On the occasion of the forthcoming reissue of Blue Clouds, here is a recently unearthed interview with TC+J’s Tony Doré, as interviewed by Rob Hatch-Miller. Primitive drum machines, early EMS Synth and lo-tech –but well thought out– four track production make this collection of unreleased (minimal psych?) gems one of my favorites this year.
How old were you when you first started writing your own songs? It seems like you already had a very strong songwriting voice, I imagine you must’ve written dozens of songs before you started playing with Caro and John. What kinds of music were you interested in when you were first starting out?
I started trying to play bass at the age of about 14, but soon moved to 6-string. I started writing almost as soon as I could play a few chords. I remember my first song was a teenage death song written with a friend (“then we crashed into a motorbike, for my gal that was the end….”). After that the inspiration to write definitely came from the obvious sources growing up in the 60s – the Beatles and Dylan, who changed the whole concept of what it was admissible to write about. I also began a lifelong interest in traditional music, both British and American. The wider, more eclectic kind of folky music appealed hugely too, hence the debt to the Incredibles. It’s great to see that kind of quirky stuff coming back again in the music of bands like Espers and singer-songwriters like Laura Veirs.
John and I were childhood friends. He started out as a roadie to our high school band but picked up the bass when our bassist dropped out. He was a brilliant influence and egged me on continually.
How did the three of you first meet, and why did you decide to start making music together?
I met Caro in college in London, and round about 1970 the three of us moved into a flat together. It was a bit of a hippy commune, although John and Caro eventually took day jobs and I had a PhD going. Caro had a pretty voice and had sung in folk clubs in Bristol, her home town. Meanwhile I was starting to seriously churn out songs. So we played together, and enough people liked the music for us to be encouraged to try to record it. We had no money, but John was a great technical improvisor -hence the bizarre low-tech way we built the tracks.
Your music was very unique, definitely different from the Incredible String Band who I know were an influence. It’s even quite different from groups like Trees that were coming from a somewhat traditional acoustic/folk angle but adding distorted electric guitar and other things like that. Were you listening to groups like that in the early 70s, when you were writing these songs? And why do your think your music sounds so different? Does the “homemade” aesthetic and amateur recording technique play a big role?
I was definitely besotted by the Incredibles but I think its not just that we mimicked their sound, more that we liked their “anything goes” ethic. We never heard Trees, believe it or not, and I’ve only recently discovered their music. Listening back to the album with the benefit of hindsight, I can definitely hear other influences. Lennon on “No Greater Heroes”and Cat Stevens on “Meg II” for example. I’ve come to realise that “Sargasso Sea” uses exactly the same thematic idea as Procul Harum’s “Salty Dog” but I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard that at the time. On the other hand, I’ve no idea where songs like “Morrison Heathcliff” or “Eclipse of the Moon” come from musically. They were both straight descriptions of dreams, which were in turn probably seeded by whatever books I had been reading.
I’m absolutely sure the do-it-yourself attitude and primitive recording was responsible for the sound. Just imagine having to re-record the mono backing track together with your overdub every time. Only one chance to mix, and that’s in real time. We couldn’t save copies, so if we screwed the tape up, the track was gone. But having to do that forced us into all kinds of improvised solutions which seem to have made for a quite distinctive sound. I think there’s definitely something in this. “Sgt Pepper” was recorded on a 4-track and still sounds astonishing today. Today’s music has access to infinite channels and every sound imaginable, but often comes out overproduced and cluttered. We didn’t have that option.
Did a lot of the experimental flourishes (backwards guitar etc) come from John, since he was the one operating the tape machine? Or were those ideas more collaborative?
It worked like this: I would have some weird idea or soundscape in my head but I didn’t know how to make it happen. I would tell John. He would say “That’s impossible”. Then a couple of hours later he would come back and say “I’ve figured out how to do it”.
It seems like what you guys were doing (recording at home and releasing your own LP) kind of pre-dated the Do-It-Yourself aesthetic that would become big in England in the late 70s, with the punk scene. Did you know of many other groups in the early 70s who were doing what you were doing, recording your own album at home and getting a limited number of copies pressed?
No, we genuinely didn’t know of many – or even any – others. It wasn’t that common, although as you say it became so later. The company that did the pressing for us took us into a real studio, because the tracks had to be compressed to go on to vinyl. That’s when we realised how low tech we really were.
Not surprisingly, when the punk scene came along I loved it. If we had been starting at the time we would probably have produced “punk folk” instead of “psych folk”.
Was there even any commercial interest in TCJ? It seems like you guys had all the elements that record labels would have been looking for at the time… an adventurous sound, but with strong vocals and good harmonies and memorable songs. Were you ever approached about a proper record deal? If not, why do you think it didn’t happen for you guys? Just poor luck?
We didn’t try very hard. We touted it around a few labels and got encouraging remarks but nothing in writing (you know the drill). But mostly we just sold it to friends or at gigs. One day a couple of guys in sharp suits turned up at the flat and said they were interested in putting our stuff out on their label, one of the earlier independents. But they then went on to tell us that they wanted “more ballads with the chick singing”. We weren’t inclined that way, so that was the end of that. John sent a copy to John Peel, who briefly had his own label at the time, Dandelion. He obviously gave it some thought, because we’re told a copy exists somewhere with Peel’s detailed notes all over the lyric sheet.
This may not come over as genuine, but the satisfaction of making an artistic product meant more to us than fame or money. It still does. And at least we’re in profit on AOTFD after the re-release and a few royalty payments.
Was the band Forever And Ever that came after TCJ an extension of the same sound? Were you playing Tony, Caro and John songs when you performed?
The band formed almost immediately after we put out the album. It wasn’t appropriate to call it TCJ because we had some new band members including Simon Burrett on lead guitar and vocal, Caro’s brother Jonny Owen on harmonica and vocal, and my sister Julie on backup vocal. A bit later Rod Jones, another childhood friend, joined us to play one of the earliest synths (you know, the ones where you had to plug in all kinds of connectors to make a sound). We played primarily TCJ songs, including some that postdated the album or were left off, plus some of Simon’s songs. We’ve been active on and off until quite recently. The Forever and Ever website is http://www.forever-and-ever.co.uk/
How did the Shadoks CD reissue of All On The First Day come about? Before that happened, were you aware of the cult interest in your music, and did you know that your album had become a collector’s item?
Thomas Hartlage, the boss of Shadoks, wrote to every Doré in the UK trying to track us down. This was around the beginning of the millennium. Eventually one of the letters got to us. Thomas is a collector as well as a businessman, and has a passionate interest in reviving underexposed music, particularly 60s and 70s psychedelia. We were astonished that he truly seemed to love the album, knew all the tracks, and had his firm favourites. We had almost forgotten the album because we’d moved on and made a lot more music since then. Thomas wanted to reissue the album on vinyl and CD. Normally with obscure limited-edition LPs he has to just use the old vinyl copy and decrackle, remaster, etc. But because of John’s obsessive archiving of our music, we had pristine tape copies of all the album songs. Thomas also wanted out-takes and roughly contemporary songs as bonus tracks, so we dug some up.
Thomas’s interest made us check the net, something we hadn’t done before. Again we were amazed. There were hits all over the place. We were even more astonished by the price original albums were selling for. The highest I saw was 3700 pounds (UK). We also found the album had been bootlegged, probably in the Netherlands – even the homemade cover had been meticulously reprinted. Now, after the re-release in 2002, there are even more internet references via reviews, radio play, YouTube etc. In 2006 a now very successful Baltimore indie duo called Beach House covered “Snowdon Song”, the first track on the album. It’s a very interesting version. They retitled it “Lovelier Girl” but do not contest the origin, and we are currently sorting out copyright issues.
Can you tell me about the archival tracks? When are they from, why has it taken so long for them to finally be released, et cetera. It sounds like some of them must have been recorded after the songs on the album, so are those actually Forever And Ever songs?
The archival songs are mainly slightly later than AOTFD. They’re coming out now simply because several interested parties asked us what we’d got in the coffers. John kept absolutely everything from recorded tracks to jams, and updated it all to modern formats, so we had a big advantage there. The remaining listenable tracks recorded the “old way” (mono sound on sound) were used as bonus tracks on the AOTFD re-release, so you’ll hear that the new tracks are mostly in stereo. Yes, John had bought a new tape recorder! Still just a 4-track, but definitely a step up.
I estimate most tracks were recorded between 1972 and 1975. You can hear one of the first British synths made by EMS on “Where The Elephants Go To Die” and “Fountain of Snow”, played by me because Rod had not yet come on board. The live tracks are definitely from 1974. The only one where the date escapes me is “Home”, my wife’s favourite tune. There’s a primitive drum machine on it, so that probably tells us something. The tracks were written by me except “Reels”, “Pretty Saro” and “Brigg Fair”, which are traditional, “Grandather’s Clock”, and “Sally Free and Easy” written by a folksinger called Cyril Tawney in the 60s.
“Bye Bye I Love You” features a flautist whose name I can’t remember. He just drifted in one day when we were recording, offered to put down the part, then drifted off again. That’s how things were at the time…….
Strictly the live tracks are by Forever and Ever, the name we performed them under, but the band are OK with marketing these as TCJ because it’s a TCJ release and the name is more “known”.
The live recordings sound wonderful. How were those recorded? Did you guys perform often, or was it more of a hobby band that played only occasionally?
Glad you like them. We have lots of live recordings from the time, but unfortunately recorded in mono on cheap cassette players and of terrible quality. This gig was at the Collegiate Theatre in London and we were lucky that the concert was recorded on a decent machine which belonged to the venue. It was only a stereo pair (so no chance to mix) but still better than anything else we have from the time. Our very transient drummer had moved on, so we had to resort to a semi-acoustic format. Simon is playing through a tiny practice amp miked through the house PA. By pure serendipity, the format seemed to suit us quite well. The live version of “Road to Avalon” is the only existing recording of that song so I’m glad it’s seeing the light of day.
We gigged around colleges etc as the opportunity came up but by no means regularly. We certainly didn’t make any money at it. Simon hates it when I describe music as a “hobby”, because he thinks it is on a completely different level, but personally I can live with that definition.
Are you still in touch with Caro and John? Do you guys still play music together?
In the mid-70s John settled down with Caro and I with my wife-to-be Barbara. We stayed very close and our kids grew up together. Forever and Ever became primarily a jamming band and we played together regularly, although not in front of a paying audience after the 70s. About 2004 we put together a CD sampler of music spanning the last 30 years (“Retrospect”) which you can hear bits of on the site. Simon also plays with a regular gigging rock band called The Blue Bishops (bluebishops.co.uk/).
John died in 2005, far too young, and we all miss him badly. In many ways he was the hub of the band. Loyal to the music, organizer of jams, a wonderful archivist and definitely the most technically gifted. At the moment the rest of us are a bit spread out. Barbara and I are in Houston, Caro in London, Simon in Devon and Rod in France. We all remain firm friends and recently reunited for my birthday in the English countryside, where you can imagine music featured high on the agenda.
Blue Clouds comes out 11/6/2012 on Drag City/ Galactic Zoo Disks.