Wild Thing: How is life in Hastings? From what we hear on 'The Leaving of London' it must be good.
Nick Saloman: Yes, life is pretty good at the moment. We’re really enjoying Hastings. It’s only 90 minutes from London and I go up every week for football, and to see friends etc., so I don’t miss it very much.
WT: What happened between 'Hit Squad' and 'The Leaving of London'?
NS: After I did Hit Squad, I have to admit I felt a bit fed up with doing music. I felt like I’d been bashing away for years and years, and I wasn’t really enjoying it very much. I felt like I was just doing the same old thing over and over again, writing the same old songs, playing the same venues, and I thought if I was getting bored, then it would definitely come across in the music. So I thought I needed a break. Then my Mum got ill with terminal cancer, so I spent a lot of time with her, and when she died, Jan & I decided to sell our home in London and move after 30 years in the same place. Once we got settled in here, I felt a bit more up for doing a new album. I always knew I’d do another record, I just didn’t realize it was going to be 7 years before I felt enthusiastic again!!
WT: How did you decide to write a song about Johnny Kwango, a wrestler? (I've read he was an interesting fellow).
NS: Well, I didn’t plan to write a song about Johnny Kwango. It just kind of fell into place. I never plan songs, I just write sort of spontaneously. I never know what they’re about until I’m about half way through, and then I get a handle on where it’s going. With JK, once I figured out what the song was about, I was looking for a figure who kind of represented consistency over the passing of time and for some reason Johnny Kwango sprung to mind.
WT: Can you give us a little insight for the inspiration behind each of 'The Leaving of London' songs? A few words from the author, a sub-title...
NS: That’s pretty difficult. I don’t think there’s a thread really, though I think the songs hang together quite well. Okay: "Johnny Kwango" was about how some things remain constant while the world changes around them. "Speedboat": that’s about a relationship where one side is flying ahead, and the other side is struggling to keep up. "An Old Vice": that’s about how people keep returning to things that maybe do them no good. "More To This Than That"; is pretty obvious, it’s about life: there’s got to be more than hiding and chasing. "The Leaving Of London": needs no explanation really. "Hold The Fort" was kind of about not playing or recording for 7 years. "Why have You Been Fighting Me" was about rivalry. "The Divide" is about how fragile love can be. "Reanimation" is about getting the buzz for recording and gigging back. "Stupid Circle", that’s about money and how we can never have enough. "Son Of A Warm Gun" is about John Lennon. "Barely Anthropoid" is just a rant at life. "Testament" is a kind of ghost story about love enduring after death. "You’ll Come" was about how predictable people are. "Preservation Hill" is about getting old. "Heavy Hand" is about being awkward and uncomfortable with other people. "Too Kind" was about how we always expect to be criticised whenever we do anything, and often the response is quite good, but then we get pissed off because the criticism is just quite good and not verygood. "True North" basically says if you keep on trying and stick to what you really believe in you’ll get some kind of reward in the end.
WT: I love the backwards guitars and the classic 'psychedelic' tricks in songs like 'Speedboat' but a lot of songs on the album have a basic, trimmed down arrangement. These songs are extremely beautiful but lacking the psych-garb generate less interest to demented psych-fanatics than they actually could and should. The 'lo-fi' approach to Bevis Frond albums has prevailed over the years. Why? Do 'psych' production tricks harm great songwriting? Or did you decide not to repeat old recipes?
NS: Part of doing an album is about being true to yourself. I don’t think you can make a real statement if you’re worrying about whether a song is psychedelic enough or not. Of course, I want the people who buy the records to enjoy what I do, but I really believe they know that I never rip people off or under-estimate their intelligence. In fact, I think that part of what makes The Frond as popular as it is, is that I always plough my own furrow. I don’t compromise, I don’t listen to advice and I don’t ever do things I don’t want to do. So when I made this record I just did what felt right at the time. That’s it. Nothing more or less. There were some songs that only needed a very spare backing, and there were others that benefitted from a bit of backwards guitar and effects. But the album is a pretty much live-sounding affair. If I’d have gone into the studio and built the album round backwards tape and phasing etc. it would have been a completely different thing. Some people might have liked it better, but I had a bunch of songs and I did them the way I thought was best. Generally, people have really appreciated that and loved the record, but I guess there are some who thought it could have done with a 19 minute freakout or two. You can’t please everyone all the time.
WT: You've resurrected the Woronzow label for 'The Leaving'. Have you got any plans for it, other than releasing Bevis Frond material in the future? An Acid Jam for example?
NS: At the moment there are no plans to record anyone else, but that doesn’t mean I never will. An Acid Jam 3 might be a nice idea.
WT: What kind of music are you listening to these days? Are you at all interested in any new bands, songwriters? Which ones?
NS: I’m always listening to music, and I hear quite a lot of new stuff through my radio show (Paul Simmons & I do a show every week for WMBR, Boston). There’s a great new UK band called Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and I had a lovely demo from a girl in the USA called Denise Hradecky. To be honest, though, I tend to listen to older stuff most of the time.
WT: After more than six decades, do you feel that the music we love has become some sort of a dinosaur, a museum piece? Or do you believe that the latest social developments (economic crisis in the western world, social unrest, etc.) could possibly trigger a new era for true rock'n'roll?
NS: No, of course I don’t feel the music we love is a museum piece. That would make us all museum pieces ourselves, and then we might as well just curl up and die. I love it with a passion, as do countless others, and therefore it lives. You might as well say blues or jazz belongs in a museum. Music is music, good or bad. If you try to split it into genres and then categorise them by what is hip and what isn’t, you’re just falling into the trap set for you by big business and stupid fashionistas. Art deco wasn’t hip 30 years ago, does that mean we should have demolished all the art deco buildings? Maybe we should have burnt all modern art. It’s a ridiculous premise. We love the music we love because it’s wonderful, and that should be more than enough to justify its continued existence.
Evelyn Kerr, TimeMazine: If there had been no new album would you still have considered playing live in London, and also touring in Europe?
NS: No I don't think so. I felt the time was right to do a new album. I had a good bunch of songs, and the recordings went very well, so I was happy with the finished product. However, I had been away a long time (7 years), and during that period the music industry had changed radically. I'd heard horror stories about how you couldn't sell hard copy any more. Record shops had closed down, mags had been discontinued, distributers had gone out of business, and I was wondering how I'd be able to publicise the new record. That was if anyone was still interested anyway.
So I felt the only course of action was to do some shows, just to let people know I was still active. Of course, I'd mentioned it on Facebook and all the web pages that I thought might be into it, but I still figured I needed to reach the people in a more direct way. So that was why I decided to do some gigs, and if I'm honest, if I hadn't have had a new album out, I probably wouldn't have done any concerts. As it happened, I needn't have worried... the album has been received very well anyway. But having said that, the shows we did have all been really good. We played very well, and the response was fantastic.
EK: Is there a difference between UK audiences and those in Europe?
NS: Not a great deal really. Wherever we've played the audiences have usually been really supportive and appreciative. I've never made any secret of the fact that The Frond owes much of whatever success we've had directly to the people who buy the records and come and see us live. I've never had a major label working behind me, or any sort of publicity machine, so perhaps that makes the audience feel that it's a more substantial part of the whole. It's always been a sort of 'word of mouth' thing, and if somebody's into what we do it's almost always because of the music, and not down to some image or video or hype. Because of that I think our audience gives us far more loyalty and support than I imagine many bands get. They know, or at least I hope they know, that without them the whole thing falls apart. I owe them a real debt of gratitude.
EK: What experiences do you recall of the different cities you went to? Any interesting anecdotes of your travels?
NS: The tour was pretty full-on. We started at The Patronaat in Haarlem, which had been completely rebuilt since we last played there (the club, not Haarlem), and got off to a flyer. Great gig. Then a long drive to Lubeck, which is just north of Hamburg. We got pulled over by the police near Hamburg, who seemed very intent on making sure we had the correct insurance documents. They told us to park in a nearby McDonalds carpark, and said if they hadn't come for us in 10 minutes, we could leave. I think they were having fun at our expense. Another nice gig. Berlin next. Always great in Berlin. Packed out, played well, great show with terrific support from our old mate from Sacramento, Anton Barbeau. It was snowing when we left the next morning, but it stopped after a few miles. Ingolstadt is near Nuremburg. Nothing remarkable. Nice gig, freezing cold. Back north to Bielefeld. Forum is always a great gig for us. Great people. We met some old mates and did a nice show.
Nice easy drive to Munster, still freezing cold, but fortunately no snow.
A really great show at Gleis 22. Our friends from Amsterdam Sam & Robert turned up. Support band 'This Love Is Deadly' were really nice people, and also rather excellent on stage. Next stop Weinheim near Heidelberg. Cafe Zentral is a real bastard load-in, up several flights of stairs. We were knackered before even doing a sound check. I felt a bit ill, and my voice was giving out, so I took a stroll into town and found a chemist who gave me some foul-tasting medication which seemed to help with my throat. Again our support band The George Dorn Quartet could not have been nicer, and ended up idiot dancing down the front while we played. The next day it was south to Offenburg for a gig organised at virtually the last minute. We had a day-off, so basically in return for hotel and food, we did a show put together by a bunch of fantastic people. There had not been much time to advertise the gig, so there was only a small turn-out, but it really was a lovely, intimate evening. We played really well, and those who were there seemed to love it.
Next day, a long drive through Switzerland and into Italy to Brescia. We just could not find the venue, we found the road, but the club was nowhere to be seen. After several phone calls one of the promoters met us at a car wash, and we had to follow him to a venue hidden behind a factory. Nice people, and nice support from solo artist Andrea van Cleef. It's a long way to Rome, but we made it in good time. Weather quite pleasant. Venue in the shadow of a massive Roman aquaduct. Angus Bidoli & Mannux turned up. Great to see Angus, one of the best guitarists I've ever heard, sadly not doing psychedelic music any more. Terrific gig.
Next day was a day off, and we'd arranged to visit Coz Pilkington and friends at their farmhouse near Pisa. Coz runs The Lizard Lounge Recording Studios, so we decided to use the time constructively to lay down a track for a Fruits De Mer album of Krautrock covers. Coz's farm is on top of a mountain overlooking the coast, with Pisa just visible in the distance. Absolutely spectacular. We recorded a 23 minute version of Electric Sandwich's 'China'. Coz and his wife Lu could not have been more hospitable.
We left Coz's mountain retreat at 4.30am, and had to walk down the path by torchlight to where we left the van. We were on the autostrada towards Parma by 5am. By the time we reached the St. Gothard Tunnel (17 kilometres long) the weather had got very cold. When we finally emerged on the Swiss side, we were confronted by a blizzard. The southbound tunnel had been closed due to a couple of accidents, and the road surface was treacherous (especially with no snow chains or winter tyres). We later learned that the Northbound tunnel had apparently been closed shortly after we got through.
After a short while the snow stopped, and by the time we were back in Germany, the weather was cold, but bright. We got to Frankfurt around 5pm, soundchecked and went to get some food. We bumped into Horst from Wurzburg in the street, and he joined us for dinner. The gig at Nachtleben was a real stomper. Packed out, great playing. Frankfurt to Koln takes about 2 - 3 hours, so were at Sonic Ballroom by lunchtime. We were supposed to be staying upstairs in the venue's own band accomodation, but, without wishing to sound to up myself, it wasn't of an acceptable standard, so we checked into a cheap, but decent hotel nearby. Sonic Ballroom is a punk venue, and very compact, covered in graffitti, but with excellent sound, and very nice people running it. The gig was sold out, and we played a real stormer.
Finally, off to Hamburg. We checked out the hotel, which was allegedly a 'rock & roll' hotel. This meant completely unsuitable for men of a certain age. The double rooms (of which he had 3) were basically single rooms, so Ade, Paul and I checked into a hotel round the corner. We were supported by an Australian band called Vulgargrad, who played only Russian music. Kind of like an Aussie/Russo Pogues. Reminded me of Gogol Bordello. Tanju & Christof of Das Weeth Experience appeared, as did Rolf & Jeanette. Another excellent show. As we were returning to the hotel, it started snowing, and when we awoke the next morning Hamburg was under a white carpet. However, after driving about 25k the snow was gone. The rest of the journey home was completed with military precision. What can I say? An absolutely brilliant tour. Great playing, great audiences, van didn't break down, no arguments. If the demand is there, I'd definitely do it again.
As far as touring America goes, well I think I've said this before: We'd love to get over there and do a tour. We've always had fantastic support in the USA, and I'd love the American Frondheads to see/hear the current band, because I reckon it's as good as it's ever been. The problem (as always) is financing it. I don't have a record deal in the States at the moment, no licence deals or anything, and without some kind of tour support I just don't see how it can be done. There is a guy in The USA exploring various possibilities at this very moment, but as yet there's nothing concrete. I guess there's always a chance, we'd love to do it, but realistically I can't see it happening. But I'd be delighted to be proved wrong!
EK: People tape your shows and afterwards share their taping, rather like the Grateful Dead situation. What do you think of this?
NS: I have no problem whatsoever with it. I wouldn't be releasing these live gigs as an album anyway, so it's not as if I'm losing out. And if the lovely people who support what I do can get a load of live material, which I'm not going to do anything with, for nothing, then so much the better.
WT: What are your plans for the upcoming months?
NS: I haven’t got a lot planned at the moment. I’ve got a limited edition single coming out for Record Store Day, and it’s possible we’ll be coming to Greece for a show or two later in the year, but that’s not confirmed yet. Oh, and we’ve recorded a cover of Electric Sandwich’s ‘China’ for a Fruits De Mer compilation of Krautrock covers called ‘Head Music’.
WT: Have you already started to write songs for a new album?
NS: I write songs all the time, and when I have enough songs I think are really good, that usually becomes an album. The last record cost a lot of money to make, and though it’s sold well, I haven’t recouped my outlay yet. So I think I’ll have to wait till I’ve got my money back before I do another one.
Phil McMullen (Terrascope Online): I'm painfully aware that there's a seven year gap packed into one short paragraph at the beginning there, and I was wondering if I could ask you about the changes you've seen in that time - not so much in your personal life, or even in the world of the Frond, but in the world of rock music generally. It seems to me for instance like a new festival scene has bubbled up and burst again since we last spoke, with numerous events being cancelled this year; and CD sales have fallen dramatically whereas conversely, vinyl sales have increased. I was wondering if we could have the benefit of your thoughts on all that?
NS: Well, the music scene is always in a state of flux, which I suppose is a good thing. However, some of the changes over the last decade or so haven’t been exactly to my taste. First and foremost, the decline of the second hand record shop (and indeed the retail record shop) has caused me much grief. One of life’s consistent pleasures for me has always been browsing through racks of arcane vinyl, and maybe picking up a gem. Now there was a time when virtually every town in the UK, and I daresay all round the world, had some kind of second hand vinyl outlet. Today, that’s just not the case any more. Very few towns have record shops, let alone interesting ones! Everyone seems to buy on line, and for me that’s just DULL. I don’t want to spend my free time plonked in front of a computer screen buying overpriced shit off ebay. Live music on the other hands seems to be quite healthy at the moment. Not being very into festivals, I wasn’t aware that there were problems in that area. Could it be something to do with money and discomfort? I’m not too bothered about the imminent demise of the CD, even though personally my CD sales seem to be the same as they were 8 years ago. CDs were never really an ideal medium. Easy, yes, attractive, no. Jewel cases? Just rubbish, and artwork looks so much better at 12”. Good to see vinyl making a comeback, having said that, it’s not exactly rampant is it?
PM: Also, it's been interesting to note that since the dear old Ptolemaic Terrascope gave up the ghost as a printed entity, a number of new psych magazines have sprung up in recent years - Shindig, Flashback, Optical Sounds to name but a few. There's obviously still a market for the printed word out there, but do you think it's driven more by nostalgia now, or do people genuinely look to magazines to inform as well as to entertain?
NS: Yes, a lot of nice mags have appeared, and I’m happy about that. Once again, without wishing to diss the Terrascope On Line, I really have very little interest in reading my mags on a computer screen, and I’m guessing that the resurgence of printed matter would indicate that I’m not alone. I’m not actually sure who’s buying these mags, but I’d hazard a guess that it’s largely men of a certain age who still love their kind of music, so perhaps it’s more driven by nostalgia. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing is it? All forms of archiving contain a fair dose of nostalgia from art galleries, to museums, to books, even a lot of what you can find on line.
PM: One of the many things I always looked forward to when visiting your place in London was seeing your latest batch of photographs. I've always thought you hid your superb photographic skills under a bushel somewhat, and coupled with your detailed knowledge of London itself it amounted to a fascinating glimpse of an ever changing city. Is photography something you've managed to continue or even expand upon since moving to Hastings? And are there likely to be any collections published or exhibitions of your work?
NS: Oh Phil, you old schmoozer! Well as you know, I am quite into photography. Pretty much with regard to places rather than people. The move to Hastings has not dimmed my enthusiasm. In fact, I have recently acquired a digital SLR, and though I’m still trying to figure out how to use it to it’s best advantage, I’ve taken some really nice pix recently. Not so many of London, though I did spend an afternoon in The Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke just before it was demolished, and got some very moody pictures of derelict tower blocks. I also spent a pleasant afternoon on the Docklands Light Railway taking photos of various places out East London way. I’d love to have an exhibition or a book out at some time, but realistically, who’d be interested? I don’t want to enter into a vanity publishing thing, at least not knowingly, and to put on an exhibition, someone with a gallery would have to be interested, and sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case. So I guess that my photos seem destined to remain beneath a bushel. Unless of course, you have any bright ideas?
PM: Any new and up to date news?
NS: Well, The Frond is playing at London’s 100 Club on Saturday September 8th supported by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. They’re a great Hastings band, so I asked if they fancied doing the show. They feature Louis Wiggett who used to play bass for Bronco Bullfrog. We featured on the June issue of Mojo’s free CD doing a cover of ‘Hey Bulldog’, which was fun. We’ve been doing a bit of recording with a view to maybe issuing an album of jamming stuff. Fruits De Mer only used 8 minutes of our cover of ‘China’ (referred to earlier in this interview), so we’d like to get the full 23 minutes out. We’ve laid down a really nice jam which lasts 42 minutes, so with ‘China’, that would more or less fill a CD! There’s also a live album planned. When we played The Psychedelic Network Festival in Wurzburg last year, it was recorded properly on multitrack. Ade’s been mixing it down, and we’re planning to issue a CD later this year. Horst in Wurzburg will be doing a vinyl limited release too. There’s a Fruits De Mer Hollies tribute album due, to which I’m going to contribute a track, plus, of course, I’m still writing new songs all the time, but as yet, I don’t think I’ve got enough stuff that’s good enough for a new record.
With many thanks and a nod of appreciation to the entire staff of Wild Thing, in particular John Zois; to Evelyn Kerr and TimeMazine; and of course to the guv'nor, Mr. Nick Saloman himself. We love you all.