~ Interview mit Andy Tillison ~
Andy Tillison, den die Prog-Gemeinde von THE TANGENT kennt, hat sich in den letzten Monaten einem speziellen Projekt mit Jonas Reingold und Roberto Tiranti gewidmet. Sie haben ein italienisches Album allein mit Instrumenten aus den Siebzigerjahren aufgenommen. Denn Tillison hatte eine Gruppe namens ALLIUM als 16-jähriger während eines Urlaubs im Feriencamp in Italien bei ihren Rehearsals beobachtet. Die Musiker schenkten ihm sogar ein Tape mit der Aufschrift „Allium“, das er solange in Ehren hielt bis es ihm gestohlen wurde. Mit TILLISON REINGOLD TIRANTI setzt er dieser Formation und dem Italo Prog an sich ein Denkmal. Es ist eine nahezu perfekte Illusion, deren Hintergründe wir etwas beleuchten wollen, indem wir Andy zu einem kleinen Plausch gebeten haben, den Ihr im englischen Originalwortlaut nachlesen könnt:
Congratulations, Andy, on this brilliant idea, on ´Allium: Una Storia´! When did you have this idea, on your last vacation in Italy?
Well, thanks very much Michael and glad you appreciated the idea. In fact, I was here, at home in England when I had the idea to make the album, just back in February. I have spent a lot of time trying to find this band ALLIUM, but never had any success, so in the end I thought I’d do an album that this lost band inspired me to make. I thought “how will this work”… but for some reason, the music came together so quickly… I had the songs written and demoed in around a week. It just was so fast it was like the music had always been there, inside me if you like (sounds a bit “woo woo” but it’s true). When you’re writing music, if you know what it sounds like before you’ve written it, there is definitely something going on!
When was the last time you were in Italy, privately as a vacationer?
Last time I took a holiday in Italy was the time I met the band ALLIUM, in 1976. I have been there many times since, usually to play! I love the place, so full of culture, history, design, art, warmth and fantastic coffee. last time I was there was to play the Veruno festival and that was in 2017… already so long ago, with TANGEKANIC (THE TANGENT/ KARMAKANIC touring band). I loved being there again and I watched every band who played at the festival, not from behind the stage, but at the front of the audience. It was fantastic.
This vacation in Italy over 40 years ago must have been a key experience for you!
Yes, of course, you are right. It was what we call an Epiphany, a young kid (me) who was really into Prog and music in general, getting to see his first ever electric band – a wannabe prog band who just happened to be playing on a camp site, and who let the kid play along with them. it’s an experience I cannot forget, just like a footballer will always remember their first game, at school, in the street, first goal. Whatever your life is going to be about, you are bound to remember the first time you did it. This is what happened to me on that day. I arrived in Italy wanting to be a Train Driver. I left Italy KNOWING I was a musician. Simple as that.
Have you had to think about this unique vacation in Italy more than once in all these years?
Many times, of course. It’s never been that far from my mind. I’m sure that you yourself must have a musical experience that made you want to write about music… it’s surely the same for anyone who is doing something that they are inspired to do. There’s always a moment, a tipping point, where after that time you life is forever changed.
Do you even think about it every time you record yourself in the studio a new album?
Well, not really these days. THE TANGENT (my main band) is a constantly evolving thing in which I try 100 percent to get close to the spirit of the music I love, but I don’t want it to sound just like the music I love. I try to keep THE TANGENT as a Progressive Band that actually has roots in the original movement, but which takes on many musical forms that have existed since. In 2018 we made an album with a classic Prog Rock 17 minute epic song, with lots of different sections and stories within it. But we made the whole thing out of Dance grooves that are more inspired by Ibiza DJs of the 90s than prog Rock of the 70s.
I feel a lot of the prog bands of today are very much like remakes of the Prog bands of 50 years ago. There is NOTHING wrong with that at all, I even like a lot of that stuff, but it’s just not what I want THE TANGENT to be about. When I’m making a TANGENT-record, I’m not thinking too much about old Prog (because that’s already built into me… it will happen on its own) – I’m more interested in what Anna Meredith, Thom Yorke, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Dirty Loops or Knower have been doing and bringing things I learn from those guys into the Prog universe. The TRT “Allium” album was of course totally different. this one WAS about recreating the 1970s. 100 percent this is what it was about. And making sure that nothing on the album was influenced by anything that came later!
Has it actually become a trauma that you got the cassette stolen a few years later after ALLIUM gave it to you … over 40 years ago?
Well – I’m not sure about Trauma… but it sure taught me something about life. Nowadays we just feel that anything can be bought if we want it. You remember an old train model you had when you were a kid? You’d like to have it again… if it means enough to you you can find one on Ebay. Your nice watch gets stolen? Replace it. You can always buy a new copy of´Spartacus´ by TRIUMVIRAT when you lose the copy you bought in Germany. But this one, I found out, I could never get back. Something special, individual was lost to me when those burglars did my student flat. Something I was given, that meant something to me. It was a horrible realisation.
In retrospect, do you think the band was really that good back then, or was it just your youthful enthusiasm to find them as good as GENESIS or CAMEL?
I have asked myself this question time and time again. The best answer I can give is, “It doesn’t matter at all”. Funnily enough you chose two of my least favourite Prog bands there. I do LIKE both of them of course, but I was always more into CARAVAN than CAMEL, and YES than GENESIS. And I was into Italian Prog from the start, so if I ask myself the question “Were ALLIUM as good as PFM or BANCO?” – well I still don’t KNOW, but I’d guess, maybe not. But there is so much really amazing Italian music out there with fantastic little obscure bands who made just one album that I still listen to now – long after I stopped listening to GENESIS. So the answer just has to be I don’t know, but I admit that I was young. I had stars in my eyes. ALLIUM were some of those stars. So I just let them be great. As good as GENESIS. Easy. Ha ha!
When did your two teammates, Jonas Reingold and Roberto Tiranti, join you? How did you just choose these two for this project?
I spoke to Jonas and sent him the music a week after I’d had the idea myself. He liked the idea straight off the bat and immediately started planning with me and this was the catalyst to make the album actually happen. We discussed doing it with THE TANGENT, but decided that our guitarist was too good and too modern to sound right for the album and decided that the lyrics HAD to be in Italian and HAD to be sung by an Italian!
Antonio De Sarno recommended Roberto and introduced us and we hit it off straight away. Great guy, and a phenomenal, amazing singer of the calibre I have never had the opportunity to work with before. With just these three people we had two bassists, three guitarists, a keyboards player, vocalist and a drummer. We added some saxophones by a musician from Austria, Ray Aichinger, who was working with Jonas on other projects at the time. That was great too and certainly helped the album feel more natural.
And how did Antonio De Sarno come to write the poetry?
Antonio and I go back 20 years or so, he came to London and did some interviews and a photoshoot with my band Po90. While we were doing that I got into conversation with him about Italian prog, he recommended some cool stuff which I hadn’t heard of and I loved listening to it. I asked him about ALLIUM that day, don’t think he remembers that.
I did a track with the Italian band MOONGARDEN… I sang a song for them about 12 years or more ago and Antonio wrote the lyrics for that (in English).
Antonio was the natural person to go to about lyrics for this project, and he was happy to get involved. He also knows a lot about the way I like to write lyrics – and the fact that I write a lot about present day politics in my music. He looked at the idea and decided to write lyrics that were Politically poignant, but from the point of view of people living in Italy in 1976. Of course, although ALLIUM were an Italian prog band, most of the members of it were actually Albanians living in Italy, probably having escaped from that repressive regime across the Adriatic.
So he wrote the lyrics from the point of view of immigrants living in Italy in 1976. I am very happy with the way he dealt with this, I had NO input to the lyrics at all (first time ever for me) and felt I could trust him completely. It paid off.
You could have just played the music, but you also told this story around. A conscious decision?
Yes, of course. But at the same time, GENESIS could have released ´The Lamb Lies Down´ without telling the story ha ha. There are probably many people (I think Phil Collins is one) who think it would have been better without the “silly story”. Me, I love stories. That’s why I like ´Spartacus´ why I like ´The Lamb´ and all the rest. This album is a concept album at heart. The concept of the album is “what a band might have done if everything had worked out right”. And of course, it might have worked out well anyway. The bassist of ALLIUM might be a rich man with a Villa in the Italian alps. He might have been in a car accident 30 years ago… it’s Schrodingers Cat in many ways. Both states of existence, and the trillions of others. We just explored one possible route. And that possible route ended with US, making an album about THEM. In another dimension, maybe the huge world beating band ALLIUM may have released a chart topping album all about wondering what happened to the kid who came to see them in 1976…
… and have even given you foreign artist names, Albanian or Italian pseudonyms, accordingly!
Well – “getting into the role” is all part of what we call “Method Acting”. The more an actor surrounds him or herself with the ambience in which they are to perform, the more realistic the performance will be. there are stories of Spielberg making actors for “Saving Private Ryan” go to army camps and sleep there before the shooting for that film began. People who get into character. We did a LOT of this. And one reason for doing it was to escape! We were in lockdowns. We couldn’t travel, we couldn’t play, we couldn’t meet. And so we went on Holiday together. We went to 1976. We explored the technology, we worked out exactly what ALLIUM had to do to make their record. We worked out what they DID have and what they did not. We worked out who they could be inspired by, and who they could never have heard. being “In character” really helped. I produced loads of mock up photographs of Open reel tapes, Vinyl test pressings, old recording equipment, track sheets and we even looked at pictures of the studio in 1976 where were recorded the album in Milan. I think it all helped add to the ambience and atmosphere of the recording
But you didn’t take the last step – all under a false name – to publish. You could have played in anonymity and could have told a story as a story of your own. That would have been the perfect illusion.
We joked about this a lot, but it was not the intention. I mean, if it had been very successful we’d never have got credit for it! Ha ha. In fact, for a while I did (wrongly) choose to deceive a friend of mine that it was a real Italian lost album. Doing that helped me keep the recording very authentic, but sadly this deception really did upset my friend and I feel that this was not a fair thing for me to have done to him. When I told him the truth I realised I had done something very wrong and I will regret that.
Is ´Allium: Una Storia´ now the monument that you wanted to create for the band?
Naturally I hope it is. I’ve been a fan of Italian Prog now for nearly 50 years and have listened to much more Italian than I have British since 2000. For me, it’s a “thankyou” to not just the one band who are the stars of the show, but to all these bands from the famous ones like PFM, to the totally obscure ones like FESTA MOBILE and KALEIDON, who have entertained me and inspired me for so long.
Are you still convinced of that retro / vintage sound, just with instruments that existed in the mid-1970s?
Well – whether it’s accurate or not is not really the question. I think the question is, “Did we get the vibe”. My answer here is “Yes, I think we did”. I have always been SUPER critical of my own work and I am the first person to admit if I think one of our albums fails to deliver what I wanted it to. I have done this since the beginning (I remember saying “our new album is probably the worst album we have made” live on Radio France international while my publicity agent had a quiet heart attack in the control room). We were very very careful to only use sounds that could have been used 1976 in a studio. Yes, we used modern equipment to make the album, but we only let that modern equipment make sounds that could have been made then. No Polyphonic synths, no shredding, no fretless basses, no gated reverb, only Springs and Plates, no autotune and no timing corrections. There will always be people who poke holes in the sound and say “this couldn’t have been recorded in 1976”. Okay, clever guys… that’s because IT WASN’T!! But I think our album is a lot more like a 1970-s Italian prog album than the new Volkswagen Beetle was like an original.
Can we hope for a sequel?
Of course you can! Maybe we will do the first Italian Prog Double concept album!
Front-Pic: Sally Collyer