Andy Tillison is a man I had the pleasure of talking to a couple of times in the past so when I was asked whether I would be interested in having a chat with him with regards the release of The Tangent’s latest release “The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery” I simply jumped at the opportunity. Being the accomodating interviewee that he is, Andy spoke to us about his recent health scares and did not shy away from putting across his thoughts on Brexit, the appointment on Donal Tramp, the rise of right wing ideology around the world and how the current state of affairs are and will be influence the way that his band operates and plans on operating in the months and years to come.
By Ioannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi Andy. Let me start this interview by saying what a great pleasure it is to be able to talk to you again. I have to admit that I was both shocked and worried when I heard of your recent health scare so it feels amazing to have you here strong and with a new, great-sounding album in your musical arsenal. How much was the feel of album influenced by what you went through?
Andy: Hi John. Thank you very much for your kind words. The album was indeed influenced by what I went through and is only normal. I was in the States doing some work when I realised that something was not going very well with me and when I went to the hospital I was told that I had a minor heart attack, something that scared me a bit. Initially, I went through a period of depression which caused a writer’s block but I managed to overcome that after a while. It was my friendship with the other musicians which helped me a lot, that was something very important, just the general love of music anyway and then, of course, all the political stuff that happened in 2016 which really got me with something to really want to write about – something that made me want to go back to work really. If there was an effect on the record that’s it; wanting to get out there and make myself useful, working again.
- There are certain element to The Tangent’s music that have been present throughout the band’s history and anyone who has been following the band’s career for a while will be able to detect them in the five compositions that put together “The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery”. That, of course, does not mean that there are not a few surprises hidden there as well – surprises that I, for one, found to be thoroughly enjoyable. How did the material for the new album come together? Did you work with a specific process/plan in mind?
Andy: Well, right, I think that the record starts with two tracks that were kind of things I did whilst I was ill, if you see what I mean. That was “Two Rope Swings”, which was something I got invited to do for a book about the fate of elephants and Steve Hackrett was also involved in it. We were all asked to write a track and contributed to this thing, so I did that and at that point I thought to myself “good gracious, I can still write songs – I am really pleased”. Then I started messing about with some instrumental music, “Dr.Livingstone (I Pressume)” being one of those, and I think that once these two tracks were out of the way I sort of realised that I can still do this and I still wanted to do it. Then I started looking around at the world and of course the world did quite a few things mad at that particular time. We had Brexit in Britain, we had Donald Trump taking power in the USA, we were watching that happen as we were making the record, we saw the growth of right wing politics going right across Europe with Marine Le Pen overe here and Erdoğan in Turkey and I am sure you’ve got your own guys over there in Greece doing this kind of thing.
- Sadly that is indeed the case.
Andy: We thought, you know, that is what musicians are here to do – to comment on the world. There are people who think “it’s not our job to comment on the world” but…(laughs nervously)…if musicians didn’t then the world would be a totally different place. It really doesn’t matter how famous we are or if we’re a nobody; we still got a job to do, so we decided that this was it and so we started assembling our ideas and putting them together. We worked with the artist, the sleeve of the album was created by Mark Buckingham, who was giving us ideas from his perspective and, as he was sending me art, he was letting me see things in a different way. Working with Luke (note: Machin: guitars & vocals) and the other great musicians that I had the chance to work with – all these things came together and got me going and made me just start putting this album together. It was a complicated one, it was a very complicated one but Progressive Rock music isn’t ‘the easy way out’ in music – it’s always a difficult one to do, to make it work, to make it listenable is quite a thing. I’m quite pleased that we can still do it.
- To me, that’s exactly where the magic of your music lies, something that I mentioned in my review of the album. It is the way that ou make even the most complicated of themes sound accessible and please, not only the seasoned listener but the untrained ear as well. A song like “Dr. Livingstone” can be enjoed as much by somebody who lives and breathes Prog as by someone who has absolutely no clue what kind of music Genesis played back in the 70s. I believe that this is a very fine balance that not many artists manage to achieve. Actually, “Dr. Livingstone” is my favourite song of the album and the reason for that is that it is a song that manages to convey a very specific message while being an instrumental piece – quite astonishing really!
Andy: With that particular one, you know, we haven’t done many instrumental pieces with The Tangent…I think that, what I would say is that if our group is successful in the way it records the music I think that one of the reasons for that success is the fact that we take song writing as The most important thing! It’s not about…we love to use all our Progressive Rock knowledge and add fantastic instrumental sections in our songs, with guitar solos wheeling in and out, but our way of doing it is that the song comes first! It’s not about scaring people with our playing – it’s all about the song. A long, long time ago, the person who taught me how to write songs, he sadly dies back in 1986 and was a really great song writer, said very clearly to me at some point “look, it doesn’t matter what kind of music you want to write; I don’t even like Progressive Rock music, but you can write better Progressive Rock music if you look at the best place to start when writing any type of song” to which I replied “where is that place” and his response was “Tamla Mowtown – go and listen to The Supremes, The Temptations, the Four Tops and there you will find the way to write a song and take those songs to pieces, look at how they are done, write by working the same way as these bands did and then add The Rock” (laughs). Well, that’s what I did.
- So what you are saying here is this amazing song was created with a very specific melody/theme in mind to which you later added all those intricate parts one can hear?
Andy: Absolutely right. The thing is that, with “Dr.Livingstone”, it’s an instrumental but I still consider it to be a song. Now, it sounds funny but, on the record sleeve I actually credited the lyrics of the song, even though there are of course none (laughs). I stated that “Luke Machin wrote the lyrics for this song” because Luke plays the guitar on this song and the guitar is its own language – his playing is the lyrics to the song! He says as much with his guitar as I can say with my voice so it just seems perfectly natural to me to say “lyrics by Luke Machin” even though there were no words involved. It is still a song as everything is based around that very simple melody (note: at this moment Andy re-created the said melody with his voice, much to my amusement).
- This melody actually suck with me the moment I first heard it three weeks or so ago.
Andy: I am glad you like it! I mean, I’m very happy with it as it’s just got everything! There’s actually quite a few people who like The Tangent but who they don’t like my voice and I understand that! I understand that people don’t like my voice and I understand why they don’t like it, it’s not a problem for me and so it was really nice to be able to offer them a chance to hear The Tangent without my voice just for once (laughs).
- Andy, I have heard what you say and I know that some people do feel like that about your vocal performances but I don’t really agree with them at all. If I were to describe the album’s music without utilising the generic/existing genre terms I would do so by saying that it is a “protest album” and the actual feel that comes across and which justifies this description comes from your voice and the ways you choose to utilise it. The issues you indulge in your lyrics are so serious that only a vocal approach as angry and passionate as yours is capable of conveying the appropriate feelings. I am sure you could employ any high profile singer to do this job for you but the end result would not have been the same – something would be missing from your music.
Andy: This is actually very important for me because I am the lyricist of the band and I consider my role in the group to be that of the lyricist – my most important role in the group. I’ve had several roles in the group on this album; I played the drums, I am the keyboard player and I am the singer but the most important job I do is to write the lyrics. Those lyrics, I obviously believe in them a lot and I want them to be said in the same way that I meant for them to be said. Now, the thing is that, you know, I would find it quite difficult to hand my lyrics over, even to a great singer to sing. So, you know, let’s just say that somebody really great like Ian Gillan or Greg Lake, bless him he is dead now, or Jon Anderson asked to contribute I would obviously say yes (laughs). If one of those guys were to joing in I would say “yes, no problem” in a heartbeat but the thing is that it’s important for me that the lyrics are said in the way I meant them and sometimes the lyrics to songs get overlooked because of the beautiful nature of the voice that’s singing them. It’s not always what you need. Just because somebody can sing well it does not mean that they will be able to put the point across. There re people, loads and loads of them, who don’t really listen to the lyrics; they are not really bothered about what they are about as long as they sound nice. Those people don’t usually like my voice and so that’s the way it goes.
- I was about to ask you something along those lines. Personally, I cannot comprehend listening to Rock music without having an inclination of what the lyrics are about as the combination of good music and good lyrics make the overall experience more complete and enjoyable. Having gone into the process of releasing an album featuring lyrics with strong and important socio/economic messages, are you not at all bothered that some people will choose to disregard them altogether?
Andy: I don’t think it necessarily worries me too much and there’s reasons for that. I mean, for example, I am a really big fan of music that I never listen to the lyrics to and those are bands that I cannot understand because they sing in a language that I don’t speak. I mean, I absolutely love Premiata Forneria Marconi and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and there’s probably a Greek one that I would like that I am not aware of as Aphrodite’s Child tended to sing in English. So many Italian bands sang in their own language and I prefer it when they do, I haven’t the slightest idea what they’re talking about but I love to hear their music and I love to hear those voices because hearing an Italian voice is like listening to a different instrument, it’s beautiful. So, I can appreciate why people would enjoy listening to our music and not bother with our lyrics and I don’t mind that. All I do is that I want people who do have a lyrical interest in the music to be rewarded, to enjoy what I’ve written and I sincerely hope they do, yes. You obviously enjoyed them a lot so I am really pleased about that.
- In the song “A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road”, the last song of the album, you have incorporated some of the most impressive lyrics I have ever heard from this band. I don’t want to give too much away but you are describing the current state of a country that used to be strong and now isn’t. Is that an assessment of Britain, following the Brexit, or is there a universal message behind the lyrics – lyrics which are meant to describe any country that finds itself in dire straits at the moment, a country like Greece for example?
Andy: Yes, obviously, when I wrote those lyrics Britain was very much in my mind because, essentially, I watched the people of my country become more divided over this thing. We were given this referendum to vote whether we stayed in Europe or left Europe and, to be honest, it doesn’t matter what I think. I voted for us to stay, I wanted to be part of that union and that is what I voted for. The thing was that something far, far more important than that happened; because we were given this choice we started to really hate each other here in England, you know? People started to hate me because I wanted to stay in the European Union and, ou know, I started getting really pissed off and annoyed with people who wanted us to leave and I realised then and there that we’re all falling apart – we’re really having a bad time about this. Of course, America is having the same thing with Clinton vs Trump and, quite honestly, it’s obvious that Turkey is having the same problem and usually everywhere across the world we’re coming up with these same figures, that 48% vs 52%, you know? Fortunately, the French didn’t do it; well, we don’t know what Emmanuel Macron is in France yet, you know, we’ve got to find out what he’s all about, but we didn’t get Marine Le Pen which is good. We find this tiny, tiny majority of people who are voting for the more right wing option and, you know, that is a very dangerous state of affairs because a lot of their decisions are based on things that aren’t true really. I get really upset and frightened by it and I hate to see the way that, toy know, people are saying “let’s send all immigrants home” or “we don’t need to let anyone into our country”, “we don’t want Turkish people coming here” – all that kind of stuff. It’s all about building walls, you know, and I lived through a time when I watched these walls being taken down across Europe! That Berlin wall was a really terrible thing and I watched Germany re-unify itself which was a really fantastic moment! Why do we have to go back to building walls again? I really don’t like it! Of course, that was something that I really wanted to write about on that song. So OK, people will see this as being an anti-Brexit song, which I suppose it is in a way, but it’s not about Brexit; it’s about dividing ourselves up. There is a song just before called “The Sad Story of Lead and Astatine” and that song is the same story, except, instead of a country falling apart it’s just a friendship falling apart. Two people who liked themselves all their lives are falling apart because of an argument they had and they never get back together again and how incredibly sad that is. I feel the same sadness with Europe breaking up and that’s such a sad thing because it’s been such a wonderful, wonderful place to live, to be able to be with other people and meet musicians such as Jonas Reingold (bass), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, Transatlantic), Marie-Eve de Gaultier (keyboards & vocals) who comes from Belgium and to be able to work with a German record company (Inside Out), to tour everywhere around Europe without anyone asking to see our passports! That’s been a wonderful thing and I am really sorry that my country has decided that these wonderful things have to end, you know? It’s sad, very sad!
- I am a British citizen myself and what I found particularly strange is that, prior to the referendum taking place, no one realised how divided British society really was and how strong some people felt towards leaving the EU. This raction really took quite a few of us by surprise.
Andy: Yes, it did.
- One thing that’s interesting is to realise to what extent this Brexit will affect the way The Tangent operate as a band. Do you have any indications regarding that or is it still early days?
Andy: Well, the thing is that Brexit is such a bizarre thing that nobody knows what it really means! I don’t know what it really means, I don’t really think that the people who are negotiating it know what it really means – nobody knows what is going to happen! We don’t know for certain if Britain is going to come out of this OK or whether we’re going to end up in a situation like countries like Greece who are currently economically disadvantaged – whether we are going to end up losing all our financial wellbeing here over this. We don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t know how business is going to operate, we don’t know how banking is going to work. Nobody’s certain and, rest assured that what Progressive Rock bands do is not going to be high on people’s lists of things to sort out (laughs). We are very much going to have to wait and to see what happens to Europe to find out whether we are going to continue working in the way that we have done. Of course, we will do our very best to make sure that we can but, at the moment, we are definitely in a situation where our new keyboard player, which I’m sure you were going to ask me about, Marie-Eve de Gaultier, we don’t know if she is going to be allowed to stay in the UK which is where she lives! She lives here, but we don’t know if she will be able to stay. Now, what kind of a situation is that? We are all waiting to see if she will be allowed to stay; we think she will be, I think she will be, but we don’t know! It’s an amazing situation to be in, in England – for people not to know if they will be allowed to stay or not. I don’t know how difficult it will be for us to go on tour in the future; I know that this time round, that it’s so difficult to do America now! I mean, we’ve just got some stuff that we need to fill in and there is a thirty seven page document that every member of the band has to fill in before we can go there to play a gig – thirty seven pages of form! They want to know everything about us, where we’re from, they want reviews, they want magazine articles to prove that we’re a band and they need all this sent to a lawyer in America and, you know, it’s making it so expensive that we’re genuinely worried about it. We can do the tour but they are not making it easy. If it becomes that difficult to move in Europe, this will not be a good thing for music, for art, for anything. So, obviously, I am concerned.
- I was going to ask of your touring plans as there is not any information on your official website, which is currently going through a revamp. I don’t even dare ask whether Greece is part of your plans because I think I know the answer to that – even though I would say to our defence that when Ian Anderson came for a how a few months back the place was pretty packed. I want to take this opportunity to remind people, mainly artists, that it is during such difficult economic times that human beings need the services of the arts the most, so having gigs over here are therapeutically beneficial to people beyond any measure. Anyhow, which are the countries will you be visiting for the promotion of “The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery” after all?
Andy: The nearest we get to you is Italy I’m afraid. We will be in Italy on the 1st of September (note: Andy is referring to the 9th edition of the 2Days Prog + 1 Festival which takes place in Veruno/Italy on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd of September) and then we are going to gently do another couple of gigs in Germany, Holland and Belgium before coming back to do a festival here in the UK. After that we are going over to America which is the first time I will be back in America since 2005, so it’s been a long time. I have never ever been to Greece and I would really like to go but I never actually managed to make it myself, not even as a holiday. It’s a place that does fascinate me as I am obviously a fan of the archaeology and the ancient history that Greece is famous for, being one of the cradles of civilisation. So much of what I know and what I’ve been brought up on, philosophy and art and everything begins in Greece, so it’s a place I would very much like to visit but I’ve never managed to do it. Perhaps sometime we might get in touch and work out how we could actually get there and play for you guys. We would love to be able to come. At the moment, it’s all down to booking agents and they book us gigs where they can find gigs, you know? I cannot ring up a venue in Greece and say “hello, I’m Andy Tillison and we want to play a show and we would like 2,000 Euros please” (laughs). They will simply say “get off” (laughs).
- Disappointed as we are about not being able to see you over here in Greece, we realise that an artist relies mainly on concert tickets and merchandise these days for survival these days so those of us who want to see you will have to at least travel all the way to Italy for that purpose.
Andy: The great thing about the festival in Italy is that it is free. It’s three days of great bands; Frost* are playing as well, there’s also Glass Hammer. So there’s plenty to see there and it’s totally free – you just turn up and watch the concert. It may be a long drive from Greece to Italy but it’s not an expensive show.
- Well, that will be something to seriously consider. I believe that my time is almost up; I think we should wrap thing up here as something tells me that you’re the kind of person I could be talking to for hours and, trust me, this is not something you want (I laugh).
Andy: Actually, I could talk to you for quite some time myself – don’t worry about that. I could talk forever! So, it’s been really nice talking to you actually, as you understand a lot of what we do and that is really good.
- I know, browsing through the internet that a lot of people are looking forward to listening to the new album and, I for one, can guarantee them that they are going to spend hours upon hours listening and enjoying the wonderful music that you have prepared for us. I wish to thank you as a fan for continuing releasing music as it helps make our life more enjoyable and wish you health and every success in the future.
Andy: Ok my friend, that’s a marvellous thing to say. Thank you very much. I’ll make sure I read your review in Get Ready To Rock.
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