Interview conducted by Jonathan Dann and Alan Hewitt in April 1992. Originally published in issue 2 of The Pavilion.
Perhaps the best place to start when talking about "The Geese & The Ghost" is the fact that some of those songs were written quite some time before the album was released. Can you tell us exactly how old they are?
I think one can divide the material on "The Geese & The Ghost" mainly into two eras; there's one or two extra bits but basically it can be grouped like that. Some of it represents bits and pieces from what I used to call the 1969 era of writing with Mike Rutherford which was stuff that he and I used to do on two twelve strings, which really began, if one looks at the whole lineage of things in the kitchen at Send where we were playing things that became things like "Dusk". Although the others had a big hand in finishing things like that, essentially the guts of things like "Dusk" and "White Mountain" were Mike and myself.
There were other pieces that became instrumental that were used by Genesis and some of the more experimental things were pieces in odd tunings and stuff and some of those did end up in the instrumental that became known as "The Geese & The Ghost". It is hard for me to remember why some of them ended in things like "Stagnation" and others ended up in "The Geese"... but I think they were blocked off by their twelve string tunings and "The Geese" was in a particular tuning with the top string of the twelve string tuned down to D so we used to call it "D Tuning".
The problem was that there were lots and lots of bits in the same tuning that got shunted off into different areas. There was an abundance of material which Mike and I recorded during the summer of 1969 the period when the group were switching from the "From Genesis To Revelation" period to "The Knife" and "Looking For Someone", and doing the heavy electric guitar stuff. Some of the stuff that we recorded and which ironically ended up on the CD re-issue were things like "Lucy: An Illusion", "Stranger", and "Silver Song" obviously even though it was associated with Phil, it was from that same era. Most of it never ended up going through Genesis.
"Collections" was from the period of 1969 on piano. Why was that one not played to the others? Well, I can't tell you; perhaps it was too oddball; it didn't seem formatted enough and of course, everyone was very sensitive about doing any sort of piano things in front of Tony Banks, they had to be acceptable in some sort of way. That's not a criticism of him; itís just that he was a very good pianist. Now "Collections" makes sense as a kind of cohesive piece of music but then it didn't seem like that. Funnily enough, the one song that was always well received was "Stranger", which was one that seemed to catch the mood of the time; and that was done actually and once, later in that summer when we got on the road, it was just too sensitive to succeed because it was just one man one voice. The bulk of the stuff that Mike and I did together just didn't go through the group. So, there was the stuff from that period which basically... numbers... a lot of stuff from "The Geese & The Ghost" itself but NOT all of it! "Collections" was definitely from that period.
The next bulk of material was from just after I left because in the last four or five months in the group, nobody seemed to be writing anything. Well, if they were, they were doing it secretly, you know; we'd got our set; we were on the road; it was a gig every night and there wasn't any time to rehearse anything new. We were just going through the motions of doing it professionally; trying to secure a record contract. People have said since why didn't you record things like "Let Us Now Make Love", but by then it was a bit tired; it had been beaten to death by the tech louts; the then equivalent of lager louts; and Charisma wanted us to record the set that we did live. So, after I left, after having done very little creative work, there was a great outpouring of material... all of the stuff like "God If I Saw Her Now", "Which Way The Wind Blows", most of "Henry"... all came steaming out.
So, basically what happened was that I demoed most of "God If I Saw Her Now", "Which Way The Wind Blows" and "Henry"... in a very primitive sort of way. It had a certain amount of magic to it and people were impressed. Then I went into my student period and teaching and stuff and a lot of that got laid to rest. It was only, if the truth be told, when Mike had got far enough through with the group, and we got back together, that we picked up from where we had left off and that was almost four years. We did some new things but it was a bit of a toss up and his schedule with the group meant that we either went with the new stuff or paid homage to the past and I don't know to this day what his thoughts really were. I mean, things like "God If I Saw Her Now" although he figured in them, were mainly my stuff whether he would have liked to have done that I don't know. Maybe having escaped from the pressures of having to produce stuff with Genesis, maybe he was happy to come and back me up and let me take some of the strain with the writing.
Was the reunion between you and Mike by accident, or design?
It was definitely by design because although we did drift apart from 1970 to mid 1972 it was... for about eighteen months before "The Geese & The Ghost" we were spending a lot of time together and Mike was great in helping me make, if you like, tentative movements back into the rock business, doing things like the "Silver Song" single with Phil and stuff and getting the modern hymn ("Take This Heart") on album and then the solo album... I will never know exactly how Mike saw it. A solo album was something that he wanted to do... at least I think he did! It was a co-thing but initially he was going to have to take the strain because he wasn't well known but he was a lot better known than I was, and Genesis were getting going but were still relatively small time but they were making a mark in a smaller circle having done "Selling England By The Pound". I think it was partly time and given that we had the opportunity to do an album it would be sacrilege to abandon all this material which would seem like a terrible waste. I think it was really fashioned by the time because there wasn't time to write a new album because basically Mike was filling in..
Having the album now, and having a little more about the background to it; the album is a patchwork and yet when you listen to it, it doesn't sound like that and can stand up as a new work even though parts of it are six or seven years old.
Had we recorded the stuff in 1970/71 it would definitely have been much rougher... the playing wouldn't have been as good. It didn't fit into any bag at the time which is curious really and if you look at what came later with the Punk thing; it was very much a work of the time. Microcosmically it was a lot more bizarre and fragmentary than a lot of the stuff that was about at the time. It didn't have the heavy elements although one or two pieces did have drums but it didn't have those heavier elements that most progressive music had. It was in the main gentle and lyrical and a little bit classical but not in as overblown a classical way than a lot of the stuff, and I think that confused people.
The other piece, just looking at the overall blend, that was going to be on the album at the time was an orchestral version of "Autumnal" which later came out on "Private Parts & Pieces I"; that was very much in the frame. In fact we did a rehearsal using musicians from the Guildhall who just did it for love which was fantastic. They were just paid expenses because at that stage we had no money. This was an initial orchestration by me but Charisma voted against it.
Mike and I started rehearsing this and there was a time opportunity put aside but suddenly the band decided to do a double album and things got very complicated and there wasn't enough time. To be fair to Mike; he was a positive hero actually because when we were in Ireland the winter before; in 1973, and he'd just come back from "Selling England By The Pound" - it must have been great for him to sit and add bits to "Henry"... in a hotel room, and it must have pretty inspiring. But by the time he'd been through a whole summer of writing for a double album of new material and all the grief that goes into that but I'm not sure that he wanted to embark on another album project - he probably wanted to have a holiday! But he was very loyal and he knew that I wanted to do it a lot and I am sure that there was a side of him that he wanted to express too. Looking back on I, it must have been difficult for him and he must have been equivocal but we started it and as I recall their tour was postponed when Steve cut his hand, and so we were given a reprieve... to start it all and it looked as if we weren't going to start at all which was a terrible thing for me because it was a big thing for me, you know; four years out of the business - the album and Mike had got the initial bit of an advance with which we'd bought this equipment and we were going to do it all at home. As it turned out, that wasn't possible but we started and I was thinking; what's going to happen?
And so we had this reprieve but it wasn't enough to do the thing anywhere like the finished article but it was enough to get going. We had some wild equipment problems beginning with the clicks...we kept on getting static clicks from these TEAC machines which were notorious for being a bit odd. "Which Way The Wind Blows" was the first piece we kicked off with and that was on electric guitar but it was played to sound like a classical guitar and was very quiet and gentle with a round sort of gentle strumming sound and we had all these static clicks and all these sort of boffins came down and it was a nightmare... just when we wanted to get going and we had all this technical stuff! We decided that the budget was so small that we had to do most of it at home (Send Barns) quite what would happen later on we weren't sure but we bought these two four track TEACs and a desk for two or three thousand pounds and that set us up basically. And so we thought we could do it very simply and make it sound convincing on a small level of tracks. What we didn't realise was that some tracks wouldn't sound full enough and would need still more. I don't think at the start for instance that parts of "The Geese & The Ghost" would have full drums on it. There was no definite plan; I think the idea was to just keep it to two twelve strings you know; this was us, it was very simple with the odd extra overdub...it all happened by trial and error really. Basically then in the summer of 1975 it was a case of doing it on Tom Newman's barge.
How did that come about?
Well we had to... money was tight and we had to find a reasonably cheap sixteen track. Tom Newman's barge was a mixture of things because it was a great vibe; lovely part of the country and it was the size of things that do trips down the canals... Little Venice and Maida Vale...but unfortunately a lot of things didn't work and things kept breaking down and again, from Mike's point of view it must have been frustrating. There was no rush in what he was doing because at the time, things in Genesis were very uncertain... they didn't know what was going on and so in a way that probably filled a good hole for Mike. And when Simon Heyworth waltzed in on the first day despite the fact that things were going wrong it was great and Simon was very up and enthusiastic all the time and it helped a hell of a lot. At send we'd only done choice overdubs like the flute and oboe but we did all the recorders and stuff on "Lute's Chorus" and the violins on "The Geese & The Ghost"... extra cor anglais from that marvellous player Lazo Momulovich... we did all of those things and it was great because all of these session musicians would come down to the barge and the funny stories like when the timps wouldn't fit (laughs) and they had to go on the other barge and it was a pleasure trip thing - the guy would be on the phone saying "yes we..." and suddenly the bloke on the other end would be saying "what's that in the background?" and the guy would be saying "Oh, it's just the timpanists..." (laughter). So all of that was quite bizarre. The breakdowns, and Phil coming in to do his vocals, that was obviously a highlight as well.
Whose decision was it to use Phil? Was it a managerial decision?
Well, after "Silver Song" obviously, there was no question.
At what part of the progression of the album did he come in to do his singing...?
July 1975. I don't know when it was decided to get a new singer and go with Phil from Genesis but it was curiously running concurrently with all that major stuff going on... So what else happened... We used to be rammed by other barges, that happened a few times (laughs) and, as you know, we had the end of album party which was when we all came down and sang on "Henry"... that was the "Barge Rabble".
How did Simon Heyworth come in on the production side?
Well, actually Simon was the engineer and Tom and he had worked on "Tubular Bells" and Tom had got this studio on a barge and it was relatively in its infancy. We were the guinea pigs in a way. Tom was a great guy but things were a bit disorganised at times and Simon was his friend and he came in and engineered the album. We gave Simon a producer's credit in the end because Mike had all these things going on with Genesis I think they were auditioning singers and so Simon and I mixed most of it... we mixed a lot of it, and so Simon was credited with production but Simon was just the engineer to start with.
Now we move on... there were frustrations; there were difficulties; there were delays but the next phase from October 1975 through the next year was the bad bit. Because this was the bit where nothing happened at all and this is why people wonder... they look at the time of the album: begun in 1974 and not released until 1977 - why? The first twelve or so months can be explained by Mike being off on tour and things but the next fifteen months are difficult to explain... People were interested and suddenly not interested. Maybe it was just the image thing. I think there was a strong feeling that there could obviously be only one Mike Oldfield. There was very much a feeling of that... "Oh, that's been done, you know..." It tends to happen in rock you know.
Mike of course, was locked into the "A Trick Of The Tail" album and the high pressure... and our album... it wasn't even called "The Geese & The Ghost" then... it went round the record companies and they would be interested and then nothing would happen and it just seemed after a while; that nothing was ever going to happen.
The following year; 1976 was a difficult year for me, understandably because I'd built a lot up around this...I had all the teaching and stuff and all the equipment was still in the studio and the one good thing was that I kept going and when I look back at it; a lot of people would have just packed up but I just kept recording different things which is hard because after putting all that effort into "The Geese & The Ghost" there didn't seem that much point. Looking back on it now, I suppose with the teaching and everything I was relatively prolific because during the first part of 1976 I recorded things like "Tregenna Afternoons". I did all of the Macbeth project which ended up as "Reaper" and parts of "The Scottish Suite", loads and loads of things. We did all the first demos of "Tarka" stuff in Devon. "Tarka" was demoed first in April 1976. I suppose this often happens that you write your best stuff when you are anxious or disturbed. I found that if I stopped I couldn't face the fact that I'd put all that effort into the album and nothing had happened and so I just had to keep working to not think about it and at the end of the day that looks like a great period and really productive...
So, nothing happened and during 1976 I recorded all these things and they didn't mean that much to me. I started to dabble with library music but nothing was really going on. And I began to think, well... I've got my teaching Diploma from the Guildhall, and I've done all these piecemeal sort of orchestration but maybe it is time I went and did a proper music course? And actually get a degree and all that kind of stuff. As soon as I'd applied in the summer of 1976 suddenly there was this bite from America, you know... Passport were going to put up the album and I was all set to go the following year; 1977 to music college! It was a classic irony. Quite quickly things took off and I was booked on to this promo tour of the States in early 1977. Still no English company took it because Hit & Run eventually put it out but Passport were the first. Whatever his faults, Marty Scott.. without him...
The amazing thing, looking at it from my point of view is, that with the American record market being the way it is; now you have got an American record label that had... the guts to stick with this eccentric English musician for ALL those albums...
Well, Genesis were getting big enough for a small... Passport were a small off-shoot of a big export company but they wouldn't have got a look in with a group like Genesis, you see. He was excited you see. I donít think they were suffering from some of... By the time it was doing the rounds of the record companies the wind of change in regard to Punk was already blowing but in the States it was never the same way as you know there was always a mutual respect for different kinds of things, and frankly I think there was a lot more respect in the States.
When it first came out there was this talk about it selling 17,000 copies in New York in ten days or something and before I went on this promo tour there was this real feeling of excitement. I did all the major heavyweight disc jockeys in the States, but when I got back to England it had sold OK and Hit & Run Had put it out over here but there wasn't much promotion and Punk was sweeping the boards... I think.. this is not a criticism of the Genesis management... but I think it put things firmly into perspective. Well, I suppose there are two things to say: firstly the thing uppermost in their minds, particularly Tony Smith was that he'd abandoned this very... potentially very profitable tour managing unit with Harvey Goldsmith to take a flier on this group called Genesis and he had a young family and as soon as he did that the lead singer left! So obviously there was desperation all round to make it work and there was no reason for them to believe that Phil was good but Phil didn't seem to have the sort of presence in their minds to start with, but he grew into it, and obviously as history relates the rest of the story... But certainly in that year from the time of when we had finished "The Geese & The Ghost" which was something that they would have loved to put more time into it, but it was very much a secondary project.
Secondly, to balance that; really looking back on it, I should have realised that but I was twenty two.. twenty three and I was pretty young. If I had realised that I would have accepted that some serious leg work should have been done by me or that I should have got somebody else involved which was difficult because it was their money but somebody else should have been involved and really pushing it and also of course, it was a very difficult project to sell with no sort of visual front man or singles, so that was... it wasn't an easy one to sell given the business was saying; Mike Oldfield only happens once, so it was a tough one from their point of view.
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