It was my pleasure recently to meet Paul Evans and Jay Darlington, the two main song writers of Devon rock band Magic Bus, for a chat over a couple of pints, to talk about the band and their new album, Phillip the Egg. A varied, interesting and amusing discussion ensued, including memories of Oasis and Kula Shaker, and thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl and science fiction and, somewhat bizarrely, about TV’s Space 1999 and why we don’t have Hover cars by now! It was a relaxed affair with two funny guys, who described themselves the self-proclaimed ‘Centrefolds’ of Magic Bus!
Hi Chaps! Tell me about your new album, Phillip the Egg – is there a theme to the album?
Paul Evans: Well, it’s our third album and it’s pretty much in the same context as the first two albums, but with more ‘Prog’ leanings. Musically and lyrically it leans towards Space Mythology.
There’s definitely more of an expansive ‘Prog’ feel, and a bit less of the Canterbury and West Coast vibes of the previous album, although that’s still there.
Jay Darlinton: That’s just how the songs came this time for some reason. We’re developing as a band, learning all the time.
Paul: …and playing the festivals definitely gave us more of a leaning towards progressive things. A big influence of ours is the band Gong, but we hadn’t really explored that influence until this album.
I was lucky enough to see Gong recently in North Wales at a Prog Festival. They were mind blowing. I didn’t really know their music, but they were brilliant.
Paul: You didn’t ever see the old Gong then?
No, I didn’t see them with Daevid Allen, but I think Kavus Torabi from Knifeworld is an appropriate successor to Daevid. You supported them recently in Totnes. How did that go?
Paul: Really good! It was a great experience. We had a gig the following night as well and we were still like ‘Hey, Hey!’ (Raises arms aloft in celebration)
It’s interesting that you mention the live festivals and playing with Gong, because when I heard the new album I got much more of a sense of your live sound, with more power and energy conveyed in the music on this release.
Jay: Yeah, I think we did treat the album more like that in the studio.
Paul: Of course, having a new rhythm section on this album helped energise it.
Who have you got on the album?
Paul: Wihll Mellorz is on bass, and Connor Spring… was the drummer?
Connor’s come and gone already, has he?! You seem to get through more drummers than Spinal Tap – did he spontaneously combust?!!! I met Connor last summer and he was about to go the studio to record the album – he was very excited.
Paul: He joined his brother’s band which is fair enough. It was great recording the album. The recording experience itself is worth saying something about. The place we’ve been to for the last two albums is just the perfect environment to record. Recording in a really lovely atmosphere with a really great person engineering is perfect.
Jay: It’s also an old analogue studio, with a proper desk and all the old equipment. Vale Studios is a nice setting in Worcestershire with a lovely garden. It was a massive nine days!
Paul: All but one were already written. Basically the acoustic track, Kalamazoo, Connor wrote with Wihll at the studio.
Jay: Connor was just plucking around in the garden, and we walked past and we went ‘What’s that?’ Connor wrote the ‘picky’ guitar part and then Wihll played with him.
Paul: They were both playing these two 12-string guitars, just sitting in the garden, and we thought we could do something with what they were putting together.
That’s a bit of a change as in the past it’s largely been you, Paul, in terms of writing the songs on the previous albums, hasn’t it?
Paul: Me and Jay wrote the last two albums, and Terence and myself did the first album.
How much input did Terence have on writing this album?
Paul: His solos – with regard to solos in particular everyone creates their own parts and make their own mark. Sometimes there may be a sort of a vague idea of a melody, but not for the most part. Terence always comes up with his own great licks. I think Terence’s and Viv’s solos in this album are the best I’ve heard from them.
That’s something different on this album. The solos are much more ‘out there’ and expansive than previously, although Jupiter 3 AM on Sogmore’s Garden also has more extended parts. I LOVE that song. This album feels more like Jupiter 3 AM.
Jay: There’s certainly a science fiction element that seems to run through Phillip the Egg. Paul and I were young people who grew up in the ’70s watching all this sci-fi on T.V. and being promised the future, but what happened? So OK, we’ve got sliding doors…
Paul: But they don’t go… (Paul makes classic sci fi Star Trek ‘sliding door’ noise.)
Jay: No, they don’t… and the costumes are rubbish now. According to that programme Space 1999… and I remember 1999… a little bit… 1999 wasn’t half as good as that programme made out it was going to be – it’s disappointing.
That’s probably just as well as the Moon floated off in that programme and seemed to get from planet to planet very quickly in between episodes!
Jay: That’s true… but where’s the woman that can turn in to a beast thing with three eyes and fourteen… things… that I can’t say in an interview!
Paul: I keep going on about jet packs…
Jay: But where are they? They’re not anywhere, are they?
But we’ve all got Star Trek-type Communicators though.
Jay: True. This is the thing they got wrong in science fiction – it was all about travel and things like jet packs. Well, actually you don’t need to go anywhere when you can just… (mimes using a smartphone in his palm.)
Paul: There’s a bit in the lyrics of the new song Distant Future which is about different visions of the future. We’ve got ‘Fields of Glass’ in solar farms, but we still don’t have hover cars as we were promised when we were kids. Where are they?
Jay: Why not? Frankly, why not?!
Do you have an optimistic view of the future? Much of sci-fi is dystopian, but I didn’t get that sense from this album?
Paul: You can’t really be pessimistic with this music. It’s always for me about hope.
The album does sound joyful and positive, although that may sound rather corny?
Jay: It is joyful. That’s the thing that really came across from everyone doing this record. Particularly with it being done pretty live there was a sense of joy from everyone. They were really into it. It felt more free – a freer way of working, I think.
Paul: We pretty much tried to keep to one song a day when we were in the studio, and then some overdubs at the end, and we pretty much stuck to that.
Were there more difficult songs that took a while to sort out?
Jay: Kepler 22b was pretty tricky.
Paul: Kepler 22b is the new world that they found many light years away that is supposed to be like the Earth.
Kepler 22b is certainly a more complex song. Part of it is called Zapruder. Is that a reference to the JFK assassination? (Abraham Zapruder famously took the cine-camera footage of JFK’s assassination)
Paul: No, that’s nothing to do with it! That name comes from another 1960’s sci-fi film. I didn’t know about the JFK thing – it’s something else. There’s no politics on this album.
Jay: You can’t afford to be political when you’re ‘Centrefolds’!!!
Paul: Standing there posing on a yacht in deck shoes!
(Laughter ensues… as it does throughout the interview.)
Why is the album called Phillip the Egg? Great title… but what does it mean?
Paul: I know why it’s called that… but I like to keep some things a mystery.
Can you tell me about how the band came together, and how you met?
Paul: We got together in 2009, mainly to record an album. The songs had been written by me and Terence over the course of the year. We got together really quick with only a week’s rehearsal and recorded at Sawmills in Cornwall in early 2010. I met Terence when he was busking in Torquay and wanted to play like him so asked him for some lessons. He had an 8-track recorder so the guitar lessons fell by the wayside and we started recording my tunes instead. Jay and I met at our kids school one day and we realised quickly we not only had the same taste in music but shared the same sense of humour. We hung out a bit when Jay wasn’t touring, and then when Jay finished playing with Oasis on their live gigs, I played him the first album demos and he liked them, so he joined the band. We met Viv at a festival we played, and we liked what she was playing in another band so we asked her to join.
Jay, How did you get to play for Oasis, and what was it like?
Jay: They wanted the best keyboardist in London at the time… and when he wasn’t available they asked me!
Paul: Didn’t you play Knebworth with them?
Really! That must have been immense – how did that feel?
Jay: Yeah, we played Knebworth, but after a while it all becomes meaningless. It’s so huge and you’re so far away you have no connection with the fans. I prefer playing with this band and being able to connect with the fans.
You met through the Steiner school. Is that sense of spirituality infusing your music?
Jay: Yeah, probably on some weird level. It all goes in, doesn’t it, and comes out somehow… but I don’t think we’ve got any Steiner based songs as such, I don’t think.
Paul: The ‘commune-like’ feel that we had through the recording, and the harmonies and everything we had together are very ‘Uniting’. When you sing on harmonies, especially when we were recording and sitting out on the lawn, it does take you to a deeper level.
In church they do say singing is like praying twice. Where did you get the name Magic Bus?
Paul: That was from Ken Kesey and the counterculture of ‘The Merry Pranksters’ in the ’60s. Tom Wolfe wrote about it in Electric Kool-Aid Test. They had a psychedelic bus, called ‘Further’, which became known as the ‘Magic Bus’. I drove a lorry delivering books around Europe for years and have always loved the ‘journey’. ‘Further’ and the Pranksters created the conditions they desired. If you’re not happy with where you are, there’s always the road…there’s freedom on the Bus. Initially, we couldn’t think of a name everyone liked, but then ‘Magic Bus’ seemed to be a name that if you went to a festival and saw the name on the programme you’d go and have a look.
Well it worked – It got me interested!
Paul: Since then I’ve thought we should have chosen another name as other bands, etc., have the name as well. There’s a Dutch tribute band for The Who. I know it sounds ridiculous but even though I saw The Who at Live Aid I had never heard of their song Magic Bus. Jay has suggested we spell our name with a ‘K’!
What are your main musical influences?
Paul: The Canterbury scene, like Caravan, and West Coast hippie. We like to do great pop songs with a progressive leaning, but most of all they warm our hearts and make the hairs stick up on the back of our necks sometimes… as all great songs should. With West Coast bands, like Crosby Stills & Nash, it’s the harmonies – singing in harmony is a joy.
Do you have any plans to play more extensively live?
Paul: We’re doing as many gigs as we can this year. We’ve got a few festivals this summer and we’re playing in a festival in Germany next week. We’ve added a few more festivals and are playing again some we played last year…
Jay: …and they’ve had us back!
You must be doing something right then!
Paul: It’s tricky getting into the festival scene – it helps to have label backing – we’d like to do more festivals.
I thought the way you kicked off the Sea Change Festival in Totnes last summer was great. Talking of labels – this album is self-released. Why are you taking that approach?
Paul: You can just keep an eye on it and hopefully we won’t get ripped. We know where we are and have more control.
Jay: I’m not so sure what a record label’s purpose is anymore. It’s not like it was 20 years ago, I don’t think.
You’ve probably got a bit more experience in that, Jay, because you were in Kula Shaker in the ’90s – they were with quite a big label, weren’t they?
Jay: Yeah, Columbia… that was the tail end of the Golden Era, just as they started to stop making records. (laughs)
Paul: You had vinyl records?
Jay: We had vinyl, yeah. We really were the last of the bands to deal that way. All of the ’90s bands were being asked not to use vinyl for a while. They were winding that stuff down.
Vinyl was Dead! Now it’s come back.
Jay: With a Vengeance!
The irony is that they got rid of vinyl because we were told it didn’t sound as good as CDs, but now we’re being told vinyl sounds a lot better.
Jay: It does though – vinyl tugs your heart strings – there’s just something about it.
I think it’s more to do with the ritual of the stylus, and flipping the record, and the packaging – the artwork.
Jay: It feels like you’re holding something of worth in comparison to a CD.
I don’t know – I think this new CD is packaged beautifully!
Jay: Yeah, but a vinyl record with a cover is better generally in comparison.
I’ve noticed the CD is about vinyl album in length – any plans for a vinyl release?
Jay: Funny you should say that!
Paul: It’s coming out on vinyl in June.
Is that your first vinyl release?
Paul: First time on album – we’ve had two vinyl singles with the Fruits de Mer label. They asked us to do a special single limited edition with Seven Wonders from Sogmore’s Garden, with a B-Side cover of Eight Miles High by The Byrds.
I loved your live version of that song.
Paul: It was a great release – it got us played on BBC 6 Music and other things.
Jay: I take it back about labels! (laughter)
Paul: Fruits de Mer is really just a sound, straight bloke – honest and nice.
Paul: There are some but another reason the record label thing didn’t really appeal was for it to have any use to us whatsoever they’d have to be able to get us into festivals – they’d have to be able to give us a push. It’s pretty difficult for small labels to do that.
It’s a ‘Catch 22’. The labels that can give a big push probably want a bigger slice.
Paul: Exactly… but it’s a bigger slice of nothing much anyway! Where does their money come from anyway now? It’s the live stuff – how do we pay for the petrol? That’s the main point. We’re not in it for the money.
Jay: We’re in it for Gold, actually.
Paul: Gold… and awards… mainly awards.
Jay: Gold Awards!! (More laughter)
On that note we’ll end it there. Is there anything else you want to say?
Jay: PLEASE – BUY – OUR – RECORD!
[…and you can read Leo’s review of Magic Bus’ Phillip The Egg HERE.]