Roger Wootton, Comus

Photo: Andrew Magee

Nick: Hello, Mr. Wooton. Thank you for making this interview possible. What’s the latest news coming from Comus? There has been a 7” vinyl EP limited edition release, featuring a Comus song, besides involvement from Rameses III and Simon Finn. What can you say about this?

Roger: We played the HMV Forum with them in London.

Nick: What was or better to say, who, was the initiator of Comus’ comeback in 2008? You reformed for the Mellotronen Festival the same year, how was the feeling to play live again after so many years of absence?

Roger: The initiator of our reforming was Michael Akerfeldt of Opeth. He is a major Comus fan and was offered the Melloboat Festival in 2008. He said to the promoter, Stefan Dimle, that Opeth would play as long as he could get Comus to reform and do it as well. Both Michael and Stefan came to London to meet us and the contract was signed. We owe a lot to Michael with whom we remain in contact.

Nick: You and Glenn Goring were both very young when you started musical journey back in 1967. What was your guide back then to start creating your own music? Who were your main influences then and did you have a clear image of the music you wanted to create?

Roger: We were both influenced by Bert Jansch and John Renbourn (later to form Pentangle) and The Incredible String Band. I introduced Glenn to avant garde jazz. We began playing the folk club together in 1967. The band formed gradually. I had the idea of a violin and met Colin Pearson who just happened to be attending the same college – Ravensbourne College of Art. The band assembled from students and friends of students at Ravensbourne. I wrote my first song and the Comus sound and feel gradually evolved rather than having any clear image.

Nick: Would you mind telling us something more about your connection with David Bowie in your early days?

Roger: As the band was evolving, David Bowie was setting up a regular club night at The Three Tuns Beckenham called The Beckenham Arts Lab. He was looking for a resident band.

Photo: Andrew Magee

At this time we were not even called Comus but we began playing the club with David, who was resident singer/ songwriter. We basically cut our teeth playing every week and the material, the name, the manager all slowly came together. David wrote Space Oddity in 1969, performing it at the arts lab. After he had the hit with it he invited us to play support at The Purcell Room with him. This was our first major gig.

Nick: In 1971, First Utterance was released, and it proved to be a groundbreaking release for the band, but I must underline that there’s a bittersweet feeling, just because I think the band didn’t receive the accolades they deserved after it was made. What can you tell us about creating process of this record and how do you see it now, after almost 40 years?

Roger: We had the wrong producer and we were all pretty green with recording. The record company seemed to have no understanding of what we were about. They pressed a limited number of copies and did not distribute it properly. We had little promotion and the album was virtually made into a flop.

Nick: It seems that First Utterance gathers a positive response from critics all around the world after four decades. Why do you think it has taken so long for people to love the music? I suppose that’s one hell of an acquired taste!

Roger: Yes, it is an acquired taste. It does not neatly fall into any prescribed category. The music is almost timeless and has a powerful energy which people find just as easy to relate to today. The critics at the time hated it. It went against the grain of everything that was going on then. Also, because it is acoustic, it doesn’t date the way production sounds of that time have.

Nick: First Utterance present an eclectic album that consists of many different and diverse elements, but the core of it lies upon an obscure psychedelic and folky atmosphere. But I must say that the crown of that record are probably the vocals, which are done in a very interesting way. What do you guys feel about it?

Roger: I found a very intense and angry wild vocal style, a little influenced by Roger Chapman and Bobbie, our second female vocalist, presented a very pure virginal sound that had a complete contrast.

Nick: The album doesn’t include any weak song, which is another indicator of its quality, but as the highlights that are always mentioned are Diana and Drip Drip. Do you think these tracks cast a shadow of the rest of the album perhaps? Without a doubt, it discovers many new interesting details with every further listening and that’s what happens to me exactly every time I listen to it.

Roger: Hard for me to comment. Although I play it as I am now, I rarely listen to First Utterance and I don’t think we make preferences. We recently did a gig, playing some new songs as well, and fans were disappointed that we left out The Bite. Most fans seem to want to hear First Utterance in its entirety.

Nick: Lyrically, this album deals with some really dark and burdening lyrics. How much of them comes from real life and how much of them are fiction? What do you try to talk about through them?

Roger: A lot of LSD in the countryside and reading Lord of the Rings and other texts popular at the time, a hating and reaction against a very repressive middle class background and against the social mentality of the time.

Nick: What has been happening with the Malgaard Suite? It has never seen the light of the day!

Roger: We have one poor quality recording of part of it. This will either be released on our forthcoming cd or on the website.

Nick: A lot of dust has risen with the appearance of your second album “To Keep From Crying”. It is certainly much more commercial. How do you see that situation? To quote you, if I may: “the album was something of a disaster”. Why is that?

Roger: Virgin Records got in touch and asked if Comus would reform to make an album. I could not get the original members back together. The material was never intended for Comus. It was completely unsuitable. It was a rush job and the replacement members were not entirely suitable. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong for that album.

Nick: In the first half of 70’s, you were hired to make film scores and you did that actually for Lyndsay Shonteff’s Permissive and Big Zapper. What can you tell us about this involvement?

Roger: We auditioned for Lyndsay and he was pleased with the result and continued to ask us to write the music for several more films (me in particular and whoever else I could get). The last one being Spy Story.

Nick: Comus is a typical example of how the internet might help bands, especially older ones. What do you think about this? Would you say that the internet has been a boon to Comus?

Roger: There is no doubt that file sharing has actually been an asset to us. A whole new generation has turned on to Comus and we have a global following, which we never had first time around. The issue with file sharing is, of course loss of earnings for the artists.

Photo: Andrew Magee

Nick: Where does Comus stand today? Do you have any plans for releasing some brand new material at some point in the future or you are mostly focused on playing live?

Roger: We will shortly be recording and releasing a cd of new songs, more in the vain of First Utterance. I cannot at this time give you more details. We are in the process of changing management, which will inevitably make a big difference. We hope to continue playing live globally. We play the Burntwood Festival at The Brentwood Centre Essex in October.

Nick: Do you have anything on your mind what you would like to share with the visitors of Prog Sphere?

Roger: I am embarking on a solo career to run in parallel with Comus. This is new material which is not right for Comus. It is nothing like To keep from crying. I shall be recording a limited edition 7” with Riseabove Records. This is entirelt independent from Comus but is designed to coincide with a new vinyl release of First Utterance by them. I can’t give you a release date yet.

Everything is a bit up in the air until we sign a new management deal. We have 3 interested parties.

Nick: Thank you very much for the interview, Roger. All the best.

Roger: Thanks – we could do with some luck. You’re welcome.

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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