Bram Stoker was recording and playing live classic progressive rock back in the late 1960s and early '70s, and the band is set to release their first album since 1972's Heavy Rock Spectacular, titled Cold Reading, which comes out on the 27th of January, 2014. Sea of Tranquility's Mark Johnson recently interviewed Tony Bronsdon, Founder and Keyboard player, and Tony Lowe, Producer, Lead guitarist and Bassist for Bram Stoker about their latest release Cold Reading, as well as the past and future of the band.
Mark – Tell us about the origin of Bram Stoker and the search for a band name.
Tony Bronsdon…Bram Stoker arose from the demise of Harris Tweed, which was the band we were originally going to have with Jet Harris of the Shadows on bass. Jet was not into the progressive scene so we found a replacement bass player in Jon Bavin and the rest is history. We tried to find a striking name that would potentially stay in the memory, we looked in the books of the Bible, the Old Testament and combined names, coming up with things like Obadiah Jones, Ezekiel and then Bram Stoker was thrown in there and we all just voted it in.
Mark – For those of us who are reverent about the early days of prog and our favorite seminal bands from the era, please tell us some stories of the days touring and playing at places like the Roundhouse, The Marquee, The Greyhound – Croydon and The Speakeasy in London.
Tony Bronsdon…I enjoyed having a young enthusiastic University crowd and some of the best gigs were at those venues, we went down very well. We played with Caravan and Yes at the Civic Ballrooms in Dunstable, a very successful gig. We appeared on the bill at Royal Holloway College with Genesis. I recall meeting Mark Bolan when we played the Roundhouse and found him to be a really pleasant sort of chap; he gave our guitarist a set of strings he admired. Mark let us use T Rex's 2000 watt PA which filled out the organ to almost a cathedral sound.
Tony Lowe – In those days we were all quite wide eyed about it all but the enthusiasm for the music was palpable. I remember playing at the Speakeasy in London and we went on about 3am as it was a night club for rock stars, and they didn't even start to party till 1am. Phil Lynott was a regular there. I loved playing at the Marquee. It was just a really good sized club and always exciting seeing the lines down Wardour Street. It was the place to see great bands at close proximity. Loud too!
Mark – From your press release we know that Queen opened for Bram Stoker. Tell us what it was like to meet the band and have them open your show.
Tony Bronsdon – I do recall a chap standing there with sequined stockings…must've been Freddie.
Tony Lowe – We said hello and they politely smiled back but there were no long conversations about music or our work. We were all just happy to be playing and in those days, everyone had to share the same dressing room behind the stage, floor sticky from years of beer and hundreds of band names scrawled on the wall. We did think it strange at the time that they were putting on makeup. It was 1971. We had no idea that this band would go on to be one of the biggest in the world.
My Brother Pete recalls… "There was this strange looking band opening for Bram Stoker...four guys with long hair wearing makeup and tights. No one was taking any notice of them... just milling around talking and waiting for the main event..."
Mark – Were there other bands from the era that you met or became friendly with during those early years?
Tony Bronsdon – We played with the Groundhogs and Tony McPhee made the comment "Tell you what you guys; I would make a whole album out of one of your songs". We played with Argent a couple of times, so I had a chance to chat with Rod Argent, as we were both sort of similar keyboard players. I met Keith Moon and Roger Daltrey when we supported the Who at the Pavilion, Bournemouth and Daltrey later invited us to his mansion to record.
Mark – to Tony Bronsdon - You formed the band in 1969 and you're a wizard with the keyboards. I am so glad I was able to hear and review Cold Reading. I am surprised that you're not mentioned with the keyboard leaders of the era like Banks, Emerson, and Wakeman? How is it that many of us missed Bram Stoker?
Tony Bronsdon - People have said that 'I hid my light under a bushel' and at that time I didn't think I was that special, I have several cousins who are top classical musicians, like Christopher Bowers-Broadbent who is a world famous church organist and composer. I do accept that I have something to offer in rock music, but it was always a question of weighing up your lifestyle and what you forfeit going one way or another…i.e. stable home life, money concerns. I don't think we realized the potential opportunity for us there, that if we had stuck at it a little more, we would have moved up in popularity.
Tony Lowe – I think we were going in that direction when we split up. More and more people were noticing Tony's incredible playing and composition but we didn't have the right people around us getting interviews etc. It was all a bit… let's see what happens… we could have used some hard headed management at the time. None of us were any good at bigging ourselves up.
Mark – Even though Heavy Rock Spectacular was released in 1972, many progressive rock fans, like me had never heard the album. Please tell us a little about the concept and content of Heavy Rock Spectacular.
Tony Bronsdon - Different band members came up with different concepts and we would build a sound between us and because of my classical background I was always looking for a basis of a classical piece for a basis, as a result you have Fingal's Cave – (Mendelssohn), Fast Decay (Beethoven and Bach) and Ants (Mozart). Keith Emerson was also doing this but I was not attempting to emulate him, it was happening in parallel at the time and part of the whole exploratory prog scene of the late 60's.
Mark – Ok, let's talk about Cold Reading. Thank you very much for getting back together. Please tell us about the impetus behind re-forming and how you came up with the title and concept for Cold Reading.
Tony Lowe - I hadn't seen Tony for years. We met once in London in 2007 and in 2009 I moved out to Dorset and just half an hour from Salisbury, so we met up for dinner and the idea was hatched. I liked the idea of re recording all of the old material with a modern sound but we were nervous about spending a lot of time on it in case no one was interested. We talked about using some of the original work (Fingal's Cave and Fast Decay) and would set about writing new material in the same style. Tony had some pieces that just needed editing down and producing properly and we co-wrote new material with Will Hack writing Lyrics.
The Title Cold Reading came about through our research into Bram Stoker as a writer and a person. Not just for writing Dracula. He was very interested and personally involved with the Victorian Spiritualist movement of the time along with people like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and James Whistler and was interested in the occult, especially mesmerism. As we were introducing a new version of the band it seemed like there was a rich vein here for new mysterious and dark material. Séances and Ectoplasm were the order of the day. Talking to the other side, tables levitating, that sort of thing. A Cold Reading is when you purport to be giving someone meaningful messages from a dead relative or friend and are in fact just reading the answers and reactions of the subject. I personally have never made up my mind one way or another about the afterlife but it sure is interesting.
Mark – Tell us about the inspiration for the cool cover art on Cold Reading.
Tony Lowe – The front cover picture was taken on a beach near Bournemouth. It wasn't until we looked closely that the clouds seemed to suggest a huge demonic figure. The cobwebs are actually on a disused garage window by our house. That seemed to suggest a perfect mood for the rest of the images and design. Cheryl Stringall and Chris Taesali did the rest by artistry, clever manipulation and by giving it an overall old look. Like a book that hadn't been opened for centuries.
Mark – Will Hack was a great choice on vocals. Describe how you chose him to deliver the deep lyrics he wrote.
Tony Lowe – Yes. Will was a great find. He's also a lot younger than us which brings the age average down a bit. ;-) We were looking for a drummer and a singer to complete the live line up and I found Will's profile online. He sings, plays piano and drums, so we thought about the idea of having a drummer that sings. Well it's worked before right? We had no idea at the time that he would work out as a great lyricist as well.
Mark – Having former band member Jon Bavin participate in writing some of the music for the album was a great way to tie the past to the present. Why did he choose not to play on the album?
Tony Lowe – Jon is living in Australia now and has settled there. It would have been a logistical nightmare for him to be involved with the live band but it's good to have his contribution on this album.
Mark – On "Climbing the Gyroscope", you hit us right away with the deep bass and equally deep keyboards. Great title by the way. Describe the keyboards you use on this or any of the other tracks.
Tony Lowe – The keys on the heavy parts are Harpsichord and Piano samples; both from the Apple Logic Pro sound library. Also Hammond B3 organ is used a lot on the album plus Roland JP8 and Fender Rhodes electric piano.
Mark – The title track "Cold Reading" is a great delivery of the album's concept with good vocals. I compared it in sound to the music off Trick of the Tail or Wind and Wuthering. Was that a fair comparison?
Tony Lowe – It certainly wasn't intentional but I've always loved those albums. There's a certain sound to the production of symphonic rock that works very well for me and that could be considered similar I suppose, but any comparison is a huge compliment of course.
Mark – There are other bands that actually cover or try to re-create the "Early Genesis" sound. I know that you are not doing that since you started at the same time, but were you influenced by the sound of that era?
Tony Lowe – I didn't really start listening to Genesis albums till Selling England by the Pound so I wasn't personally influenced by their music till later. There was a lot of experimentation going on at the time and keyboards were restricted to Organ or Electric Piano so it would be fair to say that anyone playing classically influenced music and rocking it up would have a somewhat similar sound.
Mark – On "Calling Me Home" I hear so many similarities in the sound of your guitar playing and Steve Hackett. Were you influenced by Steve at all?
Tony Lowe - I love Steve's playing and always did. He's been a true innovator of Prog music over the years and you have to admire him for not wanting to go the commercial route back in 77. I honestly think I developed my own style all those years ago and as I said I didn't hear Steve's playing till around 74. Though I'm sure I have some influence from his style over years. In the same way there are probably bits of Eric Clapton and Dave Gilmour. We've all got bits of everyone we admire.
Mark – "Chasing Red" may be my favorite song on the album. Describe the writing process within Bram Stoker using this or any other song on the album as an example.
Tony Lowe – The songs are all approached differently but I came up with the basics of this one after a lot of the other songs had been recorded. We needed an additional, longer piece and it was an idea about the fox hunt, which comes right through our property and is something I care deeply about. I developed the riff which is the fox running and rest just seemed to follow quite naturally. With Will it was a matter of… Can you write some lyrics from the point of view of the Fox…? Of course he did just that!
Joust is a piece that is almost entirely Tony B's, as is Fingals Cave but others, like New Adventure, Like Autumn Now and Cold Reading were songs we all contributed to.
Mark – The song "Joust" must have been fun to write and perform. It is an excellent showcase for the band's talent. Where did the inspiration come from for that track?
Tony Bronsdon – The first part written was the verse line, and I wanted to do something jolly and then developed the song literally as I heard it in my head. The next part was a rock section following the verse. There isn't any specific classical influence in that song.
Mark – Thank you for including "Like Autumn Now". Although progressive rock music is great all year long, do you agree that autumn is one of the best seasons for progressive rock music?
Tony Lowe – I think autumn and winter are good seasons for prog rock. We have more time for reflection and reverie in those long dark evenings.
Tony Bronsdon – I'm probably more 'of the four seasons' man, I think of all the seasons have something to offer for a musical journey.
Mark – Tell us about the inspiration for "Fingal's Cave"?
Tony Bronsdon – It all began from humming the melody and then it grew into a kind of monster.
Mark – Will you tour Cold Reading with the original band? Will you play the entire album or include covers?
Tony Lowe – We're hoping to get out on the road next year. The lineup will be Tony Bronsdon, Tony Lowe, Will Hack and an as yet unknown Bass player. We will be playing the whole album.
Mark – Do any of the band members have plans to perform or record with other artists in the progressive rock genre in the near future?
Tony Lowe – Personally I'm also heavily involved as a Producer with other projects and play guitar with Simon Townshend when he's touring. I'm also half way through my third album with Alison Fleming but there is always time for Bram Stoker and we will all be giving it 100% over the next year or so. Will writes and records his own material too.
Tony Bronsdon – No I don't, wouldn't turn down an opportunity but I am not looking for it. I feel like giving this current incarnation of Bram Stoker the best I can over the next few years and beyond if possible.
Mark – What is next for Bram Stoker?
Tony Lowe - We've been rehearsing as a core in my studio. The material is extremely complex and has to be played with the precision of a first rate orchestra so we're making sure it's all in place before going into a rehearsal studio with a Bass Player. The next step is playing live and we can't wait.
Mark-Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us. We at the Sea of Tranquility wish you and Bram Stoker much success with the launch of Cold Reading and all that you do in the future.
Tony Lowe and Tony Bronsdon – Thank you!
(Click here to read our review of Cold Reading)