Subway interview with Irvin Mowrey & Malcolm Watson
1. I’m really glad we can talk about Subway, but first I would like to ask you about your childhood and teen years. Where did you grow up and what were some of your influences?
Irvin: I grew up in Idaho, in the American west and had the usual influences of my generation; Elvis before he was in the army, Buddy Holly, Everly Brothers, but had also grown up in a musical household where classical and jazz were part of the family soundtrack as well. My mother was a piano and English teacher. My own breakthrough was folk music though, for the first time I was hearing real songs. It was the Kingston Trio at first, then backtracking to more original performers like Guthrie, Dave Van Ronk, Lightning Hopkins, Jimmy Reed and people like that. Then in England, it was the Incredible String Band, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Fairport Convention and others like that.
Malcolm: I grew up in London, UK, and got my first violin when I was 5. Started serious lessons when I was 7 and was soon winning contests and performing in public. Went to the Royal Academy at age 16 to 20. Always had wanted to play jazz, so I listened to a lot of Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk, Charles Lloyd, and many others. Never got the jazz down though. Also love Zappa.
2. Were you in any bands before forming Subway?
Irvin: I didn’t form Subway, it formed itself lol, but in high school, I had been a part of a couple of folk trios, and was even on local tv with 2 of those groups but no paid gigs . Later on, I worked with another songwriter in London called Mike Day and we even made an LP for a small publishing company, but it was never released – I was also in a band in college, playing sitar and guitar but we only had a couple of gigs. I actually cant remember the name of it lol.
Malcolm: I had jammed with some pretty impressive musicians. But was never stably in a band until I met Irv and we got a few arrangements down of some of Irv’s songs. It just fitted and worked so brilliantly.
3. I heard you formed in France..is that true? How did you came together and why did you choose the name Subway?
Irvin: Actually, we met and started playing in London. We just started jamming and there was an immediate click so we worked out all the songs I had written up to that point, but then my British visa ran out and I had to leave the country so went to France and did an open mike at a French folk club. They gave me a gig for a couple of weeks later so I called Malcolm and asked if he wanted to come over to do it with me. As you might expect, he said yes and then things moved pretty swiftly after that. So even though we got started in England, we got our recording contract and record release in France.
Malcolm: We actually met in London, got 3 pieces down. Played them in the London subway just for an immediate venue. Got asked to play live on radio. We played our 3 songs and the radio interviewer was so blown away he asked us to do an hour long show for a week later. We laughed and told him he had just heard our complete repertoire. So we went off to the Yorkshire moors where we stayed in a little stone cottage. A week later I had come up with violin parts for a bunch of Irv’s songs and we had ourselves an hour and a half’s repertoire. When we returned to London Irv had to leave due to visa problems and we met up some weeks later in Paris. The name Subway was not chosen until after we had recorded our first album with CBS/Epic in France. As we had played so much in the subways to survive through that period the name Subway seemed appropriate.
4. You released your LP on Epic. The LP is really beautiful and very playful in some moments. I would like if you could tell me what are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording this LP?
Irvin: What I remember the most about the session was the incredible French lunches lol. We only had about a week and would begin early, record until about 1 or 2, then have lunch for a couple of hours, then would have some time to digest the lunch and back to recording. It was all a blur but the musicians were very very good- a French group called Total Issue and it went very quickly. We recorded one track outside over a well, just Malcolm and I but the musicians were in the studio playing along. That was ‘Can I trade with you my Mind’ The whole atmosphere was perfect.
Malcolm: Well we recorded in this amazing converted farm somewhere south of Paris. Quite a famous studio i believe. Like Irv said the lunches were phenomenal. Big laugh. It was our first experience in the studios, so it was quite a learning experience. I will always remember standing in the middle of a field, hooked up by long long cables as we recorded the track Enturbulation. You can still hear a cock crowing that we left on the soundtrack at the beginning of the piece.
What can you tell me about the cover artwork?
Irvin: Not much other than all my clothes needed to be washed. The only clean clothes I had were the ones I was wearing at the time. I cant remember where the photos were taken but close to Paris, just outside of it.
Malcolm: I seem to remember the photographer being some famous guy who did a lot of the photos for Vogue magazine at that time. The jacket I am wearing with the roses on it was hand made and came from the well know Harrods store in London.
How many pressings were made?
Irvin: I was told only 200 were pressed but I don’t think that’s right, though I didn’t really know. I remember seeing at one point that there were around 2000. It seems that 200 would not be a very good first pressing – I’d have thought there would have been more than that.
Malcolm: I actually don’t know how many pressings were made. I have heard several reports that range from 200 to a few thousand.
5. I will write down songs and I would really appreciate if you could comment each song a bit…
Irvin: 1 I Am a Child
This was about feeling very naïve and ignorant, but full of hope and promise, written in London
2 Song For Sinking Shelters
This as well was written in London, about someone I knew who was full of ****. Just venting
3 Warm You Are
About starting a new relationship with a girlfriend, done in a sitar tuning on my 6 string
4 All the Good Things
Kind of about an ideal woman – not anyone in particular
5 Enterbulation-Free Form
This was an acoustic jam that Malcosm and I had worked out playing in the metro. When we got in the studio with it, my acoustic guitar didn’t fit what else was going on, so we didn’t use it. Actually, I had nothing to do with the studio version, but it was something that we had co-written.
6 Arizona Sands
I had gone to University at Arizona State U. and had taken acid in the desert on many occasions in the 60’s. The song was written in Europe, cant remember where but it was trying to capture the feeling of the desert. Done on a 12 string
7 Rosanna of the Roses
Written in London about a woman who sold flowers and was a real character. Someone brought her over to our place in London and she asked me to write her a song, and that is the result . Another 12 string song
8 Can I Trade With Your Mind
The title came from a book or story by Clifford Simak, a sci-fi writer, and just took off on its own. This was the one that Malcolm and I did in one take over a well outside with the band playing inside.
Malcolm: I am going to leave this section to Irv as he was the actual song writer. My contribution being my violin parts to Irv’s songs. I can say it was always a blast playing with Irv and I love his songs. I found it easy to tune into each of the pieces and add my contribution to the mood and feel of each piece.
6. Did you do any touring, performances?
Irvin: Not as much as we wanted to. We opened for Super Tramp in France but it was a few years before they became mega-selling. We did a festival in Vimoutiers which went pretty well and where we met the group Backdenkel who became very good friends. I later opened for them sometimes when I came back to France the 2nd time. CBS had arranged a tour for Subway but it was not very well organized and in fact, Malcolm was in England, so I toured myself with Charles Brutus McClay who was on CBS as well, but we only did a couple of gigs. The posters, etc, arrived the same day we played. The whold thing seemed like an afterthought by CBS. Even though we were on Epic, that label was owned by CBS and when we signed, it was with CBS.
Malcolm: We did a little touring. Opened for Super Tramp a couple of times. But most our performances were street and subway venues, which were always a lot of fun. We actually did very well and typically had huge audiences. That had its own problems too as the police would sometimes arrive to clear the large crowds that would congregate to hear us perform.
7. What happened next? I know you recorded together Busker LP in 1976, which was private released (how many copies?). Can you share a story about this album?
Irvin: A documentary film maker, Mike Pierce, met Malcolm and wanted to do a film about him, and Malcolm played him the Subway record. He liked it and they asked me to come back to Europe to do this film. I had been in San Francisco, playing in clubs and on the street – writing new songs, which were the songs on Busker. We wanted to find a record company who would record us for a record to come out with the film, which was coming out on ITV Britain. As it turned out, the film was shown on ITV in May I think but we didnt get the record out until 1977 lol. Great timing., huh? We didn’t want to use the Subway name since it had not gone anywhere but looking back, we should have. I don’t know how many copies were pressed actually.
Malcolm: Due to our struggling to survive and get professional management, Irv and I split up for some years. He went back to the US after a while and I returned to England. In 74 I was approached by a movie director wanting to make a film about me and it made immediate sense to ask Irv to be a part of that too. So he came and joined me back in Paris again and we shot this movie entitled Busker. It was directed by Michael Pearse and shot by Chris Mengies, who later on won several Academy awards for Killing Fields and the Mission. We produced our second album and of course named it after the movie Busker.
8. Irvin, you released another LP called Continental Drift back in 1979, right?
Irvin: Yeah, Continental Drift was done in 78 and came out in 79. The main musicians on that record were drums and guitarist from Backdenkel, great friends of mine by that time and with Pete and Brian, the bassist and drummer, we had formed an acoustic trio that played in a club called Pro Nobis in the Contrescarpe so they knew the songs. Pete, the bass player was away when we did the the record, so we found Steve Gee, a very good bassist for that. I had done backing vocals on one track of their LP ‘Stalingrad’ and Continental Drift was on the same record company, put together by their producer and lyricist, Karel. One song on there that Malcolm and I had written together, ‘The Immigrants’ and he does a great solo on ‘Queen of Maybe’ as well as on ‘Immigrants’. Also, when our acoustic trio played in Pro Nobis, the owner of the club was amanaging Vince Taylor, a French rocker and we would back him for shows at his club, acoustically. He was still it great form.
9. What were you doing in the 80’s till now and what are some future plans?
Irvin: I came back to the states in 1980 and couldn’t really get anything going musically so had gotten into other things, computer tech support mainly, but had put together an acoustic trio in Fresno during the mid-eighties. That was fun but didn’t pay the bills, so got out of music actually but still keep up with alt and Indie stuff as well as jazz and classical. From time to time, I write something but only for me.
Malcolm: In the 80’s I was working in the Middle East, in Abu Dhabi on a massive oil project. A far cry from my music, though I always had my violin with me and I have some amazing stories of being taken off by Sheiks to play with middle eastern musicians. I moved to the USA in the mid 80s and in 1990 picked up my violini professionally again and have been performing extensively all over the US since then. I currently have 5 cds out plus a concert DVD. You can check me out at BarefootViolinist.com
I plan to continue my music career as I love performing so incredibly much. For me it has become a healing and inspirational journey. I have also become somewhat of a motivational speaker, focused in the arena of spirituality and have worked with Dr Deepak Chopra and Don Miguel Ruiz, and other great spiritual teachers. Not such a stretch coming from our psychedelic adventures and searching’s of the 60’s and 70’s.
10. Thanks again for your time! Would you like to share anything with readers of It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine?
Irvin: All the Best. Have fun. This is a great magazine. Support it!
Malcolm: I would like to end off by thanking you for this opportunity to share a bit about Irv’s and my story. It has been part of a strange, wonderful and rich journey that is still very much in progress for me. Much love to you all. Malcolm Watson
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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