This important interview with Nektar's Roye Albrighton is the first major event resulting from the new joint venture between Sea Of Tranquility and Progressive Ears. It will be featured prominently on both sites, and we look forward to many more exciting features, interviews, and reviews to be jointly promoted.
Nektar has its sights clearly focused on a huge return to form, and plans are underway to accelerate their rise. They have plans for two tours and a new album, and some fascinating new projects. Nektar's guitarist and frontman Roye Albrighton recently discussed these plans with Duncan Glenday, who spoke with him on behalf of both Sea Of Tranquility and Progressive Ears.
Duncan Glenday Sea Of Tranquility / Progressive Ears : How are things across the pond, Roye?
Roye Albrighton Nektar : Just surviving a blizzard over here. We thought we'd got away with it, but now we've got blizzards, we've got freezing rain, you name it.
SoT/PE : Whereabouts are you, Roye?
RA : I live just about as middle as you can get in England, about 30 miles north of Birmingham, in Stafford.
SoT/PE : To what extent are you familiar with the Progressive Ears?
RA : Well, it wasn't until we agreed to play at NEARfest that I took an interest in these web sites. Delicious Agony radio was the first thing I browsed on, and the boss of that radio station told me about a few sites promoting this sort of music, one of them being Progressive Ears. I look at it from time to time to watch what goes on. Not to participate, just to see what goes on.
SoT/PE :And have you come across Sea Of Tranquility?
RA : Yes, I've heard about it.
SoT/PE : Those of us who were around in the '70s have often wondered : where was Nektar most popular, in terms of record sales? And it's a 2-part question where was your popularity now, vs. back then?
RA : "Back Then" [laughs]. Well around 1970 we were all British musicians, but it started in Hamburg, in Germany. We'd built a reputation as a unique live band because we always tried to do something new. Most other bands at the time were just playing Beatles songs, rolling Stones, a bit of soul. We tried a few ideas and it became very popular and we found ourselves being asked back again and again, and a following grew, to the point where between 74 & 76 we were playing major theaters first in Germany, then it spread out to Holland, the France, Switzerland, and the rest of mainland Europe. Then in 1975 we had a chance to tour in the US for our first release in the US, which was Remember The Future, and that really cracked the US market for us. So I would say we started off, in the older days, being most popular in Europe, and then because we weren't around in Europe so much I'd say popularity waned a little bit there, but we caught it up in the US. By '76, as you know I left the band, and they carried on, but a few years after that Nektar just folded.
SoT/PE : There's been something of a revival in recent years where have sales been strongest since that revival?
RA : Well fairly even on both sides of the Atlantic, really. There is a revival in that kind of music. Right now there's a program in the UK on TV and radio hosted by Rick Wakeman, I believe, and he's promoting the revival if the so-called progressive rock catalog. Of course there are a lot on new bands around who are playing that sort of thing. I don't class Nektar as progressive rock as such I just say Nektar's Nektar buy I suppose you have to put a label on it. So there's a revival right now and it helps us as well as a lot of other bands like Asia and others, and it seems to be a pretty even spread between Europe and the US.
SoT/PE : Speaking of Europe and the US you folks are pretty scattered now what caused everyone to move away?
RA : [Laughs] Actually you're wrong there. Everyone lives in the US! It's just me that lives over here. In 1976 we were touring the US, and bringing everything over with us on 747s and by then we were working more in the US than in Europe so we thought we'd just move to the US. So on April 1st I remember it was April Fools day we all moved here and made home in New Jersey. In December of that year I left and went back to Europe to join several other groups, but they all stayed in Jersey.
SoT/PE : What does that do to you when you need to get together for rehearsals & recordings? I guess Jersey is the base now, is it?
RA : As you can well imagine! [Laughs] It's not a perfect setup, but all the boys over there they know every song inside out so what they do is rehearse as a 3-piece over there, and I rehearse on my own over here, with concert tapes, until it's time to do the tour. Then I fly over there or they fly here depending on where the tour starts, and we rehearse for two days, and we go out on the road. Things have changed a bit recently and we're having to do more serious rehearsals before the April tour, for the change-about we've had with the personnel in the band.
SoT/PE : What's keeping you busy these days? How do you spend a typical day?
RA : Well until the middle of last year, there wasn't a lot we were doing. It was a kind of make or break time. We'd put the band back together and said "Let's have a go at it", and we did NEARfest and a few other concerts and that would be it. We've done the DVD and a CD of it, a few short tours, a few good shows, and we were going to knock it on the head. But the demand is such that our management said "Look it's up to you. If you want to finish, fine, but there really is a market for this band, do you want to carry on?" We had a big discussion about it and we thought you never know, we have a chance here. Some of the guys couldn't do it, but most of us can, so we decided to give it a crack. So we're back at it fulltime, now.
SoT/PE : So you are a fulltime musician, but that's not true of the others though, is it?
RA : Well Ron, the drummer, is a fulltime musician. The only other one who isn't although things may change is Taff. He has a lot of dependents and has to make sure his income is stable otherwise he would be at it 24 hours a day!
SoT/PE : What is Taff doing, Roye?
RA : He works for an electronics company, I believe. I understand he's very good at it, whatever he does! [Laughs]
SoT/PE : Roye, what sort of music do you listen to now?
RA : Very varied. I must admit that I used to be very narrow minded with my music tastes. I think most musicians are pretty narrow minded in their early years. But we were teenagers back then, you know! Now it's varied. Some days I might listen to the classics, some days it might be jazz, some times rock and roll. I won't listen to music without meaning. Meaningless music means nothing to me it has to be something that moves me.
SoT/PE : Are you still following the progressive genres? And are there any acts that you're following, or that may be worth watching?
RA : Well, because of our management's involvement with several artists, I have been listening to a lot of Porcupine Tree, I quite like a lot of the stuff those lads do. Also there are several other bands around some of which you've probably never heard of but they send me their CDs, and there're a lot of good acts out there that need recognizing. It's a wonderful thing that today you can make your own CDs now, and I get these CDs, and there's some cracking stuff on there. I just wish there was a web site set up where these CDs could just be played in their entirety, even if it's they're just played once, for people to listen to what they're doing. Because there's some really good stuff.
SoT/PE : Well we're going off topic now, but one of the things they could do is to send promos to us at Sea Of Tranquility or Progressive Ears, and we'll write a review. A number of people refer to those reviews when making their buy-decisions.
RA : Which leads me to say again that sites like Sea Of Tranquility and Progressive Ears are fantastic. Thank God for the web, it's become a fantastic tool for music. It can only do good for these new bands that are coming along.
SoT/PE : You've had some health problems. I won't press you for details, but let me just ask this question: How have you been lately?
RA : Just fine! In fact I just had my 5,000 mile checkup yesterday. [laughs] I passed my MoT with no problem good for another 5,000 miles!
SoT/PE : [Laughs] I'll have to translate that in the article people in the US won't know what an MoT is.[SoT/PE : In the UK, cars must be inspected for roadworthiness regularly, and obtain a Ministry of Transport MoT certificate.] So you've been in for your latest service and tune-up! I understand that your son is in the music business. Tell us what he's doing.
Roye Albrighton Rehearsing
RA : He is, yes. He lives in London, and he's a drummer working with 3 or 4 different bands I don't know how he does it and he also runs a recording studio. He's just got a huge contract with the main band he's working with to do a six-month tour around Europe.
SoT/PE : What is the main band he's working with?
RA : It's called Audio Porn. They're an acoustic act it's not rock.
SoT/PE : I was listening to some Iron Maiden the other day, and I'll swear I heard one of your songs being played! "King Of Twilight", I think.
RA : Well Steve Harris is apparently a big Nektar fan, and that prompted him to do it with Iron maiden in the mid-'80s. they did it quite well, actually, I enjoyed it. We didn't play it that heavy, but they did a good job with it for that sort of music. Apparently they do it live too, and it comes across very well. Which is great for us.
SoT/PE : Have any other bands covered your songs?
RA : There's a band from the US, who played the entire side-one of Tab In The Ocean and put it out on a CD. They did quite a good job with it, made it a bit more acoustic than our version, but it sounded good.
[Note: The band Roye is referring to here is French TV, and "A Tab in the Ocean" was a bonus track for the re-issue of their FTV2 After a Lengthy Silence. French TV's Mike Sary is a member of PE (msary)]
SoT/PE : Can you tell us a bit about your side project, Rupert Treacle?
RA : Well Steve Hackett and I knew each other way back when Steve was leaving Genesis and I'd just left Nektar. I lived in London, where I was working with a band called Quantum Jump, and I bumped into Steve and went back to his town house. He's got the most amazing collection of musical instruments I've ever seen. It fills his entire house on the walls, everything. [Laughs] And we were talking and he said he was working on this idea with the synthesizer guitar, which was in its early stages. I said "that's funny", because I'd just bought the first synthesizer guitar made by the Roland company.
SoT/PE : Something like today's GR-33?
RA : It was the GR-300 back then, and Steve also had one. Anyway we went our separate ways, then later I heard Steve was on the road using the synthesizer guitar. Well I was on the road as well, with a German band called Snowball, and was also playing synthesizer guitar. There was a bit of a parallel thing here, see. Anyway I'd gone as far as I could with the synth guitar, and I took all the songs and put them on an album called The Follies Of Rupert Treacle, and that's what it's all about. It'a all synthesizer guitar, even the drums, except of course for the vocals and the real guitar.
SoT/PE : How have the sales gone with that? Has it been a success for you?
RA : Yes, it's done really well, and I've had some good comments about it. It's a one-off CD. I was going to do another, but I've done what I set out to do and it's gone down really well with the people who've listened to it.
SoT/PE : Have any of the other band members been involved in side projects?
RA : I think after I left and Nektar carried on and did their Magic Is A Child album , Taff Freeman did a side project with Alan Murdoch, an old friend of ours from Germany. But I don't think it lasted long. And Ron plays drums for lots of other bands, but doesn't really have any side projects.
SoT/PE : The creative process is very different for everyone how does it work for you? Is it (say) concept followed by melody followed by lyrics? Or some other sequence?
RA : The way we used to do it in the old days was someone would come up with the idea. Ninety percent of the time it was the guitarist although it could be Taff on the keyboards. So we'd come up with something and everybody would work on it and we'd take it out on the road with us, sort of half-finished, and we'd slop it into the middle of the existing set and segue through that from one song to another, and see what people's reactions were. That way we'd be able to not only rehearse it, but each night we'd add a bit more to it until it ended up being a 15 or 20 minute piece of music. At which time we would then take it out again, strip it apart, add some more pieces to it, and before you know it we'd have an album and then we'd give some kind of storyline to it.
That's how we used to do it. Because of the pressures as you said of us being so far apart, I tend to come up with most of the song now, and take that with me and then we'll sit down with the song and decide what we're going to do with it and dissect it right there and then as opposed to building on it.
What's going to be happening on this tour through Europe is we'll have a fistful of new songs, and after the first two or three shows on the tour when we've tightened everything up we'll slop one of them in somewhere in the set and work on it, and see what peoples' reactions are.
SoT/PE : Well speaking of playing live, which songs are the hardest to play live?
RA : Well being the lead vocalist as well makes it difficult and sometimes playing long tours can be hard on my vocals. But when we were preparing for NEARfest, the hardest for me was Recycled, I think. That first 18-minute section was the hardest of them all but having said that, after 3 or 4 days of rehearsal it just becomes natural again
SoT/PE : Let me ask a slightly different question then which piece do you enjoy playing the most?
RA : Oh, without a doubt, Remember The Future Part 2. And I enjoy stepping forward and doing a nice little solo, and stepping back and hearing the other members of the band doing their parts.
SoT/PE : Are the remasters keeping you busy? As I understand, Recycled and Journey are now complete is that right?
RA : Well, the situation with our original master tapes is that they're in an absolutely disgusting mess. I'm afraid to say that Belaphon let us down very badly there. Our manager who used to be Caravan's manager was also one of London's top remastering engineers. He remasters for everybody like Barclay James Harvest, the Moody Blues everybody. His job is to go over to the record company, into their vaults, pull out all the old master tapes the 8, 16, 24, 32 track tapes, and to see what condition they're in, and do everything that's necessary to get them, onto the reels, and transferred digitally. Unfortunately when he went over there, Belaphon had failed to tell him there had been a flood so as you can well imagine they were treated with kid gloves, and brought over to the UK where they're working on most of them now. They've managed to save a lot. Journey To The Center Of The Eye was okay, that was a safe master, and Recycled was no problem. There was a problem with Live In New York but they think they've got past that. When Belaphon did their remastering to CD they managed to strip some of the oxide off the tapes. I think we found a backup master and they may be able to get away with that. If all goes well we should have most of those masters out by this time next year. The first three are coming out in a couple of months time.
SoT/PE : So are there any of the older albums that will not be coming out in remasters?
RA : No we're going to bring out everything we have, and a lot of out-takes and some stuff that's never been released. A couple of hours of good music there that no one's ever heard in fact I haven't heard it for must be nigh-on 28 years [laughs]. But it's not actually that much work to do them. We are actually remixing Journey. It's only on 8-track, so every centimeter of those 8 tracks was taken up. Well to mix that was a nightmare back then, but now we can transfer it, and everything has its own fader, and that'll take a while. But the others like Recycled should be just a straightforward transfer to master and boost everything that doesn't take long at all.
SoT/PE : Can you discuss the upcoming tours to Europe? And will there be a tour to the US as well?
RA : Yes, the first date for the US has actually been confirmed, it will be September 12th this year, at the Birchmere near Washington, DC, followed by the Playhouse in Atlanta, Mexico
starting from New York, they're working in an arc, over to the mid-west then back to Philly and then New York, drop the tour bus there and fly to the west coast and do 5 dates there.
The April tour starts in Holland on April 12th, then Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, back to Germany again.
SoT/PE : How is the planning going? Is it still hectic, or is everyone fairly relaxed?
RA : Oh, it's already been sorted! The April tour is done and dusted, and it's just waiting for the boys to come over. We'll do several days of rehearsal, then it's through the channel tunnel and on to Holland.
SoT/PE : In setting up the tour - are you working with my friend Ken Solomon, who is an important part of the Progressive Ears community?
RA : Yes, Ken is a good friend of Nektar. We need contacts points in the USA, and Ken is helping with that.
SoT/PE : $64,000 question, Roye tell us about the lineup for the tours.
RA : Well, Derek (Mo) Moore is no longer working with the band. He wanted time off to spend with his family and some other commitments, so we've come to an amicable arrangement that we'll get a replacement, who is Randy Dembo. Randy is from Brooklyn, but lives in new Jersey now. Excellent musician, keen as hell. So the lineup is Ron, Taff, Randy and myself. There's going to be no Larry this time around, and no percussion, and no girl backup singers. It's going to be the band as it was until the 1975 concert in New York; simply because it's easier for us to write music, perform, get new stuff ready for the album, with 4 musicians working on it. We don't want a huge entourage. It's lovely to have a huge show everybody loves that, you know, Pink Floyd loved it, but they also came back down to earth when they went out again with a four-piece, and McCartney did the same thing, Yes did the same thing. We all want to go out there and capture some of that old magic again. You can't do that with a great big stage show. You've got to do it with a tight 4-piece, find the music, write it, work it into the show, come back and lay it on the new album. Then,. Once we've got our popularity back, as we should have by this time next year, then we can start talking about augmenting the band again.
SoT/PE : In conversations with Mick in January, he seemed a bit vague about the lightshow. What are the latest thoughts about whether you will be touring with or without a lightshow?
RA : I'm glad you asked that, because I'd like to put everything straight about it, so there's no guesswork. Mick will not be utilizing his lightshow in Europe, or the USA tour in September. However, Pete Lango, our original set lighting designer, will be with us to direct the scene lighting and some subtle effects. The reasons for it stem from the costing, and [in the USA,] the setup times in a two band situation.
However this does not mean that we will not be using Mick again in the future, this is purely a temporary measure that both Mick and our management agreed upon for the benefit of the band in this, the first stages of our come-back. As you can well imagine, touring with the full-on show and augmented band would be financial suicide at present.
SoT/PE : In our earlier conversations, you said you would be taking a 1974-6 version of Nektar on the road this year does that speak to the setlist?
RA : Well, as you know, we've done a lot of albums. We played 3 hours at NEARfest and didn't scratch the surface. If we played what everyone wanted it would be a 7-hour show. So we want to do a cross-section of Nektar styles from point A to Z. We tried to do that with NEARfest, but the only way we can do to cater for as many people as possible is do pieces from every album we've got. We'll do a section from Journey, from Man In The Moon, from Down To Earth, Recycled, Remember The Future everything we've got, but we have to be careful that we don't get silly by doing too many bits, and also we only have a certain amount of time we're allowed to play.
SoT/PE : Will you be traveling with anyone? An opening act?
RA : We're on our own in April, although the September tour will be a double-billing with Caravan and Nektar as we have the same management. We've been off the road for 20+ years, not like Yes who never stopped playing, so they've got a following wherever they go. So we've got to build it all up again, and of course we can hardly do it on our own, so the management thought a double act in September would be wise. Then once people see that we're out doing it, the next time around we can do it on our own.
SoT/PE : You mentioned playing the various styles Nektar is known for some fairly major changes in style from one album to the next. What future direction would you like to see for Nektar?
RA : I'm not sure, really. I've sat down and listened to all our albums, and yes there are vast differences. You can hardly call us boring! But at the same time there are some people who don't like that. I mean if Elton John was to do something off the wall you might say "Hang on a minute, this isn't Elton John I don't like it!" That is the danger. Back in the '70s, the Germans knew that every time we did something it would be different, so they went and bought it. You have to be careful here. We came out with Recycled after Remember The Future, and I'm not sure the American public were ready for that because it was a totally different thing. So about the future for Nektar music? Really, all I can say to you is wait to see what it is. It's not going to be laid back. Some of the ideas that are floating back and forth across the Atlantic, between Taff, Ron and myself, it's definitely sit-up-and-take-notice stuff. So let's hope it's going to be another Tab In The Ocean eye opener. It'll be a good wakeup call for the new Nektar fans.
SoT/PE : In our prior conversations you also mentioned that you've been asked to work on a feature film soundtrack. Is that a whole new adventure for you?
RA : Yes I've done several soundtracks for advertising, but this is a new departure for the band not just for me. The idea appeals to me, because the way it should sound is not dictated to you it's left entirely up to you. You watch the picture, you see the scene, and you say right have you any ideas for music to support that? It appeals to me, although I'm not sure it will sound the way Nektar is supposed to sound.
SoT/PE : What sort of movie is it?
RA : The person who wrote the manuscript for it the first Nektar album she ever heard was Journey To the Center Of The Eye. This entire movie is based around horoscope. It's the story of a whole bunch of people with different star signs, being brought together, in a house, and forced to be together
I can't say much more than that.
SoT/PE : You also mentioned earlier that there's a new album in the works.
RA : Yes, the idea is to take the new songs on the road in April. During the early afternoon soundchecks we'll run through some things, pull it apart, and hopefully by July we'll have enough together to lay the ground-tracks down, at which point I'll fly over to the US, arrangements will be made for studio time, and we'll complete the ground tracks in 2 weeks and I'll come back armed with the masters and finish off the overdubs and mix it over here, ready for release within a few months.
(Note Ken Solomon's dual pictures of Roye above.
The projected image on the screen in the background was a part of
Nektar's lightshow at NEARfest 2002)SoT/PE : So if you're lucky that will be ready to coincide with your tour.
RA : Yes we'd like to have it ready for September
SoT/PE : So with the movie, the remasters, two tours, and the new album, really have your hands full!
RA : You could say that! [Laughs] Well I'd rather be like that than watch the snowflakes falling outside. After I'd recovered from my operation 4½ years ago, I decided that this was what I wanted to do, and it seems to be coming together now.
SoT/PE : In a perfect world, what would be the long-term future for Nektar?
RA : In a perfect world
I'd like stability for the band, with a stable record company, and with good distribution for our product. Although we now have new management, a new production company, and some great distribution companies. A perfect world
I'd like to see Nektar be a household name again, so if you'd see Nektar advertising a show you'd know it would be tremendous. We can't put on those tremendous shows now because we simply can't afford it. But hopefully, if we can get some product out and start pulling people in to see us 1,500 people, 2,000, 2,500, 3,000 people to come and see us at every show, then we can afford to put a huge show on. We had ideas for quadraphonic sounds on a live show way before Floyd even thought about it, but we just could not afford it back then. By the way we're bringing out these remasters in quad-sound SACD, which I guess is another first for us.
A perfect world
yes, I want to see Nektar back as a forerunner, in the big shows. I love the big shows, but we've just got to watch our pennies at the moment. We've been away for a quarter of a century, so we just have to build it up slowly, and we've got to sell tickets.
SoT/PE : And the Internet should be a good forum for that.
RA : Oh yes, it's fantastic our poor postman looks as tired as the post office! There's this 90-year-old postman working for a 90-year-old post office, and I think oh, forget it, I'll just send an E-Mail.
SoT/PE : Some people I know have complained that they're going to have to buy whole new CD players now, because of your SACD remasters!
RA : Well, music has to advance. Not only in the art and creation of music, but also in the listening of music. There's no point in us going out and making these tremendously expensive productions when you're going to listen to it on an old-fashioned record player. Quad should have been made years ago, but too many manufacturers were making their own version of it. There are so many fantastic albums out there that should be converted to SACD now the first ones I think of obviously are Floyd. All our stuff should be on quad, and it would be a fantastic thing to just sit in a room and listen to it, as opposed to stuck between 2 speakers which most people have too close together anyway.
SoT/PE : [Laughs] Heck, I do that because they fit on my desk!
RA : [Laughs] I'll never forget I had one chap tell me to come around and look at his new stereo system he'd spent a fortune on it. So I went round, and he had one speaker on top of the other! I said "Well, where's the other speaker?" He said "Oh no, this is it" And they were giant speakers, standing in the corner on top of each other. So I said "They're supposed to be apart", [laughs] and he said "Oh no, my wife won't allow that!"
SoT/PE : I heard about a guitar clinic you're running. Is this a regular thing, or a one-off?
RA : This will be the 3rd one I've done. I give guitar lessons as well. With the clinics I turn up and do two one-hour sets it's not a show just sit on a stool with an electric acoustic guitar and play and sometimes sing. It's really informal and close, maximum 200 people. And after a song somebody will say "How did you do that", and I'll talk about it.
But you'll be surprised how many youngsters these days don't play an instrument. It's quite sad, really. Although I think there may soon be a change for the better. Your [American] Fender guitar company and our [British] Marshall amplifier company have got together and said "How can we appeal to these young kids and bring them back into rock music?" And they decided to make a product that's cheap enough to attract their parents, and looks cool enough to attract the kid. So they put together this package. Marshall made this tiny little amplifier that will blow your head off, and Fender made this really classy looking guitar, and they put it in a box, and you've got everything you need.
SoT/PE : You're talking about the Squier?
RA : That's right.
SoT/PE : My son has one, so I suppose their idea worked!
RA : That's fantastic! When I was 12 or 13, I wanted to be a guitarist. That's all I ever wanted to do.. And I went down to the music shop and all I saw was guitars which were completely out of my range, it was like buying a new car. And in those days you'd have to go and make one, or borrow one, or something. So they've made it accessible now, and it's also a quality instrument. I mean I've got a Squire here which will knock the socks off a lot of instruments costing 20 times the price! And it's a great way to start. When I was starting I had to get a Hofner, which was a bit like playing Robin Hood. The strings are so far away from the neck you might as well put an arrow in there and shoot it off.
SoT/PE : [Laughs] Roye, I think we're out of time do you have any parting messages for us?
RA : Just that I'd ask Nektar fans if they can just be a bit patient with us, because we are trying hard to bring everything right.. It takes time and patience and money. If they could just support us we will support them in a big way.
SoT/PE : Well, I live in th D.C. area, and I'd love to meet you when you're there.
RA : Absolutely come along! That's a date then. I'll see you at the Birchmere.
SoT/PE : Roye, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! We're looking forward to seeing you on tour, and hope it helps to expand your popularity in the USA. Take care!.
RA : Thanks, Duncan. We'll see you in Washington!
NOTE : Pictures supplied bt R.Albrighton of Nektar, and K.L. Solomon of Progressive Soundscapes Radio.