Charles Hayward interview
Though the excellent essay on This Heat (which you hopefully just read) goes quite a ways to explain what an important musician Hayward has been and continues to be, let us set the scene for this conversation with the man himself. He had just flown over to New York this past spring for a one-off U.S. concert of Massacre (an amazing all-star power trio with Fred Frith and Bill Laswell). Words can't really adequately describe the sparks flying from the stage as they played. Hayward was about fly back to his UK home to lead a tribute concert for his former band mate from This Heat, the late Gareth Williams. Among the revelations below, you'll find that Charles is a rabid Abba fan as well as details of the local arts project in Southeast London where he's roping in many of his neighbors who are anything but 'artists' in the traditional sense of the word. He wouldn't have it any other way.
By Gary Gomes and Jason Gross (June 2002)
PSF: I've heard that your first real exposure to music first came about when your father took you to a jazz concert.
Actually, it had more to do with my mother's lullabies and my dad's record collection. Also, having a piano in the living room, an old baby grand. I particularly remember an afternoon, quite rainy and dark, and my father playing a record that was huge (at the time): "Every Time We Say Goodbye" by Ella Fitzgerald. There was something about it, where she goes (singing) "major to minor"- it was really lovely. And there was something about the record label- it was dark blue with golden stars and shooting stars and this nighttime feel. And there was the music and this Afro-American voice I couldn't quite understand exactly. So that was very, very big for me.
My father was a music nut. He had to find a way to be a father and still pursue his interest in music. So what he did was that he'd take us with him all the time. We went to see loads and loads of music. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Nat King Cole. A particular experience for me would be to be sitting behind the stage in the stalls so you would look down over the musicians from behind. You'd be watching... Ella Fitzgerald and her drummer Ed Thigpen play. He's actually still alive or he was at least a year ago. I hung around the side of the stage and I met him. He spoke to me- he was quite a gentleman. Same thing with Sammy Davis Jr's drummer- a guy called Michael daSilva who I'd never heard of before or since. He was an absolutely wonderful show drummer and a very nice man.
I remember that one night, there was a thunderstorm when I was about 7 or 8 and without thinking about it, I just played with the thunderstorm on the piano. I just really connected. I was in this room but somehow I felt that I just connected everywhere. I've carried that with me for a long time and I still do. So, things like this were big, formative experiences for me.
PSF: It's interesting that even at such a young age, you picked out the drummers in these groups. What was it about them and/or their instrument that fascinated you?
This is the thing that I love about drums- people are just banging on them. Just hitting things. And yet, although it's very low... it's this very non-refined sound compared to the other instruments in an ensemble. It's making a lot of things happen and (it's) shading all the other instruments. I wanted to make a serious investigation of how I could do this. It even happens to me now, like when I was playing last night. I'm playing one rhythm, making a wave, a pulse. The drums pull things together.
But the other thing that I'm interested in is music without drums. I just wanted to see what it's like. In a way, the drums are there even when they're not there. They're there by not really being there.
PSF: So seeing these other great drummers helped to lead you down this path?
Yeah but there was also a school where we had a class where we had to pick an instrument. I chose a little wooden flat snare drum and I played very well on that. Or I was told that I played very well on it! (laughs) The next week, they were handing out instruments and I didn't get the drums. I said "last week, I played the drums and you said I played well." They said "no, no, you've got to let other people try it." So there I was with a triangle or something like that. I was really miffed- I was looking at the drum, thinking "what's he doing with MY drum!" So I've had a very strong relationship with drums for years since then.
PSF: You've said before that you lost enthusiasm with music when you were in your early teens. What turned that around for you?
Well, it's not that... There was a point where I didn't know very much about what I was doing. My brother who was playing at the time, refused to ever go into tune and playing sort of like Arto Lindsay. It was just totally noisy madness with the two of us just jumping around. We were doing things that maybe were a little fragment of a song. He might have the idea for a first line and we'd just play. And then we'd start something else. I didn't know anything about 7/8 or 3/4 (time signatures) or anything about rhythm or tonality.
I didn't have any need for permission or to become 'competent.' I didn't need to do what other people were doing. "How did they do that?" I wanted to get away from that and get through the surface of music. It actually has nothing to do with music.
PSF: What is it then?
It's a musical doorway into a thought in the mind, feelings, states. I've been playing more and more with people who are trying to get away from virtuosity and technique and into understand what we're controlling- material and sound. We were just moving through these things. It's a completely different thing.
It's like how the Who did for me but the Stones didn't. The Stones were always about the blues and all whereas the Who were into action and aggression and a whole world of sound. It was that which really interested me. When we did This Heat, Bullen and I were trying to get somewhere like this for about three years. And then we met Gareth and he couldn't play. This seemed to be a good motive to what I was trying to access: not to think about technique but to go straight to feeling. And then, you find the technique, you need to make that feeling more clear. Just have the technique to do what you want to do as opposed to "so-and-so's got this thing that he can really do great." I still do that but I do that because that's where I want the music to go, not because I want to become a better musician.
PSF: ... which is the way it's usually done.
Right. What I often find is that I'm only aware of the surface of the music and how the music's trying to get me. I am not transported like I am sitting on a sofa with the speakers on the other side of the room, listening to some other people. It's very diverse- they can take me to a place that I've never been before.
PSF: Who are thinking of when you say that?
Well, it's really, really wide. Kate Bush, Abba, Coltrane, Webern string quartets, Sun Ra, Miles, the Who, Christy Moore. I could just go on and on. There's also music from people I don't know anything about. Maybe a tribe from New Guinea or somewhere else. I might listen and try to understand the rhythm and the whole paradox of the meaning- it's a message from another time, another place. I just listen and try and find my own place inside it. I learn from it- it's internal. I love music that transcends my perception of these people (who make it) and how they live their live.
PSF: So you see them not just as musicians?
I accept that as a side issue. For me, that's irrelevant. Do I get something from it that's not my own point of view? Can I hear beyond all the marketing? Some people just manage to get that through to me. Kate Bush has worked her way through all that and some people hate her. But it hasn't touched her- she's still really intense and meaningful and full of poetry. She's not being manipulated- this is what she has to say. I think she's a really, really individual performer.
PSF: So you're talking about how music can be made in a commercial mechanism and still have soul to it?
Yes, and money doesn't mean anything. It's just an illusion. It's just numbers. If money's an illusion, you can accept that across the board. It's not about only about the poor people are good- only the ones like the Minutemen or me or somebody who's struggling now. There's other people who are also victims of money but they're victims of money in a different way. But you see that's BS, you see past that and listen to the people. You don't give any more credibility if it's got a bigger audience or any credibility if it's got any less of an audience. You listen to yourself.
PSF: So you'd say that just because some music is underground or un-popular, it shouldn't necessarily get any credence or lack of credence?
Absolutely. That's exactly what I mean.
PSF: I told Chris Culter about this music convention where artists were asking writers 'what do I need to do to get noticed? What am I doing wrong?' Chris said "you should have told them to find another business where it's easier for them to make money and give up on music that's not what they really want to do."
That's exactly how I see it too. I'm going to say something that's going to sound maniacal... My life is a success. I have a picture in my head of where I wanted to be and had it in detail with an overarching feeling of where I was going to go. I'm sort of there now and it's fantastic. By an act of will, I'm here. By longevity and the long view of the game, I'm actually together.
I don't bother myself with "I have to do this" and "I have to do that." I do what I have to do, accept what I have to do. I don't say "oh, that's for somebody else." I'm thinking "that's my job, that's what I have to do." Even if it's hard work and it means walking down a road at 3 AM with the rain pouring down. That's what I have to do, that's my job. It's not like I can check out. It's not for someone else to do. It's not like a hobby.
PSF: In terms of how you do your music, how clear of an idea do you have when you start a recording or a concert? Is there a degree where you let things take their course?
Yes, absolutely. I let things take me where I want them to take me. Also now, more and more, I'm getting back to this idea of biking every week, building up my legs, my ankles, my thighs. I get into this mind, this state, three hours of week. I go around and around. I do a lot of thinking then. I particularly remember thinking... The tape recorder is a great instrument. There's a drama between the live performance and the tape. The tape has sounds that are already taken down and then you live music with humans as protagonists. There's a drama there between them.
I can get something down on tape and bring that into what I'm doing. It took years to give myself permission to go to this place, which is totally primeval: it's like… tape recorder, drum kit, voice. It means that I don't control. So what is happening? It means that if I'm walking on the road and a car comes by, I have to pull back. I'm not in total control- something else is happening on the whole.
My wife used to be a film editor and she used to tell me about Steinbeck. The dialog and the music was and wasn't being synched and you had these four realities going on. That's the kind of stuff I had been thinking about doing since I was 13. I went out and bought a keyboard volume pedal do-it-yourself kit. The reason that I made it was to plug the speaker extension of the tape recorder I had. Then I'd have another lead out of the pedal and have it go back to the amplifier. Then I could play the tape record with my feet, which is what I'm doing now except it's a little more complicated as I'm using one stereo and two mono. But it's the same idea.
PSF: So you have a burning interest in making recordings?
Oh yeah, I want to make a recording of everything. I have a burning fever for it. I walk around with a tape machine and record anything. Sometimes I'll find a little snippet or a little sequence of things and I'll use that. Or I'll get into this sort of Zen state where there's nothing fixed. It's slowed down, it's speeding up and I'm playing and this thing just has no center. I may be in a path where I'm not going out of synch with it because there is no synch. That's what happens when the audience listens to these things happening at the same time- my drum rhythm and this other stuff that's moving in and out. They can make the connection.
PSF: So you find that your audiences pick up on this?
The reaction is either total ecstasy or a sort of stunned disbelief.
PSF: That pleases you either way?
Yeah. The only time I'm not pleased is when I think I've played badly.
PSF: How do you determine that?
It's sort of like "was I in the right state when I was on stage?" I'm just doing that thing.
PSF: You're not thinking "I didn't play that note right"?
No, no. I'm thinking "is this room achieving some kind of ideal group-mind?" Some sort of place where everyone's together. I take it from there.
PSF: Of course, most musicians are thinking about whether or not they played the right notes.
I try and cover all that. I play drums at least two hours a day at the very least. I've got a sound engineer that I've worked with for at least 15 years who's totally proficient. I try and take care of that so that the actual flesh is competent and good.
I was doing a show at a place in Heidelberg in Germany- it was a stinking hole. I couldn't even walk around the tables. The thing I don't like about the underground scene is total lack of respect. The PA wasn't particularly fantastic, it was just stacked around. There was a skinhead there that was in a very foul state and wanted to be very punk. And still, I was thinking that I might be able to do a great show but the people backstage wouldn't give me space. They're saying, "just go on there and play" and I'm telling people, "go away, I need ten minutes to get myself straight." They just don't understand that.
PSF: So you think the problem with some of the underground scene is the lack of respect?
Their problem is that they all think that they have to signify that they're opposed to this (mainstream). You have to lots and lots of dirt around and everybody getting pissed. And all you're really doing is supporting this because you're just saying "we're not going down that road, we're going down this one" but you're too pissed to even think about it clearly. "The most important thing about this road is that it's not that road." It's not that this road is a BETTER road- it's just not that one. Therefore, it must be better. There's no sense of continuity or a sense of future generations.
PSF: Is it a problem that there needs to be some kind of alternative to the mainstream and that everything shouldn't sound the same?
But there is no alternative. We're all in the same boat. The 'alternative' idea is a lie and so is the 'mainstream' idea. It's all a lie. There is no alternative, there is no mainstream- all there is, is us. We're together here. Everything else has been thrown on top of us. People think "we're like this and they're like that." We've all got to make sure that we can breath clean air. What's the difference? The problem is seeing us in competition. The guy who cleaned my (hotel) room is in the same boat as me.
PSF: Most people don't see it that way or don't understand that.
Absolutely. I can't do their thinking for them. All I can do is say what I think, which is all I want to hear from anybody else, which is why I like Abba: 'cause I think they tell me what they think. They're my alternative.
PSF: What do you mean by that?
They're giving me something that I didn't already know.
PSF: So the appeal is that they show you another perspective?
Yeah, that's right.
PSF: Going back to This Heat, was it always just three of you?
The group originally came out of Quiet Sun with Phil Manzanera and Bill McCormick. Obviously, that was a limited experience in so far as we were all at school together. We came up with this amazing music and then Phil joined Roxy Music and Bill joined Matching Mole and the group just wasn't functioning. After about three or four years after the split, Phil got the opportunity to make a solo album and he wanted to get this Quiet Sun thing going. We all did. Even though we hadn't been together for four years, we were quite set that there was this huge amount of work which hadn't got heard.
PSF: What drew you back to that group?
It's sort of an obsession. It felt like we all found something together. The group made the record (Mainstream), it did quite well. But Phil was obliged to Roxy Music, he wanted to stay there. We got approached by a promoter, Bill and I. "Would you like to make a new Quiet Sun and do two nights at the Victoria Theatre?" Phil could be (a) guest musician for the first gigs and after that, he'd leave. We already had another guitarist in place from the beginning of the project so that when Phil was no longer there, there wasn't a hole. There'd be someone he could hand it over to.
I think Quiet Sun was quite a good thing. I got my man, Charles Bullen, who I'd only been working with for 2-3 years. We tried some local guitarists like Phil Miller, John Etheridge, David Toop and all sorts of people. But in the end, I got my way and Charles was in. So there we are, working on demos. We realized that we needed a keyboard player and we realized that this wasn't going to transcend the stage- it wasn't going to go out from the stage into the audience. So I knew about this guy, Gareth (Williams), who was fantastic, he had this amazing record collection and he knew quite a lot and he was a crazy guy. The only problem is that he couldn't play a note. "Let's get him in the band." He and Bill hated each other almost immediately. It was just two things that didn't work. So we carried on for a few days with this slightly weird feeling. We were using Bill's four track and he said that we'd mix it in a couple of weeks and said he'd take it with him. He left and I didn't see him after that again. I spoke to him on the phone a few times after that. This is no discredit to Bill- it just wasn't Quiet Sun stuff. It sort of went from there really. So there was this sort of precursor really. It was just a situation where we all said 'we want to do something' and the circumstances of all that led to This Heat.
PSF: How did ideas and the sound of the band develop?
Well, first of all, it wasn't like being a bass player and saying 'we need a guitarist and we need a drummer.' What we needed was Gareth, Charles and me. So the sound wasn't 'who's going to play the rhythm part?' The sound takes us as the primary source and it comes from that. It came from hearing the whole thing. Sometimes a track would have no bass guitar. Or there'd be a track with no chords or whatever. We'd see what would happen with that and we'd see where that would take us.
PSF: Did the group ever mix each other's instruments like Faust did?
We never did that. Faust were an influence and if you think of think of Faust... it's like describing chaos theory. One movement would interact with the whole movement. If you think of modern cybernetic Internet interaction, without actually having the electronics in place to do this stuff, they were trial running, testing... these future ideas. Really, ideas are always more important than the technology. The technology comes along afterwards, after these ideas... The end result idea might be to get a rubber band in matchbooks but the idea itself a more poetic way of saying where you want to go. That's what music does a lot of times. To me, Faust, apart from this whole modern way of connecting, was part of that whole system and had it in place originally. That's why we found them and Can so interesting. Can was much more subtle.
You think of choreographer Twyla Tharp- it's ten humans and one computer generated dance. The dancers are doing their stretches and they're watching the video and one of them says "oh, I see how it does that." In the end, the dancers started doing the impossible because they'd seen a cybernetic representation of the human form. It's the same with editing- you start to think edits. We learned that the tape sensibility, the edit sensibility of Can and Faust and we started doing it like arrangements, including slight incremental tempo shifts like Can do.
PSF: For the first two This Heat albums, it sounded like the first one was more instrumental and the second one was more song-orientated and polished. Did you see it that way?
We didn't see it so much as being 'polished' as 'things to be done.' The way that we explained it to ourselves was the first one was the dread, the fear unspoken, unrationalized. The second (album) was the fear slightly more rationalized. The dread and fear thing was this whole (nuclear) mutually-assured-destruction thing that was happening at the time. We all thought that we were going to die in about two, three years. We really did.
PSF: So these are concepts albums about those ideas?
No, this was us looking back on it afterwards, with the benefit of hindsight, although the second album had a much more lyrical application than the first. The first is less a collection of songs.
PSF: So this came out naturally and wasn't pre-planned?
Nothing's natural. Everything's pre-planned. Everything's natural, nothing's planned. I was talking to Fred (Frith) about this. He was saying that at a This Heat rehearsal he saw, he came along and it went on for three hours. We would say "I think the song should go down here and shift here." Someone else would say "actually, I like it the way it is." Someone else would go "I sort of like it the way it is and I can sort of see why you're saying it should change. You need to have the groove and the grind going but we do need to have a change." "No, we don't need a change because we need to keep it on a even plateau and we want the change to be that thing coming up at the end." "No, no, no- it's flat, too boring..." So this would go on for three hours and we didn't play a note. Fred was saying "that was a real rehearsal." I was saying "that wasn't a real rehearsal." At one point, we did that for six weeks! We didn't play a note. We met five days, six days a week from 2 in the afternoon at least until 8 or 9 in the evening. And we didn't play a note- all we did was argue about that. At the end of it, we'd sort of resolve the issues and we sort of knew where we were going and then everyone had ideas. Suddenly, the whole second album started taking place after six weeks of sitting around and arguing.
With democracy in Britain... I do a lot of local projects where I live, based on our buildings or based on people with special needs. You go to a meeting with a council about money or about arranging permissions. They don't want to talk to four people, they want to talk to one. It's so much easier to make decisions with one person. You also have democracy with representatives and it's a very slow process for things to happen. When you have just three people trying to get a consensus about work to be done, you can have hundreds of hours sitting around talking and thinking about what's to be done.
PSF: After the second album, what led to the break-up?
Gareth wanted to go and study Kathakali. He wanted to go away for eight months in India and leave me and Charles to follow our own interests and then come back again. We really did want to be together again. We thought maybe it would revive us with new interests. But we weren't necessarily locked into this whole group idea.
I regret to this day that we never got the chance to revive it. After Gareth's funeral, we went back to back his house. There was a big folder with every little details about his work and his life, including plans to work with me and Charles again. I thought to myself "you silly little man- I should have phoned Gareth up when he came back." Or I should have said 'OK, find your space' or found something to do to help him find his own space in the group. We should have done that.
PSF: How did you see Camberwell Now as different from This Heat?
None of these things are policy statements before we start. It's not like "I want to make a music that..." It's "I want to work with so-and-so and where does that go?" Stephen Rickard was the engineer and he had a lot of tapes. The bass player Trefor (Goronwy), he had his interests. So the music came out from all three of us. It's not like I'd be saying "it's got to be this thing." It just happened to go to this place.
PSF: Did you see Camberwell Now as being less reigned in than your previous work?
There was a lot of reigning in with This Heat. I would want Gareth to do something and we'd tell each other that the other was playing the wrong note or we couldn't hear something. If it didn't sound right to one of us, we'd have to settle things and that just reigned everything in. Camberwell Now in fact had no improvisation in it all except near the end. But I see what you're saying- it was different in that way.
PSF: Did the punk scene that was happening at the time have any effect on your work?
Johnny Rotten came to one of the early gigs. "Niiiiice band! Shame that they sit down!" And after that, nobody was sitting down except me, the drummer.
PSF: What about the scene itself?
There were a lot of xeroxed fanzines so the equivalent to this is a cassette recording. That was allowed. It was allowed because of the recording machines or any technique. The normal cassette, with its sort of tinny compression... "hey, that sounds really good." It could create beautiful things. A cassette machine is great but so is a 16-track though.
PSF: I've heard that you'd share equipment with Henry Cow. Is this right?
No, This Heat just used the same rehearsal space for a particular tour. We used to go and consult Chris' polemic.
PSF: Did they have any impact on you?
What he wanted to do was to scrap the first album and re-record it and use the instrumentals that we brought from another studio and put those in. In my book, the symbolism was important to them- how to record everything and such. But to me, I didn't think you could necessarily hear that and I didn't think that that would work. I held out for the record that was already made- we made an emotional commitment to a whole series of events and the right... juju and chance and moments were there for us to make this thing. What were we supposed to do? Ignore those moments, those chances and try to make the same thing? To me, the moment is a very important part of music making. It's like when you're painting and you have brushes right and the ink right and paper on the page- everything can go right or it can go wrong. If you screw things up, that's it and you lose it. If not, why repeat everything? So it's the same with making a record for me. The engineer asks "are you happy now?' and if you are, that's it.
PSF: Camberwell Now didn't seem to get as much critical acclaim as This Heat. Why do you think that was?
I think it was anti-politics. I met Geoff Travis (Rough Trade) just after This Heat folded. He said "the kids are all settling down now. They found their significant other and they're going through that now. They want to hear "Weekend," songs about summer love and relationships." I said "Oh... well, I've had a significant other for years actually, even through the whole punk thing when everyone else was saying 'naaaah' and I didn't think like everyone else then so now, I'm supposed to think like everyone else?" So if this year's color is beige and I'm into blue, no one's going to be interested.
So I'm looking down the road four years later and Frankie Goes To Hollywood's come out and they're doing art and all these politics. I see Geoff again and he says "Things are changing Charles- you should come and see them. Maybe we could work on something." I was just thinking, "what do you want me to do, go along and wear beige for three years and suddenly turn back to blue? I'm wearing blue!" I was just being me. And when I was getting told to do these other things, my reaction is just "get lost!" It's all going to change in five years again anyway. And where will I be then?
So, I'm learning now. Life is a learning thing. I'm going to live by my way. If it means that I have to build it up and then take it back down after people stop coming around, so what!
PSF: With Camberwell Now, were you trying to take advantage of newer technology or were you just incorporating what you had at the time?
We were using Stephen's interest and competence and skill. Then, we found out how to apply that to music. He was very nervous about that. He just wanted to be a tape engineer, a sound engineer. I'd say "we can actually put this stuff inside the music." I told him "my thing is physical, animal, sweat and your thing is much more like being in an office." Can you imagine what a liberating experience that is for the audience? To not see just the Henry Rollins animal thing, to see instead all these energies together? It took a long, long time to get that. When I see people like Paul Schutze and all these guys sitting at a table, I'm thinking "hey, that's so like what we were doing in the mid '80's." But it was seen as very cold back then. But you still had all these energies contained there. It was a bit more like life, not some rock and roll tendril where everyone's a sweaty animal. "Hey dude!" It's all these different people coming together, making something out of all these energies!
PSF: The social criticism in the Camberwell Now seemed pretty straightforward ("The Royal Wedding," "The Night Shift," for examples). Did you want to be less veiled than in This Heat?
I didn't see This Heat as being veiled particularly. I saw both things at a point where you can give people too much of what you think and it sounds like a Marxist diatribe or some boring politician. That's as opposed to having people lead with their imagination and opening them up and letting them come to it as well. So that's what I've always tried to do- to have this space between not telling people what to do and to give some kind of emotional area which included politics and our organized existence.
PSF: So you didn't see a difference between the two bands?
Only so far as the people in each band were different so the music and the atmosphere came out different.
PSF: Why did Camberwell Now break up?
I got in trouble about a year ago with Trefor. We tried to work this one out. He got very emotional about it. (long pause) Stephen wanted to get married. There was a time where he moved on every three or four years. He was a lawyer then he was an independent filmmaker, then he worked for the BBC, then he joined Camberwell Now and then he got into computers. He met a girl and he wanted to marry her so he left the group to do that.
That's one of the stories of my life, by the way. They all fall by the wayside because either of the girlfriend or the car or the house or children. Luckily, I haven't got a car or a house. I've got three children. Somehow the girlfriend never got in the way. She was always fantastic, very supportive. I was totally lucky.
PSF: Like several of your other English compatriots, you have made the transition (or are currently involved with) parts of the European "free jazz" community. Did it happen by accident and as the result of opportunities that developed on their own?
This Heat was informed hugely by improvisers. I was listening to Ornette when I was 13. I would listen to Coltrane, Mingus, Sun Ra all the time. That was a big, big part of it. It was just that the Afro-American part of it was one that I never felt comfortable with because I'm not an Afro-American. So it was like finding my own places and using those techniques and getting into that Afro-American experience and putting into European culture and then changing that (European) culture and putting it in a new direction. At the same time, the question was how would I use it without trying to pretend that I was black? How would I make it sound not like jazz and still keep that forward motion thing? So that was always there.
Then I sort of revitalize myself. I was thinking about what I should do and what I shouldn't do. I decided to do some of the things I didn't feel comfortable with so I'd feel comfortable with them after a while. I'd commit to a project that I didn't know anything about. I'd work a lot with (bassist) Hugh Hopper like that- I love working with him, he's great.
To be honest, I didn't realize that people were picking up on my playing. I just used to do the gig (with This Heat and Camberwell Now) and then, because of my personality, I'd just go and hide away in the toilet by myself until everyone was gone. I'm not like that anymore though. I never gave anybody my number when I was in the bands. Why would I want to give anyone my number for? When I did open up a bit, I would get calls and people would invite me to do all these different projects. It was a challenge- it wasn't part of the prescribed agenda. So I decided to go off of the agenda and see what would happen. So that's why I did those things.
PSF: How did your work with Massacre come about?
I had been gigging in Italy with Sub Rosa (Records). Percy Howard was there with his band. We hit it off- we both love Scott Walker and all sorts of things. We just started chatting really deeply. He said "I'd like to work with you" so he took my number. Nine months later, he was talking about a project with Bill (Laswell) and asked if I wanted to do it. He thought we would really hit it off.
I also found out that Fred was going to be involved. And I loved playing with Fred (Frith). He goes beyond the notes. He goes to this place almost as a matter of obligation. I've never seen him not play that way. I know that sometimes, I haven't. I'm sure there have been times that he hasn't either but I've never picked up on it. I've never heard anyone tell me that he hasn't. He transports me. I just love it. If I could get transported with him, then together we could get even more transported. Then the music becomes more than just technique and notes. It's like a place to go.
At first, we were just going to go into the studio. I got to there before Bill had arrived. I went up and set up to get prepared. And then Bill was there but I never met him and I didn't know what he looked like and he still had his back to me. He turns around and in about three seconds, he made me feel so comfortable. He was telling me how much other people had listened to me and respected me. So we started working on this Percy record. When I heard that Fred and Bill were working together for the first time in years, I was quite excited. I knew that Fred already had said "if this all works out, let's get together in a few days and make our own (trio) record. I know this drummer was in these crazy bands in Britain."
So, it all went very, very well, the recording with Percy. He hung around because he was going to mix. Percy just let us have the studio on his bill. So we got everything set up and recorded the album (Funny Valentine). It takes an hour and seven minutes to listen to and it took an hour and 17 minutes to record. The only thing that slowed it down was the changing of the (tape) reels- the tape had run out.
PSF: Did you know about the previous Massacre record, Killing Time?
I heard bits and pieces. Actually, I hadn't quite got into that.
PSF: Was this a continuation of that music or was it just that Fred and Bill were going at it again after all these years?
It wasn't Massacre at first. It was called... Lost Weekend or something else. My wife and I came up with all these amazing, ridiculous names. Real Estate was one. Whiplash. (laughs) Bill thought that with the name Massacre, it would get heard and accepted and I could respect that. But we didn't enter it at first as a Massacre project. I remember that the day we recorded, Bill and Fred said "how are we going to go about this then?" The Massacre idea was to use numbers to generate material. I did that sort of thing years ago. I said "Let's do it like the Grateful Dead- let's have a journey. If we find that we're not getting anywhere, we'll stop and think. Let's just start on this journey and it'll be fun, it'll be an adventure and we'll be together." So that's what we did. It was uncanny- it was like we were speeding up and slowing down. When me and Bill get back together, it was like "ah, they were right when they said that me and him would connect."
PSF: When you were playing this concert with Bill and Fred last night, what kind of interaction did you feel among the three of you?
It's not like I have to worry about who I'm paying attention to. "I have to look at Fred now... Bill better turn to me..." We have none of that. Bill's got this whole way of being on stage, very funny. He just gets on with it. He's got much more of an international reputation than me. In a way, it's like Abba- it's a veneer that doesn't exist. Bill is just Bill. He's got to breathe, he's got to sleep and he's got to eat. So have Abba, so have I. So that doesn't come between us. Bill's just Bill and I'm me.
Bill works with some killer drummers. For me to be one of the four or five drummers that he works with, it astounds me. Sly Dunbar, Tony Williams... My God, I am so privileged! Somehow I just got there with everything I've worked for and I'm here.
PSF: I know that you're about to put on a benefit concert for Gareth. Any words that you'd like to say about him?
Well... (pauses) Gareth taught me a lot really because he couldn't play. Then he acquired what he wanted to know to play. And then he asked questions about the perceptions that Charles and I had in place, which were based on orthodox musical techniques and structures and things like that. So he did that for me. It's a debt that I can't let go of really. The fact that he did that and... after the first time we played, we were in hysterical laughter. It was very, very funny. It was very serious work but it was a like a real gas! I mean, what more can you ask for?
He just manifested pure feeling. We borrowed the keyboard from the guy from Quiet Sun (Dave Jarrett) and about three months into the group's history, he came to see us play. And we'd only played about four gigs at the most. We'd have something else on with us like cinema or poetry or drama or performance art as support acts. So we went on with this theatre piece. His keyboard was on the floor and Gareth smashed the lid on it, breaking the keys and there was blood all over the keyboard. Gareth chose to hit it so hard that his hands were bleeding. There was no point in going completely bonkers but the only way to get the sound like that he wanted was to actually go completely bonkers. So, Dave had seen us play and we're packing away the equipment. He looked at his keyboard and said "Uh, suppose you better keep it."
PSF: Could you talk about the local arts projects that you've been organizing where you live?
The way I see it, we're heading towards an internationalism, a globalization which disperses and displaces us across a huge diaspora of electronics and information and we lose our relationship to our own body. And we lose our relationship to that lady there (points across the street to a woman). We have an obligation to the people around us. And yet we sort of stop and get beyond that.
There's this idea of a community of turntablists across the planet or a community of free jazz freaks. It's ridiculous. A community is made up of people who don't agree with each other, who live near each other and who like different musics. That's a community. They haven't got the same taste as each other and all meeting up. That's nothing to do with anything. It's just a hobby.
So we need to make a music that has a relevance to a time and a place. To get back to that as an active resistance to being turned into some sort of... distended experience that can be manipulated, as a consumer, as a producer, as a synapses for the information, a point where the information crosses over. We're just servicing the machine. We're not living our lives and we're not facing up to our obligations... which are housed within our bodies. These things aren't a trap, they're us. So we have to be with them.
So I'm trying to make a music 'round where I live, which is a modern urban experience, using modern urban techniques. But instead of being an avant garde experience that's only for an elite that know all about it, I'm trying to make it so that anybody can come to it. So I work with people with special needs, people with learning disabilities... They come to these crazy band gigs (the Out of Body Orchestra) which I put together with graphic scores. I made a huge installation piece ("Anti Clockwise") for varieties of fabrics and plastics to hang like a huge maze with monster strobe lights going on, two drummers and electronics. It's an art experience but people from my area come to it, like the kids who hang out with my own kids. I've got a little chamber quartet (called Gradual) that does this weird, defocused Zen music.
But the people that come to see it aren't the Southbank crowd, it's the people who live near me. They come up to me and say "That was a load of bollocks- what was that about?" or "Wow, that was so exciting!" It seems to me to be an important part of doing something new is to take the known techniques of the avant garde but make them accessible to everybody.
I love coming to New York and I love playing with Fred and Bill. I love going to Japan and working with Keiji Haino. But I also love working with Jacqueline Grant, who you've never heard of and all these people who are fantastic players who live near me. Some of them aren't quite... Pharaoh Sanders yet but they really, really want to make to make it happen. And they're really part of it. And they're real people. They're not stars but that's got nothing to do with it. What it's got to do with it is that we're all in this place together. I actually think that this is the future. It's going to be a huge descaling of the technology and this internationalism. Then what's going to happen is that we're going to have to be with the people that we're with. We have to make something with them. I think that's good, especially if we can keep some of that other internationalism thing going so the two things connect.
PSF: Is that something you can transport out of your area to make performances of it elsewhere?
My obligation is not to transport it out of the area. We had a really, really good theatre series going and people were asking why we didn't take it to North London. Forget it. This is about here. It's about this time. Not very economically viable, very hard to get funding. Don't care. This is special. It's not my obligation to make other people do it and to take it to other places. It is my obligation to talk to you about it and maybe put this idea across.
There's all different things going on. It's not like a "Charles Hayward thing." I'm just working in there with different groups of people and trying to make something happen. It's my obligation to make sure it has an intensity and it has a quality and that's it not elitist. And any credibility I have or any knowledge I have is at the service of the project. So anything I've learned from Fred and Bill or anyone else, I can bring back to other people.
PSF: How do you think this might develop?
I have to see where it goes really. I would want it to take on a multi-cultural aspect. I would want to start working with guys who come from another place. But what happens is that people come from another place and they hold on to where they're from because that's a way to hold onto their identity. But I would like to say to them "your identity is not challenged by me. It's credible but you can actually bring your identity to work with me as well as me working with you." And that would be where I'd like to take it. But I'm making those roads as well. I've got a couple of learn-disabled players I work with who are a part of projects with non-learning-disabled people. So I've had (saxist/composer) Tim Hodgkinson working with people with disability and it's not been like "oh, this is the disabled guy." It's like "he's got his mind and you've got your mind and your mind is very academic and his mind is very instinctive and in the moment. Let's make these different energies work together." It's all about that- having these different energies coalesce.
PSF: It also sounds like you're breaking down the artistic hierarchy about who's a known entity and who's isn't.
Exactly. They're all just musicians. No stars. Tim doesn't want to be a star. It's anti-star.
PSF: With this talk about localizing music, are you also concerned with the globalization of knowledge and music and how that might affect people in different cultures?
There's this global oppression thing where all 'world music' means is music that's no longer from the place of one's origin. What was a mbira (thumb piano) part is now a DX7 (keyboard) part and the tuning's slightly different. The tuning actually contains the whole paradigm: the minute you change that, you change the music completely. You've changed it to Yamaha music and it's not longer mbira music from Africa. We've said that we've just moved it along but we've actually killed it. This is not a way of bringing us together- it's a way of making us not who we are.
PSF: It's a way of trying to make everyone the same.
PSF: So you're fighting against this?
Yeah but I don't want to make it like I'm fighting against people who drink Coca Cola or the people who work for them.
PSF: You think you're fighting for them?
Yeah, I am actually. That's what The Matrix is based on. Great film.
PSF: You buy into the idea that our 'reality' is just something that manufactured for us.
Right, this idea of sleep. That's exactly what it's about. It's all dressed up. There's anomalies in the story which actually don't hold the story as the story anymore so all you're left with is a series of parables actually. The narrative doesn't do its work properly. The weird bit at the end where he flies off into the air... It's meaningless but that's intentionally meaningless. And there he is on the phone saying "I thought I'd tell you this." You're telling ME this? He's calling me, he's calling us. It's like someone manages every so often to get beyond enemy lines and telling us things there.
PSF: That's the kind of communication you seem to be trying to do.
Yeah but I'm trying to do it in a less veiled way. They have to get past capital and bail the story. I'm trying not to bail the story and ignore capital as prohibitory.
I honestly think of money as an illusion. I know some people with a lot of money who are dead unhappy. I've got very little money and most of the time I feel great. You see that the numbers are just an illusion. Everything is number so why impose number? We're putting number onto things when we're not actually seeing that everything is number anyway. We're imposing unreal things on top of it.
PSF: People need to categorize to make sense of the world, otherwise we feel that we're lost and
there's no purpose.
We need to give matter more of an ability to manifest the mind. Your brain is made of matter. My drum kit is made of matter. So where does mind stop? The mind doesn't stop. The mind is less nimble, less able to jump from one place to another when it's a drum. But it's more able to manifest drum-ness than a piece of unshaped wood. So when one guy is carving it with love and care, he's given consciousness to material form. That's what we do.
Our obligation is to be consciousness, the whole of matter and to give some of it shape. That's why we need to give things shape. So when we break a window, it's not just an act of vandalism, it's an act of breaking mind. We're breaking form and shape. Destruction of anything is always a bad idea. All these guys who are anti-globalization, I'm all behind them except when they start smashing windows and breaking form. They're not respecting what they are, which is the same as everything else, which is matter.
I'm just completely free associating here but I also wanted to say that this act of everything going in and out of existence 30 million times a second or whatever is an act of will to come back in again. Every time we are alive, it's an act of our will to keep moving forward. Matter actually has a will to stay here. It's going into non-existence and coming back in- it's a constant re-affirmation of life.
The cosmos is expanding and yet it's spaced together. The personality which is you, Jason, is intact. The cosmos is expanding and yet I am still me. My wife and kids will still be in the same place on the other side of the Atlantic. This is love. The entire cosmos loves every other point in the cosmos to the point where even though it's being torn apart, we are still together, intact.
See our 2019 story on the (non) reunion of This Is Not This Heat
And see some of Charles' favorite music
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