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 1964.
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 together.
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 someone.
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 band.
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 Miramar…
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 experiments.
Around 2008 you were back together recording some new material…
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: https://soundcloud.com/js8088/sets/seven-tracks-from-deathless
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