Data Design Group

Interview Archive

Amon Duul II: German Psychedelic Rock in the Modern Age
by Jeff Melton with John Weinzierl

The Viper Queen
By David Lilly

Dream Machine
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
By Jeff Nutkowitz

Grilled : Interview with Chris Gill
by Richard Cornick

A Giant Step for Guy: Interview with Guy Manning
by Richard Cornick

Hooploops: Interview with Hugh Hopper
by Melo

INTERVIEWS

Hooploops: An Interview with Hugh Hopper
Hugh Hopper - A Personal Recollection or Two
By Melo

My introduction to the great progressive bassist/composer Hugh Hopper goes back to 1969 and his first appearance on the Probe Records release "Soft Machine Volume II". I had gone to see Jimi Hendrix play in Seattle the prior year with my bandmates brother Greg and childhood friend and Glass drummer, Jerry Cook. We had no idea who Soft Machine was then but their appearance as a support act for Hendrix changed everything for us. Opened artistic doors and set Glass on a progressive path it continues down to this day. That trio however featured Kevin Ayers on bass guitar. So when the eagerly awaited second Soft Machine album appeared the first question asked was "well, this is interesting, what have we here? Who's the new guy on bass? I wonder if he's any good ?" Our answer was to emphatically come thundering out of Jerry's little portable phonograph speakers as we sat around listening that first time - not only was he good, he was a MONSTER !! We had no idea how the best band in the world could have improved itself but it had and we were once again left totally amazed! God, I miss those days.

As the now famous fuzz-bass solo intro to the track, "Hibou, Anemone and Bear" engulfed us, we were transported away to another dimension. A wholly new place in time and space and melody. Not only could this new bass player really play, but it seemed his induction into Soft Machine had marked their metamorphosis into yet another totally mind-blowing band - one much more rooted in the world of jazz (as opposed to the rock-oriented trio we had come to know and emulate the year before). And as if by magic, we were in the exactly right place to follow artistically. Hell, we didn't follow. . we ran after them.

Through the next six Soft Machine albums Glass and I excitedly awaited each new release and we were never disappointed. Hugh's inventive mind and solid Motown-Funk-Brothers-Rhythm-Section-influenced playing have remained a high water mark for many of us - especially us bass players who studied Soft Machines every groove. And beyond Soft Machine, we followed Hugh's solo career. His breakthrough work "1984" fueled an appetite by many of us for composition with no rules or boundaries . Through his time with Yamashita's East Wind, Isotope, Carla Bley Orchestra and of course his work with his friend and former Soft Machine rhythm section partner the inimitable drummer Robert Wyatt, we were there listening. And being influenced.

I had the honor and pleasure to finally meet Hugh (mark that as one life-long ambition I could check off my list) in 2002 when he came over to play for the "Progman Cometh" Concert that year. Besides being the consummate professional I expected him to be, I found him to be a warm, charming (if not slightly guarded) true English Gentleman. And above all patient. So very patient. . Patient with these neophyte Yanks who were only now just learning how to put on a major progressive music event. Patient with the constant onslaught of Soft Machine questions from everyone new including me. And most of all patient with a certain Glass bass player stumbling around trying to learn one of the two bass parts to his song "Oyster Perpetual" in a soggy West Seattle basement rehearsal space. Minute after painful minute I'm sure that he hadn't planned for. A year later I was fortunate enough to enlist Hugh's help on my second solo CD "Home" (Relentless Pursuit Records RD4135 available at: http://www.rpursuit.com/JeffSherman/Default.htm ) And Glass was blessed with his participation on our Musea release "Illuminations" available at: (http://217.128.227.4/ext_re_new_releaseselect.php?np=33076 ) Unbeknownst to most people Hugh is also a fine writer - he has a novella called "Jazz, Love and Dirty Tricks" that I have had the pleasure to have read (and really liked). AND he's a bit of graphic artist, as well. He contributed the artwork for the Illuminations CD label. It is a piece by him entitled "Waves".

To this day Soft Machine Volume II remains one of my all time favorite recordings Taking me back to a time when there were no boxes like "Progressive Rock". An undefined wide-open era when creative giants like Hugh Hopper blazed new trails and carried on the work of genius started by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk and Terry Riley.
Jeff Sherman - Glass 02/23/2006
 

Melo: What sort of music did you listen to when you were growing up?

Hugh: First of all, middle of the road classical and popular, then I discovered R&B and rock with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis etc... then jazz.

Melo: What was the very first band you played in?

Hugh: The Daevid Allen Trio (with Robert Wyatt and Daevid Allen) in 1963. A sort of freaky jazz thing.

Melo: Who were the musicians that influenced you most at the start of your career?

Hugh: My brother Brian, Scotty Moore, Jet Harris, Charlie Haden, Ravi Shankar

Melo: You have been part of several very influential bands including the Soft Machine, how has your involvement with the musicians in each of those bands influenced your development as an artist and a person?

Hugh: At first when you're young and arrogant, you don't want to learn from others! But as I became more mature I learned a lot from musicians like Elton Dean and Phil Miller.

Melo: How and when did you get into songwriting?

Hugh: I had been doing a sort of avant garde jazz for a couple of years and then suddenly realised that bands like the Beatles weren't rubbish and banal. We started the band Wilde Flowers in Canterbury in 1964, doing Beatles and Chuck Berry covers and I fell into writing songs of my own.

Melo: Who were your influences for this?

Hugh: A lot of things I heard on the radio, but particularly: Beatles, Birds (Ron Wood's band), Zombies.

Melo: How do you go about creating a song? What kind of creative process do you follow?

Hugh: Mostly it begins intuitively - a snatch of melody or a rhythmic idea, which then gets elaborated on to a greater or lesser amount. Over the years I have composed on guitar, keyboard, bass and recently on computer. Some songs arrive almost complete from the start, while others take a lot of editing, fine tuning. Sometimes I have started with that original germ of an idea, worked several days on harmonies and developments and finally thrown away the original idea!

Sometimes I work from a chord sequence, writing the melody line after. Sometimes vice versa. If it's a song with a lyric, then mostly the music comes first and I or someone else then writes the lyric, but with some singers I have written the music to their poems or words which already exist.

Melo: What are your current and future projects?

Hugh: I divide my time between working in my studio on soundscapes and loop based music, and playing live in the jazz/rock area. For the past couple of years we have been doing Soft Machine Legacy - ex-Softies but not just playing old Soft Machine numbers - it's a living creative band. Also I work a lot with Dutch and French musicians. Most of my live work is outside Britain.

Melo: What excites you about Progressive Music these days?

Hugh: I never know what that label means! I was invited to a conference in Italy last year on the subject of British Progressive Music, and every speaker had his or her own definition, which reflected his or her own taste! I listen to a lot of jazz and ethnic music. In any genre, it's the creative people who attract me, not the 90% who copy and follow trends.

Melo: On Isotope Illusion there is mostly fuzz bass, how did you get onto the fuzz bass thing?

Hugh: Mike Ratledge, the organist of Soft Machine, was writing pieces that required me to play bass lines of equal strength to the organ lines, not just boomdy-boom accompaniments, so I used fuzz to get the bass out of the basement while still keeping the foundation sound of the instrument.

Melo: Do you and Gary Boyle have any future projects?

Hugh: The Japanese promoters are threatening to put on an Isotope revisited tour. I still hear from Gary from time to time, but he lives in the north of England so we never get to meet socially.

Melo: Has the passing of Elton Dean altered any of your projects?

Hugh: Yes. Soft Machine Legacy will continue, for the time being at least, with Theo Travis on sax, flute and loops. He's not trying to copy Elton - he has his own musical approach. And Soft Bounds with the two French musicians Sophia Domancich and Simon Goubert, which was one of Elton's favourite line-ups (although we only did a few gigs) - we have a couple of French gigs in the book which we plan to use as tributes to Elton, with guest players.

Melo: How has Elton had influenced your music, the Progressive music world in general - especially Jazz and Jazz fusion.

Hugh: He was very open as a musician, not puritanically fixed on one style. His first love was improvised free music, but he was also a faithful member of several "Canterbury" bands like In Cahoots, and the various Soft offshoots, some of which featured quite complicated arrangements. He was such a consummate soloist that he made any kind of music sound seriously good.

Melo: Any last thoughts on Elton?

Hugh: It's too soon. I am sure that in a year or two I will be able to express better what he gave us all. I am lucky to have played with him since 1969.

 

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