Tarka & Slow Dance

An interview by Alan Hewitt with Ant about the Tarka & Slow Dance albums from April 1989.

Originally published in The Waiting Room Magazine.


You worked with Harry Williamson on the Tarka project and on a couple of other things as well. Was it a satisfying experience?

Very much so. I met him actually when I was still with Genesis in fact; back in 1969 and he was more technical than I was. He was playing fancy piano arpeggios and he and I used to do two piano things because we had two pianos in the house. He was from a slightly different background from the Genesis guys; it's difficult to describe but he just took me off into a slightly different area. I didn't work with him much after that for a few years; we did the odd demos and then around 1973 or 1974 we started doing more serious two acoustic guitar things. He told me about his father's book "Tarka the Otter" and we got terribly inspired by that and started coming out with all sorts of musical ideas; not just two guitar stuff but piano things for the more dramatic parts. He had, and no doubt still does have a great kind of rhythmic, earthy quality to his music. He played more six string guitar and he would hold down the pieces if you like, while I would provide the chords and the melody although not always like that!

Tell us a little bit more about the background to the Tarka project and how it came to fruition?

Well originally we hoped to get the score to the film that they were doing in 1977/78 and we thought it was a good nepotistic line; Harry being Henry's son but it was all a bit far fetched I think. I mean Rank had their own film guy in mind; David Fanshawe, but Hit & Run (Genesis management) put up some money to finish the orchestral score and it sounded quite good actually. There were a few wrong notes and things as it had to be rushed but it came out pretty well. The problem was; not having got it used in the film the whole pop scene was undergoing its kind of radical Punk upheaval which was totally one track; people were leaping on to that bandwagon and we couldn't really get anything going with it. It was just impossible to get any interest once we'd not got the film. So Simon Heyworth the producer kept behind it with tremendous stamina all the time believing in it and all sorts of wild schemes kept on cropping up although I'd certainly given up; I was convinced that Tarka was a score in the bottom drawer. That didn't make me feel bad because I thought you know; this isn't fashionable music; you know; we're not missing any buses here; it'll be OK in the end. Then Simon Heyworth was acting as consultant to Amy International, this young film company which is run by Simon MacCorkindale and Susan George and they heard it and they loved it and wanted to use it in one of their films. In fact they based a script re-write around it for a film called Dragon Under The Hill. It's a sort of Celtic thing with Vikings and things from that time and is quite gory in fact. They put up the money to actually do the album of "Tarka" in its original form ahead of the film which they thought could only help the film. There were also business reasons in that they acquired the "sync rights" to the music, which they would have had to pay in any case for using it.

Do you see yourself as an orchestrator rather than a band member?

Well I do see myself more as a composer than a band member but I don't want to end up just writing orchestral scores. Having done two very instrumental projects recently, I do want to get back into some songs because that's still very much in the blood and also the contrast is great. You can have too much of one thing, you know you're working in long instrumental forms and you really yearn for the simplicity of a song! And the song format seems so terribly constricting and you yearn for the size and scope of a big instrumental piece in which to really develop things.

With all the developments in the world of music; how far has the technology that is actually involved in the creating of music these days, influenced how you write?

Samples have made it easier to do orchestral things much more convincingly and cheaply. I mean I wouldn't have been able to do a lot of the things on the current album (Slow Dance) if I hadn't had samples they just wouldn't have sounded convincing. People are now able to do pretty reasonably convincing full orchestral mock-ups from that point of view. Sequencers are giving people the chance to play lots of lines that previously would have been very difficult or just impossible. I think that has ushered in a slightly new kind of orchestration in rock which is very interesting; it's a kind of rock orchestration and it enables people who haven't got that finger technique to be able to put these ideas down.

Do you still consider yourself to be a traditional or "modern" musician?

I'm both. I'm a complete mix of both. I love orchestra but I love all the new sounds. The new album is a real mix of the real orchestral approach with sections where you can definitely tell that there's the string part; there's the oboe; there's the harp arpeggios coming in; and other sections which are much odder where you can't put any definite form to it. I'm not ultra high tech; I'd like to think that I'm pretty much in the middle. Maybe just a little bit traditionalist. There are areas that I want to work on that I want to get more au fait with; the more percussive side, which is really interesting; the more abstract percussive sounds like Peter (Gabriel) used. I've touched on it with this album (Slow Dance) but I'd like to do more.

That brings us up to the new album. Is it another Private Parts and Pieces album?

Not at all, it's much more of a full album in the sense of the size of it. It just doesn't hang around. The first side is a little bit slow to get going possibly but it moves around and covers a lot of ground. It's purely instrumental; I wanted something other than "Tarka" which would demonstrate a larger canvas work, if you like for film companies and stuff. I did write four sides worth of material; I wrote a piano side and a twelve-string side as well. I would have liked to do all of these but I just thought the two sides that are more interesting which had more change; more dynamics; more spacey in places. It remains to be seen whether I was right. During the course of it I kept thinking that perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew because parts of it are very orchestral and I didn't have an orchestra! While I've got reasonable synths, I haven't got the really top synths; the ones that sound like strings. In the end we did add real strings to some of it which was great but it was rather like changing horses in mid stream really. Actually the timbre of the real strings didn't marry with the timbre of the samples in some places; it was almost like the clarity was too much. In the end it was a hotchpotch but hopefully a hotchpotch of pieces that people are going like. Hopefully the people who have thought that my music was too small scale will like it.

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