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Ron Geesin focus - interview and retrospective Print E-mail

RON GEESIN FOCUS

- THE MADCAP LAUGHS by Glenn Povey; an interview and retrospective on Ron's career

Hidden away in the depths of East Sussex is the home of Ron Geesin; one of the finest examples of eccentricity at its very British best. Familiar to readers of Brain Damage magazine at least for his work on Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and his collaboration with Roger Waters on The Body, Ron's own brand of manic genius remains largely overlooked and as an artist was severely underrated as a first class musician and performer.

I say 'was', because these days Ron seems to divide his time neatly into burying himself in his home studio working for his own amusement and pottering in the garden. However, one glance at the poor apple trees in his garden is enough to suggest he's been ignoring his horticultural duties of late. In fact Ron, although busy with his own musical projects, has found very few commissions in recent times. Once very much in demand for TV soundtracks including (of all things) chase scenes in The Sweeney and the superb Sunday Bloody Sunday, the fact is, nowadays, original composition has been placed in favour of library music.

Recently, myself and Ian Russell visited Ron and sat down in his garden to have a chat about his career and found a man a touch despondent that his own career has been eclipsed by the association with Pink Floyd and the fact that he has never fully realized his potential as an artist in his own right. Even then he has contempt for musicians that have found success and betrayed their "art" - causing him to send a birthday card to Roger Waters with the inscription "happy fester". "I have no respect for stardom", says Ron "only maybe the material that comes out of them from time to time".

Ron Geesin was born in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1943 and began his musical career in 1961 as pianist with The Original Downtown Syncopators (ODS), a jazz band he joined only six days after their first. Indeed he had only been playing piano six months prior to that! However he describes his first leanings towards entertainment as "cheeky backchat with teachers at school". The ODS were a "mixture of humour and violence" a band in which he developed his own personal style, mainly of chief anarchist, elevating him to that of front man and announcer for the band.

As time pressed on, the band (and venues) became less tolerant and eventually he broke away from the jazz circuit to develop his own act. Mixing warped ramblings, poetry, banjo and piano skits with banging any object he could take on stage, he soon became a popular feature at festivals and opening acts for progressive rock shows, including in the early seventies, Genesis.

It is likely that his outing with Genesis was his last big tour. Ron would either raise huge laughs and receive standing ovations or frustrate the audience into a heckling frenzy. One particular incident on the opening night of the tour involved him masquerading as a technician. It wasn't well received and somehow between intervals, whether by Ron's doing or not, certain items of stage equipment became electrically "live". The show, amid a near riot, was eventually cancelled.

Ron's association with Pink Floyd began in late 1969 when he was introduced to Nick Mason via a musical friend, Sam Cutler, also living in London's Notting Hill area. Although a lasting friendship evolved with Nick, it was really with Roger Waters that Ron found a kindred spirit.

Eventually the pair would link up to work on The Body soundtrack, something which Ron was approached to do as a solo work but which later involved Waters due to some urgent lyrics being required. Something that was only recently revealed was the fact that the whole of Pink Floyd played on the closing track of the album, Give Birth To A Smile.

Heralding a new form of filmmaking, The Body was intended to have only music as its soundtrack. After the distributors had seen the rough-cut it was deemed necessary to tone it down. "It was great - it told its own story of travelling through the human body, but then they were forced to get Vanessa Redgrave and someone else to narrate. They did all sorts of pansy stuff over the top of it." What also disappointed Ron was the piece he composed for the medical credits, a simple cello and violin duet. Bemused by the inverted snobbery of the production team (all members of the Workers Revolutionary Party - including Redgrave) the piece was shelved because it was considered a glorification of medical workers.

That project over, the association between Waters went through to the summer of 1970 when Pink Floyd had begun demos on what would become Atom Heart Mother. An inventive use of orchestration Ron worked out a score for 10 brass, 20 choir and one solo cello. However he considers the final piece "a bloody disaster. I turned to Steve O'Rourke (Pink Floyd's manager) and said, 'that's a good rehearsal, can we do it again?'"

Fraught with problems from the start, Ron was frustrated by obstinate classical musicians, who failed to sympathize with his position as a composer and not an arranger or conductor. Musicians of that kind need strict instruction and so eventually John Aldiss (choirmaster and subsequent conductor on tour) took over from a rather frustrated and battered Ron.

Ron is not so much bitter of what the finished product turned out to be, but heavily disappointed, claiming he has never heard it played right (and nor have we in that case). For the most he describes AHM as a "plodding mess" mainly because the orchestral parts were played exactly one beat behind the drums. Ron saw the show at London's Hyde Park on 18 July 1970 and consequently left in tears.

The piece was only titled the day before Hyde Park having previously been introduced as The Amazing Pudding at concerts. It was only at the recording session for John Peel's BBC program that it was officially named. Ron was witness to the strange circumstances surrounding its naming and Atom Heart Mother was taken from a newspaper headline by Waters at Ron's suggestion as an eminently suitable place to look for an urgently needed title. Saving the day, another Pink Floyd legend was born.

For Ron, that was his last involvement with Pink Floyd, an experience that left him bewildered and shattered. The project was completed without him and his efforts remain uncredited on the album sleeve.

Ron is tolerant and good-natured in recalling these events although it obviously pains him that his own career has been blighted by the one-hit wonder status afforded him by these two collaborations some 24 years ago.

Presently, Ron has several of his own projects underway and intends following his recent compilation CD "Hystery" (working backwards with a piece from each year of his career to date) with more live shows and recorded works. It would be so nice to see some of his solo LPs re-released in time as well - all little masterpieces of musical and spoken meanderings that testify a great underrated talent.

Our thanks to Ron, his wife Frances, and son Joe for their marvellous hospitality and the time they spent talking with myself and Ian.

 
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