Can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on?
Well one thing I’m doing is listening to my father’s old music to put together a CD of instrumental music for EMI. So obviously it will have the theme tunes, but they also want to have incidental music and what they call feature music as well. So I’m doing that and then I’m also writing a book which is a novel which I’m halfway through at the moment.
That sounds intriguing. What’s that about?
Well it’s got a slightly sinister, eerie side to it. It’s set in Dorset but its contemporary, it’s not set in the past or anything, but it’s got this slightly edgy kind of feel to it.
So I’m doing that and then musically, I’m just really practising to keep playing a lot. I’ve got lots and lots of stuff stacked away so I would really like to do another instrumental album. I’m hoping that by re-releasing this that Rough Trade or whoever will say “Can you do an instrumental album?” and I would quite like to base that on the idea of The Woodlanders – the musical I did. But maybe The Woodlanders would be a separate album. I mean The Woodlanders would actually work quite well as an album in itself too.
So what I’ve got to do is limit my choice in a way because I’m just aware that there’s about five different things I’ve said there. But maybe just aim for some sort of album of some description, either a Woodlanders one or an instrumental one I reckon, probably.
So getting back onto From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, did you have the whole album planned out before you started recording or were you improvising as you went along?
Improvising, yes. The only thing I had planned beforehand was to create an atmosphere – just create this really heavy-with-summer atmosphere.
So how long did it actually take to record the album?
Gosh, I don’t really remember because we did it kind of very ‘bit-ely’. Going out in the mornings and recording the various sounds, I know we hired a Uwer tape machine to do that and I think we hired that for a week and then we went another time and just used a really ordinary kind of tape machine – cassette recorder I think.
So mostly we did the bulk of the recording of the birds and stuff I suppose over a week. And then probably did the recording… actually it says here doesn’t it, let’s have a look [examines credits for Gardens CD] April then in May, so I must have used something separate. And June. So I suspect that April was when I had the Uwer – April and May. And then late May and June I must have used something else to record with, but it’s really hard to remember. And because I recorded it on my dad’s 8-track as well, it wasn’t like booking in studio time. And then mixing, I booked a studio to mix it and just took a couple of days to mix it.
Can you shed any light on the stories that people such as John Foxx and David Byrne were in line as possible producers?
No, I mean I didn’t really have any dealings with John Foxx. And David Byrne, I remember he just got sent a copy of my first EP and he said he liked it because it was pizza shaped or pizza sized or something(!). That was about it! (laughs). That was my limit of contact with him.
So no, I was always going to do it with Russell [Webb] – I think. I mean maybe other people were discussed but Russell was an obvious choice – a good choice.
When you recorded the actual sound effects, did you go out specifically to capture certain sounds? Or was it more random like “Let’s record some birds now” etc?
No it was to get birds but then that led on to thinking “Oh you know this gate sounds good, what else could we use? What other sounds do you associate with the country and summer?”.
Do you have any specific memories of recording the album?
Lots of arguments with Russell! (laughs)No, no there was some arguments but a lot of the time it was very nice. It was very unpressured, relaxing, no record company man coming in going “Can you do this? Can you do that?”. You know, no outside pressure.
There was talk about other labels releasing it, specifically Operation Twilight
No, it was Zoo. It was Bill Drummond at Zoo who originally asked me to do it and said “Wouldn’t it be great if you did an instrumental album?”, I was originally going to do it for him and then what happened was he vanished. So I set everything in motion and started doing it and even though I was using my dad’s 8-track it still cost – I was still hiring this tape machine and still buying tape and then mixing costs. I mean overall it didn’t cost very much in relative terms, but nonetheless Bill Drummond had vanished and I was left with this album and the mixing costs were relatively high.
So it’s why I’ve always owned it, why it’s always been completely mine – which was the good thing about that situation! (laughs)And I just had to try and get someone to put it out then. Rob Dickens liked it but said it was all too ‘middly’ and that he would put it out, on I guess it was WEA then, if I re-recorded it all! (laughs)Which was impossible because it was all improvised, the backward stuff… I mean you couldn’t do it.
I did try and do ‘A Summer Long Since Passed again’, on Hope In A Darkened Heart, but it was very, very difficult – and that was an easy one to do. But all others, the backward stuff and so many random elements. Plus, because it was an 8-track, we’d mix things down as we went along so you couldn’t even go back and go “Oh yeah that’s got that on that track”. It was just impossible. And backwards guitar, backwards piano strings.. I mean you would never know what piano strings you plucked. It would be very, very difficult to recreate that – and to recreate that atmosphere. I just thought that even if it had all the imperfections that it had at least the one thing it did have was this atmosphere and that you would lose that if you slogged away at trying to recreate it. So that wasn’t really a run of that idea and so eventually Geoff [Travis] said he’d put it out on Rough Trade.
Can you clarify if there’s any truth behind the story that From Gardens Where We Feel Secure was originally called She Stood Up And Cried? Or was that a completely different project?
That was just a title I had for something else. It wasn’t going to be Gardens.., From Gardens.. was always going to have a name, you know, that was like this.
So what was going to be on She Stood Up And Cried then?
I think that was probably a song album that I thought of. I seem to remember that that was maybe something to do with Richard Jobson.
Because that would have been coming out around the Summer of 1982
Yeah, I mean I suspect it was perhaps an album title that I had, provisionally thinking at some point I’ve got to put together an album and call it that.
So why didn’t Why-Fi want to release it?
From Gardens..? No, I’d left them by then.
So it took over a year for the album to finally be released. It must have been pretty frustrating?
Yes and probably during that year was when I left Why-Fi because… yes, it’s hard to know the sequence of events. But I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with them anyway.
You weren’t too happy with Why-Fi were you?
No and I had a very, very bad deal with them. So I didn’t want to do this at all. I mean I probably was still with them when I was recording it but I certainly wasn’t doing it for them. And I had to get out of my deal and that obviously took negotiating. So I can’t really say the exact date but obviously the process was in motion – even if technically I was still with them when I recorded the album – the process was in motion of leaving them.
When it came to recording the tracks, did you have a system for doing it? Was it a case of laying down the piano track first and then the sound effects on top or was it sound effects first?
No, it was sound effects first on all of them. Always sound effects first. I think that’s the thing that’s different because so often people put on things afterward which add an atmosphere or they add sound effects, but I think what I was doing was I was using that as a starting point with every single track which was for me a far better way of going about it.
So what about the influences for this album? Would you say there was an Erik Satie influence? Or even overall for the rest of your music. Is that the sort of thing you were listening to at the time?
No, not especially so. I mean I had to play Satie stuff – things I did with Richard Jobson, I played some Satie with him. But I wouldn’t have said it was particularly an influence. I think I would have probably just wanted it to not really sound like anything else. That would have been my goal always, to make something that really didn’t sound like anything else.
It seems to have a similar approach to what people like Brian Eno were doing
Yeah, I would say that he was more of an influence. Music For Airports and all those sort of things. I was far more…
Generating an atmosphere
Yeah that’s right and to have something that’s played at a quiet level that’s not in-your-face and you’re not listening to the lyrics. You’ve got something that’s just there, quietly there and..
Yeah and that’s always what this album was meant to be – played quietly.
So what about the influence for some of the song titles? ‘From Gardens Where We Feel Secure’ and ‘Out On The Lawn I Lie In Bed’ are actually lines from the WH Auden poem A Summer Night. So were the rest of the titles on the album taken from other poems?
Well this is a hard question because I used to just keep notebooks where I would put in ideas and lines from poems that I liked so I wouldn’t ever write down by them what they were from. So I would not know if something was a line I’d made up or if it was a poem or what, really.
So I think it’s only Auden, like you said. ‘It’s Too Hot To Sleep’ I made up. ‘When The Fields Were On Fire’ I made up because that’s to do with a situation that happened. ‘Out On The Lawn I Lie In Bed’ is Auden. So altogether I’m not too sure unfortunately, I’m afraid to say!
You were saying that ‘When The Fields Were On Fire’ was actually influenced by a situation?
That was like when they used to burn the stubble? At the end of the summer? We were sitting around the table one day and my mother said that she’d had this dream the night before, “That we were sitting around having tea”, she said “Just like this” and she said “Suddenly the fire engines went past and we went out, walked up to the rec – the recreation ground – and all the fields – there was a hill behind – were all on fire because they had been burning stubble and it had got out of control”. And at that moment we heard a fire engine go by! (laughs)
Yeah so that’s what that title is and that whole sound is meant to be like a fire burning through the field.
There was also talk of recording a follow-up album with more of a winter theme and we were wondering if tracks like ‘Melt The Snow’ and ‘A Winter’s Tale’ were perhaps written for that
‘Melt The Snow’ yes, ‘A Winter’s Tale’ no. ‘Melt The Snow’ was, definitely, and that whole instrumental track that I think sounds like skating music – one of the ‘Melt The Snow’ tracks.
I also at one point thought too that it would be – as a contrast – it would be good to do something that was much more.. well perhaps just more to do with the city, more dark and more… not dark, but more industrial and more city-like as well. But I didn’t ever do that either. ‘Melt The Snow’ was as far as I got. But I think actually a winter album would be really nice.
Yeah, I think it would make a great companion piece to Gardens. So whose decision was it to remaster and reissue Gardens…?
Geoff Travis wanted to do it, yeah. Because the Japanese did it and it was nice that it was available on CD when the Japanese put it out but I think it was really nice that Rough Trade decided to do it again and put it out.
Talking about the Japanese reissue, was it Columbia Nippon’s idea to include extra tracks?
Obviously you weren’t too keen on that!
Hence no extra tracks on this one! Who actually did the remastering of this reissue of From Gardens..?
Well I wanted to have a classical person do it and Geoff said he’d got a classical person and he turned out not to be a classical person at all. So anyway, it doesn’t matter, and his name is Simon, I can’t remember his surname. I only met him at the studio. So he did it! (laughs)
So where was the remastering actually done? Was it done at that London studio or somewhere else?
No it was just done at a remastering place out in Barons Court/Earls Court area. It’s a place that used to be called Chop Em Out but it’s not called that now. This person does a lot of remastering, he’s very sort of popular person that obviously people use, but I was a bit disappointed that Geoff didn’t really get someone who was used to doing classical stuff.
And how involved were you with the remastering?
I was there, but it was quite hard. If you hear that something sounds wrong it’s quite hard to know what you need to do, technically. You just know it doesn’t sound quite right. But what do you think of it overall? The remastering?
Well it sounds fine to me. It sounds a lot clearer
Yes, that’s a good thing isn’t it? It does sound a lot clearer
Rob, being the technical man, says that there appears to be a slight glitch at 2:56 on the title track with regards to a distorted keyboard note…
I think he’s quite right because I think I actually wrote that down as well and I remember it was 2:56 too! (laughs)So he’s quite right and I mean that’s frustrating. Things like that are frustrating.
Because obviously as far as the playing goes there’s not much you can do about it unless you re-record it
No I mean I think what it is it’s a distortion, some level is too high. So it’s nothing played wrong, it’s just a frequency thing, that’s all. It’s been pushed too much in the mix.
So it’s slightly frustrating, little things like that, but I think at the end of the day nothing’s ever perfect is it? So at least it does sound clearer and cleaner and all those things are all in its favour. Sometimes you increase some frequencies to get a brighter sound and then you’re going to get those distortions because you’re going into the same sibilant kind of frequencies and what you need to do is, at those points, pull it down so that doesn’t happen.
I think probably too that it’s on the first track because as time went on I got more kind of demanding! (laughs)but probably the first track I was sitting in the back going “Ummm..” and not just going: “No! No!” (laughs)
It must be quite strange listening to it again after so long. Does it still sound the way you originally intended it to? Were you quite happy with it again?
Yes, I mean I’m always never really happy with anything I’ve done. I always listen and find endless fault with it: “Oh that’s out of tune, that’s this, that’s that” you know and I’m always like that with everything, so I would never be happy with anything. But I think it’s just nice too because it doesn’t sound old, it doesn’t sound 80’s does it really! (laughs)do you know what I mean?
No, the good thing about the album is that it does actually sound timeless. So it will be very interesting to see how the album actually does when you’ve got almost a new audience
I think that that’s true, that it is timeless and that’s something that you never know that you’ve done at the time do you really? You can’t imagine that and I think that that’s nice really that that’s the case.
I think that’s a testament to how good the album is. So what’s the story behind the missing sleeve artwork?
Well the original artwork was done by Martyn Atkins and I don’t know where he is anymore. I don’t know if anyone knows where he is. But Rough Trade could have just reproduced the original but Geoff said “Well what do you feel about it having new artwork?” and I thought well that’s fine. I wasn’t especially attached to the old artwork. It wasn’t like I was totally personally involved in it or anything.
That’s interesting. So Martyn Atkins actually did it off his own back as it were?
Well I wanted to have pressed flowers and I may have even pressed the flowers and given them to him, but I didn’t painstakingly sit it out, whereas if I had I might have been more…
But did you supply the photographs that were used for that one as well?
Yeah, the photographs I did, because there’s a little blossom and then there’s a little old building. I can’t think what else there is, but I remember the cherry blossom because that was out when we were recording it.
So at the end of the day I didn’t mind it having new artwork, but I was pleased that they did that [Virginia points out the pressed flower image on the CD itself – taken from the original sleeve artwork].
It’s a neat touch
Yeah and like I was saying to you before, I was pleased to have this kind of reference to the original as well.
I think that it does work very, very well. So regarding live concerts – You’ve only performed ‘With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming’ live at some of the early concerts. So have you got any plans to perform the album as a whole?
No because again it would be too difficult. I don’t even know how I would go about it at all with it having so many different elements. I mean there would be a way of doing it, there would be a way of doing some of the tracks definitely. If you got the multi-track and you could lift off some of the backing tracks. But my feeling is that most of them would have been mixed out as we went along. So I don’t even think you can do that.
You probably could get a backing track, so you could try and recreate the loops, which you could probably do quite easily, very easily these days. But even then, the backwards stuff and the random piano chords and backwards xylophone. I can’t imagine how you would do it really.
It would be quite tricky?
It would be very, very tricky. It would be an awful lot of work. It would be really tricky and it wouldn’t sound the same. It definitely wouldn’t sound the same.
But I think live performances, by their nature, are never going to sound the same…
No but I don’t even know how you could get it approaching it really.
So what do you think about live performances in general anyway? Would you like to do more live shows?
Yeah I would quite like to do live stuff. I quite miss it really. But I don’t know really what call there would be or what demand there would be for me to do that. I mean it would be very nice to do something that was very unusual – possibly in some little old redundant church in the middle of nowhere.
I think that’s a great idea. Something that was really low-key I’m sure would work quite well
So what would be the motivation to do it? I’m saying this because I’m eager to see you live! I’m pushing the stick just a bit!
I guess the one thing that would be stopping you is the fact that you’re outside of London which doesn’t help, unless you performed something local
Financially it’s difficult. It’s really difficult to pay people to do stuff. That would be a whole new thing that would hold me back. Yeah, getting people down there to do it. So it’s just a very practical thing really.
Well I guess it would be a good excuse to get Martin Stephenson down to perform
Yeah it’s a drag that we live so far apart really because I can imagine that we could quite easily do some stuff together if Martin was around – or lived slightly nearer! (laughs)
What about Anne Stephenson?
Yeah I’ve lost touch with Anne. Yes, I mean it would be great to do something with Anne again. But it is hard. It is hard not being particularly near anybody and it just feels quite insurmountable in a way. You know, I just think “Where would I start?” on something like that. But yes, Martin would be a great person to begin with because it’s very easy to do things with him.
Finally, do you have a message for the people who visit the website and who will be buying copies of From Gardens Where We Feel Secure?
Well just I suppose thanks for going to the website really and also as well thank you to you too! That’s what I would like to put as my message – thanks to Paul for doing a great job! (laughs)
Interview by Paul Browne