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.