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The Gardening Club

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Martin Springett of The Gardening Club from 2018

MSJ:

The album released as The Gardening Club was recently reissued in a deluxe edition. What can you tell the readers about that release?

This release comprises of the original Gardening Club LP from 34 years ago, sealed and archived in my basement all those years with no hope, I thought, of ever being seen or heard from again, and a new LP, plus a specially created graphic novel, called, with amazing foresight, "The Gardening Club." I had received an email from Ed Kanerva, a smart young listener of all things prog rock like, asking me if I would be interested in rereleasing the Gardening Club LP on his label, SpaceWreck Records, dedicated to Cosmic Canadiana! To say I was stunned was putting it mildly, after all this was music that I thought no one was interested in any more ( I did not realize at the time that progressive rock was still very much alive and well in the U K and Europe) in a format that was obsolete, and I was ancient, in relative terms anyway. I had kept playing writing and recording, though. I never stopped, but nobody noticed! I met with Ed and found him to be an articulate and knowledgeable fan of the genre, and with his day job as head of marketing and sales at a comic book publisher, media savvy in every way. He loved the Gardening Club album, and I was inspired to send him some other songs that had been written and recorded within a few years of the LP’s release. These songs became, Songs From The Greenhouse, the second LP. With the graphic novel, we called this package "The Gardening Club Trilogy." It’s filled to the gills with my art. I was inspired to go pleasantly over the top. In that delicious exploratory way that so many prog albums are; it’s the music of possibilities!

MSJ: I've seen some people list The Gardening Club under your name, rather than the project name. In what ways would that be accurate, and it what ways would it be inaccurate?
The original LP was called, "The Gardening Club, An Album of Songs By Martin Springett." The new album, The Riddle, takes The Gardening Club as the band name, as it became very much a collaborative venture with all the players involved. I wrote the music and you might say I had the "vision," but I could not have created this new album without producer and fabulous guitarist Norm Macpherson. It just would not have been possible.  So, it’s a matter of historical record, if I may be so bold and Proglodite like, that my name is front and centre on the first record; if the new album is referred to in a similar way, well that’s simply a connection to the music that we all can live with, but the band is called, "The Gardening Club."
MSJ: Beyond that particular project, what other music endeavors have you undertaken over the years...sort of a "highlight reel?”
I have recorded at least six other full album projects since 2001. I was lucky enough to know a lot of great players here in Toronto and have friends in the music business who were very sympathetic to my rather crazed idea that I had all this music to get out of my system, even though no one was listening. I did solo gigs and band gigs (always well received), but record companies had no interest. I had gone by my sell by date, as it were. I reached a point where I just had to deal with this most frustrating aspect of my life, and created, Diving into Small Pools, A Musical Autobiography in Song and Interesting Noises. This I think is definitely one of my best albums, very song focused and with a clear eyed attempt to echo the music that has influenced me through my entire life, from The Beatles to Miles Davis, and many other musical touchstones.  My "music career" is so fractured (I recorded my first album, settings of Tolkien’s poems, at the age of 21 in 1969, a curse and a blessing as it was never released) and eccentric that I could not possibly take a serious tone with this record, it would have been maudlin and forgettable. I have never really taken myself that seriously. I am too aware of the cosmic giggle, but I take the music very seriously. So I used voice-overs, comments from people I actually met in the music business in London and Toronto, and I brought in my altered ego, Eddie Fielder. I was in fact born, Martin Fielder, but when my folks split up, I took my step dad’s name.  I find hard to describe exactly what Eddie is up to on this record, but he is essential.  

Because of my "day job," as an illustrator, I had met many authors whose works I had illustrated. One of my most well known series of images was for Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry. They sold world wide. I was so enamoured of the world of Fionavar that I wrote a series of songs and instrumental pieces that became an album called "Bright Weaving." I performed at many a publishing covention. This along with all the other albums, including a solo guitar record called "Rough Magic," kept the boiler room humming, you might say. So, when I go the call, I was more than ready!

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Well clearly, that would be art, and now that I have "retired" from the book world, it’s the fusion of the art and the music together that now engages me entirely. Nobody sounds quite like me, and no one creates art like me, which again is the curse and the blessing. So it’s the fusion of the art and music, creating something unique and, I hope, interesting.
MSJ:
How did the name "The Gardening Club" originate?
The first name for the album was "Andromeda," after the song on the album. I had a short lived Gardening Club band that played some gigs in Toronto. The wonderful drummer, John Cheesman called us the Weather Report of the bar bands! He suggested I come up with a less "hippy dippy name." There were in fact various bands with "club" attached, The Culture Club being one. I just blurted out, "Okay, how about The Gardening Club?" It stuck, and I am glad it did, the gardening metaphors are endless. Useful things such as, News From The Potting Shed, which has become the organ of all things newsworthy in the Gardening World!
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Well that’s a very large and intimidating question in a way. I have been vibrating to music ever since I gained consciousness. The first music that truly touched me was Faure, the French classical composer. I was three years old and I was listening with my mum to the BBC, and his Dolly Suite came on. I will never forget hearing it for the first time. So that school of French piano music, Debussy, Ravel etcetera, had a profound impact. Over the years, the blues, Bach, the Beatles, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Yes, King Crimson, John McLaughlin, Ralph Towner, Peter Gabriel, Jaco Pastorious, Stan Getz, Vaughn Williams, The Who, Vince Mendoza, Elbow, Billy Holiday, John Coltrane, Charlie Byrd, and many, many more.
MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?

Lately I have been getting wonderful reviews on the Gardening Club reissue. Reading them has been a joy. This quote below is from a review of The Riddle, the new album, by Francois Becquart in Belgium: "The making of this album is a delicate alchemy that brought together a number of people who met at specific times and places, as if fate had wanted to cause the conditions of a miracle, so as to create on this Earth a new manifestation of beauty. In modern times, beauty is not really popular and you should not miss an opportunity to enjoy it when it comes to you."

MSJ: I understand you are now working on a new Gardening Club album. What can you tell the readers about that? Beyond that, what's ahead for you?
The new album is a departure from The Riddle, in that I wanted to stretch out more and be a little more experimental without it losing focus, and Norm Macpherson is brilliant at helping me make my music more interesting and at the same time more accessible, which is quite a trick! I love the crazy explorations of Crimson say, but I am not likely to do that exact thing on an album. To me that’s a live in the moment business, which I love, because I love jazz and the improvised moment! So it’s a balance between the emotional and musical needs of the music, and I am working hard on the lyric concept of Circling. It has to be just the right tone. I love mysteries in all art, nothing wrapped up, enigmatic, riddles if you like. Just being gnomic and elliptical, which is in a lot of prog stuff, isn’t quite enough for me. You need to fly, but also have that grounded air strip to head back to, especially if the weather ahead is heavy!
MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
It’s not possible for me to hear my music the way others do, but I must say it has been an education reading all the reviews recently, because, of course, reviewers do have to connect something new to a sound that is already familiar to readers, so that they hear that play in their heads and get an idea of what it might sound like. This is frustrating and yet understandable at the same time. If you like X you might like Y. As far as describing it myself, I would say I have a melodic English sound, wedded to my love of jazz classical and rock music.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

The latest CD I bought was a new King Crimson live album - old habits! I like Jack Garratt, a new discovery for me - very intense player, young and mad - love that!

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Yes, A Spy Among Friends, the Kim Philby story, the most successful double agent ever - an unbelieveable story! Also Agent ZigZag, by the same author, Ben MaCyntire - you think you know history. No, you don’t.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Playing a gig in London years ago, and having Elton John’s manager turn up after we had finished playing. Had a nice chat with him through the window of his Rolls Royce. I was very young and very hairy!

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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