This interview was conducted before Fairport Acoustic Convention's gig at Edinburgh's Queen's Hall on Thursday, May 30th, 1996.
Was Soft Machine your first professional band
No. My first professional band was actually Stomu Yamash'ta and the Red Buddha Theatre. Stomu was doing a tour of Europe with the Red Buddha Theatre, and I think - as I understand it, if I've got this right - his wife, Hisako, she couldn't make it for some reason. I think she had to go back to Japan for family reasons, or something. So he had this European tour... I auditioned for it, there was an advert on the back of the Melody Maker, and I went and did that !
What year was this?
It must have been around '72, '73 maybe...
And who else was in the band?
I'll see if I can remember... The main guy was Stomu's sort of musical director, and himself quite a brilliant percussionnist, called Joji Hirota... He now plays in a band who records for Peter Gabriel's label, Real World... I forget the name of the band, it's a trio, one of the guys I think used to be in Clannad, a flute player - just a trio, but they're great... I haven't seen Joji for years, but he's brilliant. And there then was, er... you know, I can't remember... Heavens! The keyboard player was Pete Brewis, who since has gone on to write the music for lots of comedy shows, like 'Not The 9 O'Clock News' and stuff... very good keyboard player. Andy, the guitarist was Andy. The bass player was Alyn [Ross]. The drummer was Paul... but the second names have gone!
What kind of music was that? Experimental
No, it was not really experimental... It was very...
Er, not really, not really scored as such. We worked from music in the rehearsals, but it wasn't scored. There was a lot of improvising, it was quite open, very modal, very simple chord changes... sort of jazz-rock in its approach, but of course with the full theatre show, the jugglers, the acrobats... it was a spectacular show, and it was good to be part of it. I only did it for six weeks or something, but it was my first European tour.
Before that, what had your musical training
Oh, I was just self-taught, learning off records, you know... my heroes being John MacLaughlin, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis...
... And Jean-Luc Ponty?
Yes, of course! Jean-Luc, and all the great fiddle players : Sugarcane Harris, David Laflamme - I really loved his playing -, Jerry Goodman when I first heard his playing... And also the older generations like Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith and Eddie Seff... and of course the great Joe Venuti. Great players, all of 'em! I was influenced by all those guys.
And I've always listened to lots of folk music, as well. And so of course Dave Swarbrick out of Fairport was an early influence, even though I never really imagined that I would make my career in folk-based music, it was more an enthusiasm...
You've always had sort of two parallel careers
: one in folk, one in jazz or jazz-rock...
Well, nowadays Fairport is very much the major thing, although I still do play jazz-based music with, you know, my friend Fred Thelonious Baker. He's probably my closest friend and musical associate. So I see myself as kind of a jazz musician who has a great love for folk music... So this is the way my career's gone. And Fairport was always one of my very favourite bands. When I first started listening to bands at school, my two favourite bands were Fairport and King Crimson. There's something very special about Fairport and King Crimson. Something very special about Fairport, and also something very special about the relationship that Fairport have with their audience, which is great.
So how did you eventually join Soft Machine
Well, I was in Birmingham... I'd been playing with my friends around Birmingham, you know, jazz and stuff, mostly Dave Bristow (keyboards) and Micky Barker (drums), later in Second Vision with me, and... it was hard to get anything going, on a local level. I'd made some tapes, and I sent these tapes off to two people who I thought, you know, I thought there might be some work, or whatever. So I sent it to a brilliant jazz pianist, Michael Garrick, hoping really to go and rehearse with Mike, and I thought maybe Mike could teach me a lot about jazz, which indeed he could because he was quite a brilliant jazz theoritician - if that's the right word... Quite a brilliant man...
And I sent a tape to Mike of me playing jazz stuff, Chick Corea stuff mostly... and I sent a tape to Ashley Hutchings, who then had just started the Albion Band, thinking there might be something going there, you know, I just loved to play with them, all the guys, you know, all the Fairport-connected team. And then I sent these tapes off, didn't hear anything, and then suddenly, within the space of a week, I got a call from Michael Garrick, saying "come and do a gig with me!". I went and did a gig with him. I was very nervous, but I went and did the gig. And the drummer for that gig was John Marshall, who was of course in Soft Machine. The band was just losing their sax player, Alan Wakeman, who I think was going off to be M.D. for David Essex. And so I found myself in Soft Machine! And amazingly, just shortly after that, I was doing another concert at the National Theater with Michael Garrick, just the two of us, a duo. And Ashley and the Albion Band were there, and Ashley and John Tams came over to me and said, "how d'you like to join the Albion Band for a tour?". So, to my amazement, almost within the same week, I found myself in Soft Machine and the Albion Band... I felt like it was Christmas every day!
Were you a fan of Soft Machine before that
Yeah, I certainly was! It was great, because it gave me the opportunity to work with great musicians... Obviously Karl Jenkins and John Marshall, who were the mainstay of Soft Machine... Two great bass players I worked with, first was Percy Jones, who was also in Brand X, and then when Percy left to concentrate on Brand X, we got the great bass player Steve Cook, who'd also been in the first gig with Michael Garrick, so I knew him, that was great... And of course two guitarists that I worked with : for a while, when I joined, it was John Etheridge, then John joined Stephane Grapelli's group, and there was one little time when John couldn't make some gigs that we got in, and Allan Holdsworth did it, just for some time, just for some dates in Portugal, I think. So I had the buzz of meeting Allan, and got to know him, he's a great guy... And of course John Etheridge became one of my closest friends and musical associates. So after Soft Machine, I actually left the Albion Band, and Soft Machine kinda fell apart due to dodgy management...
Was it long after the live album in Paris, Alive And Well?
No, it wasn't long after that, no, it didn't last long really. "Alive and well" was hardly an accurate description of that stage of the band !!... Anyway, John Etheridge and myself then formed a band called Second Vision, with two old friends of mine from Birmingham I mentioned earlier, Dave Bristow and Micky Barker. Micky has just finished ten or more years in the heavy band Magnum... I don't know what he's doing, I gotta get in touch with him again. We recruited Jonathan Davie from the group Gryphon, on bass, and we were offered... The reason why I put this band together with John was that we were offered the chance of management from Joe Lustig, who was quite a big manager, he'd managed Richard Thompson, Pentangle, The Chieftains, etc.
wasn't a folk band, though...
No, it was a jazz-rock group, in the mould of Weather Report, Mahavishnu, that kind of things. This was, you know, like late 70's, so it was all punk and new-wave. But we made an album for Chrysalis Records, which we'd never got to do if it hadn't been for the rate that Joe Lustig had. And I'm very proud of that album. It's called First Steps. For ages, I've been trying to get Chrysalis to re-release it... I hope it will be, cause of all the work I've ever done, I'm very proud of this one. It was produced by John Cameron, a very talented musical arranger and producer, who's been involved very much with the pop side of things during his career, but has also got a lot of jazz credibility as well... And, yeah, I'm very proud of that album, I'd love people to hear it again.
So that leads up to the early 80's... After Second Vision kind of folded, cause obviously we weren't going to really financially be able to keep the band going... we made the album, we didn't do many gigs, but then after Second Vision, John and I just went out on the road as the John Etheridge/Ric Sanders Group. And that was the first time I'd met Fred Thelonious Baker...
Was he already involved in the music scene in
the early 80's?
Fred was a student at the Birmingham School of Music, and I met him at a students' party. I was simply knocked out with him, both as a person and as a player. Micky Barker was committed to another project, I think he'd started doing the Magnum thing. So we went on the road and did quite a large jazz tour in Britain. Dave Bristow was still on keyboards, prior to him going to Yamaha and working at a very high level in Paris, and then America and whatever, on keyboard developments and programs and so on... The drummer was a friend of Fred's called Nick Twyman, who now apparently lives in Hong Kong. That was my last major jazz tour, and that was the beginning of the eighties.
And then I formed, with three other guys, we put together a studio, out in the country, called Morgreen Studio, where we recorded loads of stuff, albums for Martin Simpson, June Tabor... mostly folk albums. We kept that studio going for a bit, and did freelance jazz gigs. Those were the years from '81 to '85. Gigs were hard to come by, and I was playing with my folk pals, and did the odd thing, or whatever. And then in 1985, along came a call from Dave Pegg, to play on the record Gladys' Leap, the record which was instrumental in the formation of this new Fairport... new? Well, we're in our eleventh year now, I'm very grateful for that, it's wonderful. But I hope to... you know, my jazz roots are very important to me...
You did some solo stuff too, didn't you
Yes, I did two solo albums. One at Morgreen Studios, called Whenever, and one at Woodworm studios called Neither Time Nor Distance, both of which are essentially jazz-based, but with a healthy dose of folk...
No, kind of electric...
I've recently been doing gigs with friends, including Fred Baker, the great jazz flautist Hillary Ashroy - not a very well-known name, but a brilliant musician... and of course John Etheridge who now plays with Nigel Kennedy. And Nigel I've know since he was fifteen, he's a very good friend...
What kind of music does he play these days
He plays... from Bach to Hendrix! I've had a couple of jams with Nigel in the last year, with John Etheridge... we've played Django, we've played Miles Davis, we've played Hendrix, and it's been great. Nigel is a great player, and a man I'm very... I think he's a great guy, a brilliant man by all angles...
Now I'd better go and do the gig!
Thanks very much for your time, Ric
(c) 1996 Calyx - The Canterbury Website