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Theo Travis

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Theo Travis from 2009
OK. I started playing in bands in Birmingham, UK in the 1980s before studying classical music at Manchester University – specializing in Shostakovitch. I played in various jazz bands and made my first CD in 1993 – 2 am on the 33 Records label. I then made various albums on the label until by chance in 1997 I got invited to tour Japan with Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri, Mick Karn and Steven Wilson.  I became friends with them and subsequently recorded with all of them. Steven Wilson also invited me to play on the Stupid Dream album by Porcupine Tree. In 1999 by another series of coincidences I was asked to join Gong and the [rog and psychedelic connections built from there really. I continued to play jazz but have got more involved in rock and experimental music. I have now played on about 95 CDs – 22 of my own projects and you could say I divide my musical life between -  jazz, experimental ambient electronica, progressive / art rock.
MSJ: Who do you see as musical influences?
On sax and flute – I’d say Mel Collins, Michael Brecker, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Tubby Hayes, nearly everyone who played with Miles Davis, and Dick Parry for his great solos on the Pink Floyd albums.

For music generally – The Beatles, Miles Davis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, Led Zeppelin, Ralph Towner, Yes,  John Martyn, Traffic, McCoy Tyner,  David Sylvian, Chopin, Ravel, Rachmaninov,  the last two Talk Talk albums, Keith Jarrett and lots and lots of others.


What's ahead for you?

I have a busy schedule at the moment and lots of plans too.

I toured with Robert Fripp in May 2009 and it is planned to release one concert on CD and another two for download, so they all need to be mixed and completed.

In October I tour Europe with Soft Machine Legacy.

In November I tour the UK with Gong.

In January and February 2010 I plan to tour again with my band Cipher in UK cinemas performing our new live soundtrack to the classic 1920 film “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari”.

I have also just recorded a new album with the Tangent that should be released before the end of 2009 and there may be live dates with them next year.

MSJ: You are involved in a lot of projects - what can you tell me about your work with Soft Machine Legacy?
It is a wonderful band and I have been involved since Feb 2006 when Elton Dean – the previous sax player – who was in the original Soft Machine  - sadly died. It was kind of awkward but a thrill to join. The band is very creative and hard hitting too. It has the freewheeling spirit of the original Soft Machine and incorporates jazz, improv, electronics and it rocks too. John Etheridge and John Marshall are wonderful musicians I have known and worked with for years. It looks like we will now be playing with Roy Babbington since the very sad passing of Hugh Hopper recently.

What about Gong?

With Steve Hillage coming back to the fold and producing the new CD 2032 there is a lot of momentum at the moment and we have been touring festivals around the world – Gong touring with Steve Hillage for the first time in over 30 years! The band is sounding great and Daevid Allen is a wonder to behold! The UK tour later this year should be a lot of fun.
MSJ: Travis and Fripp?
We did a duo CD Thread that came out in 2008 that was received well. This led to the recent tour which was really really special. It was just the two of us with a whole load of sound processing and live looping – but the technology never got in the way of the music and the live interaction. The music was both ethereal and muscular; spacey and full of solos; atmospheric and yet intense. We played in cathedrals and churches and the gigs were mainly improvised. It is a joy playing with Robert and his playing is simply wonderful - very deep. I am so glad the concerts were recorded and are going to be released. There is talk of more concerts in 2010 so I will look forward to that very much.
MSJ: The Syn?
This is interesting as I know nothing about it! It seems to be an internet rumour – based on the fact that I have offered to contribute to the new project by Francis Dunnery called the New Progressives – though nothing is sorted or recorded yet.  I am a fan of Francis’ work both with It Bites and his excellent solo albums like “Man” and “The Gulley Flats Boys” – so it would be great to record with him. I don’t know much about the rest of the Syn….Most curious.

Are there any side projects that really stand out in your mind for any reason - good or bad?

Apart from all of the above groups and projects – my bluesy prog jazz group Double Talk is amazing and I am itching to do more with them. We have a gig next Spring and hopefully that will expand into a tour and maybe some recording.

Then there is working with Bill Nelson – who is a lovely man and great musician and songwriter/ producer. I am playing at his annual Nelsonica festival again this year and I would very much like this to grow into a bigger more wide reaching collaboration.


Do you think that  downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?

I think it is mainly a hindrance to musician’s careers – because most downloading is illegal for which we get paid nothing, and for the rest we often only get the smallest amounts.

In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

I don’t mind this so much as long as they are not selling them – and as long as they buy official live recordings too!
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch-nemesis and why?
Err… no idea. The evil Dr No Jazz…?
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it?
OK. I’d like three please –

Steve Winwood, Dave Gilmour, Paul McCartney and Terry Bozzio plus me.  Nice…

Then Robert Fripp, David Sylvian, Tony Levin and me

Then with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison.


If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view, who would be playing?

David Sylvian, Robert Fripp, David Byrne, Porcupine Tree, Keith Jarrett, David Torn, Terry Bozzio, Pharoah Sanders, David Bowie, Ralph Towner, Led Zeppelin – oh yes – and the Beatles!
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
Last CD bought – Cartography by Arve Henriksen (ECM)

Recent listening – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, In the Court of the Crimson King, Venus and Mars, The Rite of Spring, Complete Ravel solo piano works, Wish You Were Here, Ladies of the Road. And Dan Zanes’ Night Time.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Roddy Frame – solo - just great.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Well I regularly can’t find the stage when there are long confusing corridors backstage!
MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?
Just to say it is really important that people do come out to gigs and buy the music they like/ love /want to support – because if they don’t the music will not get made and musicians cannot survive. Keep it real!!


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 5 at
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