Martin Springett of The Gardening Club talks about the making of the new single “Strange Kingdom” due out this Friday, the single is from the upcoming album of the same name due out sometime in 2020
The Gardening Club is a Canadian progressive rock band that infuses many other styles of music and to create a one of a kind sound, led by UK-born and founding member Martin Springett an accomplished musician and illustrator..
The Gardening Club Martin Springett – Vocals & guitars Norm MacPherson – Guitars, keyboards & bassoon James MacPherson – Drums & keyboards
A few years ago, I heard about an album which had been reissued by Gonzo that was creating a lot of interest. I duly searched out the release, thoroughly enjoyed it, and wrote a review and thought little more of it. A few weeks later, Martin had seen the review and tracked me down through one of the sites I work for. Since then it is safe to say we are in communication very frequently indeed, and I have been fortunate enough to hear his other albums, as well as enjoying his wonderful artwork. When it came time for my books to be released, I cheekily asked Martin if he would like to be involved, and he jumped at the opportunity, and has designed the covers for all three, for which I am eternally grateful. He has just finished recording his latest album, ‘Boy On A Bike’, so now seemed to be the right time to have a formal chat.
From a fairly young age you followed a path in both illustration and music, who/what inspires you in both fields?
Some early inspirations as you know, stay with you for life, so let’s start there. ‘What is the point of a book without pictures’? asks Alice in Alice In Wonderland. Well exactly, that was my view in my young years growing up in England, I was only interested in books with pictures and so reading novels came late to me. Certainly, comics were a big influence, in fact, one of my first attempts at the form was a ‘graphic novel’ version of John Carter Of Mars created when I was 13 years old. Alas, this has been lost, but I do recall getting an early insight into how time-intensive this sort of project could be, three weeks of work and I was on page 8 of the novel. I had yet to learn how to use images to create sweeping broad narratives, to go for the heart of it, leaving out unessential details. The Eagle comic was a huge influence as well, I cannot underestimate just much I learned from the various illustrators who worked on this tabloid-sized publication. This comic was an institution in the U K in the ’50s and 60’s. Dan Dare, created by Frank Hampson, was the flagship strip, printed on the front pages, essentially the R A F in space! Arriving every Wednesday morning with the postman it was a highlight of my week. I lived in a pub in Appledore in Kent, my mum and stepfather were the publicans, and my ‘studio’ was a tiny room which housed the hot water tank and the drying laundry! There was a small window that overlooked the village green, and I have many happy memories of being in my own world in that wee room, drawing as the rain pattered against the window; even now when I am working, the sound of rain against the window conjures up that same feeling. I can go to whatever worlds I care to inhabit, all I need is a 2B pencil, a piece of paper and my imagination.
On Remembrance Day, 1962, around noon, I was listening to the BBC on a tiny transistor radio. It was my job to serve the kids that came into the pub, for ice cream, pop, etc. Unusually the beer barrels for this pub, The Victoria Inn, were on the main floor, directly behind the bar. I was drawing in my sketchbook, positioned close to the door that lead from the barrel room to the public bar. Whenever a kid came in, my stepfather would rap on the door, and then I would open the door, and serve the young customer. While waiting for that nock, I listened to the radio. It was tuned to a program called Two Way Family Favourites, a request show for British soldiers stationed in Germany and their families. I wasn’t listening very closely, the pop music of the day didn’t interest me much, although I had discovered American blues recently. Then I heard it, the harmonica intro to Love Me Do! Clearly here was something cool, blues-influenced, yet played by an English band, requested by an army lad stationed in Germany who wanted his family to hear Liverpool favorites, The Beatles. (I know the exact date and time of when I first heard The Beatles because of Mark Lewison’s amazing book, Tune In. Highly recommended).
What fanned out from these major young influences, a comic called The Eagle, a band called The Beatles, essentially altered the course of my life. I was drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil, and I, like millions of other guys and gals, had to have a guitar after hearing The Beatles. So I got my first ratty guitar at 14, a late start really, but I was a quick study and had all the basic chords learned a year later, mainly from Beatle songbooks.
The Beatles, Bach, and the Blues, all in the same year! Overwhelming and wondrous! (The new Gardening Club album, ‘Boy On A Bike’, has a direct connection to this period.) Some years later when Progressive Rock made its first appearance, the combination of the visual and musical storytelling was irresistible. Yes, especially, with Roger Dean’s great expansive covers. I wanted to do both things, create great covers like Dean’s and write songs like Yes. I simply had to do both! A clearly impossible task, as there were sometimes three to four composers per song! I found my own voice of course, after many years of exploration. Those early Yes albums were addictive I have to say, as was Jethro Tull, but I turned away from prog-rock for a while, for one main reason, it was just too arranged. As much as I loved it all, I was enthralled by Jazz musicians who created music in the moment, improvising spiraling lines and rhythms that were so exciting. The Mahavishnu Orchestra opened up that door of course! I have been dealing with that ‘tension’ ever since, writing and arranging the music, fascinated with ‘orchestral’ details and colors, but leaving room for the improvised serendipitous moment! King Crimson has dealt with that tension very well, and still, are!
The recent rise of interest in ‘books with pictures’, that is graphic novels, and the vinyl revival has been very inspirational for me. The art for ‘Boy On A Bike’, is centered around panels, or portals, echoing the layout for a comics page. The art for this project allowed me to return to some early artistic influences. I used the gateway metaphor for a life journey, so I created gates that echoed my favorite comic book artists, Moebius and Jim Woodring as well as, Picasso, Klimt, Dali and others who have had an impact on my artistic life.
My career in children’s books was long and fruitful, not only in all the art I created for a great many books and book covers, but in my travels all across Canada as a presenter to students in schools and libraries. I would go through all the nuts and bolts of how to create an illustrated book, using a slide show, drawing on the spot and ending every presentation I gave with a short performance on the guitar. Even though these were, you might say, the ‘quiet years’ as in no one was listening to the recordings that I constantly made, the presentations I gave year after year in the schools kept my guitar performance chops up quite well.
You made the decision to emigrate to Canada, but then returned to Europe to tour and play music, what are your favorite memories of this period?
Playing a tour in Germany and Austria, opening for Soft Machine was a highlight as I got to see Allan Holdsworth play every night for two weeks! I was in a band at that time called Gateway Driver. We were based in a little village just outside Hannover, two Brits and two German lads. So, I had my ‘German experience’, like a lot of British bands did! Later on, I lived in London and worked for CBS, now Sony, records creating L P covers. I did Ian Hunter’s first solo L P cover, still available amazingly, interior illustrations for an Argent record, and a Stravinsky L P, The Three Great Ballets. This won Best Classical Cover Of The Year award. I also recorded some demos with a hopeful band I was in at the time at Morgan Studios, famous for many a prog rock recording, including Tales From Topographic Oceans.
1983’s ‘The Gardening Club’ was your first released album, by which time you were already a well-known fantasy illustrator for both books and records. How did the album come about, who else was involved, and how would you describe it to someone who has yet to hear it?
The Gardening Club was a culmination of many, many things. I had first walked into a professional recording studio in Vancouver in 1969 to record an album of Tolkien’s poems that I had set to music from The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. It was never released; Christopher Tolkien would not give his permission to allow the LP to come out. At that time, I met a young recording engineer named Don Geppert who worked at Studio 3 where I recorded all the Tolkien material. He had moved to Toronto in 1976, and when I later moved to the city as well, I got in touch. I met Don in the studio where he worked, he told me to bring my guitar along, so I could play a few new songs for him. I did so, and after listening he said, “Well we must do something.” So, the adventure began! It was recorded over a three-year period, which was rather frustrating for me at the time, but I could only get into the studio when it was not in use. Don generously donated his time and long experience in the studio, so I essentially had free studio time but paid all the musicians who played on the record. The arrangements came about organically as we rehearsed in the studio, usually the rhythm section first. The drummer, Penner MacKay added so much rhythmic fuel to this music; that’s one of the reasons I think it has stood the test of time, I cannot overestimate how important Penner is to the musical success of the album. The bass players Paul Daiter and Paul Blaney were perfect additions to the ‘engine room’, and those initial sessions discovering the rhythmic possibilities of each song are some of my favorite memories of that time.
I had very clear ideas about all the details I wanted to hear on top, and my good pal Russ Walker (Heads In The Sky) added his wonderful flute sounds to two songs on side two. I recall I sang all the flute melodies to him as we recorded! He had great ideas of his own, of course, but this is how the recording process went, me doing a lot go singing, to sometimes bemused players! Bob Brough, who is still playing in jazz groups here in the city, played a brilliant solo on “The Traveller”. I love jazz and wanted that saxophone sound somewhere on the album for sure, and this 5/4 tune was just the right vehicle for him. My other Vancouver pal, Ann Mortifee added her beautiful voice to “Andromeda”, and to me it makes the song soar, and it makes it work. The perfect sound for the ‘cosmic’ experience I hoped it would be. One thing this album did for me, is that it gave me confidence in my musical choices, choosing the right sounds to echo the emotional and musical intentions of the song.
It is almost impossible for me to describe the music on ‘The Gardening Club’ album, as I know very well that labels are on the one hand restrictive and on the other, can help people connect to music that they don’t know through the association of that which they do know. I never called this music, Progressive Rock. When I made it, it’s just, “An album of songs by Martin Springett.” Yes, I used a twelve-string, but not because of Genesis. I picked up the twelve because of Leadbelly! I was never influenced by them or Camel either. I have never listened to Camel! The thing is, I sound English, I have always sounded like this, it’s in my DNA. Those early influences are still there, but now shaped by my years in Canada, or, North America. So, jazz and blues are in there gliding alongside my melodic English sensibilities, and also my love of classical music. You could say my roots are, Vaughn Williams, The Beatles, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, Debussy, XTC, Weather Report, etc; the usual gumbo! Those who took the time to listen to The Gardening Club for what it was, rather than compare it to Yes, Genesis etc and find it wanting, those reviewers, ‘got’ the music very well.
From then on you released a few albums over the years both solo and with bands, but what was the idea behind the “duo” album of ‘Diving Into Small Pools’?
The impetus for ‘Diving Into Small Pools’ was essentially this – why create music, if no one is listening. Is it ‘delusional’ to think, as Bill Bruford suggests in his otherwise excellent autobiography, that making music when no is interested is the act of a person who has lost touch with reality? What if, you have to do it, no matter what anyone says or thinks. What if you know on some level, that what you are doing, has the potential to engage and interest people even if all the evidence suggests otherwise. So, I decided to create an album that was going to take me back to my earliest listening influences and make it my musical autobiography in the music business, my so called ‘career’. I had had so many disappointments in my time, the Tolkien album, ‘The Gardening Club’ LP going nowhere, and many others while in the U K and Europe, that I could whinge with the best of them. Then it occurred to me that I could use humour to make it much more than a whiny ‘o woe is me’ experience. Certainly, having a sense of humour had saved my sanity on several occasions while negotiating the biz that is music. I brought in my altered ego, Eddie Fielder to help me. I was born, Martin Edward Fielder, changing my name to Springett to placate my stepfather Walter Springett. I always thought I would change it back to Fielder at some point, but it never happened. So Eddie has lots to say throughout the record, he takes on several roles; usually those know it all’s who knew bugger all about music that I had met in my travels, managers with a gun in the briefcase, obnoxious record company dudes who couldn’t wait to put you down, for ‘looking like a boy scout on stage’, etc etc, many weird and wacky individuals, so many that I made the decision a year after I had made ‘The Gardening Club’, to pull out of the music business entirely. I had had enough. Enough of the business, but never the music.
Once I had my theme, a river of songs just started pouring out, it was liberating in every way, clearly, I needed to do this. I remember sitting on the couch one day, I was alone in the house, the family was out and about, writing about six songs in succession, lyrics first, music second. I had just gotten my first iMac, and Garage Band changed my musical life! I could record at home, no longer worried about studio time, and take, my time, to get it right. I had to get over the ‘horror’ of using drum loops, that didn’t take long of course. The songs took shape as I recorded them, I did a lot of improvising, taking bits and pieces from here and there, it was all way too much fun, except, it was all me all the time. I wasn’t used to that. I loved hearing other players on my songs, it always improved them immeasurably. Gradually I brought in some wonderful Toronto musicians to add their sounds, Allyssa Wright on cello on “Wired For Sound”; Tim Hammel on trumpet for “Miles To Go”; Chris Church on violin on “Thieves and Poets Part 2”; Kevin Laliberte on flamenco guitar, “Thieves and Poets, parts 2 and 3”; Wayne Kozak on “Caves and Cathedrals”! Now it started to sound good. I had so many songs that I ended up with a 2 CD set. Like a lot of song writers though, I needed a second pair of ears to help me evaluate the music, and Don Geppert agreed to take my not so technically great recordings and mix and master them. What a difference that made. I was very happy to work with Don again. A couple of years after I had completed the two discs though, I began to see and hear that the concept had lost its focus spread over so many songs. So, I edited out those that were the weakest, and made it into a single volume set. I redesigned the package and it’s now a single CD experience and much the better for it. I did do some tweaking on some songs, discreet stuff, but enough of an improvement that I can listen to it now and enjoy this very eccentric and eclectic musical journey.
During this period did you just see music as a hobby?
Music was never a hobby, it was something I had to do, every day, always. It kept me sane, can’t live without it. Whether it was playing for the kids in my school presentations, the very occasional solo gig, or recording at home, it was always part of my everyday life. My family was very supportive, and both my daughters, Rebecca and Miriam, played flutes and we recorded together several times. They play on the ‘Bright Weaving’ CD, my musical homage to fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay.
Gonzo Media reissued ‘The Gardening Club’ in 2016, and it now received critical acclaim. How did the reissue come about and were you surprised at the rekindled interest?
To say I was surprised at the interest shown in ‘The Gardening Club’ after all this time, would be putting it mildly. The thing is, it wasn’t rekindled interest really, because there never was any interest to begin with, anywhere. Two separate things occurred around the same time. Ed Kanerva of Spacewreck Records got in touch, to see whether I would like to rerelease the album, as an LP. I was somewhat behind the proverbial eight ball in realizing that vinyl had made a significant comeback. Someone had put up all the tracks from ‘The Gardening Club’ on YouTube, and Ed loved the art as well as the music, and got in touch. Ed works for a comic/graphic novel publishing house, so he has his fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist all right! His mission was to promote ‘cosmic Canadiana’, especially if it had been overlooked, and I was a classic example of that. Ed was amazed to find I still had 300 copies of the L P in the basement, the original pressing, unopened, catnip for the uber vinyl collector. So, Ed put a package together, with a second LP, ‘Songs From The Greenhouse’, that was made up of songs that I recorded around the time ‘The Gardening Club’ was originally released. All those songs were archived on cassette tape, that most dreaded of musical formats, but Don Geppert came to the rescue again and digitized and remastered all the songs.
The second thing was Rob Ayling of Gonzo Multimedia, based in the U K, got in touch to ask about the rights situation, re ‘The Gardening Club’ album. I had signed a deal with Spacewreck Records just a few weeks before, and wasn’t sure whether I was free to sign up with Rob as well, but as Gonzo wanted to do a CD version, not an LP, and would be selling mainly in the U K and Europe, Ed gave his blessings to a new deal with Gonzo Multimedia. Once again, I got in touch with original producer Don Geppert, and Don agreed to digitize all the songs from the vinyl LP and remaster them. Rob wanted to add most of the songs from the ‘Songs From The Greenhouse’ LP as well to ‘The Gardening Club’ CD. I had fun creating a 24-page illustrated lyric booklet to accompany the music, although I had to go into my archive to find a lot of the images as time was short. The most surprising thing then in the long run, was all the positive reviews, 32 years later!
This then inspired you to form a band and start recording again, so how did The Gardening Club get together and how did you decide on the line-up?
Six months after my heart operation, I played a concert in Victoria BC at a vinyl record store called Vinyl Envy. The lads in the store loved the ‘Gardening Club’ story, and as I had a 2 LP vinyl package for sale, they were very keen to have me in to play a concert. With me was Norm Macpherson on guitar, and Wayne Kozak on saxophone with Neil Golden on percussion. The concert went very well, and Norm right away wanted to record “Blues For Richard” in his home studio. As we got talking, we both realized that we had something special in the music we had played that night at Vinyl Envy. We had to capture it. Norm had had a studio for many years in Windsor, Ontario, and was a very experienced recording engineer. A few months later we started recording what would become ‘The Riddle’. The main idea at that point was for me to finally record as many of the songs that I had of our friend Cyril McColgans poetry. I had been setting Cyril’s poems to music for many years but had never collected them into one place; here finally was the ideal way to do that. Wayne Kozak recommended Sean Drabitt on fretless bass, and he was the perfect choice for these songs. His deep rich sound filled out the harmonic movements beautifully, plus he is an amazing improviser. The drums initially were a problem, as we used loops just to get going, but then Norm’s son James heard the “Riddle Overture” and wanted to be a part of it all, and began programming drum tracks that once again lifted the music up and were a perfect fit. James is a big fan of bands like Dream Theater and Devin Townsend, so he brought in the drama that we needed. I have known saxophonist Wayne Kozak for many years, and I always want his sound on any project I do. Years of stage and studio experience shine through in his playing, a consummate improviser! Norm Macpherson is a brilliant guitarist, arranger, and producer, and his slide playing is an unusual addition to what could be called a prog-rock album, always intense and musically and emotionally involving. I am extremely lucky to have all these players who respond so well to my musical musings!
Although my good friend Terry Findlay did not play on the album, he was an integral part of its success, as he was the one who initially had the idea that Norm would sound great on my songs. This really was the first important step, so I can’t thank him enough.
Please can you provide a track by track breakdown of the resulting album, ‘The Riddle’.
The Riddle Overture –
I loved the idea of starting off the album with a rock cliché, if you like, to see whether we could pull it off, but this tune become in a way much more than that. I had recorded the basic guitar tracks and temp melodies and we had added Norm on bass, and a drum loop, just to get going. I called Norm the following morning, how does it sound I asked him, in ‘the cold light of day?’. He responded in typical Norm fashion, ‘I added some shit last night.’ I have since learned that when Norm says this, be prepared! When I heard it later that day, I was amazed, he had added a searing slide guitar line and string orchestration, it took the whole thing to a different realm. That one tune opened up all the possibilities for Norm and myself, it set the tone. When James added his drums and a superb synth solo, that’s when it seemed to me that here was a band, trading ideas and influences and coming up with something unique. A rather more than cool beginning! The doors were now open!
This was written in the studio, sort of between takes on another song, it was one of the few Cyril lyrics that I had not set to music. I was bubbling over with ideas, just having so much fun. I should add that Norm’s studio is surrounded by forest, deep in the countryside, it is the most inspiring space I have ever recorded in. (Yes, many gifts have come my way recently. I am forever grateful.) My connection to Cyril’s words is visceral, I just know when it works, when the melody marries the words, and the emotion is distilled in a purely musical way. When Norm said, is that a Cyril song and I said yes, he said let’s record it right away, while it’s hot out of the oven.
“A dog on fire / pursued by a dog on fire”. Yes, dark stuff, written by a young guy in search of himself. Essentially, the blues, the human condition, and a song I have had for maybe ten years or so, rattling away asking to be recorded. Norms solo on this song, as far as I am concerned is as good as it gets, digging deep into the changes and the emotional darkness, but what a great release of tension!
Blues For Richard
When I was recovering from my heart operation, I heard that our good pal, Richard Moore, had died from a brain tumour. Richard was important to both Norm and I in our youthful musical days, growing up in Victoria. Norm and Richard were in a band called Blues By Five, and then Richard joined me in The Iliad when BB5 broke up. Later Richard and I had some crazy musical experiences around the same time in the U K in the 70’s. Richard joined the Troggs; need I say more! Richard later moved to California, where he became a real estate agent, but was always playing in a band somewhere.
The slow 5/4 section in this tune was the first thing I played upon hearing that Richard had died. It just came out fully formed. I knew it was for him, but I realized I wanted to go into this homage to Richard with a full-on band riff that he would have enjoyed, with the sadness held back until the end.
Just before we did our concert in Victoria, that set the ball rolling on this new Gardening Club adventure, being in an excitable state, I wanted to write something brand new for the gig, and this song was the result. I have quite a few different versions of this lyric but none that really clicked with me. For quite a while after my surgery, I could not hit all the high notes I used to, so for the first time ever, I used a capo to change the key of a particular song, but not the chord shapes. The guitar does sound different when you put a capo over the strings, no doubt, and I was quite taken with the timbre of the raised string sound. I just started playing a particular chord sequence that I had always liked but had never sung over. (For those with an interest in this sort of thing, it’s actually the first four chords of the sequence I use on the tune, Eddie’s Theme on Diving Into Small Pools. I’m allowed to steal from myself.) With the words in front of me the song just took off, one minute it wasn’t there, the next it was. I would say it took as long to write the song as it took to play it. This never happens.
Of all the surprises on’ The Riddle’, this may be the most surprising, because Norm plays the bassoon! He has been a symphony musician since he was a teenager, straddling both the popular music world and the orchestral world. This is why he is so adept at arranging, a deep knowledge of orchestration. It wasn’t clear to us what instrument should play the melody here, we tried guitar, mandolin, voices. As soon as Norm played it on the bassoon it seemed the perfect fit. The most ‘English’ sounding tune on the album.
The story behind this tune is that at one time I was asked to create illustrations for a novella by JRR Tolkien called ‘Farmer Giles Of Ham’. I went to England to talk to the publisher, and while in the office I asked if Pauline Baynes the original illustrator of the book was still alive. Very much so, came the reply, and I asked for her phone number. I called her, and my brother-in-law and I visited her in her magical cottage deep in the Surrey countryside. And so began a lovely friendship, whose memory I cherish. Pauline heard my setting of Tolkien’s words and loved the music, you can imagine how much this meant to me as Pauline and Ronald, as she called him, were very good pals. Often, she and her husband Fritz went on holiday with Tolkien and his wife.
In this tune I tried to capture the feeling I had when visiting Pauline, and the magical worlds she helped to create in Tolkien’s books, and in the Narnia books by CS Lewis, for which she is justly famous around the world, wherever children read books!
Notes On The Affair
There is no doubt that Cyril’s lyrics are often dark and intriguing, and maybe that’s why I like them, nothing is spelled out clearly, there is a mystery at the heart of it all. Here, the chorus, “the light in her life / will be the light in my own / and I will not know the difference …” is perhaps his most positive statement, and I couldn’t resist going into a major key for this one, which is unusual for me. The jazzier verse sequence came about as I was exploring a new Taylor guitar, sometimes a new instrument will inspire new sounds, no doubt! Once again Norm shows his amazing fluency on the gut string guitar, an improvised solo here that he arranged for marimba and other instruments, so that it sounds like a written-out passage. Perfect for the song. The ending is mysterious, why go to India at that point? Because it felt exactly right to do so; perhaps that is the end of the affair, or, the place it takes our couple.
The Original Sleep
This poem is by Robert Priest, a quite brilliant Toronto poet who I have known for many years. I always found this poem so intriguing, and as usual I kept coming up with ideas that I felt did not go where the poem took me. As I live in Toronto and Norm lives in Metchosin near Victoria on Vancouver Island, our recording sessions happen when I visit every two or three months. In the time when I am at home here in T O I work on new music or the art that will accompany the music on its release. Obviously, we are both aware of file sharing, but something special happens when we are in the same room together, a musical chemistry that is unique, so we prefer to create in real time when we are in Garry Oak Studio, Metchosin.
When I started working on this song, I realized I was now in a position to write for a band, or a sound, so that influenced all my writing from then on. The song was originally much longer than the recorded version, I had a whole other section that vanished after Norm wielded his musical scalpel, saying the immortal words, ‘I think we can lose the last five minutes’. And he was right! It is now a very focused piece of music, conjuring the up the deep green evening of an African forest, “the countries are so vast there / and the love so true.” Once again Norm’s slide guitar amplifies and sustains the mysterious atmosphere of the lyric.
Tears At The Matinee
This is the oldest tune on the record. I must have set this at least twenty years ago, but as much as I liked it, it didn’t really fit any other project I worked on. The original title was Tears At the Matinee 1971, so it’s the only poem in Cyril’s book, ‘The Upside Down Blackbird’, with a specific date. This is very much a portrait of our young years, and I always loved the words and was thrilled to have found just the right setting for it.
Having Wayne Kozak and Sean Drabitt on the song was a gift worth waiting for. Their combined harmonic knowledge and musical story telling are a perfect fit.
When Norm and I met again after many years, we had a lunch and a listen to my new songs at his place, just to see whether we could connect musically. I had been working on this song and played it for him, it was indeed the first Cyril song of mine that Norm heard. One could call it the ‘lightest’ song on the album, but the lyrics belie that I think. The delightful surprise here for me was James MacPherson’s perfect synth solo.
The tune is from some years ago, the lyrics written as we recorded. This was not meant to be on the album, it was just an exploration to see whether it worked, just a bunch of chords and me trying to sing! I was still having problems hitting high notes that I used to reach fairly easily. However, I was determined to meet this challenge, but it would have been foolish to push my voice if it sounded strained, so we left this one on the back burner. We worked on all the other songs then came back to this, and by that time, just by having done all that singing, I was now comfortable with the melody. After I came up with the words, I realized that it tied all sorts of threads together; you don’t always know what you are up to until it’s finished. You take the journey, but the destination is often hazy.
Just a little echo of my love for composers like Eric Satie.
The Riddle Overture Reprise
I wanted to write something where everyone in the band gets a solo, and we tie a musical ribbon around the whole thing. I think we go out here in a celebratory mood. We felt so good that what started as a tentative idea to see if we could do anything ‘interesting’ turned into ‘The Riddle’, a complete and sustained musical journey, with important musical and emotional touchstones for all of us. Truly a band effort, everyone contributing their best work, and enjoying it all so much.
One word on the order of the songs. As I was designing the CD package, I realized that I had to make that decision, as I was determined to have a lyric booklet, this was essential as Cyril’s words were so important in the genesis of the album and its outcome. I was working on the back cover of the CD package. I placed the image I had decided to use, one of ‘The Three Riddles’, that I had created after coming home from the hospital. The album did not even have a name. I looked at the list of songs. It seemed to me that ‘The Riddle’, short and to the point, even if the point was a mystery seemed to be the perfect title. Also, it lined up with the art. I had always assumed it would be a Cyril song as the title, not one of mine. Obviously, the Overture would come first, then the opening lines of Whirled Away “About to laugh / about to be let in on a secret…” Seemed to set the tone for what was coming up. After that I simply went with my instinct about what would naturally follow, contrasting tempos and sounds, like a suite.
Have you surprised yourself with your enthusiasm for getting back into the studio?
All of this has been a surprise on so many levels, I let go of this musical dream many years ago when ‘The Gardening Club’ album “died”. To have it all resurrected in this way has been completely life affirming and inspiring!
You have already been back in the studio working on a follow-up album, ‘Boy On A Bike’. Is this in a similar vein? When do you expect this to be available?
‘Boy On A Bike’ is you might say a continuation of our musical explorations, the difference being the lyrics apart from two songs are all mine, so the emotional themes are quite different, plus James wrote one of the tunes on the album, “WolfGate”. I wrote most of the music on the heels of finishing The Riddle, I was very inspired and couldn’t wait to get to the next thing! We hope the album will be available in October.
What is next for Martin Springett in both your artistic and musical endeavours?
Right now, I am putting together the lyric book and CD package for ‘Boy On A Bike’. I will actually be glad to park the bike, very soon, it’s been a rather long ride, but I am so happy with this new album, we went to new places and landscapes for sure.
Recently having performed with Syrian violinist Sari Alesh, we are adding his sound to our band, and Norm and I will be performing with Sari as a trio this coming November and recording some new tunes as soon as we can. I have a feeling the next project will be very different. Which is as it should be. We just go where the music and emotions take us. Our lives are wrapped up in all this. That’s the true joy of it all.
London – Due to the tremendous response UK prog ensemble The Gardening Club received for the reissue of their 1983 self-titled album last year, the band has released a brand new album! The new Gardening Club album, “The Riddle” was recorded at producer/guitarist Norm Macpherson’s Garry Oak Studios in Metchosin British Columbia. This location surrounded by forest and close to the Pacific Ocean, was ideal for writing and recording the new record.
Martin Springett and Norm had known each other as young players while living in Victoria many years ago, both were drawn to the music the other was making; Norm was a phenomenal blues player even at the age of 17. Martin as a new immigrant from England, was setting Tolkien’s words to music. Two very different worlds! The connection that started the new project, was a mutual friend, a poet named Cyril McColgan. Martin had been setting Cyril’s poems to music for many years, and so after meeting up again, Norm and Martin decided it would be fun to ‘do something’ together, and Cyril’s words were the connection for them both, and a starting point for recording together. There was no thought of an album, just an exploration of Martin’s songs, old and new, with Cyril’s words. The tale grew in the telling, to quote somebody or other, and when Gonzo Multimedia re-released the original “Gardening Club” album from 1983 in October of 2017, this inspired the recording sessions with a new hope that perhaps Gonzo might well be interested in this new Gardening Club project.
The shape of the album grew and changed as players appeared, miraculously you might say, that seemed to be a perfect fit for Martin’s music. Norm’s son, James MacPherson brought in his phenomenal drum programming skills, as well as some very effective synth solos. Sean Drabitt, a highly respected jazz bassist, came in with fretless electric bass, to provide a unique underpinning to the songs, Sean’s first love being bands like Rush and King Crimson. Wayne Kozak, with a wealth of studio experience over the decades, provided beautiful soprano sax solos. Finally, Norm Macpherson, an award winning guitarist gave the album it’s ‘second voice’, after Martin’s heartfelt vocals, his signature soaring, slide guitar. Norm also produced and engineered the album, giving it a shape and focus sound wise that again complemented Martin’s songs perfectly.
The art that Martin Springett created for the album was actually a compilation of images created over a year prior to the recording. Inspired by the very positive reaction to his Gardening Club album’s re-release, Martin explored as many aspects of The Garden as he could, and The Three Riddles came out of this fertile creative period. The 24 page illustrated lyric booklet that accompanies “The Riddle”, was the next visual challenge. Martin has always felt that the link between the visual and the musical exemplified the best of the Prog rock releases of his youth, and wished to emulate that particular specific synergy with “The Riddle”.
The band is deep in the recording of the next Gardening Cub album, “Boy On A Bike”. All the songs are written, two thirds of the album recorded. This a very different experience to “The Riddle”, where the band was learning to work together. In the new one, Norm and Martin can afford to experiment just a little more, the songs are all connected together sonically, making this something of a rock concerto. The same team has assembled plus some very cool guests, which of course changes things yet again.
Martin will be putting together videos with his art and music from “The Riddle” very soon, as well as for “Boy On A Bike”.
In closing Martin has this to impart, “Life is full of beautiful melancholy, moody mysteries, shadows and light, grand gestures, tiny life-changing moments, exploding super novas, cosmic light shows, stalled cars, love, seven year old poets, thoughts on surviving heart surgery, an homage to a brilliant female artist, the original sleep; you know the usual stuff.”
The Gardening Club features:
SEAN DRABITT – FRETLESS ELECTRIC BASS – Sean Drabitt left Victoria, Canada, in early 90’s to study Jazz bass in Los Angeles with mentor John Clayton. The next decade he spent first in New Orleans, where he worked with all members of the Marsalis family, then in New York, working with the best young players on the modern jazz scene, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Eric Harland and Ari Honig among them. Specializing in a hard driving hard bop informed style of bass playing. Sean recently gave several performances on the West coast of Canada on fretless electric bass with his quartet, A Tribute To Jaco Pastorious! https://www.seandrabitt.com
WAYNE KOZAK – SOPRANO SAXOPHONE – Wayne is one of the most respected sax players on the West Coast of Canada. At home in any genre of music, his improvisations are intense and melodic explorations that add immeasurably to any song he is asked to play on. Wayne ran his own studio for many years in Vancouver, Wayne Kozak Audio Productions, involved in music production, advertising jingles and soundtracks.
JAMES MACPHERSON – James began playing different instruments when he was very young, including woodwinds in a variety of orchestras, then went on to play guitar, bass, drums and keyboards in many bands. Teaching these instruments professionally, he also became involved with audio production, recording and producing albums for local bands. James brings a fresh and young energy to the music that has become an essential ingredient in The Gardening Club sound.
NORM MACPHERSON – Victoria (BC) Canada Music Hall Of Fame Inductee 2010 / Lifetime Achievement Award. Norm’s reputation as an outstanding guitarist began with his lead playing in local Victoria bands like Blues By Five and Moxie. His recording and touring credits include The Poppy Family (Terry and Susan Jacks) Skylark (with founding member producer David Foster), Burton Cummings, Roy Forbes, Connie Kaldor, The Sample Stearns Band and many years with Canadian troubadour, Valdy. Norm is also an active bassoon player with the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra, Victoria Chamber Orchestra, and The Victoria Civic Orchestra. http://normmacpherson.com
MARTIN SPRINGETT – Martin Springett is an artist, author and musician. He recorded his first album in 1969, settings of JRR Tolkien’s poems. The album was never released, but this experience set Martin on a path to combine his art and music as one effective statement. The early days of the progressive rock movement were a huge influence, especially the combined effect of art and music, as in Roger Dean’s covers for Yes. “The Gardening Club” LP, originally released in 1983, now considered a ‘lost prog classic’ by some, was the first mature linking of his art and music. After many years in the publishing industry, Martin is now committed full time to creating music and art that reflect his connection to this wondrous and terrifying place we call home. Planet Earth.
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