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Pendragon

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Peter Gee of Pendragon From 2005


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

You've been putting out extraordinary material over the past few years. First, Not of this World, which was my favorite album of yours up until you released this new one, Believe. These songs have a lot of replayability. I seem to find something new in them with every spin. They seem to get more and more engrossing with every listening experience. I'd really like to see the new material performed live. Do you have any tours or concert dates lined up at the moment?
There is a full Believe European Tour being planned for the spring of 2006. This will include some UK dates, as yet no dates confirmed.
MSJ: Let's talk about the new album, Believe… How did you come up with the name of the album?
Following his much publicized divorce Nick had been reading some books by David Icke which were kind of conspiracy theory/alternative spirituality theories about life - and how the things we see are deceiving us about the spiritual reality that lies hidden underneath it. So, the main themes tackled in the album are those of spirituality, conspiracy theories, political correctness and the bureaucracy of modern life, relationships between men and women, and the relationship between the band and its fans. But, please bear in mind that I am not the lyricist - Nick is - so I hope I am conveying his messages accurately here!
MSJ: Every single song on the album is great. I think fans will really like "Wisdom of Solomon" and "Learning Curve." My favorite is probably "Sow by Sowest," though it's hard to choose just one as each song has something to offer. The sections in "The Wishing" Well offer many pleasant bridges and breakout passages. The final song "Edge of the World" goes in many intriguing directions as well. What would you say is your favorite song on the album and why does it make you proud?
My favorite at the moment is "Learning Curve," because for me it is a great balance between classic Pendragon and modern, groove-orientated music, and it just motors along really well, and has a great atmosphere to it. But, like you, "Sow by Sowest" is probably my second favorite, because it is really strong melodically.
MSJ: As you just mentioned, I hear passages, rhythms, and riffs from earlier albums weaving themselves into the music. Don't get me wrong, the material sounds completely fresh and new, but every now and then there are a few notes that remind me of past songs. Personally, I think it's really clever how this is done. Was this on purpose, out of habit, or is just me?
No, it's not just you. I think every band has a characteristic sound, or melodies, chords or riffs that tend to repeat across albums - this may sometimes be intentional - but in this case it is just us doing what we do best! We have to be melodic - otherwise it wouldn't be Pendragon. But there are a few references back to albums like "The Jewel" on Believe like the end section of "Solomon," for example.
MSJ: I hear a lot of voices and instruments beyond what's credited, for example, the voice that begins the album or some of the tribal chanting. There are many instances of these worldly voices. I get the impression you are using samples or something along those lines. Can you explain what I might be hearing?
Yes, you're right, these are all samples. But, I like the way that Nick has used the samples as integral upfront sounds in the songs - rather than just background effects - which is how a lot of rock bands have tended to use samples in the past. But, Pendragon have always been open to all types of music and sounds and styles - and samples enable us to introduce more world music sounds, which makes for a much more culturally exciting sound.
MSJ: There are a few narrative parts such as the one in "For Your Journey" and the ones in "The Edge of the World." How did these come about?
Believe is about exactly what it says - belief. And, belief is very personal to every human being. Narration is probably the most personal form of recorded communication that you can have - so it felt right to Nick to have narration parts on this album. It is something we have never done before and it talks about our personal journey through life - Nick draws the listener in and gets them to think about where they are on their own personal spiritual journey through life. I personally find the first narration on "The Wishing Well" very moving every time I listen to it.
MSJ: While there are definitely symphonic parts, it seems the album is more guitar-driven and even has many acoustic passages. Was this intentional?
Yes, because we had done the big keyboard symphonic style for the last 4 albums and it was time for something with more of an edge to it and with more breathing space to it too. But, ironically it makes for a more powerful album, with less keyboard layers to it, because the guitars, vocals, bass, and drums have more room in which to operate.
MSJ: I have a couple curiosities to ask about the songs… What is the "place" you are referring to in "No Place for the Innocent?"
I think you need to get Nick to answer this one - my own understanding of that 'place' is that it means this world. This world has become so evil and selfish and hurtful and confusing that it is no longer a place for the innocent.
MSJ: What is the song "Wisdom of Solomon" about?
It is about political correctness in modern life here in the UK.
MSJ: What does "The Wishing Well" represent?
I think you need to ask Nick this one - my understanding of it would be that place where spiritually we all individually dream about getting to, our dream, our spiritual goal. And, then in a bigger sense, the ship of mankind and its spiritual journey through history and through time and space.
MSJ: What are the "two roads" you're referencing? Is this metaphorical or does this represent an actual place?
My understanding is that it represents the differences between men and women and the two sexes.
MSJ: What does the title of the song, "Sow by Sowest," actually mean?
It is an old seafaring term, where the captain of the ship orders the pilot who is steering the ship to set a new course 'south by south-west' - a direction halfway between south and south west on the compass.
MSJ: What is there to learn about in "Learning Curve?"
We are all learning on our spiritual journey through life. There is also a reference in there to learning to surf, as Nick is a keen surfer.
MSJ: Why does it end in a place that feels like "The Edge of the World?" Why the reflective thoughts and somber mood?
"The Edge of the World" is actually a song for the fans, and it is slightly nostalgic, as it reflects back upon the wonderful support that the fans have given us over the years - with particular references to Poland and South America, which have given us some great memories in the past. But, there is also a sense in which the music industry is changing and the future is a lot more unknown now than ever before. Also, a reflective song and a song of gratitude is a good way to come down at the end of the album, and leave people thinking about the future.
MSJ: Let's talk about some influences that jump out at me… The album shares melodies similar to Pink Floyd, IQ, and Arena. Are these bands influencing what you're doing these days?
I see the Pink Floyd connection - Pendragon have always had that, because we have always been influenced by them. But, I don't really see the IQ and Arena melodies reference.
MSJ: That covers the progressive side of the spectrum; however, this album is much more accessible than past efforts. I hear Midnight Oil and U2 in "No Place for the Innocent." I hear Tears for Fears in parts of "Learning Curve." There are even a couple of passages in the song "We Talked" that remind me of Guns n' Roses. Was it intentional to make this album more digestible to a mainstream audience?
I think Nick just always writes what comes from his heart and soul. I think that the use of the sampler, and the conscious decision not to use such a keyboard-pad heavy sound and feature the guitars more, obviously helped more in this area. But, generally, Nick just wrote what he wanted to write.
MSJ: In general, tell me about your own personal musical influences.
I love most types of music - rock, classical, jazz, jazz-rock, pop, country, some dance music, etc. My own personal musical influences started out with Jimi Hendrix, Status Quo, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple and then moved on to Camel, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Jean Luc Ponty, Weather Report, and Pat Metheny. The guitarists who have influenced me most are Andy Latimer from Camel, Dave Gilmour, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Skunk Baxter, and Pat Metheny to name just a few. And, the bassist who have influenced me the most are Jaco Pastorious, Richard Sinclair when he was in Camel, Ralphe Armstrong from the Jean Luc Ponty band, and Mark King - and anyone else who is good influences me in some way.
MSJ: The album is quite strong lyrically. The thoughts come across clear and coherently, yet they never seem to interfere with the music. What came first, the lyrics or the music, and how do you make this work so well together? Can you give me an idea of how your songwriting process works?
You really need to ask Nick this one as he is the songwriter and lyricist in Pendragon. But, often he gets musical ideas first and adds the lyrics afterwards - although he will often have a song title already or the subject matter for that song already planned in his head.
MSJ: Any idea what else we can expect from the studio?
I don't think that it will be 4 years before the next album. Nick is already writing for the next album, so it might only be 2 years before the next one.
MSJ: Any plans in the works for live albums or DVDs?
There is a possibility of a new live concert DVD from the Believe tour in 2006. But, this has yet to be confirmed.
MSJ: Are you in any other projects these days aside from Pendragon?
I am still working on my third solo album, which might be released in 2006. But, I still have the vocals, a lot of guitars, and the mixing to do yet.
MSJ: Going back to the beginning, how did you get involved in music?
I always loved music right from a small boy. I had piano lessons from 5 years old for a year then gave that up. Then, I got my first guitar at about 8 years old. Then, I got into bands from the age of 15 and there was no looking back! I always loved listening to the radio and collecting records and my dad was always playing classical records, and my mum played a bit of piano.
MSJ: When did you decide you wanted to be a bassist in a band?
It happened by default really. I started out as a guitarist, but I was never really that good a guitarist. I joined Pendragon as rhythm guitarist in 1981, and Nick was lead guitarist. Then when our bassist left we had already been offered a support gig at the Marquee Club in London, which was too good to turn down - so I learnt the bass parts just for that gig and stood in. And, 24 years later I'm still playing the bass in Pendragon!
MSJ: How did you meet the other members of the band?
I was at school with Nick, but 2 years younger than him, so we were in different years - but I was best friends with Nick's younger brother Paddy, so I met Nick through him. I met Clive through Nick, as Nick and Clive had gone to junior school together. I met Fudge when he was playing in a band called LaHost who supported Pendragon a few times. When LaHost split up and we needed a drummer Nick suggested Fudge and the rest is history.  

MSJ: Can you tell me about a Spinal Tap moment that you may have experienced in your career? This would be some practical joke, mishap, or just something out of the ordinary that occurred in concert, on the road, or in the studio.
I have had many - a few times I have managed to pull the lead out of my guitar by accident and suddenly wonder why no sound is coming out any longer. I fell over a monitor once and ended up on my back. And, when going on stage at the Colston Hall in Bristol, I fell down a gap between the steps and the edge of the stage and ended up with just my head poking out above the stage!
MSJ: I'd like to find out about your current musical tastes… What's the last CD that you purchased?
The last couple of CDs I have bought are X&Y by Coldplay and Forever Faithless - the best of Faithless (so one rock album and one dance one).
MSJ: Along the same lines, what's the last concert that you attended as a fan?
I think that the last gig big I attended was Status Quo at Gloucester Leisure Centre and the last small gig was a solo sax player in a local pub whose name eludes me I'm ashamed to say.
MSJ: I'd like to find out some of your favorites… What is your favorite album of all-time? Is there any CD or tape for that matter that you've worn out?
This is a really tricky one because I'd always have to choose more than one favorite album - something like Moonmadness by Camel, A Trick of the Tail by Genesis,
The Nightfly by Donald Fagen, or Gaucho by Steely Dan.
MSJ: Who is your all-time favorite band?
Overall, it's still got to be Camel, because of Andy Latimer's amazing guitar playing.
MSJ: Let's talk about some favorites that aren't necessarily related to music… What is your favorite movie?
I think at the moment it is still Gladiator or Ben Hur - I love those epic sword and sandal type epic movies.
MSJ: What is your favorite TV show?
When I was a kid my favorite TV shows were called Arthur of the Britains, Voyage to the bottom of the Sea, and Land of the Giants. These days I like documentaries and historical programs a lot. The last ones I watched recently were about Einstein and also Trip the Light Fantastic - the history of light.
MSJ: Do you have a favorite book?
That's an easy one for me as a Christian. My favorite book is always gonna be The Bible because it is so life-changingly spiritually powerful. My favorite books apart from The Bible are probably still the seven Narnia books by C. S. Lewis. Other than that I like reading biographies, especially musical biographies - I have just finished reading ones on Jaco Pastorious and Queen.
MSJ: Are you a sports fan and if so, who's your favorite team?
I love most sports - In football I still half support Arsenal because they were my favorite team when I was a kid - and also the England team of course. In rugby union I support England in the 6 nations. In motor sport I support Ferrari in Formula 1. And, in athletics I love watching the sprint races especially like the 100 and 200 meters.
MSJ: I like to ask this question, because it helps me to identify with the artist, but do you have any pets?
No, I don't have any pets now. When I was young we had a cat, budgie, and rabbits and guinea pigs for a while.
MSJ: Before we wrap up, is there anything you'd like to say to your fans at this time?
Yes. I'd just like to say a big thank you to everyone who reads this interview for sticking with Pendragon over the years - through thick and thin, good and bad times. Thanks for continuing to buy the albums for all of your emails, letters, encouragement, and positive comments - because without you we wouldn't have kept going. I hope that you get as much out of Believe and future albums as you have out of the older albums. Thanks to you all, we really, really do appreciate it!
 
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