Interview by Stephen Dalton
(1) How were you introduced to Bowie? Was there an audition process or was Tony Visconti's recommendation enough?
RG/ Beggars Opera was regularly in the German charts during the early 70's. David had set up camp in Berlin by the middle of the decade, so when Tony suggested me for the Low album, I dare say I was not totally unknown to him.
(2) Is it true you were initially in line to play on The Idiot? If so, why did that not happen in the end?
RG/ I am not aware of that.
(3) What were your first impressions of Bowie? Did he give you any pointers about what Low would sound like
before the sessions began?
RG/ My first impression of David was that he enjoyed his work. By the time I arrived at the Chateau some of the backtracks had been done.
I presume David and Tony had discussed proposals for the album.
(4) How different were the recording methods between your Beggar's Opera stuff and Low? Is it true that Brian Eno's 'Oblique Strategies' cards were used during the Low sessions? And that you had to do overdubs without knowing the key or melody of certain tracks?
RG/ Beggars Opera did not go into the studio until we were ready to record. Studio time was expensive. So we prepared our music well.
However apart from that, the recording process was very similar, i.e. get a drum sound, a bass sound, guitar and keyboards and record the backtracks with or without a guide vocal, depending on the piece, then overdub vocals and backing vocals and any extras. With David on 'Low' there were no guide vocals that I remember. That was the only difference.
Bear in mind that Low is really two albums. The band did side one.
By the time I had finished adding guitar overdubs and solos etc. the rest of the band had gone home, so I presume that side two was David, Brian and Tony.
I was not introduced to 'Oblique Strategies' in the studio at the 'Low'
sessions. They may have been used on side two and they may have been used at the mixing stage. I do not know.
(5) Carlos Alomar has said in interviews that he clashed with Eno's 'non-musician' methods - did you notice this tension?
RG/ On the 'Low' sessions, Brian did not arrive until near the end of the band's recording phase. There were no noticeable tensions during that time.
(6) Which of your tracks on Low are you most proud of?
Did you have free creative rein, or make suggestions that were incorporated by Bowie, Eno and Visconti?
RG/ People often remark upon the solo in 'Always crashing in the same car'. I had free creative rein. There were no restrictions at all.
(7) The Chateau was reportedly haunted - did you see or feel any evidence? I read that there was also an undercover French journalist on site, a case of food poisoning, and a stormy visit from David's wife Angie
- what do you remember of these incidents?
RG/ I can confirm that Brian had a bad cough from time to time. He was staying in the room that Chopin had used. Chopin died of consumption.
You may make what you like of that! I can confirm that Angela paid us a visit, but I do not discuss the personal lives of friends.
(8 ) I believe you first met Iggy during the Low sessions - what were your initial impressions?
RG/ When I first arrived at the Chateau, I was sitting in the long dining room on my own, having a cup of tea, when a man came in and introduced himself. He put out his hand and said
'Hi, I'm Jim' He was American.
We shook hands. He seemed to know who I was. I had no idea who he was. He then produced a small cassette machine and switched it on.
After about ten seconds he told me it was his new album and asked me if I liked it. I said it sounded very interesting. I could not deliver a dissertation on a ten second hearing. I think it was several days before I realised he was Iggy Pop. My impression was of a very sincere man who said what he thought.
(9) When the Low sessions moved to Hansa in Berlin, were you still involved? What are your memories of Berlin - and that legendary studio? Did you go night clubbing or visit the transvestite cabaret bars?
RG/ I have many memories of Berlin, both with Beggars Opera and with David and Iggy. I suppose I first visited Berlin in 1971. In those days we travelled there by road, a very different matter to flying. West Berlin was an island in the middle of East Germany, which was behind the Iron Curtain. At the West German Border Post, prior to entering East Germany, we ( Beggars Opera) were told to report to the British Army post. There, we were emphatically told that once we crossed the border we were on our own; that there was no diplomatic representation for British subjects in East Germany and that if we fell foul of the law we would have to rely on our own resources. Since I was the leader of the band, that was directed at me. I thanked the officer for his advice and we crossed 'no man's land 'to meet the German Border Post guards. One was immediately aware that a completely different culture prevailed on
this side of the border,
The sense of discretionary power that emanated from these men was palpable. The concept of freedom took on an entirely new reality-all at once. As I gave my passport to the guard, I was tempted to inquire if he thought that the steam roller of time would render the jackboot of tyranny into the moccasin of return. But I did not.
His ears were not programmed to accept this type of utterance.
So we set off up this 100 KM corridor towards the island of West Berlin.
The Autobahn was just as Hitler had built it i.e. it had not had any repairs
carried out. The broken concrete slabs had taken on a tectonic plate-like life of their own and we bounced from slab to slab.
The Autobahn was occasionally crossed by overhead walkways. Here, small numbers of people would gather to watch the affluent West
exercising freedom they could only dream about. Their dress was drab and colourless. They had the demeanour of inmates of some restrictive institution. I felt sorry for them and powerless myself.
Hansa was a spacious studio run by good people.
Large heavy curtains could be positioned to provide differing sound scapes.
Berlin was strange in those days and yes, there were bars as you describe which we did visit on occasion. Berlin itself was a curiosity.
(10) Is it true that tour rehearsals took place in the old UFA film studios with canisters full of rotting celluloid all around? And who called the shots
musically - Bowie, Iggy, Carlos Alomar?
RG/ Indeed, it is true that we rehearsed for Iggy's 1977 tour at the UFA film studio where Jospeh Geobels produced so effectively the nazi propaganda films.
There may have been rotting film. I cannot say.
Firstly, there were no shots to call because we were just rehearsing
previously recorded music.
We learned the parts and progressively tightened them up.
Secondly, Carlos was not present at these rehearsals since he was not on the tour.
We were to reunite after the tour for what was to become the' Lust for Life'album.
(11) What was the atmosphere like on the Iggy tour?
Bowie insisted in the press that he was just one of
the band, but was he like that backstage too? He also
later said "the drug use on that tour was
unbelievable" - is that how you remember it?
RG/ The atmosphere on the tour was excellent. Hunt and Tony Sales were always good fun, as were David and Iggy. Virginia and myself had a most enjoyable time and took the opportunity to have a morning walk in whatever city we happened to be in. Virginia had given up some of her musical work in order to join us on the tour. David dubbed her the 'tour astrologer'. David was indeed one of the band and was good company.
As to the drugs. I do not use drugs at all. If others used them ,they must have been discrete. I enjoy the occasional drink but I would be quite happy if alcohol was returned to it's rightful place in the laboratory.
(12) The British Iggy shows were reportedly full of gobbing punks - is this true? And did it have an effect on your performance?
RG/ This is an exaggeration. Certainly on the opening night, because the gig was a small club , allowing a close proximity with the audience, there were young males behaving as you describe.
I must congratulate Iggy for being a true professional and smiling his way
through that gig.
(13) Recording the Lust For Life album - how different was this in approach to Low? Some biographies suggest Iggy was competing with Bowie to control these sessions, even staying in the studio all night to keep one jump ahead. Was this your impression?
RG/ Preparing and recording the material for the 'Lust for Life' album was a joy and I think this comes through. I joined David and Iggy in David's flat in Berlin and we worked on some songs. I did not notice any competition.
There was lots of co-operation and everything went smoothly. All the people involved were capable of working hard.
(14) How did The Passenger evolve? Did you take the tune to Iggy unsolicited or did he ask for contributions? What, to you, is that song about? Did you know when you wrote it that it would become a rock standard, and inspire so many cover versions? What's
your favourite version?
RG/ One idyllic spring morning I was strolling among the flowers, beside the radiant apple blossoms with my guitar. I was thinking of nothing in particular, just enjoying the scents, the sunshine and the guitar.
As I wandered, my ear caught a chord sequence which I was playing
absent mindedly. I filed the sequence in the back of my mind and carried on with my walk. Later that summer David, Iggy and myself convened at David's flat in Berlin to pool ideas for Iggy's next album. David asked me if I had anything. I did not realise they wanted material so I had nothing prepared. However, I remembered the chord sequence. I played it into Iggy's little cassette machine on my unplugged Strat. He returned the next day with the lyrics complete. That became 'the Passenger'
To me this song is about the junction of classical harmonic structure with
20th Century urban imagery, therefore it forms a bridge between Europe and America. I did not know it would become, as you say, a rock standard, but my wife Virginia did and said so.
Naturally, I am fond of the original. I am equally fond of the versions that Virginia and I have done. The song seems to translate easily into many styles.
We have another version in the pipeline.
(15) You also overdubbed guitar on Heroes for Top Of The Pops in late 1977 - the first time most fans will have heard the song. Where did this session happen? Were you playing to tapes or was there a full band?
Were you trying to mimic Fripp's guitar or aiming for something different?
RG/ We recorded 'Heroes' for Top of the Pops at Good Earth Studios.. Tony's studio in London. There was a full band and it was recorded minus vocals. I was asked to reproduce Robert Fripp's line. I did not realise at the time that he had used an E Bow. I did my best using feed back alone.
As we went through the song, my amplifier started dying. As the song finished , so did the amp.
(16) Were Lust For Life and the Heroes overdubs your last work with Bowie and Iggy? Was there ever any talk of further collaborations or tours?
RG/ Yes, that was my last work with them. I was asked to do the next Iggy tour but I had been on stage from the age of 14 to the age of 30, so I decided that now was the time to have a family and I regarded it as important for my children to know me and for me to know
them. I can not comment on any subsequent talk.
(17) Tell me about your work from the late 70s until now - The Flood, Precious Life, Kumara etc. Which makes you proudest? Would you say your 80s and 90s recordings are influenced by your work with Bowie, Eno
and Iggy? Where can Uncut readers track them down?
RG/ In the late 70's I became interested in meditation and was asked to provide music and produce meditation cassettes by two healers. Both of those ladies subsequently became presidents of the 'World Federation of Healing' This stimulated my interest in long slow pieces of music, which perhaps had found their seed in 'Nimbus' from Beggars Opera 'Waters of Change' album, and which were able to sustain a magnetic attractive quality. Then, of course, the early computers arrived and I became very interested in those. I remember punching in Shostakovich String Quartets etc, years of experimentation, years of study, music, meditation , esoteric psychology. Very interesting.
The works you list emerged as experiments progressed. 'The Flood' as the title suggests is emotional, intense and oceanic. 'Precious Life' is a symphonic work realised on computer, but including the
baritone Delme Bryn Jones and clarinettist Alan Cooper.
Kumara was a collaboration between myself, Virginia Scott and Trevor
Stainsby. By this time the Atari computer and the software for it was quite developed. The work of this period has no connection with the 'rock world'. It has more to do with reflection. Those who may be interested can contact us through the web site .Kumara Confluence is available from Tower Records, HMV, Amazon and CD Now.
However, I think that the most important work is Auschwitz. It's birth seemed significant. I had asked Virginia to record some string tracks. Just strings, nothing else.
I would play along to them while experimenting with new tones.
I would play along, make an adjustment, play, make an adjustment in the
endless hunt for rewarding tones.
One day I was doing just this with a fresh piece I had not heard before.
The tape was rolling. I was listening and yet not listening, wondering which chord would be coming next and when.
After some minutes of his I became aware that even although I did not know what was coming next the notes I was playing seemed to be correct and uncannily in the right place.
I realised something unusual was taking place so I 'stood back' and
'watched' as the piece unfolded. Somewhere towards the middle, I had a sense of people gathering together from all over the world.
There was a tremendous sense of tension and sadness, which I felt and had to carefully control. I maintained this position of 'guardianship' as best I could while my hands unfolded the story. This lasted about 17 minutes at which time a great sense of peace descended upon me.
Some minutes later, when I went downstairs, I heard on the news that people from all over the world were gathering to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz the following day.
I then realised that the piece of music I had just performed must have the
title 'Auschwitz'( Divine Love).
(18) Iggy recently said that you are "raising potatoes in Wales", and that you and your wife send him "giant art projects" when royalty cheques arrive. Is this true?
RG/ It is certainly true that when we first moved to Wales from London, the ground needed clearing and this we did by planting potatoes.
It is also true that I have always taken a great interest in agriculture. I
regard it as a very important human activity.
Virginia is a prolific abstract painter.
So, yes, we do send Iggy 'giant art projects'
(19) You recently revisited and re-recorded The Passenger for an album project. Why? And why now?
RG/ After working intensively with computers , samplers, synths and associated processors for 10 years, I developed a sensitivity to the Electro Magnetic Fields emitted by them. However it was not limited just to them. I became hyper sensitive to microwaves, fluorescent lights, CD players, FM radio, power supplies, diesel engines, mobile phones etc.
The last thing the doctor said to me was that I looked very ill but that
there was nothing they could do for me and she wished me luck.
I could not go anywhere or work.
As time passed I gradually eliminated all the digital equipment and power
supplies from the studio and rewired them 2 storeys below. I could still
use my analogue desk for very short periods and special low pressure monitors were built for me. They are powered by battery.
I could no longer deal with long pieces of music at all... but I was not
prepared to do nothing. So as an experiment I decided to see what I could get down on tape in a five minute period.
These five minute adventures started accumulating. Just guitar chords to
start with. Then I added some bass ,slowly, slowly .Then Virginia wrote
lyrics and melodies and put vocals down. Eventually we ended up with a pile of songs .As chance would have it we had just completed two versions of the Passenger and two of these other 'shorts' before I became electrically sensitive.
So we put them all together on a CD under the banner of the 'Ricky Gardiner Band' The CD is called the 'Passenger'
We are now in the process of completing a second CD. It is ironic that I
can not listen to CD's. It takes a long time since I still cannot work for long and the methods are very limited. However, I am grateful for the little bit that I can do. The web site gives more details about EMF sensitivity and I would advise anyone working intensively in a High Tech environment to listen to their bodies. The medical profession can do nothing for you.
Music is a magic medium. It is a privilege to be able to contribute to it.
(20) How does suffering from Electro Magnetic Hypersensitivity affect your ability to make and perform music? Can you work around it?
RG/ See answer to no 19.