An Interview with Robert Forrester
by Pete Crigler
A little over a year and a half ago, I wrote an article about This Picture, asking questions like 'Whatever happened to them?' I was hoping that maybe the article would draw one of the members out of isolation and answer some questions. Time passed and... .nothing. So I moved on to other things. Then, back in February of 2015, I was checking my email and I received a message from someone on YouTube. So I checked the message and it was from Twelve92. Opening and reading the message, I saw that Twelve92 was actually Robert Forrester, former guitar player for This Picture. After communicating with him for a couple of hours, I sent him some questions to answer in hopes of filling some holes in This Picture's story. Graciously, Robert agreed and below is the amazing results of our interview.
PSF: How did you get involved with music?
bert Forrester: The core of the band were in the usual collective of kids at school - who all wanted to be in bands. We had about eight or nine of us forming different line-ups, trying various flavours and type of sound. Luckily, we had a really good balance of players - at least two guitarists/two bass players/two drummers. Trouble was a shortage of keyboard players and singers - only one of each... After a few years of Friday nights hiring the village hall for band practice, we had kind of settled on two bands - one was 'The Clockwork Earwig Project, the other was soon to become 'This Picture.'
PSF: How did This Picture come together?
RF: Our lineup of Duncan Forrester, Steve Hughes and myself was in need of a singer (I was trying it but it was not great :) ). Duncan met Symon Bye - they just met by chance and got talking because they rode identical motorbikes. Sy came in and had a go at lyric writing and singing. After a few rehearsals, we all knew this was going to work and felt like a real band. We came up with the name and started working on some demos and getting gigs.
PSF: What was the scene like at the time?
RF: There were a few venues - pubs and clubs putting on bands in our hometown (Cheltenham) and we played all of them a few times then decided quite deliberately to 'get into' London... 'The Mean Fiddler' at Harlesden became our default home venue - a really great live club with bands every night. We graduated from the midnight slot on Mondays through to headlining Fridays. Reckon we must have played there forty/fifty times. It was about three years of doing all these gigs that finally led to some serious record company interest.
PSF: What led to the band signing with Dedicated and what was that time like?
RF: We went from zero interest to huge interest from the record companies in the space of a few weeks. We first signed a publishing deal with Lucien Grainge and Pete Lawton at Polygram Publishing. They funded some proper demos, made some phone calls and fought our corner - and within no time we had offers from all sorts - Beggars Banquet/Mother/Creation and Dedicated. With hindsight, I think we should have signed with Alan McGee's Creation label - but we were seduced by the offer from Dedicated (Indie-branded but Major-funded label set up by Doug Darcy - former president of Chrysalis). We were feeling on top of the world after the long years of uphill pushing.
PSF: What led to Steve Hughes leaving and how did Austen come in?
RF: The most difficult thing we had to deal with. Steve was and is a fantastic bass player - and has an amazing ear for a strong musical idea. Unfortunately, to be honest about it, there were deep personality conflicts centered around Steve. I think it boiled down to his being incredibly conscientious and borderline perfectionist. This made it very hard to get our songs written quickly - and killed much of the spontaneity which is at the heart of the creative process. Steve would dissect new ideas before they even got off the ground - and this just ground down the flow of material to the point where we came under pressure from Dedicated to find a different bass player. Austen was right there - been one of our roadies from the beginning, and also a very good bass player. I think we all felt bad about what happened - but to be fair to Steve he did have a huge input to the early songs, not least "Naked Rain."
PSF: How did "Naked Rain" come about and what was the inspiration for the track?
RF: I had a guitar riff which I stole from myself out of an earlier song. We were jamming and improvising around it one day and Steve just hit the bass lift for the chorus which sent the song off into hyperspace. Sy was listening and forming lyrical ideas... and as I remember it the song came together really fast. The middle section 'Every branch of her body' lyric and music just flowed right out of the ether. It was one of a few songs which almost wrote themselves, others being "5.30a.m" and "A Violent Impression" itself. "Breathe Deeply Now" and "The Great Tree" were others as I recall.
PSF: What was it like making that first record?
RF: We had an amazing experience with the first album. Dedicated flashed the big money and put us into P.Gs (Peter Gabriel) Real World Studios for six weeks... We were surrounded by and working adjacent to some of the world's biggest artists - and with our producer Kevin Maloney we recorded A Violent Impression (1991). Everyone seemed pleased with it. A key player at that time was our RCA A&R - Bruce Flohr. Bruce believed in us completely and loved the album. He really forded open the door to the U.S and put in an incredible amount of work to launch the record. Things were looking good...
PSF: What was success like and how did you guys deal with it?
RF: We just took it all in our stride - the gigs got better and bigger, but the best moments offstage were when we would hear one of our songs on the radio. It made the whole thing more real. We were driving/bus-ing and flying all over the States - very surreal for four lads from England.
PSF: Do you feel that grunge maybe preempted the band having a longer career?
RF: No, we were unfortunate in that this huge wave of grunge came along just as we were getting going, but I know we could have ridden that out and carried our own sound through and out of the other side. Our contemporaries (Oasis/Blur and most of all Coldplay) managed it - and so would we have done if management/label and internal problems hadn't tripped us up. It wasn't grunge or competition from outside - it was problems within.
PSF: What happened with Dedicated switching distribution?
RF: It was the beginning of the end. We were absolutely gutted when Bruce Flohr left RCA - and so were Dedicated. Dedicated knew Bruce was irreplaceable and in a knee jerk reaction they decided on our behalf to jump ship in the States to Arista. The guys at Arista did their best, but really didn't have the right people in place to oversee the second album (City of Sin, 1994) or to build on the success of A violent Impression (100,000 sales). We ended up in limbo - a record to make and release and nobody with the drive/vision of Bruce Flohr to make it happen. Nobody really got a grip on it - and the band were drifting.
PSF: How did the band come to work with Rupert Hine and Ron Nevison on the sophomore disc?
RF: Again, there was a lack of vision on the part of Dedicated/Arista. Rupert is the quintessentially English producer whose skills in hindsight were possibly not perfectly suited to catching the vibe of a guitar band - I think it became an 'all about the vocals' record. We all got on extremely well, but in terms of a kicking rock record, the album came out way way too polite. Panic set in at the record company and we were dispatched to L.A to work with Ron Nevison. His history looked great on paper - but again I think in reality that he was too 'L.A' and AOR... the results were no better. Finally, we ended up in Ardent Studios Memphis, reworking the songs yet again with John Hampton. John saved us - dirtied up the guitars and salvaged something out of not much. I was really sad to hear he died last year. Trouble is, once songs have been recorded three times with three different producers, you lose the edge. I firmly believe that the really great stuff happens fast, spontaneously and needs to be caught very early on. Endless takes/overdubs/polishing and over analysing can kill it stone dead. John did manage to revive it - but it fell short of what it could have and should have been. We all knew it, we were all aware, and I guess our heads dropped. We felt we were putting out a compromised record, without even the basic pieces all in place to promote and tour it properly.
PSF: Was the band dropped or did you guys ask to leave the label?
RF: It just faded out really. After the experience of the second album, what needed to happen for the third album (cut the losses/write fast/record fast) just did not happen. We sat around for months and months, all irritable and bored and bitter that the pace and excitement of the first album had been lost, and no-one with passion or vision at the label (UK or U.S) to shake us back into action. No doubt, we were all feeling the same, and we should have had the resources within ourselves to overcome the situation. It's easy to blame everyone else for what happened, but at the end of the day it was our band, our career and our responsibility to fight our way out. We dropped the ball.
PSF: What prompted the band's split?
RF: It came to the point where we were all so tired and bored of waiting for 'something' to happen. We were working on new songs, but the process was slow. One song in particular stands out in my mind as the one which could have pulled the whole thing back together - it was called "Out in the Boat." We played it live a few times and it got an incredible reaction every time. The lack of momentum with the City of Sin album had left us drained and disillusioned, and after about a year of very little progress towards a third album, I personally reached a point where I had to get out. I felt so claustrophobic, trapped and shackled by the whole situation that one day I just didn't turn up for rehearsals - I felt terrible about letting the other guys down, but I couldn't stand the lack of direction and drive. I recently spoke with Austen about it - and he reassured me that I had read the situation right, and that I just saw the writing was on the wall a bit sooner than he, Duncan or Symon. The band did go on for a while after I left, but it didn't get as far as a new album.
PSF: What has everyone been up to in the last 20 years?
RF: Musically, Duncan has been busiest - he has played in various bands and still does. His current band is The Funky Jets. Austen has maintained a low profile and not picked up his bass in quite some time (although I would just LOVE to change that). Symon has been involved with various projects, although nothing really serious since This Picture. Until my new band Twelve92 began, I must admit I had avoided getting back into playing - I was musically grumpy and just kept my distance from anything which might have tempted me back...
PSF: How did Twelve92 come about and are you excited about playing music again?
RF: Twelve 92 began as a very informal collaboration with Steve Whitfield - we had known each other vaguely for many years but had never worked together musically. Steve had always been a top piano player - in all of his bands - but had kept his amazing talents as a vocalist/lyricist hidden. When he and I got together the chemistry was instant - we improvised and recorded hours and hours of instrumental ideas - and then almost without any conscious change of direction, we crossed over into writing songs. It was like nothing I've experienced since the earliest days of TP- we just seem to be on a raging torrent of songwriting. We have no taboos - anything goes in terms of following the flow and the muse. We make drum loops, use all the incredible power of digital technology to create sounds and grooves which we use as a backdrop to our guitars/bass/keyboard stuff. Its total freedom - if we 'think' of it, we can find a way to create it. For the first time in a lot of years, I am completely in love with rock music again, totally fired up and completely blown away by working with such a fantastic collaborator. Steve is a brilliant singer and writer - I am so excited to be in Twelve92 with him, and I just can't wait to record the album and get out playing our stuff. Anyone who loved TP back then is going to 'get' and hopefully love Twelve92 - its not the same, but I think its got a flavour of what TP might have been doing musically if the band were still around. I hope anyone who starts to keep track of Twelve92 right now at the very start, is going to be turned right on by what they find. We have some great material stacking up - and I think the first album will be a really strong set of songs and the live shows will be very powerful with a whole lot of energy flying around.
PSF: Any plans for a reunion?
RF: I can't see it right now. We are all still around and know where to find each other (Duncan and I are brothers and see each other all the time), but I guess after so many years of the four of us living in each other's pockets, we needed to get space from one another. A couple of times, there has been talk about another album, but it's never come to anything more than talk. Who knows - maybe one day we might do something. To be straight with you, I am in such a creative and good place with Twelve92 that I wouldn't be interested in a TP project right now. The problem with a four piece band is that everything is done by committee - and the more dominant personalities will tend to get their way on things... I am much more aware of this now that I'm just working with Steve - we are equals and we have that indefinable chemistry which makes for fast, easy and fluid writing/recording. We are able to catch the moment, catch the energy of a song without arguing every nuance or having to convince three other people about some detail or another. It's a very productive way to work - and it was rarely that easy with TP! I can very easily imagine Duncan joining our live Twelve92 lineup - and who knows I might even tempt Austen or Steve Hughes to play bass...
PSF: What do you hope This Picture's legacy will be?
RF: I hope that the first album in particular will take people back to good memories and times - I play it (On Vinyl!) every now and again and it feels good and still sounds great. There are so many good memories for me around those days- and they outweigh all the negative stuff which eventually sank the band. When I read your 2014 article about the band and all of the positive things you wrote about us, it made me feel great, as do so many great comments on Youtube from fans who still love that record. My dream scenario would be for all of the fans from those days to latch onto Twelve92 and find something new and just as intense and relevant to them as TP were back then I think my favourite gig ever was probably playing The Whiskey - and if I could get back to play it again with Twelve92 - in front of a crowd as great as the TP crowd, I would be on top of the world.
Also see Robert's Soundcloud page:
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