Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

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Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

Message  Celtic1981 le Mar 25 Jan - 19:15

January 2011

QUESTION: According to my notes, you were born on June 11th 1947 in Bournemouth, Hampshire… Is it right?

RICHARD: That's right. Bournemouth is now part of the beautiful county of Dorset.

QUESTION: When did you start to play guitar?

RICHARD: Around 1960, when I was 13. I started picking out tunes on an ukelele, and my parents bought me a guitar. Like other kids at school, I learned to play the instrumental hits by The Shadows, The Ventures, Duane Eddy, and others. An excellent way to acquire basic guitar skills.

QUESTION: Do you remember what the first songs you learn to play were?

RICHARD: Yes. The first tune I could play was "Ghost riders in the sky" by The Ramrods. And the first tune I played together with other musicians was "FBI" by The Shadows.

QUESTION: What other instruments do you play, apart from guitar, ukulele and balalaika?

RICHARD: About ten years ago I started playing mandolin, and began to concentrate on acoustic and resonator slide guitar.

QUESTION: How did you meet your long-time friend John Wetton, who you played with in several bands?

RICHARD: John and I met at school when he was 13, and I was 15. Our band was first called The Corvettes. John and I progressed through the early 60s from rockabilly to The Beatles, then from rhythm and blues to soul. By this time the band was called The Palmer James Group and we were working most weekends at venues all along the south coast.

QUESTION: What do you remember from that era before becoming a professional musician?

RICHARD: There were no discos or DJs in those days, so if a pub or club wanted music, there would have to be some kind of live band playing. Consequently there were lots of chances to play. I recently found diaries from 1964 to 1965 and was surprised to find that I had noted more than 100 gigs in an eighteen month period. We were all still at school. I consider myself to be very lucky to have been growing up during the explosion of popular music in the 60s. It was a pretty cool time to be young.

QUESTION: Then you went to the university, isn't it?

RICHARD: Yes. In 1968 I returned to Bournemouth after three years at university in Wales, and with John Wetton on bass and vocals, John Hutcheson on Hammond organ, and drummer Bob Jenkins, formed Tetrad, a first attempt at a professional band. Unfortunately, we didn't trust our talents sufficiently to write our own material. Basically we wanted to play the songs our heroes played, that is, by just about anyone on Island Records, plus Cream, The Nice, and later Vanilla Fudge. We drove for miles, earned very little, and fantasised about going to live in London. After a year we decided to give up, but we remained good friends. We had changed the name of the group to Ginger Man, inspired by James P. Donleavy's libidinous novel.

QUESTION: What happened after disbanding Ginger Man?

RICHARD: John Wetton quickly found another engagement and I drove up to London several times in the summer of 1969 with organist John Hutcheson to play at auditions, responding to advertisements in the `Musicians Wanted' column of `Melody Maker'.

QUESTION: Do you remember the exact date you auditioned for Supertramp?

RICHARD: I still have the magazine with that advertisement and it is dated 9th August 1969. The audition must have taken place during the following week.

QUESTION: Where was the audition celebrated?

RICHARD: At The Cabin. It was a tiny one-room rehearsal and demo studio which opened directly onto a side-street near Shepherd's Bush Common. It looked like a padded cell. In 1969, London had a population of about 8 million, and at least a quarter of these were guitarists, so there was a long queue. Inside, air conditioning was achieved by means of the occupants' diligent inhaling and exhaling through the paper filters of dwarf cigarettes, `Players No. 6', which were fashionable among Britain's thrifty in this era.

QUESTION: What do you recall from the audition?

RICHARD: I arrived in the late afternoon, having auditioned somewhere in St Johns Wood earlier in the day for a band that was to become Wishbone Ash. Rick Davies lurked behind his Wurlitzer, exhausted by his confrontation with this endless stream of young hopefuls from which, however, he had already chosen Roger Hodgson the day before. Roger was now helping with the auditioning process, I believe. John `Andy' Andrews played bass.

QUESTION: What songs did you play during your spot?

RICHARD: I think I played and sang the Sonny Boy Williamson standard "Eyesight to the blind", followed by "Season of the witch", a current `underground' favourite which offered plenty of scope for jamming. Rick had implied that as the guitarist's job had gone to Roger, the only reason for my taking a shot would be to demonstrate my talents as a vocalist, which were not very impressive. So I was more than a little surprised when Rick called a couple of days later and asked me to join. The Wishbone Ash guys called too. I must have had a good day.

QUESTION: Just after founding the band, all of you went to live together, isn't it?

RICHARD: Yes. As soon as the line-up was finalised after The Cabin auditions, we were obliged to start work on putting together a stage show of two hours plus from scratch. By the end of August 1969 we were all living at Botolph's Bridge House in Romney Marsh, Kent, an extensive and slightly mysterious stretch of land which was still under the sea when the Romans came to Britain. The house stands among fields at a wind-swept cross-roads, isolated except for a pub on the corner opposite. It has a beautiful garden.

QUESTION: How were your first times in the band?

RICHARD: It was a good time, I remember it fondly. I think we all enjoyed getting to know each other, and I hope Rick and Roger remember it that way too. When we weren't putting new songs together or trying out standards for inclusion in our repertoire, we could go for walks along the sea front or play darts at the pub. One day we invited a hedgehog into the living room, and as a result everybody had fleas for a week. Roger used to take a guitar along to the remains of a Roman harbour which protrudes from the hillside about 1 km behind the house, and sit there in the sunset, trying out songs.

QUESTION: What was the equipment for the new group?

RICHARD: This was mostly inherited from The Joint. It included a then state-of-the-art Binson PA system, one of the first to incorporate rack modules, and a beautiful and very rare white Gibson SG-type Les Paul Custom with three pickups. I drooled over that guitar, but unfortunately there was a split in the neck, and although I took it up to Selmer's in London for expert repair during our stay at Botolph's, the fretboard remained slightly twisted, rendering the instrument sadly unusable. Eventually it was sold as a collector's item.

QUESTION: When did you go to the studio for the first time?

RICHARD: In October 1969 we made a first attempt at recording a single at Trident Studios in Soho, London: "Remember", which became "Words unspoken", and the forgotten and terrible "Saying no". It was produced by Gary Wright, author of the famous song "Dream weaver". We were appalled because Gary spent the best part of half of our precious recording time, two days, `tuning' the drum kit. At the time he was playing with Spooky Tooth, a band we all admired greatly and the band for whom the term `heavy rock' was invented, incidentally.

QUESTION: But "Remember" is a song very different from "Words unspoken" and it was released on the second Supertramp album after your departure… Was it another song also called "Remember"?

RICHARD: Yes, it's a different song from the one on "Indelibly stamped". By the way, someone said me that `Idle Hands' was written on the acetate as a possible band name, but I don't remember that at all. I had a copy of that acetate but I've lost it.

QUESTION: Were there other songs on that second album co-written by you too?

RICHARD: I didn't co-write any songs on any subsequent Supertramp album up until "Goldrush"…

QUESTION: Did you write the lyrics for that song while Rick and Roger wrote the music, as usual?

RICHARD: "Goldrush" was a Rick Davies song, as far as I can remember… Another song for which I wrote the lyrics was "Times of rain". I seem to remember working on demo versions of these two in Morgan Studios, London, in the second half of 1970. Morgan's brand-new 16-track desk had been installed the week before.

QUESTION: "Times of rain" was the first name of "Times have changed", included on the album "Indelibly stamped"… Isn't it?

RICHARD: Yes, you're right, it's the same song. The captain I was apologising to was a soldier, not a sailor, but Rick and Roger kept the idea, more or less.

QUESTION: But you were not credited on "Times have changed"… Does it mean that Rick and Roger changed your lyric completely?

RICHARD: I don't know… I've been looking for a copy of "Indelibly stamped", which I thought I had on vinyl, but I can't find it, and I haven't listened to it in years. But if Rick and Roger had used my lyric, I probably would have remembered it.

QUESTION: Did you co-write any unreleased songs Supertramp used to play live between 1970 and 1972, like "Black cat", "White hot rock", "Sweet little queenie", "Pony express" or "I can see"?

RICHARD: I seem to remember "White hot rock" vaguely, and recently I found a lyric I wrote for it … I listened to "Black cat" and I don't recognise at all. Rick Davies was a big fan of The Bill Black Combo at the time, and these songs are a nod in that direction. The best one in that style, I think, is "Your poppa don't mind", which is just about unique in Supertramp's official recorded oeuvre.

QUESTION: Around the days of the first single attempt the band started to play gigs, isn't it?

RICHARD: Yes. We played a trial gig in autumn 1969 in Lympne Castle, Kent, near Botolph's, before leaving for Germany. Our baptism of fire was a five week residency in the PN Club on Munich's Leopoldstrasse. Starting in November, we played five half-hour sets every night and seven sets at weekends except Mondays, when German rock and progressive bands played.

QUESTION: How was the set-list at that time?

RICHARD: There we developed songs such as "Maybe I'm a beggar", "It's a long road", "Nothing to show" and "Try again", this last being the climax of our show all through 1970. We also played "Season of the witch", Oscar Brown Jr's "Sing Hallelujah", Horace Silver's "The gringo", an extraordinary instrumental called "Turnstile" written by a classical composer and eccentric, David Llewellyn, who lived in Munich at that time, a bunch of Chuck Berry songs and rhythm and blues favourites…

QUESTION: Was good for the band to start playing together in Munich?

RICHARD: It was an ideal situation for getting a rock group together. Sometimes our amps blew up because the electricity supply somehow depended on the performance of the club's pinball machines. In between sets we drank watery `Dinkelacker' beer or climbed up out of the cellar to the freezing street for pizza-to-go at the famous Picnic cafe a few metres further along. We lived with the club DJs in a four-room apartment owned by PN boss Peter Naumann on the opposite side of Leopoldstrasse.

QUESTION: Did you meet the film-maker Haro Senft at the PN Club?

RICHARD: Yes, he lived just round the corner from the PN, and often came to see us. His film "Fegefeuer" was nearing completion, and he showed it to us on the cutting-table. He had an amount of 35mm material left over from the shoot, and on December 14th, 1969, he used this in two cameras to film us doing our ten minute version of Bob Dylan's "All along the watchtower", with became the documentary "Daddy: Portrait 1970". I think it was our last night at the PN before leaving for Geneva.

QUESTION: Why didn't you choose one of your own songs for that?

RICHARD: I don't know. It would have been a much better idea… By the way, in summer 1969, before I joined Supertramp, I had been to a show by The Alan Bown Set, and 'borrowed' John Helliwell's distinctive instrumental introduction to their version of "All along the watchtower" when we decided to do the song ourselves. Nobody could have imagined, of course, that a few years later John Helliwell would become part of Supertramp. I hope I am forgiven.

QUESTION: Did you record just that song from the show?

RICHARD: No… While Haro Senft was preparing his short on Supertramp, sound man Juergen Koppers recorded some songs on the film crew's Nagra. I remember we were a bit grumpy about having extra mikes strung up all over the place, and unfortunately failed to show much interest in the result. The mighty Juergen Koppers, now gone, but unforgotten by all who worked with him, was later instrumental in creating the Munich Disco Sound with Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summers, and others.

QUESTION: During your residency at the PN Club in November 1969 you were asked to do a session at Radio Free Europe studios in Munich for broadcast behind the Iron Curtain… What can you tell me about it?

RICHARD: We played three or four songs, probably including "It's a long road" and "Try again", more or less live. The radio engineer couldn't handle the volume, and I think everything was fairly distorted, but we felt it was for a good cause. We were looked after by a Romanian journalist, Cornel Chiriac, who put rock-music-and-lifestyle radio shows together for the kids back home who couldn't get hold of the records. He often came down to see us at the PN. We liked him a lot. Some years later he was murdered, presumably by the Securitate, Romanian secret police.

QUESTION: After the five weeks at the PN Club you moved to Geneva in December 1969… What did you do there?

RICHARD: We played for a week at the Etonnoir Club in Geneva. Rick and I had terrible colds, and all were suffering somewhat in the aftermath of weeks of, well, exuberant living while playing at the PN Club in Munich. By contrast, the audience at the Etonnoir was genteel, smartly dressed (at least, by Swiss standards), and unsmilingly performed The Frug and The Slop while contriving to ignore us completely. In the evenings we were playing at the Etonnoir downtown, a damp subterranean vault where Roger and I were nearly eliminated by the unearthed electricity supply while setting up.

QUESTION: In Geneva you also recorded the demo for the first Supertramp album, isn't it?

RICHARD: Yes. The demo recording was made using two Revox A77s in Mainhorse Airline's rehearsal room somewhere in Geneva's suburbs. Mainhorse Airline featured keyboarder Patrick Moraz, who was a friend of Sam at that time. There was some talk of Sam becoming their (or Patrick's) manager. Another guy from Mainhorse Airline, whose name I forget, engineered the demos which secured Supertramp the A&M record contract.

QUESTION: Did you like the result of that demo?

RICHARD: We felt unhappy about how this tape sounded, because as I said Rick and I had terrible colds. But it did the trick, and kicked off a lasting relationship between Supertramp and A&M Records.

QUESTION: According to my notes, early 1970 you suggested the name Supertramp after reading the book "The autobiography of a supertramp" by William H. Davies... Is it right?

RICHARD: Yes, I had read the book some years before. The choice of the name had nothing to do with the book's content, however, which I had largely forgotten. The new name was decided upon after we had moved into Tir-Na-Nog, the house in Grayshott, Surrey, in January 1970. By the way, this was a house with poisonous carpets. We hated it.

QUESTION: Do you remember who had suggested the first name of the band, Daddy, and why did you decide to change it?

RICHARD: I can't remember who suggested the name Daddy, or why. We gave it up after becoming aware of the American folk-group Daddy Longlegs.

QUESTION: Around that period, early 1970, the first drummer, Keith Baker, left the band... Do you know why?

RICHARD: Keith Baker was already established on the club circuit 1968-1969 with his own band Bakerloo. The fact that the job with Supertramp brought a regular retainer (6 pounds a week), and the promise of work to come, made it attractive to him, and to me, at first. However, I think he was not too happy with the material we were developing for the first album, and he didn't like the rest of us much anyway. Understandably, perhaps. Anyway, when we all moved into Tir-Na-Nog the vibes were not good. Keith left, as we say in England, under a cloud, while we were preparing the material for the first album. It kept us busy for several weeks at the beginning of 1970.

QUESTION: Before Robert Millar joined, the band tried Nigel Olsson, who had played with Roger Hodgson in the past... Why didn't he take the job?

RICHARD: The prospect of auditioning dozens of drummers again was horrifying, so Nigel came to visit on the recommendation of various people, and of course, he was very good. A friendly extrovert, but the chemistry just wasn't right. So we were obliged to spend a further nightmarish couple of days back at The Cabin in Shepherd's Bush.

QUESTION: Why did you decide to choose Robert Millar?

RICHARD: Rick Davies is one of the best drummers I've ever played with, and I was happy to rely on his opinion. It was his decision to choose Robert, who played inventively, with a good musical ear. I think that Robert's individual, slightly jazzy style was an important element in the sound of the group during that year. The first album was recorded on eight-track and consequently there was no room for stereo drums, which would have been a great improvement.

QUESTION: What do you remember from your personal relationship with Robert?

RICHARD: I never really got to know him. He was friendly and co-operative, but reserved, a bit melancholy. I think he regarded the rest of us with increasing scepticism. He came from a world in London's East End that none of us knew much about.

QUESTION: Did Supertramp use to record some rehearsals or shows while you were in the band?

RICHARD: No. The habit of making ad hoc recordings of rehearsals and concerts for purposes of self-evaluation or bootlegging, authorised or not, has been well-established for the past twenty years or more, and it's difficult to imagine a time when this wasn't the case. But that's the way it was: I can't remember a single occasion when Supertramp recorded a rehearsal, neither in the living-room at Botolph's Bridge House in the autumn of 1969, nor at Tir-Na-Nog in Surrey early 1970. And we did a lot of rehearsing!

QUESTION: Didn't you have a tape recorder?

RICHARD: No… Sam used to drag a Revox A77 out of the back of his Aston Martin when he came to visit, so that he could play us interesting or relevant demos, or whatever. Little cassette machines simply weren't around back then. In fact the first one I ever saw was demonstrated to us by Nigel Olsson at Tir-Na-Nog in early 1970, with a commercial cassette version of the Blind Faith album. I'm pretty sure Roger started using the new medium as a personal musical jotting-pad soon after this, though.

QUESTION: So could we say that the band was more interested in improving the live sound than in recording the progresses?

RICHARD: Yes. We were perhaps obsessed with the integrity of live performance. The process of recording, even perfunctorily, was quite a different ball-game. I suppose we were rather conservative in this respect. Playing live was one ritual, and recording was another. I don't think we saw any particular value in documenting our progress on tape. This would have seemed somehow artificial. Maybe the roots of Supertramp's subsequent and notorious perfectionism in matters of sound are to be discovered here.

QUESTION: How were the recordings of the first Supertramp album?

RICHARD: The album was recorded at Morgan Sound Studios, north London, between February and March of 1970. We insisted on starting the sessions at midnight because we thought that was cool. This meant that Robin Black, our patient engineer, regularly and understandably fell asleep at the mixing desk. Once, returning from the studio to our rented house in Surrey in the small hours, Roger lost control of the car on a patch of ice at a place called The Devil's Punchbowl, spinning us through 360 degrees. Luckily there was nobody else on the road.

QUESTION: Regarding the writing tasks during the first album, Roger Hodgson uses to say that the way you worked was: Rick having some chords, then Roger putting a melody on it, and then you writing the lyrics… Do you agree?

RICHARD: Yes, I agree with Roger about how the songs were written.

QUESTION: So did you write all the lyrics for the first Supertramp album?

RICHARD: Yes, I did.

QUESTION: Didn't Rick or Roger help you with that task?

RICHARD: No, I don't think so.

QUESTION: However, Roger said he could have written part of the lyrics for "And I am not like other birds of prey"…

RICHARD: I can't remember Roger having any lyrical input on that one, but maybe he did. You know, when you start writing a song, even if you know somebody else will supply the lyrics later, you usually sing a few words that pass through your head. Sometimes they're nonsense, being "Scrambled eggs"/"Yesterday" by Paul McCartney the classic example, but sometimes they're sublime. Of course some great lyrics are sublime nonsense: "A whiter shade of pale", "The windmills of your mind", "MacArthur Park", "Africa"… As a lyricist I try to use the composer's intuitive fragments as a key to the song's content if at all possible. Maybe Rick or Roger did sing bits and pieces when they were working on the songs, and I incorporated these into the final lyric, but I'm afraid I no longer have any idea what or where.

QUESTION: Did you write just lyrics for the album? Hadn't you a melodic input for some songs too?

RICHARD: No. I might have suggested chord changes or melodic variations when we started working on the arrangements, but I didn't write any of the basic compositions.

QUESTION: Why did Roger Hodgson sing most of the songs on the first album, while you were the main vocalist during the live shows?

RICHARD: It soon became clear to everybody that Roger has an extraordinary voice. It was, after all, to become one of the most distinctive voices in pop music. During our residencies at the PN Club I sang more often simply because I knew several rhythm and blues standards which we needed to fill out our repertoire. When we started promoting the first album on the road in England, Roger began to emerge as lead vocalist. Rick said once that as a singer, I was a good actor. This is still true.

QUESTION: There has been some controversy among the Supertramp fans regarding the vocalists for several songs on the first album… It's you who sings on "Maybe I'm a beggar" with Roger, isn't it?

RICHARD: Yes, that's right.

QUESTION: And what about the vocal duets on "Nothing to show" and "Try again"?

RICHARD: It's Rick and Roger on "Nothing to show", and it's Roger and I on "Try again".

QUESTION: Is it Rick who is singing lead on "Shadow song"?

RICHARD: Yes, it's Rick… But aren't Roger's harmonies fantastic in the middle of the song? And his amazing bass and flageolet figures? Fucking brilliant! I think it's my favourite.

QUESTION: Did you ever see Roger playing any wind instrument apart from flageolet?

RICHARD: No, I don't think so.

QUESTION: Dave Winthrop joined the band around the time the album was been recorded… Do you know why he didn't play on the album?

RICHARD: Sorry, I can't remember the exact circumstances of Dave joining the band.
If we were recording, we probably wouldn't have had time to rehearse with him.

QUESTION: How did you record the electric guitar parts on the album?

RICHARD: I played all the electric guitar stuff on my beautiful 1963 Gibson ES335
(I've still got it) plugged directly into a Selmer 100W 4-channel PA amp and Goodman 12-inch speakers, using no effect pedals at all. Although not designed as a guitar amplifier, the Selmer provided creamy valve distortion when overdriven, and a liquid, shimmering sound at half-power. I could change the sound radically simply by using the guitar's volume control. The solo on "Try again" is an illustration of this.

QUESTION: Did you use the same system on later recordings?

RICHARD: No… Unfortunately the Selmer amp suffered a terminal meltdown on stage during one of our shows at the PN in Munich, and although in the years following I've played just about every guitar rig known to man, I've never quite managed to get that sound again. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why I now concentrate on acoustic guitar which, however, I played shamefully badly on the first Supertramp album. On "Birds of prey" it's particularly awful.

QUESTION: I don't agree with you... Of course, I prefer your electric guitar playing on the album, but I also like that part of acoustic guitar on "Birds of prey"...

RICHARD: Sure, the part fits the song… It's just that I played it badly. Roger shows us how it ought to be done on "Surely" and "Home again".

QUESTION: How was your work on the soundtrack for the film "Fegefeuer"?

RICHARD: After recording the first album at Morgan Studios in London, we returned to Munich in April 1970 to write and record the "Fegefeuer" film-music. Roger and I sat at the cutting table in Haro Senft's apartment for hours, trying to ignore the film editor's legs, Frau Jane Seitz, looking for and timing sequences which seemed to call for music. Then we set up our gear in a ballet studio for a week or so and set about composing bits of music. It was a wooden shack in a nondescript Schwabing back-street; to reach it we were obliged to cross a muddy yard full of monstrous and savage dogs.

QUESTION: Did you write all the music for the film there?

RICHARD: Some ideas were new, some we had already tried out at Botolph's, and some dated from Rick's work-outs on Sam Miesegaes' piano the previous year. I wrote the guitar stuff, Rick wrote the organ stuff, and Roger did the weird noises and effects. He was a very good, McCartneyesque bass player. The music was recorded in the cavernous Bavaria Studios, Munich, by house engineer Hans Endrulat. We synchronised the pieces to their respective film clips on the spot, Hollywood-style, playing in front of a full-size screen. Haro certainly made no compromises here.

QUESTION: What do you think of that work?

RICHARD: It was hard work, but great fun. In fact, following my return to Munich a year later, I made my living into the 70s writing and recording film and TV scores. I even made an unsuccessful attempt to enrol at Munich's Film and Television School.

QUESTION: What did you do after the "Fegefeuer" recording?

RICHARD: We played at the PN Club for another couple of weeks. We stayed at the bohemian Pension Morena in Kaulbachstrasse, no longer there, alas, full of cats, old ladies, and four-poster beds.

QUESTION: Do you remember something special from the Isle of Wight festival Supertramp played in August 1970?

RICHARD: I'm sorry, but I can't remember much about it all. I left right after our spot. Our slot was almost certainly recorded by somebody-or-other, but I've never heard anything about it. A couple of years ago, at John `Andy' Andrews' place in England, we were reminiscing about the Isle of Wight fest. He worked the mixing desk for us on that occasion. I mentioned how I remembered our appearance as being chaotic, scared, a shambles… "No, no", said he. "It was great. Fucking loudest you ever played".

QUESTION: What was your best show with Supertramp?

RICHARD: The show we played at Leeds University on 7th November 1970. This was my best Supertramp gig of all. For some reason the kids went berserk, such a change from our usual polite receptions in 1970. The Edgar Broughton Band followed us on stage, and had a hard time.

QUESTION: And the worst one?

RICHARD: Probably the show we played at the College of Education, in Swansea, some weeks later. We forgot Robert Millar on this one. Travelling from London in two vehicles, each driver mistakenly thought that Robert was with the other. Rick played drums and Andy played bass. The promoter was barely persuaded to pay up. As well I have got some unhappy memories from our performance at the Revolution Club in London, in August. It was a press reception for the release of the first album. We played a couple of songs, but were largely ignored by the assembled gentlefolk of the press.

QUESTION: How many BBC Sessions did you play on with Supertramp?

RICHARD: Late June 1970 I recorded for BBC `Top Gear' radio show, which I can't remember at all. Early October I played live on John Peel's Sunday radio show. It was at BBC Studios Regent Street, London. John Peel was the prog radio DJ in England for decades. He died a couple of years ago. Rob Ayling of Voiceprint Records told me that he was negotiating with Roger and others concerning a CD release of this tape. No idea what it sounds like.

QUESTION: How was your relationship with Sam, the sponsor of Supertramp?

RICHARD: After several years of scuffling with provincial booking agents, the prospect of being taken on by an affluent Swiss manager seemed exotic enough to me at first, and I wrote enthusiastic letters to my friends describing my good luck in stumbling into what seemed to be a show-business fairy-tale. As the novelty of the situation waned, my inevitable pseudo-socialist leanings as an ex-student tainted my attitude to Sam with a certain arrogance, which I've since recognised as regrettable proof of my own snotty-nosed immaturity, although I think I was right in criticising his projected partnerships with the likes of the extremely dubious Bill Wills, and other jet-set pickpockets.

QUESTION: Who was Bill Wills?

RICHARD: He was an accountant who had been film-star Peter Sellers' manager and financial advisor in the early 60s. I met him at `Aganippe', Sam's villa on Lake Geneva, once. He impressed Sam greatly.

QUESTION: Was Sam as extravagant as everyone said?

RICHARD: Well, Sam couldn't cope with the social turmoil which was manifest in the western democracies at that time. As a response to the Kent State shootings, I remember him storming round the living room at `Aganippe', drunk, shrieking "Kill, man, kill!", while the Rolling Stones' epochal "Let it bleed" album thundered out of the stereo system.

QUESTION: Did your viewpoint of Sam change with the years?

RICHARD: Yes. I see him now as an essentially decent man, a rather sad figure, with a schoolboyish charm, completely out of his depth in the music world. Whatever Sam's motives were, he was aware of Rick's unusual talent, and I think they genuinely liked each other. Rick was often explaining Sam to the rest of us. Sam was fascinated by the mechanics of showbiz, even if he was a complete dilettante regarding their implementation. Perhaps Sam felt that he was missing out on an exciting universe which was evolving outside the confines of `Aganippe'.

QUESTION: How many times did the band live at `Aganippe'?

RICHARD: The group lodged there in December 1969 and in the spring of 1970. I remember the beautiful Bosendorfer grand piano (Rachmaninov's, apparently) and the creamy fruit yoghurts which we used to steal out of the giant refrigerator in the middle of the night.

QUESTION: Does it mean that the grand piano had belonged to the famous composer and pianist?

RICHARD: Yes. So we were told.

QUESTION: Apart from Geneva, during the sixteen months you were in Supertramp, you lived with the rest of the band in Kent, in Surrey, in London, in Munich... Who decided that you should live all together?

RICHARD: Getting it together in the country had become an accepted way to launch new rock bands in the mid-sixties. Steve Winwood's Traffic was, famously, the first. The assumption was that if the group members shared their daily existence in bucolic isolation, communal songwriting would be the natural result.

QUESTION: Was living together a problem instead of a help for the band?

RICHARD: This is a very good question. The quick answer is at first it was a great help, but it soon led to considerable problems. Supertramp did rehearse intensively at Botolph's Bridge, and enjoyed a harmonious coexistence. But by the time we regrouped in January 1970 in Surrey, the atmosphere was not quite so congenial. The house had bad vibes, the locals were unfriendly, and the weather was miserable. At the pub in Grayshott, the landlord only allowed us to drink in the lounge bar, which boasted a couple of malodorous armchairs, when Sam was with us. Otherwise we were obliged to use the public bar, where the same beer cost a penny less anyway, and sit on wooden stools.

QUESTION: And what about your last experience living together in London?

RICHARD: The cramped and depressing London apartment had bedrooms for Rick, Roger and Dave. These three paid the rent, 18 pounds weekly. This came out of the 9 pounds per week each we were paid by Pulsar during this period. I had promised to find my own living quarters in London but due to lack of funds had failed to do so. The train ride to and from Bournemouth was depleting my allowance. So I sometimes had to sleep on the floor, and this was understandably not popular with the others.

QUESTION: Did you never contribute to the rent?

RICHARD: I should have regularly contributed to the rent, but did not have the means to do so. Sometimes Andy Andrews and Peter Viney were obliged to sleep at the Elgin Avenue apartment too. `Swinging London' it most certainly was not. We never had enough money. So what was intended as a creative solution became an economical necessity. Sam failed to understand that ongoing poverty is bad for morale, particularly in stressful situations.

QUESTION: Why did you leave Supertramp late 1970?

RICHARD: Between 5th June and 15th December 1970, when it was my last Supertramp gig at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt, we played 70 gigs all over Britain. In the final weeks our personal relationships were going bad, mostly because our very different personalities were bundled up together at close quarters all day, every day, and you can see from our schedule that we were working pretty hard. I think the band received on average about 30 pounds per engagement. Expenses swallowed everything. Sometimes we had to drive all night because we couldn't afford a hotel. Sometimes we could afford a hotel but it was horrible.

QUESTION: An outlook not too much promising, isn't it?

RICHARD: Yes. Often it didn't look as if we were getting anywhere with our music. In this situation we would start quarreling over the slightest bagatelle. We disagreed about various matters of policy, about our music and about our booking agents, Chrysalis, who often took in much more money from our engagements than they paid out. This was, and is, common practice, but we didn't know this at the time.

QUESTION: Was there any usual trigger for those quarrels?

RICHARD: I have to admit that much of the discord was my fault. I was in love with a German girl who, I suspected, didn't feel quite the same way, and the suspicion was correct. Anyway, I tried to get over to Europe to see her whenever I could. This, too, was expensive, and annoyed the others. I fell out badly with Rick during a mini-tour of Scotland in November 1970. The disagreement was both unnecessary and unjustified, as even then I was aware of how much I owed him musically. He has influenced my way of appreciating and making music over the years more than most people I've worked with.

QUESTION: Were there any other options which meant you stayed in the band?

RICHARD: Dave Winthrop and I actually asked Sam if he would split the group into two, but of course this was a crazy idea. In December I announced that I would leave the band. I remember that one night at Roger's family home at East Hendred Rick asked me very seriously if I was sure that this was a good idea. "None of us really knows what's going to happen", he said. Perhaps he had some kind of prescient feeling about the future, though "Crime of the century" was still four years away. Whatever, he showed great fairness in asking me to reconsider, because I really wasn't very easy to get on with.

QUESTION: Considering that Supertramp had a big success some years after you left the band, did you ever regret it?

RICHARD: No. Apart from our disagreements, I left because my heart wasn't in the music we were making. Although I admire the enormous talents of the other two, I'm sure that if Rick and Roger and I had stuck together as a songwriting trio, Supertramp would not have reached those heights of commercial success later in the decade. I would have soon become a hindrance.

QUESTION: After leaving Supertramp, you moved to Germany and you have been living there 40 years now... Do you feel yourself German more than British? Do you keep travelling to UK from time to time?

RICHARD: I'm still British. I try to get back to the UK about once a year, even though my membership has probably run out. Actually I spend more time in Italy.

QUESTION: Have you visited Spain any time?

RICHARD: I was last in Madrid and Barcelona in 1979 or 1980 doing some TV shows with La Bionda. Both cities impressed me greatly. Otherwise, most unfortunately, I don't know Spain at all.

QUESTION: According to my notes, in 1987 you moved from Munich to the countryside in Lower Bavaria... Is it right? Do you still live there?

RICHARD: That's right. My wife and I wanted our two boys to grow up in a house with a garden and trees round it. Now that they've left home, we're talking about moving back to town…

QUESTION: During all this time you have been writing lyrics for lots of artists like King Crimson, La Bionda, Emergency and many others, as well as writing music for TV and movies... What of those works are you most proud of?

RICHARD: Well, I wrote stuff for so many different kinds of musical projects, it's difficult to say. A freelance writer has to be able to respond adequately to diverse musical situations and personalities, even crazy ones. Sometimes it's like working for an advertising agency, or acting as a therapist. But it's also great to learn from comments on YouTube or Amazon that people have enjoyed some of the things I worked on over the years.

QUESTION: In 1997 you recorded an album with John Wetton entitled "Monkey Business"... What do you remember from that?

RICHARD: I compiled the album out of demos and outtakes, mostly songs John and I had written together between 1972 and 1997. It's a kind of scrapbook for hardcore King Crimson / UK / Asia fans, really. The album was brought by Rob Ayling. John and I write a song every couple of years, and they usually end up on a Wetton / Downes Icon album. He recorded the vocals to the latest one in California last week.

QUESTION: In 2006 you worked on the second part of the trilogy "Excalibur" by Alan Simon... How were you involved in that project?

RICHARD: Fabrice Bellengier, in his capacity as Alan's production assistant, was kind enough to suggest that I should contribute to the "Excalibur" project, and I offered to play some mandolin, as they already had several guitar-players… So I joined John Wetton in Paris for a weekend. John did a beautiful multi-tracked vocal. Like Roger, he's expert at building up layers of harmonies. I played some bits of mandolin on "Lugh" and "The girl and the demon". Alan Simon is a talented guy, and the gigantic "Excalibur" live show is very successful in Germany.

QUESTION: What other projects have you been working on since then, apart from founding Richard Palmer-James Band with Erich Schachtner?

RICHARD: I would like to concentrate on performing my own songs. I still write lyrics for others, but not as often as in the 80s and 90s. In 2009 I started working with `fratelli' La Bionda in Milan again, after a 15-year break…

QUESTION: What are you working on right now?

RICHARD: My 2011 starts in February, with rehearsals for live shows as a singer/songwriter later in the year, and a visit to Italy. In the meantime I'm hanging around at home trying to write new songs.

QUESTION: Do you have other occupations, apart from music?

RICHARD: I've been lucky enough to have made my living from music, precariously, since the 60s. None of us imagined back then that the beat would go on, and on, and on… But it did.

QUESTION: Are you still in touch with other old Supertramp members?

RICHARD: I never met Robert Millar or Keith Baker again. I see Andy Andrews, who reinvented himself as a property and investment broker, every two or three years. He lives on the White Cliffs of Dover. By chance, Dave Winthrop now has a house in Kent only a few miles away from him. He's even played with Andy's blues band. I saw him again for the first time in 40 years in spring 2010… Wonderful.

QUESTION: What about Rick and Roger?

RICHARD: Whatever differences Rick and Roger and I had at the end of 1970, they evaporated after I left the band, I'm happy to say. I seem to remember the entire band sleeping on the floor of my one-room apartment in Munich in 1972. In 1974 Roger sent me a demo version of what was to become the "Crime of the century" album, accompanied by a letter asking if I'd like to rewrite some of the lyrics.

QUESTION: Really? What did you do then?

RICHARD: I listened to the reel-to-reel tape again and again, and for the life of me couldn't see why Roger wanted any `improvements'. The words and the music fit so well… I went down to talk to the band in their house in England's West Country, met Bob Siebenberg, Dougie Thomson and John Helliwell, heard them play some of the songs… And felt quite sure that my services wouldn't be needed.

QUESTION: Did you meet them afterwards?

RICHARD: Yes. We met again in Munich two or three times in the next few years. On each succeeding visit they played at a bigger venue. Once, after their show, we played a set together at the PN Club. The proprietor, the late Peter Naumann, who was, unjustly, I believe, known to musicians of my generation as `The Bastard', but had played a sizeable part in the history of more than one major rock group, whipped out his pocket camera in nostalgic delight. Unfortunately it didn't work. I remember glimpsing him jumping up and down on it in rage at the back of the club.

QUESTION: When did you meet Rick for the last time?

RICHARD: I last met him in Munich in the mid-80s. I have to admit that I hate going backstage at other people's shows. I would rather have had the chance to meet Rick or Roger privately on their travels through Europe, but that hasn't worked out. When they were around I was usually somewhere else. Out of curiosity, Peter Viney and I went incognito to the Supertramp concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1997. That was the last time I saw the band perform.

QUESTION: And what about Roger?

RICHARD: In May 2000, a friend who works for the excellent `Sueddeutsche Zeitung' daily newspaper sent me to a solo concert by Roger in Munich, to write a review. It was marvellous to see him again. His professionalism impressed me greatly, and so did the songs, which stripped of their complex band arrangements worked for me just as well if not better than the recorded versions. After the show I met Roger and we took a photograph together. Unfortunately we haven't spoken again since.

QUESTION: This year Supertramp have been doing their 40th anniversary tour, named "70-10"... Don't you think that, as a founding member of the band, you should have been invited for any special celebration show?

RICHARD: No. After I left at the end of 1970, Rick and Roger worked very hard indeed for several years to keep the band together, and went through extremely tough times. They deserve their success, which has been earned on the basis of sheer talent and dogged persistence. My share of these two qualities is considerably smaller than theirs. The only lasting thing I gave them is the band name, and they still would have been successful even if they had changed it. We live in different worlds, and that's fine. Anyway, my sixteen months with Supertramp were pretty exciting, and a time of self-discovery.

pour avoir une traduction approximative en français:

On apprend vraiment plein de trucs dans cette interview.

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Re: Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

Message  Rudy 40 le Mer 26 Jan - 1:23

Super !!!!
Rudy 40

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Re: Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

Message  A Child of Vision le Mer 26 Jan - 2:32

J'ai toujours adoré ce premier album... Le son, l'orgue, les solos de guitare et sa superbe mélancolie. Mais tout était flou sur les conditions d'enregistrement.

Je suis étonné d'apprendre que c'est Rick qui chante sur "Shadow's song"....
A Child of Vision
Friend in need
Friend in need

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Re: Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

Message  Juggler Fumble le Mer 26 Jan - 18:19

Très, très intéressant en effet. Beaucoup de dignité et de modestie, non, surtout à la fin... chapeau.

J'adore cette image : "In 1969, London had a population of about 8 million, and at least a quarter of these were guitarists, so there was a long queue."
Juggler Fumble

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Re: Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

Message  FAN 11 le Ven 28 Jan - 15:16

Merci pour cette interview Celtic.

FAN 11

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Re: Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

Message  movaizailaiv le Dim 25 Sep - 18:26

A Child of Vision a écrit:

Je suis étonné d'apprendre que c'est Rick qui chante sur "Shadow's song"....

Tout pareil!!
C'est quand même curieux que Richard dit être en bons termes avec Rick & Roger, car lorsque j'ai rencontré Roger à Carcassonne, Roger me disait qu'il ne pouvait pas chanter des chansons du 1er album à cause de Richard Palmer qui l'en empêchait pour une question justement de droits d'auteurs vu qu'ils n'étaient pas en très bons termes tous les deux... Et que peut-être, si un jour, leurs relations s'amélioraient, alors il aurait cette possibilité... Bref...
Sinon, excellente interview de ce bonhomme. J'aimerai bien le revoir avec Supertramp version minimaliste, genre lui, Rick'n'Rog, Bob'n'John, pour voir ce que donneraient des titres des 2 premiers albums aujourd'hui, voir ce qu'ils en feraient au niveau des arrangements... Une fois comme ça pour le fun...

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Re: Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

Message  Juggler Fumble le Lun 26 Sep - 13:54

Et pour les amateurs des premières années de Supertramp, ce clip mérite le détour :

Là c'est du "vrai" Supertramp 70-10+ !... même sans ou !
Juggler Fumble

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Re: Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

Message  Celtic1981 le Mer 28 Sep - 5:25

déjà posté. Wink

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Re: Interview très instructive de Richard Palmer-James

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