Interview: The Enid – Part 1

Nearly 40 years ago The Enid came into existence as Robert John Godfrey joined guitarists Stephen Stewart and Francis Lickerish and drummer Dave Storey in a new project, following his exit from Barclay James Harvest. He embarked on what has become a wonderful musical journey. Four decades on and with three generations in the band, The Enid lives as a truly remarkable musical entity today, comprised of Godfrey, long-time drummer Dave Storey, bassist Nick Willes, guitarist Jason Ducker, keyboardist/vocalist Max Read and newest addition to the band, keyboardist/lead singer Joe Payne. Since reforming in 2007, The Enid have released two studio albums – the second of which, ‘Invicta’, features Payne’s stunning vocal debut for the band and marks yet another progressive shift into new musical territory. As they come off the back of an outstanding UK tour earlier in the year, they look towards their next release (working title ‘Reset’). In a three-part interview, Calum Robson travels to the band’s base at The Lodge Studios in Northampton, to find out more from Robert John Godfrey, Max Read and Joe Payne.  

The Enid

Firstly, you’ve toured across the UK this year with shows at Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, Leicester, London and more. How have the audience reacted to your performances?
Joe Payne: The way we’ve gone down with the shows this year has been really unexpected because we didn’t know what was going to happen this year. Last year was a bit of a ‘hit and miss’ year and we had a lot to prove to people.
Robert John Godfrey: Yes, well you had joined by then. We lost our manager because the show he raised at Symphony Hall. Whilst it was very well attended, we still managed to lose 30 grand on doing it. That wasn’t entirely his fault but he didn’t properly tie up the deal with EMI first and that enabled our old record company to interfere with the release that was intended that EMI would do; both of the DVD and the two-album set of the band with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. That left us in a colossal perilous mess, so we’ve been fighting back from there. I think we also took the view – particularly now that Joe is at the centre of The Enid creative and performing dynamic – that we really needed to remember our roots.  The Marquis Club was where the band very first started. It really is important to go back to those places. It’s all very well going to nice plush theatres at £30 a ticket and playing to the more well-heeled of our audience for many years, but times are changing.
Joe: That’s not going to change anything either. How are you possibly going to reach anyone new that way? The reason why these shows have been so much more successful for us is because we are so much more comfortable playing in these kind of venues. Yes, in theatres you have a lot of equipment and sometimes need a big stage because we take up so much room. Really that’s one of the main reasons we were doing it and also we had an aging audience so they like to be able to sit down for example. But there’s that formality there.

What differences are there between a seated theatre audience and a standing bar/club audience in terms of the atmosphere?
Max Read: It’s very difficult to gauge the response of a seated audience.
Joe: If you’re performing to a standing audience, you know that they’re feeling it because they’re reacting to you. That’s essential for us. We perform better because of the energy they’re feeding us and they’re enjoying themselves because we’re able to give them more energy. It’s a cycle. I almost want to hold people’s hands at the front, if it was appropriate! When people are standing up, they lose their inhibitions a bit more and they don’t feel that they have to behave in a certain way.
Robert: Whilst it’s very important for any performer’s point of view that they have to reach out across the footlights, there’s always going to be ‘this is the stage and that’s not’. You have to reach out across the footlights, but if there is a fairly large moat – if you like – then that reaching out is that little bit more difficult.

The Enid have had a modest following over the years, but right now it seems that there’s not only a real resurgence, but a new wave of success on the way, especially following astonishing last album ‘Invicta’. Looking back on the last 40 years since The Enid’s formation, how do you think The Enid first appeared in the public eye, so to speak?
Robert: I think – if the truth be known – the real stark truth is that The Enid made its reputation in the ‘70s by doing a ridiculous version of ‘Wild Thing’ and playing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Dambusters March. If we hadn’t done that, I don’t think we would have had an audience. Now, we’re not relying on those sort of gimmicks and I don’t want to.

How do you view your role in The Enid now Robert?
Robert: I have actually formally – certainly from a legal point of view now – left the band now. I am retired. I have Alzheimer’s Disease and I have got two or three years probably, where I will be a voluntary mentor to the band, to assist in whatever way I can. Apart from two tracks which I had already had on mind on the next album for ‘Reset’ (that isn’t the actual title, just a working title and the third of the trilogy) all of the new material for that is being developed and written by Joe, Max, Jason and of course, Dave is making a huge contribution to the groovy side of things. Rhythm is my weakest area.

Everyone obviously has their own strengths and weaknesses in the band. What do you think those are?
Joe: My strength is melody and poetry, Max’s strength is studio arrangements and choral arrangements, Robert’s strengths are in concert piano and orchestration.
Robert: And I know what makes The Enid, The Enid. That is the bit that I am trying to now pass on. The great mistake that so many people make is that they think ‘right, I’ve got to know everything there is to know about harmony, I’ve got to know everything there is to know about counterpoint, I need to understand melodic writing’. Fine, if you want to do that, go and be an academic and teach people. But the truth of the matter is, those composers who have been most successful, have only bothered to study those particular aspects of this otherwise vast academia of the things that actually attracted them. That’s why Mahler sounds like Mahler, Elgar sounds like Elgar and Cole Porter sounds like Cole Porter. It’s the reason why academics who often try to be composers don’t actually have a style and whose music never touches the heart of people.

Could you take us back to the beginning of your musical life?
Robert: I started off purely in the classical world, trying to be a concert performer, playing other people’s music and trying to do it in a way that excelled and impressed in the virtuoso side of it. That was the old-fashioned idea of a rockstar. These pianists of the 19 and early 20th Century were the great stars of their time, like opera singers still are now. I was interested in trying to do that. Once I actually got to grips with what it entailed and having to do it, I then thought ‘well, I’m just not cut out for this’ because to be that kind of performer, at that level, with any chance at all of making it into the first division, you have to give up everything: your private life, your friends, everything. You shut yourself away with this fucking instrument that you do battle with and you’ll find the story of all the great virtuosos as being more or less that, unless they were so gifted like Panganini that they didn’t need to bother. Change then came for me when I then started to look to the music that was coming from the culture that I actually felt a part of, which was LSD, The Beatles and I very quickly got involved with the social side of that. It wasn’t long before I was offered an opportunity to work with Norman Smith – he was the house producer at EMI responsible for the two early Pink Floyd albums and he also had a band called Barclay James Harvest that he asked me to try and sort out. From there, it led to me getting to grips with the world I’m now in. Apart from a small hiatus from leaving Barclay James Harvest, there was a couple of years where I tried various things including a really bad solo album.
Joe: Which was really popular! [laughs]
Robert: Well I know, but it was real shit.
Joe: I thought it was quite fun actually! [laughs]
Robert: It was rubbish as far as I’m concerned. But I then formed The Enid. The original foundation for The Enid was myself and two others from a school I’d been at. Dave had also joined the scene and also there was Peter Roberts, who was a fantastic theatrical, outrageous vocalist. He had a career in front of him in the theatre and I knew him very well from my teens. He was going to be at the centre of that project and he killed himself, before we had a chance to record any of the music that in fact, had been written. He was intended to be on that first album, ‘In the Region of the Summer Stars’, which was originally called ‘The Voyage of the Acolyte’, but that’s another story for another time. Steve Hackett was totally innocent of anything. I was still involved in Charisma at the time under The Enid. We were just getting on with our very first conceptual ideas of it before Peter Roberts was involved and I took this concept together with some recordings which had titles to Tony Stratton-Smith and he said that it was a very interesting project but he didn’t think it was for him. We were then left to go ahead and try something else. The next thing we knew, Steve Hackett – who wanted to do a solo album and didn’t actually have a concept in mind – Stratton said ‘well, why don’t you do this?’ Why don’t you do an album about the Tarot cards and why not call it ‘The Voyage of the Acolyte’ and that’s actually what happened. I was very angry that it happened, so we changed ours to a better name anyway! It’s a much better name.

I was faced – after Peter Roberts’ death and bearing in mind that we now had funding to do this The_Enid_Live_Robert_John_Godfreyfirst album – [with the question] do we persevere and reframe it all as an instrumental band? Or should I in fact pack the whole project up as the whole point of doing it, largely – or at least the thing that I saw as making it a success – wasn’t there anymore? Bearing in mind that we all lived together and we were a kind of family, it would have been devastating I think if we had just knocked it all on the head. We decided to persevere with this instrumental band and that’s how we existed, right up until the 1980s when I was so desperate to have vocals that I gave it a try.
My life has really come full circle now, because quite unexpectedly and out of the blue, Joe has walked into our lives and we can now make a whole new beginning and this will be my legacy, hopefully to enable the younger generation of the band, who are now the dominant make-up of the band. I believe we were told we were actually sexy and it’s a very long time since prog bands have been sexy! They all used to be. Very few musicians have the gall to do what Brian May does where he dresses up like he’s just walked out of a science fiction movie.
Joe: You can imagine him featuring in Dr Who.

Over the years, The Enid has changed, making positive developments from record to record and always trying new things. You could call The Enid a true progressive band. How do you view the ‘prog’ term?
I’ve always had a difficult relationship with the prog label because the vast majority of it since the ‘80s hasn’t really been all that progressive. All it has done is parroted a former glory. They’re almost like fans of this particular type of music, deciding to form a band and to try and be like that and they have musos who don’t understand, who don’t have the first clue about writing a song, structure or making an emotional thing. It’s all about wanking around with instruments.
Max Read: Progressive music shouldn’t have a specific sound.
Joe: It should be pioneering, it’s not about copying a sound.
Robert: It’s not discarding the old, it’s widening your range of experience. Frank Zappa was one of the greatest progressive musicians of all time. He and Robert Fripp are the two musicians that I really admire from that era. I suppose I should also include Ryuichi Sakamoto, who in a rather different way, is the most extraordinary talent and has been able to turn his hand to all kinds of things – from writing that wonderful opening music to the Barcelona Olympics ceremony to the kind of electro pop that he does to the music he wrote for ‘The Little Buddha’ and ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’. It’s absolutely adorable music. Those are the people I admire most.

At the end of last year, you released ‘Invicta’. There was obviously a lot of differences between its predecessor ‘Journey’s End’ – the main one being the addition of Joe of course. How do you think it was received?
Joe: The funny thing was that some people were already deciding that they weren’t going to like ‘Invicta’ before it had even been made. That’s where the struggle was. We’d had this funny year where people didn’t know what to make of us anymore and we thought ‘right, if they’re determined not to like it, then that’s it’. We cannot keep trying to cater for this old fanbase. People that want to follow on with us, great.
Robert: They have to move on with me because they are my generation. If I can do it, they can fucking do it.
Joe: But they can’t tell us what we can and cannot do. If we have to start at the bottom again in order to get to what we are, then so be it. That doesn’t mean that what we are doing now can’t be great and we can’t build ourselves back up to the level of that we had. We have to do that.
Robert: You’ve made a very important point there because the traditional route that bands enjoyed which involved making a start in the influential clubs, moving onto the university circuit then onto the town halls and finally, if you were lucky, into the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley, in nice easy stages. Now there’s nothing; there are the small venues and there are the huge ones. There’s no easy route that one can perceive how to do this. When we got rid of our manager, the main reason for it was a difference of view about where the band should be going. He wanted to do more and more of these concerts with orchestras and things like that and in fact, he’d arranged another one at Watford Colosseum which had to be scrapped. We had to pull it just a few weeks before it had been arranged. But that’s beside the point. He refused to getting us a booking agent because he wanted to do it all and he also claimed it was impossible to find a booking agent for the band. Well, as soon as he’d gone, we were found there were quite a number of agents who were dying to have a go at this band.

What did you decide to do?
Robert: In the end, we’d gone with an agency in the north of England who look after some of the more heavy bands – Opeth, Paradise Lost, Haken – and they wanted to see what would happen before they take the issue further. So they organised this little tour for us and put us on at HRH and this small tour, to see what was going to emerge from that. All I can say is that they are delighted. We have ticked every box to the maximum points. They are now going to take the matter forward and try and do what our aim is, which is to be able to be special guests – not ‘support’, but special guests – to a much bigger band touring round the world, who we can go with and introduce ourselves to a new audience that way. I’m hoping that it can happen. If it’s done right, it’s going to benefit not only us, but also the band who has the guts or the balls to take on a band who is capable of blowing them off the stage if they don’t come up to scratch. That’s what we want. That will happen if they don’t have their act together. If they do, that won’t happen and the whole night will go down in history for all the people that are there as one of the great nights; a new discovery and a big show of thanks to the band that have invited us.

Who would you like to tour with as ‘special guests’?
I would like that band to be Opeth.

Opeth gave up the growling and have developed a more mellow sound with their last album, ‘Heritage’. You’re an exceptionally versatile vocalist Joe, being able to hit the operatic highs and the rockier lows. But have you ever tried that abrasive growling style?!
Joe: I know for a fact I can’t growl! I have tried to develop my technique enough to do almost anything, but I can’t growl. I have no idea what it is they do to do it. How you could do it safely, I don’t know. Currently I’m working on whistle tones in the car. I shouldn’t try to conquer too many things at once. That’s the lesson I’ve learned. Rather than be good at everything, you’re better off being good at one thing. That’s the thing people will remeThe_Enid_Live_Joe_Paynember you for. Learning is by necessity but it’s also by ambition. To focus your efforts at being great at one specific thing is much more powerful for you than if you’re just trying to learn everything.

The second track from ‘Invicta’ titled ‘One & The Many’ has a huge vocal shift that tends to perplex people upon first listening. What made you fuse such a dramatic shift into the song?
I wrote ‘One & The Many’ deliberately to kind of put the finger out to anyone who anyone that had been dissing me. I’d had this kind of backlash of ‘he’s just a pop singer, he’s an X-Factor wannabe’ and I thought, ‘that’s not fair!’ I thought ‘right, the first thing they’re going to hear out of my mouth in that album is something that none of them can do!’ That’s why I did ‘One & The Many’ the way that I did it. I’m so glad I did because it really did have the desired effect. It shut them up! [laughs]
Max: It’s a great song melodically and a great composition in terms of the whole arrangement. It turned out so much better than anyone could have hoped.
Robert: I worked with Joe on ‘One & The Many’. Joe had all of the chords there but they needed a little more refining.
Joe: At the end of the day, you have the expertise in that and I don’t. That’s why people need to work with other people. There’s no point in me saying ‘right, I’ve got these ideas and I’m going to make them only mine, forever’. They’re never going to be the best they could be, if people take that attitude.

Interview by Calum Robson

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