The name Pip Pyle is synonymous with the 1970's Canterbury scene, a musical genre that combined symphonic progressive rock with the nuances of jazz- fusion, yet was highly English sounding. Throughout the 70's, Pip played with most of the heavyweights of the scene, including Gong, Hatfield & the North, National Health, and Soft Heap, while most recently he has shown up as a member of Phil Miller's In Cahoot's, Absolute Zero, and his own ensemble, Pip Pyle's Bash! The drummer extraordinaire recently shared some correspondence with Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo regarding his celebrated past & present stature in the prog community.
Sea of Tranquility: You've been involved with some pretty prolific bands since the early 70's, like Hatfield & the North, Gong, National Health, and Soft Heap.
What is different about the progressive rock/fusion scene today as
compared to back then, in your eyes?
Pip Pyle: I don't really think there's really any difference in a purely musical
analysis. Bands seem to have polarized more into "band leader bands"
like my new band Bash!, Phil Miller's group of long date, In Cahoots, Hugh Hopper's
Frango Band, etc. This essentially means that the entire organization
lands up in your hands. Times have changed in as much as none of us have
the kind of music business support any more to be able to invest in
weeks of rehearsals, gear for the group, a van for the group, roadies
for the group, lightshows, cases of champagne, cocaine, etc etc. It's a
shame really, as it seems to be getting harder just to get gigs and when
you get a few you have to make do with just a couple of rehearsals and
travel by train and play on whatever gear you can pick up in the club.
None of this is particularly welcomed but it's a fact of life. And all
things considered, there is still some fantastic music getting played.
SoT: Of the bands I mentioned previously that you were a part of, which was your favorite? Do you have any great memories you would like to share, or favorite
line-ups/musicians you played with?
P.P: I really can't answer that very accurately; they all had their good and
bad points. I suppose I have some pretty fond memories of Hatfield,
especially the first year of it. It was a pretty democratic outfit for a
while, something which later became its Achilles Heel. I thought
National Health was really amazing for the first tour John Greaves did
with the band, by then a quartet. He suddenly threw in something extra
which for me made the band come alive. It certainly suddenly started to
really fire up and charge along for a while. Soft Heap always did what
seemed to me be very good gigs. It was a band pretty much fired by
pharmaceuticals, though, so I'm not sure I'm the best critic of it. Gong
was a great laugh for a while, too. I think all communal living has a
shelf life though and after a year I just wanted to live in a house of
my own! But once again, I do think all that playing together is
essential for the spirit of a group. Gong used to get stoned together
and jam all day long sometimes which is very creative. It resulted in
some pretty hip riffs that you're never sure where the downbeat is!
SoT: More recently you have been involved with 2 projects, Phil Miller's
In Cahoots and your own ensemble Bash! (both on the Cuneiform label) Can you talk a little about how these came about and your involvement with them?
P.P: Yeah, I'm having a sabbatical with Phil's group right now, after 21
years you run out of ideas or something. I think we both needed a break
from each other! Mark Fletcher who is a great bloke and fantastic player
is doing it right now. There never has been a moment until now when I
haven't had a project in hand with my old mucker Phil, and I have to
admit I'm already missing it. We have a project in mind for next year,
so I'll keep you posted.
As for Bash, we've just done a few gigs and I really had a ball playing
with those guys. The group has suddenly gone up a couple of gears and it
felt so good on stage, especially the last gig at the Tritonales
Festival in Paris.
The group came about after I had been mucking about trying to compose
some things from the drum kit. I usually compose from piano or guitar or
from some words if it's a song, but any starting point will do to get
you off. After a while I had some sketches of compositions and I started
to hear Fred and Patrice playing them in my mind's ear. I had already
got sight of the Baker/Meyer chemistry in jam sessions when Phil invited
Patrice to sit in with In Cahoots. They both have such phenomenal chops
and they seem to get each other at it in a way that I find very
exciting. I have never seen a rock guitarist with a technique like
Patrice, it's like a flamenco technique using all 5 fingers for picking
but of course what comes out has nothing Spanish about it! He told me
in fact when he was young, he used to watch folk guitarists who used
ringed plectrums on their fingers (like Bert Jansch or Paul Simon) but
he didn't see the plectrums. Later, when he started playing rock and
jazz stuff he just carried on with that technique. It's pretty
astounding what has evolved. Fred, of course, I have played with before
in In Cahoots and I think he is such an incredibly accomplished
musician. He can play just about anything. So at first I was thinking of
making Bash a trio but when the writing started to evolve more I
realized it would be handy to have a keyboard or another chordal
instrument in the group. I met Alex Maguire more recently when I was
jamming with Jim Dvorak, Marc Hewins and Elton Dean in London. He just
seemed to be the perfect keyboard player, inspirational, quirky plus a
great "comper", good reader and improviser. Need I say more?
Anyway, the last tour has given me the energy to get on with trying to
progress with the group. I just wish that people would realize that
groups like this are just as interesting, if not more interesting, than
Hatfield, National Health, Gong etc, which, after 35 years are now been
taken seriously! Too late!!
SoT: Do you see Bash as a long- term project?
P.P: I certainly hope Bash will be a long term project. It's is definitely my
intention to make it just that! It is unfortunately not easy; geographically it's hard with Patrice and I living in France. It makes rehearsing impossible outside of touring
time. We all agreed after the last gig that the time has come where we
have to learn all the tunes and to rip up the charts. But, all in all,
I'm really pleased with the band. The music business turns it's back
pretty much to anything "jazz/rock" "Canterbury" or whatever you call
it. If there is a future for bands like ours it will thanks to the net,
via the fanzines like yours, the record distributors like Burning Shed
etc which will help give marginal bands like mine a chance. Hopefully
the music business will have been revolutionized and democratized by all
this in 20 years time and we'll have a new era in music, like the 60's,
when new things flowered.
SoT: Both In Cahoots and Bash have a similar jazz-fusion vibe, although to
my ears Bash seems to be more groove- oriented. How do you compare the
P.P.: Well that's true. Mostly for the reason I have already given that I
wrote the tunes mostly from drum grooves and figures. Phil is interested
in "groove" music too and I think some of his stuff really does groove.
But Phil's forte of course is his incredibly highly developed sense of
harmony. He deals with the notes that no one else would ever think of
playing! I think he's brilliant. So perhaps this is what's uppermost in
his mind. He certainly never put any drum parts on any of the demos he
sent me and I don't think he ever gave me a drum score.
SoT: Does the band play or have played many live gigs?
P.P: No, incredibly, so far we have played just 6 gigs! Still, I'm pleased
that this tour we've started already to play some new tunes, one from
each of us so that makes it a more democratic outfit, which I always
like in a band.
SoT: What are some of your favorite songs from the CD to perform live?
P.P.: Patrice has written a kind of very open almost empty
groove tune called "Bashee Bazouki" which is fun to play. We finally got
a good version recorded of another tune of mine "The Pastis Present
(Passed)". We also did another tune of mine called "Take Your Pick"
which is a tribute to the late chief Rotter, Quiz Inquisitor, Michael
Miles. It includes a passage, which is a reworked arrangement of "The
Yes/No Interlude" that I wrote for the Hatfields.
SoT: You and Elton Dean obviously go way back-is there any possibility of
him being a full time member of Bash?
P.P." No, I don't think so. I really like the electric quartet format. But I'm
sure Elton and I will play in other outfits.
SoT: What happened to the band you had with Elton, called Soft Heap? Was that planned to be a one-off album, or had something happened to end that band?
P.P.: It was one of those groups that didn't have a band leader so it was
no-one's baby and got abandoned. It's a shame really. Maybe someone will
ask us to do a gig one day and it'll hurtle into action again. That's
one band that certainly needs no rehearsals… it never, ever did one!
SoT: Do you ever catch up with Dave Stewart these days?
P.P.: Yeah, we talk on the phone often enough and usually see each other for a
pint when I go to London. He's doing a reworking of "Telstar" by Heinz
and the Tornados at the moment, I believe.
SoT: Does talk of a National Health or Hatfield & the North reunion ever
P.P.: Only vaguely. I think Dave wouldn't be interested in that. Richard did a
gig with Phil in Portugal the other week. We are certainly thinking of
releasing some Hatfield John Peel recordings and some very hairy live
improvised stuff. This used to be about 20% of the Hatfield set, but
never made it on to a recording so I'm pleased about that.
SoT: Last question-how is it you never managed to play with Soft Machine?
P.P.: Well, I never got asked I guess. For me, that group should have folded
after Robert was fired. No disrespect to the others, certainly not John
Marshall who is a fine player. But like Gong after Daevid left, it just
sounded like a boring jazz/rock group to me after that.