Linda Hoyle, formerly singer with late 60s/early 70s jazz-rockers Affinity, and the producer of a lone solo album, the rather fine Pieces Of Me in 1971 is back after a mere 44-year gap with her second solo album, The Fetch (you can read Roger Trenwith’s review HERE). Linda, who now resides in Canada, graciously took the time to provide highly informative and entertaining answers to Roger’s questions… read on…
Firstly, the obvious question, which probably has “life” as its answer! It is something of an understatement to say that it has been some time since your first solo album…why such a long gap?
It’s been 44 years. As they say in Bingo, all the fours. I have had another life during that time, more academic but physically safer. I fell in love and went where that took me…to Canada. Nick, who had landed a position at Uni in Philosophy of Science, was the bass player in the original Sussex University Jazz Trio, quiet, brainy and in the background. It took me a while. Lynton came first.
Despite being away from the music business for so long, has music played an important part in your life?
It never stopped. I would receive calls now and again for a return to action in the UK, but I just couldn’t go back to the travelling, late night life. It was why I left in the first place. I continued to sing with Nick and other musicians in Canada, and occasionally did weddings for friends, parties and clubs, but never took money. I gave that to those who were trying to make a living with their music. I was making my wage working as a therapist in various agencies and later in a private practice. ‘Never stop listening’ is my mantra for music, and ‘never stop looking’ the one I hold for the Art Therapy I have practiced for over forty years.
We are here to talk about your much anticipated new album The Fetch, which is an intriguing title. Where did that come from, and does it have any particular meaning?
My website will be up in the next week or two, and if people are interested they can read a longer version of this explanation. The Fetch, which is the title track, was written last as an intentional introduction, or list of contents, for the album. Oliver Whitehead who composed the tune, is a musician I have known and worked with for the last thirty years. He is a wealth of information regarding literature. Oliver remembered an old poem from the 17th century that contained the line “for I shall go into a Hare”, written as a spell for entering an animal that seeks out hidden or lost items. We wanted to call an incantation, gather things together, haunt people. A Fetch is a wraith that warns or reminds. Now I think about it, it’s quite complicated isn’t it? Roger Dean caught the ghost-like mood in his cover art.
I like the lines in the CD booklet referring to how the first idea was to take the easy option of tackling the Great American Songbook, rather than writing new material, but “choosing invention over interpretation” you deliberately made life difficult for yourself, quoting Scott Walker “make it tough, make it count”. What made you decide on the harder route?
Sheer bull headedness. Somewhere I have a photo of me as a baby where my bottom lip juts out and that’s an expression that I still show sometimes. ‘Don’t tell me I can’t ’cause I will’, is written all over it. So instead of a few months, it took me a couple of years. Anyway, I just don’t want to go down the jazz standards route that so many singers have opted for. I adore singing those songs – still do, always will, but they are a kind of trap. It’s a bit like falling in love: it can make you go soppy.
Have you listened to Scott Walker’s recent albums? Personally I love the way the envelope isn’t merely pushed, but set on fire! Enthralling if uneasy listening, indeed.
I think “uneasy listening” is an understatement. I can only listen in small chunks. I kind of reel away in another world and need a stiff drink. When Mo Foster and Roger Wake were over last year to mix the album, I took them into the local second hand record store. The owner, Robert, is an interesting man, and given time can locate anything you want. I introduced him to the two guys, he went pale, and bowed. “Two people who worked with Scott Walker”, he cried, “…in London, Ontario. I never thought I’d live to see the day”. I was as chaff in his sight in comparison to those who had been close to the god.
When I met with Annie Nightingale last year we compared our hero worship of Scott, and his strange relationship to the stage. I told her that Farmer in the City, the track on his album Tilt, comes to me in dreams – “…I’ll give you 21, 21, 21…”. The tone of his voice has the vibrato of an old opera singer, disclaiming from an empty stage, full of the reverberations of a cavern. His work reminds me somewhat of the British stage company called The People Show, with whom I worked in 1980. They would start with the set and let the narrative emerge from that. All upside down, a bit like Scott.
So how lucky am I to have had three of the musicians who worked with Scott on Climate of Hunter – Mo Foster, Peter Van Hooke and Ray Russell – on The Fetch? If you listen to Rawhide, the first track on Climate of Hunter, you can hear the quintessential Foster sound. Scott’s seems to be a labour of love, and as Mo says, “no-one has a clue how he makes a living”.
I never made the connection with those musicians being on your album, and now you mention it, I see what you mean with Mo’s sound on Rawhide.
Have the songs on the album been slowly accumulating over those 44 years, or are they relatively new?
They are all new. I won’t say they flew from my pen, but the lyric writing was generally a joy. I suppose the material has been accumulating for years in there somewhere, fermenting away.
Tell us something about the songs on the album. Are they all originals? Who wrote the songs?
I wrote all the lyrics, except for one track, Earth and Stars. Most people will recognize this as Dido’s Lament, by Purcell. The words When I am laid in earth, no trouble in thy breast are repeated, and very faintly in the background you can hear “Remember me, remember me”. I rather hope that it has a Scott Walker tone to the whole thing. All the other songs have some level of personal meaning. I worked with both Mo Foster and Oliver Whitehead, but in different ways. Mo would send me music first, in files, across from the UK. So I would listen to the tune for a while before thinking of the words. I don’t do well writing ‘junk’ words as many writers do, to get the feel of the timing and phrasing. Usually I drop in deep and so end up researching hard for what I want. For instance, Fortuna took me six weeks of notes and nail biting. I knew I wanted it to be about the nasty nature of business fortune, and the unfairness of who gets rich – Mo’s dark, rather heavy intro took me straight there – but I also wanted it to be rich with historical references because things never change.
Oliver was able to take words that I had already written and put music to them. He is a composer and an English Lit. prof, so he was great to work with, and we often worked side by side adjusting both the words and the music, in the way that I had worked with Karl Jenkins on Pieces of Me. Maida Vale, which I wrote after Mo sent over an old picture of me in Studio 5 at the BBC, is a good example. It is rife with personal meaning and events, and describes a series of pictures that I see in my mind of that time. The basement I stayed in WAS grey and dark lime, for god’s sake! And actually, one of the BBC announcers there did have yellow teeth. Now I think about it, there are quite a lot of references to colour in those lyrics. I hope that listeners will catch the sitar Beatles’ reference in there: we tried to echo sixties sounds. On my website I am going to take a set of lyrics from the album every so often and write in detail about the referencing and meaning. I am not someone who feels that these things need to remain a mystery. There’s too much else in the old noddle to be concerned about running out.
Who plays on the new record?
Many wonderful people. Mo Foster, Ray Russell, Gary Husband, Peter Van Hooke, Dougie Boyle, George Schilling, Julian Littman, Corrina Silvester, Chris Haigh, Chris Biscoe, Bill Worrall, B.J. Cole, Jim Watson, Rupert Cobb, Oliver Whitehead, and my husband, Nick Nicholas. I was overwhelmed with the response and the creative input. Mo, of course, knows everyone in the biz, and he is greatly admired. My claim to fame rests on a small output, and as I say in the song Acknowledgements “…a music footnote I’ll remain”. However, one rather gratifying thing occurred when we had a playback of the album at a friends’ studio in Soho. We were talking about jingles we had been involved in, and I told the small assembled group that I had done the Shredded Wheat commercial, ‘There are two men in my life’. At which point, a couple of the guys went down on their knees and bowed. “That was you!” they said in astonishment. “We sang that when we were kids”. That rather took the gilt of the ageing gingerbread.
Prog rock fans will instantly recognise the cover art! How did working with Roger Dean come about?
Affinity met Roger when we were all involved with the Ronnie Scott group in the late sixties. Roger designed the seating for the Upstairs Room at the club, and I think I was probably the first person to sit on those undulating, psychedelic foam couches. In fact, I often slept on them during long rehearsals. We all got on well – he felt like one of our tribe. It’s a great shame we didn’t use his art for the cover of the Affinity album: we would have been amongst the first to do so. Once we rehearsed in his flat after the Upstairs Room had suffered a fire, and much of our equipment melted. We got new stuff somehow, and hauled it all up in an old fashioned lift with double-latticed metal doors to his fourth floor abode. Bless him. When I called him last year, after not seeing him for over forty years, he immediately responded and said he would love to do it. Again, bless him.
I got into your band Affinity, and your first solo album Pieces Of Me through once being an avid record collector, with the iconic Vertigo “spiral” label being the main focus of my obsession. Unquestionably, those were two of the better albums on that label. How did you come to join Affinity, and why did they only make the one album?
Given the competition on the Vertigo label I am flattered to be amongst the better ones.
Let me state right away, that I never set out to join a Rock’N’Roll band. I was meant to be a teacher, a lab technician – at least that’s what I got training for. But that old stubborn bottom lip kept sticking out, and every time there was a fork in the road I took the path of most resistance, to my parents’ irritation, and later on to my own exhaustion. While at teacher’s college I was often going off to Sussex University, hitching down on a Friday night from Watford (there’s some stories there!). I was engaged to a lovely guy, who I let down badly (listen to Brighton Pier) after seeing Lynton Naiff from a distance playing divine jazz piano. He was tanned, handsome, aloof, and didn’t want me. What more could a girl ask? Needless to say, we ended up together for three years. It turned out I could sing jazz, having done so essentially since birth along with my father’s 78’s. He needed a singer for the trio, and later for Affinity. There I was. To some extent I think it was a no brainer. And it worked.
You have lived in Canada for many years – aside from Mo Foster who is a central figure on the new album, have you kept in touch with any other of your ex-Affinity colleagues?
All but Lynton, who is a mystery to us all. What a brilliant guy, in so many ways. A tremendous musical influence on the band, never satisfied, always pushing for better. He bought a practice keyboard once which is silent but correctly weighted. We would sit on the underground and he would play it all the time. Passengers would look on in a puzzled way, wondering perhaps if they had gone deaf, or he had, or if they should drop coins into my lap. He could be very prickly and also very funny. Some of the laughter we shared as a band was so extreme we had to stop the van. I miss him and still love him, but it was too difficult.
The list of musicians on your first solo album reads like a who’s-who of early British fusion. Although most of those names were in the early stages of their careers in 1971, such high calibre assistance must have made what could have been a daunting prospect – making your first solo album – that much easier?
Here comes the old lower lip again: I knew no fear. Challenge me and I’ll come out swinging. I think because I have never expected fame or fortune, praise or recognition, the goal was more to do with the music itself. I knew all these guys through Ronnie’s club, had listened to them, talked to them, watched them struggle with things. We were up against the best in jazz at the club…after you listen to Gary Burton or Roland Kirk night after night, you know that there’s no point aspiring to such skill. Making Pieces of Me was such a pleasure. We seemed to have time and support, recording studios as required, an open choice of what we wanted to do. Karl was always calm in a Welsh kind of way. Rather quiet, slightly pessimistic, making musical space for others. I remember once getting my knickers in a twist about the track Barrelhouse Music, an old Mildred Bailey piece, and one of the few covers on the album. I wanted a stride piano player for this, a rather rare commodity by this time in the century, and we hired Colin Purbrook. It was early in the morning. He wasn’t bright eyed and bushy tailed. I got snippy. “Leave him alone, Linda,” said Karl, and promptly went out and got him a beer. Colin perked right up and leapt into a backing that was just what I wanted. It was a pleasure and a challenge working with those musicians. It’s a bit like playing a game of tennis with a far superior partner. Your game seems to improve as a consequence. I still think that Chris Spedding comes from another planet.
You have recorded and played with many big names in the jazz and rock scene of the late 60s and early 70s, including the likes of Karl Jenkins and John Paul Jones. Give us a flavour of those heady times.
Looking back I suppose it was heady. But what did I know? I was simply in it. It was also very hard work, often physical. It’s easy to forget that I was helping to schlep Hammond B3’s, drum kits and speakers. None of us were living a life of luxury. In fact, it was a wonder if we got enough to eat. All those stories you read about bands that had made it financially didn’t really apply to us – the parties, the cars, the drugs. As a band, we were particularly drug free. Booze was the drug of choice if we had any money. So there is no question in my mind that when it came to it we were in it for the music. I don’t think I had fully realized this until I got back into it with this new album. I couldn’t have carried on doing this all my life, but boy, I’ve missed the engagement with the material.
Jazz in all its many guises tends to be a male and instrumental dominated area. Are vocals frowned upon by the more studious types in that sometimes rarefied musical corner? Was it hard being a woman in a band in those times? One assumes it has improved now!
There’s two different questions here: being a jazz singer, and being in a sixties band. I think the first is complicated by the fact that the majority of people want to hear a singer doing jazz, while those who consider themselves aficionados believe that it sullies the purity. Is it a comparison of apples and oranges? To some extent, I believe. What’s the point of comparing my adored Charlie Parker to, say, Betty Carter…also wonderful. My question is are they good? I’m not a huge fan of music that is primarily on beat, like old folk stuff, but I know if it’s well played. Music has always been male-dominated. Just being on the road most days of the year is tough. You’re a woman and you want to stay in the business? Hard to have children, hard to protect the body in question, hard to engage with the tough old buggers that have to be dealt with. I rose to the occasion by swearing like a marine, facing off physically and dealing with my body in a rather masculine way. It took its toll. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but all decisions, of whatever kind, have pluses and minuses.
One of the things about being in the band in the sixties though, was that there really weren’t many women doing it. The competition now seems so extreme, and I watch with concern young women singers who are pushing it. I knew Adele was going to have trouble with her voice. I watched Amy Winehouse crash and burn, while men do the same things and carry on. I mean, Joe Cocker did that to his voice for a lifetime!
Although you are associated with jazz, your music, even right back to the days of Affinity largely transcends genre pigeonholing, but you know us scribblers, we do like a nice little box to file things away in. Do you find that annoying? If you had to describe your music to someone who had never heard Linda Hoyle, what would you say?
When I made Pieces of Me, someone who reviewed the album said that I needed to find a specific voice. I still haven’t done that. Actually, I don’t think I know what I want to be when I grow up, either. It’s become clear that ballet dancer is now out of the question.
There is no doubt that my first love is jazz, followed by anything that rocks like a son of a bitch. I still can’t sing a song twice in the same way and prefer to search the material as I am singing for options. It drives song writers crazy. They don’t like you to mess around with their babies. I think Mo came up against this once, and he said something like, “the pigeonhole we fit into is called Good Music.” But if you really, really must, the most common application has been prog rock. Oh dear.
Trust me, you’re not “prog rock”, at all! That is a good thing by the way!
Tell me who you shake a tail feather to these days, who “rocks like a bitch”? I’m intrigued to know!
AC/DC, nearly everything Stevie Ray Vaughan put his hand to (watch Caught in the Crossfire on YouTube with Hiram Bullock on Night Music), lots of Prince – terrific guitarist, and Lenny Kravitz. Are You Going My Way played twenty times in a row while thrashing my head up and down. That stuff puts curl in your hair and stiffener in your backbone. I love riff driven stuff, and rock solid drummers – Bonnie Raitt always finds the best. When Gary Husband let rip on Fortuna it was all I could do not to dance out into the studio.
Back to the present – Signing to Angel Air must have been a somewhat different experience to signing with Vertigo back in the day?
I didn’t even know we had signed with Vertigo. I think Chips Chipperfield did it for us. I do remember working on a single with Gerry Bron, Eli’s Coming, a Laura Nyro song. It was his choice. I think by then we must have been signed as Gerry was one of the main guys at Vertigo. He and I would spar around with who knew the most jazz standards. He was good, but I had been schooled from birth. Peter Purnell at Angel Air has been absolutely straightforward. They have a very good reputation amongst musicians. It took me a while to realize that I could make decisions about what to do. With Vertigo, it just sort of descended upon me. Another thing that really helped to keep things sensible was my email exchanges with Ed Bicknell. An absolute power house of information, funny and feet on the ground, he continually encouraged me to assess my expectations and keep them sane.
How au fait are you with modern promotional methods – Facebook, Twitter, etc? Will the new album be available as a download as well as a CD, plus is there a possibility of a release on that new-fangled hip medium of vinyl? Or do you leave all that to the label?
I am essentially a Luddite. The only reason I am managing to get this interview done for you is because I am helped with the filing, the storing and the sending. I have a Facebook page (at Linda Hoyle Music, please join me) only because I was told I must. And my sister set it up for me. I really love the writing, love the singing, love the performing. Just don’t ask me to travel too far or sort out the computer.
I am presuming that the CD will be downloadable, but one thing I feel strongly about is getting the CD into vinyl form. For one thing, Roger Dean’s art should be seen on a two page spread. I do know that there is so much material on the CD that it will probably have to be a double album. Not cheap. What I need to do is persuade the powers that be that this would sell enough to not financially dump them in the crapper. So we need a show of hands.
Are there any plans to play the new album live? If so, who is in the band?
I do have a band. Mo has gathered together some of the guys on the album who, I’ve been informed, will function a bit like the old Wrecking Crew from the States. They are gung ho for a performance, and if/when it occurs it will be filmed. This crème de la crème will also come together for other gigs, as much I think for their pleasure in performing as anything else.
I am encouraged by the line “On our next project…” in the CD booklet – so we can expect more?
It’s already happening. I can’t stop writing now, and have a wonderful studio and team who want to work together again. When you get to be this age you don’t hang around.
Roger: Wise words, indeed!
Thanks for providing us with answers above and beyond the call of duty – that was a really interesting read. We wish you all the best with the The Fetch, and with your future projects. It goes without saying that I look forward to seeing you perform, whether on film or in situ.
Linda Hoyle’s new album, The Fetch, is out on Angel Air on 7th August.