A couple of hours prior to Ozric Tentacles and Friends playing HRH Prog X at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, guitarist, keys and synth player, co-founder and mainstay of the band Ed Wynne kindly agreed to a recorded chat (while the rest of the band remained in the green room enjoying HRH’s generous hospitality) with TPA’s Rosamund Tomlins, shedding some light on performing live, pre-show jitters, family involvement, the modern pop scene, and living in Scotland.
You’ve had a prolific output, particularly over recent years; how do you determine what tracks to play for festivals and for when you’re headlining?
Well, normally, it used to be that festivals and gigs were pretty much the same; we’d make the set list, and go on and do our best, as best as we can, but nowadays it’s slightly different because we have a different sound, slightly more electronic in its nature, therefore we pick and choose tracks between gigs and work on them like crazy in the studio. At the moment it’s nice to be able to be in this luxurious position where we’re able to choose some slightly stranger tracks from our catalogue because we don’t have to rely on a bass player and drummer. So we can actually pick some fairly strange sounding bits of music which makes it really wide open, and it’s a lot of fun! So choosing which ones we do is fairly random really, as we feel like it. One morning one of us might say “Ooh, do you know what? We should try doing that one, one day!” and someone else says “Oh no no we can’t, because…” but then we end up saying “Hang on a minute, maybe we now can…” and we can!
So it keeps it all fresh?
Yes it does. We’re in a very nice position where we are able to play anything we like.
It seems with some bands, if they don’t play the expected numbers, the big hits, some of the fans go off a bit disgruntled. What do you think about that?
I know, some do, but it depends how many hits you’ve had and some bands have made it on just two or three songs therefore they are kind of obliged to play those songs; like if you go to see Arthur Brown you’re hoping he’s going to play Fire ‘cos that’s what you know, but for him it must be getting a little tedious to always have to play that track, but when you get a nice reaction from the crowd then it’s definitely still worth it.
A particularly nice reaction for him is when he wears the flaming helmet, which he did, at A New Day festival recently, were you still there for that?
No, sadly we had to go almost straight after our set.
Your set up at A New Day, just you and your son, was quite a surprise for me. I was still in the tent at the beginning and I thought “Wow, is that really just the two of them?”
Did it sound like a whole band?
Yes it did!
Oh great, that’s good to hear, that is!
I could see that you were both concentrating like mad; do you get nervous beforehand these days?
Yeah, every time! Before going onstage I’m always in a state of terror and then as soon as everything works – I’ll get halfway through the first track and it’s all working fine – then it completely changes and then I feel absolutely and completely comfortable. It’s just techno fear for the first five minutes that it’s not going to work. You push ‘go’ and then if it doesn’t ‘go’ then it’s a really horrible feeling!
But the audiences that you play to I think are mostly really understanding of the processes of this sort of music; it’s part of the progressive scene, your space rock, or whatever anyone chooses to call it, and we know it’s difficult and we’re all with you appreciating – otherwise we wouldn’t be here, we’d be listening to chart music.
I actually did attempt that recently ‘cos as we drove down here I was trying out the radio; I don’t know what it was, it lasted about 45 seconds and I thought “No no no no NO!” Silence is golden compared to that, sometimes, but I grew up with the pop charts and it was all quite exciting then, but, and I hate to say it, but I think for a lot of it now it’s the computers; 10CC, Slade, Sweet, all that lot, they really had to play their instruments, they had to learn their tunes and get it right… now, well I don’t know how it quite works; nowadays pop music… well it doesn’t sound like real people doing it. It’s auto-tune, vocoders, formulaic stuff. This is why I like the music that’s happening here, it’s people doing things as best they possibly can; it’s like watching the Olympics, people at the pinnacle of their achievements!
You’ve got family with you playing alongside you…
Yes! Now, they’re the closest people to you you’ve got; they’re not going to create any nonsense it’s just like “Hey come on, let’s do this!” rather than being prima donnas; no ego battles or any of that stuff – I can’t be bothered with any of that. When I first started, my brother was playing bass; for a few years it was me with friends, and now it’s with my son playing keyboards and so the family is again on board.
Was that your brother Roly?
Yes, sadly he’s not with us any more; he was an amazing bass player!
So how is it on stage these days with your current setup? How are the sound systems generally for you?
You’re trusting whoever is taking care of the sound; we’re doing our bit on stage, getting it as good we can and hopefully we have a sensible person out there making it sound nice out there, but you can’t tell. You ask the sound engineer “How was it?” and they say “That was absolutely amazing, it was incredible!” and you think “Oh great!”, but then you think “they might just be saying that so that they can get another job, so I still don’t know.” It does my head in a little bit but well, you know I’m not that fussed about it.
Do you think you were more fussed about it when you were younger?
No no, not really, well… I’ve just blundered through this career really, stumbled through it, had a lot of fun, and thankfully I’m getting away with it still, which is lovely you know!
Have you always been able to make a consistent living out of this?
Yes! Well, I haven’t ever done anything else. Sometimes it’s very thin, sometimes it’s very lucrative, but I find it’s not the money that keeps me wanting to do music, it’s the music that keeps me wanting to do music, therefore if I do starve for a little bit, for a few months here and there, I’m not going to stop making tunes if I’m still happy with the world – as long as it’s not for too long. Thankfully I’ve had a roof over my head and been able to feed the people I’ve needed to feed in the house and to keep it going, thankfully, just about. It’s tricky, it’s hard, you have to work hard, all the time!
How far have you had to travel to get here?
Today, not that far, just from Milton Keynes, but yesterday it was from Scotland. I live in Scotland, I’ve only been there three years, just by the sea north of Edinburgh, on the other side of the coast in Fife; it’s nice enough.
What drew you to live there?
House prices! It’s about half the price as down here. I’ve got a nice house; you could get a tiny flat in London for the same price! I’ve got good heating, I’ve got two gardens, I’ve got a building with a studio in it; it’s fine – it’s not like a palace or anything, it’s a little house, but it’s a happy house! We’ve got cats – four of them! I’ve done some of the decorating, I can paint a room if I’ve got the time – it’s a nice meditation.
Ah yes, quite meditative, and all that is helpful, and linked to how you prepare for gigs. Just now, I was advised that you were all probably eating and I didn’t want to interrupt, but it turns out you weren’t, you’ll wait until afterwards. So how do you prepare?
I just sit and concentrate, I take three-quarters of my mind going through what I’ve got to do and the other quarter is just survival until the gig, as with what we’re doing there’s the element of improvisation as well, so I’m concentrating on every aspect of everything! Really checking every nuance of everything. I can see it in my mind’s eye, it’s like a bit of a conveyor belt; you know what’s coming past and I have to put in the right bits at the right time as it goes past; so yeah it’s a kind of routine we follow and then the impro bits go in, but the nice thing is when we get to a point where we know it so well we can dance with it and change it as we go, and add to it.
Talking of dancing, your music is totally danceable, I and others dance down the front…
Oh is it, good, oh that’s great, great, lovely!
I think you create a fantastic atmosphere; can you tell when you’re on stage?
Yes you can tell whether it’s working or not. That’s the sort of thing a gig is for me, really; it’s a time to share, a bit of telepathy or something with the audience through the ether, that sort of thing, yeah it’s an amazing feeling!
In Scotland, have you found any particular attitudes to Brexit?
They all think it’s nonsense! They say on the local news “Give us it back, we want it back, it was nice and friendly, we liked it, it helped!”
Do you think the implications for musicians touring could be quite catastrophic?
Yeah, but apparently they’re going to change that, it’s actually going to be OK, so they’re going to let us go in and out without a visa, which is really good.
Are there any EU territory dates in the offing?
Not as planned yet, but there are people who want us to play in Israel, funnily enough. We’ve been there a few times, it’s lovely over there, a couple of promoters there both wanting us to go there, but it’s annoying for us because they both want us but they both want the other one NOT to have us, so we’re just waiting for them to sort it out.
Fingers crossed they do! Well, time is moving on; I’m very much looking forward to your set and seeing what the ‘friends’ are going to get up to. Thank you very very much for your time.
My pleasure! Thank you very much too.
Ozric Tentacles will be touring their electronic shows through the UK in December, dates available on the TPA GIG GUIDE.
Phots by Rosamund Tomlins.