Interview with Andy Tillison by James R Turner

Andy Tillison, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and driving force behind the Tangent, who had at the time I conducted this interview, released this two albums Le Sacre Du Travail (The ritual of work) and a companion piece L’Etagere Du Travail (the shelf of work), and had been hailed as the bands finest work to date. So I caught up with Andy to talk all things Tangent and Travail.

Excerpts from this interview were published on Albion Online, and are included here with their kind permission, whereas this is the full, unedited interview, remastered with bonus tracks if you like!

The new albums being well received Andy,

‘What I’ve read is encouraging, we’ve had mainly good reviews across the board, a couple just decided to break the mould, people do like to diss things from time to time. Some comments are lazy, that’s the problem online, everyone’s an expert, a couple of months ago a friend of mine accidentally put diesel in a petrol car, so he went online for advice, 50% of the people told him don’t turn your engine on, whilst the other 50% said turn it on, it’ll be fine, at which point the internet has lost its value, its gone because you get two opposite stories, its all matter of opinion rather than fact, and the editorial control online isn’t strong enough.

I’ve got no sales figures for the new album yet, as the record label we’re on (Inside Out) is no longer a cottage industry, its now part of Universal so we have to go through the accounts department, I do know that we’ve been shifting more from the house than we have for any previous release’.

Now Le Sacre de Travail, the album itself,

‘It’s a modernity thing, I’m an older guy, I love technology but every change brings something with it, Lord Reith of the BBC said TV wouldn’t take off, people said what an idiot, but he didn’t see people wanting to sit down in one place, and this changes the way we live, electronics, MP3, Spotify, means people are more inclined to listen to a track rather than an album.

Also people don’t tend to listen to the whole thing, I decided to do an album like that and let the music lead the technology, most people will want to enjoy it in one sitting, it’s a sit down album.

I have my ways of writing, which came through the years, I had concepts, a couple of things that had been around for a while, I wrote a lot of music in the 80’s which has never been published, although most is current, from the now.

I wanted to do the work thing, it would have been difficult to achieve had I not been back at work myself, I spent 10 years as a fully professional musician, and I recently changed to working in lecturing, which was meant to be one afternoon a week and has now become 4 days a week.

It put me back on the bus, back on the commute, back into a world I could comment on. If I’d not been on that bus it would have felt supercilious, elitist ‘What does Andy know about commuting, he doesn’t do it’ so I am doing it.

‘I write from experience, its very important, people I know write about things that they don’t know about, all he does is sit on his settee and yet he writes excellent music and lyrics. For me I’ve got to have lived it, if I’m spending time commenting on the futilities, the humdrum it would have presumptuous had I sat there at home.

When it comes to concepts like Roger Waters and the Wall, I don’t like it, its about the problems of being unbelievably rich, with that money you can do anything you want, so don’t complain about it, it left me cold and was far removed from the world that we live in, and I wanted to write about the world that we live in.

Sat on a bus, lots of songs out there aren’t for people on the bus, it was time for the people on the bus to have a song for them.

‘How did you find the time to complete the album whilst working full time?

‘I had to juggle time, use weekends and evenings, now its finished I’ve got to adjust to having this spare time, I’ve written some new tunes and rebuilt my motorcycle, and the timing of the release was critical as well, the album came out over Summer, so I could do interviews and promote it whilst I’m off college.

What about L’Etagere the companion piece?

‘It didn’t take shape til we’d experienced how the main album was sounding, essentially I had enough for a double album, (Le Sacre) needed to stand alone. The only reason there’s bonus tracks (on Le Sacre) is because it’s in my contract, I wish they weren’t there but that’s how it is.

The material (on L’Etagere) is the same stuff, part of the same writing sessions, it had to be separate because its not as finished, and it doesn’t include the same musicians, and it’s basically a set of high quality demos.

I’d rather release it as is than have it as the next album, we need to have a stream of income, to release an album to pay for the album we’ve made, the budget we work on is much smaller.

There may be some live shows planned for the next year for the album.

There’s lots of talented collaborators on this album, how did that come about?

‘I gave up the ghost of keeping a permanent band together because of the fact that as we were a band, we had to have meetings and the logistics of distance, I needed the freedom to get on and work. I got a phone call from Jakko (Jakszyk) offering to help out, and he said lets get Gavin (Harrison) in, as a session drummer, he’s a world famous drummer, with a high price tag, he’s not a permanent member of the Tangent, after Porcupine Tree and Level 42, I doubt he’d relish a gig at Rotherham.

We have to accept who we are, we haven’t done the Porcupine Tree thing, we’ve never attempted to become a commercial band, this is all about the music, if I were doing this for the money you wouldn’t have heard of me, there are people out there who do that, but not me.

I do love playing live, when you look at what Steven Wilsons done, that guys been on the road for 20 years, after two weeks I want to go home, the hotels, the breakdowns, not for me, he’s given his life to that but its not me, I appreciate his success.

So is there a definite work life balance for you?

‘I enjoy my work as a teacher, and having been a professional musician for 10 years is a big thing, living on the proceeds of your music, particularly in prog, but I reached the age of 53, I thought I’m suffering a lot for this, and I’d like to make it a bit easier, to have a few more things that I’d like.

My motorcycle is the only vehicle I own, I rent the house I live in, it’s a frugal existence,

So you were the man on the bus..

At 53 I decided I could do with more than just surviving, you can feel like that, when I’m at work, I know there’s more to my life than that, I know there are people for whom there is nothing else, where I’ve always got this aim, this reason.’

Listening to the album there’s more influences than just prog

‘I’m a huge prog fan, my embrace was a lot wider, certain acts like Yes/ELP/Genesis but didn’t go far enough out, from the lighter end of Renaissance to VDGG, Henry Cow, I like the whole lot. My preference lay at the heavier end like Yes Relayer or Tales from Topographic oceans, I went for those the most, but drew the line at Sky. From 4-12 my Mum played a lot of classical music, all the time, I worked my way through Stravinsky, Beethoven, Bach, then Glen Miller jazz etc the music that was around when I was 10, the Beatles etc wasn’t switching me on, I made my own stories up to the music, a lot of it to do with Thunderbirds, then I saw 2001 A Space Odyssey in 1968 and was bamboozled by it, I begged my parents to let me see it, they were baffled, but the music was amazing, Beethoven’s pastoral symphony, or the blue Danube waltz to me all about the Thunderbirds, then there’s this big spaceship to the blue Danube, after which point ‘She Loves You’ wasn’t having that effect.

I learnt about Legatti, amazing music, Stravinsky and then I heard Yes when I was 12, and thought ‘This is it’ this is someone making the music I want to hear.

Music and stories, it gets me onto one of my beefs, the concept that we view history in a funny way, when we think of movies, we think of blockbusters, black and white films, then silent movies, and before that no movies. Instead before they invented movies there were movies without pictures, Mussorgsky’s programmes of music, stories all there without a picture.

The movie industry began with pictureless movies and I still think I’ve had more pleasure out of pictureless movies, folk songs, the Beatles were folk songs, Stravinsky, Yes, all movies without pictures.’

And the album artwork ties in with these themes,

‘Anybody who grew up with prog had the vinyl experience, the experience of asserting your individuality, buying the album, reading the artwork, knowing the lyrics, taking the whole thing, I consider that important.

When we made our album Comm 2 years ago into a vinyl there were more people saying they’d buy it, than actually bought it. Inside Out were assuming that we were going to do a vinyl this time round, but I said no. Le Sacre was written for CD, I chose something bold, that looked good for its size.

If I had a 12” piece to work with I’d do more, so I do what I can with the 5”.

You make it work, and you do come up against some people who say vinyl sounded better, there’s a lot of nostalgia knocking around prog, which is difficult to overcome.

An element of the audience and artist have problems with moving prog out of the 1970’s, with people not happy to embrace the new.

Lots of people judge by records heard in the 1970’s.

There’s a young prog fan I know whose obsessed with it, he collects and knows all about it, he looks on Yes as the great gods of before and raves about the obscure, yet he see’s all of us, Magenta etc as reproduction furniture, manufactured and not the genuine thing, we get a lot of these people, the ones who’ve lived through it all and who don’t move on, they’re the ones who’ll buy all the old stuff but not ours.

The re-releases are killing it, how many times has Close to the Edge been remastered? And there’s another one out!

Another friend has every edition of Close to the Edge, every single remaster, it will all be on his shelf, and he’ll buy the new one, but he’ll not want to buy the new Magenta, he’ll just download it.

It’s a nostalgia trip, they’ll part with money for the old stuff but not buy the new, or fans who’d rather see a tribute band.

Roger Waters played a German town at the same time as the Australian Pink Floyd, and they got the larger crowd.

To my mind, if you’ve already bought the album and they remaster it you should be able to upgrade, but no-ones come up with that scheme.

A few years ago Genesis did a huge gig and made a DVD, they’d not played for over 10 years and we did some rough calculations that on the night they played, more money was made for them than has been made by all new prog bands combined since 1994.

I think we were being conservative in our estimates.

They hadn’t released any new music, in fact US promoters prefer to book you if you’ve not got a new album out. I saw Kula Shaker in the T&C in Leeds and the Filmore in San Francisco, in Leeds they played the whole new album, in the states they played no new stuff and just the hits, because in the states all the promoters want is you to play the old stuff.

When Genesis toured they sold at every gig a CD of that nights performance, and fans bought every CD from the tour.

I saw what they were doing and took the Tangent off the road for the year, no one would be coming to our gigs.

Most Genesis fans did at least 2 gigs, they’d spend £500 plus on just doing the gig, the DVD and the CD’s, they really milked the market for the year.

The continued rise of old bands has created a bit of a problem for the bands who re-opened the door and all the mags who came into being on the rebirth of prog.

These guys cast a big shadow over everything, I feel it quite hard. Sometimes I feel bitter about it really, I’ve been here for 10 years with the Tangent, 12 years with parallel or 90 degress, over 20 years in the industry, I’ve won an award for a lifelong contribution to prog, had great reviews, played Europe/Russia etc and in all that not one person from the 70’s crew has commented on my music. Its like I don’t exist.

My band split up with Luke(Machin) and Dan (Mash) formed Mashine, the guys are 24 years old and its really important new music that’s about to happen, and my first thought was I need to support this. None of them were introduced via the old guard, the only one most open to it is Steve Hackett whose used a few performers on his own work.

In 2005 The Tangent headlined Rosfest (a big American prog festival) that was the last time a 3rd gen band headlined, it was the best gig we ever did, and yet since then they’ve always pulled someone out of the 70’s, Nearfest had the New Trolls headlining, who weren’t even minor league in the 1970’s.

People get obsessed with its history, and the argument goes round. Progressive never did mean a manifesto, it changed, it did progress, and then we had punk back to the three and half minute songs, then evolution like Blondie, Television, Japan, change is the nature of all music.

You take your influences and make what you want, its not the musicians, it’s the music, music that develops, not verse chorus, verse.

Its music that does something, it moves from point A to point B. Like Radioheads 2+2=5 or Paranoid Android, true progressive music takes you from one point to another.

This is documented in things in the past and I was once asked who is the most important person in prog rock?

Its Neil Armstrong, up til that point the only music about Space was Telstar, landing on the moon in 1969 needed better music, King Crimson Court of the Crimson King, Bowie Space Oddity, Concorde, Woodstock, all this amazing stuff during the age of prog rock, the zeitgeist creates all art, it was such an amazing period that the music had to be special.

We’re living through another revolution now but the internets not as good as that.

Watching man land on the Moon, I’ll never see that again, jealous people who believe the moon landing was all a hoax, they just want to be the first man on the moon.

One of the other things that annoys me, and it’ll probably be written on my tombstone is that they made a film about Apollo XIII but no-one made one about Apollo XI, no-one thought it important enough to bother.’

And would you make a piece about the moon landings?

‘It may well happen….’

 

Thanks to Andy Tillison for his time. More information can be found at www.thetangent.org

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