photo by George Mizer, from the Flash Psychosynch site
In and Out of the Commercial Pan, Part 2
by Marc S. Tucker
PSF: What made you want to sing rather than play an instrumnent?
Carter: I did want to play but it became apparent rather quickly that I should be out front. It happened naturally. I joined the first band I was ever in as a rhythm guitarist. We had one rehearsal, the woman on the vocals quit, so I became the lead singer. Just like that, and it's been that way ever since. I was... hmmm... something I just saw on the Baja Prog website, described me as 'free singer,' which I guess means somebody who sings without playing, a description I like a lot, so, yeah, I was a 'free singer.' Sounds good to me.
PSF: Is there really that much of a bubble pop when the star dream deflates or is it just a matter of going back to normal life after a lark and a whirlwind?
Bennett: There's no going back, that's for damn sure. It really *is* a bubble pop.
Carter: Yeah, there's a fall from grace there. There was a long tumble, I think, for all of us.
Bennett: One minute, you're getting treated like royalty; the next, things can go the other way and it's very much in the eye of the beholder, how your worth is perceived. But, um, there's really no going back once you've been through any experience. It's part of you, isn't it?
PSF: On his Self-Contained CD, Pete starts out with a radio search dub-in, coming across a Flash tune, exasperatedly muttering "Oh God!" From all indications, the Flash meltdown was a nasty one. Beyond vague generalities, what's the story?
Bennett: Well, I wouldn't call it nasty, it was...
Carter: It was too brief!
Bennett: There was a lot of aggravation going on. It's a long complicated story, really, but it was kind typical of what goes on in bands.
Carter: Very Spinal Tap.
Bennett: It was a meltdown at the end, where we impetuously yanked the carpet out from under ourselves. Later on, upon reflection, we didn't do it right, we certainly didn't do it right. We could've done better for everyone and for ourselves. The story is too long to go into here, but if you want to do another interview just on that... (laughs).
Carter: Yeah, so, in answer to this question, refer back to the last question (laughs). Ray said it right: we pulled the carpet out from under ourselves.
Bennett: Actually, I wrote about this on my website, in detail.
Carter: In a moment of weakness, he told the truth (both laugh)!
Bennett: I always tell the truth... except when I'm too busy!
PSF: Two Flash members played on Banks' Two Sides. How did that gig come together? I'm guessing that at least some of the guest parts were done outside the original sessions with Jan and Pete. What went down? How much dubbing was done and how much was accomplished with the core group present?
Bennett: Well, that was really simple. Pete asked me and Mike: "Do you want to play on my record?", and we said "Yes!" and never got paid! We were recording the third Flash album and Peter very unwisely decided to record a solo album at exactly the same time, so we were going from one studio to another. I remember doing those sessions and they seemed very casual. We just turned on the tape machine and I was very surprised in the end, when he used almost everything recorded, including me stopping and starting, and things that were just going nowhere. I think he did a huge amount of editing, overdubbing, just to get a finished product. Some of it I thought was pretty decent, pretty listenable. Um, did I say that I never got paid? (laughs)
Carter: Ray, the check's in the mail, the check's in the mail!
PSF: Hmm, seems a familiar story. In the glory days, prog groups came to the table loaded with years of experience and hard work; Flash was one amongst many. Yet nowadays, much of so-called "neoprog" is pretty pathetic...
Bennett: I don't really listen to a lot of modern progressive rock. In fact, I don't listen to CD's that much at all these days. I prefer to listen to myself! (chuckles) I don't know much of what's going on in progrock. I've heard only a very little of a few of the groups, so I can't justly comment. I think, from what I have heard, some of them are simply regurgitating Genesis, Gentle Giant, and whomever.
PSF: Well, it seems that anyone with a Casio and a Radio Shack cassette recorder is releasing "music." This, I think, is a large factor in the genre's loss of status, along with the horribly inept critics infesting the genre, 99% of whom rankle, but one has to wonder which is better: a more elitist stance that guarantees uniformly high quality and arena appearances, or an all-inclusive watered-down open field that yields a very small audience per group. Being vets, having enviable experience, what do you see as the problem?
Bennett: You're basically saying that you don't like what's going in modern progressive rock and I think that's because, if you compare our background with kids today, the kids today have the entire history of rock and roll to pick from and there's a lot of easy choices they can make. Pick and save, mix and match, a supermarket kind of shopping of ideas. What we did, back in the 60s, well, the history of rock was pretty pathetic up to that point, not much to pick from. When the Who were doing Tommy and that stuff, what were they drawing from in the past? There was blues, jazz, and rock and roll, but they were basically making it up as they went along, like the Beatles. So, what we essentially drew on, a lot of us, was... well, I, for instance, was interested in classical music, jazz, blues, and the Beatles, so it was an amalgamation of that plus "What the hell can we pull out of the air?"
That's where your question is probably heading. It's very easy for a band to get away with a kind of fake superficial rehash of Genesis and Yes. It's lot harder to come up with something new. I sympathize with you to an extent. I think the best way for a young musician to be adventurous is to kind of ignore what other people are doing around them and listen to a lot of the really good stuff: Beethoven, Miles Davis, authentics, originals, geniuses, y'know? Forget about all the second-rate bands that are just hashing stuff and try to suss out what the genuine stuff was, from the past. It doesn't matter how far back you go; listen to Duke Ellington. Anything to add, Carter?
Carter: Well, you've pretty much got it there. I don't think people look far enough and deep enough. Ray and I are playing around town here in a fun band, digging the blues. Some of the young audience members are hearing it for the first time and really enjoying it. You know, twenty years doesn't take you very far back: 1985, that's not very far back in history at all. I think you're saying, though, something here about whether the music is deep or just an inch thick and a mile wide, but the good thing about "inch thick, mile wide" is that it opens up more materials to more people. It's supposed to be about music! More people are getting an opportunity to put music into the marketplace. Things would be severely limited if we just stuck with the old hierarchy model of major record labels and a limited number of people in a vertical food chain. Now you can bring your own albums out, doing everything yourself. In fact, Ray and I are probably going to do something like that. The model has changed and the Internet has opened all the doors. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that more people are getting the opportunity to bring their stuff out.
Bennett: While it creates a lot more for people to wade through, it also makes it a lot harder to zero in on what they like, but it can be found.
PSF: The nuts-and-bolts business end of things, too, seems to have been so much more amenable, though not terribly remunerative for most, back in the day. To what do you attribute the momentous change and intense unfriendliness the machine has towards prog nowadays?
Bennett: Well, the business end of things is not something I'd like to discuss at great length. It's just the same old "same old," y'know? Business is always business. The only thing that's different today in rock is that a lot of operators moved in over the years because the potential was so huge; whereas, there weren't nearly as many back then. It was hobbyists, amateurs, and the we're-all-in-it-together type people in the '60's and '70's. A lot of them grew into monsters, business-wise. In any event, much of the responsibility lies with the artist. You can take it lying down or you can try to maintain your individuality. Not... easy... at... all! Right now, the corporate clamp on the music industry has become so pervasive, so restrictive, and so Nazi-like that it's going to lead to a revolution. We can't forget that art comes from artists, not from corporations, so we have the power, so, um, Yay for the revolution! (laughs).
Carter: Your question mentions the unfriendliness the machine has towards prog. I think it always did except for a very brief window back in the '70's.
Bennett (laughing): When we were commercial! We had a hit record then, you know!
Carter: It's amazing and heartening that the whole genre in any form, no matter whether we all agree on what 'prog' is, is surviving.
Bennett: Yes, it doesn't have to be a huge money-making operation, as long as people can sustain themselves with the music they like and be able to pay their bills. Listen, bands like Yes, King Crimson, and... I know Bill Bruford, 'cause he's an old friend of mine, and he's had to struggle with the financial end of things these days. They don't have the gravy train that they used to. As long as they're able to go on, that's the main thing. I think there are more important questions than whether there are huge truckloads of money flying in or not. I just read an interview with Bill that said they're putting walls up in America. You can't tour like you used to and the visa restrictions are getting worse. He's thinking of using American musicians because he has to jump through hoops just to get visas for his guys. That's a much more serious question than the money angle. If government stops you from doing what you want, that's a whole other thing.
PSF: And then there are the labels. I've always liked the One Way label's championing of underappreciated LP's...
Bennett: My contact with the One Way label as a bunch of human beings is that they weren't too friendly when I tried to...
Carter: What?!?! You mean they weren't championing you? Bennett (laughs): Well, they're in the business of licensing our product and making money.
PSF: I've wondered how they worked things out between artists and rights-holding corporations. Did you guys actually make anything off that deal or did Capitol snag the lion's share as usual?
Bennett: That's just simple licensing, as old as the hills. Whoever owns the masters, One Way pays them and our share gets passed on to us. We made some money. Dealing with the giant guys like EMI or Capitol isn't so easy for us without managers and lawyers. They, the labels, tend to get the lion's share, largely because of the rotten contracts we signed, but we do make some money out of it.
PSF: Do you own the full rights to your own music?
Bennett: For the Flash records of old, we don't. But if we make new Flash records, we'll own the rights to that stuff. I own the rights to my solo records.
PSF: I know Ray, you had an extensive history before coming to Flash, an impressive one, and we Yanks have always been astonished at what seemed to be an almost incestously close musical community over in England. Was the Brit scene as next-door-neighbory as interviews have made it seem? What were Mike and Colin's profiles?
Bennett (laughing): Well, regarding incest in England...
Carter (also laughing): There's nothing wrong with incest, so long as you keep it in the family!
Bennett: Of course, it's a small country and had a lot of small communities. At that time, everything mostly centered around London. Other towns had a kind of music scene but London was a melting pot and the cream of the cream went there. It was kind of... I can't really explain it. In the county of Kent, where I came from, just in this small town I came up in, there were quite a few really good musicians. I don't know what the odds or statistics of that might be but David Bowie, Keith Richards, Peter Frampton, Mick Jagger, and a bunch of others all came from that area. Apart from that, though, I played with Bill Bruford before he joined Yes, and that's where I met Peter. That's just the way things were. Now, the musical community is spread all over England. You can find major recording studios almost anywhere, bands are based everywhere.
Carter: The incestuous thing, I don't know if that's quite it. I mean, if you think about it, you would drag your friends with you, wouldn't you? People you had played with, people you admired, would flow from one band to the next. It was just logcal. You'd want to play with people you knew.
Bennett: Didn't Gentle Giant came from the same town you grew up in?
Carter: Yeah, Gentle Giant were just across the water. I was from the south coast and played in regional bands. I was in a psychedelic band called Mushroom.
Bennett: I'll get you a copy of the updated Flash bio, Marc- it has Colin's early history. You did that thing with Apple, didn't you Colin?
Carter: Yeah. Mike Berry was a producer with Apple Records in the early days. He gave me a lot of session work which made me move to London. I was working almost every week for several years and that helped launch Mushroom. It got us into playing around Europe: Germany, Switzerland, etc. That was an apprenticeship a lot of English bands received back then. I played with Peter Bardens before Camel. We did the Marquee on a few dates. In fact, just after that was when I met Pete Banks, through Chris [Welch] at The Melody Maker; that's when we started to write our first tunes together.
Bennett: Mike Hough's early stuff... Well, he's not involved in Flash now but he did the usual things, playing around Europe in show bands, dance bands. He had a regular ballroom gig just before Flash. Mike's from the north of England too. He moved down to London and we found him through an ad in The Melody Maker.
Carter: Melody Maker saved the day again!
Bennett: Yeah. They were great in those days, a real must-read-every-week for musicians, a lot of fun.
Carter: Britain, for such a small country, had three national weekly music newspapers. Pretty impressive. Articles, reviews, lots of ads for clubs.
Bennett: They did a great job. You could pretty much keep your finger on the pulse of what was happening everywhere.
PSF: Colin, you have a unique voice and everyone expected to hear far more of it after Flash collapsed, yet you went completely invisible. What happened? Also, Ray asserts that you had a huge impact on Flash's music, which is unusual for a singer. What promoted that, what's your training?
Carter: I guess I took a break.
Bennett: He was abducted by aliens.
Carter: They took me home to Mars! I had some bands in New York after Flash. I was in a band with Mike and Ray in New York City, then I moved to Manhattan and had a band with Al Greenwood from Foreigner. Mike Hough was in that band. I moved out to L.A. and formed a few groups that never went anywhere. One of them was a hard Zeppelin-esque ensemble with Martin Pugh from Steamhammer and Armageddon, that band with Keith Relf from the Yardbirds. We'd had a four-piece band again. That was in the late '70's, early '80's. I was in bands that weren't going anywhere, I just wanted to take a break. At the time, I was always writing and recording. I had a home studio and was cranking it up.
PSF: Do you have any tapes of the gig with Pugh? They'd generate a rather powerful interest. Armageddon was a great band but horribly undersung. An ensemble with you and him would be extremely attractive, especially in the Zeppelin vein you mention. After all, Tony Kaye's first Detective LP was dynamite, though it bit the big weenie saleswise, and, er... the second one suuuuucked! Carter (laughing): I was playing with Martin in L.A., as I said. We did some recording and I probably have some rehearsal recordings and pieces of studio recordings.
We did a lot of rehearsing but never put a record out. Martin's a great guy, one of the nicest guys I've ever worked with. He's still playing, living in central California, about a third of the way up the state over by the mountains. I talked to him not too long ago, to see how he was doing, and we talked about Armaggeddon and Steamhammer. He'd really like to put Steamhammer or some version of it back together, as he's one of the few originals still around. Ray and I have spoken to him and if there's any way we can help him put a project together, that'd be great as well.
Back around that same time, when I finished playing with Martin, there was, down on Sunset, a club called The Central and the bands there were booked by a couple of English roadies. They set up a jam night on Tuesdays. All the English bands came down and would jam. Martin, Ray, and I... Mike Hough, too... all played down there. English people tend to find each other and it was a pretty cool time. I haven't lost track of Martin, I'm glad to say. I wish him all the best in the future.
PSF: Ray, the rhythm section rarely gets the glory...
Bennett: Well, actually, that's not... no, I guess that is true. I was thinking of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.
PSF: ... despite an absolute necessity for it. Did Mike feel like a fifth wheel at times and might that have been a factor in his odd fade out after committing to the resurrected group?
Bennett: No, definitely not.
Carter: I'm sure Mike knew he was the fourth wheel, along with the other three wheels.
Bennett: Flash was always an ensemble. No one ever had anything like a supporting role. For one thing, when Peter used to play these guitar solos that tended to get longer and longer, Mike and I didn't just sit there. We started playing alongside and they turned into jams. You can hear them on the live discs. We didn't function in a supportive role. As far as the writing, it was always a matter of whatever the bass and drums did, we made the guitar sound good. I used to double on Peter's guitar lines, In fact, I wrote a lot of those guitar lines on bass and then he played them on guitar. But Mike was not a fifth wheel; no, he was very much involved. But, in song-writing: no, he didn't get involved in that.
PSF: In all candor, reunions are a nervous affair for the fan...
Bennett: Yes, I can understand that.
PSF: ... especially in prog. We saw the vaunted second coming of the once-killer Captain Beyond fizzle and sputter like a wheezing jalopy - much like their last [Willy Dafern] LP, now that I think on it. By the time this sees print, you'll have re-debuted, at Baja Prog; what will the audience have seen and heard? Flash? Flash + Ray Bennett's solos? A bouillabaisse of genres? A completely new sound?
Bennett: Well, they'll have seen a Minestrone Bouillabaise Souffle mixed with a green salad! (laughs) And, hmmmm, a completely new sound? Maybe, with me playing guitar instead of Pete. If you go to my website, I have a fairly lengthy piece about Baja, what I saw and how it felt, so I won't go into all that that now. Basically, obviously, it was just me and Colin. We felt better that it was genuine Flash, though only two members, rather than coming back with new people right away. I don't know, it seemed like the right idea. Originally, I was trying to get the whole band together. I spent a long time in New York...
Carter: It was two years!
Bennett: Yeah, I was trying pull Peter and Mike into it. I was quite happy to go back to being the bass player, though I'd been a guitar player for years. So, it just evolved and who am I to stand in the way of evolution? It ended up just me and Colin. Baja was looming up, so we said "Let's do it with just the two of us."
Carter: I'd never seen Ray play guitar before. He was always on bass. He's a pretty capable guy; you'll get to hear that stuff one way or another, I think.
Bennett: What do you mean "pretty capable guy" (laughs)?!?!
Carter: Oh, I'm just talking in the patented "British reserved" dialect. Don't you get hoity-toity with me, me lad! (both laugh) I wasn't really expecting anything; thus, it was a pleasant surprise. There's a lot of Flash in his playing.
Bennett: The strange thing about Pete and me was that we probably had a lot more in common musically than we realized. We had many of the same inclinations in a lot of ways. We listened to the same things. The major difference between us was that I was a singer and a songwriter, and that kind of pushed us slightly in different directions. It didn't feel all that weird or strange to pick up a guitar and start learnng Flash from that side. Now, I've experienced Flash from two different perspectives: playing bass and guitar.
Anyway, this new version is, I hope, unpredictable. I don't want it to be too predictable. We're not trying to rehash the past, there's no way we can do that. As the band evolves out of what we're doing, it's going to come through as our music, the core of what the new Flash is. Whoever joins us in the future will morph their way into it. We can't put someone in and expect them to just be there; the music will have to happen naturally. It's fairly complex and we have a very broad vision. You might - and I emphasize might - hear a live recording from Baja. Something was captured but we're not sure if it's going to be good enough to release. I'll keep you updated on that.
PSF: Oregon seems like the last-choice home for rockers, other than, maybe, Montana! I once lived up from the Burnside Bridge in Portland and know Salem had a great prog-friendly station in the 70s, but there was NO real music scene up there... ever! Why Oregon, other than the sheer beauty?
Bennett: Ah yes, we Oreganos! Well, Colin can explain that one.
Carter: I'd been living in L.A. and got tired of the traffic, the smog, the big city, the lack of peace...
PSF: God, don't I know it. I'm in Manhattan Beach, which is a tiny suburb of the big city, but what a madhouse!
Carter: Absolutely. So I managed to find my way up here. I had a friend who lived in southern Oregon, went to visit him, and thought "Hmmm, It's pretty nice up here!" That decided me to get my own place. That's really all there was to it.
Bennett: The only thing I can add to it is that, while trying to get Flash back together, I was living in Manhattan for 15 years, and one of the original plans was to figure out where to base the band. New York seemed to be it because our business interests were there. Eventually though, I was thinking of coming back to the West Coast, for many different reasons, and just suddenly did a right-hand turn and came up here, sticking into this with Colin. It was accidental that we started in southern Oregon but there are advantages to being up here. We don't have all the heavy pressures of Big City life, the expenses, all that.
PSF: One last curiosity: a lot of Brits are now ex-pats residing here in the States, and we're more than happy to have them, but what's the underlying factor? Flight from the gawdawfully high English tax rates? An inexplicable attraction to Kansas rednecks and California fruitloops? The nearness of that jerkwad Schwarzenegger?
Bennett: Leaving England, that was something we dealt with a long time ago. I came here because I had an American wife. The initial move, in the late '70's, also involved business. For quite a long time, I was back and forth between L.A., New York, and London. I moved around a lot. It wasn't until the '80's that I settled here. All my reasons for going back to England seemed to just evaporate after that. As far as the English tax rates go, they're not that high anymore. They're actually better than America but the cost of living in Europe is a lot higher, although you could also say the quality of life is a bit better as well. Overall, it's a pretty 50/50 deal, whether you live in America or Europe. It's a matter of whatever you prefer.
Carter: I think my reason, actually, is that I enjoy the open-ness of the society here as well as the music scene and its accessability. There was a lot more happening here in the mid-'70's, as opposed to England. There were a lot of opportunities. It had been a real grind to exist as a musician in England, You could do it a lot more easily, a lot more comfortably in America. That's what got me and, as the years have gone by, I've never really thought about re-locating back to England. I have family back there but I don't really plan on going anywhere.
Bennett: I think one of the major things about America you notice is that, in America, almost all genres of music exist at the same time. You can be in nearly any kind of a band and have a career, a life; whereas, in Europe, it's more trend-oriented and everything else gets pushed aside. If you're in a band that goes out of fashion, you can literally disappear down a plug-hole in five minutes. Rock has always been a staple in America but has virtually disappeared in many places in Europe. It's considered so prehistoric that it... well, it's just the whims of fashion. I think it's starting to come back in England, where young bands are again looking just like us and playing the same way. I was back in England in the late 80s, early 90s, and it was all techno/dance/electronica stuff. Rock was considered like... (puts on a brogue) "Status Quo and all the old dudes, man!" No one was really interested. That's one of the many attractive things about America, there's a cosmopolitan and huge market for anything. It makes musicans a little more comfortable. You don't have to race with the commercial devil, y'know?
PSF: Colin, I know Ray has a Web site, do you?
Carter: No, but you can always find out what's going on with me through Ray's site and probably the Psychosync site.
PSF: Thanks, gentlemen, for a very pleasant interview.
Bennett & Carter: Entirely our pleasure! (Bennett starts humming "God Save Our Gracious Queen" as both stand at attention. The Queen Mum would be proud.)
Also see Ray Bennett's website
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