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Home arrow Interviews arrow Ron Geesin interviews arrow Ron Geesin interview - July 19th 2008 - with Brain Damage (Part 2)
Ron Geesin interview - July 19th 2008 - with Brain Damage (Part 2) Print E-mail
Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 06 August 2008
AHM rehearsals 2. Pic by Joe Geesin
AHM rehearsals 3. Pic by Joe Geesin

- Jumping forward to the present day, you obviously wrote some new bits for the new performance. When did that whole process start? How much did you want to tinker with the original piece, particularly with the problems...

Let's take the two things separately. I wasn't wanting to tinker with it at all. But, I knew, and I've always said, that you've got this crazy situation where you've got the phonetics, the choir phonetics in the funky section, you've got them one beat off what I intended, and it was always an ambition to correct that - somehow. So the best solution came, given to me on a plate, by the Chelsea Festival. So we did it, as I explained on one of the nights, we did it the right way wrong, and the wrong way right! [Laughs] And that works fine. It's quite a fruity, juicy section, and it stands to be done twice, and then you've got the offset of one beat, with the accompaniment still 4/4 in the group.

So that was that. So I would always want that to be done like that now. And then, at one point, the millionaire chap said "Well, that would make a great encore, wouldn't it, to do the funky section the other way around?" And I said "I don't like that. I'd rather build it into the main performance, because otherwise we might get into a bit of a mess, and it's a bit low-key for an encore".

So I said "no" to that one. There were various permutations; I could have said "no, we'll only do it the way that I wrote it", but then I thought no, because it works fine the wrong way, the way it is on the record. So, we'll do it both ways.

And then the cello was only ever the same melody twice, times two, so that's four times you've heard the melody. Now, four times is actually too many anyway, but that's how it went on the record. So, that's more of a pop attitude - if you've got a good melody, repeat it, don't throw it away!

But my perverse nature says, that's more than plenty, and if we're going to get a superb cellist like Caroline to come along and do that, she's got to have a bit more to do. So I wrote an extra chorus after the two choruses, of the same melody, and the instruction in the music and it's my feeling, is that this is the cellist saying "I've had quite enough of this melody. I'm going off on a flight of fantasy now, and here I go!" And off it went. And then the second time, "I'm going to do it even more!" But there are tiny elements of that original tune in those other [parts]...

- And I think that worked incredibly well, and the reaction of people who heard that, it really "stuck a chord" with them...

Ye gods! Stuck a chord! [Laughs]

- But it really worked well, doing that flight of fantasy...

Ah good! Yeah... Get flying girl! I said to her "It's about flying, about going off the ground". And off she went...

- And she did a great job.

Yeah. And some of it, because of the nature of the chord sequence itself, some of it does sound a bit like tiny bits of the Elgar Cello Concerto, but the connection there is also because Caroline Dale played the sound of Jacqueline du Pré in the film [Hilary and Jackie]! And Jacqueline du Pré WAS Elgar's cello concerto: IT became HER, and SHE became IT!

There's all sorts of connections here, but only because of the Chelsea Festival. When I lived in the basement in Elgin Crescent, where I made my first album, I used to get the bus - because I didn't drive - from the Royal College of Art, to the flat. And it was the 52 bus. Frankie was at the Royal College of Art the first time (because she went back a second time much later on), and you could get a very good lunch for 4/6 down there, so I would go down there sometimes, and for various reasons because of maybe being at the BBC or some other place, I would have a black banjo case. The London double-decker buses then had the long seat, and the open door.

And sometimes I'd see this girl, sitting across from me on the long seat, with a cello and long fair hair, and it WAS Jacqueline du Pré. So, there is the ultimate contrast of the self-taught new style (I won't say pioneering) musician with a banjo, which represents "the American coloured community" - the banjo represents to me their attitude of shouting and laughing at life, at the same time - sitting opposite the ultimate classical European tradition.

With Caroline Dale, who had been [Jacqueline du Pré] it was almost like it was a repeat, and she was then sitting in the bus opposite. So the idea of doing the banjo and cello thing came, and seemed...

- ...perfect?

Yes. In fact, it might NOT have been a banjo and cello, it might have been a piano and cello, because I offered her accompaniment on either the piano or the Eastern banjo for that piece. I said "the accompaniment is optional, I can do it on either - it'd be different, but the same". And she IMMEDIATELY went for the Eastern banjo. So I said "fine", because that's me, leaving things to chance - throw the dice, which one shall we have?

- So how did rehearsals go? What was the process of getting all these different individuals all worked out? Obviously, you mentioned that the brass was "interesting" because of the different personnel at various times. Initially, did you do the different performers separately?

AHM rehearsals 5. Pic by Joe Geesin Yes. The Italians knew the piece anyway; they were beavering away on their own down there in Florence. Occasionally, I'd get emails like: "What's this bit? What's that? Can we get around this?" And I would say, "I'm putting in an extra chorus" or whatever. They were warned of that.

The brass. [Laughs] Nothing went smoothly with the brass. First of all, the first rehearsal - having engaged them through the Royal College of Music, they were top end students, and they were coordinated by the External Events Coordinator girl. And the first rehearsal, which... it might have been March... February/March, sometime, Mark, the conductor, couldn't make it, and she had took ages to get ten players together because of "diaries, commitments". So when it came to the date, Mark couldn't make it so I said, "Right, I'll go and say hello to them, and get a feel for what's going on". I had just sort of started... I was about a minute into writing Brascourse - it's only got one "S" as it's ALMOST a complete course for brass. And that's the truth of it, guv! [Laughs]

So I took along about eight bars to test, because I hadn't written much more than that. I scribbled out some bits, and I had some of the original Atom Heart Mother score, just to get the feel of it. It turned out that they were expecting a full three-hour rehearsal, and I was expecting just an hour and a half to get the feel of them, and to say "Right, well that's great", and I can go back and get on with writing and finish the thing. Right from the start, there was misinterpretation, of communication between me and the Coordinator. So that was somewhat wasted because I'd run out of things to do after about an hour.

Because I was not going to be conductor - I mean I couldn't: I could have learned, by the time I'd gone through all the other things, but I think I had quite enough to do, and that might have just broken me! I'd have cracked up! [Laughs]

Anyway, I reported back to Mark, I said "They're fine, they can play anything. Just like the old joke: they'll play the fly shit on the paper"! [Laughs]

"Fantastic", I said, "they're really a good group. The use of mutes: fine, they've got all their mutes, they know what they're doing, etc., etc.".

But then it took bloody ages to organise the next rehearsal and that was not possible in the big hall that we had the first one in. [The next one] was in a sweaty little room, and it was a hot day. It was getting up to the beginning of May, and then I'm noticing that... I mean it was a wonderful rehearsal, because Mark was there and we were getting them all sorted, but we could soon see that there were a lot of problems with Brascourse because I didn't hold back to do with ranges and timings and stuff: it was proving quite difficult. AND there were several players different. Actually the first rehearsal was even worse, because TWO players weren't there at ALL - we'd only got eight brass out of the ten!

So we're off to a bad start. But as time went on, it got tighter and tighter.

Caroline, I couldn't get hold of her at all for ages. She was all over the place, and when she phoned up, she was always in a bad reception area. [Laughs] So that was all kind of hit and miss, but when I went around there, eventually, it was a doddle, she just sat there and said "How do you want it?" She was, to use the old phrase, "a consummate professional". She's sticking the score up with a bit of sticky tape, nothing's clean and tidy, but what comes out the cello - superb.

And the choir, because it was Mark's choir, and they rehearsed every Tuesday in a church in Pimlico, that was a doddle. I remember doing the Blackbird piece - I was very nearly not going to do that at all because things were getting so tight with all the other scoring problems. I was nearly going to give up, and Frankie said "No, you've got to do it" and Mark said "Listen, you've still got time to do that". Anyway, the choir piece was finished about 12 days before the gig. Because of modern technology, I was able to email that through to him on the Tuesday morning, he was able to print it out and get it to his own rehearsal with them, and when I got there in the evening, they were DOING it! [Laughs] And I was astonished: "Christ almighty, oh this is wonderful!" And they got it. We just needed to fine tune it...

- But it was a fantastic performance, wasn't it? Spine tingling.

Good, good, yeah... Well, it's partly that strange combination of allowing an improviser that doesn't know it is - the blackbird - to do it's thing, and it's a random thing, not placed, just the way it comes out. That worked fine. But that was tight, doing that. But it showed that I can do it when push comes to shove. I thought "I don't know if I can stand the pressure any more, fuck it - I'm going home, or I'm just going to stay under the duvet". [Laughs]

That was a great joy, right from the start, to walk into that church and they'd been at it for about quarter of an hour already, and I thought "What's that they're doing?" and then I realised it's what I'd written!

AHM rehearsals 10. Pic by Joe GeesinIt's hairy, the whole thing. The elements were all rehearsed, separately, and then on the Thursday before the gig, there was a full day of EVERYBODY, but not everyone at the same time! Like, it was discovered that Caroline had not got (or she'd buried it under her washing or something) the schedule. So she didn't actually know that she had to be there from mid-afternoon to the evening. So, she could only come in the afternoon. So there was a tiny bit of overlap with David; David came about 2 or 3pm. So there was a bit of an overlap there. The group were there all the time, all set up.

The brass didn't come until 6pm, their call was from 6-9pm. And the choir, of course being an amateur choir they could not turn up until 7pm. But Mark worked out how to get this and that rehearsed, and then he'd still got some time to do the brass piece on its own.

It was only then [on the Thursday] that I knew that we'd have a show! [Laughs] Because there were so many disparate elements, and it was the first time they'd come together properly.

This all goes back to last July, that's now a year ago, when I said to the Festival, that this project needed a full time coordinator. "Oh no", they said, "I'm not sure we can afford that, with everything else we're shoving out. We'll manage between us". This included my friend, Michael Dempsey, who was the original bass player for The Cure - that's his claim to fame, he now does music for TV commercials, manages things, etc..

I said that [we needed the full time coordinator] very clearly, and it very nearly broke us, in terms of the amount of effort. Because Michael was in America, around two months before the gig, writing new stuff for an album that was coming out there, and of course that was when a lot of the shit started flying about here.

- So you could have done with him here.

Absolutely. That's the problem with having people standing in part time. But anyway, you wanted to know the background, you've certainly got it now! [Laughs]

- So did David do his own rehearsing beforehand?

Yes. He had put the original recording into his Pro Tools system, and when I went there and told him I was putting in an extra chorus, he'd just copy and paste it. He was accurate, too, with music editing. I said "You know what you're doing, boy, looks good to me!" and he stuck them in. So he was rehearsing with his system.

But then that's what you'd expect. You'd expect him to turn up [ready]. I mean, I had to do the same. I had to go through all the chords and the piano bits, and get my bits right, as well. Less, but effective, I think, in the couple of places where you had to stick a bit of piano in. So that's what you do. But it's a bit like in companies. No-one actually takes full responsibility because they know someone else is in charge, and it is only when you do things yourself, that you know what it is to be READY and responsible for your actions. Because in a big company of any sort, you can always blame someone else, or hide behind a pillar or a desk, or whatever.

So you're out there, and you've got to perform. I mean, the brass players, they rose to the occasion. In fact, when I get my energy fully back and think about some new ideas, I'd work with the tuba player. He wants to come down and "mess about", and he was fantastic; he was very good technically, but he was also very good doing different effects, such as growling down the tuba, effects that expand the palate of the instrument.

- Which must be very interesting for someone who has potentially been "properly" trained, to be told "forget all the rules, and try this this way..."

Yes. Mind you, since the beginning of the 20th century, composers have really started to push the boundaries, even composers who are now dead have done some incredible writing, or provocative writing, or it's explorative, for different instruments. Particularly, I'd mention Luciano Berio, the Italian composer; his pieces for solo instruments, and one of them's solo trombone, where the trombone player at times - apart from the fantastic virtuoso parts, he has to hum and play and hums other notes through the instrument while blowing it, to get two notes. And when you get two notes, you get a third note, because you get an interference with harmonics. Things like that.

So it does happen. Of course, one of the whole points of jazz music, or the Afro-American expression through jazz music, was to make effects, to change things, to use the instrument to make horse whinnies, cat-calls, growling and stuff, which is the very opposite of what would be desired in the European classical tradition.

The interview concludes with Ron talking about David's involvement, the footage that was shot over the course of a year running up to the concerts, and what the future holds... click here to go to part three!

The pictures shown here are all copyright of, and provided courtesy of, Joe Geesin, and cannot be used elsewhere without his permission.

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