The Enid, one of the most iconoclastic progressive bands have ploughed their own furrow over the last 40 years guided by the individual (some might say bloody minded) vision of Robert John Godfrey, a unique musical visionary who polarises opinion with his outspoken critiques, yet he has driven The Enid forward for the last 40 years and with the current tour being his last hurrah with the band as he steps back and lets the young blood in the current revitalised incarnation take over, I was lucky to catch up with Robert, and Enid vocalist Joe Payne last month before they flew of to Japan, to talk about their latest opus Dust.
Robert John Godfrey
Robert is one of the most erudite musicians I have ever interviewed, an intelligent and passionate individual he has so many ideas that we would veer off topic at a regular occurrence including several off the record chats that sadly I cannot reproduce here, witty, self deprecating and very down to earth I think when he steps aside from the stage work he should do a few ‘Evening with…’ theatre shows.
We started our chat by talking about their mighty fine new album Dust and Robert explained the albums concept and themes,
‘Basically there is stardust round and round us, and it’s the culmination of a trilogy, Dust is a prophetic look at where we’ve got to.
It’s about 7 things represented by a seven-point star, there are six things that are on a collision course with massive consequences, the environment vs consumerism, the sacred and the secular and wealth and poverty.
The seventh is something that might have been implicit at the Big Bang, when you got a Terry Pratchett disc world and the 6 points are all fighting each other and this enormous problem us something the next generation has to sort out is the legacy of the mess my generation have made. In this pretty devastated place at the end of it all you’ve got Love, which you must have had in place at the start.
Love, it’s what you’re left with at the end and the stuff of creation, the message that was behind (classic Enid album) Something Wicked this Way comes.
Is this the end? A punishment or a great forest fire, a reset. The trilogy is about the relationship between the one and the many.
It’s about being interested in ideas of mortality and what it means to be a believer, I honestly don’t know and don’t pretend to know.
I’ve spent my life half rationalising against the idea of God and the other half talking to him’
We spent some time talking about the music on the album ‘I’m not the kind of composer whose a tunesmith, I have to have a story to tell, that’s what I do, it’s why in the 90’s/2000’s I did very little, I had no story to tell. That changed and I came to a realisation that got me cracking again. There are all these genres like Prog, which is bog, which I’ve been criticised about saying, within in these genres there are transcendent bands, bands that transcend their genre and the Enid are a band like that. Like Procul Harum, they were my inspiration the work of Matthew Fisher and Gary Brooker, and Shine On Brightly, that is a fantastic record, they did some amazing live shows with a symphony orchestra. There aren’t many bands who could do what they did, we did that (perform with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) and it cost us money’
Like bands who perform with an orchestra interpreting their hits compared with a band that writes for an orchestra?
‘An orchestra needs to play a proper role, their needs to be a dialogue with the band and the orchestra, that’s something that we tried to do using synths, add that orchestral element to our work’
Robert also spoke candidly about his reasons for stepping aside as a regular touring member of the Enid, ‘ I’m stepping aside from the live stuff as it’s getting tiring and I’m getting decrepit. I don’t need to be on stage, The Enid is a collegiate band and we need to do things as a collective, we all live together and there’s a huge benefit in other social ways, you can get something better for you. You have to have the debate or else be regularly open to persuasion.
People confronted with a powerful argument can sit on their pride and say no, we have a few golden rules as a collective, one of them is no-one is allowed to diss a suggestion just because they don’t like it.
There is nothing worse than being stuck in a scenario with someone who doesn’t like what you want to do.’
This is the third coming of the Enid if you like,
‘There’s a real resurgence in what we’re doing, it’s the fact that the world is more like it was in the 80’s than in the hedonistic materialistic 90’s, it was quite frightening to see a whole generation of people putting their head in the sand, I didn’t get that at all.
The Enid is a young band and I think the perception of me is a grand puppeteer and Machiavellian which is a misconception. I am a collaborator first and foremost; I started off collaborating with Barclay James Harvest and am not terribly good on my own. All the material (on Dust) came from the mind of Joe Payne, I helped Enidify it and taught them how to do it.
My job now is to do an album with Jason Ducker, called the Gordian Knot, then the Trilogy Redux as the band are ready to tour the whole trilogy and release a celebration boxed set bringing it all together.
When I envisaged the trilogy Joe Payne wasn’t involved then he came along, he found us and we went from there. We had allsorts of ideas for Invicta, he produced a lot of melodic things, and he’s a very smart young man interested in the visual side.
They’re all running things, Max has found a new protégé to devote to composing with Joe, First Light and Monsters are magnificent and Max wrote these.
My role has always been managing the creative side. It’s just a method of how to do it the way I evolved over the years and of course I stole it all from Procul Harum, Vanilla Fudge, Rachmaninov, Mahler (laughter) when you look at all the genres Vanilla Fudge made their fare as a progressive covers band, new imaginings of household tunes, all that diversity instilling in us all hope for the future.
Who was responsible for it? My lot, strutting in the backbenches, the House of Lords, all be dust soon.
Sometimes forest fires are good, depending on how important you see the individual. We see ourselves as a large group of separate islands, linked to the collective unconsciousness, I’m not certain anything is ever lost, but I’m thinking about it.
Invicta means unconquered, and what that album is about is guilt, not individual guilt but a national guilt, like that felt by the Germans to this day, this business about guilt it’s a structured thing, there are people alive now whose Fathers were Nazis.
We’re off to Japan soon and my father, who fought in Burma refused to ever have anything Japanese in the house, and I find it impossible to conceive that.
There is guilt and cover ups, when I go to Dresden and see the mess from that spiteful raid, which had nothing to with war, it’s still nothing compared to the 12 years in Malaya that the British got away with. National guilt happens when you’re not the victor, no one feels guilty about Malaya and we have no national guilt because no one talks about it, truth means one thing to one lot and something different to someone else. Invicta is about overcoming guilt.’
Having had no major label support for the past decade or so Robert is now diverting his energies to the bands management and future income flow and has some strong advice for creative types,
‘I am raising the presence of the fan club to raise funds so the band can continue to do what they’re doing, we have our own studios, record label and are looking to expand that. A band I’m fond of The messenger are looking to do it the way we do, bands have got to treat themselves as businesses not just artists.
If you’re going to make a career you have to do it full time, if that means making every conceivable sacrifice then you have to.
The studios we have serve the local community and the bands coming through have their own little dreams but some have no material and haven’t practiced conversely we have brilliant bands coming through who aren’t doing it professionally.
The music business is cluttered up and music is a pollutant, you can’t get away from it, it’s something tinny that is coming out of someones iPhone. It’s hard work for artists not prepared to go down the X Factor route or the normal business method.’
Robert, whilst having strong views on the current prog scene also has opinions on other genres
‘Zach Bullock, our new keyboard player has a jazz background and he likes the harmonic chords like the one used by Siegfried Kark-Elert used as he developed a Wagnerian style that moulds all these chords and then pulls them together.
I’m not dismissive of jazz, it’s just a content issue, there’s an awful lot of airport lounge music and its amazing that this technique works and has been a great mystery to me, one of the things that on paper couldn’t possibly work and then done well, it does work’.
From one end of the Enid spectrum to the other, vocalist Joe Payne has been aboard the Enid train since 2011, and brought a vitality and stage presence to the band, marrying his amazing vocals and stage presence to the cinematic sound of the band, now one of the key members of the band, Joe has been credited with helping the Enids third creative rebirth. Another passionate and intelligent musician, his vocals have been compared to Freddie Mercury and are an integral part of the Dust album.
We started by chatting about Dust and how the album came about,
‘Dust came from me, my first collaboration was Invicta and a lot of the content came from me, On this album (Dust) we wanted to develop ourselves as writers/performers which is why we released The Bridge. When you’re a prog band as we are there’s a lot of questions as to whether you want to make something accessible to draw forward your audience or stand up for your artistic form.
It was a question we battled with a lot, some of our compositions began life as pop songs with us telling ourselves we needed to make this transition. Once we’d learnt what we were capable of we didn’t need to go in the pop direction.
All this happened behind the scenes and it led to a very ambitious album, one that is very progressive and very accessible with melodic ideas, which is its strength’
How far in the process were you when it clicked?
We did a limited edition album called First Light, and we had to get one song finished and it was Someone to Rise, and that’s when we realised none of us are mainstream thinkers and we could do what we like.
This was the turning point to stand up for ourselves as artists, we kept the original recording for Dust, this intent meant so much to us, it said we should all stand up for our art in an industry about making money and art comes second, we stand up for Art.’
Joe talked a bit about his background and how that colours his role in the Enid,
‘I grew up doing theatre, a real 90’s kid and really admiring showmanship, although the music wasn’t the most ambitious the shows were amazing, with a huge reach, moving sets, incredible lightening, meant you could take a song and make a context around it, a real piece of theatre. It was born out of artists like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie and once the pop industry realised this, they knew it could sell an act. Taking that element seriously can reach people, some people can only be reached visually and it’s made a massive impact on raising our profile. Like a third coming of the Enid, we’re a hungry band.’
Robert stepping back will have an impact on the band,
‘The Enid is more than Robert, there’s so much of me, so much of Max, so much of Jason, and the next album is influenced by (new keyboard player) Zack Bullock and it sounds fantastic. I’m not concerned about the bands future at all, I know some fans may be concerned, but all I ask is that they have faith in us and what we do. Roberts always going to be behind the scenes and will be til he dies, though he is threatening to go on for another 20 years (laughter). He’s always going to be a major force in the band and we’re a very strong band.
As much as Robert has had influence on the Enid, we have learnt from his example and the ideas that come from the rest of us are now becoming the identity of the Enid and what the fans are looking for, things will change but that’s organic, evolution.
Treat the Enid like an orchestra, constantly evolving with a strong legacy, and we will continue to build on that legacy’
‘I was interviewed yesterday and the statement was given to me that ‘this is musical theatre’ and the more I think about it, the more it frustrates me. I had the ingredients but pushed myself away from it because I wanted to be a TV actor or in a rock band. I wanted to become an artist and write for myself and do things on my own terms.
If people are calling it musical theatre then they’re making a statement, when what we’re making is good quality music and as a band we try to get the best out of our instruments. Which in my case is my voice, I’ve done a lot of hard work to achieve that. If people are sayings it’s musical theatre what does that say about the rest of it?
‘It’s fair to say we’ve had a similar ride to Queen, as they always changed their sound but it could never be anyone else, we’re always revising and refreshing our sound and if we get compared to anyone and if I get compared to Freddie Mercury then I’m pleased and it shows we’re working in a wider field.
You can sum our philosophy as band in that we do what we like and that’s the best we can do!’
The Enid Dust
1) Born in the Fire 8:01
2) Someone Shall Rise 5:11
3) Monsters 5:25
4) 1000 Stars 7:02
5) When the World is Full 5:21
6) Trophy 6:01
7) Heavy Heart 5:31
15th studio release from the Enid, and the third part of the trilogy that was started in Journeys End (2010), followed by Invicta (2012) and now we have Dust, a product of a band reborn and rediscovering their creative fire.
The fire in this album is no doubt driven by the young blood in the band, the dynamic and versatile frontman Joe Payne, whose astonishing vocals are the centrepiece of this album, whilst guitarist Jason Ducker adds so much virtuosity to this album, whilst the more seasoned hands of drummer Dave Storey, multi instrumentalist Max Read and the ever present classical keyboards of Robert John Godfrey carry on that continuity, so you know that this can be nothing else other than an Enid album, whilst still sounding fresh, vital, original and truly epic.
From the grand epic opening of Born in the Fire, the operatic vocals of Payne (compared by many to Freddie Mercury) and the symphonic mix of orchestra and rock band work in perfect harmony, comparisons to Queen and the vocals of Freddie Mercury are apt and well deserved, as just like Queen, the Enid are adept at brining in elements of opera, symphonies and classic old fashioned rock and turn the disparate entities into a whole, and this powerful and beautiful epic sets the tone for the rest of the album.
7 tracks, clocking it at less than 45 minutes long, has more musical ideas and imagination throughout it than some albums running at double the length, here’s a tip the Enid have learnt, just because a CD can be 80 minutes long, doesn’t mean it has to be.
With Joes astonishing vocals taking centre stage on the brilliant Someone Shall rise, with some more astonishing work from Ducker on guitar you realise that Dust is not so much an album, more of a symphonic story, with movements rather than tracks, and as such deserves to be listened to in one sitting, as the lyrics and music work on so many levels and the concept is never lost.
Moving through such beautiful pieces of music as Monsters and the brilliant 1000 Stars, the band cross and ultimately transcend genres, assuredly and intuitively moving away from the traditional notions of prog, and doing what the original prog bands of the late 60’s were doing, and pushing boundaries, not because they need to, but because musically they can, and musically it works.
As the albums closing three tracks build towards the climax of Heavy Heart, whilst this ends one trilogy, and indeed Robert John Godfreys live involvement with the band, it’s less the sound of one door closing, but more the sound of a young band who have discovered who they are, and are ready to kick the next door down as they continue to pursue their own musical path.
This is a band who know who they are, know what they are capable of and are more than determined to show the world what they can achieve.
Thanks to Robert John Godfrey and Joe Payne for their time, Dust can be ordered online at http://www.theenid.co.uk