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Joe Boyd - June 1987 - with Brain Damage Print E-mail

With Brain Damage's Glenn Povey, June 1987

Unfortunately Glenn and Joe weren't able to co-ordinate dates for a meet up, so Joe kindly agreed to accept written questions. The following text may appear a little disjointed in places because of this.

GP: A little background information first, about yourself; have you always lived in England? Did you move here for any particular reasons?

Joe Boyd: I moved here in 1964, as I thought the audiences here were more compatible with my tastes.

GP: You were Elektra records UK representative; what did you do before entering the music industry? Have you always been involved in it?

Joe Boyd: I promoted blues concerts while at Harvard, got a job taking blues on tour (1964 Blues and Gospel Caravan - Waters, Spann, Davis, Tharpe, Terry, McGee et al). I decided at 17 to be a record producer when I grew up.

GP: How did you become involved in the Free School, and what inspired the venture, and how did you team up with John (Hoppy) Hopkins?

Joe Boyd: I met Hoppy when he photographed the above tour for Melody Maker. I sought him out at the end of the tour. When I arrived back in London to work for Elektra, November 1965, it was just in time for the first meeting of the Free School committee at Hoppy's flat.

GP: Do you see it as rather fortunate that Pink Floyd played there, and that perhaps opened up new avenues?

Joe Boyd: Fortunate for whom? Pink Floyd were fortunate to get any gigs with the right audiences and Free School were fortunate to get money-raising from the Floyd.

GP: So, at what time did you begin to get involved with the group professionally?

Joe Boyd: (Peter) Jenner gave me a tape before I heard them at IT Launch Party. I tried to interest Elektra boss Holzman, no dice. I tried then to get them a deal and set one up with Polydor after I left Elektra, my inability to interest them in Pink Floyd being but one example of incompatibility.

GP: What was it that attracted you towards them?

Joe Boyd: They were the most interesting group around, although I confess to also trying to sign The Move to Elektra at the same time. The early psychedelic sets by those beer-swilling Brummies at The Marquee on Thursday nights were the best thing I saw in 1966! The Floyd were built around Syd's songs and a unique sound. You couldn't be an intelligent drug-taker in 1967 and not love the Floyd! Although I guess all my judgements seem to be obvious and not always to anyone else.

GP: They became popular in a short space of time; had you considered taking up their management before Jenner and King?

Joe Boyd: Jenner and King managed them when I first saw them. I never aspired to be a manager, only doing it because I saw my hard-produced records going down the drain if I didn't guide the careers a bit.

GP: Do you now wish you had become involved to a greater extent, or were you content with the management of UFO and their production at the time?

Joe Boyd: My only wish is that they had signed that Polydor contract! That was why I formed Witchseason, to be their production company. I was very choked when Brian Morrison persuaded them to wait and do it indy and flog it to EMI, who were very hostile to indy producers at that time.

GP: UFO was obviously an expansion of the Free School - what caused the latters demise, and what do you think caused UFO's success?

Joe Boyd: Free School was wild-eyed, slightly condescending idealism, bringing over-educated elite into healthy contact with "working class". UFO was perfect for the time, a vacuum waiting to be filled. Hundreds of freaks looking for a central meeting point.

GP: Did the success of UFO, and its increased importance within the "underground" structure work against itself? Were you finding it was becoming too popular for its own good?

Joe Boyd: By May of 1967 it was too popular for its own good, but that is inevitable with anything like that. It had a good six months and I should have closed it down after Hoppy went inside, not just because he took the spirit with him, but also because the audience were mostly tourists by then.

GP: The press towards the middle of '67 seemed to be gunning for the underground, do you think that the protests that were taking place at the time drew too much unhealthy attention to your activities, or those that you were involved with?

Joe Boyd: We weren't trying to stay "under-cover". We were trying to get attention! Certainly it is true that the UFO-led protest against NOW after the Stones bust led that rag to try and "get" us, which they did by forcing the hand of the local police against the Irish landlord.

GP: What were the immediate and long term affects of John Hopkins arrest?

Joe Boyd: Formation of Release, which ironically Hoppy opposed when he came out. The decline of UFO. Subtle cancer of the spirit within the "underground". Alterations of perceptions and objectives on Hoppy's part when he emerged.

GP: Do you think UFO would have succeeded for much longer even if Hopkins wasn't arrested, or your landlord Joe Gannon hadn't been persuaded to cease the letting of his club?

Joe Boyd: It could have gone on, theoretically, but it would have had to become something other than what it started out to be. The groups were no longer interested in charging low fees to play there, they had all become much more expensive, we would have had to continue to come up with new, undiscovered groups, which can't go on forever.

GP: The move to the Roundhouse accomodated a lot more people and attracted more groups; was the atmosphere retained despite this?

Joe Boyd: For a while, it was quite good, helped by the siege atmosphere due to the local skinhead hostility.

GP: Was it perhaps better that a larger venue was obtained to accomodate groups such as the Floyd and their following?

Joe Boyd: The Floyd never played at the Roundhouse, that I can recall. They were too big for us by the summer and only played in early June at the Blarney Club (UFO) to honour an obligation to UFO they made when they left.

GP: Changing the subject, did yo have anything to do with any of the other clubs around London, such as Middle Earth, and what did you think of that venue?

Joe Boyd: Middle Earth wasn't much, but it was OK as a stop gap and a smaller venue once the Roundhouse started up. When it was the "Electric Garden" run by Jay Landesman it was terrible, but when Dave Howson turned it into Middle Earth it improved.

GP: Being American, were you at all influenced by the concurrent activities on the West Coast, The Avalon, or the Fillmore?

Joe Boyd: No more than any other London hippy. Everyone was keeping an eye on San Francisco and news travelled fast. Chet Helms (Avalon) came to visit and was treated by everyone as an honoured visiting potentate, as was Roc Scully (Grateful Dead).

GP: Back to your work with Pink Floyd. Why were the Sound Techniques studios chosen for your production?

Joe Boyd: That was were I always worked.

GP: What did you go on to do after the closure of UFO/collapse of the underground?

Joe Boyd: I produce records, run Witchseason, etc. Manage groups. I produced a Soft Machine single in the summer of 1967.

GP: And now?

Joe Boyd: Run Hannibal Records, make films, etc.

GP: Do you ever see John Hopkins or any of Pink Floyd now?

Joe Boyd: Curiously, the one I see most of is Dave Gilmour. We have a lot of friends in common. I see Hoppy occasionally, the rest rarely.

GP: And their music, do you think after Barrett's departure it changed for the better or worse?

Joe Boyd: It changed a lot. I preferred the Barrett Floyd. I like "Piper" a lot, particularly "Bike".

GP: Do you find it hard to listen to that kind of music now, and do you find any comparison with any modern artists?

Joe Boyd: Robyn Hitchcock of course, and a few strands are creeping in, in unlikely places. The good stuff never dates for me. Candy and a Current Bun is a bit tricky to listen to, but not the best tracks on Piper, or Arnold.

GP: Does commercial exploitation interfere with music too much nowadays? And did you find bands were playing for pleasure then rather than profit?

Joe Boyd: It was more healthily innocent in those days. The radio was listenable and exciting. Maybe I'm just too old, but there is not much excitement today in the charts, but every cultural upheaval has the same history, it's nothing new to Paris in the 1880's or Harlem in the 1920's.

GP: Has that affected your attitude towards the music industry?

Joe Boyd: I try to stay away from programmed rhythm, so that leaves me out of most mainstream stuff.

GP: Lastly, do you have any hopes for the future of the music industry, would you like that friendly spirit to return?

Joe Boyd: The formulas in the charts, and the hi-tech muzak we get have forced open ears to all sorts of things, from Africa to Bulgaria. This is healthy, and wouldn't have happened without the decline of pop. There is always good stuff around, and always the hope of even better.

Our thanks to Joe for spending some time answering our questions.

 
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