Friday, 7 September 2018

Interview with Andrew Booker of Peter Banks's Harmony in Diversity, Tim Bowness and Sanguine Hum

Drummer Andrew Booker was one third of Harmony in Diversity with Peter Banks and bassist Nick Cottam. He currently plays in Tim Bowness's solo band and on associated projects, and has also worked with Sanguine Hum. Andrew kindly answered some questions for me about Harmony in Diversity's The Complete Recordings and some of his other work. Background on The Complete Recordings can be read on the news site here and there's a video sampler of the album by Andrew here.
How did you and Nick Cottam come to meet Pete? And how did the idea for the trio with him develop?
We all originally met in 1996. I met Peter and Nick independently after making my Ahead mini-album. The three of us met up for a jam with Gerard Johnson (St Etienne keyboardist) towards the end of that year, but nothing else happened between the three of us together until summer 2004. I had been in bands with Nick the whole time, and he and I had formed a bass and drums duo called Pulse Engine. I bumped into Peter at the Royal Festival Hall, and invited him to a Pulse Engine gig the following week. I knew he’d like it, and I suspected this might be a good way into working with him. Up until then I’d only ever listened to records and drunk brandy in his living room or gone to gigs with him, and had then lost touch with him completely for about three years. He was very impressed with Pulse Engine, and we were all keen for him to start adding some guitar. We invited him to join us for our next gig, and that was the beginning.
We now have this 6 CD release imminent: can you talk through what the different sessions were that led to this material?
The entire package is a condensation of everything we recorded, at least everything that we can reasonably access without spending a lot of money recovering old ADAT tapes that we are sure have nothing useful on them, i.e. they are of attempts to rehearse things, rather than improvise. The sessions were just our normal band activities. In the early days we were trying to learn Pulse Engine material, then we set about improvising, interspersed with the occasional attempt to learn a couple of Peter’s things (like "Knights", from his Two Sides album). We seldom did anything without recording it. Even if we weren’t trying to make an album, it was always good to record just to capture good ideas to develop later, plus recording was easy because I was mostly using electronic drums. We used ADAT tapes for multitrack some of the time, but it was quite cumbersome to do so, so we often just put stuff down onto minidiscs.
CD 1—Struggles Discontinued: where do these come from?
There’s quite a mixture on here. It was the last disc to be made, and only came about because we had all sorts of spare bits and offcuts. Some of it comes from jams recorded to ADAT, where I took the best bits of Peter’s playing (actually most of it) and either looped up drums and bass, or recorded new parts entirely. That makes this record something of an odd-one-out in the set as it’s the only one where we recorded new parts (except for some vocal bits I added to Try Again). Besides the ADAT material, there are some rearrangements of live sections that didn’t make it onto Hitting The Fans [Live], again with new bass and drum parts. Plus there’s a duo piece with a very long and ridiculous title ("On the 6th Attempt…") that Peter and I made after compiling What Is This? onto which I got Nick to add some bass. In a couple of cases I used drum parts that I had leftover from other things. For example, the freeform drumming on the two "Harmogeny" pieces is actually a spare take from one of my youtube videos called "Free As In Fall".
CD 2—What is This? I understand there are 2005 sessions with just you and Banks. There was talk of splitting the band into a set of three duos...?
Yep, What Is This? is the duo album I made with Peter. The aim was to release What Is This? at the time. I’m not sure why we didn’t, but it’s likely to have been a combination of (a) Peter wanting to add more guitar parts to it, (b) trying to find a decent label via which to release it, which was shelved by (c) Nick enrolling us into the 3-Of-The-Essence gigs with The David Cross Band and Nick May’s Whimwise.

I did find more duo recordings from later in the year after we’d put the album together. The one good piece I found is on Struggles Discontinued, as is the one to which Nick added a bass part. It has some pretty electric playing on it by Peter. The rest seems to be just rehearsing stuff, and didn’t having anything like the pizazz.
CD4—Try Again: where do these come from?
Most of it comes from minidiscs from one session on 28 September 2004. I’ve long forgotten it of course, but it seems to have been a good evening. It makes up the bulk of this album, plus there’s something on Trying from that session as well ["Sods at Odds"]. I say a good one, the trouble was that most of the material needed some serious editing to turn it into music. Trying was an album we had to make fairly quickly in time to sell at the 3-Of-The-Essence gigs, therefore any candidate material had to have as few duff sections as possible. The pieces on Try Again were a lot of work, but worth it I think. There’s a lot of variety on there, and they show that we were quite an inventive unit.
CD5—Hitting the Fans (Live): Is this still you or over to Speight?
All me, it’s stuff from the first four trio gigs, namely Peter’s guest appearance with Pulse Engine in October 2004, the gig at the Klinker on 3 June 2005, and the first two 3-Of-The-Essence gigs in March 2006. Sadly the third wasn’t recorded, a shame because it was my favourite by a long way. Although it looks like we’re billing this as the (only) live disc in the set, there’s also live material on Struggles Discontinued (tracks 2 and 6) and Trying (track 5 plus the bonus track 6), and Nick made Spontaneous Creation largely out of live recordings from the David Speight era.
You were re-visiting material that you hadn't heard for some years. What were your feelings on coming back to it?
Generally good ones, I’m happy to say. For me and Nick, a significant element of the Pulse Engine workflow had been capturing jams onto tape, and then putting the tapes away. We felt that music preserved in this way had a magical wine-like property of maturing, as if we would enjoy it more the longer we left it. That ethos definitely carried over into Harmony In Diversity. I had put all my minidiscs in a box and left them there, and for many years after my swift departure I had no intention of ever going back to them. Having eventually dug the discs out again to make this record, I definitely feel a lot more positive about the material than I did at the time, or for years afterwards. At least from the studio sessions, anyway! Once I’d got past all the boring technical stuff, I started to really enjoy working on the Try Again material and turn it into end results that I can listen to now with pleasure and some fondness for that period. As for Struggles Discontinued, I really love it and had great time putting it together. Whereas working through the originals for Trying Again required diligence, the ADAT-sourced material for Struggles Discontinued meant I could be a lot more brutal with it. That was gratifying in a different way: the luxury of being able to use only the best of what we recorded. Anything crap was cut. Anything low-yield I probably also cut.
What did you do to the material to turn it into a release? How much is this edited or processed compared to the original recordings?
A lot. The only thing we left completely alone was Trying (besides the remaster, though even then it gets a bonus track). I rebuilt What Is This? Completely. The pieces are (mostly) composed from the same recorded sections but I did all the edits again, being a bit better at it these days than I was then. Track 4 is a new version, it has a section that is not in the original, and vice versa. Nick’s Spontaneous Creation album was a lot of work for him at time, even then he went back and made several updates for this release. For the rest: extensive listening back through old material and editing down into some semblance of musical form. I didn’t really use too many effects or treatment, at least not with with later efforts, though the opening to Try Again ("Prelusion") is a bit of a knob-twiddler. I have, I’m not ashamed to say, allowed myself some hefty reams of artistic license in doubling up and looping bits where the source material was stereo minidisc, to thicken the sound or improve the structure. I genuinely think Peter would have liked the result. I still remember him raving about the first Fatboy Slim and DJ Shadow albums at the time. I sort of think of Try Again as HiD does Fatboy Slim. When it came to the ADAT-based stuff on Struggles Discontinued, I kept a lot of guitar soloing, kept a few good bass and drum loops to build up the form and slung out the rest. I applied new drum parts liberally, and even a few synth embellishments here and there, whatever helped make another record that I would want to listen to.
You joined Sanguine Hum for their second studio album, The Weight of the World. How did you get involved with the band, and can you talk about your role in the band?
Their original drummer Paul Mallyon left, and Carl Glover suggested they try me. Carl knew me from the No-Man live band (he also did the graphic design for the HiD Complete Recordings). The Hummies found an old web page, probably a decade old now, where I’d posted some recordings of my polyrhythmic practice patterns, mixing 3s and 5s, or 3s and 7s and so on, all in a way that was right up their alley, so they sensed I’d be a good fit. I got them to send me some songs to learn, which was a week’s work in just figuring out the arrangements on paper, never mind learning how to play the stuff. Then we met up, and got on really well. They immediately enlisted me for their warm-up gig in London and then the RoSfest date. I saw my role as helping their band continue and helping them realise their vision, something they had in spades by the way: they had at least three albums demoed. That was a major attraction for me: being able to muscle-up on some nice difficult drumming without having to agonise for months on end over collaborative songwriting. Their music seemed intensely prepared, yet I was more-or-less free to play how I saw fit - they didn’t expect me to exactly mimic what Paul had done. There were a few bits of their catalogue where I had to toe the line, for example "Diving Bell". I probably practiced that song more than any other Hum piece. After the RoSfest date, then came the Weight Of The World recording. Matt Baber (keyboardist) had specced out the drum parts, so I was following his guidance, sometimes doing pretty much exactly what he wanted (for example as on "From The Ground Up"), otherwise coming up with what I felt sounded good. The clattering roto-tom on "System For Solution" was my shout, as were "In Code" and "Day Of Release". I absolutely loved playing those two things live. "Day Of Release" was powerful but with a really relaxed groove that was a great way to start a live set. "In Code" was very complicated, full of twists and turns and very little repetition, yet once I knew my way around that piece I never got lost in it. Much easier than playing 512 bars of the same thing.
You are not on the next Sanguine Hum album, but are there plans for you to be involved again in the future?
I don’t know of any plans. Then again I’m not really sure what the band will do next. I know in theory there is a final installment to their epic Buttered Cat series. If they approached me again I would be keen, but I have no expectations of that happening. While they’ve got Paul back in the frame, they don’t need me. I still keep in touch with Matt, though. He is prolific in his own solo work, and continues to send me awesome things. It was nice to involve him in the Piko Cloud Booker live show last year with his piano and electronics set.
Another recent album you played on that got strong reviews was Tim Bowness' Lost in the Ghost Light. Can you talk about that session? Did you have much leeway in what you played?
So, this is the third of three solo Tim albums that I’ve been on, and comes in at #2 in the pecking order of how much I enjoyed being involved! #1 was the album before it, Stupid Things That Mean The World, and as with that one, I recorded all my drum parts in my practice room in South Woodford. As far as I could tell, the bulk of the source material for LITGL had come from Stephen Bennett, and was mostly a body of work I already knew, because he had intended it for another Henry Fool album. Also for the most part he was the one soliciting me for drum parts. I recorded lots of drums for several pieces, but in many cases either the material was dropped, or I was dropped. In the end I’m only on four things, and two of those were from the STTMTW sessions ("Nowhere Good To Go" and "Kill The Pain"). I like to feel that I have leeway with Tim, I did on STTMTW at any rate, but on this record I probably didn’t. I either persevered with my ideas (e.g. on "You Wanted To Be Seen") or gave up ("You’ll Be The Silence", which went to Hux Nettermalm). For "Nowhere Good To Go", which I think was the first thing I recorded for the previous album, I just played what I thought fitted the demo, and it sounded really nice just with Stephen’s keyboards and no orchestral overlays. The toms outro came instinctively. I like how the drums can enhance the atmosphere of a piece a great deal by shutting up with all the cymbals and swishiness, and giving the more subtle elements of other instruments some space. For "Kill The Pain", I dug out my Bill Bruford Discipline-era influence and went for the kind of rototom clatter that I used to love messing about with, playing a drum on all four limbs, and tuned the rototoms and the snare pretty much to the key of the song. Pity we’ve never played it live, it would be terrific. For the last track, "Distant Summers", Stephen had come up with the original song structure, and said he wanted it in the style of "The Great Electric Teenage Dream" from STTMTW. I banged away at various takes, handed over something respectable, and Tim just couldn’t get into the song at all. So he re-assembled it as a jazz piece with some demo GarageBand drums and got Ian Anderson to do a flute solo in the middle. I then had a really nice time putting some jazz drumming onto it. My original takes were therefore now spare. They happened to be exactly the tempo and feel (once shifted by a beat or so) of "Everything Ends In Nothing" (from Struggles Discontinued). So on they went.
Can I jump back to another favourite of mine, Henry Fool's Men Singing? How was this album made?
One day of improvised ensemble playing, and about 8 years of editing and adding of auxiliary bits and pieces. A lot in common with The Harmony In Diversity Complete Recordings, then! The recording day was in a barn in Lenwade in Norfolk, either in the summer of 2005 or 2006, I have pretty much forgotten it. It was an improvisation session with Tim Bowness, Mike Bearpark, Stephen Bennett, Peter Chilvers and Myke Clifford - essentially Tim’s live band with one swap-out (Myke instead of Pete Morgan). Apparently we recorded about five hours of material. Some of it I do actually remember playing, e.g. the funk groove of "Man Singing". Relatively soon after, within a year or so, Tim had taken one of the decent sections and turned it into a song called "Schoolyard Ghosts". With a lot of re-arrangement by Steven Wilson it became "Mixtaped" on the No-Man album Schoolyard Ghosts from 2008. We now always play "Mixtaped" in Tim’s live band. His original version turned up as a bit of an anomaly on his Memories Of Machines album, mixed by Steven. I really like it, and it’s worth a listen if only to hear what the drums should have sounded like on Men Singing. Besides that track, I didn’t tune in much to what Tim and Stephen were doing with the material. I occasionally heard they were working on it, by way of a few mixes here and there from Stephen, but in general progress seemed to be slow. For me, the penny didn’t drop that the album was a thing until they were just about to release it. Suddenly I found out Jarrod Gosling (who now does Tim’s artwork) and Phil Manzanera had contributed parts. I still cannot believe they pushed it out the door with that boxy mono drum sound. I mean, guys, come on.
You recently formed Piko Cloud Booker with guitarist Cameron Piko (of Montresor) and bassist/violinist Gaz Cloud (of Cloud & Owl). Is there any more news on this project?
Not much from me! My main interest these days is in playing live. Cameron moved back to Australia last year, so that put an end to any gigging prospects for the foreseeable future. Plus, the vast Harmony In Diversity Complete Recordings effort was soaking up quite a bit of my time, so I stepped out. I’d happily step back in again if it led to gigs. Anyway, Cameron is prolific, he’s always writing stuff, so I expect we’ll all be hearing from him soon one way or another.

My thanks to Andrew for being easy to interview. You can follow Andrew's work at his Facebook page here. You can buy The Complete Recordings by Peter Banks's Harmony in Diversity here.

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