I hate playing in England

By Hugh Fielder

Sounds, September 9, 1978

[first part of this interview is missing]

[...] still suing Herb Cohen (his former manager). The case won't go to court in the United States for another three to five years. Warner Brothers are intending to release another one of the four albums that I delivered to them that they didn't pay me for. That's supposed to come out in October. I've already finished off this other one.

Which is the one they've released that they haven't paid you for so far?

'Live In New York'. And the next one they'll be putting out is a studio album called 'Studio Tan'.

Does that explain why there was a late change in the track listing on 'Live In New York'?

There was one track that got removed, 'Punky's Whips'. They took it out. First of all they had no right to tamper with the tapes. Secondly they didn't pay me for any of the stuff that I delivered them. I mean, they're just so far in breach of the contract and they're just so grossly unfair. For instance, that track 'Punky's Whips' is 12 minutes and 37 seconds long. It's most of a side. They took it out because they didn't have the permission from Punky Meadows to use it. Then they have the audacity to go ahead and release the album with 12 minutes missing. There was something in one of the papers over here complaining about how short the album was (It was Sounds actually – Ed). It wasn't my fault. I didn't have any control over it. I think Herb Cohen was the one who took it out.

And what about 'Studio Tan' which Warners intend to release next?

I'd say ... I can't tell you the actual dates of the recordings but a lot of them have George Duke, Ruth Underwood and Chester Thompson on.

That's going back some time.

Just remember, I delivered these albums over a year ago.

And these are not part of the legendary ten-album set you've been working on (to be called ' A History Of The Mothers Of Invention' I think).

Absolutely not. These were designed for commercial release as a part of my record contract.

And there are still two more apart from the record you made earlier this year which you haven't yet given them?

That's right. They don't get the new album. That will be coming out in January and it's probably going to be on Virgin in the UK and it will be on my own label in the United States and Canada.

Will this mean Discreet will move to Virgin as well?

Absolutely not. Discreet's got nothing to do with it.

Does this mean that we might see an opening up in your recording output? After all, Virgin might be said to be more responsive to their artists' requests and demands than some other companies.

I don't demand very much. Just give me the money to make a record and make sure that it gets into the stores. With them there's no sweat: they've got the stores. They're little bit tight on the money though.

So does this mean that we might yet see the 10-album set released?

Well, I've already discussed with Richard Branson about releasing it here. The problem with it has always been a very simple matter of mathematics. When you make a record contract with a company you sign for a certain number of units versus a certain amount of time versus a certain amount of money in advance for the production of each album. If you deliver a single album it's the same amount of money as a double album. So what happens if you give them ten records?

You mean they may decide that counts as one?

That's exactly what Warner Brothers has done for the past eight years. Every time I've brought the subject up they say: 'we won't give you any more. That's only going to count as one'. I can't afford that. I've already invested my money in making the thing so I have to get reimbursed for doing it. So there has to be some way to adjust it.

With some artists, live albums don't count as part of their contract at all.

That's not the way mine works. You see what most artists do with live albums is they go out and they turn on a cheap ... It's a gimmick the way a lot of artists do it. They play only songs they've already recorded during their stage show so they go out there pretending to give some dramatic version of what they've already done on a record. They make a cheap recording of it, mix it quickly and produce it for about one fifth of the cost of a studio album and try and fob it off on the public as some spectacular event. The live albums that we've done have usually contained stuff that's brand new, that's nicer even been done in the studio because a lot of things that are on those live albums couldn't have occurred any other way. They are one-time events. So our live albums don't exactly fall into that category.

Earlier this year there was a report that you were going to write something for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Is that going ahead?

No, they decided that they can't get the orchestra for the date that they wanted to do it. This is the piece here (points to a large black folder containing the full orchestral score for the work). I write on it all the time. I've got two movements finished and ... well you can see what it takes to prepare the thing ... after I've done my scribbles it has to go to a copyist who has to prepare the pages that look like this (flips through pages) and then from this they make the individual parts.

This is for a full orchestra?

A monster orchestra.

And any rock instruments?

No. Anyway, I've decided to keep working on it even though they can't arrange it for the date that we want to do it. It was supposed to be for next May. What I'll probably do is to finish the piece off and then hire an orchestra and record it.

It's an expensive proposition.

Well, some rock and roll musicians make a bunch of money and stick it up their noses. I stick mine in my ear.

Have you played any gigs since you last played in England?

Uh huh. One. In Ulm, five days ago.

You seem to enjoy playing in England and Europe.

I hate playing in England. I don't mind playing in Europe too much. The audiences on the Continent are pretty good. I can't stand this place though. It's the people.

The audiences?

Let's not call it the audiences, just the people.


Maybe it's the venues that we've been playing because the behaviour patterns seem to alter with different venues. I noticed that there was a difference between the type of audience that you get at Wembley Empire Pool and the audience you get at the Odeon Hammersmith.

But the thing that's always depressed me about the English audience is that they're oriented towards dressing up and queuing up and anything in between that is irrelevant. It's very hard to get any kind of feedback from the audience in a place like the Odeon Hammersmith because the behaviour pattern is just so reserved. You definitely get the impression that you're there to perform. Maybe there's a different kind of response for other kinds of music here but there's two places in the world where I'd say we have the worst audiences – London and Los Angeles. They're very similar in how jaded they are. But the response in what we do just about everyplace else is completely different.

And yet they seem keen enough to come along. You sold out six shows last time around.

God knows why. I mean, even when they're clapping it doesn't feel right to me. It's like they like you for the wrong reason. There's such a big difference between what happens when you go on stage in a theatre the same size in New York City or Atlanta, Georgia, versus what happens here. It's just a weird feeling ... even though they speak English.

Some artists say that they prefer the English response, moderate though it is, to the American response which they feel is just over the top, applauding what they do regardless of how well they play.

That's definitely not fair to the American audiences because they are radically different geographically all over the country. Like each of the States has their own folklore and stuff, and they don't just applaud for anything. In fact, they're really ready to tell you that you suck if you suck.

Whereas an English audience might just keep quiet and say nothing and then go outside and tell their friends that they thought you sucked?

I don't know what they do. I'm just going on a gut reaction on how I feel as a person going out on an English stage versus going out on stage any place else.

The shows that I saw on your last visit seemed to vary radically.

In terms of the audience?

Yes, and also in terms of the playing. On the last night, before you called it a day, you didn't look happy at all.

No reason why I should of.

No, except that the audience I felt was better than the earlier nights.

Do you travel much?

A fair amount.

Well, I spend about six months a year on the road and I spent a lot of time in London last year, probably more than a person of my sensitivity deserved to. I think maybe it was just cumulative. Because this place depresses the shit out of me.

As a town or as a rock 'n' roll centre?

Just as an environment. It really doesn't agree with my sensibilities.

But you're here again.

Yes. The reason I'm here on this particular day off is that I tried to get a piano in my hotel room in Munich and they couldn't do it. But I've got one here.

What sort of things are we likely to hear at Knebworth?

There's quite a few new things. A lot depends on how long we have to play. They only wanted 90 minutes at Ulm. The normal show runs two and a half hours.

American acts tend to play longer sets than many British acts. Maybe audiences here are less tolerant and they stop listening after a hour and a half or so.

Or maybe the groups just don't know that many songs.

That's true in some of the newer cases.

And a lot of the older cases too. (lapses into pure Zappa-esc) 'Hey we don't have to learn any songs. Give 'em ninety minutes; just go out there and rock; they'll never know the difference'. Basically what it's down to for those groups is you go out and play your album: play the hit last, everybody goes 'yeah', smoke bombs go off, and you go back to the dressing room. There it is.

Night after night.

Yeah. Challenging.

What are you listening to outside your own work at the moment. Have you listened to any of the American new wave acts?

The American ones?

Like Television.

Yes, I've heard Television. I don't care for them too much. I heard Blondie and I like them. I have some stuff by the Stranglers which I thought was pretty good. There's a song by Lew Lewis that I thought was nice – 'Caravan Man' (originally on Stiff, now deleted). And I just heard one Elvis Costello song for the first time, I thought it was really good. 'Radio Sweetheart'.

But with me now I have mostly Penderecki, Schoenberg, Webern, lute music, medieval vocal music, organ music, rhythm and blues, Pat Martino, Weather Report, Stravinsky, Gentle Giant, PFM, the Outlaws, two Queen cassettes, Black Sabbath, Mott The Hoople.

Still playing Black Sabbath, eh?

(Laughs) I like it. It's fantastic. 'Iron Man'. Are you kidding me? 'Iron Man'! That's a work of art. I'm really into that. I used to like 'Supernaught' but I think 'Iron Man' is the one now.

Do you ever go and see bands live?

I saw them. I was on stage with them at Madison Square Gardens on their last tour. I was sitting on the side of the stage. I'd never seen them before. They had me sitting on a box over by the side (he bursts into uncontrolled laughter).

I was going to jam with them and they were supposed to call me up and tell me what time their soundcheck was, but I guess they didn't have one. So, I went down there to the show and they said 'What are you going to play?' and they'd set up a mini wall of Marshalls for me. And I said 'shit, I'm not going to go out there without knowing what it's going to sound like'. I said I'd just watch the show.

What happened was that Tommy [Tony Iommi] had some trouble with his guitar and decided to change his strings at the last minute. The audience had already been sitting there waiting for an hour or so since Ted Nugent, and they wanted me to go out there and make an announcement and calm them down. So I did. And I introduced them and then sat by the side of the stage over by Ozzy's orange juice (Laughs again).

But you didn't play?

No, I just sat there and marveled at it (more laughter). I think it's great. Especially in a place like Madison Square Gardens with 20,000 people grunting and wheezing and shoving each other. 

On that heavy note I'll stop.