Clive Nolan is not just a bright and renowned keyboardist, composer and producer. This musician is in fact one of the pillars to Prog Rock revival and a rather remarkable figure in it. Just note such bands as Pendragon, Arena, Shadowland, Strangers on a Train, Casino, Neo, a number of world-famous projects, as well as collaborations with John Wetton, Oliver Wakeman, Arjen Lukassen, Michelle Young, Tracy Hitchins, and the notorious stage performance that caused a great stir – the “She” musical and the forthcoming “Alchemy”… When starting out to Pendragon’s concert in Crakow, I didn’t even try to choose any specific topic to talk about: many of them are familiar, and all of them are so interesting! What came as a pleasant surprise was the immense personal charm of this famous musician, and then – at the concert – his expressive “rock-style” onstage behaviour. You know, that “mill” of hair swinging against the stage box light – and is this really the same nice and cultured man who followed a journalist for an interview in such a modest manner right after the sound check?!
OP: Clive, I don’t even know how to introduce you to our readers – you’ve got so many great bands and projects on your creative “track record”!
CN: Basically, some people know me from “Arena”, some people know me from “Pendragon”, and in South America, the most people know me from “Caamora”, and it’s a good thing that somebody finds me in “Pendragon”… And now, if somebody would look and find me somewhere else and listen to some other music – I don’t mind! As you know, I started as a keyboard player, but to me – I am a writer, it’s most important. I started composition when I went to the University, and as I was doing the classical music degree, I spent time working on writing and also making orchestration, conducting, – so that came with me into what I do now. I am writing in “Pendragon”, I am writing for other bands, so you can find me anywhere you like!
OP: We know you in all of these projects, and we’re glad to “recognize” your style in each of them, but at the same time, they are really different. I wonder what’s your way to compose music for them: is it something like “switching off an Arena song and toggling to a Caamora aria”?
CN: Yeah, different “flavours”… As for creative projects – it’s a combination! First of all, it’s a frame of mind. It’s like you are painting a picture: maybe one picture you are painting is a city, and another one is a picture with a countryside – you have to think about the colours. It’s part of the frame of mind. And as to the other part, if you are writing for “Arena”, and then you are writing for Nick and John, – there is a “filter”: you make it sound in a particular way. If you are writing for “Pendragon”, “Shadowland” – you’re going in a little different direction. It’s a combination of the way I’m thinking “how to write” and the people I’m working with.
OP: Does it always happen that you really follow the plan exactly and do not cross “the frame” occasionally?
CN: Oh, I’ve got a good example! When I was writing “Intending to Ride” for “She” (it was “Caamora”), I did one piece of music and made a demo with Agneshka. Later I listened to it: oh, this is not “Caamora”, it’s “Shadowland”! And that time, it ended up to the “Caamora” DVD. I saw that moment and… it was a new song we did with “Shadowland”! So occasionally, something would happen later. Usually if I’m thinking: “I wanna write for ‘Arena’, then next I’ll be writing a musical…” – it used to be this way.
OP: In Shadowland’s albums, you are not only a composer and a keyboard player, but it’s also the first instance where you perform as a leader vocalist (frontman). Have you decided to “try” yourself in a new role?
CN: No, it is something I wanted to try because of a lot of things I did – I used to sing the vocals to the singer, and one day I thought: “I should maybe try to do it myself?”. And of course it is harder when you have to do that – when you write lyrics to other people you can write what you like. When you write and you have to sing it – you become a lot more aware how it will work when you’re singing! So it is a big difference and… a good training for me.
OP: Another interesting role of yours is that of a violin player. I’ve read that your musical education was based on this instrument exactly…
CN: I played a bit of violin at Shadowland – and it’s the last time, I don’t wanna do that any more.
OP: And tell me please, can the fans hope for hearing some news about your “Shadowland” band, too?
CN: I don’t really know if we’re gonna be making another “Shadowland” album, but I would like to write some new songs. It will be maybe a couple of songs, and then we would make a DVD in Poland. Actually, I think the main difficulty is that it will be hard to get out of here and go touring! We want to do some dates in Europe – probably it will be UK, Holland… We don’t even really have an Internet profile like “Pendragon”, “Arena”.. But it’s a good fun making the DVD – it was nice to have a prominent thing. So, I’m sure we will get together and do more at some point!
OP: Clive, I was really very much surprised to see you playing the leading part on stage (in the “She” musical), and the gun in your hands made me even more amazed! Do you know about the “Stanislavskiy’s system” for actors? I mean, “if there’s a gun on stage, it shall shoot at some point”…
CN: I actually think that one thing I want to do before we do “Alchemy” – it’s certain that I want to , and I know that Agneshka and a couple of others are willing, too, – we should get some acting lessons. Because everything we did was done just naturally, it’s just… kind of… we made it up when we were there. But it would be nice to understand – I mean acting as an art form… I know nothing about this, it would be nice to learn a little bit… and to make it better for us to perform.
OP: We know you as a keyboard player, and you’ve composed the music and given your “native” parts over to another keyboardist in “She”. Was it difficult for you in any sense – I mean overall, and during the show itself when you were performing another role?
CN: The main thing is that the keyboardist, Claudio Momberg, did a good job, and I didn’t find it odd to hear someone else performing the parts that I’d written.
OP: The “She” musical was staged in different countries, and even had several versions. Which performance did you find the most difficult and why?
CN: We performed “She” in Bolivia and in South America as a full theatrical show. It’s a very different to what we get on the DVD, and it was just very stressful because there were chorus, costume changes, dancers, lighting, singers’ changes – I mean, you know, everybody kept coming back to me: “So, what’s about THIS?” [laughing] – musicians, headphones, backing tracks… And if you ask about “this or that” particular thing – I can’t remember no one particular thing! I just remember a “praying” moment at the beginning, and then… we’ve made it to the end – yes, we did it! And it was fantastic! The same happened in Poland where we did the DVD. We had only 2 days to rehearse and to be ready – yeah, it was amazing!
OP: Clive, and what was the initial concept behind “She”? Was it an idea of some conceptual album that developed into a show?
CN: No, it was always a show! It was never about making here a CD or DVD set. Someone from one music company said: “Oh, it is just fine, we found the way for generating money!” But the same thing with this one – without commerce! It’s so exciting to me: first of all, to put the music – the musical! – on stage. We were on the show, we recorded a CD version of “She”, but only as a part of the process – and not the most important part!
OP: And can you reveal a secret to me – will there be a happy end in the new story that you wrote for the “Alchemy” musical? ‘Cause my feelings are still stirred up by what happened to the main protagonist in “She”!
CN: Well, the thing about “She”: the end of “She” is not the end of the story because the writer – Haggard – wrote a sequel “The Return Of Ayesha”, with Leo and Holly and some characters that are in this great story. And it has an absolutely happy ending! Very emotional! So even though it’s a bit sad at the end of “She” – so you don’t have to worry! It’s a great finish of both of the stories – Ayesha and Leo are together in the end. I think for the people not knowing the full story the ending may seem really sad, but if you watch the DVD again, with the show on stage, – there is a little “something” that happens in the very end of the story and – it’s not over!
OP: So shall the hope last forever?
CN: Always! I have never written it has gone!
OP: The title of the “Alchemy” musical suggests something like mysteries and some weird magic… Shall there be any “light at the end of the tunnel” in this story, too?
CN: Not, it isn't like that, really no! Like “She”, in “Alchemy” there are not so different things going on. It’s also an adventure, but at the same time, it’s fun – not a comedy, you know, but it has a little bit more sense of humour, jokes… And it has a happy ending.
OP: As about titles – is the “Arena” band’s title a theatrical one?
CN: No, with “Arena”, it doesn’t point to a “show”. Of course we’re a rock band, and we all have to be entertaining, and another thing – if we want to write a concept album, it is a little bit more theatrical. And the one we did recently is in that way, I suppose… As a band, the most dramatic is “Caamora”, because it’s made for theatre! But if we speak about the band – maybe… Actually, I don’t think about it.
OP: Clive, among the forthcoming concerts I have noticed a special “Alchemy” events…
CN: Yes, we suggest a series of concerts (August 31; September 2; October 12) where I present that tour and idea and stories of “Alchemy”, place some demos and maybe some songs, as well as songs from “She”, “Arena”, “Shadowland”, “Strangers on a Train”... There will be some charge for tickets to raise money as we have to find money to do the theatrical show of “Alchemy” in Katowice, Poland, at the Wyspianski Theatre. The event will take place on February 22, 2013. Also, there will be “theatrical” shows of “Alchemy” on September 5, 6, and 7 (2013) in Cheltenham. And this is all going to plan… We have now done the first two fundraisers (August31 and Sept 2)… they went very well, and we are gradually managing to collect some funds for the show. And, of course, ticket sales and sponsorship are the way this enormous challenge can be achieved. There are over 50 people involved in each theatre performance next year… that’s a lot to co-ordinate, and budget for! On the Alchemy website you can donate as little as 10 pounds… and get your name in the programme… just to help things along… every penny adds up! Thanks!
OP: Best of luck with “Alchemy”, Clive! And now... imagine you’d decided to accompany for silent movies, what kind of film would you choose then?
CN: I like adventure films like “Indiana Jones”, I love thrillers – that kind of things that has tension in music, “big” moments, and I think that I would probably accompany in a “Hound of Baskerville” – that’s a big story for exactly that! I mean, I’m a big fan of “Hound…” shown anywhere! [laughing]
OP: And I’m a big fan of your musical album based on this story! I remember you worked on it together with Oliver Wakeman… And generally, how does it usually happen, I mean collaborations like this – do you make any specific arrangements with certain musicians intentionally?
CN: I don’t look for collaborations, I mean “stuff”. I just find musicians… As years go by, you find the musicians you trust – the people who work with me many times. If I like that work, I love the team of people around me. In “Caamora”, you’ll meet Mark (Mark Westwood, Shadowland) on guitar, Scott (Scott Higham) – the drummer of “Pendragon”, people like that. So I come back to them because I know that I can get the job well done. And about collaborations – yeah, I did two albums with Oliver Wakeman, and I collaborated with John Wetton in two albums (I was a co-producer and played in the “Rock of Faith” album) – but these are coincidences, they simply happen…
OP: You haven’t got any special plans for them, have you?
CN: No, I am just very busy at the moment – “Pendragon”, “Arena”, “Caamora”… I know that I will be doing pretty much for the next couple of years! That’s like… if you’re producing, playing, composing and making, promoting an album at least once or twice a year – you don’t look for something else to add…
OP: Clive, you work with many singers – have you noted any specific difference in composing music for a male or female vocalist?
CN: No, it depends on the singer only! I intend to be guided by the “feels” of the singer. You know, some singers can be more aggressive, more “rocky” or melodic… So, in bands, it’s easy: if I am composing the melody for the singer, I am working with his or her voice in mind. And it can be a different way, like it was with “She”: I had a lot of material written before I decided to invite Christina Booth (“Magenta”) – but I knew the kind of voice I wanted. And then when I found Christina – oh, it was that very kind of voice! When I recorded her in a musical “track” – it sounded great, but it was like we’d recorded an album of rock songs. So we came back together again, and we made it more melodramatic – and that worked very well! Usually, you know, it’s a combination of me finding something for the singer – and the singer finding a way of interpretation.
OP: The capabilities for working together via the Internet are virtually unlimited today. Do you find this helpful for yourself in your work on large-scale projects involving several singers?
CN: Oh, I like to work with the singers so that to get the best time with them. It means I have to change the key of the song, change a vocal line a little bit, and I make it – so I did, and it works for them, yeah. I wouldn't do it through the Internet – with “She”, I worked together with Agneshka who was coming from Poland to England every few weeks to record a few demos. And I built it up then, once I had most of the musical words as I found the other singers, and that made it work. This time, when I was working on the new musical – it’s called “Alchemy” – I was writing by myself, but I already knew who the singers were. With them coming on to record the demos, I had a chance to keep them singing, made changes then, and that worked very well. I wouldn’t do it with the Internet – I need to work personally with them! I was writing about an unknown culture, so it’s sort of a different aura. That is the Story, and I was on the stage play, so I know the structure of the show and now it’s going well, I mean the songs sound good to me. We’re working, and the people are coming and recording. Andy Sears from “Twelfth Night” is one of them, and now you can see “who is who” at the “Alchemy” site. Really – I’ve known who will be doing all the parts from the very beginning, except for only one of them – we had an idea but we haven’t decided who is really doing it. It is a very small part but it’s a special appearance!
OP: Clive, as I see now, you really have a very clear vision of the outcome in your creative process, and you work with other really great musicians on it. And confess please, do you appear to be a “dictator” with them?
CN: I suppose… a little bit. [laughing] I don’t know – I listen to what people say, I mean the ones I am working with – I trust them as musicians. Others have to win my respect, and if I believe in musicians, I will listen to them more regarding things I may think about. And it’s pretty clear if I do what I want… So that’s the starting point. And if I’m good at what I do, I feel the need to make too many suggestions to something that seemed unspoiled before. [laughing] In a music that I do – I mean in a band’s works that I do – it begins with writing on my own. So it will not be them doing something I don’t like – it would be me fixing something a little bit and them accepting it! So that’s easy! [laughing]
OP: And could you tell me which part of your music creation process you like best?
CN: The best moment is when I’ve written the song and then I make the demo – the very first version of it. It’s just a “rough” vocal with a bit of orchestration or instrumentation, and as it’s just been created – that moment is… like having a baby: it’s pure, it hasn’t been “brought up” in any particular way, and any things are possible. So that’s what I like!
OP: Will there be any chance to listen to these demo versions one day?
CN: I hope no! [laughing] Maybe if we produce a DVD for ‘Metal Mind Productions’, for example, I would put some of the demos on as extra material on the CD or something like that. Actually, I have a very clear vision of what it is I really want – sometimes it changes, sometimes it’s very similar… And maybe most of the time the demos I’ve made are quite similar to the final version, and there are not so many differences with the songs that are on the albums. And now I’d like to turn to your expertise in the field: when I talk to musicians and mention the “neo prog” term, I often see a rather negative reaction, and everyone denies any relation to it. But I guess you are the one who will certainly say a few words about it, or would you prefer to deny, too? [laughing] I think ‘neo progressive rock’ was a term developed in early 80s to describe bands like “Marillion”, “Pendragon”, “Twelfth Night”, “Pallas” that came up as neo-prog because it had died to a certain extent during the punk period. So “Genesis” and that kind of things started re-appearing and it was not commercial, not for money… And “neo progressive” doesn’t mean anything that describes a new genre of progressive rock! Now I see that “progressive rock” has become a very big term. I mean it doesn’t mean only one thing – sometimes I play at these festivals like “PROG rock fest” – I look at the other bands, and I just think: “They are nothing like what we’re doing, but we are a part of this!” [laughing] So all of these “terms”… it’s a very wide description to me. The only thing that I note is the 2 types of prog rock, really: the first one as the genre of style, like when you wanna sound like “Pink Floyd”, “Genesis” – in other words, we just keep repeating the same stuff. And another thing is progressive attitude when you take the music that you listen to and that you love, and you move on to add something else, some new development. I like to imagine that it’s what I do, and that’s what “Penrdragon” does. To me – that’s important! – we have to have the attitude as well as just the “genre of sound” – that’s it!
OP: By the way, it's clear that you're “in charge” for your keyboard parts and music, and who makes choices regarding the sound in “Pendragon”?
CN: All the writing of “Pendragon” began with Nick. He writes the album – this is his baby. He will find sounds that he likes, I pick up from there: we spend 3-4 days working together on the keyboards – you know, change some of the sound, and play some of the parts again to kind of make it more “me” or “keyboardy”, and then, all the same develops again “live” – that’s when the songs really become “Pendragon”…
OP: Or would you probably make the sound more “in line with the trends”? As I see from one year to the next, they come like “waves”: at times, almost all the musicians release albums with rich “moog” sounding keys, and then time comes when we can meet much use of “dry” electric sound in albums…
CN: I've just used whatever I feel right for the sound. I didn’t think about it much: I don’t feel like “I have to use Moog – or electron – sound”… I just move it there – and if, for example, I try Moog there, I can then feel if it’s “fine” or “not fine”. I don’t give myself rules. For instance, I’ve tried to use more orchestra flavours in the new “Arena” album – it’s got to inspire me, and it’s got to excite me, and it’s got to be SOMETHING different as well as add a new dimension!
OP: Clive, I hear you found yourself to be in prog rock just accidentally…
CN: Ah, it’s just accident, really! I started classical music at school, and I didn’t listen to rock or pop at all. Quite later, – I was about 16, – I changed school, and I made new friends, and I decided one day: “I’m just going out to buy a rock album!” There were just arising late 70s, and the punk things were in. I went to the record store, I didn’t know any rock bands at all, and I picked an album just by the cover and thought: “WOW! I like the look of that!” It was “Second Out” by “Genesis”, but it could be a punk album, it could be “Sex Pistols”, it could be anything! [laughing] I just loved the picture. So I bought an album, and I listened to it a couple of times – loved it, and, in general, progressive rock, because of its style of writing: it has depths and working out like classical music – very similar!
OP: Clive, and what is your favourite PROG rock band?
CN: Initially I think my favourite band was simply “Genesis”: I love what I’ve heard, I loved what they did right up until “ABCAB”. I’ve “survived” Peter Gabriel’s leaving, and I’ve thought all my life that it’s a great band! “Trick of the Tail” – it was the best album they did! I love all that stuff, – I didn’t like “ABCAB”, I didn’t like what they were doing on the stage for a while. Then they came back to the later albums and I liked it again, it was “in a power of pop”, but it was good. But if you ask me who is my all-time favourite band – it’s “Queen”! I absolutely love them, I think they hardly did anything bad – it was just great! You know, the songs are fantastic, and the vocal of Freddie Mercury – this is brilliant! I love “Genesis”, too, and I love quite a lot of “Pink Floyd”, but “Queen” is the band that I would listen to all day!
OP: By the way, I was surprised by the artwork for the latest “Pendragon” album…
CN: “Pendragon” – it’s all to Nick! He finds the artists he likes. In “Arena”, it is the same thing… I just look around to see if there’s an artist I really like, maybe I’d tell them about an idea of the album, and they’d suggest something… For the new “Arena” album, we had a common idea of what we wanted it to be like, and we tried to find somebody who would be able to do that. The new cover was a “mix” of ideas – the concept is mine, and we came to the title together… The artist designed different “captured” versions of the theme and… it’s also a kind of work with the release!
OP: And what releases and events can you announce? Please a few words about your current activity and plans.
CN: For me, my life is all about ‘Alchemy’ for another year. Though, it will be Arena tour this November… And I can say we intend to start writing a new Arena album next year too… and there will be a new Pendragon one happening then too. Busy year! And, as always I would like to invite your readers to see ‘Alchemy’. Perhaps come to Poland for the DVD concert experience where you will witness the performances of Progressive icons such as Damian Wilson, Andy Sears, Tracy Hitchings and many more. This will be a unique event! Or why not come over to the Uk and see the actual theatrical performances in Cheltenham. This is going to be something extra special… I can’t even describe it… just be there!! All you have to do is visit our website (alchemythemusical.com) and but tickets - see you there!!
OP: Looking forward to it! And here’s my final question: have you got a dream related to music, i.e. something you are most willing to accomplish?
CN: Great Dream… One of my greatest dreams is almost, almost that – rock operas, the musicals – that’s what I like best! I would like to do big stage productions where people will come and travel and see the show in London, or in Broadway, or wherever, and those things to continue after I am gone… The musical is another thing… It’s harder to write, and it’s a much bigger event when it happens, and I would like it to be something that really took off successfully (but I thought it’s one of the hardest things).
OP: Thank you very much, Clive - I’m wishing you every success in accomplishing all of your plans!