This interview with John G Perry was conducted by mail in February 1997. John replied on a tape to a list of questions.
I understand you were born in the United
States. How did that happen?
Both of my parents were British, but they had to be over there, after the war, my father was over there training... And six months after they'd arrived in the States themselves, I arrived too... 1947, January 19th, in a little place called Auburn, in upstate New York, it's about a hundred miles from Niagara Falls. But I was only a baby when we came back, so I've actually no memory of living in the States at all. But I've got relations over there, my sister lives over there with her American husband and their two daughters, and I've got godparents over there, and of course lots of musical friends as well, both British and American.
How did you become interested in music
Well, it was very much in the family. Both my parents actually were very musical, I mean not in a professional sense but they both loved music of all sorts. My mother had a very nice singing voice, and my father was a very capable pianist, with a sort of 1940's way of playing it. There was always music in the house. And when I was at school, they were very keen that I should learn, and my sister also... So at school, at Bedford school, in the middle of England, a private school, I started off very early by singing in the choir. They had a very good music department there. I was at the same school for ten years... When I was there, when I was about 9 or 10, I also started learning the violin, which I... sort of enjoyed, although the singing was very much the thing I enjoyed most. And then I started sort of mocking around a little bit with the bass guitar, which belonged to another kid at school, we had a sort of group but nothing serious.
What sort of music did you listen to at the
I listened to the pirate radio stations a lot. I was of course impressed with the Beatles and all the other bands who were around, and putting that against all the classical music and church music that I was learning at the time as well. So it was quite an exciting sort of time, a lot of different things happening... those were the early 60's! An exciting time in terms of discovering what was happening in music, cause there was so much variety coming through. Elvis Presley, of course... And classical music, some of the avant-garde stuff of that, Stockhausen, whatever was exciting... So I sort of went from there.
Eventually, you joined a
Yes, that's an interesting story. When I finished school in Bedford, I went down to the beautiful city of Bath, in Avon, a wonderful place. And I went there to college actually, a technical college, my parents lived there. Of course I didn't know anybody when I popped up there. Very soon I heard that some guys putting a band together, and they needed a bass player. So I thought well, that's a good way to meet a few people, so... I came up to them and said hi, I'm John, I'm a bass player. And off we went from there... We had a rehearsal actually that night, and then rushed off to the local music shop, and put a pound's deposit down on that Vox Trisonic Bass I can remember to this day. That was in 1966. A long time ago...
Was this band Gringo?
Basically, yes, although we went through different names. It started out as Utopia, a five-piece copy band doing all the hits from the Beatles and the Searchers and lots of stuff playing at college and parties. Everybody in the band had been at private school and sung in the choir, so it was a terrific vocal band. We used to do wonderful renditions of Beach Boys songs, we were really rather good at that. It was basically the same band all the way through, the three of us : Henry Marsh on guitar and keyboards, Simon Byrne on drums and myself... That first band unfortunately split when everybody went their way. I went off to become a farming student, working on different dairy farms in the West country of England. But I kept in contact with Henry and Simon, and they approached me one day, saying they'd have a year off in their studies, and would I join them to form a new band, you know, rather than go grape-picking in France, which I thought would be wonderful... I actually had also decided to have a year off before I was going to go up to the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. So we elected to get this band together, which was called Toast. We hired one of the farmers' cottages, locked ourselves away and worked very hard, rehearsing or whatever, built up a repertoire and then we came up to London, and three months later we're on television! The show was 'Colour Me Pop' and we did three songs on that... So none of us went back to college, and we all carried on in a musical career.
Did Gringo achieve any sort of commercial
Yes, we did have some success, we had this American girl who was with us for a while, and we lived down in Saint Tropez for three months. We worked in the Club Voom-Voom, it was a live music club rather than the discotheque it is now. It was owned by a guy who also had a beach and a rather nice villa which we lived in, on the way to Plage Tahiti. And we were there, working for three months and writing this first, one and only Gringo album... It was a good band, there's some original stuff on that album. We eventually split up in 1971, after four years, because by then we were going in different directions, and it naturally came to an end. We'd grown out of each other I think. But we had a wonderful time together, for four years. What was great in those days was that we were able to play six nights a week in different clubs. We didn't get paid a lot of money, but we didn't need so much. Because we had exactly the same line-up and the same equipment as Cream, the early days of Cream, you know, a Marshall stack each, and we could get all our equipment and one roadie into our Four-Transit, travelling around Britain and Europe, and learning what we were doing. The expression is "paying your dues", and this is what we did. And it was fantastic, for four years to do that, we learnt a lot. We spent quite a lot of time in Europe, playing in Holland and Germany... After Gringo split up, Henry went on to play with a band called Sailor with Curt Becher, Phil Pickett and Georg Kajanus, which was hugely popular and is just reforming I understand... And Simon Byrne, a very good drummer, he went on to play with Brotherhood of Man, which was very successful, and various other bands like that.
I understand Gringo toured with Caravan a
couple of years before you actually joined the band?
Yes, they were headlining a tour with Barclay James Harvest, at the time Caravan were promoting "In The Land Of Grey And Pink". We were there a sort of opening act, and got to know both bands and kept in touch with them. It was a good tour actually, very successful, cause Caravan were very well-known in the South of England and BJH were very well-known in the North of England, so all the way round the country we had the crowds and stuff, so for us that was taking us out of the small clubs into concert halls and theaters and stuff like that, so that was a good experience for us. But then we decided to split up and I was invited to join Spreadeagle, and played with them for about six months. They'd actually recorded an album before I joined, and they'd lost their bass player. I actually got in touch with them through Tony Cox, who'd produced the Gringo album and nowadays does a lot of arranging for Andrew Lloyd-Weber... Anyway, nice guys, I still keep in contact with them, highly talented, very original people. I learned a lot from them. In terms of musical style, they were difficult to describe, to pigeonhole - slightly poppy, slightly jazz, slightly rocky... A good band, a wonderful drummer called Jimmy Copley.
I had just started with Spreadeagle really when I received a phonecall from Pye Hastings, asking would I join. As you can imagine, I said yes extremely quickly! It was quite a blow, actually, a huge compliment, because they were a very well established band, with audiences around the world which loved them, and for me it was such an opportunity to actually... break, you know. Musically, I'd always loved Caravan. What I loved about their music was that it had good structures, and at the same time had room to grow. It was a band which had the ability to, when they were playing live, to really expand the music, and react to the audiences rather than just playing a song night after night. I loved the freedom that was within it, yet with those strange time signatures which they seemed to play entirely naturally... and of course the sense of humour. The guys were just so unpretentious, they were just normal guys who were only in it for the music. And for me it was a very good time to join because they'd expanded the line-up by adding Geoffrey Richardson on viola and flute, a hugely talented man. And David Sinclair, who'd left the band a couple of years before, came back to the band at the time I joined as well. So I had the best of both worlds, it was a new Caravan, but with the essence of the old. Obviously lacking Richard Sinclair who I replaced, an immense talent on bass guitar, writing and voice... but I like to think that Geoffrey and I, we were at least the 25 percent remaining they'd lost with Richard going to form his own band...
So you recorded the "For Girls Who Grow Plump
In The Night" album. Nice memories of that?
Sure, it was great working with Dave Hitchcock, a very nice producer to work with, a clever guy actually, he knew the band well, and how to get the best out of us I think... Certainly one of the most underrated producers ever - and now one of the best accountants! I'd like to think that this album we did was almost on a par but different from "In The Land Of Grey And Pink".
Would you have liked to contribute a bit more
to the actual songwriting?
Well, I was very fortunate to be able to contribute anything at all, really, because you know, the style of the band was very much generated by David Sinclair and Pye Hastings. Of course the contribution of Richard Sinclair was a great loss, but I think Pye and David certainly made up for it. And to be given the opportunity to actually contribute to some of the songwriting was quite a thrill. I didn't expect to do more than I was actually asked to, really. And I was able to sing as well, a bit of lead singing, a lot of backing singing, which was great.
Then there was the "Live With The New
Symphonia" project, recorded live with a classical
I had a lot to do with that. I was working with Martyn Ford, the conductor, quite a lot as a session player already during the time I was playing in Caravan. I knew all the guys in the orchestra. I worked very closely with the arrangers, and had quite a lot to do with putting the album together, working very closely with Dave Hitchcock, the producer... I've got lots of good memories about the whole thing, perhaps in a rather selfish way. In some respects I probably felt it was my project, which isn't really fair. But I certainly had a lot to do with the introduction of some of the people who worked with us on it. I think the guys in the band had different feelings about it. Some loved it, and some thought it was perhaps irrelevant. But in my view, it was great... And it did well, it charted, we went up to number 11 or 19 or something, it was viewed quite well.
Any memories of the actual concert
I remember it very clearly actually. It was one hell of a gig! People I know who where there too also remember it nicely. Also, that's the one and only concert I played my mother came to before she died of cancer, so again it was very special for me. Anyway... the night was astounding, I mean, just imagine where I used to play, five on a stage together, and suddently you're standing there and there's another 80 people around you. That gives you fun, and it makes one hell of a good noise! I'm sure people who play with classical orchestras that sort of size, they must find it as well... Very exciting, although a bit nerve-racking... And Maurice, who was our sound engineer, I think did a stunning job to get it across to the audience. We played in London in what was then perhaps the biggest auditorium in London, and it was absolutely packed. The atmosphere was astounding. It was a long time ago, but it's like I'm there now.
Any general thoughts about rock bands playing
with classical orchestras?
Well, having grown up with classical music, I've always rather enjoyed the idea of that. I think in its place it can do extremely well... Of course you don't see that so much now because every band's got an orchestra at its fingertips with all the sampling and synthesizing that you can do anyway... We've got it all in the box !
In July 1974, after a year and a half in
Caravan, you left to start a band with Rupert Hine, Quantum
Yes... I think around the Springtime of 1974 some of the other guys in Caravan who were there before me were looking on moving the direction slightly. So there were fundamental changes of management and producer... And also at the same time, I'd started doing a lot of sessions in London with Rupert Hine as producer, with Peter Robinson, Mike Giles, Paul Buckmaster, and other wonderful players and arrangers... and working for some extremely good artists as well, being produced by Rupert and various other people. So one of the reasons I left Caravan in actual fact was, we created Quantum Jump, that whole gang of us who were doing sessions together. Before that we'd been doing a lot of jamming together, Rupert, I, Trevor Morais on drums and Mark Warner, the American guitarist, with other people... and then we decided - what, as well as playing on other people's music, why don't we do some of our own, why don't we take it a little bit further? And out of that came Quantum Jump. We got a guy to organize the finance first, Jeff Levinson, who was a good guy in terms of organising all that managerial side of things. Then it developed and we recorded our first album, we brought in our mobile studio to Trevor's place, Farmyard rehearsal studios - before Trevor and Rupert built Farmyard studios, the actual recording studios...
So Quantum Jump actually started a good year
and a half before the first album was actually released
What happened was, we did the album, and put our first single out, "The Lone Ranger", which was banned because of the lyrics. WHSmith and Woolworth's, two of the biggest retailers in England, wouldn't sell it. So it rather sort of slowed down, and lost its momentum. We put Quantum Jump on hold and all went back to doing our session work. Had "The Lone Ranger" become a hit then, in 1975, we would have carried on together. But what happened was, everybody had drifted back to producing and doing sessions, and Mark had gone off to play with Cat Stevens and stuff. We did a second album and a few gigs, a small tour, but we weren't really doing much in terms of record sales... And then, in 1978 or 1979 I think, "The Lone Ranger" was a big hit. We sold 400 000 copies, I've got the silver record hanging up at home. I was in Aviator at the time, but we got back together and did 'Top Of The Pops' and a few things. Luckily Mark was available to do it... I think Quantum Jump was a great band, we certainly created our own sound...
In 1975, you were briefly a member of Curved
Air, yet another great progressive rock bands of that era. How did
that come about?
Well, when I left Caravan, the guy from Curved Air [Mike Wedgwood], as you know, joined it. And Caravan had moved into their management. And Curved Air were sort of getting back together again to record an album. So I was asked to join, just to play on this album, and one gig at the Isle of Man... which was very interesting. The band was managed by Miles Copeland, and Mike's little brother Stewart, was our drummer, and eventually went on to form The Police, with Sting...
Then in 1976, you did your first solo album,
Yes, the idea came about for some reason, and I'd always been keen on doing that. Our publisher at the time went along to Deram, the record company I'd been with at the time of Caravan, and rather nervously suggested, "what would you think of the idea of John Perry doing a solo album?". And this lovely chap said, "well, we've been waiting for him to come along and ask... can you start on Friday?" (laughs)... Which was rather nice, but a bit nerve-racking - I'd only written about half of it! But that's how the "Sunset Wading" project came together. And obviously with all those guys who I'd done sessions with, and of course Geoffrey from Caravan - that was a lot of fun. It was really just a solo project, though, we had no plans for it to do any touring or anything else like that. Just a collection of musicians who I wanted to actually work with, I sort of wrote all the framework of it, but I wanted to give them the room to express themselves. So all the parts weren't written, we all knew each other, and I could give them a lot of freedom within a sort of... structured framework of the story of "Sunset Wading"...
How did Corrado Rusticci and Elio D'Anna from
the Italian progressive band Nova become involved in that project
Well, I think we met them because Rupert, Trevor and I, and various other people, we were recording some albums at Trident Studios, in London, and Nova were recording there at the same time, and we got to know each other, I remember. Rupert, I think, produced some of their albums as well so... That's how we knew them - wonderful, wonderful people!
You also played on several albums by Gordon
Giltrap, an excellent acoustic guitarist, during the period
I'd already done quite a lot of sessions for Triumvirate, which was three producers [Rod Edwards, Roger Hand and Jon Miller], and Gordon came along, and we did all these wonderful albums with him, and a number of other extremely capable musicians, with Rod Edwards and... they were very good orchestra arrangers so again, a lot of good orchestral music. With Gordon, it was very much a band thing. And to play with Simon Phillips and people like that, it was pretty stunning. There was another guy called Adrian Snell, who's a wonderful keyboard player, who was produced by Triumvirate too. And again, a lot of the same people, great bunch of people, good music in the studio and good music playing live as well. Absolutely wonderful... I did a lot of work overseas with it.
Then you were in the band Aviator, which was a
combination of quite reputed musicians. Was there any intent behind
it to "sell" it as a 'supergroup'?
No, it was never conceived as such... We were all far too shy for that, to be honest with you! Obviously, it was a group which had interesting people in it, but not that way that I would call it a supergroup. I was initially asked by Jack Lancaster, again though connections on the session side - he was working a lot with Robin Lumley, whom I knew well from Brand X and lots of stuff. He was getting this band together with Mick Rogers, ex-Manfred Mann of course, and Clive Bunker, the drummer from Jethro Tull... So out of that came Aviator, which again was a lot of fun. To work with those guys whom I'd admired for years taught me a great deal as well, particularly about live playing. It's a shame it never really broke... Maybe in some respects we made things a little bit too complicated for ourselves, musically, but again it was good stuff.
Did you tour a lot?
Yes, quite a lot actually, in Europe, and enjoyed it - it was a good band live. We rehearsed a lot and it was extremely well routined. I remember the first tour we did, in France and the Netherlands, supporting Steve Hillage, who of course Clive Bunker had toured with before, so that was a bunch of friends. We also did some festivals in Germany, big festivals, as well as other concert tours. And as you know a couple of albums as well.
Was it a democratic band or was there a musical
Well, the leader of the band was very much Mick Rogers. He and his manager were very much the instigators of the band. I think it was a hell of a good band, but as I said I think we sometimes overcomplicated ourselves, in our songwriting. We would make one piece sticking three different ones together, and it would go on forever... But it was a good band, a shame really that it didn't go further than it did. I don't think we got the chance to explore what we were capable of exploring.
After Aviator, you more or less disappeared
from the musical scene, at least as a member of bands. Was this
period a hard time for you?
Well, the late seventies were when punk happened, really, so it was... The session world disappeared to a great extent. I'd got to a point anyway where really I'd done enough touring. It was a shame but things weren't happening quite as much as they'd done previously in terms of the session work.
There is an album by Jack Lancaster,
"Skinningrove Bay", also known as "Deep Green", which you played on
during that period. Any memories of that one?
Well, we did quite a lot of work at Ringo Starr's house, the one he bought from John Lennon where Lennon had recorded "Imagine"... We did the second Aviator album there, quite a lot of other sessions out there and stuff, being produced by Robin for Jack, or Jack producing for various other people as well... I'm sure "Deep Green", or whatever it's called, was recorded at Ringo's place, but I'd have to check that out. I must try to get hold of Jack in Los Angeles, he would be able to tell you more about that, I'm sure.
Did you work on any solo projects during the
Not really... My musical direction changed, which was forced really by the changes in music. I've been very much into the area of writing for television programmes and TV commercials and stuff, which again is a completely new sort of discipline for me, to have to learn to write music to fit in with other people, rather than getting other people to fit in with me...
Would you rule out any new solo album in the
No, I'd really love to do that. It's just a matter of... getting on with it, really. In terms of musical style, it would be much more Latin, much more danceable... That's something which I've been getting into recently. I like dancing it, so maybe I should write some music for it too...
When Caravan reformed in 1995 to do the "Battle
Of Hastings" album, were you approached to be their bass player again
No. Apart from Geoffrey, I've rather lost touch with them actually. I mean, they all live down in the same part of the country, down in Kent, and they see each other a lot, so it's quite natural for them of seeing each other regularly and come up with ideas for music. So they don't need a spare bass player, I think, and anyway with the sort of things that I'm doing I couldn't really commit the amount of time that it would deserve, so... I'm actually delighted to see them doing it, it's great that they're back together again.
(c) 1997 Calyx - The Canterbury Webpage