Gandalf's Fist

Gandalf’s Fist

With The Clockwork Prologue companion piece to 2016’s The Clockwork Fable now available, TPA’s Tony Colvill spoke to the band about (almost) all things Fist…

Dean, in your role as Cogtopolis Eccentric Overlord (that is what CEO stands for, is it not?) where can your lost soul progressive rock/steampunk/story reader fit the continuing tale within the saga?

Dean: The new album actually is set in the hours leading upto the events of “The Clockwork Fable”. Turmoil has engulfed the city of Cogtopolis. The taxation of wholegrain semolina balls is in dispute. A blockade of deadly badgers surrounds the City. The stakes are high. Risks unfathomable! The last elusive morsel of couscous eludes our heroes! Will they find it in time?

Stefan: Imagine this in a 3D text moving away from you in yellow against a starry nightsky.

What brings respectable thespians to your musical table? Is blackmail? Can we see the pictures?

Dean: About twelve years ago, after Luke and I had first formed Gandalf’s Fist, we chanced upon a Peruvian Shaman whilst trekking amidst the foothills of Coropuna. He beckoned us into performing a tribal ritual whereby Luke was placed in a nest of bracken and mosses, known locally as an “Esfera de Solano”, or “Solano-Sphere”. When, after four days, he emerged from the leaf-egg he found that, not only had he grown an extra tonsil, but also developed porous face -sack which appeared to secrete a pungent airborne chemical that actors simply cannot resist. So powerful was the pheromone that we had Pierce Brosnan following us around for weeks.

Stefan: It’s all about Polaroids. Always. Why do you think we could acquire such high quality players like Ben and Keri into the band? There you have it. Polaroids.

Keri, you were described by one of my TPA colleagues as having a marvellous set of pipes, how and where do you fit in the schemes of this marvellous bunch of amiable nutcases? How would you describe GF’s musical endeavours?

Keri: My pipes and I seem to fit into the band rather well. The story telling aspect of GF really appeals to me, as much of my vocal training and previous work has been theatre based so to be able to create and perform in character as part of a band is a gem of an opportunity.

As far as describing the band’s musical endeavours goes – I think the beauty of GF is that you can’t succinctly put it into words. There are so many influences combined with the individuality and creativity of all the members, every song is new territory and every album is an eventful journey. It’s very exciting to be a part of!

Ben: This is very different from BP, musical polyglot, or do you prefer one camp to the other?

Ben: I’m a Foot In Every Camp sort of musician. Part of the appeal of prog has been that I don’t have to choose one style or another and then stick to its set of rules and restrictions. I can just mix up all the things I like, throw them together in a song and say, “That’s my music.” Besides, GF is a full band whereas Broken Parachute is Marcus (Taylor) and me and a session drummer and Patchwork Cacophony is just me. The different writing dynamics in those approaches bring are probably more significant to me than the different styles.

The musical and storytelling is wonderful, but where do your live performances fit in? Do you want to expand you gig appearances? Geographically you are scattered, how would a promoter bring you together?

Ben: I heard about this piper from Hamlyn who might be able to do it. Failing that, a tractor beam, and the funding to make it all work.

Dean: It’s always tricky given how spread out we all are. Last year we had a promoter approach us with the express desire of booking us for a 12-date headlining tour of Ormskirk. We agreed to commit to the first 4 dates on the condition that Stefan was allowed to throw a giant pair of underpants into the audience at the end of every show. We just assumed this to be some strange Hanoverian custom and didn’t really question it at the time. In retrospect, this was a mistake. People started turning up just to see the gimmick. We’d be literally 10 minutes into the set and the growing chants of “Unterhosen! Unterhosen!” would start. It really undermined the integrity of our stage-art.

Stefan: Not to mention I ran out of knickers…

Keri: He tried borrowing mine, but it didn’t have the same effect.

Gandalf’s Fist/Spinal Tap, do you live in fear Stefan of the fiction demise of ST drummers, tragic gardening accidents?

Dean: It’s an on-going concern for us. We’re actually onto our fourth Stefan already. We tried reanimating all the old ones but they just sorta bounce around the garden looking for Newcastle brown.

Ben: So arguably they’re pretty accurate replicas.

Stefan: In fact, when they had me in hospital after the stroke, they tried every examination known to mankind to find the source to the issue… including a spinal tap! I refused that, since we all know how great Spinal Tap and drummers get along…

What does Cogtopolis represent to each of you? Philosophical? Satirical look at modern life?

Dean: Many people interpret the story as a cautionary tale against clandestine rule and political power-mongering. An exploration of the limits of science living alongside dogmatic tradition. However I prefer to think of it as a direct sequel to Christopher Lambert’s “Fortress II“ – we just had to change most of the characters to weasels to avoid copyright infringement

Stefan: Cogtopolis to me is kind of a nightmare that became reality. If you remove the names you will notice apparent resemblance to every parliament across the world. You could easily rename Cogtopolis to a country of your choice, and find politicians and people acting similar in real life.

Keri: I agree with Stefan (write that down, it doesn’t happen often). The characters, the dissention, the dysfunctionality – it all sounds awfully familiar at the moment. But I think ultimately it’s testament to the deep inner workings of the minds of Dean and Luke. Unfathomable depths with occasional glimpses of the world outside – and the odd badger running around.

Ben: For me Cogtopolis is a glimpse of the life I aspire to. When I retire from the music business I want to run a weasel pie stall in Cogtopolis — I think that would be my ideal retirement job. Especially now everyone’s left for the surface. That way I can keep the pies too.

Gandalf's Fist Movie Background

Where do the words come from? Difficult to sing? Many styles appear, a favourite?

Luke: The words come from a dictionary and occasionally a thesaurus. And sometimes we when make them up ourselves using a combination of dice and the 1995 edition of Encarta on CD-ROM. Everything is difficult to sing but especially the words “core”, “Jeff” and “magnetron” which is why i have never sung any of these. My favourite style is reggae prog, but since I’m the only in the band with this preference, we have never done anything in this style.

Fable was conclusive, this seems somewhere in the middle, will we have more tales from Cogtopolis?

Keri: Nope.

Ben: Definitely not. The band have been 100% clear on that since the release of The Clockwork Fable, and we remain just as definite about that now we’ve released The Clockwork Prelude.

Dean: I guess that’s always an option. I certainly know where the story would go next… Maybe sometime in the future. But in the meantime we’re trying to set another script I wrote to music. It’s called “The Man who shouted at a Goose.”

Stefan: It’s the prequel to the epic “The Man who shouted at cheese” (preferably Goat-cheese).

Any chance of a two or three act performance with actors of the whole of fable or a culmination of both Fable and “prologue”?

Dean: I think everyone involved would love to do that. The problem is, it probably lends itself to a lavish stage show and we’re fucking cheapskates.

Stefan: Yeah, Mark (Benton) really is up for it. I’m in once he’s got a theatre arranged, and the rest is able to book holidays for it…

Keri: That would be amazing! Probably totally impractical – but amazing. I’d love to take on the challenge of staging it.

Not heard any goats? Caprian readers may be disappointed? Perhaps a tales of other astrological signs, thirteen tracks and include the Spider (the alleged 13th star sign, Arachnia?)

Dean: The sound of Luke’s voice is actually a goat. We digitally manipulated several farmyard recordings to sound somewhat human. As soon as we played the master tapes back we all sat in the studio, nodded our heads and said “that’s Luke”.

Stefan: Later we got aware that the farmer made fun of it and christened all the goats “Luke”, so we really only could lose on this.

Ben: I have to admit we kind of sold out a bit from an astrologoical perspective. I have it on good authority that the Steam Conveyor is a Friendly Leo, but beyond that… well, we were all set to get in Fish as a guest vocalist and Pisces Representative but he turned out to be a Taurus. Frankly that blew our minds so much that we just abandoned the whole thing as too complicated and went back to the goats.

Keri: I’m allergic to goats.

Gandalf's Fist_Clokkemaker

Fable is a beautiful package, prologue looks to be, how important is the story to the music?

Dean: In this instance, pretty important – we sketched out the story before writing the songs. However we really wanted the songs to stand on their own legs. So we gave them as many legs as possible. Spider Songs we called them. Halfway through tracking the songs Ben would always try and add an extra leg, but in the end we ran out of shoes.

Stefan: Which is why Ben never wears shoes onstage (fun fact!)

I accused you of being marvellous thieves, musical highwayman; how do you decide what goes where? Do the lyrics appear first, or the music looking for a tale to tell?

Dean: It really depends. It’s been really enjoyable collaborating with Ben and Keri on the songs, especially since I’ve had to carry the songwriting torch up until this point. I really encouraged the other guys to write more in the past but they were always making soup. All the live-long day. Soup this, soup that. “Where’s Chris? I want his help on this song” – making soup. “Hey Luke, what rhymes with ‘scotch-eggs?” – face down in a bowl of chowder. At the start of pre-production I hid every tin of fucking Heinz, Baxters and Campbell’s I could find… guess what? Secret stash of Cup-o-soup. In the end I just gave up. When we were looking for Keys players I made it a criteria that they were medically soup-intolerant. That’s where Ben came in.

Ben: Sadly no-one forewarned me that I was going to be soup intolerant in the context of this band. I should have read the contract more carefully, but for a while I assumed the splitting headaches and disorientation were down to the long hours studying cypheridia. Eventually on a whim I had a pasty instead and it was a revelation, as if the scales had been removed from my eyes. Which in a sense they had, though it was more swelling than actual scales if you want to be pedantic. After that, learning to play the keyboards, time-travelling to release some albums, depositing some hasty polaroid selfies in Stefan’s briefcase and generally retconning reality up to the point at which I was/have been hired was easy by comparison.

But I really miss the soup.

Keri: I’m allergic to soup.

Geographically disparate, how is your recording schedule defined?

Dean: It is very demanding as we all have full time jobs to work around; Stefan has taken on extra hours as a Pilates instructor, Ben has his sportswear store in Halifax and Luke works long hours at the Donkey Derby. It’s a wonder we ever get anything done.

Stefan: Can I petition Halifax to be renamed to Hali-eMail? Fax is sooo outdated nowadays…

Ben: The recording sessions for each album are meticulously planned out about two years in advance. We know which parts of which songs need to be recorded, what day which part needs to be overdubbed. We even have the tea breaks scheduled in. We write all of that down in a great big spreadsheet, print six copies out, then bury them in a chest in a secret location and never look at them again. From there on we kind of wing it. Usually that involves Dean writing demos, then the rest of us take turns at misinterpreting his intentions until we can be sure that everyone else thinks it must have been recorded by the rest of the band while we weren’t paying attention.

Keri: I schedule my studio sessions with Ben dependent on the availability of Turkish Delight gin. I won’t get out of bed for anything less than a bottle.

Ben: I’m allergic to Turkish Delight gin.

Will you revisit previous tales with new inspirations, or continuing stories? (Forest of Fey)

Dean: We only really went back to the world of Cogtopolis as we had an entire EP of songs that couldn’t quite fit on the original album. All our concept albums are linked together anyway…

Stefan: If you look at the Burned Planet Cogtopolis Traveller’s Guide, you will find a graphic explaining the intertwining of the several albums into one huge clusterfuck. If we re-visit a place, it’s because we got news from that particular world from one of the flying weasels on horseback. They usually show up and tell us about the latest happenings in that particular world, and then we decide “that’s worth a headline… err… album!”

I love the fun of your work, and that book at bedtime element of it. Do you think you would ever produce a musical novel, each album telling the saga going forward?

Dean: We did try this but we let Chris write the novel first. It was about a wise-cracking mouse called Vimto that had a catchprase where he would go “It’s Me! bada-bing!” as the punchline at the end of every chapter. We were knee-deep into recording “Chapter 7: Vimto does Vegas”, when we had a huge bust up over who we were going to approach to voice the titular mouse. We eventually settled on Robert Redford. He said no.

Stefan: He probably didn’t like the phrase “bada-bing”.

I find it fun but dramatic, in part allegorical, not unlike the goth like imaginings of the sorely missed Terry Pratchett? Would you consider, subject to estate approval, working something like Raising Steam or Going Postal into a musical concept?

Dean: It would be a massive honour but we’ve got enough mad ideas going on that it would be silly, even by our standards, to start importing silly ideas.

Stefan: To quote a famous movie: Silly is as silly does. So eventually, we might. Or not.

Ben: I’m guessing you’ve heard Steeleye Span did that with Wintersmith? Personally I’m a huge fan of Pratchett (as any geek interested in the X-Clacks-Overhead may notice) but I think writing within his world would be constraining. I’d be worried about wanting to present his vision and not detracting from it, which is a bad place to start from creatively. In any case, there’s a shocking absence of weasels in his work for a writer of such stature. I’m surprised no-one ever comments on that, but I suppose it was a different era.

Gandalf's Fist

Right, off the wrap my lugholes around the album and read the tiny pdf words. Please answer my humble question whilst I inscribe the writing slate on thought about The Clockwork Prologue. The finished article will be published on dried drummer skins that have been curing for a while now in my studio, and written in Dragon’s blood.

Many thanks…

You can read Tony Colvill’s review of The Clockwork Prologue HERE.

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