Here is the third and final part of my interview with The Enid.
Robert, you recently made it public that you are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. When did you notice there was an issue?
Robert: I first began to suspect nearly a year ago that there may be a problem. I had – not exactly a scary moment but – a confused moment where I was out locally in Northampton, going to somewhere I’d been to many times before. I got there alright and then I couldn’t remember where I was or how to get home straight away. I had to sit and think about it. Normally I’d just be on autopilot and I’d go home. I’ve had a few situations where I’ve had to refer to people who I know very well, like Joe, by saying ‘this is the singer in the band’ because I can’t recall the name straight away. But my memory as far as the past is concerned is probably very strong, maybe even stronger than it has been, particularly as I’ve been thinking about continuing with my autobiography and making the next part of that. All of that kind of thing is good and strong. Creatively, I haven’t suffered. I can do anything and still play.
Joe: That part of people is usually the last thing to go.
Robert: I’ve had two scans actually and I had another one yesterday and they’re just checking something else that needs checking in that area. But it’s definitely confirmed. There’s no doubt about it.
Joe: It is early days and the thing with Alzheimer’s is that it can be a long time before it becomes a real problem.
Robert: It can, but I don’t want to wait until it becomes a problem. I want to hand over now. Well, I can’t do it right now, but I really do want to play less and less of an actual role and I want no legal connection with the band at all. I’m no longer formally in the band. I haven’t been for some time. This is just a way of symbolically making this break. I’d rather do it willingly and now than be forced to do it, leaving everybody in the shit later. When you think about it, Jason has spent five years of his life really dedicating himself to learning that role. It’s not easy to play the guitar in The Enid. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a great technique or you’re considered one of the best guitarists in the world, there’s a very different way about approaching guitar in The Enid because of the keys that everything is written in and the fact that the guitar is treated almost as though it’s the human voice.
Joe: He took that really seriously with ‘Invicta’, to the point of where he managed to actually make it sound like a human voice at some point, which is just incredible. We were so blown away. We couldn’t actually believe he had done it. That was all down to him self-developing and gauging for himself what is the most appropriate role of a guitarist in The Enid.
Robert: And of course there’s Max, who has been my friend, working with me for more than 20 years in the studio. He hasn’t been interested in The Enid most of that time, but he is now. He has developed a real technique for producing these vocal arrangements that have so much power to them. He’s taken on that role and taken it to where he wants to go with it. Of course, being the governing engineer and producer of the albums.
Max: I think you know when to compromise, when it doesn’t sound right. If everything sounds great, then the job’s done.
Joe: We have this rule where no one’s allowed to say they don’t like it, unless they have another suggestion. That’s the rule!
Robert: If someone says ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘I’m not playing that’, it just puts the dampers on everything.
Joe: We’ve all worked with people who are like that and all it does is slow you down. If you work with people like that, you end up not doing as much and you start to contribute less. If everybody’s confident about something or they trust you to do your role properly, then if it’s not something that’s not remembered in the future as being a great moment for The Enid or whatever band it is, then fine – it doesn’t become part of the memories that people have, but at least it had the opportunity to be. The things that are great tend to be really, really great.
Robert: They always have a canon of their repertoire and it’s quite selective. There are all kinds of things that have worked in the context of an album but things that we would never play live. Most of the stuff from the ‘70s is like that, not all of it. We intend to keep the best of the whole repertoire alive but I’m sure a time will come when something will get relooked at again.
Are there any tracks that you would like to rerecord from the ‘70s?
Joe: I’ve listened to everything The Enid made in the ‘70s and my judgement is that the very, very best of it has all been revisited and given a new burst of life. The majority of the stuff that hasn’t had that opportunity yet, is probably better left in the ‘70s. There are maybe two or three tracks from the ‘70s that I think they actually need a look at.
Max: What was it we were listening to the other day that we were going to resurrect?
Joe: It was ‘The Devil’.
Robert: Well that needs growling on it if we’re going to do it. [Robert growls] Yes, I could do it!
Joe: We might not do it for some time, but Max has taken a liking to ‘The Devil’!
Max: Trying to pick an Enid track and then perform it is not a task to be taken lightly. It would take probably a couple of weeks.
Joe: If you want to revisit any of the tracks, it’s such a commitment. You have to remove any dated elements and try to make it into something that is completely timeless.
Robert: There’s also the point that much of the music – especially from ‘Touch Me’ and ‘Six Pieces’ – was written by other people who are no longer involved in the band. I’m particularly thinking of Willie Gilmour and Martin Russell – both incredibly accomplished and much more talented musically than I am, certainly from the academic point of view. Willie Gilmour is a very good player and very talented composer. I wouldn’t want to be seen now as living off the backs of what was largely their creative efforts, or at least as much as what I’d done. There’s so much more that we can choose from and so much more music to write, so that’s another good reason.
Max: We do have fans question to have certain things done from the back-catalogue, but I think that explains the reason why.
Joe: As somebody who walked into 40 years of history, I think the stuff that The Enid did in the ‘80s is so much more accessible to me, apart from ‘Aerie Faerie Nonsense’, which I adore. It has a really clear voice and I think that’s because Robert and Steve (Stewart) as a duo wrote it, whereas in the ‘70s stuff there was all six of them fighting over it.
Robert: There was the very difficult relationship with Francis Lickerish, which blew up in a huge mess finally in 1980. He’s produced a very good album with his recent album. That is the first album as much about him than about anybody else. Conceptually, he provided a lot of the tunes. I don’t want to put it behind me because ‘In The Region Of The Summer Stars’ was a huge achievement. I don’t particularly like ‘Touch Me’ and ‘Six Pieces’. I think we had lost our way and we did start to take ourselves a bit seriously there. We were a bit up ourselves.
How would you describe the albums from the ‘70s and ‘80s?
Joe: If you listen to the albums in order and I were to have descriptions of all four of those albums, I’d say ‘In The Region Of The Summer Stars’ was pioneering, ‘Aerie Faerie Nonsense’ was full-potential – they had every resource they needed to do what they really needed to craft and it was fantastic. I think at the time you probably had a lot to lose and a lot of drive to prove to people. ‘Touch Me’ and ‘Six Pieces’ seemed a little bit like there was too many ideas at once, arrogantly played and they didn’t have the same heart and that really came across as a listener. I think I can say all that without bias because I wasn’t anything to do with the band then!
Robert: I would entirely agree with that.
We’ve going to move on to an expansive topic now: God. What are your views regarding religion and God?
Robert: I’ve come to a personal understanding of most of it. I have a great interest in science, particularly theoretical physics and cosmology, as well as being pretty well-read on the classics, philosophy and a bit of comparative religion and all of those things. I think my relationship with God is that yes, on the whole, I spend a lot of time talking to God and I spend a lot of time denying the existence of God as well. I’m fairly comfortable of being in the position of someone who doesn’t know, because in fact, no one can know.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
Robert: Not in terms of some place we go to and continue on in some sort of new capacity, but rather that life is like a story, a musical phrase or a symphony even, with a silence at either end. The beauty of the analogy of music is that – though we are and can be aware that we are experiencing a whole piece of music like a Beethoven symphony – we can actually only experience it note by note as it unfolds. That’s how our lives are. They are both complete and indivisible in one sense and in that sense they are immortal. Yet they can only be experienced from the beginning to the end. All of that life that you and I are going to live and come to the end of is out there, like those symphonies. Beethoven’s nine symphonies exist and is immortal in that sense, but it can only be experienced in terms of someone else, or something else and experiencing it as it unfolds in time. That’s a little bit of a fudge, but I think our immortality is like that.
How do you feel about your own mortality?
Robert: Death has absolutely no fear from me at all. None whatsoever. It’s something that everybody has been doing! What is the big deal? The fear of death is something that young people have, when they lie in bed and suddenly wake in the middle of the night and say ‘oh my God! I’m going to die!’ Those people may never have lost a parent yet. They might have lost a granny or they may never have known one. The worse things that would have happened are pets and things like that for most people. But a point comes where gradually… It’s part of the way we’re made as human beings; the closer we become to the close of life, the more able we are to deal with it, and less and less of a big deal it becomes for most. Not all. There are two ways you can approach the inevitable. Supposing it wasn’t an unknown time, supposing it was a definite time like an execution where you knew your life was going to end at 8 O’ Clock tomorrow morning. You’ve got two choices. You can either walk to the scaffold in a dignified way, in control, under your own steam, on your terms or you can be dragged there screaming. It’s going to happen and I think once you accept that then I know perfectly well which one I want to do and I’ve prepared myself to do just that.
For a lot of people, their religion provides them with some kind of reassurance or hope regarding death. Are you religious?
Robert: Jason’s a catholic and I quite often go to church with him. I enjoy going to church because of the music as much as anything else. For me, religions are works of art and if they are taken as works of art – as poetic, creative structures to enable mankind to answer the great questions – they’re fine. But when you start treating it as fact – and you can be very selective about the way you want to see it – that’s where the trouble begins.
Joe: I’m quite a spiritual person and I think that’s quite important when it comes to running the fan club The Enidi as well. There’s a spiritual connection with The Enid’s music. Religion – as Robert said – is to be considered a piece of art and the spiritual side of it is totally separate and something you just feel. There’s a sensitivity to that whether it’s in the lyrics or in the harmonisation of the pieces and it just brings you together because you are all made to feel something from it. You experience the same induced emotions and you might be thinking different things, but you all feel something from it. It feels like you’re being touched by something greater than yourself, which you can’t explain. That spiritual side is so essential and such a big part of The Enid and always has been, really.
Robert: I’m not sure about the existence of God, nevertheless all of my music is really directed at that question… all of it.
It’s refreshing that you remain open to the idea of a creator. How do you feel about atheism as a doctrine of thought?
Robert: In a way I support atheism for one reason only – that it is a good foil to some of the fundamentalist crap that is coming out of America, particularly. I’m not so concerned about the Muslims because that is a different matter. That is a geopolitical and historical problem actually caused by the British after WWI, largely. America is a very, very frightening place with some of the views that are held in the name of religion. Atheism is a very strong counter to the bullshit and creationism that is taught as a science, as if it were actual knowledge as opposed to speculation. I simply don’t know what the answer is. I know that evolution doesn’t appear to have too many flaws in it, in so far as it goes. But on the other hand, if Richard Dawkins – who I really admire – is really going to say that evolution is what is driving it all, then he can’t confine it to what has happened on this planet. It must actually pertain to the whole cosmos itself, to the extent that maybe the constants – those things that we always thought to be the same, like the velocity of light – may have actually settled down into what they are now. You have no way of knowing. That would then put the cat amongst the pigeons for every calculation there is about the age of the universe or anything else. Lee Smolin is one of my favourites because he believes in a cosmos that explains black holes as kind of embryos – the basis for the creation of new universes and that’s why they are there. That’s why only those universes are capable of creating stars and therefore black holes are actually going to go on to procreate and the barren universes will become fewer as the fecund universes become more plural.
The very foundation of our studies on vast ideas and constructs regarding cosmology and theoretical physics obviously all boils down to what observable and testable predictions we are able to apply to the wider universe. Away from the search to interstellar horizons; how do you see the very basics of our own experience and consciousness as humans?
Robert: We have a lot of people investigating the brain and trying to explain it in terms of that, but that’s really just trying to tell you what a rose is by chewing up its petals. The fact is that consciousness is a very extraordinary matter, something that is on the end of our nose. It’s almost as if the spiritual thing we were talking about is built into our DNA – it clearly must be, otherwise religions wouldn’t have arisen. There’s always been an absolute imperative that we push to try and unravel the meaning of our own existence and understanding the world around us. That is so clearly what we are meant to do. Part of being a human being is to ask those questions. If you don’t ask them and you don’t want to know, that’s alright, ignorance is bliss. You’re rather like that beautiful dog that died recently (Max’s pet dog), which was very sad. She had no notion whatsoever. She was definitely conscious, she was a marvellous character, her love was unconditional and she was perfect in that sense. She died, and had no knowledge that is was going to happen to her or what was happening to her, it just did. For her, that’s fine and I think for a lot of human beings that’s fine. I think the big problem comes when someone gets a hold of people who maybe haven’t given it much thought and drums it into them that some ‘this, that or the other’ is going to happen. It’s like the horrendous business that went on in the reign of Henry VIII and all those executions because of what people believed. Religion is a manipulative tool to get money out of people. They are businesses.
Max: These fundamentalists believe they are going to be rewarded with virgins as a reward for their martyrdom.
Joe: Their reason for doing it becomes a selfish one rather than the reason for the greater good.
Robert, you’ve talked in the past about the way that people are interdependent and explored the idea that individuality has no fundamental meaning. Could you elaborate on what you mean?
Robert: I do believe that our individuality is actually a bit of an illusion. As individuals we appear to each other and our own perception of ourselves is as if we were an island, like an archipelago of islands. But you’ve only got to put your head underwater to see that in fact they are all hills, they are interconnected at a deeper level and the individual ceases to have any meaning. It’s almost like we’re born like a leaf on a tree or a snowflake. Snowflakes form in the upper atmosphere, they start as a result of evaporation from the ocean, each snowflake is unique, it makes a journey and it might or might not write nine great symphonies on its journey downwards. It then comes to the end of its individuality and then it merges with streams and water, and it goes back to the ocean which gave it birth and empties those nine great symphonies but not the individuality of the snowflake into them so that the next snowflake that is born, already knows about those nine great symphonies. They are the bit that’s immortal. I believe in a cyclic cosmos. The point when entropy reaches its extreme, that will be a point at which time will be meaningless, size will be meaningless because there will be no events and therefore once that’s happened, that’s exactly – because there’s still all that energy there – another Big Bang.
Skipping to another issue at the moment that affects the band, there’s a big debate about gay marriage in the UK right now. How do you feel about the issue?
Robert: There’s three gay people in this band and they just so happen to be sitting here. So we are a half-and-half band and the kind of shit that is going on in the world about this issue… [pauses] Basically, Thomas Cromwell – Henry VIII’s right hand man – decided purely for pecuniary, financial reasons to criminalise it, in order to then say that the monasteries are full of sodomites and should be closed down, so he could use the money from those to enrich the king. Otherwise, there’d be no issue about it. Ever since then, we’ve had on and off issues with this all over bloody Europe. There is a slightly different issue in the Middle East because, interestingly, though Islam disapproves of it, they only disapprove of it once the men are married. Before they get married, that’s boy’s business. It doesn’t come into anything at all, it’s not an issue. It’s just what boys get up to during their youth because there are no women.
There is a residual homophobia in the rock press and we intend to do something about that. It’s a bit like the football situation. Apparently there are now two professional footballers who are openly gay, all the rest of them are not. It’s just ridiculous. The rock side of things is about that as well.
Our friend Alan Moore – who is a famous comic book writer, a friend of ours for a friend of mine for many years standing – offered to do a short piece in the interval at the Symphony Hall and I said ‘well, do what you want’. He chose this fairly short poem he wrote in the 1980s. It is a poem that describes the creative contribution that same sex lovers have given to the world culturally. It goes right back to the beginning, as far back as we know, to the relationship of David and Jonathan in the Old Testament to the achievements of Michael Angelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. Some of the audience got uncomfortable and some of them heckled. I knew Adam was going to do this piece and I thought if it’s going to root out a few homophobes in the audience, then so what.
Interview by Calum Robson
Published at SoundShock: soundshock.com/index.php/feature-band-interviews/4999-in-the-spotlight-with-the-enid-part-3