INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Melody Maker AUGUST 16, 1975 - by Allan Jones
QUIET SIDE OF THE SUN
It all began with Pooh And The Ostrich Feather. Laugh if you must, but that band have just produced the most brain-searing convincingly malevolent album to stagger out of a recording studio since the Velvet Underground. The album is released this week and it's called Mainstream.
The band who have unleashed this monster are known no longer as Pooh And The Ostrich Feather. Sometime around 1970, they must have realised that they sounded a shade too much like the title of a Temperance Seven album, and changed it to Quiet Sun. Quiet Sun were (and are on Mainstream), Bill MacCormick (electric bass, treated bass, backup voices), Charles Hayward (drums, percussion, keyboards, voice), Dave Jarrett (Fender Rhodes and Steinway grand pianos, Farfisa and Hammond organs, VCS 3), and Phillip Targett-Adams Manzanera. That's right; Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera.
Back in 1967, Manzanera was at school in Dulwich, along with MacCormick and Hayward. This enterprising trio set out, with no lack of ambition, to establish Dulwich as a hotbed of radical musical activity. Armed with an insubstantial arsenal of equipment and the obligatory light show, the trio - backed by a constantly changing group of teenage instrumentalists - proceeded to devastate Dulwich and all points south. They were, apparently very big in Sydenham.
Psychedelic to the last, Quiet Sun concentrated on acid tinged arrangements of Crossroads and Rollin' 'N' Tumblin, with Manzanera already well into his primitive, but effective, echoplexed fuzz-guitar routines, generally coming on like the Home Counties' very own Randy California. Set against these surrogate West Coast vamps were rather more zappy compositions like Charles Hayward's homage to the celebrated surrealist Marcel Duchamp enticingly titled Marcel My Dada.
The Soft Machine established themselves as an important influence on the emerging Quiet Sun, and if it hadn't been for the group's own inherent intelligence and Bill MacCormick's friendship with Robert Wyatt, it's not inconceivable that the band would have been counted out as another of those Sons Of Canterbury outfits specialising in tricky time signatures who were thrown up in the surf of the Softs' pioneering assault on contemporary English music. Fortunately, Quiet Sun decided they wanted to be neither Dulwich's reply to the Grateful Dead nor the new Caravan.
"When we were thinking in commercial terms I suppose we wanted to become the new Led Zeppelin or the new Yes," comments Bill MacCormick, flicking fine beads of sweat from his forehead. "The rest of the time we wanted to become the new Lifetime."
As early as 1966, Bill had become friendly with Robert Wyatt. The Softs had rented a house in Dulwich near the school at which he, Manzanera and Hayward were laying down their operational plans for a massive attack on English rock. Bill was a regular house-guest at Chez Soft Machine and was taken with Robert's expansive taste in music. By the time Quiet Sun reached its final form as a quartet with the inclusion of Jarrett on keyboards (there was a sax player, Dave Monaghan, involved for a short time, too), they were well involved in composing and performing extremely complex pieces. In fact the material which is featured on Mainstream and several of the themes which appear on Manzanera's excellent solo album, Diamond Head, were composed by Quiet Sun between 1970 and 1972, which was the life span of the original band.
"That period, generally, opened up a lot of musical horizons," reflects Manzanera. "Just listening to all those different groups like the Soft Machine, and the groups which came out of America at the time like Zappa, who was using the techniques of jazz in a rock context, that combination and Bill being turned onto jazz by Robert really changed the direction of our music. That whole period for me was like a musical university."
Quiet Sun's premature fusion of complex styles didn't exactly line the band up for immediate success. They secured a committed following around Dulwich, where they played at any available venue: everything from youth clubs, church halls, school halls, basements and front rooms. "It was the height of that acoustic, singer/songwriter period. Everyone wanted to be Crosby, Stills and Nash," says Manzanera. "Quiet Sun, of course, was the complete antithesis of all that."
If Quiet Sun's audience displayed an encouraging tolerance in the band's increasingly adventurous performances, record companies were a little less forthcoming in support of their idealistic experimentation. "There really wasn't a company which was willing to sign us up," continues Manzanera, "although the guy at Warner Brothers, who in the same three months turned down Roxy, gave us the chance to go down to a recording studio they had in Dorset to record some demos."
Quiet Sun split up in 1972 because of the economic pressures, and resulting conflicts within the band which were precipitated. Mainstream then, an album which would have shaken the foundations of rock had it been recorded three years ago, has had to exist as a vague idea ever since. Until Phil decided to record his solo debut, and revive Quiet Sun at the game time.
But, following the disintegration of Quiet Sun, Manzanera replaced a guitarist called David O'List in a band called Roxy Music. The rest of that story is - as they say - history.
Hayward's first move was to join Mal Dean's Amazing Band, which set him off in another direction as a drummer. He'd already been interested by people like Frank Perry and Tony Oxley, but this was the first chance for him to gain any practical experience of this kind of music. Then he joined Gong. "I was with them for two months, and I just couldn't take it. It was all too much for me. There were some ridiculous emotional scenes, which I couldn't handle So I left. Then I started working with High Tide. I left them told them some story about how I wanted to go and tour Europe, and split. It was about that time that I tried to get the original Radar Favourites together." As you might have heard, Radar Favourites have recently decided to dissolve through financial problems. Charles isn't quite as pessimistic as Geoff Leigh about the future of Radar Favourites: "I have a certain emotional affiliation with the name - it's my rock project name - and I feel rather sad that someone has said that Radar Favourites is finished without them consulting me first."
Bill MacCormick's name might be more familiar. It should be, since he's amongst the best bass players around. Should you require any evidence just check out Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets, Manzanera's Diamond Head, Mainstream, particularly his own composition Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-stick Kitchen Utensil and his work with Robert Wyatt's Matching Mole (two albums, both deleted) and on Robert's Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard.
When Matching Mole collapsed in disarray, MacCormick received a telephone call from Wyatt who informed him that Gong were looking for a bass player: "I thought, 'Whoopee...' (he does not sound enthusiastic at the memory). This van met me somewhere in London, the door opened and I got in, and there were half a dozen other bass players who'd got the same message. That was all I needed - an audition for Gong." He got the job and crossed the Channel to join Gong in France. Like Charles, his association with Daevid Allen's pothead pixies was brief: "About ten days. It took me that long to convince myself that being in Gong wasn't quite what I was looking for."
On his return to England Bill met Robert again, and with Francis Monkman and Gary Windo they decided to form a new band. In June of 1973 they began rehearsing some songs which Robert had written in Venice (which would eventually form the first side of Robert's Rock Bottom album). "At the end of the first week of rehearsals Gary phoned me in hysteria on a Saturday morning and said that Robent had fallen out of a window. At the time, Robert was living in a flat on the top floor of a fifteen-storey block of flats. So I thought that was that... Then Gary explained what had actually happened. Two days later I went into hospital, in sympathy, with appendicitis. Anyway for a long time the doctors didn't knowhow badly Robert was injured. So we vaguely kept the idea together and thought that we might get another drummer in, and Robert would play keyboards. But as it turned out, Robert was in hospital for nearly seven months, and wasn't really fit when he came out. So that was all knocked on the head."
"In the September of that year I did a few things on Eno's first album, and then I didn't do anything musical at all for quite some time. I just didn't feel like it, and I had no energy for music. Until about last October when Phil said that he was doing his album and that he'd also like to get the Quiet Sun thing done as well."
Phil: "I listened to some of the live tapes we'd made of Quiet Sun, and it seemed such a pity that we'd never put it down on record, because there was so much good music there. I thought it would be valid, and I fitted it into the twenty-six-day schedule I'd arranged for recording Diamond Head. In a way, I'm glad that it was recorded now and not four years ago. Because at that time we would never have had the conviction to record the album as we have, with all the roughness left intact. Whereas, now we can say that's just how it's meant to be."
Charles: "We were always an extremely aggressive band, possibly more aggressive than the record suggests. And I couldn't have imagined the album being produced in any other way. It had to be almost live, with all the irregularities left, to capture the way we played. I think we managed to capture that energy."