ENTER JASON DUCKER
Jason Ducker met RJG and Max Read by chance in 2001 and became friends. He soon moved in with Max and RJG (The Lodge Recording Studio) to pursue a musical life. By 2002 he had fallen in love with The Enid's music and had decided to try and become the guitarist for a new incarnation of the band. He made his debut with the band in a special one off show at The London Astoria in 2003 just prior to going off to university.
Max Read and RJG encouraged him to go to music college. Jason duly went off to university in Sussex. Upon his return in 2005, he and RJG started working on what was to become Journey's End and a new phase of The Enid began.
What follows is an interview RJG gave to unknown journalist Nigel Brooks telling the story of how he rediscovered his self-belief and creative muse.
Robert - You have had a highly creative life both in the recording studio and on the stage - you have ten unique studio albums under your belt - you are a revered composer and regarded as one of the finest keyboard players in your field.
My first question for you must surely be this - the one that all your fans including me want to know: What went wrong? What has happened since the London Astoria show in 2003? There seemed to be a renewed determination from you to restart everything. The Riddle - The Enidi - Then it all went very quiet - what has happened. Is there ever going to be any more music from The Enid? From you?
A good question - the answer goes right to the heart of my life and deserves a proper answer. However, before I tell what's been going on with me recently, I need give a permanent rest to rumours about my health and mental state. I know you wanted to ask me about this and I am going to pip you to the post.
That, Robert, is so typical of you - in all these years I have known you, you have always been ahead of the game. Come then - Tell me!
Well, I am not dying of anything in particular and I intend to be around for a good few years yet. In fact I am going through one of the happiest and most creative stages of my life - not that that doesn't entail some mental anguish from time to time - after all, I am an artist and it would be rather unusual if I didn't have my moments. However, a few years ago, the story was different. Then I was in a dilemma.
Tell me about that.
RJG - OK. Then I will first have to tell you about how I first became a musician - a part of my life about which I have never until now been particularly frank - it is an unlikely little story and one which has a lesson for us all.
I had an extremely turbulent childhood which resulted in me being put in the care of the state at the age of thirteen. The year was 1960 - This was the most unexpected and luckiest outcome for my so far troubled little life. Here was I expecting an even more brutal institution than my horrible boarding schools had been when I landed in the net of one of life's great angels - a man of extraordinary insight and intelligence - At Finchden, there were no more beatings - cruelty and abuse were out - Love, Intuition and Creativity were in. I had fallen under the spell of George Lyward, the greatest man I have ever known. In his hands I found myself.
It was here, at Finchden, that I first discovered my talent for playing the piano - I had had the usual music lessons at boarding school and was able to bash through a hymn tune on the piano - but unlike some of the small boys at boarding school, I showed no particular interest or ability at that time - I had liked the loud powerful organ music which always accompanied the obligatory church services we attended on Sundays and liked listening to classical music on the wireless.
But you had no inclination to do music at that time, then?
No. It was when I got to Finchden it all changed - the why and the how of it go right to the core of my life and this is my story.
There were a number of similar influences on me which made me passionate about the piano and they all involved people who played the piano well - some of them brilliantly. There was one member of staff called George Harwood who later became a distinguished neuroscientist. He was then in his late twenties and had tried to be a concert pianist in his teens but was prevented from it because his hands were too small - nevertheless, he was pretty damned good - I had never seen anyone actually play these virtuoso pieces by Chopin and Liszt - it was like magic - on top of that, a frequent visitor to Finchden was the well known young polish pianist, Andre Tchaikovsky. He was the real thing and I quickly developed a hero worship thing for him.
Then there was the wondrous Barnaby - a super intelligent seventeen year old, haughty, arrogant and definitely one of the best pianist at Finchden - Anyhow, I instantly fell in love with Barnaby - well perhaps it was a crush - felt like love at the time - and no matter what, I wanted to be better than him - to impress him - to make him jealous of me - to make him want me. Actually, underneath his glasses, he was very good looking.
And did he want you?
Well yes - I think he liked me anyway, so what I did on the piano probably made no difference.!!
So how did you learn the piano - did all these people teach you?
You have to understand what Finchden was like - there were no formal classrooms - no lessons - no rules - no domestic or cleaning staff - in fact most of the people who looked after us (staff) had been Finchden boys themselves.
I started playing the piano whenever I could - luckily, Finchden wasn't short of pianos to play which meant that I could play from dawn to dusk if I wanted to - and I did want to. So, in answer to your question: I was initially self-taught. Of course I got indirect help from George Harwood - we played duets and I watched him like a hawk.
Prophetically, in 1961 I went to the cinema to see Gary Cooper's latest and last film, The Naked Edge. It is a Hitchcock type thriller with the murderer creeping around a big old house while the victim, his wife, is nervously watching television. As the film builds to its climax, she flicks between BBC and ITV, the only two channels available in those days. On one channel there was a tennis match - constantly being match point and then being duce. Very tense. On the other channel, there was this dashing young blond pianist reaching the final apotheosis of the Rachmaninoff third piano concerto. It was at that moment that I knew what I thought I wanted. I wanted him - to be like him - to be in his place. I became obsessed with this film and went to see it three times just for that two-minute sequence at the end.
So your interest in music was not driven by music itself but rather by your emotional relationships and fantasies concerning accomplished pianists - a kind of classical music groupie
Quite so - in fact, I am not a natural musician at all - being dextrous on a keyboard does not directly equate to being a musician. Whatever musicianship I have acquired over the years has not come easily - I am not a natural musician in that my ear is poor - I have always had difficulty with this - I am clearly not tone deaf but nor am I anything to write home about. My talents were largely a kind of animal instinct for the piano whereby I became sort of joined to the instrument and let my feelings run riot. I am and always was a terrific improviser but lacked the discipline to learn how to harness those outpourings and fashion them into any permanent form - an affliction that dogs my steps to this day.
And what about now?
Well, as I said - I have had to work hard to get to where some gifted people get with little real struggle. To me - learning music theory and form has been like learning Latin irregular verbs!
So back to Gary Cooper, your dashing young pianist and the Rachmaninoff third concerto.
Well - as you can imagine, I went straight out and ordered the music. However, I was already preoccupied with something else by the time the music arrived. Barnaby had just acquired a recording of the soviet pianist Sviatoslav Richter performing the Brahms second piano concerto - a composition new to me. I really fell in love with it. It had everything I liked - it was massive - dramatic - emotional - deep - expressive and fantastically hard to play. I launched myself into it with a determination new to me.
It was soon after that, - when I started learning the Brahms, - that a decision was made to get me a piano teacher. Being still officially in the care of the state (local authority), they needed to be involved, as did my parents who would have to pay. I duly went through series of interviews and tests with the county music advisory panel who decided to provide me with a teacher who could visit me at Finchden.
I just can't remember her name, but she was really great - she had been to The Royal College Of Music and studied with Arthur Alexander, one of the great teachers of his time - a man who had taught some of Britain's finest pianists of the thirties and forties. Anyhow, she came to Finchden once a week to give me my piano lesson.
After about two months she told my parents that she had taught me as much as she could and that I needed to be taught by someone with a firmer hand and more experience with boys like me. She was clearly excited with my progress, for by now a was nearly sixteen - I had learnt the Brahms concerto and now needed to learn to play it properly - for in her opinion, I was more than capable of being a professional concert pianist, if that is what I wanted but only provided I could find the self-discipline required. I think I was too much for her to cope with.
And is that what you wanted? To be a professional concert pianist?
In retrospect, I don't really think I knew what that meant - all I was trying to do was to be as good as George and André - I had never given a thought to what a life playing the piano would be like - what it might entail - eventually I would have to face these questions but not just then.
Maybe we will get to that - So what happened next?
I started going up to London once a week to study with professor Arthur Alexander - he had retired some years before from his position as professor of piano at The Royal College but still took on private pupils. It wasn't long before I mentioned the Gary Cooper film to Arthur and he said: "Oh yes. That is Malcolm Binns - I taught him." - I was flabbergasted and started getting all excited. I asked all sorts of questions about Malcolm which seemed to irritate Arthur for some reason. I did find out that Malcolm was a piano professor at the Royal College Of Music. I simply had to get there and this became my next challenge - yet how was I going to be able to - I had none of the seemingly obligatory qualifications required.
Nevertheless, in 1963, I auditioned for a place at The Royal College of Music and somehow I was accepted - God knows how - I think it must have been the sheer hubris in daring to play great big chunks of the Brahms Concerto I had been learning - apparently one of the hardest pieces of piano music in existence. I didn't play very well, that I do know! Perhaps dear old Arthur Alexander pulled some strings - in fact, I am sure he did.
Anyhow, I was awarded a place at the RCM to study piano with guess who?? - Of course, - Malcolm Binns, my adolescent hero of the piano - it had to be him otherwise the story I am telling you wouldn't be a story!
And yet, you are not a concert pianist, but something very different - How's that?
Very simple - my life and everything I was doing in it up until I actually went to the RCM at the age of eighteen was a fantasy. When I had to face reality, I couldn't do it - I didn't want it. I didn't want to embark upon a largely solitary life.
How do you mean ?- Why a solitary life?
Well. - One with just me and a piano in it. - To lock myself away for the rest of my life with an instrument I quite often hated as much as I loved. You see, Nigel, I had never considered what my life would have to mean - what it would take in order to be a concert pianist - If I had kidded myself that I would be able to get by with a couple of concertos, a few Beethoven sonatas, and a selection of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff - I soon had a rude awakening. - I woke up to a thing called repertoire - Even if I specialised in romantic music, which was my strength, I would still have had to learn to play and a vast number of works by a range of different composers. And I am a slow ill-disciplined learner - it takes me ages to learn a piece properly. Not only that, I would have had to keep them all in a fairly ready state to perform, faultlessly, - on a stage in front of an audience.
So isn't that what concert pianists do?
Precisely - and that fact, which began to dawn on me after my first term at the RCM, is the one which I knew I wasn't cut out for. I only functioned with people around - boarding school - care home (Finchden) - I had never been lonely in my life - unhappy, yes but never lonely - not until then. So instead of doing my work - preparing for my next lesson with Malcolm, I started investigating the swinging London scene - the music clubs - the gay bars - I soon got myself plugged into a fantastic group of artisans and began to meet all kinds of interesting people - I was having fun - my music suffered but I was happy.
How did Malcolm Binns react to all this?
He was a really sweet man - a highly intelligent one at that - I am sure he knew me better that I knew myself. I was eventually thrown out of college for non-work and being a bad influence on other students (drugs- drink and parties). Malcolm stuck up for me with the registrar and made my expulsion from the RCM a little less painful that it otherwise would have been. But I am sure he thought it was for the best. Nevertheless, I learnt an incredible amount from Malcolm - far more than he was ever able to realise at the time. As I said, we had had a teacher in common. Arthur Alexander, who had been a pupil of Tobias Matthay.
Malcolm Binns not only has an absolutely immaculate technique, he is also a musician of great depth. Whilst he has all the best features of the Matthay method, he has clearly added his own dimension to this and his playing is a synthesis between yoga and a martial art - completely relaxed and always expressive. Yet when called for, a fire and a fury - and then again - a lightness and delicacy of touch which only comes from reserves of enormous physical strength and control - he is a complete marvel. At least I picked someone worth worshiping.
So - you left the Royal College in disgrace - what then??
Well - I had to some extent shot myself in the foot - being sent down from college also meant being sent down from London - my parents were livid and embarrassed at having to tell people that I was a failure. I was now facing life either working on my grandfather's farm at Leeds Castle driving a combine harvester or helping my parents with their hotel business down in Devon. Argggghhhhh!!!
I couldn't have this, so I promised my father I would be good from now on and I went the study with another Matthay pupil, Vivian Langrish, - this time at the Royal Academy of music - Of course I had no intention of doing anything other than continuing my life of fun in London, but I did behave just enough to remain at The Academy until it suited me. And then the summer of love happened - the Beatles - Jimi Hendrix - Pink Floyd and the Middle Earth. I decided to give up playing the piano and be a rock musician - it was easier and something at which I might even excel.
My Steinway piano went down to my parents’ house in Devon and there it remained until it was destroyed in a fire in 1973. And that more or less brings us to the present time. Everything I did to be where I am today has largely been gone over pretty thoroughly elsewhere!! Well - up to the mid-nineties, anyhow.
So you never touched the piano again? Surely not - what about all the piano playing on your recordings with The Enid?
Oh! Well, that's simplistic tosh compared to my original aspirations - nothing special. No! Of course, I have touched pianos - what I mean is that I gave up practising - I let my considerable technique fade away - I let my repertoire, such as it was, decay until a time came when there was nothing I could play all the way through. Just a shadow of my former virtuosity. There has been nothing very challenging in The Enid from a pianistic point of view.
OK- so back to my very first question - the one that all your fans including me want to know: What has happened since the Astoria show in 2003.
Gerald Palmer, a long time fan and the boss of the small record label which had been helping distribute the band's back catalogue came to see a one-off show at The Astoria featuring Jason Ducker on guitar. I think he must have been impressed because afterwards, he was keen to have a new album in order to re-launch the band's career - He got all excited. I got all excited and I agreed to get on with it. I already had the "Farout" concept and I thought it would be a doddle to finish it - ha – ha-ah! - instead, it became a nightmare.
The more I tried to get to grips with the thing, the more depressed I got - Eventually I came face to face with my old adversary - self-doubt. I knew this new album had to surpass all previous output - otherwise, what's the point. Yet the more I looked at what I was doing the more I realised how little I really knew about composing or orchestration. I faffed and fiddled. I started again and restarted. I bought new equipment and tried different software. In the end, I became utterly paralysed - writer's block - whatever you want to call it. I started smoking loads of weed and gradually fell into a depression. A malaise in which I began to question everything I had ever done with my life.
One day, I was sitting lethargically in font of cable TV, surfing from one channel to another. I must have dropped off because when I awoke I was looking at this old black and white film - it looked a bit familiar and it began to dawn on me what I was looking at - it couldn't be - it was - as the moment drew nearer I began to feel very strange - my breathing and heart rate increased as my anxiety level rose. And then there was Malcolm. I thought my chest was going to burst - As I turned full circle to greet my former self, I collapsed into a state of uncontrollable weeping - at first, I tried to suppress it but then I just let go completely. It really was a terrible moment when I realised that I was in awful danger of coming to the end of my life and knowing that I had wasted it . . . . .
Robert - at the beginning of this interview you said that you were going through one of the happiest and most creative stages of your life. Tell me how you have got to there.
Well - My re-acquaintance with my past was the wakeup call - the cathartic shock that I really needed - And so, for the last two years I have been back to school - not literally - I set out to plug the gaps in my theoretical knowledge and I have. - I have learnt not to double the third unless absolutely necessary!! I have been studying orchestration and now I can do the basics quite well.
More recently I went out and got myself a sturdy grand piano (Yamaha G3) and started on learning all the Chopin Studies - I practise at least four hours every day - Now I have surpassed the playing standard I had at my peak as a teenager. and I am far more musical than I was as a youth - It must be time for me to write a big romantic concerto for me to play!
I have learned that "the way" is more important than "the destination" and that when the time comes to say goodbye to my life - I will be facing in the right direction - I will never be a pianist like Malcolm - I could never have been - but I can be a pianist like Robert John Godfrey, which is what I was meant to be. George Lyward once said to me, all those years ago - "Ideals are like the stars which guide the mariner" - and know I know what he was trying to tell me.
And the dilemma you mentioned at the outset? Can you describe that?
I see - And what of the future - are we going to get more?