The Psychedelic Raiders, Red Square and beyond! An interview with Ian Staples

April 19, 2014

The Psychedelic Raiders, Red Square and beyond! An interview with Ian Staples

Ian Staples is a remarkable guitarist whose career began way
back in the early ’60s and is probably one of the very first
“psychedelic” guitarist. He started in a regular teen band and soon
joined forces with now legendary Nigerian drummer Ginger Johnsons. He played
gigs in London at a peak of psychedelic scene and shared stages with Pink
Floyd, Soft Machine and also saw Jimi Hendrix performing with heavy equipment.
That must had been lysergic. In the early ’70s Ian with a couple of friends
decided to start a free improvisational project, which became probably one of
the very first of its kind. Time was flying fast and Ian was part of many
experimental projects. He is still very active in a band called The Psychedelic
Raiders. He went back to his roots, when he was part of the notorious Middle
Earth club.

Before we go back to the lysergic sixties we would like to discuss about your ongoing project The
Psychedelic Raiders, which is a three piece band consisting of Jon Seagroatt
(bass & backing vocals), Chris Hills (drums) and you on guitar. How did
you three got together?
Well, after a lot of effort and cajoling, my long-time
musical accomplice, Jonny Seagroatt, finally persuaded me that I should revisit
my guitar-playing roots in ‘60s psychedelia!
He argued that as I was one of the few guitarists still
around who were part of that scene, we should form a band recapturing some of
the style and atmosphere of those times. Both Jonny and I knew Chris Hills, a
well-known drummer (and tabla player!) on the Oxford music scene, so we asked
him to join us and The Psychedelic Raiders were born
I sometimes perform solo gigs on acoustic guitar and have
written a lot of songs over the years. We were able to rearrange some of those
for the band. It very quickly enabled us to develop a style of our own and
write songs specifically for the band, and we now have more songs than we know
what to do with!
What can you tell
us about recordings of The Psychedelic Raiders. You sent me a CD with very nice
psychedelic blues inspired tracks. Do you have anything official out or are you
planning to release something in the near future?
Although we formed
the band just less than a year ago we have enough material for at least two
full albums. We recorded a 6 track limited edition EP, mainly for friends who
wanted to hear what we were doing and as a demo for gigs.
We’re plotting a new vinyl release at the moment……
Do you do any concerts at the moment?
Yes, we have some festivals and club dates this summer. We
played the Cropredy fringe festival in August last year. That was our first gig
and we are doing it again this year.
Coming club gigs include The Railway in Southend-on-Sea,
which was one of the very first venues our improvising band Red Square played
in 1974.
Let’s go back in the early ‘60s. Where did you grow up and
what inspired you to pick up a guitar and to start playing it?
I was born in London
but moved to the Isle Of Man at the age of four and was raised in a tiny
thatched cottage that had no water or electricity. Which is probably why
nowadays I like living on my canal boat which moored by my studio in the
countryside. Thankfully though, I also now have mains water and electricity!
When I was a teenager we moved to an old farmhouse
overlooking the Irish Sea. When my parents moved out after the owner died, it
was purchased by John Coughlan, the drummer from Status Quo, who I believe also
now lives in Oxfordshire and regularly plays in my local pub!
I went to the very small Art College on the Island and began
to develop an interest in music, sound and the parallels with the visual arts,
inspired by the sounds and landscape from growing up in an environment
surrounded by the countryside the sea and farms that were still using traction
engines and ploughing with horses.
What was your first band you were involved with? You
mentioned you played as a solo artist back in the ‘60s? Was there anything
recorded and what kind of material did you play?
I think the first
thing I ever learnt on the guitar was a Shadows tune, but I very soon became
interested in the blues and folk music, but also improvisation and sound for
its own value. My musical influences were very diverse, I would listen to Bob
Dylan or Mississippi John Hurt one minute and Stockhausen the next. I also
listened a lot to Pink Floyd’s ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ album. However, the
seminal album for me though was Captain Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’.
Trout Mask is still one of my favourite albums!
I played a solo guitar improvised tribute to Captain
Beefheart when he died, which is on YouTube.
Whilst still on the
Isle of Man I organised some workshops with musicians and non-players and
getting them to make random noises to see what would happen. This was around
My first band was
called Henry’s Headband and it was a very early experiment in combining folk
with electric guitars, sounds and even feedback. I still have a Hells Angel’s
chapter card that was given to me at a live gig from that period.
The other guitarist
in that band I believe became very well known in the Philippines as Ka Roger.
In late ‘60s you joined Ginger Johnsons African Drummers.
He was Nigerian drummer who I think came to UK back in the late ‘60s and
released only one album, but a great one titled “African Party” in 1967. Were
you part of this album?

On leaving college I travelled down to London around 1966-67
and started going to the Middle Earth Club where I met Ginger Johnson. Ginger
asked me to play in his band, the African Drummers, after seeing me play a solo
gig. He also asked my wife, who was a dancer, to dance with the band.
I knew nothing about Ginger before he asked me to join his
band! I joined just after he had recorded ‘African Party’ and left
just before the Stones Hyde Park concert in ’68 to go back to the Isle Of Man
to form my own band.
We often gigged at the Middle Earth, and played student
sit-ins and lots of venues I just don’t remember the names of! I do remember
playing at the Royal Festival Hall and playing on a float in one of the early
Notting Hill Carnivals.
It was really good
fun gigging with Ginger. We used to smoke a lot of dope, and I spend a lot of
time socialising with him and the band. I remember he had a jukebox at his
house we would play a lot of early reggae and ska, and generally have an
exciting time. I always remember Caxton one of the drummers in Ginger’s band
who was nearly in his 70s and one of the most laid back and affable people I
have ever met.
At some of the
gigs at Middle Earth, Ginger would give me a solo spot on acoustic guitar. He
had a really good flute player, Fred, and we would sometimes do a spot
We shared the stage
with Pink Floyd, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Edgar Broughton, The Move, The Graham
Bond Organisation, Fairport Convention and many others.
I remember sitting under a table at the Middle Earth smoking
dope with Edgar Broughton at his first London gig.
Around the same time I started to play with Ginger, I met
John Peel who I became friendly with and regularly went round to his flat. Marc
Bolan was often there and we would spend most of the time talking about music.
I sometimes used to borrow Marc’s mike for gigs!
I met John at an
event at Olympia called Christmas On Earth Continued in December ’67. He came
and spoke to my wife, Tilly, and I when we were looking after a stand for
That was a fantastic event! We saw Pink Floyd (with Syd
Barrett), Jimi Hendrix, the Animals and many others, but Hendrix and the Floyd
blew me away. I think Hendrix had 16 Marshal 100 watt cabs on stage, the sound
was phenomenal. Floyd performed behind gauze triangles so you could hardly see
them but once again sounded wonderful.
Ever since seeing and playing alongside those bands, I’ve
found going to see most bands since a bit of a let down! The last time I saw
Pink Floyd live, for example, they were playing the material that became the
‘live’ album of ‘Ummagumma’!
But it was all long ago and hard to recall many of the
events, I just took it all for granted really. I remember chatting to Brian
Jones in a shop in Chelsea and exchanging ‘hellos’ with Hendrix a few times.
But I was a musician in a band at a very exciting time so you just met and
talked to people who were just other people in a band.
I also remember at a lot of the gigs we played with Floyd
you would get some people booing, and chanting ‘Geno Geno’ (for Geno
Washington, popular with Mods at the time) when the Floyd came on. They would
soon leave though!
You played in now legendary underground club Middle Earth
(formerly ‘Electric Garden Club’) with Ginger Johnsons alongside with then very
young Pink Floyd’s. What other bands played there; Soft Machine?
What I remember about the Middle Earth Club was the general
excitement of being able to see and play alongside new and breaking bands.
Bands I remember hearing included the Graham Bond Organisation, David Bowie
(when he was still a mime artist), Pink Floyd (who we regularly supported),
Fairport Convention, many others and Paper Blitz Tissue, who were a really good
Dave Dufort, then
the drummer with Paper Blitz Tissue, and later with Kevin Ayers, lived just
down the road from me at the time. I gave my first guitar to Dave’s younger
sister, Denise, who later became the drummer in Girlschool.
The Middle Earth was a fairly small and intimate venue and
had some very good light shows with oil wheels and strobes, a really new thing
at the time.
Thankfully, I also managed to avoid any of the regular
police raids. I knew someone who said that he only took a job as a cleaner
there to sweep up and smoke all the dropped dope the morning after raids!
How did the psychedelics effect on your playing and on you
as a human?
H’mmm –  that’s
difficult to say. As an experimental musician and artist (I was not really
interested in being a pop star, I was an art for art’s sake person), I saw acid
as an extending and enabling tool for what I did.
I did find it
difficult to play, but very easy to draw and paint and sex was something else
again! I never had a bad
trip, probably because I was careful to only have 5 or 6 trips in all and I had
a capacity to be aware while tripping that it was an altered reality created by
the drug even though it seemed totally real.
I vividly remember
one trip that led to an all night drawing session.
  The room was full of
silver filigree which I could also feel and hear when I moved. Drawing was
amazing; I would make a line on the paper and as I lifted the pencil off the
page, the line would follow the pencil then fall back onto the page and move. I
was doing drawings based on plant forms and I could see the sap circulating in
the stems and watch them move as if in a gentle breeze, I still have some of
those drawings somewhere.
   At 6 am the next
morning I was coming down, hanging over the washing-line in the garden. My next
door neighbour who was a coalman came out and started chatting about the
garden, that was a bit bizarre!
I think it did give
me an insight and was an enabling experience. I certainly saw and experienced a
reality that I otherwise would not have done.
What’s the story about Ginger Johnson? He died in 1972 and
he is considered as one of the fathers of so called Afro Beat. He collaborated
in London with Fela Kuti. What’s the story behind it?
I knew nothing about
Ginger until he asked me to play with him. He was a very kind and gentle man
and I was very upset on hearing of his death from a mutual friend.
In the ‘70s you moved into whole new direction of music
and together with Jon Seagroatt (soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute and
electronics) and Roger Telford (drums and percussion) started Red Square which
is a free improvisation band.
I moved to Southend-on-Sea in the early 1970s and met a
saxophone player by the name of Jonny Seagroatt who had similar musical
interests to myself and we started working and playing together and recording a
lot of experimental and improvised music. Some of that involved multi tracking,
chromatic and free improvisation and using toys with real instruments. We still
have tapes of some of these sessions and have considered releasing them
sometime in the future.
 In 1974 we were
joined by drummer Roger Telford and formed Red Square . This was probably the
first punk, jazz metal free improve band and predated Sonic Youth, the Thing
and similar bands by many years, not something that had a very big audience
in  1974, but we did a lot of gigs (4 in
one day on one occasion) and cleared a lot of venues. We played a number of
gigs with Henry Cow and Lol Coxhill.
There’s more Red Square here: http://www.redsquare3.com.
You held a lot of experimental music workshops. What were
they about?
Those were primarily
on the Isle Of Man, with the Headband, incorporating non-musicians and
soundmakers into the band.
Later, in Southend, Red Square ran a few workshops for the
Workers Education Authority, and Jonny and I would run improvisation workshops
at the local art collage in Southend-on-Sea.
You were quite
some time in Victorian hotel in Westcliff-on-Sea and played innumerable gigs
(four in one day on one occasion), benefits and student occupations, and gigged
with Henry Cow, Red Brass, David Toop & Paul Burwell and Lol Coxhill. You
were also active in Music For Socialism…
We somehow managed to
get a regular weekly spot in a dilapidated and condemned Victorian hotel in
Southend called ‘the Queens’. This built up a loyal and regular following, some
of whom still come to the occasional Red Square gigs. Some recordings of early
Red Square, including live tracks recorded at a gig with Henry Cow, have been released
by FMR Records on the album ‘Thirty Three’. Some of the tracks on ‘Thirty
Three’ are from one of the gigs that we did with Henry Cow and Lol Coxhill.
At the time only two albums were out on cassette:
‘Paramusic’ and ‘Circuitry’, the latter being a live recording of a gig with
Henry Cow in Southend-on-Sea. What are some memories from recording and
producing? Were this ever reissued or will be in the near future?
We have thought about re-issuing the recordings on the 2
original cassette albums in cassette format; we still have the artwork for the
original covers, so who knows? One day, perhaps…
Later you
collaborated with Jon Seagroatt in various projects: B So glObal, Omlo Vent and
B So glObal came
about as I had been working with drones played on an old organ and processing
the sounds through effects and adding very sparse slide guitar which Jonny then
took away and added some more programming, tenor and soprano saxes and Yamaha
wind synth.
We released two
albums of B So glObal through Plastic Head Distribution. The second album was
less ambient and had more of an emphasis on the instruments. We sold around
3,000 copies of these albums each, which in today’s limited edition numbers
seems a lot now!
We were also asked by Plastic Head to do a more experimental
album under a different name. This we did as Omlo Vent. These were basically
improvisations performed on a number of analogue machines like the Roland
SH101, and exploited the interesting cross rhythms that result from poorly synced
pre-MIDI analog equipment!
We have a fair bit of unreleased material from these
Around 2008 you were back together recording some new

In 2008 we were asked by FMR Records if we still had
releasable recordings of early Red Square – which we did – and that inspired us
to reform the band with Roger Telford, the original drummer.
More recently Jonny
and I and Jonny’s wife, Bobbie Watson from Comus, recorded ‘Deathless’, an
album based on the myth of the Minotaur as told in Steven Sherrill’s novel ‘The
Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break’. The album draws on a mix of extended
instrumental techniques, digitally processed woodwind, slide guitars, electronics,
iPad apps, sample manipulation, drones and disrupted song.
You can hear some tracks from the album here:
What are some future plans for you Ian?
My future plans are to concentrate on gigging with the
Psychedelic Raiders! Some of the songs we play are inspired by the motorcycle
travels of the round-the-world adventurer, Nick Sanders.  We have been in touch with festival
organisers with a view to gigging at motorcycle festivals.
We still also do the occasional Red Square gig when asked,
and Jonny has his on-going commitments to Comus and Current 93.
Thank you so much for taking your time. Would you like to
share anything else with us?
The Psychedelics website address? It’s http://www.psychedelicraiders.co.uk!
Thanks very much for your questions!
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014
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