ABEL GANZ - Denis Smith, Hew Montgomery, Hugh Carter (interview)
Abel Ganz, a Scottish formation that plays really interesting music but is still an underground band. "Shooting Albatros" is a come back after fourteen years of silence. I hope that thanx to this album, some people will try to listen to this pretty unknown band.
We had to wait for so long for another album. What were you all up to in the meantime? (the line-up has changed slightly)
DENIS: Actually, the band ceased to exist for several years. After the last Abel Ganz CD The Deafening Silence, Hugh Carter split the band because he felt the band had lost its way and was no longer true to its original Prog roots – at that point, Hew was no longer performing with the band but still contributing music. After that, Hugh went on to start a rehearsal and recording studio business and Hew went back to full time employment. I was not involved in that incarnation of the band. Several years after dissolving the band, Hew and Hugh met up again by chance and decided to start working together again. It was then that Hugh asked me to become involved once more. This was around the time of putting together the compilation CD Back From The Zone for F2 records. I’m not sure that there were really any firm plans to take things forward after that compilation but things seemed to be going well with the three of us and then, when I asked my old friend and guitar player Davie Mitchell to come along, we decided to record an all new Ganz CD – Shooting Albatross.
HEW: It has always been difficult to give the band the amount of time it needs, given the demands of work, family, etc
HUGH: After the last album, The Deafening Silence I split the band up as I really wasn’t happy with the direction that the then band members were taking things. They really didn’t have the love of prog rock I have and were taking the band down a middle of the road rock path. In the years after that I had been writing songs and always hoped to resurrect Abel Ganz in the future. Fortunately I teamed up with Hew again and Denis came back on board bringing Davie with him. It really did take us ages to bring it all together. I had the basic songs finished but we spent a long time arranging the songs. Hew’s song So Far was presented to us with only the basic keyboard midi files so that took the longest to arrange. He had written no lyrics or melodies so that really was the hardest to complete. I tend to write lyrics, melodies and chords all at the same time so I find it hard to put something on top of a completed rhythm track but Denis, Davie and myself slowly pieced it together and wrote lyrics and arranged Hew’s basic ideas’. With Stevie Donnelly coming in on bass later on, some bass parts were redone and again with Mick’s vocal on Ventura we redid the track. All in all the album was pieced together rather than being a complete band effort which on reflection is a much slower way of doing things.
I think that with a bit of luck, today Abel Ganz could be listed among such bands as Marillion or IQ. What do you thing did not work?
DENIS: For me, I think the loss of Alan Reed had a great deal to do with it. Alan was (and still is) such a fantastic singer that, after he left, the band really struggled to find someone of a calibre high enough to fill his shoes. Alan really did provide that added ‘something special’ that Abel Ganz requires and needs from any lead singer. The band went through many replacements but none (in my opinion) really were as good as him and therefore the band as a whole suffered. Indeed, it has taken until now and the discovery of our new lead vocalist Mick for the band to finally find that ‘special’ someone once again. I truly believe that Mick is the man that Abel Ganz has been looking for (and has needed) all these years. He is easily as good as Alan. Recently, we have been writing new stuff in rehearsals and he has just totally blown me away! Wait till you hear what he can do!
HEW: Just not enough time devoted to the band really.
HUGH: I would like to think that we can compete with these bands musically; however as we all have other jobs and families we can’t always put the time into playing and promoting the band full time so we just have to work round things. It would be great to have the following of these bands and obviously I’m biased when I say I think our music is every bit as good as them but it would be wonderful to be thought of as in the same league as Marillion and IQ
How was „Shooting Albatross” received?
DENIS: It has been beyond our wildest expectations! Really, when we parted from F2 (our old label) and decided to go out on our own we were quite apprehensive. After all, Abel Ganz has been away for quite some time and to be honest the last Ganz CD (The Deafening Silence) was not really that great. So, as you can appreciate, we were not sure how things would go. As it has turned out, we have just sold out of the first run of Shooting Albatross and we are just about to re-press. The reviews we have had in so far have been very, very positive. The band’s sound has changed slightly on this CD and we have tried to introduce one or two traditional Scottish flavours and we were a little unsure how that would go down with people who have followed us in the past. However, the feedback has all been just great! Very encouraging.
HEW: I think this should be conceived?
HUGH: So far everyone has been very positive, the reviews have been good and we have been very encouraged and happy by the good reaction everyone has shown to the album. It’s still early days in the albums life so we hope we continue to get good reviews and bring our music to the attention of more people. We are just starting now to play live so that will again give the album a push we hope.
„Shooting Albatross” features Alan Reed's vocals. Is it possible that he will deliver some Vocals on your next albums? For me „So far” including vocals by Alan Reed is just brilliant.
DENIS: Thank you. We think Alan’s performance on that particular track is really great too! The thing about Alan and Abel Ganz is... we have remained very good friends over the years. Usually, when a band’s singer is poached by another ‘rival’ group relations can turn sour. This was never the case when Alan left to join Pallas. In fact, Alan has come back to sing on our CDs on more than one occasion and we have been really grateful to him for that as his contributions never fail to make things better. As to whether he sings on the next CD? Well, to be honest, I hope not. Not because I do not know he would do a great job. He definitely would! However, I really feel that what the band needs now is a period of stability and it is very important that Mick is given the opportunity to make his mark with the band.
HEW: Obviously Mick is our main man as far as vocals are concerned now, but I reckon we should always be open to having guest musicians involved in the future.
HUGH: For me, So far including vocals by Alan Reed is just brilliant. It is not out with the realms of possibility that we will record with Alan again, we do keep in close contact with him. However as our singer Mick only appeared on one track on the album we really want the next album to feature him, to show everyone what a great singer he is and hopefully everyone will be talking about Mick McFarlane the great singer with Abel Ganz in the future!
What does prog-rock scene in Scotland look like? I know Fish, Pallas and I've heard some of you of course. Could you recommend any other Scottish bands?
DENIS: Prog Rock has been very, very unfashionable in Scotland (and the UK) for many years now. However, I think it is at last starting to become acceptable once again. I am unaware if there are any bands that are gigging or even starting to break through in Scotland yet. However, recently I have heard three or four really young bands who use the same rehearsal studios as us attempting cover versions by bands such as Spocks Beard and Transatlantic. This gives me hope for the future. I think it is only a matter of time. Young guys nowadays are such good players (much, much better than we ever were at that age) that it seems obvious to me that they would be attracted to Prog. They just want to play!
HEW: I’d say that there really is no prog scene worth talking about in Scotland, where the audience tends to be incredibly blinkered about music!
HUGH: Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any other prog bands in Scotland, or if there are they are keeping themselves well hidden. It is a pity as we need as many bands as possible to spread the word about prog, but it does seem to have a very underground following in Scotland. People will come out to support older bands they know like Focus and Marillion who have both played Glasgow recently and of course Pallas and Fish are still popular but newer bands like The Flower Kings and Mostly Autumn have had very poor audiences locally in recent years. I just feel not enough people are getting to hear about current prog bands in Scotland. Despite having a great music scene here, prog just seems to be a forgotten musical genre in Scotland.
How's tradition and roots important for you? There are some fragments on the album that are inspired by Scottish folk.
DENIS: In the past, it was not important for me at all! However, as I have gotten older I have found myself more drawn to it. I think some (not all) Scottish people tend to ignore their musical heritage somewhat when they are younger – it can be seen as slightly un cool. As you grow older though I think maybe you start to realise it’s just simply really good music. Before this CD, F2 did a compilation that featured an older Ganz track called The Pretender – which was re-recorded using a lot of traditional Scottish instruments. Hugh did quite a bit of work on that in the studio. I absolutely loved it [apart from the dreadful drum machine – ha ha] but I think Hew (who wrote it) was a little surprised! Ha ha! Actually, I can see a lot of parallels between the Scottish traditional folk scene and the Prog scene. I have just been astonished by the level of musicianship! We have been incredibly lucky to work with Stevie Lawrence and Fiona Cuthill on Shooting Albatross: both of them are just fantastic musicians and I cannot wait to work with them again.
HEW: Err...being honest, it’s of little interest to me! If it sounds good, I’ll go for it!
HUGH: Personally, I draw a lot of inspiration from traditional folk music. For me, it identifies our roots both musically and emotionally and is very important to my creative process. I conceived and wrote the basic chords and words for Looking for a Platform when I was away at a folk festival on the Isle of Bute and was a reflection on the surroundings, emotions and landscape that folk music invokes. So many artists and composers I admire also draw influences or use elements of folk songs and use traditional instruments in their music. Jethro Tull, Led Zepplin, Fredrik Delius and Ralph Vaughan-Williams to name just a few. I will continue to draw influence from our traditional roots and hope to use traditional acoustic instruments in the band in the future.
What are your future plans concerning „Shooting Albatross”?
DENIS: Our immediate plans are to try and do everything within our power to try and get Shooting Albatross heard by as many people as possible! We have been working quite hard on this but it is very difficult and, again, Abel Ganz has been away for quite a long time so we have to work extra hard to let people know we are still here and still producing good (we hope) music. We have a few gigs this year are we are particularly looking forward to the Summers End Festival in September where we will be playing on the same bill as The Tangent and Frost#. Both absolutely amazing bands! Next year, we hope to do more gigs to promote the album and we would just love to get over to Europe. We are looking into the viability of that just now actually.
HEW: Sell as many copies as possible...
HUGH: We hope to play and bring the album’s music to as many people in the future. We have a few gigs in the UK this year but next year we hope to get farther afield, maybe hopefully Poland as we have heard good things from Alan Reed about the prog scene in Poland. We hope to play some festivals in 2009 in Europe or maybe even USA and let as many prog fans hear our music as possible.
Are you thinking about a new album? I hope this will not take another 14 years?
DENIS: We most certainly are – and it will most definitely be a lot quicker next time! Actually, Shooting Albatross took five years to complete from start to finish. That may seem a long time too – but we were plagued with bad luck [and an awful tragedy] and terrible problems. Anything that could go wrong did! However, as for the future, with Mick now on board on vocals we are going through a bit of a creative surge. As I said earlier, we have been working on new material now in rehearsals and even though it is admittedly slow work we are making progress. In the past, all the writing duties were split pretty much evenly between Hugh and Hew – both of these guys are great writers but have different ways of working. Hew Montgomery tends to work away at home on his own and will then present the band with a pretty much completed song. Then, it gets arranged with people adding little bits here and there. Hugh Carter, on the other hand, will bring an idea (a song) to rehearsals in a much more skeletal form and then everyone is encouraged to add their ideas and to develop it further. Both methods are perfectly valid! Whatever works you know? Now – with so many more creative forces in the group, we have another method to add – where material is actually created together as a band with everyone in the room at the same time. Hopefully, with all these methods now at our disposal we can get the next CD written much quicker than the last.
HEW: I’m always thinking about new ideas – we realise we MUST have a new album to follow Albatross as soon as possible.
HUGH: NO! Ha ha, we have already started writing and jamming out ideas. Everyone in the band is contributing to the writing process so I think we should be looking to do something in the next year or two. One thing is for sure is that we will record all together as a band rather than piecing it together as we did with Shooting Albatross. Davie has some songs written which need lyrics. I’ve got some ideas, Denis has some lyrical ideas, Stevie is always coming up with good bass lines, Mick I know has got songs written too and I’m sure Hew has some more epic songs hidden away in his locker so I’m confident we won’t be short on ideas for the next album.
Is playing in Abel Ganz your way of living?
DENIS: No, I’m afraid not. If only! Everyone in the group has another full time job (one of the reasons it takes us so long to produce CDs!) which we also have to juggle with our family life. As you get older it actually gets more difficult to keep a band going and to keep your own energy levels and commitment high enough to keep it going. If we could all do the band full time (as a job), of course we would in a heartbeat. It would make being in a band a lot easier.
HEW: Fortunately, no – otherwise I’d be broke...
HUGH: If you mean is it my sole source of income then, no, I run music therapy groups for adults with learning difficulties as my main job, but of course Abel Ganz is very important to me and my creative output. As with everyone else in the band we all have our day jobs but all strive to bring our music to a wide an audience whenever possible.
Thank you for this interview. Is it the first interview for Polish music portal? Do you have any final words for our readers?
DENIS: Yes – this is the first interview for Poland. I would like to thank YOU for doing this interview with us and all the Polish prog fans for keeping the music alive.
HEW: I’d love to come over and play in Poland (my partner is half Polish) where it seems to me that there is an incredibly open minded approach to all kinds of music – wonderful!
HUGH: This is my first Polish interview and I must say I have been knocked out by the good wishes and interest shown in Abel Ganz from Poland. Thank you very much the band really does appreciate the support. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see everyone live in the future.
Napisane przez RA1
dnia czerwiec 30 2008 ·
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