Prog Sphere’s interview with Andy Tillison, with addition of special guest Jonathan Barrett – part 2

The Second part of our interview with Andy Tillison includes a special surprise in the form of The Tangent’s bassist bassist, Jonathan Barrett. Read what they have to say about the Canterbury Scene, Parallel or 90 Degrees’ upcoming album, Bo Hansson,  Jaco Pastorius,  dogs and many other interesting things.

Nick: You’re big fan of the “Canterbury Scene“ and much of your music is built on its tradition. It’s interesting you’ve mentioned Caravan and Hatfield (and the North) in Cantermemorabilia. How do you see the scene today? Do you see the Canterbury Scene as something of a cult phenomenon?

Andy: It’s a musical movement I always loved and felt an affinity for. Like VDGG, I got into these bands when I was very young, and they have always brought me pleasure. For thirty years and more. I think that obviously that scene is over. There are no statues of the Canterbury bands in Canterbury!! it’s a shame that the Americans put their Jazz Rock musicians like Pastorius and Chick Corea on pedestals and give them Grammies, but here in England, our jazz rock scene is rather forgotten. Dave Stewart (National Health, Hatfield and the North etc) is easily up there with Corea, but his records are known to very few people.

Dan:  Interesting that you mention Corea, since I’m listening to Return to Forever right now.

Andy: I loved the humor and whimsy of these bands, and I wanted to use some of their ideas and sounds in the Tangent from the beginning. After all, an awful lot of prog bands use Yes, genesis and Pink Floyd influences. We just looked a little deeper.

Dan: Hi Jonathan. We weren’t prepared for a second member of The Tangent to join this interview, but we consider it a huge bonus! Now, I’m sure a lot of the “audience” would like to know more about you, so would you mind starting by telling us about yourself?

Jon: Hi Nikola, Dan, nice to meet you. I’m the new bass player with the Tangent, but of course I have worked with Andy T. many times before in the Po90 band and even before that in “A new Opera” and “GFDD”. I’ve been playing bass all my adult life ( a long time :-) ), and I have made it my business to play as much original music as is possible as opposed to cover versions etc. I’ve played for bands like Magna Carta, a British Folk/Prog band who have been around since the 60s, and was with them for 10 years or more, working with the drummer Paul Burgess who played on The Tangent’s last album. I mainly concentrate on Fretless Bass which is where I am happiest, but sometimes Andy insists that I play a fretted, but I usually pretend to break a string! :-) I’ve always liked prog rock, but it’s not everything to me, my influences are varied from John  Martyn, Yes, Nick Drake, XTC.

Dan: You actually answered one of the later questions, hehe. Ok, back to Andy!

Andy: Right! Ok I’m here!

Nick: Speaking of Canterbury (if you consider Camel a Canterbury band, as some do), I don’t know if you already heard, but Andrew Latimer has collaborated with David Minian on the latter’s upcoming album. I already heard some excerpts, there’s a really nice Camel-ish guitar solo that Andrew played and I have to admit that I have missed stuff like that. How do you feel about Camel? What’s your favorite album of theirs? How do you feel about Peter Bardens as a keyboardist?

Andy: Well, I first saw Camel in 1977 on the Rain Dances tour. I always liked them. I must confess to having veered away from them in the 80s, but I was happy to find them again on the Rajaz album and see them play again before they finished. It’s also interesting that our guitarist Luke Machin is very impressed with Latimer, and he plays “Chord Change” from the Moonmadness album in one of his other bands. Bardens was a great player, a good composer and someone who I’ve always enjoyed. My favourite Camel albums are the first 5, I guess, with Moonmadness probably taking the crown. I think that the beginning of our song “Where are they now” owes a nod to Camel!

Dan: Jon – Would you like to tell us something about your influences and the sort of music you like to listen to? As you can see, we know a good deal about Andy’s listening habits based on past interviews we’ve read and things he’s said on the forum, but we know very little about yours.

Jon: OK. Well we’ve obviously touched on that earlier. I didn’t mention Be Bop Deluxe (a passion I share with Andy), FOCUS, Pierre Van der Linden is one of my favorite drummers, James Taylor and Alison Krauss, Leonard Cohen, all sorts. Colin Moulding from XTC is one of the world’s most under rated bass players, that’s another thing that Andy and I share and we often listen to XTC after rehearsals.

Dan: Ok, this next one is for both of you. The one after that is too, actually. You had first gig in almost two years, in New Mills if I am correct. How was the reaction of the audience, what was it like to play live after two years?

Andy:  Andy here now. It was a great gig for us, just a small venue near where we live to test the band out before we play the Progeny festival in the UK. The reaction to the new band was very positive and the 42 years age difference between the oldest and youngest members just melted away. We had a lot of comments about Luke of course, he’s going to be a bit of a new star, a guitarist so young who can play this well is going to turn a few heads. But we enjoy playing with him, and for now it’s nice to let him enjoy his moment!

Nick: You’re going to play at the Progeny festival on May 9th, together with Pure Reason Revolution and Pallas among others. Are there any bigger plans for touring Europe?

Yes. We do intend to get back into Europe again, after all that’s where most of our fanbase actually is. Times are difficult for bands at the moment, there are way, way too many prog bands now, back in 2004 when we first played live there wasn’t that much competition, but know everyone over the age of 45 has a prog band and plays bass in another, and most of them are so keen to do a gig that they will play for free and pay to get to the gigs. That makes it harder for bands like Tangent and maybe even the Flower Kings to get about these days. But we will try.

Nick: I know that you’re fan of Bo Hansson’s work, you even named Parallel or 90 Degrees after Bosse’s song. Are you aware that he passed away several days ago? How do you feel about that? Is there a chance that you and Rikard (another Bosse fan) will collaborate on a tribute album of sorts? Just wishful thinking.

Andy: Well, Bo Hansson is another childhood fave. I think I was 12 or 13 years old when I first heard “Lord of the Rings”. After that i fell in love with the “Magican’s Hat” album, and that’s of course where I got the name for PO90. Po90 already did cover one of these songs on the Time Capsule album, where we added lyrics to the track we took the name from. I would love to work with Rikard on something like this. OK,. last question Jon answered was the one about his musical influences. We don’t mind, he told me to answer the last few.

Dan: That’s ok, got one for him again. Jon, despite how Nick and I try to avoid focusing on Jonas and Roine, etc, we can’t help but think it must be a bit daunting for you to take the place of one of the foremost prog bassists in the world right now. How does it feel, exactly?

Jon: He’s obviously a wonderful musician, but I’m not really taking his place, it’s my place now and I hope people will enjoy what I do. It must be the same type of feeling that Larry Klein felt when he replaced Pastorius in the Joni Mitchell band, but I am not shagging the singer yet (I’m not that desperate) :-)
Andy: From my perspective, Jonathan has brought something very characterful to the band. As you know the new album has become my personal favorite and Jonathan’s involvement has to have something to do with it! The track “Paroxetine” is only like it is because of the musicians who played on it.

Dan:  Another one for Jon, inspired by the mention of Mr. Pastorius. Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke? Naturally it’s very difficult to compare the skills of two different bassists, but I personally prefer the work done by Clarke with Corea in Return to Forever.

Jon: The more lyrical aspects of Pastorius. Hands down!! Look at “A Remark You Made” from “Heavy Weather” or “Refuge of the Roads” from Hejira. Wonderful stuff. Clarke spends too much time at the dusty end for my personal taste – obviously a great musician. Just personal preference.

Nick: Andy – You mentioned on your forum that Parallel or 90 Degrees has a new album coming up. How is this coming along? What do think we can hope to expect from it? Additionally, how did you feel about Jitters? It was a great deal different from other material Parallel or 90 Degrees has released over the years.

Andy: Po90 is writing again, sure. We don’t know when we will have a new album, but hopefully it won’t be too long. I was very pleased with “Jitters” for sure; obviously with the Tangent and Po90 existing side by side, I didn’t want to make those bands sound at all the same. There does seem to be a temptation to have side projects that don’t sound entirely different from one another. I mean how different REALLY was Spock’s Beard from Transatlantic back in 2002? How different is Blackfield REALLY from Porcupine Tree. To me, if you’re going to have different bands, let them be different.

Dan: That was one of my main problems with them both, haha. All four, that is.

Andy: I think that the Tangent majors on the prog stuff, and Po90 has become a modern rock band, and that’s two different avenues for me to pursue. Keeps me awake!!

Dan: Now for Jon. How about you, are you working on anything on the side at the moment?

Jon: Yes! I’m still working with Linda Simpson from the old Magna Carta band, and I’m a writer myself and I have a band which performs that material. It’s under formation at the moment, and it will probably be a very closely related lineup to the Tangent that plays it with the addition of a violinist/mandolin player. It’s not a prog band at all, more Nick Drake/John Martyn like with the occasional outburst of musical violence!!

Dan: Andy, you took participation on The Haiki Projekt compilation, appearing with the brand new song “The Spirit of the Net“. Who initiated this “projekt“, and what was it like working on it? As an aside, who was it that popularized the mispelling of “projekt” Was it King Crimson?

Andy: I HATE HATE HATE spellings like that, but people do seem to like them for some mystifying reason. I have NO idea why! I was invited to do the track via my management in Amerika and was obviously keen to be involved. I think it was Chick Corea’s Elecktrick band where I first met that one, a technique that has been plagiarized by many, including some close to home!

Dan: Ah yes, I forgot about the Elektric band.

Andy: Yup…

Dan: Jon, how would you describe your playing style and how would you say it fits with whatever The Tangent’s style is? Also, what do you bring to the band creatively? How would you say you participated in the process to write/record Down and Out? On that note, how would you describe The Tangent’s “style“? The nebulous “Eclectic Prog” tag ProgArchives gives it doesn’t seem to do the band justice. Speaking of things people hate, genre tags!

Andy: OK Jon is just running downstairs.

Dan: No problem.

Jon: My playing style is hopeful! I’m a fairly traditional bass player, in that I do like to just “put the floor down”, but I also like to add certain texture and melody via the fretless bass. I find that one nicely singing note can do the job of twenty four super fast ones. On the album the basic songs were presented to me and I pretty much played what I thought would sound good with them. Andy had a few “certain ideas” which I executed as he wished, but for the most part it was a fairly free experience. I think the phrase “Progressive Rock” is a limiting tag of course, and feel sad that the necessity to label music that takes you on a journey still exists and still has the negative connotations which were popularized during the punk era. As for “eclectic” it’s probably true but does the phrase “eclectic prog” mean anything more?

Dan: Personally I like to name things, call me a labeler, but not for any particular reason. Ok, the next series of questions are for Andy, we’ve run out of Jon questions, sorry to say.

Jon: OK, bugger off then!

Dan: Haha.

Andy: This is Andy back to be mega egotistical.

Dan: I don’t think you have it in you to be egotistical.

Nick: Together with Guy (and Jon, as we found out before), you had a band called Gold Frankincense & Disk Drive. Would you mind telling us something more about this? Any fun stories to tell? I hear Hugh Banton was also a member, what’s he like?

Andy: GFDD was a bizarre band with lots of lineups and lots of changes of style (sound familiar?)

Dan: Running theme.Nick: Not surprising.

Andy: Jona, myslef and guy Hatton (Not Guy Manning) started that one up and to start with we played anarchist influenced music with some proggy moments here and there. The band went through loads of changes and was sometimes an out and out punk rock band. By the time we played our last gig we’d become a kind of prog rock band, and yes, Hugh Banton had played with us at an evening of VDGG compositions. That was back in 1991. Guy Manning was in the band at the end, and of course we started up Po90 a year later, once again with Jon on bass. Hugh Banton is a great bloke. I went to the same school as him (think I said already). He’s always been an influence on me. I’ve studied his playing for years.

Nick: Right now I’m listening to Ethanol Hat Nail, which is probably one of the most complex songs you have ever written. Can we expect Canterbury Sequence Vol. 3 at some point in the future? Also, how did you come up with the name “Ethanol Hat Nail” if I may ask?

Andy: I don’t know about a CS3 at the moment. It was undoubtedly the most complicated piece, but it was reaaaally good fun to do. Unless you were the drummer. I am very pleased with it because despite all the complexity and musical fireworks, it still has a tune you can sing from time to time. It also has a sense of humour. For that reason I had to equate it with the Canterbury bands. They had tunes too, and that’s such a good way into more involved music!

Dan: That wonderfully surreal name.


Dan: Haha!

Andy: Geddit?

Nick: Haha.

Andy: :-)

Dan: I should have expected that.

Nick: I’d never get it, honestly.

Andy: Well they did that. Funnily enough I asked Richard Sinclair if he realized that you could make the words “National health” anagrammatically from the words “HATFIELD AND THE NORTH” and he said they’d never realized that. I don’t believe him.

Dan: To quote Batman: “I don’t believe in coincidence.”
Dan: You just made me think of something. With the comment about humor being integral to Canterbury, it seems to me that whenever a modern prog band includes humor with the music (such as Beardfish) the band is immediately equated with Zappa, even if the music might not remotely resemble Zappa.

Andy: I am not a Zappa fan at all. But that’s not without lots of respect for the man.
Andy: I find his humour to be a bit too lewd and lavatory minded for me, and it just never moves me in the way it is supposed to.
Jon: A genius but stupid and the joke wore thin on me too. A fantastic guitar player. My favorite album is “Shut Up And Play your Guitar” advice, I wish he’d taken more often!

Dan: I feel the exact same way, my favorite Zappa album is Hot Rats because it’s mostly instrumental. In fact, that the only Zappa album I enjoy.

Andy: Hot rats. That makes sense. Yeah, we seem in accord here!
Jon: I have written a nice song called “Hold still while I give it you in the ASS”
Andy: Shut up and play your bass, Jon!

Nick: At least, Zappa was the one who said: “To me, absurdity is the only reality.” I would praise him for that, haha.
Dan: I have no problem with that maxim, but I prefer Monty Python’s realization of it.

Andy: Yeah. Well that may have been derived from Oscar Wilde, but we’ll let Zappa have it. For me Zappa’s most endearing and TRUE quote is “Rock & Roll is not about guitars, it is about drums”. No truer word…
Andy: We’re with you on the Python, we are British after all!

Dan: Sometimes I wish I were British, though, we have Twain.

Nick: Speaking of Zappa, I guess he was the entertainer, after all.  Could you have imagined that you would get this far with Tangent and Po90? What happens next? Any new projects besides Po90 and The Tangent?

Andy: Well, I will be taking part in Jonathan’s new project for sure, looking forward to that. As for “coming this far”, it’s all a question of relative perspective (sounds like a Rush song). We have made a decent impression on a lot of progressive music fans to be sure, and of course it’s weird, because although it’s a lot of people who like us, they are all over the world and they don’t meet us in the supermarket. We only really get feedback from people such as yourselves and from people on forums or at gigs. So we are not big stars or anything remotely like that, we have perfectly normal lives (although my fiancée is laughing) and we are happy that there are people out there who like us. As I mentioned before, this market place is becoming very crowded by lots of new bands. And of course we have to keep up. It’s quite difficult to do that. The Tangent has big plans for the next album, we are not saying what yet because if we do, someone will steal the idea because there are lots of people looking for ideas.

Nick: So, Beardfish is going to release a new album later this year, and The Tangent is active again live, so maybe we could see you share the stages around Europe together with them! Maybe you two could come to Serbia!

Andy: We’d like to bring the whole thing there of course. It’s always the money that prevents these things from happening. If we could be sure there were enough people in Serbia who’d come and see the band and pay for our costs, we’d be there tomorrow. But as I’m sure you are aware there are so many distractions from music. TV, jobs, games and it’s really hard to motivate a lot of people at the same time.

Nick: Eh, it’s the sad truth.

Andy: Beardfish and us get along fine, even though they have only met me. I know that Jonathan, Luke and Michael would love those guys. Here’s hopin’.

Dan: Are you sick of talking about Beardfish yet? Because the next question is about them.

Andy: Go right ahead.

Dan: As two big Beardfish fans, we’d love it if you could tell us which album is your favorite. Personally, we both think each one improves upon the one that came before it, so that currently Destined Solitaire is our favorite, but it will likely be supplanted by the one to be released this autumn. Do you agree? Or see the situation completely differently?

Andy: I have heard Destined Solitaire and thought it was great. However I don’t know it as well as I will yet. For me it’s the Sleeping In Traffic series that I know and love the best, and of course I was on tour with them at the time they released part 2, so I got to know those pieces very well. Beardfish are one of just a few modern prog bands that I listen to for pure pleasure, along with Taal, Porcupine Tree and a handful of others. Love the Bootcut stuff as well.

Dan: We’re nearing the end! But a few more.

Andy: My goodness!!

Nick: I don’t wanna end.

Dan: We weren’t expecting to get through them all, we could come up with more, if you like, haha.

Andy: Jonathan wants to know have you heard the rhythm section on the track “Not that Kind of Girl” by Anastacia?

Dan: I haven’t, dunno about Nick.

Nick: Me neither.

Dan: Now I do.

Andy: OK. Well it’s recommended. By Jonathan Barrett.

Nick: Seems like we missed a lot.

Andy: Next question!

Dan: A lot of modern prog musicians don’t work with music as a full time job, likely because working in this “genre” so to speak, doesn’t pay as highly as it did in the early 70’s. I am aware that Guy works in IT, and Hasse Froberg of The Flower Kings works as a flight attendant (or at least he did when I read as much in an interview a few years ago…), do you have a full-time job that occupies much of your time, or is music your full time job?

Andy: All members of the Tangent are in music full time. That does not mean that we just do the Tangent, we have other projects, some of which are more “money earning” style of work. However we are committed to what we do and have made important life choices in order to pursue this, which will probably mean we are never going to be wealthy, but we will be more fulfilled than many richer people. That’s simply a trade we make. We could all play music that made us rich, and if that’s what we had wanted, we’d have done that instead.

Dan: I think we’re basically done here. Is there anything you guys want to add? Perhaps something about dogs? Or music, I suppose.

Andy: Umm… Jonathan had a cat once apparently. He likes Terrier dogs.

Dan: I like cats, but dogs are superior.

Nick: I dislike cats, just for the record.

Andy: Roobarb is a sort of collie dog (australian red).

Dan: My old dog (died of cancer last year) was a Norwegian Elkhound.

Andy: Excellent opinions vis vi dogs versus cats.

Dan: I do my best.

Andy: We were with a Northern Inuit at our gig the other day. Similar type of thing?

Dan: Slightly. Let me find a picture.

Andy: Yellow eyes.

Dan: She looked something like this, but her tail wasn’t curly. The thing is, we weren’t aware she was a purebred Norwegian Elkhound until after she died, when I came across a picture and shouted “eureka!”

Andy: Beautiful dog to be sure.

Dan:, this is she. Notice the sarcoma on her leg and the cataracts. And the bloating due to Cushing’s Disease.

Andy: Sorry!

Nick: I already have great interview title after this little convo about dogs.

Andy: Arrfghh.

Dan: Well, she lived a happy, long life, despite the strange variety of health problems.

Andy: Good… that is all that matters, hope I do the same. And you two too.

Dan: And everyone else! And Roobarb! Nick wants to kill me, he’s gonna close now with a picture of his.

Nick: Haha.

Andy: Thanks very much for your time and effort putting this together… I guess it will be in Serbian in the end, but if Dan wants to post it on our forum, that would be very welcome.

Dan: Nope, it’s going to be in English.

Andy: Right!

Dan: I don’t speak Serbian, haha.

Nick: It will be in Serbian too.

Dan: It will? Well, alright.

Nick: Thank you both very much for this interview; it was our pleasure to speak with the man who’s behind the music of a band that’s certainly one of my favorites, and it was certainly a pleasure (and a bit of a surprise!) to speak with the band’s bassist as well! Now that we’ve reached the end, I would like to show you a picture I took some time ago which has been inspired by the artwork of “Down and Out”. The photo is here: I call it “Down and Out in Surdulica” (my hometown).

Andy: Ha… we saw this on Facebook!

Nick: I guess you already did, just I had that in my mind for a while.

Andy: Nice of you to do it.
Andy: Best wishes to you both and a very good night from us here. Be in touch anytime.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.
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