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Q JUNE 2014 - by Tom Doyle
DR FRETFUL AND MR HYDE
Q gets a rare invite into Brian Eno's studio where, with Underworld's Karl Hyde in tow, Eno asks himself a question he dreads: shall I go on tour again?
"There are three things you should never see being made," declares Brian Eno. "Sausages, politics and music."
Sat behind his keyboard in his West London studio, he allows himself a slightly edgy grin. Circling him this Friday afternoon are a further eight musicians - including, to his right, Karl Hyde of Olympics-soundtracking techno duo Underworld, his collaborator on a new album, Someday World (out 5 May), which is filled with experimental twists and turns, but also chock-full of tunes.
Performing with a live band is highly unusual for Eno. Despite having many fine albums to his name, along with production credits for David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2 and Coldplay, he is rehearsing today with a tentative view to going on tour. This is surprising because, since quitting Roxy Music in 1973, his live appearances have been rare.
Rarer still is the opportunity offered to Q today - an invitation to his creative nerve centre, tucked away in a posh mews, to view his working practices first-hand. Ask him if he's seriously considering performing live shows, however, and he turns coy.
"The thought strikes terror and fear into my heart," he admits witha smile. But why? Does he suffer from stage fright? "I suffer from tour fright," he says. "It's the amount of time spent doing other than what you wanted to do. What you end up doing is standing in airports. What you want to do is play."
And with that notion hanging in the air, the assembled band - including guitarists Justin Adams(RobertPlant) and Leo Abrahams (Florence + The Machine) and Eno's twenty-year-old keyboard-playing sidekick Fred Gibson - launch into a fifteen-minute-long Afro-funk wig-out that has echoes of Eno's work with Talking Heads. At its close, he says, "We're just jamming and sometimes you get configurations thrown up that nobody would ever think of doing in any rational state of mind."
From here, the band work through songs from Someday World - the dreamy grooves of Witness, the parping brass and motorik pulse of The Satellites. They sound great and Eno seems to be relaxing, but something's still troubling him: he's never made this amount of noise in his studio before and he's worried about the neighbours.
"I hope I'm not going to be arrested because I don't have a licence for this kind of thing," he frets, with some amusement. "Luckily, my neighbours aren't English, so they're actually good-natured people."
Eno and Hyde have been friends since 1997 when, as representatives of charity War Child, they flew over to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the opening of the war-wrecked city's Pavarotti Music Centre. Despite collaborating since on bits and bobs, they only got around to thinking about making an album together two years ago.
Hyde admits be fully embraced Eno's passion for the random, via a variety of eccentric techniques designed to creatively wrong-foot themselves.
"We had one day when you could only use instruments that you've made yourself,"says Eno. "We had another day where you have to stand up. I think you make music differently when you're sitting and when you're standing, because your whole body is engaged."
It's worth remembering that this upended sense of creativity is done in a spirit of fun. "I travel through the wilds of Essex to get here everyday," says Hyde. "It's a joy to come in. I'd get home and my kids would say, 'You've been with Brian again, haven't you? You look really happy.' Every day I'd come in and go, 'I literally don't know what we're doing today.'"
As if to prove the point, as the musicians settle behind their instruments again, Eno asks them, "Does anyone know that song Everyday People by Sly & The Family Stone? I've got the words here in my Brian Eno songbook." All get their heads down and start picking their way through the funk classic. It sounds like a pale imitation of the original. Eno knows this. "I think we should do the English version," he suggests. "The slightly more uptight version."
They start up again with a different beat and Eno looks a bit lost in it, not knowing where he's supposed to sing, as Hyde mouths the lyrics in his direction. For a minute, Eno looks bewildered, as if he's thinking, "Maybe I should do a lot less of this kind of thing." Then he digs out a drum loop from his laptop and everyone falls in behind it. Over the space of ten minutes, the song morphs from ho-hum jam into an atmospheric, otherworldly noise that is very much Eno. Maybe we should never know the inner workings of sausages and politics, but witnessing how this kind of music is made is fascinating stuff.
In a break, Q asks Hyde if he thinks all this is convincing Eno to perform live, Is it a bit like tickling a trout? "That's a good way of putting it," he laughs. "We might walk away from here tonight and go, 'D'you know what? Maybe it's not right.' Or we might go, 'This is great, back the lorry up and we'll do the gig.'"
On this evidence, the latter deserves to be the case. meanwhile, there's something still bugging Eno, as he cranes his neck to look out of his front door at some activity in the mews.
"Who is that outside?" he wonders aloud. "I'm worried that it's the police. Oh... it's only an estate agent. Now I feel terrible that I've lost my neighbours the sale of their house."
That, of course, entirely depends on whether or not the prospective buyers are Brian Eno fans. He might just have added to the asking price.
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