A name like Clive Nolan really does not need special introductions. One of the worlds leading rock keyboard players is giving an exclusive interview for Vision Rock Metal, about his work!
1. For starters could you tell me from where does all this strong dedication to progressive rock and the bands in which you put so much effort and with which you greatly contribute to the prog rock scene come from?
Primarily I am a musician… that is my passion. I kind f fell into the world of Progressive Rock, but ultimately I do the music that feels most natural to me. Music has always been at the core of my life, so I couldn’t imagine anything else.
2. What was your musical journey like? Before Pendragon were there any other bands, in which you were involved, that aren’t so well known as Shadowland, Arena, Caamora or Pendragon itself? Do you have any intentions to record anything else with bands Neo, Strangers on a Train and Casino?
I studied music at University, taking two degrees in music (specializing in composition and arrangement). I did actually form a rock band called ‘Sleepwalker’ at the end of my school days, and this carried on into University. People described us as ‘progressive’ before I even knew what that description meant..;) I was also part of a trio called Danzante (somewhat ‘jazzier’) and then ‘The Cast (somewhat ‘poppier’..;).
3. How were things in the UK prog scene in the 80′, around the time of you joining Pendragon? At that time IQ and Marillion were pushing neo-prog rock and making it a stadium phenomenon. Have bands like them and Canadian Saga influenced your musical direction and expression in prog/neo-prog rock at that time? When today you look back at those times, what are your feelings and how do you remember those times?
Again, to be honest, I was not really aware of any ‘scene’. I came in from a more ‘classical’ world. I think we watched what Marillion were doing, because they were leading the field. Mostly I think we just wanted to make our own mark in the genre.
4. In Shadowland, your second band, you employed a different style making it sound different from your other bands. Actually, your every band is different. How do you manage to separate different aspects of your creativity and approaches to the creative process itself in those bands? Is it something you plan or does it happen spontaneously?
When I am writing for a particular band or project, I need to get myself into the right ‘zone’. It’s like wearing the right hat. Then things seem to be right for that particular entity. Even so, I occasionally write something for say Caamora, and then think ‘no, that’s more Shadowland’. Just not often!..;)
Sometimes the writing is also guided by the combination of people I’m working (and writing) with as well.
5. Shadowland put out two albums in the beginning of 90′ and one in the beginning of the second half of 90′, to make a big pause between 1998. and 2008. What was the catalyst for this pause? Was it because of the success of Arena (which at the time was on its rise) or?
Yes, partly Arena, and indeed Threshold (with Karl)… we just found ourselves busy with many other commitments, and somehow Shadowland ended up on the back burner. Then after 13 years or so, we were given the chance by Metal Mind to make a DVD, and that inspired us back into action!
6. Out of all your bands my most favourite one is definitely Arena. Arena is in general one of my favourite bands to listen to and still, after all those years of listening to all the albums over and over again, everytime I do I discover something new. So, before anything else I have to ask you, how is it that the collaboration between you and the ex-drummer of Marillion, Mick Pointer, and the subsequent forming of Arena came to be?
That just came out of a coincidence. Mick had been out of music for many years, and some fans spotted him in a restaurant, and went to talk to him. Eventually they persuaded him to meet up with me, and discuss the idea of making a new album… ‘Just for fun’… and Arena was born out of that. As a collaboration, we worked well together, and had the feeling that this was something well worth exploring.
7. During my interview with Mick, 12 years ago (after “The Visitor” album), after my constatation about the first two Arena albums having a lot of Marillion influence in them, Mick responded that since he has been a part of Marillion and thus contributed in no small part to its music its no wonder the influence was there. That is why to me, as a listener, Arena is a special band as it completely adopts the neo-prog rock legacy from the 80′. Do you agree?
I’m sure that is the case… but I think we have moved on a long way since then. Our path has become a very different one.
8. To me it seems as if Arena had four creative phases: the first phase with “Songs from the Lion’s Cage” and “Pride” albums, the second one with “The Visitor” and “Immortal” albums, the third with “Contagion” and the fourth with “Pepper’s Ghost” album. Do you agree with this? Do you think Arena had different periods of creativity or if it is one continuous process of creating music?
I have always thought of the Arena history as a constant creative evolution. However, in some ways you are right with your theory. Certainly the first two albums were constructed as one larger production, with similar structures and themes. I guess, in my opinion, The Visitor stands as one entity, and then Immortal and Contagion work together. The there is Pepper’s Ghost. I’m pretty sure the new album (The Seventh Degree of Separation) will stand alone as well… 😉
9. “Pepper’s Ghost”, to me, sounds “heavier”, both musically and production wise. In my opinion, it has a certain prog metal atmosphere and I would say that it manages to perfectly combine prog rock with prog metal. What is your opinion on this?
There is never a plan for such things… it is just the direction we take at the time that feels natural and right to us. I think there has always been a heavy edge to our albums.
10. Do you like prog metal in general, as a musical direction? What is your opinion on prog rock and its elements being a part in almost all metal genres, from progressive metal to extreme genres like death metal? In your opinion is there a boundary between prog rock and prog metal or do you think that the boundaries between those two related genres are nonexistent?
It’s hard to say. The way I like to be is to bring in elements from other musical genres – not just Prog Metal. Classical music… indie…. Pop… it doesn’t matter, as long as it makes what we do richer. I think it is good to look outside of your own world… that how we actually remain ‘progressive’.
11. Many times one can find AOR elements in Arenas albums and sometimes it evokes memories of the 80′ and its stadium phase for AOR and prog rock bands. What do you think why is it that those two great rock music directions are no considered mainstream and are no longer enjoying the media attention they had during the 70′ and especially the 80′?
I consider both of these styles to be underground. They always have been and always will have a following, but not necessarily of a mass popularity.
12. Which of the Arena albums is you most favourite?
The Seventh Degree of Separation. I know it’s our latest album, so it’s normal that we will say that. However, I find myself still listening to this one for pleasure… Very unusual!
13. DVD live editions of “Caught in the Act” and “Smoke and Mirrors” are so musically and visually distinct that I am at a loss of words to describe them. In one word – perfection. What is the general time it takes to prepare for a live DVD recording? Was the band making any special preparations for those two occasions, the one in 2003. and the one in 2006., or were those just recordings of your normal live acts ( which are by themselves great and carried out with perfection)?
When we prepare a tour to promote a new album we are already aware that we may record a dvd. So, the setlist is designed with this in mind as well as to make an exciting live experience for the tour. We like to think that viewers of the dvd can get a real feel for the live Arena experience. Once the show is recorded we spend time editing the visual and the audio footage, so as to provide an accurate but authentic final version.
14. Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
I will always try for a 100%. That doesn’t mean to say I succeed, but I always do the best I can. My standards are very high.
15. Do you have any intentions of recording a solo album like “Skeletons in the Cupboard” in the future?
‘Skeletons’ was an archive album of previously unreleased material, so I have never considered to be a solo album. Many of the albums I already do might be described by other artists as solo albums. Personally I have no plans to record something that I would call a solo album.
16. How is it that the collaboration between you and Agnieszka Świta and forming of Caamora came to be?
I met Agnieszka by coincidence and it soon became apparent that she would be the right person that she would be the right person to take up the role of Ayesha. That was the catalyst that made me decide to write ‘She’.
17. Rock opera “She” which you performed with Caamora was a considerable success in Poland and Bolivia. Was the setting up of a rock opera in Bolivia a spontaneous act or has there been a collaboration between you and the fans and the organizers in that country before?
Bolivia happened as a result of support of some businessmen who were also fans.
What is your view on the success of the rock opera and are you glad that there is still a great interest for this less and less represented form of acting and music?
I feel that ‘SHE’ has done very well considering that I have delivered this musical to a totally different prog fan base. The challenge has been to reach out and find a mainstream musical audience. This is a slow process, but one we are still doing. Musicals as a genre are probably bigger that ever now, but to break a new musical is virtually impossible unless you have massive financial support or celebrity power.
How didyou come up with wanting to make a rock opera?
I’ve always wanted to create rock-operas or musicals ever since `I was a child. I had to wait till this point of my career to make it possible to do.
18. Before I only thought of you as a great composer and musician, one of the greatest keyboard players of today. After listening to Caamora and watching a few parts of “She” (unfortunately, Caamoras works, in general, are hard to come by) I noticed you have an excellent voice. Many, whose only profession is singing, would be envious of your vocal capabilities and voice type. In the future, will you record something where you will continue to show your vocal capabilities?
I hope to sing on the next musical I’m writing and I always find excuses to record vocals, very often backing vocals in the studio for various bands including Dragon Force.
19. What is the main theme of rock opera “She”? Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, any kind of material is hard to come by and I fail to completely understand the story based only on the parts I managed to find.
It would take up too much space here for me to describe the whole story, however, my suggestion is that you check up the synopsis that can be found at www.shethemusical.com
20. With Caamora you are active in Poland. Arena recorded a great DVD live album in Poland. Is Poland a special country considering the atmosphere and the general love towards prog rock expression?
Yes, there’s always a warm welcome for us in Poland. Gigs there can often be very special and we do indeed record our dvds in Katowice. The audience is focused yet enthusiastic.
21. Are Caamora and the rock opera “She” the main reason for Arenas stagnation and are you planning on releasing (Arena) a new album soon?
We have indeed just released The Seventh Degree of Separation. The break Arena took was not just for me. The other guys had projects to pursue as well.
22. Which band is currently your priority: Arena, Shadowland or Caamora/She and from which of them can we expect the next album to come out?
The biggest challenge in terms of writing is Caamora and that is what I shall be working on over the next year with the new musical, ‘Alchemy”.
23. Do you consider Caamora as a band, a project or a theatrical musical group since I noticed there exists Caamora as a band/project and Caamora as a theatrical musical group (Caamora Theatrical Company)?
The Caamora Theatre Company, as it’s now called, was formed to produce my music. It’s a floating entity with a constantly changing personnel.
24. What can you tell me about the musical “Alchemy”?
This is the musical I’m working on at the moment. It will probably take me another year to finish. It’s another Victorian adventure this time set in England, not Africa. I’m hoping it will be bigger and better than anything I’ve written before.
25. This question is of a special interest to me, and I belive to many readers who, just as I, see you as a musical persona and are having a hard time imagining Clive Nolan outside of music 🙂 What is taht Clive Nolan like (hobbys, sports, life philosophy…)?
There isn’t very much Clive Nolan outside of music, since it’s what I do most of the time. Even outside of that the things I do tend to be a part of what becomes my music. For example, I love to read and I love films.
I tend to have a very dark view of life which again comes through in the lyrics and music. So, to understand my music and lyrics is to understand me.
26. Are you happy with your career and would you go through with it again?
I’m always ambitious to do better and to reach further, but I would always be ready to go through it again.
27. Do you have any messages for fans and musicians?
Don’t just like something because everyone else tells you to, like it because you really do!
28. Thank you for your interview and I wish your work to be as genious, creative and progressive as until now.
Thank you very much.