Anthony Moore amuses himself
Flying and Producing- Part 3 of an on-going interview
by Jason Gross
In the 2nd decade of the millennium, we've been doing a series of yearly interviews with the incomparable composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist Anthony Moore whose work goes back to the '70's with the skewed pop-craft of Slapp Happy and the avant jazz/classical mash-up's of Henry Cow up through his solo work later that decade and beyond. In Part 1, we talked about his recently reissued album OUT and his Slapp Happy years. In Part 2, his work with Cow and his solo tape experiments. Here, we take up the story in the mid-70's with his production work and his glorious 1979 album Flying Doesn't Help, which has just been reissued by Drag City.
PSF: I wanted to start by filing in a few gaps after your time with Henry Cow and before the Flying album, covering roughly the mid/late '70's. We discussed OUT in the first interview, so otherwise... What led you to do production work during that time?
AM: Getting hands-on with tape machines and magnetic tape around the making of the soundtrack for David Larcher's Mare's Tail in '69 triggered a lasting interest in recording technology and its history; from Russolo to Musique concrete; from Les Paul and Pierre Schaeffer to Stockhausen and Joe Meek. The idea of the studio as fifth instrument (George Martin, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road) - drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and studio - felt natural. I became a studio animal, shunning daylight and live performance with Gouldian zeal! There's no better example of this than in the making of "24 track loop" with Charles Bullen, Charles Hayward and Gareth Williams of This Heat. As I recall it, a fairly short length of 2 inch wide, 24 track tape was filled with 24 individual sounds. The tape was then spliced into a loop lasting just a few seconds. Each track came up on one fader of the mixing console. Then the three of them, along with David Cunningham and possibly myself (i.e. 10 hands) started to 'play' the 24 faders on the desk, switching, fading and panning our assigned channels. I suppose it was similar to using a drastically stretched Mellotron with no intent to emulate any particular musical instrument.
PSF: Can you talk more about the recording of This Heat's debut? What were they like to work with? Did you consider them kindred spirits in any way?
AM: I was grateful for the opportunity to work with them. I think it was thanks to David Cunningham of Flying Lizards fame that I got involved. Were "This Heat" kindred spirits? I hope so, even if they were a mite suspicious of my conviction that "Makeshift" was a hit single. They decided to leave that track off the album altogether. They were wonderful, freestyle innovators who stuck to their guns, determined experimentalists, spurning any temptations offered by the music business and full of irreverent curiosity.
PSF: You also produced Manfred Mann's Earth Band then. How did they come about? How would you describe those recording sessions?
AM: I must admit that the timeline gets really fuzzy - I've been trying to remember what first connected me to The Workhouse Studio in the Old Kent Road in South London. A lot of what followed seems to gravitate around that place. In fact we recorded This Heat there on the fine old API desk: (it sounded great, had the cleanest signal path from microphone to tape; the first 3 or 4 King Crimson albums were recorded through it prior to its arrival south of the river. The studio was owned by Manfred Mann and then co-owned by Blackhill Enterprises (Pink Floyd, T. Rex, free concerts in Hyde Park). I was signed to them for management and publishing, so evidently that was what linked me to the place. I produced Kevin Ayers' Rainbow Takeaway there working with Laurie Latham who had been studio engineer for a while. He was also key to the production and engineering on Manfred's "Blinded By The Light." Later he co-produces and engineers Flying Doesn't Help with me, and then goes on to produce acts such as The Stranglers and Echo & The Bunnymen. He's a great friend to this day and, as we speak, he is digging out the masters of Flying to submit to Drag City in the hope they might want to release it sometime this year. Having said all that, to return to your question regarding the production on Manfred's Angel Station, that project was actually done using the Virgin Mobile which we took over to Southern Ireland to record in Noel Redding's lovely apple orchard just outside Cork. Manfred is a perfectionist - a lot of stamina - many takes - many alternative mixes and so on. But always with humour and generosity. I really enjoyed working with him and the band was hot. I was impressed by the solid drumming of Geoff Britten particularly.
PSF: Punk rock was coming up in England at the time also. What did you think of it then? Did you see any of those shows?
AM: A lot of '76 was spent living and working in Zurich with local musicians - and then I was probably back in Germany doing experimental stuff for a couple of underground movies. So I feel like I may have missed much of the actual punk thing in the flesh. In any case, I would have heartily approved of all iconoclastic, anti-establishment goings on, even if I did have one foot in the old school.
PSF: As we approach Flying, I noticed that you were playing around with your name in some of the credits, starting with your singles- you were Tony More and Anthony More and A. More. Any reason for that?
AM: A weird act of 'pairing down,' of reducing redundancy by removing what I thought of as a surplus zero in my family name. And, of course, to touch on the eternal 'amore'; infinite love, man.
PSF: I'm guessing that Quango was your own label- why did you decide to go that route? How did you find the experience?
AM: Having been dropped by Virgin, I was wary of major labels. I liked the idea of spontaneously inventing a record label, a name for it (Quango) and an identity in the form of logos, posters, stickers, etc. The whole operation had a subversive feel to it because we never intended it as anything more than a one-off. We never registered the name and the entire operation had no formal existence whatsoever. I have to thank Glen Colson for that. He brought the staff numbers of the label up to two and was a great inspiration, getting me to stand up solo with my '57 Duosonic (short-scale guitars have the advantage of making you look taller on stage) at places like The Marquee club and other venues. It was an interesting contrast to the rich production values of the actual record which is many-layered to say the least. Quango stands for Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation and like most efforts of the establishment set up to reduce bureaucracy, actually increases it: thus the logo of a red line drawn across a bowler hat and rolled umbrella, symbol of city gents, financial wizards, criminals and drones. You literally had to cut through the red tape to get the record out of its sleeve. Glen and I had laboriously sealed up every copy by hand.
Anthony Moore as a non-collage
PSF: A bit arcane to ask but I love the artwork for both of the "Judy" singles. The French version has something of a logo with bowler hat, briefcase and glasses that you mentioned before, while the UK version has that wonderful collage photo that you use on your website bio. Could you talk about the inspiration for both of those graphics?
AM: 'Collage' would imply that bits of photographs were assembled into one image but strictly speaking this was no collage. I actually dressed up for the picture wearing what you see - goggle eyes, middle eastern headgear, a large mirrored collar and 'Ratty' the cat on my knee... It's a David Larcher photo, shot in a disused piano factory in Camden Town, London. To this day, I think is just about the most telling visual representation of what I am.
PSF: Do you remember anything about the Workhouse where it was recorded and if that might have also shaped the way the record came out? I'm asking because it's a bit of a storied place (Manfred Mann ownership, also where Gang of Four and Ian Dury recorded).
AM: I covered much of this in the previous part in reply [LINK TO PART 1] to your question about my production on Manfred Mann's Angel Station. As mentioned, publishing and management were looked after by Andrew King and Peter Jenner of Blackhill Enterprises. Apart from putting on those free concerts in Hyde Park, they had been managers of such luminaries as Pink Floyd, Kevin Ayers and T Rex, amongst others. I signed with them around 1973. They would go on to manage Ian Dury and The Blockheads. A couple of years later they decided to go into partnership with Manfred Mann as co-owners of The Workhouse Studio in London's Old Kent Road. At that point, it became my second home, particularly in dead time and deep in the night. But the studio was only part of the story. Perhaps more importantly it was the presence and generosity of Laurence Latham, the 'house' engineer that made so much possible. We became good friends and remain so to this day. Having the run of the place with a great engineer and given my fascination with tape, electronics and using the studio as 'fifth instrument,' The Workhouse was always going to be central to the making of Flying Doesn't Help and much else besides.
PSF: "Judy Get Down" and "Lucia" are particularly striking songs. Were there real life inspirations for those or where they sort of imaginary muses of a sort?
AM: Imaginary muses for sure. I wanted to explore the dark side of love - chains seem to get mentioned a few times! "Lucia" is informed by classic 'death disk' aesthetics ("Tell Laura I Love Her," etc.) where the lover seems to celebrate being 'chained' to the corpse of his paramour. With "Judy," I just wanted to create a bleak, nocturnal atmosphere in place of being overly literal or explicit. It's an old Slapp Happy conceit where an apparently cute pop ditty contains dark, disturbing imagery. See "Casablanca Moon" - "Lines of sweat like tinsel start to smart his eyes, neurosis seeps like semen through the cracks in his disguise." That's Blegvad lyrics! Rich and wild!
PSF: There's a striking line in "Caught Being In Love"- "I'm not proud to be a member of this race" Was that something you really felt sometimes?
AM: I never really grew out of a deep, adolescent disgust with the foul, glutinous gluttony of the power-crazed. What an utter bunch of unprincipled fuck-ups so many of us turn out to be. I used to think that betrayal by the left was more hard to swallow than being fucked by fascists, but it turns out both are equally vile, and equally common. But then people is all we've got, I s'pose.
PSF: I know you've said that punk/new wave wasn't something really on your radar but a song like "Just Us" does seem a bit in that vein. Do you yourself see any connection there?
AM: "Just Us" is based on a synthesizer pulse generated by the wonderful EMS Synthi AKS. I always thought of that song as more Donna Summer (Giorgio Moroder) than punk! But there is a certain wild randomness in the lyrics, as if nothing really matters.
PSF: The last song, "Twilight (Uxbridge Road)," has such a lovely, spooky vibe to it. What was the inspiration for that? Did something evoke that?
AM: Well, first off I wouldn't call it a 'song.' It's an instrumental postfix, a consoling finale to the entire LP, full of sunset and moonlight. Or at least that was the intention. The previous two tracks, "War" and "Just Us" seem to build in a crescendo of violence. So "Twilight" was meant to float us gently back to earth. And it's cinematic, echoes the film music of Ennio Morricone as a slightly kitsch reference, Ed Dorn's 'Gunslinger' riding off into the sunset.
PSF: Why/how did you settle on the title of the album?
AM: Well, flying seems to be the ultimate expression of freedom. But we all know what happened to Icarus. I just wanted to point out that whenever we think we have the answer, we probably haven't. I guess I more inclined to think that whilst flying doesn't help, falling might.
PSF: Why did you have three different editions in different colors?
AM: Four actually; Yellow, Red, Purple and Silver. Why? Because we could. No special reason. 'Quango' was an irreverent playground more than a label; an invention created to gently mock the majors. But I am glad we did those 4 colours. It's intriguing; what colour is yours? I hope we made equal amounts of each but I can't remember.
[ED NOTE: my copy is red]
PSF: The cover image itself is quite striking- it's blurred and abstract yet very memorable and eye catching. How was that created? (the back cover too is interesting as it seems to be a group of people walking away)
AM: Well unsurprisingly perhaps, both front and back cover are images from Heathrow airport - the location inspired by the title. As for the people, departure and arrival become pretty much the same thing. You're always leaving somewhere and the chances are it isn't going to help. By the way, we're hoping the new release of Flying on Drag City, making a deliberate attempt to be different from the original, is going to feature Chicago's Midway airport on the cover. Plus, this time we want to share as much information about the recording and the musicians as possible, something we didn't do on the original cover. [ED NOTE: as a follow-up, Moore later confirmed: "all musos credited and the visuals were shot out at Chicago Midway Airport"]
PSF: How did Laurie Latham help you realize your vision for the album as co-producer?
AM: Crucially, we formed an instant and lasting friendship. He had really good ears, knew his way around the desk like riding a bicycle, and a generous spirit. He gave hours, days, weeks of his life to bringing the album to fruition. I'd been playing around with tape machines for a decade by then and had created a lot of experimental material for those afore-mentioned underground movies. I had a lot of out-takes from those soundtracks and I also had home recordings of all the songs. We'd meet up at short-notice usually at pretty unsociable hours when the studio was free and transfer my tapes onto the 24 track, lay down click tracks and start overdubbing. He was deeply involved from start to finish and provided invaluable objectivity, particularly when it came to doing the vocals and laying down guitar tracks.
PSF: The music there was compared to Kevin Ayers but I think I also hear a bit of Peter Hammill there too. Did either of those artists have an effect on you maybe at that time?
AM: Kevin possibly, because I knew him, and worked with him. I used to listen to a lot of Indian pop music on the radio as day was breaking over West London in the rain. Mixed with the dawn chorus, that would have touched me more than anything. I'm not trying to be obscure. I simply can't pinpoint any specific material that affected me at the time.
PSF: While FDH is obviously very different from your early solo albums, it's a little closer in spirit to OUT. When I listen to the two, it seems that OUT is a little brighter, upbeat- would you agree? How do you see the difference in the two albums in terms of tone, spirit?
AM: As I may have said somewhere earlier, I reckon OUT was shaped by my musical tastes of the late '60's and connected me back to pre-Slapp Happy and specially pre-Henry Cow years. Then there's a kind of fracture between '75 and '77. I can't remember exactly what I was up to but I could have been concentrating more on the underground movies over in Europe around then. It would make sense because Flying Doesn't Help seems to arise much more from the world of tape experiments, loops and atmospheres, rather than the lyrical melodies of OUT. I once thought that there was a bridge over the punk years between OUT and Flying. But now I think it could be a bridge collapsed, rubble and bricks, which would be more in line with the deconstructive function of punkism, I guess.
PSF: Did you do any live performances of FDH material around this time?
AM: Just a handful of solo gigs, Billy Bragg style, thrashing away on my Fender Duosonic and yelling the songs out at 3 or 4 people in The Marquee Club and other assorted pubs and venues around London. It was Glen Colson got me doing that. I doubt anyone else could have. He was the other half of Quango and managed me for Blackhill at the time. Live work was not my thing, preferring the technical constraints of the windowless studio where we'd try to build vistas and landscapes of sound and noise, rather than playing in the real world.
And see Part 4 of our Anthony Moore interview, which includes his '80's albums and work with Pink Floyd.
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