Written by: Jen Dan
(Photos courtesy of Pawel Jozwiack)
Ray Dickaty may be best known as a member of the renowned, Jason Pierce-led band Spiritualized, but Ray is a talented and prolific musician (saxophonist by calling) who has been and is currently involved in a multitude of musical projects, including Moonshake, Gallon Drunk, and Solar Fire Trio. Each year at the start of December he also serves as a co-director of Pure Phase Ensemble collective at the space-rock and shoegaze SpaceFest music festival held in Gdansk, Poland. This past year he collaborated with Mark Gardener of Ride and top Polish musicians to create original songs that were performed at SpaceFest and recorded as the Live at SpaceFest! album. Read on to find out more about Ray’s backstory and his experiences in Pure Phase Ensemble and his former and current bands.
Stereo Embers: Hello Ray! It’s a great pleasure to connect with you about your annual involvement in the space-rock/shoegaze-themed SpaceFest music festival and the Pure Phase Ensemble music project. The latest SpaceFest took place in Gdansk, Poland this past December. During this event you directed the program for the Pure Phase Ensemble workshop. Each year a different guest artist is picked to be a co-director who helps to guide an international collective of artists in the creation of original music that is then performed at the SpaceFest festival. Who chooses the artist for the co-director position?
Ray Dickaty: Each year the guest artists and guest local musicians are normally chosen between Ania Szynwelska of CCA Łaźnia, Karol Schwarz, the head honcho of Naiono Records, and myself. As Musical Director for the Pure Phase Ensemble, I have been involved with the project since the first edition. After the musicians are chosen and the guest artist(s) confirmed, I then work with these people over a 4-day period to create a new body of work to be presented at SpaceFest.
SE: The latest album, Live at SpaceFest!, by Pure Phase Ensemble 4 is now available for purchase at Nasiono Records and BandCamp. What is it like to work on such a time-restricted, blank slate-like musical project?
RD: For Pure Phase Ensemble, the only fact that has to be established is within what boundaries we are going to work, and as this is a festival of space-rock, psych-rock, and shoegaze music, this is easily established. The musicians, myself included, often bring with them ideas that we may play around with. Some get rejected and others are worked up into full-fledged songs.The time limitation in reality means that everything that may normally be worked out over a few days/weeks/months is compressed and therefore you have to be “on it” 100% of the time (or at least as close as possible). Emotions can run high as generally you have to put your egos aside and honestly look at what is being presented and sometimes be brutal with accepting and rejecting ideas.
SE: What was it like working with Mark Gardener as part of Pure Phase Ensemble this past year?
RD: I had crossed paths with Mark previously, but we didn’t really know each other. For this group, Mark and I decided to get a working rhythm section for the ensemble in the form of Polish band Wilga, amongst other strong Polish musicians to collaborate with. It was a joy to be part of this past year’s Pure Phase Ensemble and, really, the songs suggested and almost wrote themselves as we met and started to play together. Once the basics were in place, it was only a case of the subtle re-arranging of some parts to produce what I think is very strong music. Mark is a very relaxed character and he infected the room with his laid-back vibe. He also has a wicked sense of humour and this edition was full of laughter from the start.
SE: You have overseen all the past entities of Pure Phase Ensemble, with the previous ones featuring Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab), Chris Olley (Six By Seven), Steve Hewitt (ex-Placebo), and Jaime Harding (Marion) in the co-director’s chair. What was it like working with each of these artists?
RD: Each of these artists brought something different to the ensembles, so it’s best to speak individually about each one:
Pure Phase Ensemble 1 – Jamie Harding of Marion:
I was aware of Jamie’s past work as I was living in Camden, London at that time was part of the 1990’s musical scene. I was able to be at the centre of the “indie music” storm without realising it; only upon reflection do I see how lucky I was to be in that place at that time.
Jamie is really is an excellent performer / front man. With Pure Phase Ensemble, he exuded a confidence and an ‘everything can happen’, positive vibe which infected both me and the others. Since this was the first iteration of PPE, a lot was riding on the situation, so my role was at first to take ideas from my ‘free-improv’ workshops and to break down barriers between people and allow them to feel safe/ secure in the room, therefore hopefully allowing a free flow of ideas between us all. Jamie happily went along with this and as he was able, in a room full of strangers, to expose himself musically and it gave others the confidence to do the same.
This first PPE still holds a special place for me and I feel the album we produced truly shows the scope that we were reaching for at the time. It includes songs of fragile beauty, free-jazz, trance, and krautrock and is a real journey from start to exuberant finish.
Pure Phase Ensemble 2 – Chris Olley of Six By Seven / Steve Hewitt of Placebo:
I have known both Chris and Steve for many years – Chris from Six By Seven, who I have previously worked with, and Steve from his band Breed (which preceded Placebo) which was part of the early 1990’s Camden Scene. I wanted them both to have a chance to explore a more radical (at least for them) way of working and introduce a fresh take on what they were doing at the time. I knew their musical influences and that they were both professionals in their respected fields.
This was a hard session because of Steve’s fame from being a member of Placebo. There was often a sense of the local musicians being star-struck by his presence and therefore not being as free with their ideas as they had been the previous year. Chris is also a very dominant character and wants people to stand up to him in order to gain his respect. Unfortunately, my job that year was negotiating between what soon became two groups of people in order for the project to reach its conclusion so that we would actually play the gig. Having said this, the music that we did produce was stark, simple, strong, and also very dark; not a bad thing, but perhaps, due to the high emotions during the workshop period, not as much music was produced as I would have liked.
Pure Phase Ensemble 3 – Laeitia Sadier :
Having had, at least what seemed to be, such a male attitude and music from the second iteration of PPE, I wanted a more female-oriented band for this edition and finally persuaded my old friend Laetitia to take part. Along with the Polish female band Enchanted Hunters, I knew we could really work with layers of female vocals and produce some great music (in my mind I was thinking along the lines of Meredith Monk meets Can).
This workshop was a joy as Laetitia is such a gentle person and works at a deliberate pace, which for me is slow and I did have to remind her that we only had 4 days for writing a set of songs. But her method allowed space for personal exploration of the smaller details within the songs we made.
The rhythm section was made up of the Polish trio Popsysze, and the band members were dedicated and strong players and introduced a continuity of bass/drums and rhythm / lead guitar /vocals that had been missing from the previous PPE iteration. This provided a super-solid foundation for the other instruments and the songs really began to live and breathe. Unfortunately, due to some technical difficulties on the night of the Spacefest, I don’t think we did true justice to these songs, but luckily, and this was the only time it happened, we had the opportunity to perform as this group twice more a few months later in Poland, and by the second gig things were really happening within the music.
SE: Did you have any time to attend some of the other artist performances at this past year’s SpaceFest? Who were the bands/singers who caught your ear?
RD: Yes I was able to catch some other performances, and the standout moment for me was the gig by Silver Apples. He was able to unite a room of all ages and fans of many musical genres into a seething mass. I also saw Snowid who is a strange but entrancing electro artist. 2Kilos and More, an electronic band, the KVB, the Oscillation, and Death Hawks also all impressed me. The previous year’s SpaceFest, the band that I remember the most, and rightly so, was Dead Skeletons.
SE: You’re perfectly suited for your duties at this music festival due to your musical chops and tenure in renowned space-rock band Spiritualized and free-jazz act Solar Fire Trio. Tell us about your work as a member of Solar Fire Trio.
RD: Solar Fire Trio was a band I formed upon returning to live in Liverpool from London after an emotional time and a serious illness, from which I recovered after 6 months of chemo and a couple of years of therapy. I form Solar Fire Trio as a way of directing my pent-up anger and frustration into something more creative rather than a continuation of my self-destructive tendencies. I also wanted to play free-jazz with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude and take the music out of the “jazz” ghetto and get in the faces of a more rock-oriented audience. This we were able to do on a few occasions by supporting Julian Cope on a few dates of a UK tour and supporting the band The Heads in Bristol.
SE: You have 4 albums released as Solar Fire Trio. Are you working on new material for an upcoming album or EP?
RD: Solar Fire Trio as a group still exists as we have never officially disbanded, but the original drummer is seriously ill and without him it just doesn’t feel right to continue at this time. We have lots of rehearsal tapes which we may release in the future.
SE: What music projects are you currently involved in?
RD: I’m involved in several different music projects: Infant Joy Quintet, which is a direct homage to the great Albert Ayler and has one album released and new material is being worked on for a second album; the electro-acoustic group Sounds of the Night Sky; the band Warsaw Improvisers Orchestra which I formed and am principal conductor and director; my dark ambient contemporary jazz project Noise of Wings which has an album due for release once a record label is found for it; the politically-charged full-on free jazz trio Line of Fire; and Osaka Vacuum.
SE: Are you a classically trained saxophonist or are you self-taught? Why did you pick sax out of all the other woodwind instruments?
RD: On the sax I am self-taught. At school I had music lessons on flute (which I liked) and clarinet (which I hated). I had always wanted to play sax, but music education at the time deemed that to play sax one has to first learn clarinet, so I gave it up. But one interesting aspect of my education was that a few of us that showed an interest in music were allowed to give up sports and spend a day each week for a year or so attending a local art school to experiment with sound. Here we had the chance to make tape loops, mess with synths, and generally explore sound experimentation.
Only upon reflection did I see how important this was for a 14 or 15 year old to experience and actually how much it impacted on my musical tastes.
There were 4 of us in total who did this – One became a fantastic classical guitarist but succumbed to a heroin addiction, another became a world famous drummer and is still going strong, the other I have no idea about, except that he played bass… So I guess this was my first group since we did jam together!
SE: Your musical tastes most likely run the gamut of styles, but do you prefer space-rock over jazz and/or blues or vice versa (as a performer and/or as a listener)?
RD: For listening I love all music as long as it’s good. This may seem like a trite statement, but there is so much great music out there and I do feel sorry for people who don’t get the chance to really experience the powerful emotions that may come from the listening to such music. I have mentioned some artists in the question and answer below whose music I love, but it affects me so much that I have to limit the amount of times I listen to them because their music leaves me an emotional wreck.
Playing-wise, I appreciate the simplicity of a simple trio (bass, drums, and sax) doing a small gig acoustically, but also love the power of playing behind a loud PA system. I wish I had the chance to do both more often than I do as predominantly I play small acoustic improvisational gigs and not so much the louder rock gigs.
For me as a listener, a good concert, whatever the genre, should have the ability to suspend time; as a performer a good concert should be when you look at the time and realise that you have been playing for an hour and it felt like only 5 minutes.
SE: Who are your current favorite artists in those stylistic categories mentioned above? Who are your classic fave artists?
RD: Current space/psych bands I like: Dead Skeletons, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Swans, Causa Sui, Acid Mothers Temple, and so much more…
Current jazz artists: Joel Frahm, Ellery Eskelin, The Fly Trio (Mark Turner) and so many others… General music likes: good dub and roots reggae and Central European folk music.
Including the above, the all-time favorite artists that I return to again and again are, but not limited to: Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Bonnie Prince Billy, the Stranglers, Charles Lloyd, Arvo Part, Bach, Sex Pistols, The Ruts, the Damned, most of the Nuggets Psych Comp artists, Ramones, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef, Max Roach, Jefferson Airplane, Floyd, Beatles, Stones, The Who, Motorhead, The Fall, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Albert Ayler, The Necks, Dirty Three, John Fahey, Charles Gayle, Glenn Spearman, Frank Wright, Sparklehorse, Morphine, Vic Chesnutt, Frank Lowe, Handsome Family, Philip Glass, Eno, Bowie, Vivaldi, Mozart, Debussy, Satie, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willie Mctell, Blind Willie Johnson, Current 93, Coil, Cardiacs, Zoviet France, Library Music, soundtracks (TV and Film) Jimmy Lyons, Bill Evans, Mal Waldron, Steve Lacy, Lol Coxhil, Brotzmann, Terry Riley, Joe Mcphee, Stan Getz, Noah Howard, Yes, King Crimson, Sandy Denny, certain British folk-rock groups from the late 60’s early 70’s, Ash Ra Temple, Can, Cluster, Genesis, Henry Cow, Kraftwerk, Popol Vuh, Soft Machine, VDGG, Big Black, Cheap Trick, Durutti Column, Lambchop, Mazzy Star, Rammstein, Deep Purple, Led Zep, Sabbath, Robert Wyatt, MC5, The Stooges, Pretty Things, Zombies, Marion Brown, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Bill Dixon, David. S. Ware, Henry Threadgill, La Monte Young, Michael Nyman, Stockhausen, Steve Reich, Zappa, Godspeed, Mum, Oxbow… OK, that’s enough as this list could go on and on and on…!
SE: What was it like being a member of Spiritualized?
RD: As you can imagine, a trip…!! Really, there is too much to say regarding this band and it would take up an entirely separate interview! But briefly, Jason was a fan of my previous band, Moonshake, and when he heard we had split up, he gave a mutual friend a call to ask about my interest in playing with them. After a few shows I was offered the chance to join as a full-time member and I was in the band for a further 5 years.
One great aspect of this band was the use of improvisation within the song structures (and before and after a song) and this for me meant that every show was different and every time a song was played it varied. Of course you have the correct lines to play, and at times certain arrangements to stick with, but the music was allowed to rise and fall organically at each and every show.
SE: Why did you decide to move on from Spiritualized with Solar Fire Trio?
RD: I didn’t decide to move on I was pushed out of Spiritualized. New members had arrived, the vibe had changed, Jason had changed, it felt wrong, and I didn’t particularly like the direction the music was taking or how the band was being run.
SE: What is your best specific memory of being part of Spiritualized, besides the freedom of live improvisation of the songs?
RD: I guess there are so many memories that it would be hard to pick just one, so here is a small selection:
The audiences, they could be particularly wild, especially in some parts of the United States. One of the first gigs on the Ladies And Gentlemen We’re Floating In Space U.S. tour was at St.Andrews Hall, Detroit and it was insane. It was incredibly hot and I remember audience members passing out and I watched from the stage as they were passed over the heads of the crowd towards the exits and medical help. It was pretty intense with the lights and strobes pointed at the audience, a relentless barrage light and sound, and amongst all this chaos I looked down and saw that people were throwing drugs onto the stage – pills, wraps, spliffs – an assortment of paraphernalia was landing at my feet among my effects pedals as I played… “Hey ho, I’m in the right band” I thought!! DISCLAIMER: It would be inadvisable to sample such attractions as one never knows what could be contained within…
Another high point would be recording in Abbey Road Studios although the band pretended it meant nothing – just another studio date – so I stupidly followed suit, but inside I was screaming with excitement “Here we are in Abbey Road – Studio 2, the Beatles studio – and I’m actually here and recording, running up and down the famous stairs to hear playbacks in the control room; this is where Ringo walked!” I know, bloody Ringo !!! Why didn’t I think of John? I don’t know why Ringo popped into my head at that point, but he did, and I remember it to this day. Anyway, if anyone else felt the same way, they hid it well behind a mask of smoke and indifference.
It was at Abbey Road that we recorded with Dr. John, for his Anutha Zone album, and I got a real chance to interact with him and create some lines and solos that he was immensely pleased with. I guess because I am not a trained player I tend to think in a more leftfield way, so I arrived at the idea for a middle 8 for because I felt that that was what it required “sonically”, as opposed to musically, whilst another song contained a big fat horn line with great harmonies – the sort of line that I love to create and play.
Obviously another strong memory would be playing at the Royal Albert Hall. Since the show was part of a tour and not a special one-off, it seemed to pass by without too much fuss. One moment we are on tour with the usual schedule and the next we are meeting and rehearsing with extra musicians; then we’re back on tour as normal; then we’re at the Albert Hall… In retrospect I’m amazed we were able to actually book the place, sell it out, and pull it off. This goes to show the amazing work done behind the scenes. The army of people and logistics required to make an event like this happen are staggering.
Understandably, my memories from the night are a bit hazy, but I know we played well, but not as well as we had played the night before or even the night after and I was particularly irritated by my own playing and sound on this occasion and tended to hide a bit more behind my effects. That’s why on the subsequent live album not so much acoustic sax is heard. It’s mostly the effected sound which many people assume is the keyboards when, more often than not, the swirling psychedelic influences on the sound are me.
Maybe it was due to nerves or maybe the pressure of so many friends attending such a prestigious event, and there I was, trying to make sure that everyone was happy, got in, got their seats had a drink etc…, instead of taking care of my own pre-gig psychological needs… A lesson from this night is that I should have spent some time before the show for myself as opposed to “giving emotionally” to others – a problem I still have in situations such as this, where everyone wants a piece of you and as a performer you have to learn to take a step back – not for selfish reasons or through arrogance (although it may be construed this way), but as a professional performer so you can do the job to the best of your ability.
SE: Before you joined Spiritualized, you were a member of Gallon Drunk and then Moonshake. I remember hearing about the bands in the early 1990s when I was getting into the whole British music scene (albeit from across the ocean!). You must have been in Gallon Drunk near its inception, or at least before 1994, since you became a part of Moonshake by 1994. Were you in Gallon Drunk when the band opened for Morrissey at some big venues like the Hollywood Bowl and Madison Square Garden in 1993? If so, what was that experience like?
RD: There was also another band that I started in the early 1990’s called Skree. This started out in a more punk / jazz style, but the group slowly morphed into a more noise / improvisational outfit. The reason I mention this is that it was via this group that I was noticed by Dave Callahan from Moonshake.
Skree recorded and released two albums on the Ffreek record label, Fat Mouth Shouts Out and There is a Pop Bone in My Body. By the second album I was too busy with Moonshake to appear on it, so that gave the rest of the band permission to record and use the name Skree without me. That was the idea behind Skree; that it would be a loose collective of like- minded musicians contributing to an overall ethos and sound. This didn’t exactly happen and it would have been better to stay as a regular band and continuing to play live and record and eventually the whole project fell apart. I am really proud, however, of some of the music we made, to which the albums do not do justice. I am also very proud of the fact that we were recorded and added to the British National Sound Archive as being a band of some importance.
But before this, yes, my first “proper” band was Gallon Drunk. Although I seem to have been erased from their history, I did play a few early shows with them. I was living in Camden and my partner at the time had been to school and was close friends with Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson of Lush, so we used to go to a lot of shows together at the Camden Falcon / Dublin Castle (and other venues) and see many bands (some of which later became very famous). I was looking for a band to join and one night we went out after hearing about a ‘Birthday Party’-type band named Gallon Drunk, and, being a fan of Nick Cave, his groups, and work, we were interested to see how they would be.
The small room was packed and full of smoke and a palpable excitement as we entered – and soon to hit the stage was the most aggressive group I had had the pleasure of witnessing. For a start, they looked different from any other band with their suits, quiffs, and Hawaiian shirts. The drummer was standing up with a very basic kit, the bass player looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but standing on this stage, and the singer snarled and yelped through the mic and threw himself around the stage until he was dripping with sweat. He would balance on one leg, hitting his keyboards with the other foot, and pummel his guitar and snarl the words to his songs as if they were the most important texts ever to be uttered, whilst stage left they had a guy playing only maracas just staring out into nothing.
Gallon Drunk was amazing and blew me and the capacity crowd away. After the show and another drink or two, I finally summoned the courage to go and speak to these malevolent characters who exuded such a dark atmosphere as if repelling anything and anyone except their close circle of also be-suited and be-quiffed friends. I introduced myself to the singer and explained that I played sax and wondered if they had ever considered having a sax player in the group. To my amazement they said they had and would I like to go and rehearse with them the following week. You’ve got to remember that during this time of post-1980’s super-pop (Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran etc…), the sax in indie circles was certainly not considered a cool instrument, so I was up against a lot of preconceptions. Trying to be as cool as possible, I mumbled something along the lines of “Yeah, why not….” and the time and place was arranged.
Turning up a few days later at an address in some rundown industrial part of East London (I believe), I was greeted by a bass player who didn’t say a word, a maraca player who seemed quite friendly, a too-cool drummer who seemed concerned by my presence and wasn’t hiding the fact, and a singer who at least spoke a few words to me regarding the song they were about to play and how and where the sax should be placed within the tune.
So we played, and played some more, had a drink with not much conversation, and played again.
After this, I was asked to leave the room while they had a chat. I stood outside this dirty red brick Victorian warehouse and waited. Then they came out and the singer said they were going to Europe for a few dates the following week and would I like to join them. As this coincided very nicely with my “signing on day” – in other words, I would sign on (looking for work and get benefits) just before leaving, which gave me 14 days clear before having to appear at the benefits office, I said “Yes, of course.” So I went to Belgium and we played a few concerts.
There are too many memories flooding my mind now about this time – the group, their friends, and individual characters associated with them, but, needless to say, I then played a couple of London shows with the group, at the Astoria Theatre supporting Nick Cave (very appropriate!) and my only documented-on-film appearance with them for a New Year’s Eve party at a South London (under the railway Arches) club called Happy Jacks… Then there was a break.
By this time I was starting to feel quite comfortable with my role and getting to know some of the Gallon Drunk crowd, so when a new tour had been talked about and I was invited to the meetings – in pubs involving a lot of drinking – it was assumed by everyone that I was going. The day before the tour, the band arranged to meet me in a pub in Camden for a chat as they were leaving later that night, in the early morning hours. I waited… and the appointed time came and went. I got my second drink (not having much money, I was trying hard to make a drink last as long as possible) and still no sign of anyone… This being the pre-mobile phones-era, it was harder to contact people than now, but I waited some more… I made a few phone calls on a public telephone, no one answered, and I may have left a few messages. Eventually I gave up and went home to bed fully expecting that I had made a mistake with the meeting date or time or that the band members would be round at my place first thing in the morning.
The morning came and no one arrived – and I was devastated, knowing full well the dates that were to be played, and there was no way I would be part of this particular tour – hoping against hope that it was some strange anomaly that would be fully explained upon the band’s return to England.
The truth is that while I waited in the pub for our appointed meeting, they had already left the country to go on tour and no one had the courage to tell me that I was no longer wanted in the band. Therefore I was not part of the group when they went to the U.S. with Morrissey.
I later watched from the sidelines as the group started to make a greater impact in the press and wondering “What the fuck I had done wrong?” for this to have happened, when actually I had done nothing wrong… It was years later when I ran into the singer and he apologised profusely for his messy handling of the entire affair and explained that it was all down to money and pressure from others outside the group as to why it happened.
Still, this doesn’t change history and my emotional response to this group even now, but I had a lot of fun and more importantly learnt a hell of a lot about music – from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz, from blues to country – from these guys, and for that I am thankful.
On a related note, I never really ever spoke to the bass player, but only later found out the reason for his “I’m too cool for this shit” attitude onstage. It turns out that he suffered from terrible stage fright and was frozen rigid with fear every time he played!
SE: The overall atmosphere that Gallon Drunk projected was one of raucous dissolution, as least how the music press made it look. Did that type of behavior play out behind the scenes as well?
RD: In a word, yes, and they also struck a pose as being extremely violent towards the audience when they played – a “get them before they get you” attitude – which actually was necessary as we did play to very hostile audiences and I mean extremely hostile people. But it wasn’t the band members themselves that were violent, but their “associates” offstage, in the audience, rounding up anyone who went too far in their abuse of the band and making sure they ‘left the venue’.
SE: Was being in Moonshake a tumultuous time as well? You came in during the 2nd incarnation of that band, after a contentious split between band members.
RD: It wasn’t such a tumultuous time for me because at that point David really wanted to wipe the slate clean and start over with a newer and different concept for the group, and there was not much talk of the old band members excepting the occasional “in joke” between Mig (drummer) and David, and David’s humour could be extremely cruel at times… But like a lot of these situations, we never really ever sat down and talked about what had happened; only that it was a split over musical differences and band direction.
Such a shame really, because at one time Moonshake was the “hip and happening band about town” and I remember seeing their performance at Islington Powerhaus, along with everyone who was anyone in a band at the time, and Moonshake was astounding. I can only guess that a lot was happening behind the scenes that I wasn’t aware of with the record label, management and agents, but I didn’t need to know any of this until much later on, after I had been with the band for some time.
In a far more official way than previous bands, I had been asked to join Moonshake. I’d been introduced to the record label people, I was informed of the recording budget, and I had a say in how the money and time was to be spent in the studio. All in all a much more rewarding experience and at a much more professional level than I had been a part of before, so I certainly didn’t want to rock the boat by asking awkward or inappropriate questions and put my new -found position in jeopardy. My theory was keep you head down, listen to what’s going on around you, and just enjoy and be as creative as possible during the recording process.
SE: What was it like recording the Moonshake album The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow? It seems like you had a significant role in the creation of that album. Did you get the chance to meet Polly Jean Harvey who sang guest vocals on “Just A Working Girl” or any of the other guest vocalists?
RD: Recording this album was a great experience in so many ways. I never recorded with Gallon Drunk and the only recordings I had done with Skree had been pretty low or no-budget affairs, paid for out of our own meagre pockets, so to get the actual chance to go into a proper studio with decent rooms, mics, and an engineer was a dream. I had an amazing amount of creative input into the music.
Basically, I had sat at home with a demo cassette that David had given me and played along to the tracks, making notes for melody lines and riffs and trying out electronic effects. When it came to the actual two weeks of recording, I was quite well-prepared, but also looking for, and allowing for, on-the-spot inspiration that would take an idea in a new and unexpected direction. Having a lot of creative input meant that once say a main riff/riffs were down, if time permitted, I would then ask for another free track and try some improvisation over the previously recorded material, and some of this, I’m pleased to say, did make the final cut.
The guests we had were either friends of the band or on the same label (Too Pure) or had been at one time. Polly Jean Harvey was initially on Too Pure and when she came to the studio I must admit I was pretty awestruck, having seen her perform several times by now. But we chatted in the (so- called) lounge area and we spoke about the songs and David although pretty certain what he wanted, it seemed to me he was also in awe enough of Polly to allow her to take more control without too much difficulty. She was also very shy and insisted that she record her vocals with only David and the engineer present, so I didn’t get to see any of the work in progress.
Katherine Gifford of Stereolab was more of a friend than a label associate, and it was great for us to have her along to add her vocals to the record.
Lee Howton and Claire Lemmon were friends of David’s from another great band, Sidi Bou Said. Andrew Blick (trumpet) was from my band Skree (he is also the brother of Katherine Blake of Miranda Sex Garden and Medieval Babes) and he added some top trumpet to the record. The bass player, Johnny Dawe, was an associate of David’s from a band called Collapsed Lung and he got the dub bass parts required down to perfection.
So, all in all, with guests and ourselves over an intense two-week period, we managed to produce what was pronounced a “critically-acclaimed record”. Unfortunately, being critically acclaimed does not automatically guarantee sales or new fans (or even the old fans staying with us), but we did the job of creating a new Moonshake sound, and, I’ll say, with some reservations, a musically very good record.
In retrospect I can certainly see now that David’s dogged determination to create a new Moonshake and have nothing to do with the old group certainly aided in our diminishing popularity and declining success (except amongst the critics). Don’t forget, this was becoming the era of big guitar bands and his choice of absolutely no guitar on the records and subsequent tours meant that we alienated a lot of (smaller-minded?) people… Live, we couldn’t, for example, play any of the older fan favourites and at times people would shout out for tunes from the first EPs or album, and the concept of a band with only drums / samplers / bass / sax and two vocals in the indie / alternative world of the early to mid 1990’s was considered outrageous. I’m convinced that if Moonshake was happening now, it would be considered very hip and at the forefront of some sort of electro/dub/jazz/pop crossover! I see that we were ahead of the game in some respects, but in another way we shot ourselves in the foot.
Oddly enough this rounds things off nicely – full circle if you like. I first met Mark Gardener when Moonshake supported Ride in Oxford. Now imagine that – us, a resolutely no-guitar band, supporting such a guitar-based band! My, my, how the audience hated us…!