The Dave Foster Band recently released their Glimmer album and TPA’s Graham Thomas spoke to band leader Dave Foster, guitarist with the Steve Rothery Band and Big Big Train (and formerly Mr. So & So) about how the album came about and future plans…
I was intrigued to find out that you were a founder member of Mr So & So, a band I’ve enjoyed at Cambridge Rock Festival on several occasions. Do you have fond memories of that band, and are you still in touch with the other members?
I look back at my time with Mr. So & So with nothing but pride. We were a unique band, songs based progressive rock when it wasn’t cool to do that. We were never a band to be pigeon holed, though some people tried to tag us with ‘Neo-Prog’ (Whatever that means), which meant the progressive rock press never really knew where to put us. As for fond memories, I remember playing at The Manchester Apollo supporting Marillion on the This Strange Engine tour and we were honestly very good, the tour manager came over to me and said that he’d never seen a band empty a bar as quickly as that, I wondered what he meant but it turned out that half-way through our first song most of the bar was now the audience. The applause still stays with me now. We still occasionally speak to each other but our lives have changed so much. I still see or speak to Leon every week and Charlotte sings some backing vocals on the album too. I hope one day that we can all get together again.
How did you meet Steve Rothery and get involved with the Steve Rothery Band?
Steve heard us via the Marillion UK fanclub, two lovely people, Bonnie and Wayne, had heard us, I think at Rotherham with the Classic Rock Society, and told Steve about us. It was 1995 and I was still living at my parents house when Steve phoned me, my mum answered the phone and shouted upstairs, “David! There’s someone called Steve Rothery on the phone” I nearly passed out.
From then on Steve and I became best mates, Steve has supported me so much and believed in me even when I didn’t. The Steve Rothery Band evolved from the Plovdiv gig in 2013, which was initially supposed to be a guitar workshop if my memory serves me right. It was just supposed to be Steve then Steve and me and then we got Leon and Yatim involved. Riccardo and Martin were brought in not long after. I adore SRB, we have gelled musically in such a unique way, a bunch of mates traveling the world playing cool shows together, that’s as cool as it gets.
I believe there is a Marillion connection to your meeting Dinet Poortman, your foil in the Dave Foster Band. Can you tell us about that meeting?
Haha! Well, it was after the Mr. So & So performance at the Marillion Weekend in Port Zelande in 2007. Steve introduced a very drunk me to a very drunk Dinet. Dinet had previously supported Marillion with her band No-One on the Radiation tour. We managed to keep in touch and have since gone on to become very close friends; Dinet and my wife Clare are very close which makes for a very relaxed working environment when Dinet comes over to record.
So the new DFB album Glimmer is just out, and is a great listen. Was this a classic lockdown album, as in band members working on it remotely and swapping files online?
With the writing it was but that’s how we work anyway given the geography of the band. It was an interesting recording though as we used the small pockets of Covid freedom to record drums or guitars. We had to wait until Dinet could fly over to the UK before we started work on the vocals but that meant that we had a lot of creative time spent thinking about what would work best.
One of the strengths of the record is the quality of the songwriting; how does that work? Is the music yourself and the lyrics Dinet, or is it more collaborative than that?
That’s how we would want to be represented, as a ‘songs’ band. Dinet doesn’t play an instrument but has an amazing sense of melody so the musical structure is mostly mine and then the melodies and lyrics are mostly Dinet’s, though I do occasionally chip in with some lyrics. The song is king with us and everything is written around music that will stick with you. If there’s no need for a solo, then there’s no solo; if there’s no need for drums, then there’s no drums. It’s all built around what makes the song tick. We never write with any pre-planned idea, it’s just a case of ‘let’s see what happens’, which is, to me anyway, the way it should be done.
The string arrangements are quite striking, and perhaps not quite what I expected, but really work. How did they come to be added?
That’s a cool thing. There’s a band from Bolton called Seven More Days and I’m friends with the guys in the band. A few years ago, they recorded the album Little Dark Pleasures and during the recording I sat in on the guitar session with metal god Chris Porter, who is an insanely good player, and I heard this epic string arrangement they had on one of the tracks which blew me away, loads of interesting close harmonies and clever rhythmic arrangements. I was then introduced to Steve Boyce-Buckley, a lovely bloke who is a genius really, and employed him to arrange the strings for a couple of tracks on our previous Dave Foster Band album Nocebo (strings are on Forfeit and All That Remains). It was natural to have strings on Glimmer so it was a no-brainer to use Steve again. The players are from the Hallé Orchestra.
The guitar textures on the album are amazing. What guitars do you use to get your distinctive tone?
Thank you, I pride myself on my tones and I spend a lot of time – too much if you ask my wife. The guitars are mainly my Tom Anderson Angels, Gibson Les Paul or the two Ibanez (Jigsaw and Jem). I don’t use too many effects but I am fond of a good reverb and a satisfying delay. Most of the dirty tones are either my Bogner Ecstasy, Steve Rothery’s Friedman BE100, a Marshall JCM800 that belongs to the Forge studio and I do occasionally use a few plug-ins for clean tones.
What with your commitments to SRB and Big Big Train, are there any realistic plans to tour with this album?
It is complex as the diaries have to align but we will make it work. I’m also involved in another couple of projects as well as SRB and BBT, it’s a heavy workload but I do like it. I think if we get a handful of shows in before the year is out then that’s do-able and then probably the second half of next year will see more DFB activity too.
With all these competing projects, how do you prioritise your time?
It’s heavy at times, but if you ask any musician would you like to be mad busy the answer will always be yes, so I know how lucky and privileged I am. I also teach a lot too. It’s never boring here.
Talking of BBT, how did you get involved with the band?
I was invited to audition via video after Dave Gregory left the band. Dave is an amazing player and someone who I have looked up to from the very first day I heard XTC so it was daunting, but I must have done okay and have played on the last two BBT studio albums, Common Ground and Welcome to the Planet, as well as touring for the first time with BBT last September.
I know BBT are writing and recording new music, are you getting involved with the songwriting side? How is it shaping up?
It’s amazing, BBT is, as most of your readers will know, an amazing band and this album is exciting everyone. I’m really looking forward to recording with everyone soon, it’ll be a blast. I am involved in the writing process, the band is very accommodating in that department. I was so pleased that I got a chance to write and record Made From Sunshine with David Longdon for the Welcome to the Planet album and also on what will be the next album there is a track that I had started to work on with David before he left us. Nick d’Virgilio helped to finish that track. It’s very special.
Finally, a light-hearted cheeky question; as you are busy with Steve R in September, and can’t tour with BBT, they have drafted in a replacement for those dates. Maria Barbieri seems very capable, so are you at all worried about getting your job back?
I don’t worry about that. Having a dep to cover is more common than you think. It was interesting to see that U2 are using a dep to cover for the absent Larry Mullen for the Vegas residency they have and that’s a real surprise. Maria is lovely and a great player too, the BBT stuff is difficult to play at times so you need someone very capable to play it and Maria is certainly that, but I’m in the studio next month with the band for the new album and I’m on the Cruise to the Edge in 2024 as well as the planned 2024 tour dates, so it’s all cool there.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, and good luck with the album which I think deserves to do well.