1/ How did you first get into music ? i.e. where / when and what were your influences ?
I started playing piano young (maybe 5) but never really learnt to read the dots. In the late 70s I started fooling with multiple cassette decks, a piano, a Wasp synth, and a Wem Copycat echo box, just messing about. Later on a reel to reel with mono overdub facility. I learnt a lot from that basic gear... I was into all the Germans at the time (Can, Neu, some of the early Tangerine Dream), the dub music just appearing, later on Eno's 80s ambient. As well as people like Steve Reich and Miles Davis, always lots of classical, too, especially Ravel and Debussy. 'Normal' pop and rock were never my thing.
2/ You’re releasing your new album A Good Place to Be with us in April - what were your intentions in creating the music and how did the album take shape ?
It has been some while since the last, and both the existing AFD albums are pretty different, so initially I basically started with a blank slate. It certainly wasn't ever going to be death metal or EDM, but otherwise it was the usual - throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. After a while you begin to see some kind of picture, and then you start filling in the gaps, the work itself tells you what you need to do next. I'm never really sure quite what my 'intention' ever is, beyond just making some nice music. But it's usually the music itself that chooses where it's going to go. I just do the driving.
3/ You play the array mbira beautifully - can you tell us about it, how you discovered it and why you love it ?
I've played kalimbas (the little hand held ones) since playing with African bands in the 80s, but those are restricted to one key, one scale, unless you retune them. The array mbira lets you play in all keys, any scale. I saw one on youtube and had to have one, just for that. Bill Wesley came up with the idea, and these instruments are amazing. It's been tricky for a pianist to get used to the 'circle of fifths' array arrangement, but I'm getting there with it. It is there, in the album, but mostly more a supporting role than upfront.
4/ These days technology allows people to get quick results with their music making, but it has yet to solve the challenge of crafting a good arrangement. Can you give any tips for producers wanting to improve this invaluable skill ?
If you're a player, it's easy. Just get a vibe going, then play your instrument, improvising, and record the result. There will be a structure and shape to that performance that 'is' the arrangement (regardless of the howlers and bad timing, whatever) since you'll change what you're doing, as you play, as you get bored of whatever you're doing at the time. Or at least ... that's pretty much what I do. I'll probably then refine and play around with all of that, quite possibly never use that performance (or anything like it) n the eventual result. But it gets me started on something. And regardless of whatever else changes, that performance will stay up top, on screen, even if muted, throughout the process. And if I get lost, I can refer back to it and remember "oh, yes, that's what this is all about".
5/ What is music to you ?
That supremely infuriating but utterly charming friend of yours who always gets you into trouble, takes up all your time, and costs a fortune, but with whom you always have the best of times. It's been my life but I'd still like to punch it, sometimes.
6/ You collaborate and perform with a number of musicians and bands - can you tell us a bit about your work outside of Another Fine Day ?
At the moment that's mostly Newanderthal, a loose collective of acoustic players and singers from India, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, various parts of Africa, and Europe. We don't have that much time to get together, but it's a good mix up when we do. A lot is improvised, throwing Bengali and Ethiopian folk tunes over the same rhythms in one song, with mbira, kora, acoustic bass, guitar, tabla, esraj, etc, all filling it out behind. I like it a lot. Hopefully we can take it a bit further but we'll see. Otherwise these days I'm mostly writing work for media, tv, film etc. Just started on some work with a very old friend who did rather well back in the 90s but early days on that one...
7/ What do you listen to when you’re not working on your own material ?
There are some albums which are the 'foundation stones' for me (Reich, Davis, etc) and I'll listen to those every month, probably. Lots of classical and world music, all kinds. Not so much electronica, these days, unless reliable sources tell me I really should check something out, and then more likely the ambient end than dance music.
8/ What gives you a burst of inspiration ?
Nothing in particular I can identify. It's either there or it isn't - some days things just fly, other days you may as well go for a walk. Which can be tricky if you're on a tight deadline for a commission...
9/ You played at the much loved Big Chill festival for many years. For those that weren’t lucky enough to be there can you expand a little on what made it so good ?
- the people who put it together- Pete Lawrence & Katrina Larkin did it because they loved it, not because of the cash (which mostly didn't turn up, the first two were disasters, financially)
- the people who came - mostly those looking for a bit more than most festivals supplied at the time (and have now copied) - ie, a bit more depth, in everything, art trails, superb site design, the idea that it wasn't about headliners, but everyone together making the thing work. There wasn't any 'artist only camping', everyone mucked in together. The Chillers made the Chill.
- it was (mostly) a 90s thing. Pre- 9/11, pre Iraq war, pre financial crash, and pre Internet, mostly. That also meant it was a different, possibly more naive, but also happier world, at least for those in the West at the time. I wouldn't say it was like the 60s, but there was a vibe about it. And the Big Chill was where, for me, it was best expressed. It managed to hold on to that for a good deal of the noughties, too, but once Pete and Katrina bowed out, that was it, for most of us. Good times for 16 years isn't a bad run, though !
10/ What country in the world would you most like to visit and why ?
Mali. It has the best music in the world.