interview: Mr. Robert John Godfrey, Founder of Enid, keyboard maestro & composer.
Greetings Robert, thanks for taking the time to answer this e-mail interview. Also, may I say that it is thrilling to hear that you and The Enid back in action!
First thing first, let’s get the most asked questions out of the way. You are an amazing keyboard! How did you get started as a musician? Where did you receive your training from? What bands influenced you as you were learning to create your own music?
When I was thirteen, I was placed in the care of the state as being out of parental control. This was a turning point for a boy who hitherto had shown all the signs of a wasted life. I was sent to Finchden Manor – a therapeutic community for “emotionally disturbed kids”. And guess what? I loved it - See www.finchden.com
It was here that I first saw a young pianist at close quarters playing Chopin and Liszt and I decided I wanted to do likewise – for the first year, I taught myself and watched those who played better than me. Soon I was overtaking my local heroes and started to travel once a week to the Royal College of Music in London to have lessons from Arthur Alexander, now retired and one of the great teachers of fine British pianists.
When I became sixteen, I won a place as a student at The Royal College and studied with Arthur Alexander’s star pupil, Malcolm Binns - http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/artist_page.asp?name=binns My influences are largely serious music (Classical) and I have to say that there is very little popular music which has ever interested me as such – what did interest me, and is the reason why I never became a concert pianist, was the culture of the times I lived in as a youth. Hendrix, The Beach Boys, King Crimson, Vanilla Fudge were listened to by the social and political set into which I aspired to be accepted. I got to know this music really well. I dropped out of college and soon became associated with Barclay James Harvest – a Moody Blues type of thing based in the north of England. That relationship was a great experiment, but ended in tears and misunderstanding – Shortly after that I formed the Enid with a bunch of younger boys from Finchden.
How did you come about the name: The Enid?
The answer to this is as follows – I have told so many lies about this that I can no longer remember the real answer – suffice it to say that the name was around within the band-members-to-be before there was a band. I think it had something to do with the fact that Steve Stewart was often called Noddy, (because he tended to nod his head up and down when he played the guitar), and I was called Big Ears – not that they are big – I was called that for another reason all together. The real question should be – why are we called The Enid? - and the answer to that is simple. We couldn't’ think of anything better. And so The Enid it is.
Since The Enid has now reformed and is again a group… how are you going about composing? Is it a group effort?
The composing within the band has never really been a group effort since Francis lickerish and Willy Gilmour left the band in 1981. The working relationship I had with Steve Stewart was more of a technical thing – needless to say that without him I couldn’t have done what I did. In spite of what the sleeve notes may say, I am the composer of very nearly all the music since 1982. I do not collaborate easily, not that I wouldn’t like to. It is just that my musical vocabulary has become too personal to me and I cannot expect to find anyone who is likely to want to collaborate!! That is, until now – for Farout, our next album is a synthesis of songs composed by Max Read– (originally written for a new wave type indie band), and my musical vocabulary. Years ago, a lot of your musical pieces were based on fairy tales and such. How has your subject matter changed? Has any circumstances in your life influenced your compositions and/or the way that you now work? The pieces have always been psychological and to this extent I haven’t changed at all. However, every project has had a different approach – In The Region Of The Summer Stars is about Tarot Cards (archetypes) - Aerie Faerie Nonsense is as you say – a Wagnerian fairy tale - Touch Me has nothing to do with fairy tales. It is loosely inspired by William Blake’s vision of Albion – Six Pieces is a musical portrait of each band member – The Spell is a Creationist/ Deist idea – Salome is a psychological sex drama inspired by Oscar Wilde’s play – The Seed And The Sower is about my relationship with Steve Stewart with a parallel plot based on Laurens Van De Post’s book-set of the same name – Tripping The Light Fantastic is about theoretical physics – White Goddess is inspired by Robert Graves’ book of the same title and has a Celtic/pagan theme.
Pretend that you are in a room of people that have never heard of the Enid or your work- how would you explain your music to them?
I refer you to what Time Out and The Guardian said about the band: I couldn’t put it better.
"The Orb Meets Pink Floyd Meets The Berlin Philharmonic"
The only band on the planet to have successfully fused rock based music with the power, dynamics and scale of symphonic classical music. They are the absolute masters of their art and their achievements over more than twenty years of creative work set them apart from everything else which calls itself progressive.
In this world of hip-hop and flashy sex/rudeness over quality, can the Enid survive in the year 2004?
I don’t see why not – in fact I anticipate an improvement in our fortunes, partly because I have decided to get my finger out and partly because the internet allows a band like The Enid to reach people as never before – the world is big enough/small enough to keep me going!
Please `talk’ about your new line-up and the members in the band? Are their any new influences or directions with this latest lineup?
My new line-up is in fact an old line up with the addition of Jason Ducker on guitar – he is young and keen – he has the same very musical approach that Steve Stewart had and I feel great about him – Dave Storey on Drums/Perc has been with me on and off since 1976 - Max has been with me since 1993 and in the band since 1997.
There are a lot of Enid fans in the United States (myself included). Will you and/or the band tour there? How was it like to get back on stage after a long hiatus?
We would love to come to the states (if a dissident critic of US foreign policy, like me, would be welcome)! Whether there is a promoter who would take us on and bring us over? I doubt it - but you never know. Getting back to the stage was truly exciting – I cannot wait to do some more.
Will any Enid performances be released on DVD?
I expect we will eventually get round to it.
Do you feel satisfied that the court ruled that you did write (and co-wrote), various Barclay James Harvest compositions? Is the matter closed?
Completely – and the matter is definitely closed. BJH paid a very heavy price for trying to deny me my intellectual property and I would not want them to suffer any further. It is a pity that they still haven’t the grace to accept the spirit of court’s ruling – they would feel a lot better about it all if they did.
What do you think of the more commercial work of BJH compared to their ambitious work from the seventies?
I haven’t really heard any of it, so I cannot really comment - I know what they are all like though, and with Woolly out of the band, they no longer had a “real musician” amongst them. I imagine that is why they tended to be more mainstream – basically they had no choice. If they had just persevered with Woolly and myself and kept their stupid girlfriends out of band politics, we would have given Pink Floyd a real run for their money and we would all be millionaires, probably!! As it is, the world has got The Enid instead.
How is your health?
Mentally, much better, thank you. Physically. I am stable
The classic question. What would you listen to if you were stranded on a desert island (With a CD player and batteries), and you could have any ten albums, what would you choose and why?
Difficult – Probably all ten of Mahler’s Symphonies - that would keep me engrossed for a life time and I could have a go at my own reconstruction of the tenth (unfinished) I think if I had to spend a lot of time on my own in isolation I would want more than pleasure from music – I would want to be educated – the study of these works which cover the entire creative lifetime of this extraordinary composer, would be like getting to know God – for into this music, Mahler poured his life, his joy, his pain, his wisdom and his gigantic genius.
On your website, you seemed to be quite critical of a known `neo-prog’ band- You cited them as - “ Painting by numbers? Cliché upon cliché upon cliché? Where is the intelligence, the creativity, the experimentation?” What in particular irked you about their performance? Do you feel many prog bands are becoming cliché? How do you keep your ideas fresh so not to fall into that grouping?
I generally dislike neo-prog simply because most of it isn’t progressive at all. A general lack of talent, charm and musical ability dogs these silly bands. It is the main reason this genre of music has become the laughing stock of popular music and it pisses me off. I could just as well have been talking about Marrillion as Pendragon – it is not personal. - They are both as bad as each other. No sex – no romance – no charisma - no power – no imagination - no surprises – no adventures in harmony or rhythm – it is just cut-and-paste from a box of well worn progressions, presets and riffs. If this genre of music is ever going to be taken seriously again, it will require people with a measure of stagecraft and musicality – with a good knowledge of harmony, counterpoint and arrangement expertise/orchestration to make it happen. It is simply not sufficient for some second rate keyboardist or guitarist to come along and work our what Genesis or Yes did in the 1970’s and make a pastiche of it and dump it on an audience. “But I like these bands!!”, I hear the faithful cry - And I respond, “Of course you do because you don’t know what you are missing – you either have forgotten how good the real thing is or you are too young to have witnessed it.”
When you have time off from your musical endeavors, what do you like to do? Hobbies? What is your favorite book? Movie?
I love books on popular science and philosophy and politics– good mind bending science fiction and fantasy especially - I love the cinema and I watch quite a bit of TV – I like documentaries and dramas. I have lots of visitors and I love to engage them in serious talk. We have a big household here of younger people with whom I find a lot more in common than those of my own age – I like the punky anarchic music they play. It may be crude musically but it has all the zest and power and sex and drive so lacking elsewhere. I always have a copy of The Prophet (Kalil Gibran) by my bed. Dipping into it keeps me sane and real. As favorite films? Right now, I would be a terrible liar if I didn’t say Lord Of The Rings, and can’t wait for the extended DVD of The Return of The King to become available.!!
What does music mean to you personally?
Music is so much a part of my life, like the air I breath – I cannot imagine my life without music and yet , like the air I breath, I never give it a second thought – it is what I do. Everything and Nothing!
What do you want to accomplish in the near future?
To learn to play all the Chopin Etudes again – I still have a technique like Horowitz but my repertoire has faded away from thirty years of neglect. I want to finish my piano concerto and record it. More pressingly, I want to solve the riddle I have set myself concerning the mystery of one and the many –The Riddle Of The Enidi. The solution is necessarily Alchemical in that a mere understanding of the meaning of the riddle is insufficient by far. The true solution is about putting the consequences of the meaning into practice. Translating thoughts into actions. In the 1980’s we had The Stand. Now the game has changed and the answer to this riddle is the key to the relationship the band will need to have with its fans of the future. I am not sure I should be going into all this here – if you anyone is interested, they can go to the news archives on our web site www.theenid.com or more specifically -
for my ideas concerning “the enidi”-------- http://www.lodgerecording.co.uk/enid/Enidi/enidihome.htm
and here for an in depth debate on ”the riddle of the enidi”---- http://www.lodgerecording.co.uk/enid/Forum/riddles_religion_enidi.htm
You have an open forum. Do you have any words to the Prog fans out there? Or to young aspiring musicians?
My advice to anyone thinking of starting a prog band is: if you don’t know much about the art of music making, either acquire it or don’t bother at all: once in possession of the required techniques, then think the unthinkable and do it. Be not afraid to beat a new path through the woods. And remember that the devil has the best tunes - be a bit naughty – don’t worry what others are going to think – do it with conviction and they will follow you. Think Freddie Mercury. Remember which side of the footlights you are on – why? Because in order to succeed, you have to reach out across the footlights and touch people’s lives with what you do – you have to invite your audience into your world and make them feel special.
Thank you so much for this interview. I'd love to see The Enid appear inthe states....
Best Wishes and thank you for sharing your answers and thoughts- Lee