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Flaming Tunes interviews

Read the complete transcripts of interviews with Mary Currie, Andrew Jacques and Mick Hobbs

Here are the complete transcripts of Tony Herrington’s interviews with Mary Currie, Andrew Jacques and Mick Hobbs, who discuss the CD reissue of Flaming Tunes, the 1985 cassette written and recorded by the former This Heat member Gareth Williams in collaboration with Currie.

Mary Currie interviewed by Tony Herrington, April 2009

TH: The songs on Flaming Tunes sound like they were made on the spot, and laid down on the fly. Was that the way it was?

MC: Not exactly on the spot. The earliest ones, for example “Beguiling The Hours”, began with a fragment of a tune – found on a little Casio keyboard – (a melody?) expanded on and grew… Things would go back and forth. “Golden Age” was the sum of many parts – literary and musical, and was offered to [former This Heat member] Charles Bullen to add another dimension. All the tunes grew from fragments – mine or his. Some stuff was captured in the moment with a tape machine ever ready, whereas other stuff evolved through more time-intensive processes.

As you say on the Flaming Tunes website the music emerges from a very different energy to This Heat. Could you elaborate on that a bit? I mean, how did you view the songs and music? Where did they come from?

Gareth and I had renewed our friendship after some time apart. We had both had life-changing experiences in very different ways. Gareth experienced incredible discipline in India which focused him [after leaving This Heat circa 1981, Williams moved to India where he studied Kathakali dance]. Repetition – attention to detail – counting – steps – beats – stories – legends. Lots of detail. I had a child, which was an event no one could prepare you for. Exciting, and also demanding and focusing. Although Gareth had been creative through dance, he had missed making music. He invited me to collaborate on a project with him. I had sent him cassettes of singing which he liked a lot. Gareth always valued what I brought to Flaming Tunes, though I had previously never thought of myself as a musician, a position Gareth must have once found himself in with This Heat. Having been around This Heat and sharing some years with Charles Bullen, I had been exposed to a huge amount of music and musicians. It was only in this new context of Flaming Tunes that I felt I began to find my own musical feet. Gareth took charge of technical and structural concerns, but always consulted with me over my preferences. He always encouraged me to look for more, never assumed a superior position. As it says in “The Best Weapon”: “Beware of the friend who becomes a master.” It was a very relaxed time – less harsh than the days before his departure for India.

Are you surprised people are still interested in the music, nearly a quarter of a century on?

I never thought people (apart from friends) were interested back then. We didn’t seem to be looking for external interest. But equally we felt like it needed to extend beyond the living room of [Williams’s house in South London, where much of the music was recorded]. I was certainly surprised to stumble upon an internet discussion forum in 2003 with a Flaming Tunes thread. The contributors were unclear as to what they’d heard – was it This Heat or something else? Through this I made contact with Acute Records in New York City, and realised the extent of global interest in Flaming Tunes. There’s a current revival of interest in domestically produced English music of the 1980s, and listening to it again this week it’s actually quite good!

Have you heard the Diamond Age cover version? What do you think of it?

Love it, intrigued by it – he’s really found the essence and built it up in the same way as we did. Mr Leer [M Leer, the Texas-based musician who recorded a complete cover version of the Flaming Tunes cassette and issued it in 2007 under the name Diamond Age], it seems, has used Flaming Tunes to make some discoveries of his own, and we’re both excited to have come to each other’s attention, albeit at different places and times.

What did you do after Flaming Tunes? Did you continue making music?

After Flaming Tunes – a group?/a cassette? – we worked on many more tunes, with input from Dave Bernez, who contributed as a player but also offered the use of some more sophisticated equipment. That continued until about mid-86, and after that I got into domesticity and more children. My relationship with Gareth became less close and collaborative. Two or three years (maybe more) before Gareth died we did some further collaborations, but the relaxed and special time of the mid-eighties had perhaps gone. There’s still some stuff there though!

Elsewhere and since I’ve contributed to a Kevin Coyne tribute, played in a steel band orchestra, sung at Gareth’s memorial concert, and currently take part in a local singing group and enjoy duetting and harmonies with a friend, still developing a voice!

Andrew Jacques interviewed by Tony Herrington, April 2009

TH: The Flaming Tunes reissue feels like an emotional project for all involved.

AJ: Inevitably it has been, yes. Almost everyone involved in the CD production was a friend of Gareth’s, and it's always been looked at as a tribute to him rather than just a regular reissue project. It entailed a lot of scrabbling around for old photographs, watching old videos and listening to lots of the music again and again. I think this brought up quite a number of old memories for all of us.

It was also begun when Gareth’s partner Nick [Goodall] was still alive, and as he also died [in 2007] before its completion it became a tribute to them both, which is shown on some of the images Mary selected for the booklet, which bring the issue into the present - an idea Nick was always very keen on too, including elements from their recent past rather than just archive. The selection of images and arrangement of the booklet was something Mary was very much pro-active on.

The tape itself began to get re-appraised just after Gareth died. I did some MiniDisc and CD-R copies from a cassette dub Gareth had done for Howard [Jacques], cleaning it up a little bit and adding some EQ. This was passed to Nick and then copies started circulating among various friends.

When Gareth was working with Howard and myself on This Heat projects he always downplayed Flaming Tunes and he was often critical to the point of dismissing his own recordings. We'd be played excerpts of things now and then, [but] anticipating a lukewarm response they would get turned off halfway through and snatched out of the way. Howard and myself were dubbed ‘The Taste Police’ by Gareth and I think he saw us as this pair of hardliners who sat listening to 50Hz buzz at 100dB all day and wouldn't be interested in his melodic material. But Howard eventually coaxed a copy of Flaming Tunes from him after convincing Gareth of his melody-appreciation credentials!

When [in the late 1990s] some bastards put the whole thing out on a bootleg CD and called it ‘This Heat’s final demo recordings’, I suggested to Gareth that we should rush release it officially, to counter act the damage done, but he was just too angry and upset to consider it. When the industry came too close Gareth would always back away and disappear out of view, and this was a good example of how wrong things could be done. It hurt him a lot as it was then stamped with the ‘This Heat demos’ tag and he was always saying to Howard and myself about Flaming Tunes and any other projects, “It's not like This Heat", delivered as if he was really saying, “You won't like it…”

Despite how pleased he was that This Heat received this continued attention and each successive version of the reissues got a wider audience, he was very conscious that the This Heat audience would be expecting a certain role from him, this intensity of overdriven organ, fuzz bass and the shouting from Paper Hats. In this context his consideration of releasing more poppy or melodic material would get put to one side and then shelved altogether.

I guess another element that made it quite a struggle for everyone was the obvious fact that our producer wasn't here. When working on the This Heat CDs Gareth was always very meticulous and precise with detail, even small things that people wouldn't really notice, typography ‘jokes’ that weren't in any way obvious, but there anyhow: the insert for Repeat, which myself and Gareth worked on for weeks, was a very precise construction and actually contains a kind of code in the grid. The presentation had to be 'just so'.

When we came to a first attempt at assembling a CD we found there was no edited master tape still in existence. Trawling through Gareth’s archives eventually revealed two of three original quarter inch reels which contained a lot of material but not many versions as they appeared on the tape. Songs were split into sections pre-splice, quite a few were longer and needed topping and tailing, “Raindrops From Heaven” was just the rain! In the end we had to use a cassette copy as a guide and reshape the materials we had to fit that, literally, in Logic, with the cassette copy on one track and all our assemblage of sections underneath being visually and aurally compared. Tracks had to be re-tuned/speed-corrected, spliced, and the end result is from three different sources using the best available audio from either the reels or first generation cassettes of mixes. Some other adjustments were made at the mastering stage but we always felt that staying true to the feel of the cassette and not cleaning up too much was important. Some sections of songs have a great increase in hiss through the process of successive bouncing on four track, and although we could have removed a lot of that it felt like we'd be sucking the grain and the character out of them. Gareth was interested in process as a method and a lot of the Flaming Tunes recordings are very unselfconscious in their headlong embracing of that quality. It's part of what makes it such a warm album.
[page break]
Can you elaborate on your reasons for wanting to get the music out into the world again? Is it about Gareth? A continuation of your long involvement in releasing/reissuing This Heat records with These?

Well it was decided by a number of people at the same time! Initially, as stated before, there was a renewal of interest in the tape after Gareth died as part of the process of dealing with it. A few of us started to listen to those recordings very closely. Mick Hobbs produced the music for Nick Goodall, Mary and Helen East to perform “Generous Moon” at the Memorial Concert at [London’s] 93 Feet East and there was also a quickly assembled Flaming Tunes Band which played some very extended and liberally improvised versions of some of the instrumentals at the Klinker the week before the memorial. This consisted of myself, Howard, Charles Bullen, Rick Wilson, Mick Hobbs and Tom Chant. Mary also sang “Beguiling The Hours” there with Howard and Mick providing backing.

So the songs were very much brought back into conscious focus by then. Nick Goodall was obviously very keen to get some of Gareth’s material released into public view as were quite a few people by then. There were ideas and discussions about mining the archives but the uncatalogued, sprawling and often unfinished nature of those recordings still makes that a large project to contemplate. Flaming Tunes was the only set of songs we could say for sure Gareth intended for release, so in the end it was obvious to start there.

Gareth was always ambivalent about releasing this and other material at the time I knew him. A big part of that was his fear that the comparison with This Heat would overwhelm the music itself and it might not be given chance to exist on its own, separate from that previous life. Memories of the end of Cold Storage [This Heat’s studio in South London] and the last days of the group were still surprisingly raw at times and it did feel like a line had been drawn after that experience. Music was to be enjoyed without having to go through the mincer for it every day. In later years he was contemplating some releases of an anonymous variety, and we had some discussions about particular releases - a long organ piece on a one-sided vinyl or 3" CD - but they never got past the discussion stage.

Personally I think the album stands up really well. It has elements about it that could only have been made at that time but it's far from a time capsule curio. The songs are very strong and the resourcefulness of how they have been recorded and produced really backs them up - the combination of different recording mediums from tinny ghettoblaster to the eight track and use of different versions into the mix certainly shows a continuity from the methods This Heat employed, and Charles Bullen’s wonderful contributions will certainly have the trainspotter musicologists pondering over what directions This Heat might have followed if they had continued after Gareth’s return from India. The new influences are certainly evident in the rhythms and melodies there and in other tracks I've heard from the period afterwards.

Mick Hobbs asked me to help, as he knew it'd be a tricky one and I could say with some degree of certainty from the work we'd done before that I understood what his aesthetic was when placing objects into the world. I'd promised Gareth that I'd 'look after' the This Heat catalogue before he died and I couldn't do that after the Charles's [Hayward and Bullen] went to ReR [in order to release the long-mooted This Heat box set]. Lots of the presentation we'd worked on was changed for the box set: the insert for Repeat got binned and other artwork got chopped up. I had no control over what was done by then, so the least I could do was make sure the Flaming Tunes CD would be made according to his standards of presentation: no extra material, no stapled booklets (a big thing for him!), removing the plastic tray for a paper one.

It deserves to be heard as an album in itself, there's so many great things about it, the fragility of the performances, it's a very intimate listening experience at times but it also has great scope and ambition in the arrangements. Gareth is wonderfully versatile with all his contributions, his and Mary’s singing is always such a great match. The guests all bring something extra that gives it depth – Charles Bullen’s guitar on “Golden Age” is a real stand out and some of his best recorded work, I think.

Think I've probably said too much already...

Having said that... I shouldn't give the impression that Gareth had a downer on This Heat. He was very proud of what they had done and was always keen to work on the reissues, in the end though more on the visuals than going to the remastering sessions, and he had some great ideas for future projects. It was just made quite clear that everything he did afterwards was in a very different head space to This Heat and he wasn't in any hurry to revisit that particular intensity of method which more often than not also seems accompanied by a degree of personal conflict.

Mick Hobbs on the process of reissuing Flaming Tunes

It was back near the beginning of 2007 that two reels of Ampex tape were gently baked in a moderate oven and transferred over into the digital realm. That was a significant moment in the recent history of the putting out of Flaming Tunes. In an ideal world there would have been three reels covering all the music originally released in 1985 on audio cassette as Flaming Tunes.

‘The missing reel’ was a phrase often mentioned among our small band. We were a loose-knit collective of friends, players and fans keen to see a careful re-release of Gareth and Mary’s material. To some of us it seemed that the missing reel was a thing that Gareth, with his devilish dark humour, knew all about but was keeping from us. In the absence of this material we had to embark on the making of a ‘hybrid’, tuning and toning together tracks from cassette and quarter inch tape. Careful work was undertaken by folk who often worked on music and sound with Gareth. It’s hoped that the resulting listen will please purists who knew the original Tunes and new ears too.

Again with the edition’s artwork the production process has involved those familiar with Gareth’s rare aesthetic, and Mary herself. As with the music, the accompanying artwork has been through an exhaustive process. It’s hoped that the visual component of Flaming Tunes can be enjoyed along with the tunes themselves in a mutually deepening way.

Looking at the artwork we see evidence of Gareth’s connections with India, especially Kerala. Gareth had written a good part of The Rough Guide To Southern India, and studied Kathakali dance. [After his death from cancer on Christmas Eve 2001] a pooja or prayer offering took place for him, and his ashes were scattered in a Keralan river as well as on Surrey’s Headley Heath. Lifelong friend of Gareth – Nick Goodall – shared these locations for the scattering of his own ashes in 2008. Nick was a friend too of many years standing of Mary Currie, and the release of Flaming Tunes serves as a dual commemoration of Gareth’s and Nick’s lives. They are both much missed.

In the light of some renewed interest in This Heat, partly as a result of ReR’s box set, it’s really good to settle down to a listen to Flaming Tunes, and enjoy its melodies, rhythms and textures, and to hear how it differs from that trio as well as how it is constructed on certain This Heat principles.



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