaisie's, when he first, as far as I knew, first got on the stage in England, it was at Blaisie's...he got up, played; he took it all in his stride, and you know, we didn't know him from Adam, I mean this guy just got up and played everybody liked him, and was exposed to him, and before we knew it was on the bill with us all the time, you know, ahead of us [laughs]. So, it was a very rapid accessibility that Jimi had, and he was a lovely person; I never met him when he was in a bad mood or uptight with anything. He seemed very drifty, floaty, how are you doing, what's happening, and of course he was on, we were on the same show numerous times together, and it was great fun.
MOT: Well, I'm glad you cleared that up too. Because from what you're saying he just basically jumped on stage on the spur of the moment, grabbed the bass, and just started jamming along. Any idea what the song was; do you remember?
SH: Well, it was one of the songs that we played; we only had that many songs, so it was one of the songs on the live album, you know, it would have been one of those songs. No, I don't know what song it was; it could have been in one of the almost regular guitar breaks [laughs] with a lot of regularity at different speeds, and--yeah, it was one of those songs. I don't know; I don't know which one it was.
MOT: I'm sure it was cool for you at the time, but it's probably more exciting in retrospect, right?
SH: It is, yeah, it was one of those "suddenly" things, you know, suddenly it was happening, and I didn't know of it. But yeah, one of my fondest memories, but didn't happen, was when I was rushed back to London to play with Pink Floyd because Sid [Barrett] was thought to be too out of it, and he showed up at the gig unfortunately just before I was about to go on. But the amazing thing about that you could imagine the mood of it--I didn't know Pink Floyd's material in any great detail, and yet I was rushed around and thought to be going on quite casually with a band I never rehearsed with, and all I was going to do was going to improvise, you know I was going to stand out there and when I knew what they were doing, I would improvise--I would play something, so it was a tantalizing experience, but one I didn't fulfill [laughs].
MOT: So who was it that approached you to do that, was it the whole band, sans Sid?
SH: Well, fortunately Tomorrow and Pink Floyd were managed by the same people, and they were called the Brian Morrison Agency, which actually was in reality day-to-day was Tony Howard and Steve O'Roarke, and Steve O'Roarke still manages Pink Floyd to this day. That's some nice memories of very nice people who introduced us to very casually and very coolly into a side of the music business that was really happening at the time, and that was this whole peculiar collection of groups, they had them all, you know they had the acts that played at these gigs were all usually managed by Brian Morrison. I remember signing an agreement over a bottle of champagne, but a lawyer never saw the agreement, but those are those kind of days, and we were at the right place at the right time with the right people for a while and it was great fun. We did a lot of festivals, and went to Europe and did shows over there, had a whale of a time...woke up on Hampsted Heath and didn't even know how I got there once [laughs].
MOT: I'm sorry what did you say, Hampsted Heath?
SH: I said Hampsted Heath--it's a park.
MOT: On the liner notes it talks about your encounter with Frank Zappa, when the Mothers were in London in 1967. Any other memories of your encounter with Zappa?
SH: Well, only that Twink arranged this, and we sat waiting in his apartment while he went and met Frank and brought Frank to the apartment, and we loved the Mothers of Invention, and we were just thrilled that Frank was coming to the apartment. It was sort of like, this isn't going to happen, is it? Is it going to happen? Suddenly a door opens, in comes Twink, and in comes Frank Zappa, and he sits down and we just sat there talking I guess for I don't know, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes or something, and I just never, ever been able to forget my complete shock when he turned to me and said, "I really like the guitar solo on 'Claramount Lake.'" And I was like, "Uh, wha, wha, that solo on 'Claramount Lake'?" And he said, "Yeah, it's terrific."
And I was so blown away because at that time I didn't take any notice of anybody who said anything to me in the public--you know, when the public came rushing up to me and said, "Oh, that was great!" and I said, [nonchalant] "Oh yeah, fine. Good, I'm glad you liked it." And really I was incredibly blasé and secretly conceited I suppose, or secretly building my ego, so it was never really me saying to other people, hey listen I'm good; it was other people saying hey that's pretty good, and I took it pretty casually. But when somebody like Frank Zappa said it to me, it was, like I lost all control [laughs]. I really was amazed that he knew anything about Tomorrow. But there again I suppose he was just as inquisitive as we were about what other people were doing, and English groups were revered because of the Beatles, so I presume that he'd heard about us, and got a recording, and known about us.
Of course it came out as a single; "My White Bicycle" came out as a single before we finished the album, so presumably he'd had the single, heard the single, played the other side, and liked it--I love that solo, and the new version that's available on now the TOMORROW EMI release, is unbelievable; it's so clear and beautiful, stereo image is so great, track twelve "Claramount Lake"--one of my favorite guitar breaks ever, I'd like to play a whole album in that style, which kind of is one of my projects on the shelf--they're kind of jazzy, slightly R&B, jazzy sort of record. That style is what I think happens when I go there; why it had happened on "Claramount Lake"...guitar trio is a great device, because I can imply a lot more chords than there really exists in the structure, and great fun...
MOT: I have to tell you I share your enthusiasm for that song and for your solo there, it's really quintessential Steve Howe solo as far as I'm concerned.
SH: Yeah, I'd agree too.
MOT: This is a good segue into the TOMORROW album, because I have some specific questions about the album itself. First of all, did the band want keyboards on the album or is it just something [producer] Mark Wirtz imposed on you?
SH: I think it was fairly common, you know, George [Martin, Beatles producer] was doing it for the Beatles, so we felt really good about that because none of us played any good, so in fact we welcomed it, but having said that I know you're quite interested in what I call the odd-ball tracks: "Colonel Brown", "Shy Boy", and also "Auntie Mary's Dress Shop" to me have nothing to do with this album at all in any shape, or form, and the fact that they're on the album always amazed me, and I suppose it was due to the fact that we lacked more material, or apparently not if we'd have "Why" and...you know taken those three tracks off and put "Why", "Now Your Time Has Come"--or as we call it now "Caught In a Web"--if we had put "Caught In a Web" on there as well with "Why" it would have been a more stylish album as far as a progressive rock group did.
These other songs possibly had a bad effect at the time because they inclinated that Tomorrow was a group that was going to play around with its style, as sweet as the songs are, and I do think that they're quite, in fact they are very sweet, and because Keith wrote them I like them for many, many reasons. So I'm not against them, but as I think as a style thing, they were a bit out of place, and I listened to them just now to make sure that this is a current view; although they're quite well played, and I played on them all, usually just a sort of electric rhythm guitar, and Mark embellishes a lot on the keyboards. They had a certain light and shape, maybe one of them could have been a nice contrast for the album...so I don't hold any malice about it or anything, but I just feel that they take away a little from the general style of the album.
MOT: Do you think it might have made it twee, for a lack of a better word?
SH: Yeah, yeah.
MOT: It struck me how the content, because of those songs, is very much like SERGEANT PEPPER; it's not filled exclusively with love songs, but has these little vignettes as they were about people and places, like Colonel Brown and Auntie Mary's Dress Shop, and Colonel Brown is even mentioned in Auntie Mary's Dress Shop as well. It almost had a flavor of that time, so it's almost appropriate.
SH: You know what, they should have been part of TEENAGE OPERA, because they're so much like TEENAGE OPERA. You know, in my mind, they would have been great to have completed the TEENAGE OPERA. I don't know whether Keith ever thought about that, or whether in fact they might even be true that they were written in the same time, and these character writings, like you say, you brought a very good point in, that unlike maybe what I said, one or maybe even two of them, three was maybe a bit too much, of the diversions tracks, but they do show a certain humor, and like you say a different kind of writing, not about love but about personality, people, just about people with names, you know and it's fun isn't it? It's quite fun.
MOT: Yeah, experiences as it were as opposed to love songs.
SH: Yeah, maybe it was a bit like the Move had the fire brigade and things like that. Keith was interested in that kind of writing, and that's how he got "Grocer Jack" and all that. There were all sorts of...you know, it's a nice side.
MOT: Yeah, I can see what you are saying, because it was a little top-heavy, especially with "Three Jolly Little Dwarfs", I mean that song kind of goes over the line [laughs].
SH: It does, yeah. It's my least-favorite song; I used to love it. I used to like playing it, but it's actually one of the most trivial things we ever did, and I don't like the radio version--in fact I don't think I like any version of that song much. I skip it, because in a way, although it's got fun in it, there is a fun side to it that is reasonably acceptable, it's something I only want to hear on rare occasions.
MOT: Total throwaway.
MOT: Getting back to the album itself, did Keith handle all the vocals on the album?
SH: Well, I believe that Mark Wirtz sings the harmony that goes [sings] "my white bicycle"; there's a downward harmony that goes with Keith. I think that's Mark, although they asked me to do it, I think I tried, and the only other times other people come in is, in that song "The Incredible Life of Timothy Chase", that one...?
MOT: "The Incredible Journey of Timothy Chase".
SH: Yeah, on that one I say some funny things on that; I'm the voice that says "Hieronymus Bosch", and also I say something else in the song. But no, Keith does all the harmonies himself, yeah.
MOT: One cool thing about the stereo mixes on the TOMORROW album is that you're isolated on like the right track, like "Now Your Time Has Come", the TOMORROW album version, and your guitar playing is really raw there. Listening to your solo--very raw, lot of grit and dirt in the solo there.
SH: OK, I'm going to have to check that one...
MOT: "Claramount Lake" is the same way. You're isolated; you just hear you playing. It's interesting from a historical perspective.
SH: It's funny enough, it reminds me of the day that Roger Dean walked in the rehearsal room and I didn't know he was there, and I was just playing there on my own, and he said you should make a whole album like that, just that, and it took me a long time to realize how important this kind of playing is to me, I mean obviously it was a bit like the solo tour was a real distraction for me, because I was so intent on playing structured music and things, not picking up a guitar and kind of making stuff up, you know I wasn't doing too much of that. Well, on electric, when you give me a pedal board and I sit there and spin the echoes and start doing things, you know, shit happens, and it's quite good sounds.
Well I played that to Jon recently, some tapes that I had made where I'm just rambling around, he started singing on top, and we're going, "Gasp!"--a whole new musical style. Not the structure, not anything you'd expect, but this like noise, this guitar making this fucking noise all the time, and then all of the sudden it's nice, and it's kind of like a thing I'm developing. Well it comes, I suppose, from the stuff also that I used to do in Tomorrow on my own, when I would surface different kind of moods...but what were we talking about before I got so into this guitar improvising?
MOT: Just the fact that I was able to isolate just a track, and you're playing is just so raw a lot of times, although "Claramount Lake" solo is still very polished.
SH: I love that too. I hope you don't think it's pure ego that makes me say that, but in a way, hearing somebody say it is something that I feel too, I can only say well I feel that way and I'm so proud I was doing good guitar thirty years ago.
MOT: Let's get to a couple of tracks that I have specific questions on, and one is on "My White Bicycle". I want to ask you about the backwards solo. Was it your idea to have it the solo be backwards on the record?
SH: Well I really can't remember. I was incorrigible and experimental, and it had been done by the Beatles or the Byrds or somebody...everybody had touched it, and we wanted to do the same things, but it was finding when to do it that was [right]. I suppose Mark helped with it, and it wasn't easy to do that stuff at the time, but one thing was for sure, it didn't really matter what you played. It wasn't so important what you played backwards as the luck and the choice of when you played and how much the note sustained or bent in funny ways, so really it was almost the blind leading the blind to some musical, unknown adventure, and backwards was part of that--wonderful part.
Mark understood the technology; I don't think I would have been able to do it without somebody, you know, like Mark, so I must give Mark some credit for aiding me and certainly taught me how to double-track, because he booked me and I went in and played, and like I don't know where everybody was, but it was just me, and then I'm suddenly playing and then he says to me, "Let's play it again," and I said, "Didn't you like that?" He said, "That's great, let's do it again double-track," and I kind of went wow, this is my first--oh, in Joe Meek days and all that I hadn't really done that kind of perfectionistic thing about playing two things so much the same that they work together and become powerful, you know, because of that jewel...like voices, like loads of things, so like putting two violins instead of one. Why do that? Well, it sounds nice, so it's the same idea--two guitars but the same, so...
MOT: I want to ask you specifically about the little solo breaks that are in the bridge there. I wanted to ask if you had the solo set and then learned it backwards, and then played it forwards.
SH: No, I...as I implied a minute ago by saying it didn't matter much what you played as long as it felt right when you heard it the right way around, so I daresay it was a few experiments made; I wouldn't think it's the kind of thing you got first time, but anyway when the tapes are running backwards, it's hell to work out where you actually are going to play because you don't recognize the music and you can't tell anything and it's pretty bad, so one way, method, was to mark the tape, you know, this is a bit of tape you're going to play on, so when you play it backwards, the tape still goes trough the head and you can see the mark go on the tape you kind of go this is the bit, and you go oh yeah, so then you go, oh, that's the chords, so it would like end with--it would start with A, go to F#, and then go to D. Of course forwards it would go D, F#, A. So you worked out that, and then went and then they run the tape back and you said well, I could play something on there, you didn't know what to play. You just kind of played a few notes in A, a few notes in F#, trying to leave the spaces, so then flopped it back over, and it sounds good, then that's it [laughs]. There is a way where people have said, yeah, you can create it by learning the solo then learning it backwards and playing it backwards and then hearing it forwards...uh yeah, very nice. I haven't tried that; I think I may have tried it at home a long time ago--found it rather arduous.
MOT: Yeah, it could be.
SH: That's a little bit on backwards guitar, of course we only used it really on that track that I can think of, and then various times in my career it's come out of the bag again, like the backward piano of "Roundabout" was the same kind of thinking really, gave you that kind of Tomorrow feeling a little bit with the way "My White Bicycle" starts, and the way that all got edited was I think quite mystifying to us at first. Mark had some of his own ideas; he had the expertise I've now got on tape. He had that thing about, Ok well we'll turn this thing around, and we'll stick the beginning at the end and the end at the beginning, so he did that with the tapes, and we were wow, that's fantastic, but we'd already...not only had I done backwards guitar, but Twink had the arduous job of recording backwards hi-hats for the whole number, and crescendo them in the right places as well you see. Once again, it took a little bit of work, and Mark overseed that, and he had the mind for it.
MOT: Well, it's very effective, all of it--the backwards cymbals, everything.
SH: Yeah, the fact that the numbers slowed down a bit, and the fact that it was an original song with a hook already, and then it had some, of its day, reasonably hi-tech recording techniques implanted on it. It was like the kind of formula that I wanted with all my career--great production, and it was all the things. I was starting to discover I could be part of making it work, and that guitar part, I mean, one of Keith's really getting into it...the do do do do do do...Keith turned to me and said I've got this song, why don't you play something like do do do do do, something like that, and before you know it do do do do do do [laughs]. I learned to jump on Keith's ideas like I do Jon's, or other vocalists or other musicians that I work with. They got an idea; I try it out. If it's good, I might make it even better than they thought it was going to be, and so that's what I enjoyed about TOMORROW and working with Mark Wirtz, was how much I was learning. On Keith's extra tracks, they were a lot of fun too, because "On a Saturday", "The Kid Was a Killer", "She", "The Visit", they were done in a time when Tomorrow disbanded, I was doing sessions, my gear was left at EMI studios, in a room there was one of Steve's amps, some of my pedals. I even had a volume and tone pedal nicked from EMI studios because I left it there; it was a Fender. My favorite ever volume and tone pedal was a Fender volume and tone, very hard to find.
MOT: As far as the song "My White Bicycle" goes, it says in the liner notes that the Beatles came in during the mixing of the song. Were you around for that, and do you have any memories of this if you were?
SH: Well, I remember members of the Beatles calling in on us at various times; I don't remember particularly that they came in when we were mixing it. We were around on the mixing; Mark would do some of it in a very short space of time. Work was done very, very efficiently in those days, because you only have about three hours or six hours or something, so you had a double session, and evening session, you know...so things were done--that was it, wrapped up, put to bed quite quickly, so a lot happened and we didn't realize it really I suppose.
MOT: So the Beatles were recording SERGEANT PEPPER right next door, right?
SH: Well, yeah. We did hear strains of that music. We heard strains of that album, and another time I was doing something at Olympic, and the Beatles were there doing...John Lennon was there recording, I don't know, possibly "Across the Universe" or something, like that, one of those songs that was sort of later released. So, we did hear, and touch base...I remember Paul distinctly came in one afternoon and said, "Hi guys! How are you all doing?" We went, "Great, Paul, fantastic." You know, we were just knocked out he came in, and so we were in another kind of league, and we felt it. We arrived by bus or something [laughs]. We were always delegated a little bit to the struggle, and Yes hasn't been too dissimilar in a way. There's a certain struggle that seems to be evident in most of the groups I've been in.
MOT: Let's move on to "Revolution"; that was another important song for the band, and another one of my favorites as well. What's the origin of the spoken intro? Does it come from anything or is it just something written for the song?
SH: Yeah, well we thought, I suppose, the idea of changing the different voices that said different bits of it was that it was a piece of nonsense that...we gives clues to what it is--"happens quickly"...anyway it's a use of a literal technique isn't it, it's a pun, we're sort of punning. I suppose it was the madness of it that appealed to us. It was a bit--I don't think was conscious, but it was a bit more like a Mothers of Invention sort of approach where anything goes in the music, any style kind of can suddenly happen, and we were experimenting with that. I must say, I would like to just comment now, exactly get this right once and for all in my mind, is that the version of "Revolution" that's on the 50 MINUTE DREAM...
MOT: The phased version?
SH: Yeah, track four, fantastic. Now that's the version to listen to. The demo we did of it, it's before Mark Wirtz arranged to have the string section come in and we did it all in edits. The finished record is all done in edits, and they never fit it together properly, and somehow Mark made it fit together, but if you listen to track four of the 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM, now there is the "Revolution" demo that has the same introduction as the original, as the finished record. We never redid the introduction, but the rest of it is just played through like a band [sings a little of the song].
MOT: It doesn't stop [shortly after the intro]...
SH: Yeah, we just play the song, and it's lovely. It's got that flanging on it; I think that's great. That's the only version I want to hear of "Revolution", is the demo. Before, we cut it to bits. I sometimes like the other version, but Keith and I wrote that; I'd just left home, and I was living with a girl I think from California in North London just for a while, and I wrote that song at that time. I remember Keith coming around one afternoon and singing me bits of songs, and I was putting some chords in and some riffs and things and I said, "When you sing [sings] "rev-o-lu-tion", you know we should have all these voices go 'Now!'" And Keith went, [whispers] "Yeah, that's a great idea, 'now!'" So somehow I was helping to write the song but also to give it a certain punch and think up things slightly wah-wah, [imitates a wah-wah]. I love all that, particularly on that version.
MOT: Well, it seemed to me that it was almost poised as, maybe like an anthem, I mean, you know it was the mid-sixties and things were changing and revolution, now! And in fact I can almost see why you like the demo version because I feel that on the release version, having the little marching band as it were coming in, you know with the pipe and everything, just kind of dilutes that.
SH: Maybe that's why I got very pushy in studios about saying let's do things right, because if you do them wrong, in my memory, it would be what happened like "Revolution". Mark did get that wrong. We didn't hold the tempos strong enough through the section so that it fits together, so I've become very vigilant in the studio when I'm working with people. If we start going down a road that means later, things aren't going to fit together, they're not going to gel, they're not going to have continuity, then I'll get up and say no, we just can't work like this, you know, it's got to fit together, so you got to do it right. So, maybe TOMORROW was a memory--Keith and I went into EMI one day to hear the edited version, expecting all the pieces to run from segment to segment, instead they just stopped and went, boom, "...[sings] happ-i-ness..." and we said to Mark, what the fuck happened there, and he said, "Well, the bits didn't fit together so I left gap." And then what's interesting is that later in the same record, track eight is "Revolution" played like, I think for a radio version we did, played like the strangely-edited version that EMI released originally, you see. We actually tried to reproduce that on stage, and the radio version is played like the edited version by Mark Wirtz, unlike track four, which is done in a studio, was treated as a demo, and is the best thing we did.
MOT: When I've heard the radio version, I thought that you were playing it as it was originally written.
SH: No. We were trying to copy the record with the edit because we left spaces where we never used to leave them on the demo.
MOT: So, did you care for that little marching band in the bridge either?
SH: Well, I like the experience of doing edited sections, but I didn't like them not fitting together, but I certainly liked the idea of it taking it a bit more like SERGEANT PEPPER was going anyway--into using different orchestral pictures, but I'd prefer that the germ of the group, which was a powerful guitar band that used to drive songs home in a big way.
MOT: Now both that song and "My White Bicycle" on the TOMORROW CD, and I guess the original album, are in phony stereo. I take it there are no stereo mixes that exists of these songs?
SH: Not to my knowledge, not after having done a bit of preparation on the 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM, and discussions and choices about things. Not a great deal.
MOT: Well, it seems that with Keith's success with TEENAGE OPERA, that seemed to throw Tomorrow into a tailspin, but you seemed to have taken it in stride.
SH: Well, it's a shame that it did. In a way, for a while, we did well off of Keith's success, because we all went out, and we earned much more money than we were doing as Tomorrow, because suddenly--but we disappointed people in a way by not being the sort of group that featured Keith in the same way, as might be thought with a song like "Grocer Jack". We did play as a guitar trio; we had money thrown at us viciously. In Ireland, when we went there and played "Grocer Jack", we played the Tomorrow set with "Grocer Jack", and that was not enough. They didn't want Tomorrow; they wanted Keith West and that kind of a singer. So, they hurled money at us. It was painful too; we got hit and things. That was the effect of trying to be two things at once--trying to be Tomorrow, and Keith West and Tomorrow, so it didn't work; gigs fizzled out, and then we were left with not with very much.
The band broke up, and Keith and I went into cahoots together, where I was kind of his guitarist on those sessions. Those recordings were done at a time when one always felt, well as you always do, that you're doing something a little bit different and it's groundbreaking, and particularly "She" was a quite a big production, and you know I use a lot of Spanish guitar in that one, possibly played bass on that, I'm credited here, and also particularly I played bass on "The Kid Was a Killer", that's evident on the fact that it's on MOTHBALLS and various others where I do get credit, but on the TOMORROW EMI version, I don't get a credit, so I just thought I'd put that in. "On a Saturday "also, a song that I like very much, a tune I like very much, was done for a release, you know, but "The Visit" was a track that laid around for a long time; of course Ainsley Dunbar's on that one as well, Ainsley's on all those songs. So there was a group in the making there, with Ronnie Wood on bass, and Ainsley on drums was kind of...it just needed a bit more to get it off the ground, because we were really only just a studio session band, but there's something sweet about the songs.
MOT: The 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM liner notes on that album has Keith quoted as saying that after you joined Yes, you called to reform Tomorrow, because you had become disillusioned with Yes. Do you recall the circumstances that would have led you consider even leaving Yes?
SH: There's a familiar part and an unfamiliar part to this. I'm familiar with the concept that loads of time I've spoke to Keith about reforming Tomorrow or doing something with that material together under some sort of Tomorrow banner, and I don't have any problem with that; in fact, we were talking about it just a month ago, when we were in Amsterdam, so that is reality, but I don't think I became disillusioned with Yes. I think...I don't remember ever having...that wouldn't have been the reason, I'm sure, that I'd said that. Only in the eighties, I mean, obviously I was disillusioned when we broke up, but there weren't other times really in the band that my bond either with Jon or Chris or Alan and Rick wasn't strong enough to...so yes, I'd like to play that material for a reason, any reason tomorrow, you know, because I think it's great; I think it's really good material and we got to do it at some point. Keith and I know that we're going to stop talking about it, and we're just going to reform some sort of Tomorrow and do it, but certainly we rid ourselves of that quote about me being disillusioned with Yes. I don't think that there could have been a time when Tomorrow would have offered me very much of what I liked about Yes.
MOT: Is there anything you want to say about either of these CDs or Tomorrow in general, or something I may have missed?
SH: I thought I'd just mention that recently I released PULLING STRINGS, and the last track is "My White Bicycle", and that, I hope, seems a little bit surprising. It still surprises me. That fact that I done that song in a solo environment is kind of weird. I wouldn't say it's the greatest version of "My White Bicycle" I've ever heard, but I would say that it contains a little of the improvisation that was to come to light on 50 MINUTE TECHNICOLOR DREAM, so I'm pleased about me doing that on my own as well, because it's something that I do, and I'd like to do it, keep doing that kind of thing in my music, is not settling back, but always looking for some more spaces to improvise.
The CDs, yeah, I mean, the EMI original one just has some great sound quality moments in it, and also it contains Keith's stuff. The they both have...elements that don't exist in the others, particularly the live stuff, but really it's nice to see a bit of a re-release, particularly from EMI, uninspired by myself directly other then the fact that it's an album that's never actually been completely available, so that's not bad for an album that's thirty-one years old.
From Notes From the Edge #230
The entire contents of this interview are
Copyright © 2002, Mike Tiano
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Special thanks to Jen Gaudette
The conversation contained herein was conducted on April 18, 1999