Airbridge | Interview | Cult Prog Band With New Album, ‘Memories of Water’
Airbridge is a prog rock band originally formed in Norfolk in 1980. They were part of the new prog scene of the early 80s in the UK, playing the Marquee, touring and sharing stages with the likes of IQ and Twelfth Night.
They released their debut album ‘Paradise Moves’ in 1983 to great acclaim, and had completed a follow up album but broke up by the mid 80s before it saw the light of day.
In about 2010 original guitarist/keyboardist/bassist and vocalist Lorenzo Bedini and bass player Sean Godfrey reunited with their sound-man turned drummer / guitarist Dave Dowdeswell-Allaway and an EP entitled ‘Return’ was released in 2013. However due to Lorenzo relocating to his native Italy in 2015, Sean being taken ill the following year and having to step down from the band for health reasons and then the pandemic hitting the world the album has taken a little bit longer than expected. In the following interview we reveled the story behind it.
A very special thank to Richard Penguin for all the work done acting as the go between sorting out the interview.
How does it feel to be able to release a new album after 38 years?
Dave Dowdeswell-Allaway: When ‘Paradise Moves’ was released I was the band’s roadie and live sound engineer. I remember the excitement surrounding the creation and release of the album, and I had high hopes for the band’s future. The intervening years have been full of the stuff of life, and so the creation and release of ‘Memories of Water’ feels like a great achievement.
Lorenzo Bedini: Yes, it is. And such an amazing surprise to find so many – extremely patient – fans out there.
What’s the story behind it? How long did you work on it?
Lorenzo: As a widower living alone, I have a lot of time on my hands. I started recording little solo projects which I posted on the net via DistroKid. To my astonishment, there were people who enjoyed them: one young woman emailed me to say that she and her friends had redecorated her entire house listening to my music. She actually thanked me! I thought I must keep going with my music, if only for her.
I’d started on what became ‘Memories of Water’ when Dave got in touch, offering to play the drums on it. I suggested that if we do that, we may as well call it an Airbridge album, and would he like to contribute some material? Meanwhile, I had a word with two other musicians who lived near me, in Roccalbegna, if they’d like to join in. Jason Crompton and Maddalena Pastorelli are both highly accomplished musicians. They both studied classical music at university level, and they met teaching in Ramallah. They each have wide tastes in music, and unlike so many ‘classicals’, they’re capable of improvising.
We worked on the album for several months. Dave was looking after a friend’s house in the country while the friend was away, and was able to play his drums there without disturbing anyone. Hence his initial offer to play the drums on my songs. Then COVID struck, and the friend had to curtail his travels, so Dave had to pack up his drum kit. He put forward three songs which were written to be performed without drums, hence the irony that the songs written by the drummer are drum-less. We put the album together by sending sound files back and forth across the net.
Dave: Lorenzo sent me his draft tracks back in 2019, and we sent the album off to be mastered in late 2020. I was fortunate to have the use of a friend’s house while he was working abroad. That was where I recorded the drums and percussion. It was a steep learning curve for me because although I’d mic’d drums for live performances I’d never recorded with an acoustic kit before. Actually, I had a lot to learn through the process of creating my parts for the album. I’d not played bass before, but I had bass lines in my head. It seemed easier for me to buy a bass and learn to play that than try and explain to Lorenzo how to play those lines, especially since we communicated mostly via email and Facebook Messenger. Other than learning about the drum recording and bass playing, I also spent a lot of time on YouTube with MusicTechHelpGuy, the wizard of Logic Pro X. As with most things I have accomplished, I felt about ready to begin by the time I finished. This bodes well for our next project, but more of that later.
Is there a certain concept behind it?
Lorenzo: More a certain feeling, ambience, atmosphere… whatever you want to call it.
Tell us about your 2013 reunion and how you got back in touch.
Lorenzo: I met our original bass player, Sean Godfrey, quite by chance. (We are great friends, but have a habit of losing touch.) My first marriage was ending, and so I had more time to devote to things like music than I’d had for 19 years. Sean told me that ancient copies of our first album, ‘Paradise Moves’, were selling on the net for £250. That’s five pounds more than it cost to produce. He suggested we ought to get back together. We had a reunion rehearsal with Dave Beckett and Edward Percival, but Dave didn’t want to do any of my songs, and Edward lives hundreds of miles away, so logistics got in the way. Meanwhile, Dave Dowdeswell-Allaway, who had been our live sound engineer back in the ’80s, had since become a highly talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and drummer. Pavla, a very beautiful lead singer completed the line-up, but her employers, a bank, wouldn’t give her the time to play any gigs. So, somewhat reluctantly, the three-piece was born.
Dave: I had lived away from Norwich for over 20 years, during which time I had sporadic contact with Lorenzo and Sean. On my return to Norwich in 2009 I was delighted to discover that they were still creating music, and they seemed happy that in the intervening years I had played in bands as a drummer. Our reunion was really lovely; we had a lot of fun, especially during our three-times-a-week jam sessions and rehearsals. The recording of ‘Return’ was also great because we worked with Stephen J. Bennett, who’d played with Airbridge in 1983 before moving on to form LaHost with Sean after Airbridge’s break up. Our first gig together was a hoot, playing to a packed house in the medieval undercroft of a bar in the old part of Norwich. It was marvellous to see people who were former members of the band, fans from the 80s, and new supporters too. Ed Percival, the other original songwriter, alongside Lorenzo, joined us for our rendition of ‘Paradise Moves’, the title track off the first album. It was sad to see how cancer quickly came to affect Sean. He was forced to retire because of that. We were fortunate, however, to find that a talented bassist, also known to us from the 80s, Matt Gamble, was available to step in and join us to play the Cambridge Rock Festival.
In 1983 you released such a fantastic neo-prog record, ‘Paradise Moves’. Please share your recollections of the sessions. What were the influences and inspirations for the songs recorded?
Lorenzo: That’s very kind of you. We rehearsed the backing-tracks as we would rehearse for a gig, but without most of the lead instruments or any vocals. Arriving at Hallmark studios, we told the owner/engineer that we were going to record (I think) twelve backing tracks. He said it was impossible, I said “It’s okay, we’re only recording backing tracks”, and he said it was still impossible. But we did it: all but one; a rather ambitious piece which we did record, but which I later felt was unusable.
We then went into my sister’s little studio in Hampstead, for the weekend, and did the overdubs there. Unfortunately, I panicked about the missing track, although the album was long enough without it, as I later discovered, and replaced it with an instrumental I’d recorded with Steve Hall back in 1979. I never really thought about how much this arbitrary decision on my part must have rankled with the rest of the band.
These recordings were only meant to have been for a cassette showcase album, to be sold – or even given away – at gigs, but my brother-in-law was a music publisher, and he somehow sold the idea of our album to Red Lightnin’ Records, so our cheep, hasty opus became a vinyl disc.
Dave: All I did during some of the recording sessions was lug the equipment about, and offer my ears in the control room.
Did Tour with Marillion and Pallas? Any favourite memory from those days?
Dave: Airbridge never played with either Marillion or Pallas. As the live sound engineer I tend to remember late nights crawling over sticky, beer-soaked club and pub floors, ripping gaffer tape off the multicore. But some gigs were more pleasantly memorable particularly if I felt that my live sound did the band proud. I enjoyed our rather bizarre residency at The Last Waterhole in Amsterdam, outdoor gigs at the national transcendental meditation centre in the bucolic wilds of Suffolk, and watching gold-dressed women from the sound desk perch in the Rock Garden.
Lorenzo: Sadly, we never toured with either Marillion or Pallas, so any memories any member – past or present – might have of these tours would be purely delusional or illusory.
When did you stop? Did any member stay in the music business?
Lorenzo: I personally left Airbridge when I got married in September 1983. My wife kept a couple of horses, and the band wanted to move to London – a decision I didn’t agree with anyway, because I’d done a three-year stint in London, and found its reality to be very different to its mythology.
Dave: Lorenzo left the band in 1983, leaving Sean Godfrey, Edward Percival, Dave Beckett, and Stephen Bennett to team up with Geoff Chamberlain on guitars, and me continuing with the live sound and the recording of a demo that, so far, has remained unpublished. The band attempted the move from Norwich to London, but there were too many tensions to survive, and that version of the band split up in late ’83.
Stephen and Sean went on to form LaHost. Lorenzo has never stopped recording. He released a single under the name Count Lorenzo, and later solo albums of which he can say more. Dave Beckett moved to Dublin and played with The Word until his return to Norwich in the mid-90s. Edward was, for many years, the Noddy Holder in a slate tribute band, and later formed a group now called The Fossil Fools, the only official XTC covers band. Stephen J. Bennett played with, or still plays with, among others, Henry Fool, No Man, and Galasphere 347.
So in some way, or another, all the band members continued their musical passions through whatever outlet they could manage around raising families, earning a living, and the usual stuff of life.
Is there a plan to play a gig in the near future?
Dave: You can be the first to know! We have a UK gig booked at the 1865 in Southampton, supporting This Winter Machine, on the 26th June 2022. We may play a few dates in Italy before then.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Dave: Hopefully not, but for my part, I am really delighted with how ‘Memories of Water’ has been received, and appreciate how well our reviewers have listened to the album and commented fairly upon it. There is always a difference between the musical quality of music and production quality, and I am looking forward to taking what I’ve learned through the creation of ‘Memories of Water’ into the production of our next album. It is likely that our next album will be a double album, and we have a 20 minute piece to put together for it. We are over half way to creating the new album, and we will be searching for a few skilled, musical ears to help with our production next time. We really want to preserve our musical qualities but to tighten up the production enough to please us, but never to sanitise it. We are rather fond of things not having to be exactly in tune, exactly in time, or exactly anything other than how we want to express ourselves. Thank you for your cool questions.
Lorenzo: Not being a full-on touring band, the only thing we can do now is get on with the next album.
One person I haven’t mentioned so far, but who certainly deserves a round of applause, is Martin Cook. As I say, for technical reasons we can’t go out and tour, so Martin’s beautiful cover and booklet is very much the band’s public face, and I think he’s done a fantastic job, as have all the others, Dave, Maddalena and Jason, who joined in on the project as it went along.