Almost 50 years have passed since Mighty Baby sadly dissolved and the world lost a band of musicians who had a unique alchemy. Yes, there have been tremendous spins offs, such as the Habibiyya, Ace, Chilli Willi, Juice On The Loose and various session work, but as I sit here in 2021, another step up the stairway to heaven so to speak, the likelihood of new music from the remaining quintet diminishes with each passing year. So it is with tremendous excitement that Ian Whiteman has been busy recording an EP of fabulous new music labelled "Poor Man's Prayer" from his recording shed in Andalusia Spain. Ian kindly agreed to respond to some interview questions about his music that I have copied here for you to enjoy.


Scene setting: Ian Whiteman talented multi-instrumentalist with Mighty Baby, the Habibiyya and much sought after session player in the early 70’s has produced his first set of solo songs in the singer/songwriter idiom, labelled Poor Man’s Prayer...


Q: Ian, firstly, congratulations on the release of a marvellous set of personal songs; what was behind the inspiration to make the EP record after all these years?


Ian: I don’t know. I must have been nuts. Suddenly my private personal internal world is splattered all over the internet. It’s a surreal experience compared to 50 years ago when the whole thing was run my managers and record companies. I have had a lot of musical ideas floating around for years as I’m a pretty compulsive musician and I can’t stop the ideas coming — most which just disappear after a bit. In 2018 I had to have a quite serious operation, and when you lie in an emergency room in a hospital and think it might be your last view of the world it’s a wakeup call. Recovery was slow but I quickly wanted to put all this music down before it vanished or more importantly before I did. I wasn’t quite sure how to do it as I wasn’t up to getting in to a studio because of the cost and for creative reasons. You have to understand the computer has become another musician now and it’s an instrument which is easier to manage than actual people, heretical it might be to say so. I got spoilt playing with very good experienced musicians in the past and to find that kind of talent where I live in Spain is not easy. So I opted for recording it all in my garden shed. I had to improve my equipment a bit but it was much cheaper than hiring a studio and musicians. My voice was also a bit rusty singing solo songs. I’ve had to adapt my vocals as my voice is not the smokey kind, one pickled by chain smoking and whisky it’s not a loud voice either.


Q: You’ve made these songs during the Covid lockdown, which must have presented a number of challenges: what sort of home studio set up do you have?


Ian: It’s a 5m square wooden shed very solidly built and insulated and I had to run electricity and Ethernet into it from my house. COVID has not presented any problems other than me not wanting to bring in musicians into close sweaty proximity! The equipment is mostly quite old which I’ve accumulated over the years, stuff I brought down from the UK in 2003 when I moved to Spain. The old Mac computer is one I bought ten years ago and does the job although it can’t be upgraded anymore. When you start connecting to the current internet it demands you have the latest of everything which I don’t have. But everything works fine. I’d love more physical space but I manage. I’ve grown up with the computer revolution when I got an Atari in 1987 with a great program called Creator which much later became Logic Pro X which I now use. It’s a phenomenal programme although I probably use only 25% of its capabilities. But I’ve given myself a crash course in recording, balancing, mixing and mastering. It’s hard work actually. There’s many secrets which I’ve uncovered but the recordings will never be like Abbey Road or many of the American studios which are streaks ahead of European ones in my opinion. I listen a lot to recordings by people like Rudi Van Gelder who recorded all the jazz albums by Coltrane and the Blue Note jazz artists of the late 1950s and early 1960s. All in mono too on analog tape with valve amps and it sounds fantastic.


Q: Run us through the instruments you play on the recordings


Ian: The computer is the big instrument which if you don’t master it, it masters you. Actually the whole shed is really an instrument which you have to learn how to play. But I limit myself to only a few sounds the computer is capable of producing although I’m always looking for better versions, particularly of pianos. I’ve collected other physical instruments which I play with varying skills. I love the guitar but I’m not very good at it. I just don’t have big enough hands. But it’s so different from a piano or any keyboard as it doesn’t have the fixed notes of a piano and you can experiment with tunings. Its better I stick to keyboards as it’s the instrument I’m most at home with. I have a cheap alto saxophone, a flute and a couple of shakuhachis as well as an oboe for 50 euros in a car boot sale here but not much demand for that in my present musical mood. I have a very nice Martin guitar as well as some basic classic acoustic guitars which I would like to explore more. Plus a 30 year old Les Paul on loan from one of my sons. A few hand drums lie around but I don’t use them much, if at all. I have a small plastic egg shaker which I use a lot. I try to mix computer music with natural music often. I use trap drum samples less and less. I like bossa nova rhythms and lightweight percussion mixed with artificial sounds I’ve dug up from sample libraries. The cajon (pronounced cakhon) is going to be on my next recordings. It’s basically a wooden box but often used by the cante honda singers down here in southern Spain. With this current record I’ve stripped instrumentation down to bare essentials. It really helped.


Q: The opening track “Song of the Soul”, starts with a very effective Danny Thompsonesque bass line reminiscent of his work with John Martyn’s Bless The Weather/Solid Air recordings (and of course you played on the sessions of the former) – What was the inspiration behind the lyrics, a reflection of your faith?


Ian: I’ve tried to keep religion out of all this like Dave Chapelle the great American comedian who very publicly said “Islam is a beautiful religion but I’m not talking about it as I’m not a very good example”. Having said that we all share certain ultimate realities like birth, life and death and so on so it’s something everyone can related to. Song of the Soul, which I had doubts about including, is from a poem by the late Daniel Moore who I knew very well over many years. He was one of the celebrated City Lights beat poets from 1960s San Francisco along with Alan Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his poetry is a challenge as it’s mostly in free verse, which doesn’t make for easy song writing. The form this track took was meant to be jazzy and simple like Peggy Lee’s big 1950s hit Fever. I found that snapping your fingers for five minutes is not easy at all. Yes, shades of Danny Thompson or even Charlie Mingus his great inspiration. It could have been a big production with Elvin Jones drumming, saxes, French Horns, brass and McCoy Tyner piano as on Africa Brass and Olé, the two terrific Coltrane albums. Worth trying one day with flesh and blood musicians. It was a difficult track actually and I’m still not sure I should have included it. It had potential.

The words of the poem are curious but very Daniel Moorish who could skilfully edge around quite deep spiritual realities of God, Prophets and Cosmological realities without it sounding pretentious and which would in turn create a kind of God Rock which is so nauseating. The Muslims have their fair share of all that as does the Christian right.


Q: Your piano playing comes in around the mid-point of the song and then sets a, what I can best describe, as a dreamy French café ambience, as it repeats the song’s main theme but with changing twists....beautiful playing....and I’m pleased to hear that the song concludes with the trademark Whiteman keyboard flourish that we’ve come to expect! Was that chord progression something that you’ve had in your mind for some time, or did you just come up with it when recording the song?


Ian: To tell the truth I didn’t know how to end it. I wanted to get in meaningful chords straight off the jazz records I just mentioned. According to today’s Guardian there’s a jazz revival right now. But to me jazz is too much of a genre now and people get stuck in it. But I like to take things from it. Also my hands can never forget the chords.


Q: Next on the EP is the “Did I Ever Say I Love You”, which sounds like a very personal reflection, is that song aimed at someone close to you?


Ian: No I don’t think so. Writing a love song is actually quite hard and avoided by most people for probably good reasons. Actually I had a musical theme which I knew from my knowledge of North African songs which is actually the main theme of the song and the words were designed to fit that. I’ve tried it with other tunes. It’s a rich resource. It’s an odd way to arrive at a song. People seem to like it as its simple and I could see other people performing it.


Q: The song also introduces your trusty flute and what appears to be female backing vocals, was that your daughter Hannah?


Ian: No it’s me singing falsetto. Anything to strengthen my rather weak vocal.


Q: The third track “Deep Green” includes some bird song, I presume they did not charge a session fee, as their timing is immaculate?


Ian: The nightingales were making such a din just outside my shed door and it got picked up on an audio track – not by design. The song is about nightingales but I can’t remember which came first, the words or the bird song.


Q: On first listening I thought that the lyrics to Deep Green were about the environment, but I’m not so sure, what was behind the lyrics to this song?


Ian: A bit of a mystery even to me. I’m not sure what it’s about. You have to imagine what it’s like being a nightingale in a forest and the kind of deep intensity they experience. It’s almost beyond explanation. It segued into a personal experience I had many years ago which also is beyond explanation. I played it to two different women who both wept. So it’s pretty hot stuff emotionally evidently!


Q: The EP title song “Poor Man’s Prayer” appears to comment on your experience of adopting the Sufi faith...”I am just a poor man, who had tried to hear your call”...are you still a practicing Sufi, or is this a retrospective song in that sense?


Ian: You know I wrote this around 1997 to an old Algerian tune I knew and it had to fit the songs metre. The original song was on some spiritual subject and I couldn’t use prosaic worldly ideas in the words. I actually used some strong Qur’anic imagery of the dawn breaking and the sky shaking but then made it personal and the kind of bewilderment that you can experience when you contemplate these ultimate realities over many years wondering if what you do is bearing any fruit. I think it was in the tradition of Mighty Baby, whose song lyrics were about real things and what was going inside expressing our hopes, desires and disappointments etc. We could never sing songs about riding on white swans like Marc Bolan did, before he embraced a tree on the Thames embankment and left this world. Actually without getting too technical Sufism is not exactly a faith but it’s a coined English word which loosely describes the hidden inward dimension of Islam. Like the apple has a core and without the core you don’t have an apple, geddit? As you are going to ask me about the Happiest Man in the Carnival, I should explain that the late Martin (Stone that is) is the one who wrote the words of that song and was responsible, bless him, for dragging people like me into all of this religion stuff. And with no regrets. It’s just that I always get the blame for some reason.


Q: The next song on the EP, “Raspberry Juleps” starts with some very tasteful guitar playing; have you always played the guitar, or is that something you have taught yourself in later life?


Ian: As I said I’m really not a guitarist but I know what I like. I listen with envy to Brazilian bossa guitarists. No idea how they can do it. Hands like giant crabs. Until I can find such a guitarist I’ll have to fill in as best I can. Same with bass and percussion. There have always been guitars lying around in my houses. As I said earlier they are a nice contrast to the strictures of a piano keyboard. The oud is also a beautiful instrument to play if you can find a good instrument that is.


Q: “Juleps” also introduces the organ, obviously not a B3 in the “House Without Windows” vein, but nether-the-less a very welcome variation – What sort of keyboard do you have at home!


Ian: I have just a neutral midi keyboard that has no sounds but plays whatever you want in the computer. But I have nice quality portable Yamaha piano which I’ve used at a few gigs round here. I’ve played in studio and concert halls on many of the world’s best pianos, Steinways, Bechsteins, Bosendorfers etc., and it’s hard playing on anything less. Same with Hammond Organs, Rhodes and Wurlitzer pianos. The samples are now pretty good and take up a lot less space than a grand piano and a B3.


Q: Tell us what inspired “Juleps”... I know the Alpurrajas region of Andalucía where you live is a very fertile area with all manner of fruit (not just lemons!) and nuts growing wild....is this a local home brew you make?


Ian: Juleps was another of Daniel Moore poems which I put to music more than ten years ago. I’ve never been to sure what any of it meant, but the more I lived with it, the more it took on meanings. I imagined Jerry Garcia doing it as it had that west coast zany quality. Daniel’s poetry is like an IKEA flat pack wardrobe. Doesn’t mean much till it’s unpacked and assembled. I’m working on another of his poems at the moment. Poetry is an interesting way into a song and I want to explore it more.


Q: The final track on the EP is a reworking of the Mighty Baby “Happiest Man at the Carnival” from Jug of Love which will need no introduction to this audience – What was behind that particular choice, which is a fitting conclusion to the EP to my ears?


Ian: Using the song, which I have always loved, was like just looking over my shoulder and acknowledging the band and the curious, original music we experienced and it’s deep influence on me. I thought it worth revisiting, just 50 years almost exactly to the month when we were first putting the song together. I was a bit younger when I sang on that track and now I’m older slowing it down seemed appropriate. The song has a curious structure that grew out of Martin’s words rather like those paper Chinese flowers that open up and take shape when dropped in water. It has a poignancy about it.


Q: Now that you have “broken” the home recording barrier, are you tempted to write any further songs – just thinking out loud, but “At A Point Between Fate & Destiny” would probably suit your treatment if you were tempted to include an oldie but goodie?


Ian: That song along with I’m from The Country were recorded in Pye Studios off Marble Arch. If I remember right there was no producer and we sent the engineer home and did it ourselves. Not perfect but in some ways a better sound than a lot of the other tracks. Musicians weren’t allowed near mixing desks in those days. Not sure I could revisit At A Point Between Fate and Destiny. It’s a weird song in some ways and expressed the strange muse the band was riding on at that time in 1969.


Q: Do you think if the right conditions presented themselves you would like to perform these songs live? Again selfish from my perspective, but I can just visualise a band made up of Susan G-A on flute, Roger on percussion/tablas, Barry Melton on guitar and yourself on vocals and keyboards, there I’ve said it...we’re allowed to dream aren’t we!


Ian: I’m not really into performing any more for which you need a certain fire, although I enjoyed the few times I’ve played locally. I found it exhausting but I was recovering from my ops at the time. I’d never say never. But just lugging equipment is enough to put me off.


Q: How can fans access your EP, I believe you have put them on the usual streaming sites, but for us “traditionalists”, is there a CD we can order ?


Ian: I’m expecting any day a short run of CDs manufactured in Granada next door to where I live, nicely packaged. When I can establish what the postage will be, I’ll post on-line how they can be obtained. Each one will be numbered and signed like a Banksy Lino print.


Q: Finally, it’s fantastic to know that you are writing and recording music again; it’s been one of the few good news stories to brighten what has been a long dark year for most! I know I speak on behalf of Mighty Baby fans (and fans of your work generally) in thanking you for sharing your new music and taking the time to talk about here.


Ian: I’m flattered but I always remind myself I’m only as good as my last disaster.


With his creative juices now flowing, Ian is contemplating a follow up EP, let’s hope that see’s the light of day in due course, as such talent deserves to be heard....


Ian's new music is readily available on the usual streaming sites (Deezer, Apple & Spotify) but you can obtain a signed copy of a 100 limited edition by following the link on Ian’s website here:

POOR MAN’S PRAYER | Ian Whiteman


Written and directed by Martin Fallace