Andy Tillison: The Progarchy Interview

The latest album from that stalwart institution The Tangent, Songs from the Hard Shoulder, will be released — or perhaps I should say unleashed — on June 10th. Boasting three extended tracks (“The Changes,” “GPS Vultures” and “The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post”), the short, sharp retro-anthem “Wasted Soul” and a head-turning cover of UK’s “In the Dead of Night”, it’s a brilliant collection from a first-class band at the peak of its powers. And beyond the formidable talents of guitarist Luke Machin, woodwind specialist Theo Travis, bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Steve Roberts, the group’s remarkable collaborative chemistry is firmly rooted in the eclectic musical appetite and deeply humane vision of its founder, keyboardist and singer Andy Tillison.

It was serious fun for me to spend an hour talking with Andy, going into detail about the album — including some of the real life experiences behind the songs — and heading down other delightful rabbit trails besides: why he goes out of his way to hear other groups at prog festivals, our respective experiences of radio in our formative days, his favorite band (which may surprise you), and much, much more! Throughout, Andy answered every question candidly and put up with my schoolboy goofs/fanatical excesses, exuding his wonderfully unique mixture of curiosity, passionate commitment and dry humor. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did! The video is immediately below, with a complete transcript of the interview following (and continuing over the jump). But why were we both looking to our right??

Alright!  Well, first of all, congratulations on the new Tangent album!    I’ve heard it and I really enjoy it.  I’ve been a fan since the Le Sacre [du Travail] album, and have very much enjoyed – I saw you live in 2017 actually, in Chicago.

Right, yeah!  That was a great night; really enjoyed that one!  Some good experiences that night for me; I’ll never forget that one.

And that was a great weekend overall.

It was, yes.

To put you on the spot right away, if you had to describe Songs from the Hard Shoulder to someone who had never heard The Tangent, what kind of a pitch would you make?  

[Laughs] I would say it’s a difficult album, actually!  We haven’t made this as an easy sort of pigeonhole-able album.  Obviously, we do make albums where we try to put our case and make a beautifully constructed record.  But on this one – we just did what we wanted to do.  And we do that from time to time, you know?  We don’t always try to write to fit the need; we sometimes write from the point of view of what we want to write!  And we ended up with this slightly imbalanced record; it’s got three epic tracks and one short one! [Laughs]  How many other albums are quite like that?

And of course, the fact that all the three main tracks are completely different from one another!  I’ve been saying in other interviews that it’s almost like three different bands made three different tracks! [Both laugh].  The first one being very much like The Tangent, the second being a jazz-fusion band, the third one being dark and electronica influenced.  And then a Tamla-Motown song! 

I think it’s probably best to understand what the band have been doing before!  This is not necessarily a first album to hear by a band; it’s one of a sequence.

It works better in context is what you’re saying.

I think it’s a contextual album.  To be fair, if you’re looking at classic progressive bands of the past, most people who came into the world of Yes did not enter from the point of view of Tales from Topographic Oceans.  They came in with Fragile or The Yes Album or maybe even Close to the Edge is where they came in.  I say “maybe even Close to the Edge” cause that’s where I came in!

And the same with Genesis: most people who came in didn’t arrive with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; they came in at some other point.  And the sort of deeper albums are the ones they go back to and help develop their relationship with a group.

OK!  I think that what I heard in your pitch is that it’s very much “you guys” – the band that you are right now.

Yeah!

So, definitely not a snapshot, more like a short video at least!  [Both laugh]

I think that being in a progressive rock band, if you’re serious about it, and this is more than just a commercial label you use to make things more convenient for markets – you have to be able to make the developments, to take the risks, to do the non-commercial things!  Because that’s what the audience wants of us!  Sure, everybody likes Asia, for example, but they always want something more meaty than that, if you get what I’m saying.  They want something that’s a bit more out there, more adventurous.

So, the fact is that this great progressive arc can take in everything from pop songs, rock songs, pop-rock songs if you like, through to massive great big sinfonias!  Everything from an acoustic guitar being bashed on the stage by Peter Hammill right through to massive symphony orchestras.  There’s so much available to us in the power – every so often you have to use it!  And this means on this occasion, we didn’t write much short-form material for this record.

So that kind of answers my next question, because as you mentioned, three of the four tracks on the main album plus the bonus track are all over 15 minutes; they’re definitely what you would call “of epic length.”  Did you feel like, in terms of the songs with lyrics, that the subject matter demanded that?  How do you develop these longer pieces?

I think that it’s just something that happened.  To me, I grew up listening to rock music, but the first rock music I heard was long! [Laughs] 

OK!

I was listening to Yes age 12, Van der Graaf Generator age 12, Genesis 14 perhaps.  Picking up on Pink Floyd and finding that, because of my history in classical music, I tended to be more interested in the longer pieces.  Because the classical upbringing I’d had – and I’m talking about classical listening, because there was so much music in my house when I was a boy.  And so, I’d get to hear all this stuff!

Consequently, when I first heard things like the Beatles, I always used to be disappointed that the songs were over so quickly.  I thought, “I was just getting into it, what’s happened?”  [Both laugh]  So it just seemed a natural way.  In me it’s writing to how I always like listening to music!  I like music that goes on for a bit.

[Laughs] As I’ve said, many times, “this music is not epic at all!”  20 minutes is not epic at all; it’s an episode of Friends!

It’s an epic in the pop context.

In one context.  Are we a pop group?  Is that what we are?  I don’t think that’s what we ever were!  We love pop music, and we use pop music as an influence.  But are we a pop group?  I don’t think so, not really.

Yeah, that’s a fair comment.  I was thinking more in terms of, as you mentioned, the pop listening span is 3 to 5 minutes, so if something is 3 or 4 times that, what are you gonna look for?  And the word that gets tossed about is “epic.”  But, as you say, if you compare it with – I’m with a local symphony chorus and we’re singing Mahler’s 2nd tonight.  It’s all relative in terms of timespan.

Right!  OK!  Make sure you’ve got a drink! [Laughs] Don’t waste too much of your voice on this interview, cause the Mahler matters, man!!

I appreciate that, and we’ll keep that going.  But one of the things I do appreciate about your long-form tracks is that they are structured, but they’re not completely predictable.  But yet, when stuff comes around again, you say “Oh, yeah!  That’s the perfect thing right for that moment.”

Most of this – it’s not being formally taught to me, on how to do this.  I haven’t been presented with, “you need to do so many bars of this, then recapitulate on this,” and all that kind of stuff.  That’s not been the way!  I just think that my listening, I have listened to so much music that gradually, slowly but surely, these things have developed, are second nature.

I often think that, once people become musicians and start making their own records – I’ve observed this in quite a few of my contemporaries – they become less likely to listen to other people’s stuff in the same way as they used to, before they became a musician themselves.  Once they become a musician, it’s like they’ve moved from being a listener into something else.  By no means everybody!  This is not a huge sweeping generalization; I’m just saying some people.

And that never happened to me!  I’ve always been listening.  I love listening to music!  Consequently, I’m doing it all the time, and all the time I’m learning and picking things up.  Even now, 62 years old, I’m still discovering new little tricks.  Thinking, “yeah, that’s good!”  And finding myself using a technique that I might have picked up somewhere else, subconsciously.

And that’s one of the things I appreciate about The Tangent – that there are always these moments of freshness.  And there’s this willingness to explore different bits of genre, different (as you say) musical tricks.  I’ve never thought of your music as being stuck within a form or a genre.  You’re constantly testing the boundaries of what you do.

Obviously, thank you very much for saying that!  That’s one of the things that we’re most keen to do.  If we look at a period that’s dear to us all, that golden period of progressive rock music in the 1970s, those people were exceedingly good at listening to one another.  That’s really important, that Yes would check out what King Crimson were doing, that they’d all be round each other’s gigs at a place called the Marquee in London.

They were looking at the world around them, outside that bubble they were in at the moment.  Those guys had grown up in a world with people as diverse as The Beatles, Igor Stravinsky, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman.  They’d grown up in a world of television commercials, pirate radio and feature films and television theme tunes.  And of course, a huge swathe of classical and folk music going way back!  And what they did was, they created their own individual tapestry; each band created its own little mix and collage of all the things they wanted to.  And brought this kind of music to fruition!

Now, here in the 2000s, and since The Tangent started 20 years ago, we’ve been very keen to align ourselves with those bands as a progressive rock band.  But we’ve also been very keen to act like they did in the world around us!  The fact that we live in 2022 means that we have a whole 50 years of extra musical influences and soundtracks to our own lives to be influenced by.  And I’ve always believed that those soundtracks aren’t somehow negated by the fact that they happened after 1979, and it can’t be prog.  That’s nonsense!

We had the whole of the 90s dance explosion – to me, a marvelous time that I really, really enjoy listening to.  And so much funk and jazz!  Attitudes toward racism and the incorporation of, the mainstreaming of black culture over the years has enabled musicians in our area to start appreciating and show their appreciation for people like Stevie Wonder, people like Michael Jackson.  And incorporate ideas that they used and bring them into our music.  Times have changed, and we move with them!

I appreciate that.  I grew up in Detroit in the middle of late Motown and the years after – the ‘70s, where Stevie Wonder was really doing his absolute best work.  And for people to say that because it’s not rock with a capital R, it’s not something that’s relevant, or something that can be pulled into a different musician’s worldview, or indeed that you can’t react to what’s going on in the world around you – I mean that’s not just wrong, it’s self-limiting!  You limit yourself, you limit your ability to grow, shut yourself down from that.

I agree!  I sometimes will go to a prog festival – because we’re playing at it, for example.  The most recent ones because of the pandemic were the ones I was at in America with you guys.  And I was at several festivals – I did Progtoberfest, I did the other one, the one that’s in New Jersey. [Laughs]

ProgStock?

Yeah, ProgStock, that’s the one!  And I also did the one in Italy, which is called 2 Days Prog + 1, which is in Veruno, and Summer’s End, which is in the UK.  Now I tend to, when I’m at those festivals, actually watch the bands! [Laughs]  A lot of other people, a lot of my friends, they like to go in the dressing room and chat and not watch the other band.  But I like to watch the other bands!

And I saw an awful lot of groups that time – for example, you can see the ones who are influenced by nothing other than progressive rock bands from the 1970s.  In other words, they’ve probably never heard The Tangent, or The Flower Kings or anything like that.  But they have heard Pink Floyd, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, OK?  You can see, because there’s a huge swathe of what happened in progressive rock since 1994 missing from their music, alright?

And then you get the bands who have taken things onboard.  And those are the ones that I find more richly satisfying.  You can tell the ones who’ve listened to something other than music before 1979.  And I think that’s an important thing for me.

My favorite that I saw throughout the whole of that little tour was Discipline, an American band.  And I saw them in Italy.  I’ve always liked Discipline and to actually see them live, I was absolutely blown away; I absolutely adore them.  So there you go!

And they’re another Detroit band, so I absolutely share your love for that!  But I noticed that, because it seemed that every time I turned around at Progtoberfest, I saw you and Steve and Jonas behind me checking things out.  And I’m going, “that’s really cool that they’re interested!”

Of course we are!  [Laughs] At the Summer’s End festival, I think I managed to note that every other band who had played at the festival – we were the last band on – every other band at the festival had gone whilst we were playing! [Both laugh]  They’d gone home!  Nobody was staying around to see what we did, but I’d watched all them!

It’s me that wins!  I’m not trying to win anything, but in the end I get the benefit of seeing what other people do!  And it’s particularly good to do that at a festival; it’s like a free pass!  “OK, what are they doing?  OK, that’s really interesting.  Yeah, I like that!”  It’s an affirmation of what you’re doing yourself to see what other people are doing.  And as I say, it was really important to the original period of the music, when people were going round and looking at each other’s acts at the Marquee club.

Yeah, absolutely!  Well, we’ve gone somewhat far afield, so I guess I’d better pull us back to the album.  “The Changes” – obviously, that starts with the brute fact of the COVID lockdowns so many of us have endured – but then I was really impressed by the hopeful turn that it took, both musically and lyrically.  It leads me to ask: how have you processed the last couple of years, and how did your experience feed into that piece?

“The Changes” was written in Lockdown One, the very first one.  And that’s the one where the world went quiet.  I don’t know if the same thing happened in Detroit, but we’re talking about the world just went quiet.  Now I already live in a quiet place; I don’t live in Detroit, for a start!  I live in a village on top of a hill in what’s called the Yorkshire Dales; there are about another 18 houses in the village.  And all around is rolling fields.  But the roads went completely quiet; the airplanes disappeared from the sky, and wildlife started to come out.  And I started to feel very lonely, very peaceful, and quite isolated.  And wondering if all this was really happening! 

And of course, as the implications of what was happening grew and you became more and more aware, you wondered, “will I ever see the faces of the people that I love again?”  That’s a line from the song; you start wondering, will I see them again?  And will I ever do a gig again?  Will we ever get together and watch a band? 

That was it, and then of course – I’m not a religious person, as you probably know, but I think there’s spiritual side to us all, regardless of any kind of supreme being.  I always try to have some light!  And in many cases, it’s not actually that I’m struggling to find light; it’s that I’m struggling to find dark from which the light can spring, if you understand that.

OK!

If everything is light all the time, then love ‘em though I do, you’ve got S Club 7 and the Spice Girls.  All happy, you know?  All happy.  I like to have something which you can work your way through and find positive things to say from a dark situation. 

And that situation – it had both sides!  There was this terrible fear of the virus, because the vaccines hadn’t come at that point.  There was this loneliness, there was this wondering, “will we survive it?  Will we all get through it?  Will we ever meet again?”  But at the same time, there was this beauty, this serenity – the fact that I was able to experience what life on this planet was like hundreds of years ago!  With what the countryside really sounds like with no traffic in it.  Just silence!  And birds singing. 

I think that the beauty of that meant that I needed to sing that “we don’t have to go back to normal!”  We wanted to go back to normal, but it’s a case of, “let’s not just go back to normal!  Hey, why don’t we use this?”  Now, it’s not preaching; it will sound like preaching to some, and some negative reviews will say I’m being preachy about it.  Because I actually say, “let’s not just go back to normal.”  And it sounds like I’m standing up there saying, “NO!  WE MUST NOT GO BACK TO NORMAL!!!”  It’s not like that.  We all think aloud, don’t we?  And it’s just me thinking out loud, saying, “oh, come on!  Let’s not just go back to normal; let’s do something.  Let’s make something out of this!”  I guess that’s what I’m saying, really.

Yes, that came through loud and clear.  And it did not strike me as being preachy at all.  You mentioned the last time we interviewed you that you thought that the Auto Reconnaissance album was maybe more philosophical than political.  And I kind of thought that this album continued in that vein.

Yes, I think so, too.

It seems to me that you’re pointing out, as you say – sometimes dark things that are happening in our lives, we tend to take the light for granted.  In a situation like this, as you say, we see the beauty, the value in what we were sort of just saying, “oh, yeah – I’ve got this, I’ve got this, I’ve got that.  But you know, I really wish I had this and this and that, too!” 

But then in that sense of deprivation – and there was in the state of Michigan a pretty sense of that for at least a couple of months — as you say, there’s an opportunity to go, “I’m grateful for what I had.  It would be great if, when this is over, it can be better.”  But also, “Here’s what I have, and I’m really thankful, and I didn’t realize how thankful I was for it until it was threatened.”

It has been a very strange time for us all.  I’ll be really honest, actually – I feel after it’s all over I’ve taken an age hit!  I feel a lot older than I did before this happened.  And I look it! [Laughs]  I haven’t exactly tarted myself up for this interview; I’ve just been working all day, and I do have this tendency to look like a mad professor!

It’s part of your charm.

I just feel that I have aged quite a bit over that particular time.  I’m hopefully going to get myself back on the beam!  I do hope that the band all play again at some point.  But at this moment I have no idea how to do it, because of course there’s so many problems in Europe at the moment – shortages, fuel prices, and of course the Brexit thing still going on, a war going on that I could drive to in 48 hours.  It’s a weird thing!

Yeah, the times have only gotten stranger, it would seem.

It’s just getting more and more bizarre, isn’t it?  [Laughs] There’ll probably be another Tangent album one day that relates to that!

Good point!  As you said, “GPS Vultures” is a full-on fusion instrumental – there’s a bit of Canterbury, a bit of prog, a bit of funk, a bit of jazz.  It’s this wonderful mixture of all sorts of things.  It really features everyone in the band to full effect, I thought!  My question was: you have this very stable lineup – you and Luke and Theo and Jonas and Steve.  How do you think that stability might enable a piece like this?

Absolutely!  As I now know the people in the band so well, and we’ve been working together for such a good long time now – because essentially, although Steve joined us in 2017, what constitutes this band began in 2014, which is 8 years ago, with the album A Spark In The Aether.  And since then myself, Jonas, Theo and Luke have been on all the Tangent records since that point.  We added Steve on the 2017 album; this is his third album with us.  We just go on with him like a house on fire!  In fact, Steve’s musical influences and mine – I could go to his house and I could just know he’d have these records that I could get out and put on! [Laughs]  He’s got the same record collection as me with a few additions, and vice versa.

So yeah, knowing what I’ve got to work with is absolutely great!  I also know what people in the band are going to enjoy playing!  This is the job of a bandleader.  As I’ve said so many times, The Tangent’s a band; it’s not a group of musicians that I just decided to put their names on the album and then tell them what to play!  That is absolutely not what we’re about!  I am about providing them with a piece of music and saying, “what do you want to do with this?”  They do what they wanna do; they play what they wanna play; they compose their parts; sometimes they reference mine, sometimes they totally ignore it.  And I always let them take the music where they wanna take it!

The result is that it always actually sounds like musicians playing together.  Because that’s exactly what it is!  We’re all reacting to one another in a way that’s different from the old days of all being together in a studio.   But it’s not quite as clinical as that star system where there’s one person in the middle who sends it to that person and that person and that person and that person and they all send back an individual contribution.  Ours works by the fact that they all get to hear it to start with and then people will start working on different songs at different points.  Therefore, as they start working on another song, they’ll have more of the other musicians on it and be able to react to them, and vice versa!  The whole thing starts to take on a group sound rather than one person’s solo album with a lot of fancy session musicians on it.

Right!  I hear that collaboration and that chemistry.

Yeah, that’s important.  That’s really important!

One other thing on that one: other than the title is there any connection to your earlier tune “GPS Culture”?

Yes, there’s a connection, and it’s a musical connection.  Like in the way that classical composers used to do variations on their own work.  They’d start off and they’d write something, and then they’d write variations.  Nowadays, people call them remixes or whatever!  This is basically me going back to the very kernel of the original idea that “GPS Culture” had, and then doing something completely different with that idea, if you see what I mean. 

It’s like if J.R.R Tolkien had sat down to write Lord of the Rings, he’d had the party and then decided, instead of having the party at the beginning with Bilbo and everything, then there’s gonna be a murder and it turns into a murder investigation.  So, it’s essentially a moment of music taken off in a completely different direction – it’s an instrumental for a start, not a song.  So, I just called it “GPS Vultures” because it rhymed with “GPS Culture.”  That’s all there is. [Laughs]

I have to admit the track that is haunting me the most is “The Lady Tied To the Lamp Post.” That has so much, both musical and lyrical meat in it.  And as you say, it’s coming from a darker, more Van der Graaf/Nine Inch Nails kind of place musically.  But it also tells this really haunting story.  Where did the idea come from?  And what fed into the point of view you took lyrically? 

The thing is that most of these stories that I tell are based on real events.  And she is no less real.  She is a person who I met on the way home from a party.  That party was a Christmas party at a college where I used to do some work.

I almost tripped over her in the street; she was there, and she was tying herself to the lamp post.  She asked me for money for what I will say were hygiene products, and I was very, very upset that I hadn’t got any cash on me and all I could give her was a cigarette.  And it turned out that she was tying herself to this lamp post so that she wouldn’t fall over and hurt her head, because she’d done that already.

It was freezing cold; it was nighttime.  The thing that hurt the most for me is that I knew exactly what was gonna happen to her.  Because this has happened to me.  I have been – I don’t like to say homeless, but I have been on the streets, owing to different circumstances.  I was on the streets of Paris for some days during a huge problem with money.  There is this feeling, this awful moment as the sun goes down and you know that night’s approaching.  And you realize that once again you have failed to find shelter. 

I know how heavy my heart felt at that point, and I realized just how incredibly hard it must have been hitting this lady, who was about to go through one of the coldest nights of the year in Northern England, which is one hell of a lot colder than Paris most of the time.  It was quite horrible!

And the next part of it, of course, is the complex part of the song.  I got self-referential in that, like I’m questioning the whole point of the song! [Laughs] Because I’m writing about her, but asking myself the question, “wasn’t there more I could have done?  Is a song enough for this?  Will anybody listen?  Will she ever know I wrote it?  Will she ever care I did?”  And what good did it ever do her, or anybody else who’s homeless?

Because it really bothers me, and always has, that this problem just seems to be totally unsolvable!  As if it’s impossible, and it manifestly is possible to solve this problem!  If you can buy Twitter for 44 billion pounds, an awful lot of people can be taken off the streets forever with that money!  And just imagining how much better the world would be if we get together and solve that problem instead of spending money blowing cities off the map, which we seem to be doing.  And creating more homeless people, more tides of refugees.  To me, it’s just a huge, massive error in our prioritization of how we organize our lives.

It’s not a question of could we do this, it’s a question of will we do it.

Yeah, that’s it!  And it just seems to me that we’re becoming more and more blasé about the fact.  And I think that the song does mention this idea – I don’t know how well it comes over.  But for me one of the main ideas of the song is that we’ve all become – each one of our Facebook profiles has a profile pic or an avatar or a WeMe or something like that that represents us on social media.  I can see yours – well yours just says RK on Skype.  I assume on Facebook you’ve got a different picture?

Correct.

That picture represents you.  But I suddenly saw it – that we as human beings have actually become avatars ourselves!  I am the avatar of this bank account that a computer every day is checking “how much has this one got?”  And in effect, out there in the big wide world, that’s me! [Both laugh]  I’m just the avatar for it! 

And of course, the thing is that the lady tied to the lamp post — she was once a person with a job, a family, a house and everything like that.  And then because of situations, because of loss of a job, one day the computer just said, “We’re cutting this woman’s support off.”  The overdraft’s over, the loans are rescinded, the rent won’t get paid, the direct debits have been stopped.  And essentially the computer stopped everything; the computer felt no pain.  But that lady was out on the street.  And to me, that’s why I wrote the song.

Well, I have to say that part came across very well to me. The whole idea, not so much that the powers that be reduce us to our data.  It’s that they reduce us to our data, and then subject us to, like you say, these benchmarks.  And if we don’t hit the benchmarks, look out!

To me, the thing that was most powerful and most unexpected was that right before you head into that part of the piece is when you quote Rose Royce: “You abandoned me/Love don’t live here anymore.”  I thought that was perfect!  I thought that was so powerful.

That’s important to me, because that was a very important song to me growing up.  That was a big part of the influences – I don’t know how much Tamla [Motown] and other black music pervaded your lives over there.  For example, if you’d been listening to a pop music station back in America in those days, would you have heard much black music among the white music, or would it have been separate stations?  Just wondering about that.

It depended on the era, and it depended on the station you were listening to.  My two very strong remembrances with commercial radio were that up till roughly the point of Saturday Night Fever, you would hear a lot of black and black-influenced music on rock radio.  But at the point where disco became a monoculture, all of a sudden, bam!  Cut off completely.  No more Stevie Wonder on Detroit rock radio.  And that never made sense to me!

Right, OK!  That’s very interesting.  Wasn’t there a guy over there that booked football stadiums . . . [referring to 1979’s Disco Demoliton Night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park]

[Disc jockey] Steve Dahl had moved to Chicago by then, but yeah.  I don’t think he realized what he was stirring up when he started doing that.

The other period where things were more open like that was early-to-mid 1980s.  You’d hear Asia alongside Robert Palmer alongside LL Cool J.  But the breaking point there was gangsta rap.  Because that sort of harder, non-pop version of hip-hop took over the charts, I think there was certainly cultural reaction to that.  But there was also the fact that you had Clear Channel and people like that really breaking up the market into segments and saying, “OK!  We’re gonna own all these radio stations, and there’s gonna be a hip-hop station, there’s gonna be a classic rock station, there’s gonna be an alternative rock station.  It’s all gonna be market segmented.”

In England, we’ve always had a completely different broadcasting system over here, I mean, so completely different!  We had the BBC in the 1970s and that is all we had.  Towards the end of the 70s we started to get some independent stations who basically, to compete with the BBC, just did what the BBC did.

As opposed to the pirate radio of the 60s that played the stuff the BBC wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole!

Well, that’s right, but then the BBC assimilated all that like the Borg!  They took all the guys from pirate radio and employed them and gave them a legal channel from which to do it.  The pirate nature of it is that somehow or other, some of these DJs, even some we used to laugh about and considered to be really sleazy characters — people like Dave Lee Travis and people like Tony Blackburn, who we considered to be a laughing stock – they played black music from the off.  And that’s where I got to hear stuff like “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Heat Wave” and all that kind of stuff.   And I guess we were really lucky, because they could have gone in a different direction, and just gone for British music.  And when they were importing American music they could have just gone for Jackson Browne and the Eagles and Joni Mitchell – which of course was great stuff!

Oh, yeah!

But we never had that experience that you had of a radio station playing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jackson Browne on your way to work!  It was always pop music; it was sort of like the British pop music like Sha Waddy Waddy, Mud, Slade, T. Rex and quite a lot of Detroit and Philadelphia soul stuff going on.  We got that mix, and it was enough to be a good melting pot for me to start.

And of course, a song like “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” was very, very important, particularly as it had a synthesizer in it!

Yeah, [in the] late 70s, I was always looking for the songs that had synth lines somewhere.  Didn’t even have to be complicated, just as long as something was there.

Quick digression: I just wanted to show you a book [rummages on shelves off-camera], because the best book that I’ve ever read about Motown is by this – I think he’s an Edinburgh-based journalist [actually based in Glasgow — sorry!], Stuart Cosgrove!  He did a soul trilogy on Detroit ’67, Memphis ’68 and Harlem ’69, and it’s great!  I don’t know if you’re a reader, but I highly recommend that.

I’d strongly like to have a look at that, of course!  I think that in the end, if somebody asks me when I’m arriving at whatever afterlife there is or isn’t, somebody says, “what was your favorite band?”  I’d say, well, which band brought me the most pleasure in my lifetime?  I think it is always gonna be Earth, Wind and Fire! [Laughs]

Ooh!  Great choice!

They’re just a band who, every time I put them on, they just make me happy, they just make me feel good from the minute they start playing to the minute they stop!  What more is there to ask?

Very true.  And pivoting back to the album, “Wasted Life” strikes me as that kind of vibe, even though the lyric is hopeful, but it’s not necessarily optimistic.  But as you say, you wrap it in this Motown single sound that is so propulsive.  And it’s a great way to finish up!  I know the press release described is as “Maybe naïve… but being naïve is somebody’s job. The Tangent are happy to take it on.”

 [Laughs]  That’s right, yes, of course!  Cause I still have those naïve hippie liberal kind of views on life.  Yeah, I believe in peace and love.  And Star Trek, you know?  NO MONEY!! [Both laugh]  Nothing needed!  The world is great!  We all get on together!  We’ve got women of all colors and creeds and men of all colors and creeds and all sexual preferences and aliens all working together on a common cause of good!  That’s it; that’s me!  That’s the kind of world I always want to live in.

And it is naïve, and people will always say, “Well, that’s naïve; that would never work.”  I just think it’s our turn, it’s our bloody turn to have a go!  OK, might get it wrong in five years’ time.  But hey, it might actually work if you just got some nice people to run things.  “Wasted Soul,” the song’s called.

My apologies.

It’s OK.  I was playing my drums on my keyboard, and I just thought, “this groove sounds sort of like Tamla-ish, Spectorish, 1960s.”  And I just had to go down that road.  It’s something I’ve always loved; I love all that Ike and Tina Turner stuff and The Four Tops, Temptations, all those bands. 

I just wanted to do something that was as retro for that as some of the retro prog that I’ve done.  Throughout the years, I’ve delighted people by bringing in a Hammond C-3 or a swathe of Mellotrons that takes them back to their days of listening to Genesis or ELP.  I’ve done that, but it was also nice to be able to do this.  Those horns coming in, and the drums going [sings a drum fill].  That lovely fill, it was Tamla-Motown [sings it again].  I just loved that!  So, it’s just as much a part of my past as “Yours Is No Disgrace,” if you know what I mean.

Yes, I do.  And it’s a great way to end the album.  But it doesn’t actually end the album!

Right.

Because you’ve got the bonus track.  So, I have to ask you: why cover UK’s “In The Dead of Night?”

Well, it’s a fantastic song.  But I think the most important thing goes back to what we were talking about earlier.  I chose a song that I knew every single person in the band loved.  If I’d chosen “Yours Is No Disgrace,” then it would’ve been – although Luke’s not got anything against Yes, he doesn’t know them quite in the same way as I do.

OK.

Every single person in The Tangent, all five of us love UK, we all love that track.  And everybody just said, “Aw, yeah, let’s do that!”  So that’s it, a band decision; we all wanted to do it, and we all did it!

It’s a killer version.  I have to admit that there are times with the [Allan] Holdsworth parts, “Is that Andy or is that Luke?  I can’t tell!”

Well, if it’s a guitar, it’s Luke for sure!  There is actually another version of this song which is just me.  That’s on an Italian John Wetton tribute compilation album which is coming out at the moment.  It’s the demo from which we made The Tangent version.

I was wondering simply because I know that Eddie Jobson had that Minimoog sound that could kind of sound like Holdsworth at certain moments, when he wanted it to.  But yours is more differentiated; that’s good to know.

The other question that I had about that was: where on earth did that middle section come from?  It’s great, but it’s so completely unexpected!

That’s another thing.  UK did their original version, which was the song, then a load of variations on the song that they did in the middle, and then they finished it off by returning to the song.  We did in effect the same thing, but the bit in the middle is us! [Laughs]  That’s what we did, so that our variations on it are not theirs!  So, it made sense to work on our own middle section, and what we would have done with it.  And that’s what we did do with it!

And it’s that great contrast, as you say.  If you covered the whole suite, I’m sure it would be cool, but what’s the need to do that?

Exactly, exactly!  What’s the point?  To be fair, I think, in the terms of The Tangent, this is the first recorded studio cover version that we’ve done.  There are some other cover versions that we’ve done, but they’re mainly on live recordings.  And one of them is “America” by The Nice, and the other one is “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson.  There’s Howard Jones’ song “Hide and Seek,” which is on one of our live albums.  But for the most part, recorded, we’ve always just stuck to our own stuff.  Twenty years in, we just broke a mold and just did a cover version!  Why not?

And it’s a great one, and it’s a great way to end the album.  You said that, understandably, the whole live situation, between the tail end of the pandemic, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, everything else is just not feasible at this point.  I know that you had a project that you released last year, the last Kalman Filter album, which I enjoyed very much.  Do you have any other projects percolating right now?  Or are you saying, “well, let’s launch the album and see what happens next?”

Well, yeah!  Obviously, I will consider playing live if the situation becomes possible.  And don’t forget that many of the members of The Tangent have got other projects on themselves!  And Jonas is currently on a world tour with the Steve Hackett band; whether that decides to happen again next year or not I don’t know.  And that will be priority numero uno to get that work done.

But if it all magically comes together, the four people we need to actually do the gigs – five if we can have Theo, it’s always great, but we can perform without him.  Providing we’ve got the four people we need at some point, we may be able to go out and play.  If not, then that’s just as it is.

The Tangent has always played live, but it’s really important to say that the main focus of The Tangent’s existence is making the records and the compositions.  And it always has been!  For this reason: we’ve never been the live draw that other bands sometimes can be.  We can sometimes find that bands who probably don’t sell as many records as us have got much bigger audiences.  Each side of a band, the live side and the record-buying side, is completely different!  It’s strange that you can get this.  Metallica, for example – actually, I wouldn’t have enough real knowledge to talk about Metallica.  But you have a band over there, Vulfpeck!

Oh yes, yes, yes.

Fantastic band!  And of course, they sold out Madison Square Garden.  What an amazing thing to be able to do, sell out Madison Square Garden!  But when it comes down to how many records did they sell – it’s one of those interesting things.  Their success lies in their live performance and their internet work.  CDs and vinyl copies are probably a much smaller part of their makeup than us.  For us, everything about it is about the records.

Well, what that means is that I think we should be grateful we’ve got Songs from the Hard Shoulder.  Congratulations on it again.  I look forward to listening to it again and again; it’s definitely on my preorder list, and it sounds to me like The Tangent will continue on, all things locking into place as that happens. 

I hope so, Rick, I really do! [Laughs]

Well, I appreciate the time you’ve taken today.  I know that you’ve said so many kind things about Progarchy over the years, and we all appreciate that there.  And we really appreciate you and the attitude you bring and the music that you make.  So, thanks for everything, and best of luck going forward!

That’s very kind of you; thank you very much!  And of course, thank you to everybody in this kind of almost voluntary support industry that writes about and promotes the music we and other bands like us play.  Because you guys have spread what we do and given us a market to play to.  So that’s really nice; thank you!

It’s so much fun; we’re glad to do it!

P.S.: Songs from the Hard Shoulder can be pre-ordered from The Tangent’s website (where you can directly contribute to the costs of making the album via two different tiers of support) or from Burning Shed (at regular prices).

— Rick Krueger

One thought on “Andy Tillison: The Progarchy Interview

  1. great interview. I dig The Tangent’s music but what really draws me to them is that Andy seems like such a genuine and thoughtful guy. always thought he was spot on politically. can’t wait to check this album out!!

    Liked by 1 person

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