January 23, 2013

"The first cellist to go electric"... An exclusive interview with Paul Buckmaster!


Thanks to Denim Bridges I've got a contact with musician/producer/arranger/sound engineer  
Paul Buckmaster 
in Los Angeles,  former cellist/bassist of the Third Ear Band in 1969-1972 phase.
A long career started in the early '60's and filled by  important collaborations (Miles Davis, David Bowie, Elton John, Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen...) and many hits (i.e. a Grammy Award in 2002) that is well summed up in an excellent 2009 interview by Christian Dueblin published in this archive at http://ghettoraga.blogspot.it/2011/12/interview-with-paul-buckmaster-from-net.html with a selected discography.
Here I ask Paul to examine in depth his experience with the Third Ear Band, a dimension often strangely disregarded in his biography...

                                                     Paul in his L.A. studio on August 15th, 2011.

When did you meet Glen and join the Third Ear Band? 
"Early 1969, at a music club in the Paddington/Westbourne Grove area of London. As I recall, it was David Bowie who took me there. Had my cello with me, and asked if I could sit in with the trio (Glen, Paul Minns, and Richard Coff). So I jammed with them, and it was exciting; I was playing some kinds of funky bass riffs in the groove with Glen. Really exciting. At the end, I was invited to join, by Glen and Paul, with Richard enthusiastic".

Which was your first impression about the group?
"Loved them and their music – everything about it".

I mean did you know them? 
"Until that evening at the club, was only vaguely aware of them; saw the name on posters for UFO club, Tottenham Court Road, Thursday nights". 

 
May 1969: one of the first live apparence of Paul with the TEB at Camden Fringe Festival (photo: Robert Ellis)

What did you think about their music at that time (I refer to the first two records)? 
"Loved it!"

Do you remember where did you rehearsal with them?
"Rehearsed (infrequently) at Glen's (or was it Paul's) place in South London, Battersea area, I think".

Which was your contribution to their music? I mean, all the tracks was usually "composed by TEB", but I know that your specific contribution regarded the composition and the music orchestration... 
"There was no composition per se – i.e., nothing was written down, to my knowledge; I saw no scores, sketches or any kind of notations. It was all based around Glen's drum pulse/rhythms; Paul had certain motifs or themes, which were associated with certain titles – and codified as master recordings for the Harvest albums. Those titles would be played at concerts, but as far as I recall, we didn't have a set program. Mostly, it was Glen who started any particular piece, with me and Richard – or, later, Denny – joining in a little later, then Paul, who was the actual "lead" voice in the ensemble. Richard – and later Denny - were next accompaniment, with the cello – and later, bass guitar – holding the bottom end. I suppose we were all collectively "composing" with little being said beforehand – or after, for that matter! But even all that was not hard-set!".

Did you have contacts with the Blackhill management (Jenner and King): which is your opinion about it?
"As I recall, I had little or no opinion of them at the time: from what I could determine, they were professional and competent. I imagine that were Glen and Paul alive today, they would be able to far more precisely answer these questions. Have you contacted Richard and Denny? Certainly Richard would be able to answer better than me!".

I ask you that just because Glen and Paul told me it (and Richard didn't accept to have an interview for the archive...)... Can you confirm that EMI didn't understand the real meaning of TEB's music and didn't give to the band the right support?
"No: I cannot, but then, few people in A&R are really competent in this particular area, unless they're of the "old school" in which nearly all were competent in music; for example, the people at Columbia (CBS) records, New York - Dr George Butler – head of A&R for the whole jazz sector - comes to mind, or Jay Landers. Can't recall who was at EMI Harvest at the time, but the chances are that there were still a few people of the serious "old school" there".

Do you remember the concert at Hyde Park (have you seen the short video excerpt in the Net at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1XrbbIV-g8)? 
"Yes". 

                                                TEB at Hyde Park on June 7th, 1969 with Paul at cello.

What about the reactions of audience there? And generally which was the reactions of people at your concerts? 
"I can't say what the reactions of the audience were, as I was – along with everybody else in the band up on the bandstand, playing our gig, and I could only see a small portion of them! However, from what I could sense, the audience was curious, wondering what the heck this music was we were playing. I suppose the audience were really there for the Stones, and "semi" couldn't care less for what we were doing. Of course they were enjoying a rare day of bright sunshine in a beautiful London park, and they were open to all kinds of different stuff; maybe some of them were even fans of the TEB!
 
I was told, later, that they (the Stones) had chosen us to open for them, because we were more likely to calm the crowd. You've got to remember that a large number of people were (stupidly) into drugs (mostly hashish and herb), me no less. So maybe that was a part of the audience … 40 percent or more? Who knows! 
 
All four of us had spliffed up – a large six-Rizla-skin combo of tobacco, sensimilla, Moroccan kif, and heavy opiated Afghani hashish, with a concomitant thin cardboard roach – and were smoking it prior to going on stage. So you can imagine just how ripped we must have been. The music – whatever there is that remains from the gig – does not display any bravura or professionalism. 
 
As for any other gigs, we were sometimes excellent – even transcendent to the Empyrean; that is what I and all the members lived for - and sometimes not quite so transcendent, and the Hyde Park gig was among those. The audience didn't notice anything, tho' - as far as I could tell".
 

                                           Third Ear Band live at London Hyde Park (June 7th, 1969)



What do you remember about the period before "Macbeth", when the band tried to record a pop album at the London Balham Studios titled "The Dragon Wakes"? 
"Don't recall any sessions at Balham Studios or the title. This may have been one of the periods I was not a member; this was one of the reasons I quit; I was an on-again-off-again member, which, as I say, was not fair on them". 

I'm sure at that time you was in the band. You can listen here (https://rapidshare.com/#!download|452p1|407890537|_Raga_n.1_|8181|0|0) to an unrealised track taken from the Balham sessions in February 1971 titled "Raga n. 1" (Paul Minns discovered it on a reel in his attic). The line up included you and Bridges. There's a remote project of Bridges to realize a CD with that tracks, because he has all the original reels of it, but we're talking about it from 2010 and at the moment nothing happened... Anyway, can you comment it for us?
"Amazing! Sounds really good; and as you say, shows the potential of what kinds of directions the music might have taken ...
You know, I cannot recall the session, tho' I'm obviously playing on it, and cannot recall any "Balham Studios". Paul has clearly double-tracked - or even triple-tracked - himself, and altho' there's no violin, heard some brief phrases of a bowed instrument towards the end, which is probably me overdubbing some cello.
I miss the sound and texture of a violin, and have some critical thoughts about the bass guitar, which are in any event irrelevant, since nothing can be done about it. What's wrong with the bass? a) rhythmically too "on" the beat; the bassist (me!) should have being playing a regular, repeated, tho' slightly syncopated riff, perhaps never changing at all, and perhaps staying only on one note. b) The problem here is that he (the bassist) is playing too many tonal phrases, even in the major mode! And is a bit scattered in the ideas. I could say more, but don't want to spoil the listening of the fans!
Everybody else is playing great, altho' Denny has a slight tendency to rush … but I attribute that to us not playing together more frequently, and doing lots more gigs! Who knows where it would have gone, had the band stayed together and played at least four days a week … I'm sure somewhere really special and new, and strange and other-worldy – I mean in the science-fictional sense, not "supernatural" (whatever that means). The potential was vast".

Have you ever seen that 1970 German TV broadcast recently issued on DVD? Which is your opinion about it? Are you proud of that season of your career? Do you remember who and how TEB involved conga player Gaspar Lawal?
"Is that the one with Denny's vocal? I think it's fine! Don't recall how Gaspar joined us for those TV – and some other – dates: No doubt, Glen and Paul were the deciders, and I'm glad of it: I loved the sound of the congas in the band's context at the time, with Glen on traps, Denny on electric guitars, and me on electric bass and electric cello. By the way, the roadie who drove us everywhere - whose name I can't immediately recall - and did the stage set-ups, was an expert maker of stuff (any stuff!); he built a damped metal pick-up bridge with dense rubber feet, for my cello, which was amplified (a few years later – 1972 – I bought a wood Barcus-Berry bridge, which had buried inside it a transducer, which could be plugged in … also had a wah–wah pedal!). I am probably the first cellist to go electric! (But there was a cellist in Holland whom I heard, a year later – maybe 1970-'71, who sounded like Hendrix – brilliant and highly skilled. I think he may have overdosed on heroin – at least that's what I heard.)".

 
TEB (L-R: Buckmaster, Bridges, Lawall and Minns) on stage for the German TV broadcast.

How do you react to the common idea about Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" inspired 1971-1972 TEB's music? 
"It's not accurate, except that – maybe – there's a bass riff for "Ecstasy in D" which recalls the bass riff under "Bitches Brew", but it's not anywhere as brilliant as the "Bitches Brew" riff, which is one of the many touches of genius in that incredible album of fierce beauty. What's amazingly excellent about that riff is the key-modulations it goes thru' over the two-measure duration: 2 beats of C major, two of B major, two of E major (but here you have an even greater touch of genius: the first 8th of the E major chord is in the first inversion – E over G# - classically written by Miles, with no doubling of the third - going to E major root position on the second 8th, as a syncopation), with the last two beats – anticipated in syncopation by an 8th – back to B major, with the last 8th being the perfect cadence (G-to-C) into the new two-measure cycle starting with C major!!!
Those of your readers who know a little proper classical harmony will know what I mean, but those who don't, can still enjoy the piece … Remember, as a student at Juilliard, and earlier, when he received private lessons, Miles had studied classical harmony and counterpoint".

A rare picture of the TEB in 1971.
What about the Macbeth period? Which was the mood in the band? What happenend in the George Martin's Air studios?
"I had a little more say in the direction the music took for the movie score; Glen, Paul, Richard and Denny trusting me with my suggestions. For example, I actually wrote the dreary "Witches Song", which we played, and sang. The singing was done by the five of us; Roman wanted it to be "kind of disgusting" … We did a certain amount of overdubbing, to create a more dense texture in places, with me and Richard making clustery string harmonies … I think the End Titles is one of the better pieces in the score; Denny contributed a lot to that, and a great driving pulse from Glen! I believe Denny composed "Fleance"'s Song" with Paul … but we're all credited as co-writers, which was Glen's democratic, egalitarian virtue".


Infact in that period (January 16th, 1971) you sent a letter to Melody Maker explaining about the rules in the band (you wrote: "(...) If anybody thinks differently, thinks that the band "led" by one member (i.e. one person deciding the format, tempo, key or mode, changes etc. and imposing this on the others) then they have totally missed on the most important point, if not the most important point of the Third Ear Band. It's not I, it's we, and we're free".): why did you decide to write it?
"I don't even remember writing such a letter … wow!!! That is perfectly true".

About "Fleance"'s song, I know Glen and Paul didn't love it, Glen considered it "rubbish". This is confirmed by Bridges in a recent interview I had with him : which is your opinion about this track, not so hortodox in the TEB's repertoire?

Paul in studio (February 2012).
"You're right: it certainly is not. Not at all typical of what one would expect from the TEB! My opinion: Roman Polanski was satisfied, and that's all that really matters in the final analysis! From a musical perspective, it's kind of "OK", but not a work of genius, for sure".

Is there something you've taken from the experience you had with the TEB that you've used forward?
"All musical experience – I suppose, all mixed in!!! But I "used" nothing specific".

Thank you very much, Paul, for your very rare kindness!
"A pleasure, Luca! Cari saluti, Paul".

27-02-2012: Ocean Way Studios, Hollywood, Paul directing a session for Oriane Hazan.

 no©2013 Luca Ferrari (unless you intend to make a profit. In which case, ask first) 

4 comments:

  1. Excellent! But where's the Raga Number 1 link? Not sure if I have that one - I'm losing track.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're right, I missed it! So I've put it in the text now, so you can get the track. Anyway you also can get it on right down, inside the section called "TEB's rare tracks archive for free download"... but I think you've it already...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't think you already mentioned the german group Ghetto Raga, obviously under the influence of TEB :
    https://soundcloud.com/ghetto-raga


    Spirto bono

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks a lot Spirito Bono, I know them... great project... Soon I'll publish something, maybe trying to have an interview with Thomas Zunk...

    ReplyDelete