there ever was a man who lived and breathed music it's the
International vagabond Giorgio Gomelsky. Born in the former
Soviet-Georgia, his parents fled Stalin and he grew up in
France, Italy and Switzerland. As a teen he took off and hitched
all over Europe soaking up the influences of boho
"existentialist" culture and tuning in to the jazz vibe that was
influencing the scene.
1955 he landed in London and with friends set up a little
"Espresso Coffee Bar" where soon many of the future Anglo scene
makers hung out, getting a caffeine buzz late into the night.
This embryonic idea turned into the prototype early London beat
club (1956-1961) featuring fledgling musicians and bands playing
rock' n' roll and skiffle. He wrote articles for music
magazines, made a series of documentaries about the British jazz
and the budding blues scene, and got involved
in promoting the latter by opening a
blues club later known as The CrawDaddy.
During this period a young rocker by the name of Brian Jones
hyped Giorgio on his new band, lo and behold called The Rollin'
Stones, they got a residency at the club which started them on
their way to fame.
rock ‘n’ roll beat was growing louder and Giorgio was leading
the way. Over a span of time the Stones, the Paramount’s (who
became Procol Harum), the Muleskinners (who in part ended up as
the Small Faces), Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll, the Moody Blues,
the Animals and the Yardbirds would all play there.
During this time as well Giorgio had made the acquaintance of
another young buck who was kicking around ideas about making a
film. As Bill Wyman recalls it, on April 14, 1963 he had a great
surprise when Giorgio invited the Beatles to catch a Stones gig
at The CrawDaddy and the two groups made their first
contact. Ultimately the Stones signed with Andrew Loog Oldham
and the Beatles with Brain Epstein going on to produce their
Dadaist music film classic HARD DAYS NIGHT (hmmm, I
wonder where that idea may have come from?). While secretly
Giorgio must have been disappointed, to this day he carries nary
a grudge, back then he barely skipped a beat.
1964 Giorgio produced his first Rhythm & Blues festival
featuring the Yardbirds, Spencer Davis Group, Long John Baldry,
a/o. That led to his involvement with Mr. Relf, Clapton and the
Yardbirds. Basically a blues band at that time, he recorded
their very first album, and soon with Giorgio’s help, they were
making records with sitars, harpsichords and Gregorian chants as
well as touring the States.
1967 he founded Paragon, a design, public relations and
management company with a record label named Marmalade. London
was swinging and Giorgio was making things happen, booking
clubs, building a recording studio, recording and having great
fun recording many soon to be "stars" including a young Vangelis
December of 1969 he had a falling out with Polydor
Records and Deutsche Grammophon, companies who by and large had
financed this adventure and he went off to France, his mother's
home country. Upon arrival there he reunited with old friend
Daevid Allen who had been the Soft Machine’s guitarist and had
started Gong in Paris. He began to get involved in the French
music scene, met up with Magma and decided to manage them.
first move was to form a talent agency, Rock Not Degenerated -
Rock Pas Degeneré. It ultimately became the number one
employer on the European progressive rock scene. In 1970 with
the recording and release of the first Magma album, le
souterrain Français - the French Underground - began to
generate rumblings. From that impetus a new spirit and
correlating burst of artistic and musical energy was born. Along
with that as well a new cultural and musical hybrid emerged that
replaced the “chanson” with a uniquely fusion of the European
classics - American jazz and rock, plus the distinct character
of French culture. Within 3 or 4 years, Magma ended up playing
some 60 concerts a year, to 2,000, 3,000 people and selling
150,000 albums in France alone.
he lives in NYC since 1978. For the last 40 years Giorgio has
been the ultimate instigator and promoter of avant music. He has
always been ahead of the curve stylistically and constantly
striving to stretch the boundaries of rock music in general.
More importantly, for fans of “Euro Rock”, he was at musical
ground zero in France. The story he has to tell is fascinating,
and Giorgio is a bard extraordinaire. So here we go…
Q: What was
the music scene like in France when you first went over there
after working in the UK for many years? What year did you go
January 1970. I had spent 15
years in London and had enough of the “perfidious Albions” as
Napoleon called them! My mother was French, so I spoke the
lingo, had family and friends there and visited the country
often. While living in London (from March 1955 to December 1969)
many French (and other “continentals” or “frogs” as the British
called us!) were relying on me to interpret for them what was
going on and then to arrange interviews with UK artists for TV,
radio and magazines. I guess I was probably also the first of
the “managers” in London to set up early club dates, tours and
promotional activities in continental Europe. I did believe that
if the “prophet goes to the mountain” it would pay dividends for
the artists down the road. Besides, the local pop music scenes
on the Continent were very “pasteurized” poor copies (and
translations!) of US commercial stuff. Imagine a French version
of “Tutti-Frutti”! I felt an injection of the energy developed
in the UK by young and more “authentic” artists could help bring
about a change in those countries music scenes too. Furthermore,
I liked touring there; the food was so much better!
Who were the initial bands you heard?
of all, I had left England because after 15 years in London, I
wanted some time to think about my life and my work, which was
filmmaking. Although I managed to produce some documentaries in
England, (all about music), I felt I now needed to concentrate
on getting a feature film off the ground and get away from
“managing” bands which I had taken up only because someone had
to help the scene… ROCK & FOLK, a very respected French
music magazine, ran a long interview with yours truly and during
the interview played me a tape of a French band, which somehow
seemed puzzling to them and asked for my opinion. I remember it
well, even today. The music was original, with influences
derived from non-anglo folk, classical, jazz and experimental
music and, I said something like “very ambitious stuff, these
guys seem to want to take on a lot, if they are really serious,
it could be interesting.” There must have been a conspiracy,
because wherever I went in Paris, people were asking me if I had
heard THAT tape! It turned out to be MAGMA!
rented a house in the country some 25 miles from Paris and
started putting some order in my thoughts. I was living with a
gorgeous French girl (Brigitte, later my wife), and my only
ambition, after 15 years of intense work, was to do nothing at
all for a while…
days after the interview was published, I got a phone call from
Faton, Magma’s pianist. They had read it and wished to ask me if
I was interested in checking them out. I think they were playing
one of their rare gigs a few days hence. No way, was my answer.
No more taking on unknown (or any other) bands! I tried to
explain to him I had gotten away from that scene and wished to
sit under my tree and just watch nature and think. A few days
later he called back. I got rather irritated and put him off as
hard as I could. Brigitte however wanted to go to Paris to see
her friends and, knowing me, suggested we should just go and
have a good time, no strings attached.
few days later we went, and the rest is history. I had never
heard anything like it. I was very impressed by their “sources”
and their musical skills. This was not run-of-the-mill stuff. It
also wasn’t “commercial” by any stretch of the imagination. But
I’m a sucker for underdogs, so I was tempted to take on the
challenge. At that time there wasn’t any scene whatsoever for
“independent”, original music. The business in France consisted
in descending order of the 3 great “auteurs-compositeurs”,
Georges Brassens first among them, a true pipe-smoking poet,
accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and setting to music his
immensely perceptive insights into the French psyche and the
infinite variety of everyday events befalling humans. Than there
was Jacques Brel, a Belgian by origin, with a beautifully
crafted repertoire of tightly woven, somewhat sad and yet comic
anecdotes of love and descriptions of “marginal” characters.
The third was Leo Ferre, a lion-like, ferocious and fearless
social-critic-anarchist. All 3 were also great performers. After
them you had people like Charles Aznavour, (known in the US for
being in Truffaut’s films), Gilbert Becaud who wrote a number of
songs which often got covered by US crooners and made him and
his publishers handsome profits. Down the line there were other
“variete” singers, mostly manipulated by the French music
publishers’ fraternity, who hand in hand with the “major” record
companies like Philips, Barclay. Vogue, etc., were really
running the show. A French version of rock’n’roll consisting of
cover-versions of US (and later British) hits had been provided
for the younger generation, mostly represented by Elvis
imitators like Johnny Halliday (who is still going!), Eddie
Mitchell, Dick Rivers and other such “anglicized” rather
contrived “acts”. They had originated in the late fifties from a
small; more authentic rock scene based around the Golfe
Drouot Club, but had soon been co-opted by the “business”,
keen to exploit the young public. By the mid 60’s, based on the
British model, a slew of rock bands were created by the “usual
suspects” running the show. People like Les
Variations, Les Chaussettes Noires, etc.. With a few
exceptions, none of them were any good really. Even if they
could actually play, French just didn’t lend itself to rocking.
The whole thing was a bit of a farce all over the Continent
really. There were however some very good jazz musicians. Paris
had been, still was to an extent, when I got there a center for
jazz in Europe with a number of clubs, concerts, magazines and
quite a few exiled Americans, like Kenny Clark and Bud Powell,
I must mention GONG. As you probably know back in London I had
tried to help SOFT MACHINE get a recording deal, so I knew
Daevid of course. I always felt bad for him because I was the
one who in the summer of 1968 had sent them to St Tropez (a
holiday resort in the South of France) to play in a club and get
their stuff together and when they came back to the UK Daevid,
an Australian citizen, was refused entrance, so he had to return
to Paris where he started GONG!!
Q: Was there any
sort of organized scene?
than the commercial one? No.
Q: What was
the cultural reference point of the French musicians? Were they
as steeped in rock, jazz and other Western music styles as the
As I said, after WW II Paris had
been an important European jazz center. Unlike England where the
Musicians Union did not allow foreign musicians to settle (!)
Paris welcomed them and so many musicians from the States had
settled there. First and foremost, Sidney Bechet in the late
40s, which opened up a New Orleans/Dixieland scene and later Bud
Powell, Kenny Clark, Johnny Griffin and others who were “modern”
jazzmen. They needed sidemen, so a local generation of jazz
musicians sprung up. Mind you, Django Reinhardt’s Hot Club de
France had achieved international success before the war, so
there was a sort of a jazz tradition. Matter of fact Christian’s
father Maurice Vander is a very respected jazz pianist and
accompanied many US jazz greats.
Compared with England – or perhaps London - the big difference
with regards to the development of “bands” was the lack of a
local blues scene. However there was plenty of modern and
avant-garde stuff. In 1968, BTW, while touring France with JULIE
DRISCOLL and BRIAN AUGER, I had come across APHRODITE’S CHILD
from Greece, stranded there by the May ‘68 events and I became
friends with VANGELIS – with whom I worked later…
getting there, how did you meet up with Christian Vander and the
various avant musicians in Paris? Was there a specific club or
area that they hung out in?
Re: Christian see above. There
were jazz clubs and 2 or 3 rock clubs, but as described above,
there wasn’t a “progressive” scene as such.
Q: Both the UK
and USA had local areas that served as catalysts for a larger
scene sometime later – was it the same in France?
When was the first time you saw Magma play live? How big was the
Around Easter 1970, there was an audience of around 300. They
were about to release their first album.
Q: At some
point the scene started to grow and I’ve heard you and Magma +
some others began to form a national circuit for concerts and
promotion. How did the normal French music managers and club
owners react to this?
They just weren’t interested in
that kind of music and with very few exceptions we couldn’t
count on them. There were a few “Associations” (non-for-profit
voluntary music lovers’ groups), but mostly they aimed to become
“big time” rock promoters! I had to invent something else…
Q: Who were
the actual bands and people who instigated this circuit? Was it
the bands themselves, their managers, agents, or?
This is how it happened,
literally! One afternoon I went to pick up Klaus Blasguiz,
Magma’s lead singer, to take him to a rehearsal. He was teaching
comic strip drawing in a youth center outside Paris. I was
early, so I walked around the place and, behold, discovered
there was a small theatre at the back of the center. I guess it
could hold around 200 people. I freaked out, sought out the
center’s director and asked him what kind of events they were
holding there. “None.” he answered, “we can’t afford to book
people…” Wow! I had a flash! It dawned on me there was a
solution here, so I asked him if he would agree for MAGMA to
play there, without guarantee or any money. We would promote the
show ourselves, use his Xerox machine and the young kids to
distribute fliers and give him 15% of the door and keep the
rest. He thought that was a good deal and agreed to give us a
date. This got my juices going, so I enquired how many of these
“Youth Centers” (MJC – Maisons des Jeunes et de la Culture)
there were and I found out there were some 200 around the
country. Every political party seemed to have a “chain” of them,
determined to recruit youth into their respective causes. Well,
that was it! I got me a list of them and for a month I drove
around Paris convincing them to go along with my plan. Just as
in London with the blues in the early 60’s I was determined to
get the music out there one way or another. I found 25 of these
MJC – some (mostly socialist or communist!) more receptive than
others, some with theaters and some with access to “community”
spaces. To cut a long story short, a couple of weeks later,
MAGMA did their first MJC tour. Five weeks, 5 concerts a week, a
total of 25 shows. You better believe it a band gets pretty good
after that kind of experience, besides we were actually making
some money too, enough for the musicians to consider giving up
their day jobs…
there I started to work on the rest of the country. Within a few
months we had more than 120 venues, a complete circuit! Young
people started getting interested in learning how to promote
concerts, so we taught them how to form “associations”, get
permits, etc., You might not believe this, but today, the major
music promoters in France started with us.
our first tour I got GONG involved and then we formed an agency
“Rock Pas Degenere” and took in a whole bunch of groups
which had sprung up, like Crium Delirium and many others. Later,
we invited British, German, Dutch bands like ART BEARS, CAN,
SUPERSISTER, etc., They in turn got the French bands gigs in
their respective countries. Before long we had an international
circuit…it was very cool!
Q: I’ve heard
some say in effect this underground activity was in fact a
virtual revolution in terms of normal French music culture.
Would you agree?
Indeed…Before I left France in
1977, MAGMA were playing some 100 or so regular concerts a year
in France alone and making between $5,000 and $10,000 a show.
The last tour I went on was a double bill with LEO FERRE – who
loved MAGMA – held in circus tents holding 5,000 people!
Q: Can you
explain how it actually worked – travel, logistics, booking,
In the beginning we had to be
very parsimonious, travel in old trucks/vans (I had a Mercedes
and used to take 5 people with me) and stay with people, or in
cheap (very cheap) hotels. France’s territory is not as vast as
the US, so most distances were Between 100 and 200 or so miles.
Payments had to be in cash of course, so we could eat, sleep and
get to the next gig… Often, we just barely covered expenses.
Later it got a lot better. But every time we played we were able
to make friends and encourage the local scene. That really paid
Q: Were the bands
able to make good money doing this or was it more like, “art for
view was that if the music was relevant we would succeed at
building an audience, and, after a while, it would lead to our
own little “market” and we could make a living at it, and so
could many others. This happened.
Q: At some
point Magma got a large contract with the major label, Phillips.
How did that come about? Did they receive a large signing bonus
in advance as is usual in the music business today?
I wasn’t involved in that, it was
in 1969, before my time, but I know it wasn’t a “large
contract”. Some of the musicians in that first edition of MAGMA
were highly respected session men, like CLAUDE ENGEL, the
guitarist. He knew people in recording studios and at labels.
Q: What was
the media and musical reaction like when they released their
mammoth double LP in 1970?
They had no idea. Some critics,
the best ones, liked it very much. MAGMA always got good “press”
such as it was at the time. I guess that’s the advantage of
being active in a country where originality is respected…
Q: Was that in fact
the first French underground rock album to come out?
Q: Did it open the
door for more bands to make records?
was a trailblazer group for sure. With the addition of GONG the
whole scene was spreading, so a lot of new energy came about.
New magazines, like ACTUEL, helped a lot too and some
radio and TV programs. People looked to MAGMA to fuel that
energy, to be “taken aback”, so to speak.
Q: Do you know how
many copies of that first album were sold?
but it’s still around. When I appeared on the scene I worked out
an independent production deal with Philips and later with
A&M and RCA (for my UTOPIA label). The LIVE
at the OLYMPIA double album sold 150,000 copies in France,
that’s like 300,000 “units”, as they say in the industry.
Q: As an
outsider I might guess that it in some way served to legitimized
the scene. I say this because their second album received
critical and cultural praise from more mainstream sources. So
did the traditional French artistic tendency to encourage the
avant-garde start to help the scene expand at that time?
Well, good press didn’t actually
get you gigs – there weren’t any in the mainstream - and anyway
we had that under control. What really helped was the strategy
of the “prophet going to the mountain”; so many people all over
the country were encouraged, enfranchised to start local scenes.
Now and then we got big engagements, like at the FETE DE
L’HUMA every year, the biggest open air event in France, and
Christian got to write some film music, but above all we got
credibility and people rallied around the cause, so to speak!
This was during Pompidou’s reign, there was quite a lot of
subtle repression going on, For instance, every time we had to
take a toll road our van would be searched for hours and we
always got to gigs late…but then we played for 5 hours, so that
upset the “authorities”!
Q: At its peak
how successful was this idea of an underground circuit? Did the
scene in France become highly profitable for record companies
and artists alike?
It completely transformed the
scene by decentralizing it and by encouraging all sorts of local
movements, like ALAN STIVELL in Brittany with his “Celtic” rock
and the people in the southwest, with their “Occitan” poetry and
music. Festivals sprung up everywhere.
said above, record companies were just not interested in our
stuff. We did everything a few independent labels and ourselves
appeared and bands self-produced themselves. Towards the end of
the ‘70’s, some of the original bands in the circuit
disappeared, others, like CAN for instance, got very big indeed,
relatively speaking. The “local” success allowed us to export
our music to England, Germany. Etc., MAGMA did very well in
England. We took that country by storm! Unfortunately, the
25-day tour that was to establish the band permanently got
cancelled because of internal struggles and the subsequent break
up of the Vander – Jannik Top collaboration. That was when I
Q: At some
point however things began to change Internationally in the
music scene and I’d imagine in France as well. Some say punk
rock caused this change; in retrospect perhaps it was the
inevitable and eternal creative cycle of events in the life of
any social or cultural phenomenon. What happened to the
underground scene in France?
Punk rock was incorporated. The
thing about Europe was, underground audiences were less divided
and provided they liked what you were doing could support all
manner of artists. The big event, in France at least, was that
the socialists came to power and created a very strong
Ministry Of Culture, which greatly encouraged native
production. Had I stayed on I’m sure I could have gotten them to
support “new music”, they were very keen. I think that the
underground went above ground and good things happened. But by
that time I had come to New York got involved in the No Wave
scene here, so I never benefited from that change of political
and cultural direction! I believe that to this day the MOC is
helping people. MAGMA told me recently that they got quite a bit
of help from them.
particularly you stopped working with Magma after their double
LIVE album I think it was? To me the original spirit of
Vander and his music still lives on today, but it was not the
same after that LIVE album musically or in terms of their
overall evolution as a challenging, innovative group. What
happened with the band?
No, I produced UDU WUDU
and MAGMA was still under contract to UTOPIA, my then
partner got them to record ATTHAK. Frankly speaking, I
lost interest after the cancellation of the UK tour and the
break with Jannik. Unfortunately, most of the times, when a band
hits the “top”, and there is real, substantial success, all
kinds of conflicts appear. Most are rather childish and I just
don’t have any time for that. Christian had a lot of plans,
Stella, his (ex) wife wanted to own a studio and play a bigger
part in the band, my partners were goofing it. OFFERING was
started, solo records, etc. For me, the spell was broken.
1978, some 10 years down the road from 1968, you came to the USA
and staged the first progressive music festival in the USA – the
legendary ZU Manifestival in NYC. Can you talk a bit about your
reason for coming to the US and why you decided to promote a
I was involved with my UTOPIA
RECORDS project, which had been financed by RCA and
must have been one of the best independent label deals ever. I
had some New York partners who unfortunately absconded with the
money (what else is new!) and I had to come to NY to sort it
out. It took a lot longer than I thought, so I had all this time
and spent days walking around the place, I sort of fell in love
with it. After the partnership resolution, RCA retained
me as a “consultant” and I had a great time checking out what
was happening. I came across a lot of underground NY scenes and
musicians, and slowly the idea of linking the local scene with
what we had been doing in Europe, began to wink at me.
this house on West 24th Street and we began to put on
experimental stuff. As you know some of the ”Eurock”(!) bands
had become fairly popular with some college radio people and I
thought it might be challenging to see if we could build an
“alternative” circuit for “NU” music” here in the States, like
we had done in Europe. The ZU MANIFESTIVAL was the result. I
thought that if we could make enough noise in NY, it would carry
us over to the rest of the country – or at least some parts of
it. Man, I worked my guts out on that project. I put the whole
thing together with $3,000 I got from CHARLY RECORDS in London
for a NY GONG album idea. The first thing I had to do was to
find musicians who would constitute the basis of a “house band”
that could deal among other things with the European repertoire
and GONG’s in particular since Daevid had agreed to come. This
is where I found Bill Laswell, and it was the beginning of the
ZU (house) BAND, later MATERIAL, but that’s yet another story.
NY event got absolutely great reviews and I was very encouraged.
Little did I know what was expecting me on the next step!!
Q: Who were some
of the artists involved?
dear, mostly a combination of NY guys like Rhys Chatham, Glenn
Branca, Theoretical Girls, and some 50 or so others, with
Daevid, Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Gilli Smyth, Yochk'o Seffer
from MAGMA, etc., The show was sold out. It started on Sunday at
12 midday and ended at 4am on Monday. At that time, the police
insisted the theater cut off the juice and I remember Daevid, in
a totally darkened theater, leading some 70 musicians and 1,400
spectators in a rave acoustic jam…
Q: There was
also another Manifestival a year later in Los Angeles. What was
the idea behind this? Was it an attempt to form a bi-coastal
music network in America, or?
Well, as I said, the NY event was
very encouraging, so for a follow-up some 4 months later I
thought we take the show on the road and I started booking gigs
across the country. I did lean a lot on college radio people –
whom, with a few exceptions - I had never met. To me they all
sounded very together and enthusiastic. Used to European
underground conditions and collaboration ideas, I took most of
them at their word, trusting their good faith, and confident
they represented their local situations honestly so we knew what
to expect. Well, some did and some didn’t and I found out how
difficult it was to “do business” in this country. We ended up
with about 33 gigs over a 3-month period, and if all went as it
should we’d have established a “circuit”, or so I thought.
Around the middle of March I put some 24 musicians in an old
school bus I had acquired, and off we went. To this day I regret
that we didn’t document that incredible adventure. I think there
are a few photographs here and there, but nothing that could
properly describe what befell us!
isn’t enough time to go into details now, but on the whole the
33 gigs turned out about one-third great, one-third middling and
one-third disasters! Los Angeles belonged in the latter
category. Early on when I was setting up the tour, I got a call
from a fellow in LA who had some kind of a progressive label,
can’t remember the name (Ed Note, it was Tony Harrington who had
a label called ALL Ears Records). He was extremely keen
to organize the LA venue and I was grateful to find someone who
obviously had some experience – or so I was given to understand!
Well, when we got there, I found there were all these bands on
the bill he was producing/managing. Furthermore, the venue was a
beautiful old theater, but on the wrong side of town. Very few
people came and there was no money to pay us and he disappeared
into the night! Having reasoned that LA should at least cover
our expenses (about $1,000) we found ourselves stranded with no
money whatsoever. Thank God, there was the school bus. My major
concern (apart from feeding people) was to get the tour to the
next stop, which was Phoenix, AZ, if I remember correctly. We
didn’t even have gas money! So I spent 2 days and 2 nights
tracking down this guy. A proper nightmare! I had never ever
experienced anything like this. Some of us were watching his
house, others his wife’s movements, others still his office. A
real stake out. In the end we got about $100 out of him, enough
to get to Phoenix. Alas, because of this guy, we got there late
and the gig had been cancelled…Next…
after some more adventures, like running out of gas in the
middle of the desert, the radiator blowing up, the transmission
falling off and other such mishaps, we made it back to NY. By
that time, everybody hated everybody… That was the first and
last attempt on my part anyway, to try and set up an
“alternative circuit”. I think that a couple of years later, the
people who ran The Kitchen and other such subsidized
venues, did put together a “package” called “New Music USA”,
strangely resembling our earlier model, but without any European
Q: Which do
you consider the most successful Festival in musical terms as
well as environmentally? What I mean is, did NYC or LA seemed
more tuned in to the progressive vibe you were trying to
NY was a triumph compared to LA.
The idea of “progressive” in LA had in fact nothing to do with
what I thought the word defined. It appears to me it’s gotten
even worse now. I went to the ProgFest in SF last year,
the one with MAGMA and GONG, and, seriously. I found very little
of interest musically. I think it all stems from the mistake of
considering ELP and other such derivatives, as “progressive”.
Most of the music seemed to be inarticulate noodling, sometimes
approaching the kind of emptiness of New Age stuff or
multi-layered noise replacing a true lack of compositional
ideas. I read that the guitarist Buckethead is now playing with
Guns ‘n’ Roses…The major problem seems to be the lack of good
composers, IMHO, but also one of true artistic endeavor and
quality. But this is a large subject and perhaps merits another
Q: With the
dawning of 2001 we enter the new Millennium. How do you think
the business of music today, and current social scene
surrounding it has changed since the early 1960’s when you went
to London and were involved in the jazz and r&b scene there?
When I got to London in the
mid-fifties, the “pop” scene was just a pale imitation of white
US commercial music. At least there was a local “do-it-yourself”
music, “skiffle”, (imported to the UK by British bandleader
CHRIS BARBER) derived from Lonnie Johnson and other
blues/folksters, which allowed young people to take up
instruments. The Beatles started out as “The Quarrymen” and were
able to inject some freshness into music when they started to
make it. The Stones and the other blues bands introduced a new
generation to black music thereby rendering an invaluable
service too. European musicians were practicing jazz, and
although aesthetically more appreciated than in the US, it
seemed less urgent, less “dramatic”, less speaking to a new
generation. So rock took over. Later the punks kicked everybody
in the proverbial ---. This opportunity is still present, but
bands/managers/labels are now so focused on making it in
whatever category they and the “industry” define themselves to
be, that a “major breakthrough” has become well nigh improbable.
It’s the old story yet again, the seemingly tragic-comic vicious
circle between the true function and merit of art and that of
commerce and politics. Ultimately, it’s a question of education.
I’m hopeful that the internet will allow the natural curiosity
of those attracted to music to explore every nook and cranny of
musical production and discover where the real values are and
that bands will emerge who know what directions to pursue.
Q: Magma still
continues making music and some think that the whole
experimental and progressive music scene is in revival. Do you
think it can ever be what it once was in terms of creative
spirit, or sales?
6 months ago MAGMA had their
30-year reunion, quite an event, I believe. So did GONG a year
earlier, right? Jeezes, it seems incredible! I didn’t see these
30 years go by! But I also don’t see young bands coming up with
that dedication to truly progressive music and the will to
survive whatever difficulties to establish themselves. Perhaps
in the jazz scene, there might be the possibility of new
synthesis between “local” scenes, say Indian, Chinese or other
ethnic music-sources and modern rock and jazz traditions. It
could be a sort of World Beat improvisational affair but within
serious writing “envelopes”,
Harmolodic-Neo-Ethnic-Rock-Jazz-World Music!! I often ruminate
about all this! Think globally and act locally is another
element that I deem important. Music must resonate among the
people, it must touch them because it describes them and their
conditions, social, cultural and political, that allows for
identification. In other words, it should be relevant to their
Q: Do you feel
that people in general and artists in particular are still as
open to new ideas and forms of music as they were before? Or has
the new dominance of limitless technology and the culture it’s
generated created a kind of short circuit between left-brain
(technical / analytical) functions, and right-brain (musical /
I think people in general are
always open to ideas. They expect the artist to provide them,
and that’s where the problem is. It’s a question of imagination
and vision. Today it’s easier to use self-referential matrixes
and templates. Machines are good at computing bits and pieces,
sequencing, calculating. A hell of a lot of technology is truly
amazing and timesaving - great for entertainment. But it still
needs an overall design concept, a vision of the “bigger
picture” so to speak, to create original art. From the printing
press to the novel it took 200 or more years and it took the
same amount of time to go from Mozart to Stockhausen. Things
move faster now, but distances are still there, and the universe
is expanding all the time as we speak. I like to think music
will continue to be a measure of our experience on this planet.
It’s a relatively small place (!), where before we move into the
wider perspective of space, we’ll truly have to deal with
Q: You surely
still have a passion for music and provocation/promotion, what
are you working on today that we will hear about tomorrow?
Kepler said that “the only
constant in the universe is change” and change is scary
sometimes. I like to believe that the purpose of art is that of
making change less fearful so we can face it with more joy than
pain, with more information and less confusion, and celebrate
this mysterious state of “being alive” to its fullest. Learning
from the past seems important to me, so right now I’ve embarked
on collecting on videotape the “oral history” of rock in New
York. I’ve been interviewing some 30 people, artists, managers,
club owners, writers, DJ’s and just ordinary music lovers, who
have witnessed key moments of the chronicle of rock in this
city. I started a similar project in London and when I’m through
with that, I’ll tackle jazz and the avant-garde. It will end up
on an interactive website dedicated to oral history called
ohblahblah, for …talk!). The Internet is perfect for this kind
Q: If you
could go back in time and do it all over again – the same way –
or differently - would you?
Good question! Going back has its
advantages intellectually. You could correct errors you made, be
forewarned, save a lot of time. Alas, it’s not possible. Doing
it differently? I think at times I should have insisted more on
certain objective, practical aspects of life and perhaps less on
subjective, aesthetic or moral issues, which made collective
progress more difficult. Perhaps compromise a bit more? But I’m
not sure even then; often compromise leads to a dilution of the
original energy or vision. Who knows? Finally, we all have our
tasks on this planet. Methinks, that all in all, I did the best
I could. And I’m still here!