Brian Devoil

Brian Devoil – Twelfth Night

On the eve of the release of a 3-CD Definitive Edition of Twelfth Night‘s classic Fact & Fiction album, TPA’s Leo Trimming took the opportunity to speak to drummer Brian Devoil. The resulting interview is extensive and wide-ranging with Brian only too happy to give honest and open responses…

Hi Brian, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

How are things going for you now? Are you still involved in any music outside of Twelfth Night these days?

Hello Leo, I am very well thank you. My involvement in any music outside of Twelfth Night has always been rather limited although my wife works in the industry as a marketing director for a compilations company so I’m in touch with some of what’s going on. Believe me just looking after Twelfth Night keeps me busy! Back in the day I played on a single released by Trash that was released on Polydor the year before Rev and I won the battle of the bands competition at Reading University (as the Andy Revell Band). After Twelfth Night I appeared on the Casino album, a one-off project by Geoff Mann and Clive Nolan (from Pendragon and Arena) released in 1992. I also played drums at the final concert by Geoff’s band The Bond at the relocated Marquee Club in Charing Cross Road in London in 1989.

Twelfth Night are re-releasing their 1982 album Fact & Fiction in a 3-CD special edition, with a remaster, a live disc and a covers disc. What can you tell us about this re-release and can you tell us why you’ve decided to release it now and in this format?

It is the last of our independent studio albums to be released in a definitive version and as it is the album we are most strongly associated with we wanted to make it special. With the other definitive releases, we included live versions of songs that also featured in our live set at the time the album was released. With Fact & Fiction I felt that it would be more interesting to just focus on the actual core album. So, we have, for the first time, a completely remastered version of the album on the first CD, a second CD of live versions of the same songs recorded throughout our career. I always wanted to make this release a triple CD with the original intention of including a version of the whole album that Mark Spencer was recording. However, on hearing what he had done I decided it would be doing Mark a disservice to include it as a ‘bonus’ recording, and that it was so good that it deserved an independent release under his own name. I did however insist on having a couple of tracks to go on a CD of cover versions, as some were already in existence. The idea seemed to take on a life of its own, as we had many offers from people who wanted to contribute. The result is that we have a really interesting version of the album performed through other musician’s eyes (or rather their ears!)

Fact And Fiction - Digipak Cover

For those unfamiliar with Fact & Fiction, there is a clear reason for them to ‘catch up’ and get this album. However, there will be some ‘old guard’ fans who already have the album on vinyl and CD. In your opinion why is it worth those fans re-investing in this new version of the album?

It is important to me that our music remains available so people can hear it without having to pay large sums of money at collector’s markets or over the internet. I am always very aware when releasing old material that has been released before to take great care to make sure the content makes it worthwhile. I take soundings from various people outside the band, to see what they think, as a result all the Definitive Editions CDs contain something new: lavish booklets, extensive sleeve notes, bonus tracks, and so on. We are fortunate enough to have a strong fanbase who are interested in our releases and so, rather than just put out a new version with just one or two unheard tracks, it was important that if people were going to spend money on, as you say, their second or third copy of the album that they were rewarded with a lot of material they had not heard before. This release is a 3-CD set compromising 39 tracks of which about half have never been released before. I can honestly say this is the best sounding version of the album that has ever been released, and the cover versions have turned out far better than I could have hoped, and will be of great interest to our existing fans I’m sure.

What are your memories of the writing and recording process for Fact & Fiction?

That it took too long and involved a lot of travelling! Fact & Fiction was going to be our first proper album with vocals. After Geoff joined we released Smiling At Grief which was really a collection of demos that we recorded to try and stimulate some record company interest, and also for our fans who were eager to hear new material with Geoff. It was during this time that Rick Battersby took his sabbatical year leaving us as a quartet. That, of course, impacted on the writing and arrangement of new material but Clive stepped up to take over keyboards, which was a steep learning curve for him! He formed a strong writing partnership with Geoff, who was a wonderful lyricist and always had plenty of ideas, which he was continuously writing down and adapting in his notebook. There was no shortage of new musical passages being generated that coalesced to form the final songs.

The recording took place at Revolution studios in Cheshire, quite some distance from our base in Reading! The owner of the studios was eager to release our version of Eleanor Rigby, which we first recorded during the Smiling At Grief sessions and had included on a demo tape we sent to record labels (it wasn’t included on the Smiling At Grief cassette for copyright reasons). The deal was that we would record Eleanor Rigby, which the studio would release as a single on their label, and we could use studio downtime to record our other new material. Of course, studio downtime was not always predictable and usually in fairly unsociable hours in the evening and at night. Plus, we lived so far away that it was not always easy to get everyone together, particularly at short notice.

That is one of the reasons it took so long to see the light of day. There were other things that delayed the process, such as the studio not being quite finished when we started and the decision to buy the album’s tapes from Revo so we could release the album ourselves.

Twelfth Night

How much input did you have as drummer into the creative process of writing and recording this album?

My input into the writing was fairly minimal, as most of the initial musical ideas were written by Clive, but I had plenty of involvement in the arrangements. My main role was the co-ordination of everything else, dealing with the studio, getting people together, keeping the band in the public eye and the fans informed, which wasn’t easy while the album was being recorded and live performances were few and far between. Clive, Rev and I were all living in the same house and as we had our equipment (including my drum kit) set up in the lounge, we were able to play through all the ideas together and refine them.

As mentioned in the sleeve notes, 1982 was the time of the first affordable drum machines which although a bit basic, enabled Clive and Rev (and later Rick) to compose using their own instruments with a drum beat to help them. However all the actual drum parts on Fact & Fiction were played by me, including the typewriter on We Are Sane, with the only exception being some of Human Being, which we changed at the last minute leaving us without enough time to record real drums.

Whom is your favourite or most influential drummer/musician, and why?

My first influences were people like Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream’s Ginger Baker, and Clive Bunker from Jethro Tull. I also admired Simon Kirke from Free, although he wasn’t a great influence. At University I became aware of Billy Cobham who has undoubtedly been one of the greatest influences on many drummers. And of course my fellow left-hander, Phil Collins!

Earlier manifestations of Twelfth Night had been wholly instrumental. How and why did the band recruit Geoff Mann to become the vocalist/lyricist for the band?

We had never set out or be an instrumental band, it’s just the way it turned out. Geoff was always a friend of ours, he had a room next to Rev at University and he painted the backdrop that The Andy Revell Band used at the battle of the bands competition in February 1978, where incidentally Rick Battersby was in charge of the dry ice, so all the elements were there right from the start! As long ago as March 1979 the ‘classic’ line up (Rev, Clive, Geoff, Rick and myself) spent a week rehearsing at Geoff’s parents’ house. Although Geoff didn’t stay it was always in our minds to add a singer mainly to expand our appeal. Instrumental music will always attract smaller audiences, as perhaps they lack a focal point.

We had found and recorded with an American female vocalist (Electra) in 1980 and she appeared live with us a few times. However, it didn’t work out and she left soon after the Early Material tape was released. To re-establish ourselves we recorded an instrumental album at our local venue – Live At The Target, which included Sequences on Side Two. Geoff had started writing lyrics to Sequences back in 1979, and sent us a copy of him singing them over the Target version. We used that as a benchmark to judge all the tapes we were sent by hopeful vocalists… and eventually it struck us that Geoff was easily the best. The fact he was a close friend and obviously a great writer sealed the deal. He had supported us a few times at the Target (in the God Stars) so we knew he was comfortable in front of an audience, and over the next two years he grew in stature from rather humble beginnings.

I heard that the album was recorded on a very modest budget and yet it has always sounded so fresh, inventive, sonically sharp, clear and impressive – even more so with the remaster. How was that achieved?

The budget for recording Fact & Fiction was zero! We were offered free studio time at odd hours, in return for letting the studio release our version of Eleanor Rigby as the owner felt it could be a hit. When relations soured towards the end, I put in £2,000 of my own money to buy the tapes from them so we could release the album ourselves. The single was still released on REVO records. The quality of the album reflects the qualities of the ideas, lyrics and musicianship and the studio equipment we could use. Taking such a long time to record the album meant we were able to use the latest technology and instruments coming to the market at the time (e.g. Simmons electronic drums). That is probably why it stood out so much, it was undeniably progressive rock but far removed from the ‘seventies version’ that other bands were perhaps trying to emulate too much. The quality of the remaster is down to the expertise of Karl Groom at Thin Ice (who has done a marvellous job of bringing extra clarity) and the fact that there have been significant advances in technology in the intervening 35 years.

I first saw Twelfth Night at a tiny club in Wokingham when you were warming up for the Reading Festival in the early 1980s – it left a truly deep impression on me with a stellar musical performance and a dramatic show put on by the now sadly deceased Geoff Mann. What are your most vivid memories of those days with the band?

Lots of fun, the feeling that we could achieve anything and the performances that were always dramatic and entertaining… The most vivid memories are the live shows, obviously the ones we recorded for the albums Live At The Target and Live And Let Live. Alongside that, both appearances at the Reading Festival (in 1981 and 1983) were highlights. The period of touring Fact & Fiction between December ’82 and November ’83 was probably one of most enjoyable times as Geoff developed from a very decent frontman into the very best!!!

Geoff performing Creepshow - 04-06-1983 - Mark HughesWhat do you recall thinking when Geoff decided to leave the band in 1983? In all honesty, was there any sense of resentment that he was leaving the band just as they were starting to gain some traction? Did you think the band had a future without him at that point?

There was never any resentment. Geoff was a good friend of ours and he had his own personal reasons for leaving which we all understood. We were disappointed yes, but it gave us the opportunity to move forward. I don’t really think it was that much of a shock to be honest, he was living in Salford at the time and his first son had been born so it was difficult for him, and his wife Jane, when he was away rehearsing with the band in Reading or out on tour. That was one of the advantages of recording Fact & Fiction in Cheshire in that Geoff could stay at home. One of the problems we were facing was that the major record companies didn’t get/like Geoff, so in some respects we had reached an impasse as we felt that a major record deal was what we needed to progress our career. It is natural to wonder what could have happened if we had been signed to one of the labels that expressed an interest, and Geoff had stayed, but there has never been any suggestion that Geoff leaving scuppered the chances of the band. Similarly, the band didn’t seriously think about breaking up. We had been successful before Geoff joined and there was no reason to think that we couldn’t continue to be successful afterwards. Geoff helped us plan the farewell shows, helped us with the auditions, and stayed a close friend until his untimely passing in 1993. We could see that Geoff was conflicted with his Christian faith and the sort of person he felt he might become (in the eyes of the audience) as the frontman of a successful rock band.

The new vocalist was Andy Sears, who has a very different vocal style and presence to Geoff Mann. How was he chosen to join the band?

The main requirement was for someone who could sing very well as well as being a good frontman. Geoff was not a great singer, although he was a great vocalist. Both Marillion and Pallas, and of course Genesis, made similar changes in going with a more accomplished singer, when their original ones left. There were a lot of applicants for the role, and the standard was very varied! Andy was always one of the front-runners, not only for his singing abilities but also because he was a talented musician and songwriter. We got on well with him and Geoff was impressed with his abilities too, so in the end he was the obvious choice. He even came to Geoff’s final shows which added a level of continuance, sort of handing over the baton if you like, and it’s to Andy’s credit that he had the self-confidence to think yes, I could do that.

Twelfth Night were eventually signed to a major label in Virgin records and their one and only album XII was released in 1986, in quite a different style to Fact & Fiction. However, strangely having been signed to a major label, this also seemed to more or less mark the effective end of the band for a couple of decades. What are your memories of that album and period, and why do you think the band split up?

Internal issues, health problems, unsuitable management, unsympathetic record company, and the wrong producer… but ultimately the poor performance of the XII album was the deciding factor. We were heavily in debt to Virgin, our management company had kept us off the road for a long time, and the frustrations of being in a band that wasn’t playing live and waiting for a label that had seemed to have lost interest in us started causing some internal rifts resulting in both Clive and Andy calling it quits. Rick, Rev and I did carry on and we met up with Martyn Watson whose band The Pookah Makes Three were also signed to Virgin. We did some great demos which our management and Virgin seemed interested in, and even played live once (famously supporting Geoff at the Marquee), but ultimately Virgin decided not to go ahead and terminated the contract, by sending a letter to Clive who was no longer in the band…

The band was resurrected in 2008 to about 2014, firstly with Andy Sears on vocals and then eventually with Mark Spencer taking on that role, with some of the Galahad guys helping flesh out the live sound. The excellent MMX live album was released in 2010.

Was there ever any new material planned or recorded with those re-formed line-ups or did they just concentrate on playing the original material?

We didn’t plan to write or record any new music as it was initially just going to be a couple of concerts to celebrate the band’s history, and for the pleasure of playing together again after so many years. With our work and family commitments it was difficult enough to find time to rehearse and perform let alone think about writing and recording new material. Andy Sears was eager to write new material but I think the rest of us wanted to just keep it more of a fun thing to do.

When Twelfth Night reformed in 2008 it felt as if there was a new climate of acceptance of Progressive rock music after the turn of the century with a newer generation of artists.

Are there any of the newer artists that particularly interest or excite you then or now? If so, whom and why?

Not really unless you count Public Service Broadcasting? I am more of a BBC 6 Music listener, which has great balance of music, old and new, and musical styles.

What did you prefer? Playing live with Twelfth Night or recording in the studio?

Playing live is definitely a more satisfying thing for me. The interactions with the audience, the joy of the band gelling together and performing well, as well as the sheer satisfaction of entertaining people…

Listening back to Fact & Fiction now, there was clearly a distinct political edge to much of the album, particularly on the title track and We are Sane.

Was politics a driving force behind the band and were these views shared by the whole band?

I wouldn’t say that politics was a driving force, but our view of the world brought us to question the polices of various organisations, and Geoff felt strongly enough, and was articulate enough to comment on them in his lyrics. In the broadest sense the themes of the songs were shared by the band as we were somewhat like-minded individuals. We didn’t specifically disagree with anything that Geoff wrote, and we did do a number of benefits for the local CND group as that was an issue that we felt concerned about. Don’t forget 1982 was the era of Margaret Thatcher, the Falklands war, etc., so it wasn’t difficult to find yourself speaking out against a lot of what was happening at the time.

What is your view on the relevance today of tracks written in the 1980s, like This City and We are Sane… or are they just relics of another time?!

Geoff’s lyrics have stood the test of time better than any of us could ever have thought. If anything, the songs are more relevant today than they were back in the 1980s. The phrase ‘Fact & Fiction’ has just been replaced by ‘Fake News’, although that wouldn’t have made as good as an album title… For our stage intro from 1983 to We Are Sane about “the little box in the future that will tell you what to do all day”… read the smart phone! Blah, blah, rhubarb, blah, Trump! Blah, rhubarb, OMG, Brexit. Blah!

As you’re aware, Clive Mitten, who was one of the main songwriters for Fact & Fiction, has revisited a couple of this album’s tracks on his very recent debut album The Age of Insanity with his new outfit called C:Live Collective. Have you heard those tracks and if so what do you think of what Clive is doing with those songs now?

Yes, I heard them in development and told Clive I thought they would be very well-received by our fans, as he wasn’t sure himself at the time. I do like the album overall and how he has presented it, referencing the personal issues he has had to endure. Clive chose the Twelfth Night tracks to reinterpret precisely because what they are saying is still very relevant today. Great to hear Geoff’s son James singing and, of course, our own Mark Spencer.

I was fortunate enough to be at the final Twelfth Night gig (so far?!) at Celebr8.3 in 2014. Do you still have much contact with your former band mates?

I am in regular contact although less so with Rick as he has retired from music. I also keep in contact with many other people who have been associated with the band over the last 40 years.

Fact And Fiction - CD Booklet Cover

Is there any prospect of you working together with Clive, Andy Revell, Andy Sears and Mark Spencer again on another musical project or in playing as Twelfth Night again?

Rev, Mark and I are talking about doing something together again based on the earlier years of the band, and I’ve also suggested some recording ideas to Andy Sears, but there are no current plans for Twelfth Night to do any gigs, at least in the near future. But never say never!

In some ways you appear to be ‘the keeper of the flame’ for Twelfth Night in maintaining a social media presence, etc., for the band, and curating and overseeing their re-releases and merchandise. Why have you taken on that role and what drives you to keep the memory of Twelfth Night alive?

I suppose it is because it was always something that I took responsibility for, right from the start. I maintained the mailing list and sent out our newsletters, and later on liaised with our PR man Keith Goodwin with whom I became good friends. I formed the band with Rev and managed it throughout our career even when Hit & Run were involved. I paid for many of the recordings and kept all the tapes, photos, paperwork, memorabilia, etc. The band was an important time of my life and I am proud of what we achieved, even if we didn’t quite hit the big time. As there has always been interest in the band both from old fans and new people discovering us for the first time, I asked Mark Hughes (a very good friend) if he could transfer the cassette tapes (recorded both at rehearsals and gigs) to CD as a way of preserving them and seeing what was actually there. That kick-started the ‘Archive Release’ series as we discovered quite a lot of good quality material. I have always looked after the merchandise and continue to get great support from Mark, and now also Andrew Wild (our biographer) and Mark Spencer with the ‘social media’ side of things.

The Barbican “farewell” show in December 2012 was recorded with a view to releasing it as A Night To Remember. Over 5 years on (!), I have to ask whether that is still happening? If so, what is the latest on that project and when do you expect it to be released, and in what formats?

Happily, it is still happening and will be released quite soon! All the technical aspects have been completed as we have been working on it at the same time as preparing the Fact & Fiction album. It and we are just finalising artwork and bonus items. The plans are for a Blu-ray/DVD release with the soundtrack available separately as a double CD. It is very exciting as it was a great show and performance.

The artwork on Fact & Fiction was originally by Geoff Mann. How was the artwork devised for this album and how much input do you have into that process?

The original artwork for Fact & Fiction was devised and drawn by Geoff who was a talented painter as well as other gifts. Once we saw the overlapping heads design that Geoff came up with we knew that it was just perfect for the original album. The basic concept and design for this Definitive Edition 3-CD digipak release was mine. Jane Mann kindly let us use some scans of Geoff’s original hand-written lyrics, Andrew Wild and I wrote and commissioned the sleeve-notes, and we scoured the archives for some photos we hadn’t used before. Once we had all the elements it was put together by the supremely talented Paul Tippett at Vitamin P.

On this special edition re-release there is a disc devoted to cover versions of the tracks, with an impressive array of artists. How did you go about recruiting such talented artists and how did you choose them for each specific song, or did they choose?

It was largely their decision. Some pieces, such as those by Pendragon, Mark Spencer and Alan Reed/Kim Seviour were already in existence, and Galahad used to play a couple of our songs when they first started out so they were happy to relive a bit of their history. Tim Bowness had offered his services some years before, so we really didn’t have to recruit anyone. I have to say that a lot of credit must be handed to Dean Baker as he was a great help in providing backing tracks for, amongst others, Clive Nolan and Anastasia (Coburg). Dean actually appears on no less than five of the tracks!

What is your favourite Twelfth Night track from Fact & Fiction, and why?

Probably the live version of We Are Sane from the Live and Let Live shows… Or Fact And Fiction, or…

Similarly, which of the ‘cover’ versions are your favourites, and why?

I love them all and it wouldn’t be fair to choose one, but if you twisted my arm… Mark’s version of We Are Sane – as it is simply amazing, Coburg’s version of This City, because Anastasia’s voice is so beautiful and not knowing the original track she has given it a new lease of life, Stu & Dean’s version of Fact And Fiction, Lee’s guitar work on The Poet Sniffs A Flower, Clive Nolan channelling Sibelius… as I say ALL of them!

Some (including myself) genuinely regard Fact & Fiction as one of the greatest Progressive Rock albums of the 1980s and beyond. What do you think makes this album stand out as a great album, and why do you think it did not achieve the commercial success and breakthrough that it so richly deserved at that time?

I think one of the reasons it stood out was the quality of the ideas and because it was a different take on progressive rock compared to what a lot of our contemporaries were doing. Geoff’s lyrics and artwork were, and remain, unique, Clive’s six-string bass was often more like a lead instrument and Rev has always been a marvellous guitarist. There were some very, very talented individuals in the band.

Difficult to say why it didn’t achieve commercial success, there are probably many factors that contributed, for example not being on a major label and lacking extensive publicity, having been out of the public eye during the extended time it took to record and partly because Marillion had come to prominence in that time, and perhaps there was not really enough room in the market for two mainstream progressive bands. It suffered from a lack of promotion (budget) and some weaknesses in the execution/production. But it has stood the test of time.

For our final question – a bit of a silly one: Imagine you’re imprisoned in a cell for a long time and you can only take 6 albums in to the cell – you can take two Twelfth Night albums and four other albums. Which Twelfth Night albums would you choose, and which other four albums by any artists would you choose, and why?

The new Fact & Fiction Definitive Edition, obvs!, and either Live And Let Live or A Night to Remember. Off the top of my head… Benefit – Jethro Tull, If I Could Do It… – Caravan, Seconds Out – Genesis, New Gold Dream – Simple Minds. Why? Because they all bring back great memories.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for The Progressive Aspect, Brian, and good luck with the re-release of Fact & Fiction – it truly deserves wider recognition.

[You can read Leo Trimming’s review of the Definitive Edition of Fact and Fiction HERE.]

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