Having released four albums in the 1970s, Northern Irish band Fruupp dissolved and became a footnote of the glory days of prog. But in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest and reissues of their music have helped to spread the word about the this greatly underappreciated band, including the recent release of a lost live show from 1975 as Masquerading with Dawn. TPA’s Basil Francis spoke to drummer Martin Foye about the band and its history…
Hello! Thanks for doing this interview with me.
No problem, it’s a pleasure.
When did you start drumming?
I started when I was about 13. I have three older brothers and two of them played guitars, but I fell into drums because my hero was Ringo Starr. I saved up to buy parts of my first drum kit with money from my paper round. In a way, I’m glad it happened like this because I didn’t get a full drum kit at the start. I started off with just a snare drum and a pair of sticks, then progressed to a hi-hat and later a bass drum. When I look back, I’m glad that’s the way it happened because, I think if I had got a full kit, it would have given me false confidence that I could do everything straight away. Learning with just bits and pieces meant that I could focus on the core parts of the drum kit before moving onto other parts.
I’m a drummer like you…
That’s great! Drummers of the world unite!
Yes! Rock on! My funny story about beginning the drums is that, when I was about 10, my music teacher thought I should learn an instrument and offered either saxophone lessons or drums, and I chose the drums because I thought they were cooler and you got to sit down whilst playing them. What made you gravitate towards the drums in particular?
I remember seeing a band called Joe McCarthy and the Dixies. Joe McCarthy was a kind of clown drummer. He was absolutely amazing. He used to toss his sticks and twiddle them and everything like that. It was more showy than drumming if you know what I mean.
I think I do. I wonder if you’ve heard of “Drummer at the wrong gig” which became a viral hit on YouTube about a decade ago?
Ha ha, yeah. That showmanship really gave me an admiration for drummers and made me want to become one myself.
Had Fruupp already formed by the time you joined them?
Yes, I went for an audition in ’71 or ’72. Vincent McCusker, Stephen Houston and Peter Farrelly were all there. I remember thinking that the young drummer who was ahead of me sounded absolutely amazing and I thought I had no chance, but it seems I got lucky.
At that time too, there was a fifth member of the band called Miles McKee, whose nickname was ‘Tinhead’. He was the lead singer. We were a five piece when we went to London. On the way over on the boat, we met Thin Lizzy and I spoke to drummer Brian Downey. I actually just saw him playing in Belfast a fortnight ago on his Alive and Dangerous tour. It was absolutely excellent. I went backstage to meet him and I was surprised to find that he remembered me.
When we went to London with them, they were kind enough to allow us to open for them instead of the support group they had already planned, which obviously was a big help to us. At that gig, Eddie Kennedy, the manager of Rory Gallagher, a Belfast man, told our manager Paul Charles – Chuck, as we called him – that the band would make it if we lost the lead singer.
To me, that was very hard because, for a few weeks, Miles Tinhead had roadied with us and I felt as if I had gotten to know him. It was a hard decision to make, but once it was done, the band gelled a lot faster, for some strange reason. We all really put our heads together.
Who else did you meet whilst touring?
When we supported Genesis, I got very friendly with Phil Collins. A lovely, lovely man. I talked quite a lot with him. I remember one conversation we had after a gig in the dressing rooms, he said to me that he got an offer to join Yes, who were another big influence on Vincey, our lead guitarist. He said it to me just as a throwaway conversation, not that he’d made up his mind or anything like that, because I’m sure the man was thinking about it. I told him about how I joined the band and that I would probably be the last one to leave Fruupp, and I was! But then, Phil decided that he would stay with Genesis and, as you know, he ended up getting in Bill Bruford from Yes and a few other drummers to drum with him.
Did you stay in touch with Phil?
Oh, no, no, no. When you’re on the road and meeting people in other bands, you’re like ships in the night. But I always found Phil to be a total gentleman – all of them were, you know, but drummers tend to magnetise towards other drummers. He was so very helpful and down to earth. Good luck to him.
I believe you opened for King Crimson as well?
Yes we did, at a venue… I can’t quite remember when that was.
So would that mean you’ve met Bill Bruford as well?
I may have done, but again, in the back of my mind, I only remember a few drummers that I met ‘properly’. I’m not sure about Crimson though.
What was the songwriting process like for Fruupp?
I think Vincey did most of the writing, along with Stevey. They structured the song. They never told me what to play, just gave me some ideas. What I can remember is that it was a good way of working. It was never a dominant thing of “Here’s the drum part we want you to do. This is the way to do it.” It was more “This is the track, what can you come up with?” Which was a nicer way to work.
Which Fruupp song are you most proud of?
I really do dig Decision. I think it’s a great track. It was written by a friend of ours, Ivan Vallelly, “Touche” we called him. He wrote it as a poem and then Vincey took it and we put the music to it. I also like Annie Austere. There’s a few tracks really.
Because of all of this happening now with the new album, I’ve been revisiting Fruupp myself. It’s been really nice, but it’s so strange because it brings back memories. Also, as a musician, you notice the flaws in your performances that no one else hears and you wish you could go back and change it.
I know exactly what you mean. Once, I was performing Carry On Wayward Son on stage with a friend of mine and just before the end of the song, the crash cymbal stand broke so I couldn’t play it. It never happened in practice but happened in the final performance. I just felt as if I had practised so much for that moment to make it perfect but my cymbal broke, but hey, what can you do?
I think there are great lessons in life. It’s good that that has happened to you because once it happens to you once, it does really hit you in the chest and affect you. But all of a sudden you realise “This is the way I get out of this: I don’t panic, I don’t stop, I keep on going. That happens, it’s in the past, let it be.” It makes you stronger as a drummer.
I’ve gotta give you this one. You can hit this with your other friends. Please bear with me. Can you spell ‘drummer’?
Right. And spell ‘music’.
Well you’re wrong on both accounts because this is my theory: drummer is spelled T-I-M-E and music is spelled F-U-N and if you stick the two together, what have you got? A fun time!
Ha ha! That’s great. I’ll be sure to share that and tell them you told me.
Out of all your songs with Fruupp, which would you say is the hardest to play on the drums?
Oh gosh, I really couldn’t say that to be honest with you. They were all pretty unique in that sense. They all had a different feel to them, if you know what I mean. It was never a case of finding the songs hard to perform, it was about the learning curve.
What was your favourite memory from your time in Fruupp?
Obviously, doing the first album. My experience of being there and doing that was such a buzz. And that feeling of getting the album, putting it on your deck and playing it is so wonderful.
Do you think you were a fan of prog rock before you joined Fruupp?
No, I would say it was that I just happened to join a prog band. What I had been listening to were favourites like Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, you know? I had no idea about the prog scene. It was more Vincey McCusker that introduced me to bands like Yes and Genesis.
That’s interesting because you come off as a fantastic prog drummer with lots of various styles, with the chops to back it up, as well as technical precision. It’s funny that you have all the qualifications of a bona fide prog drummer and yet you weren’t into the genre beforehand. Was it just Vincent pushing for the more complex songs, or did the other band members feel the same way?
I think Peter was more like me. It was definitely Vincey because a lot of the material was his, and Stephen Houston’s. Stephen had more of a classical background, having played in the Belfast Youth Orchestra. He played the big organs in the Ulster Hall.
That makes sense because there’s a lot of classical music represented on the first two Fruupp albums.
If I remember correctly, somewhere along the line we used a piece of music by Tchaikovsky or something and one of his relatives complained about it because Yes used a bit of the music and so did King Crimson, and now we had this piece of music. We had to pull a few albums because we had this music in our song.
I think you’re talking about Holst. Gustav Holst and The Planets suite.
Yes, that could be more like it. That shows you my rapid tour of classical music!
It’s fine, I only know it because I just wrote the review for the new live album where you play On a Clear Day which has that piece of music in it. I actually think it’s one of your strongest songs. How did it feel playing along to classical music in a rock format?
It was really cool, because I’d never dabbled in anything like that before and because of the way we worked, I had a lot of freedom. When I look back now it was really nice, I was given my own space to create what I was going to do as a drum piece. That was really good, and thankfully it worked! It could have gone the other way totally. Thank goodness it worked.
We did a lot of rehearsals at the start. Getting to know three new guys – four at the start if you include Miles McKee – getting to know the people and the characters and then the musicianship that they had, I think we worked very tightly together, which was great.
Do you think that being in Fruupp turned you into a fan of prog?
Yes, only after joining did I start listening to all those great bands like Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Focus, who we supported a couple of times. Some of it went over my head at first but I got to really liking it.
Those memories come flooding back. Sometimes when I get together with my friends for a beer, we talk about the old times and venues and stuff. Through their experiences it’s like someone showing you a photograph; all of a sudden, all of the people in the photograph come alive and when they start to talk about it, it brings back the memory, which is lovely, you know?
You forget a lot of things on the road because it’s kind of like a merry-go-round wheel that you’re running at that time, and you never really take it in until later on up the road. I’ve talked to loads of musicians about it; when you record your first album, it’s such a big deal that it takes a bit of time to move on. But then you do the next album and you kind of forget about the first one and you put it out of your mind because you’ve gone through that experience and now you’re into a new experience. It’s only after a couple of albums that you revisit and your memory flashes back to “that’s what happened then” and “that’s why that worked,” you know?
That reminds me of the time I visited the High Voltage festival in 2010 where I saw Emerson Lake and Palmer give their final performance. I was sleeping at a cheap hostel whilst visiting and I was extremely exhausted from being on my feet in the sun all day with hardly any rest. It made me wonder why I had even bothered to come, and I started to rationalise it by saying to myself that even if it didn’t feel all that great in the moment, I was making fantastic memories for myself to look back on, and it’s true: I hardly remember the bad stuff now. It’s a different experience looking back on a memory than it is to live through it. That’s how I relate to what you’re saying.
On a different note, I must confess that I almost didn’t become a Fruupp fan. In 2010, there was an anthology released called Wondrous Stories, which was a 4CD collection of various prog rock artists from the dawn of the era up until now. One of Fruupp’s songs was sandwiched between Opening Move by Gryphon and School by Supertramp, two utterly legendary songs by brilliant bands. I was intrigued by the very name ‘Fruupp’ which sticks out on the page. However, the song in question was The Seventh Secret, a minute-long track with a weird poem in it. I thought “What the hell is this? Is this some twee little folk thingy?” And it honestly put me off looking into Fruupp any further, and it’s only by luck that I happened to discover two Fruupp CDs at a shop in Leeds some two years later, remembered the name and thought I’d reluctantly give you a try. Best decision I ever made.
Looking back, I feel as if The Seventh Secret was the worst possible track they could have used to showcase the band on Wondrous Stories. How do you feel about that?
Sometimes, you might have preferred another track that would have given us more insight. If it had been Annie Austere or Decision or a track like that, it might have brought you into the band more.
They used to make compilation albums in the ’60s too. My favourite was Nice Enough to Eat.
Funnily enough, I’m a member of a Facebook group with the same name which is all about members sharing rare prog gems, and it’s named after that compilation album.
Did you listen to your old records much after the band split?
Not really because you move on, you’re playing with other bands and you leave the past where it is until something reminds you of that time once in a blue moon.
What happened to you after the band split?
Me and Peter Farrelly were always very close. We played in a few bands in and around London. We played in a band called the Crowd with another Belfast guitarist called Danny McGuiness, we were a three piece. Peter wrote a lot of the material, I wrote a few things too, stuff that we never got to do with Fruupp. A lot of covers too of the Beatles, Stones, things that we liked ourselves; it was more of a fun band.
After a while of that, it wasn’t really going anywhere so I basically came home and then I played with a few bands in Ireland, but nothing as formal as my time in Fruupp.
So you never stopped playing music?
Never. I’m still playing! It’s just about keeping your hand in. I don’t think I’ve ever given up because after I went to that Isle of Wight festival, I decided I wanted to become a musician. Ever since I decided that, I knew that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I’ve never hung up the sticks and said “that part of my life is over”.
Do you think Fruupp is more popular now than it was in the ’70s?
I would say aye because it’s funny the way the younger generation has rediscovered music, including yourself!
Do you think there was a time when nobody was listening to Fruupp music, like in the ’80s and ’90s?
Oh yeah, I would certainly say that. Of course, aye. Because, it’s only when they rediscover it again and talk about it amongst their friends that it becomes of interest to other people.
When did you start to notice people returning to Fruupp?
It was down to my friend Brian O’Neill. He was well savvy, I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology. It was Brian lighting the flame again that made people start to get interested in it.
Did you get to hear the new live album Masquerading with Dawn before it was mixed, or did it come to you as the final package?
It was all fully completed. Actually, it was the single that arrived first, Annie Austere/Decision. I was delighted! It kind of blew me away because I hadn’t been listening to those tracks in so long, and I’d put it aside. It came and refreshed my memory, and I thought it was absolutely excellent. I was very surprised, I couldn’t believe how good it was.
It was a showcase of how tight we were. You kind of forget those things but we were a hard-working band. There’s no doubt about that. We worked our socks off. Listening to it, the album shows that. Well done to the producer, and engineers that took it apart, it was just a wee ordinary tape.
Yes, I believe one of the fans came in and recorded the show themselves.
I thought it was really fantastic for what it was and fair play to them, because of course, without that, we wouldn’t have the music!
How did it feel listening for something that had been lost for nearly fifty years?
It was fantastic, there’s no doubt about that. To me it was a real buzz, I’m sure it was for the rest of the lads too. It was a gem that was lost and was found as far as I was concerned.
Do you think it’s a good representation of the band live?
I think it’s good, no doubt about it. It is slightly fast and furious!
Would that have been normal for the band, to be so fast and furious?
I think it was an accident, what happened with it. I was so surprised. When you don’t hear something for such a long time and then you revisit it again… it was so fresh, you know?
Since this recording was made during the Modern Masquerades tour, does it bring back any memories of working with keyboardist John Mason?
Yes, John was very talented. He was a different kettle of fish to Stephen, I have to be honest. I think Stephen regretted leaving the band after some time had passed.
I can’t quite remember when Stephen left…
He found religion. As far as he was concerned, we were playing the devil’s music.
I see. How was it different to work with John Mason?
Stephen was more classically-oriented, music-wise, where John was a bit more jazzy, I think. It certainly was day and night, it was a big change for us all. He did a great job and wrote some great songs… but for me it would have been better if Stevey had stayed with us. But that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
I wanted to ask if you could illuminate what happened during the Fruupp split in 1976 from your perspective.
I think we were supposed to go to some sort of board meeting where it was announced that the band was splitting up. We owed money to Dawn Records. And if we didn’t go, we were null and void to pay them royalties. So I know that Peter and I didn’t go to that meeting. I reckon Vincey would be better to ask about that or Stevey Houston.
Once it happened, I reckoned that was it. I just thought “Okay, that’s the way it goes, I’ll forget about it,” you know? I left it to Paul Charles to consider all the Fruupp material and figure out how to reissue it. Brian O’Neill came to me and asked me if it was okay if he investigated it and I said “Sure, no problems, it doesn’t bother me.”
I have heard reports that there was a fifth album in progress when this happened.
That’s right. We were going to do something like the 1812 Overture and we were going to use cannon guns on stage with it. I think we actually performed it once at our last gig in the Roundhouse with a band called Spirit. We had a new keyboard player and a guy called Roddy Wilson who was actually John Wilson’s brother, the drummer of Taste and Rory Gallagher. We rehearsed the whole thing, did the whole album thing and planned it, and then I think we only did that one gig and then that was it. The band was over.
It’s a shame there’s no recordings of that.
I was talking to Vincey about the new live album and it’s strange because at the end, you can hear the audience crying out for Steam Machine.
I noticed that too, can you tell me about that?
It was a track that we did, I’m not sure how many times we played it live. It’s funny that we didn’t play it as an encore when the fans were shouting for it because usually that’s what you would do. But I don’t think we ever recorded that.
I was saying to Vincey recently “Vincey, you know what? Me, you, Stevey and my friend should record this track.” Vincey was concerned that it would be difficult to replace Peter Farrelly, because he’s not too well, we don’t think he’d be able to do it. It would be fantastic if he was able to do it, that’s why I’m trying to get down to Belfast to see him, to see what kind of shape Peter is in. But I have this friend here called Algie Murray, he’s an amazing bass player and a great singer. I said to Vincey, “What we could do is maybe pull Algie in and the four of us record Steam Machine.” We could give it to all those people like Nigel and yourself as a thank you. We could put it out on the Fruupp website as a thank you and sell it to the fans who would want to buy it.
Oh, I think there would be a big market for that.
I think Vincey is interested because he’s delighted by all that’s been happening. I’m sure Peter is too.
Do you ever just practise Fruupp songs at home?
No, not really, to be honest with you. I’d say it would blow me away if I tried to do them again. I don’t even know if I could remember them. But I suppose with the records if I put the work in it would come back, because it’s like riding a bike; you fall off and you get back on and you suddenly realise you know how to ride it and forget about falling off.
Have you ever considered making drumming videos for YouTube?
I’m not sure. I’d really need to think about that.
It would certainly interest me, I’m not sure about anyone else, but I could see fans being interested.
I must have a good think about that.
Do you listen to any modern prog bands?
Not really, to be honest with you. I’m more stuck in my old groove of bands that I like. I don’t think I’ve listened to any new bands in the last twenty years.
Do you have any messages for fans of the group?
Thank them dearly for their interest in the band. It’s given the four of us, Peter, Vincent, Stevey and myself due heart and it’s really nice that they appreciate it. I would like to thank them personally from the bottom of my heart and I’m glad that they enjoy it. It’s so nice for us that it’s happening. I can only thank them because without them it wouldn’t be happening at all.
What would you say to those who would like to see a reunion happen?
Aye, well you never know what tomorrow will bring. Hopefully there might be something up the road.
On an unrelated note, have you seen Derry Girls?
Oh it’s fantastic, I love it to bits, I do. That’s exactly what the Derry ones are like. Derry is a very talented city; a lot of great bands and musicians have come out of Derry. Derry Girls is absolutely fantastic; you’re actually getting what it’s like to be there. It’s just full of that Derry humour.
What is next for Martin Foye?
I’m working with a few friends and I’m thinking of making a new album, but it’ll be our kind of material, not like Fruupp. It’ll be original material.
Is there a name for this project yet?
No, not really, we’ll have to see.
Thanks for talking to me Martin.
It’s a pleasure. Call again soon!