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Dodson and Fogg - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 14 / 11 / 2014

Dodson and Fogg - Interview


Malcom Carter talks to singer-songriter and author Chris Wade about his 60's-influenced band Dodson and Fogg's sixth album and new concept record, 'In a Strange Slumber', which features a guest appearance from 'The Young Ones' actor, Nigel Planer

It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise really when Chris Wade announced that there was another album, the sixth, completed and ready for release last month under his Dodson & Fogg project. It was, after all, as long ago as early summer when ‘After the Fall’, the latest Dodson & Fogg album, appeared along with a further album from Chris and his brother Andy under the title Rexford Bedlo. In Chris Wade’s world six albums in two years without the slightest drop in quality seems to be normal. Chris Wade is not only arguably the most prolific songwriter of our time (and a multi-instrumentalist who one day will be recognised for the guitar genius he is), but he also runs one of the most amusing and interesting web sites too. Check out http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com and be prepared to spend more than a few minutes there. Wade’s take on folk prog with more than a dash of psychedelia mixed in has always been fascinating right from the debut self-titled Dodson & Fogg album back in 2012, and, although ‘In a Strange Slumber’ is his sixth album now in twenty-four short months (not counting those side projects Wade has been involved in) the ideas are still coming and Wade is keeping his sound fresh while never losing sight of his influences. With every release, Wade takes his music just that little stage further. Recent releases have seen Ricky Romain’s sitar adding yet more texture to Wade’s music. Scarlet Rivera’s gypsy violin made an appearance on the last album, and now ‘In a Strange Slumber’ finds actor Nigel Planer adding two monologues between songs. While it might initially seem that Planer’s distinctive voice reading what can only be described as a couple of surreal short stories mixed in with songs that are centred around the concept of dreams and death would disrupt the flow of the album, it was an inspired move by Wade to add not just the stories but to choose Planer to carry out the task. While Wade has yet to disappoint with any of his albums, ‘In a Strange Slumber’ feels like his most complete work to date. Every album yet to bear Wade’s name has been a complete work in itself. It’s been almost impossible to just dip in and out of them; once the songs start unfolding you’re compelled to hear the whole album in one sitting. Even so, maybe because Wade approached his latest work as a concept album it demands even more to be enjoyed as a whole. That’s not to say that the songs can’t be appreciated separately because they can, but when taken as a complete piece of work the innovation and charm in this latest collection of songs really shines through. Chris kindly gave up some of his time to answer a few more questions from Pennyblackmusic mainly about ‘In a Strange Slumber’; as usual his answers make for fascinating reading. PB: You’ve bravely labelled ‘In a Strange Slumber’ a concept album, and while there is a common thread running through the songs all of the Dodson & Fogg albums to date have sounded like ‘albums’ rather than a few songs put together on one disc. So were all the songs on ‘In a Strange Slumber’ written especially for this record? CW: They were all for this album. Yeah, they started coming out just after I released 'After the Fall'. I only finished the whole of this new album the week before it came out, so this one took the longest to finish. It was great fun putting it together and listening back to it. I suppose it sounds a bit different to the others, but I like to think they all have a theme like you say. But the idea didn't come out until I had three or four tracks and then I thought it was a nice way to tie ideas together I had wanted to do before, but thought they might sound a bit out of place. Really though it was just the same type of process. A song would come up, and I'd just look at my instruments and see which I fancied playing. It was really fun to do. PB: What initially gave you the idea for a whole album based around the concept of dreams and death? CW: Well, people had been dying, relatives, people I used to know, people I worked with, and it kind of felt a bit odd at the time. It got me thinking about the link between death and sleep, and I liked it being called a strange slumber. All this sounds really pretentious but really I was just interested in dreams, where our mind drifts off to and maybe is it a similar place our mind might drift off to when we die? Maybe I am talking nonsense, but that's what thoughts I had in my head. Could be the upcoming 30th birthday making me think of mortality. Ha, ha. PB: Were the two short stories on ‘In a Strange Slumber’ written especially for this project? CW: One had been partly written for another short story, 'Clunes the Gravedigger', but I abandoned that particular story and liked this part and always wanted to use it. So, when I thought of having the stories, I rewrote it and added bits to it. 'Entrepreneur in the Garden' was already written in mind to go on this album. I don't know where the idea came from really. I just always liked stories mixed with music. PB: We only had to listen to those monologues by Nigel Planer once to realise that no one else could have carried out that task as well as Nigel has. While they are fascinating pieces of writing anyway Nigel’s delivery is perfect and he makes them an essential part of the album. Did you have anyone else in mind for the job if Nigel had declined? CW: No. Actually I thought of Nigel right away. If I had done it myself it would have been crap, my muffled Yorkshire mumble. I have always loved Nigel's range of characters, from his mad comedies like 'The Young Ones' to his more serious 'Comic Strip' pieces. There is one character of his I love in particular in a 'Comic Strip' episode called Beat Generation, where he's the writer's agent, very laid back, quiet, but weird as well. He did a guy in one called episode called 'Spaghetti Hoops' and he kind of disappeared into the role. He is so good, especially his audiobook readings. I heard him do a 'Discworld' audiobook and thought it sounded great, so I got in touch, passed some music along from other albums and he was up for it. We met up in London, the same studio I did my audiobook with Rik Mayall a few years ago, and had a bit of a chat, and he gave me some options for voices and tones and things, and it was that simple. Such a great actor and nice fellow. PB: What was the idea behind having the pops and crackles in those two short stories? CW: That came from the idea that you might wake up in the night and to get off back to sleep you put on a record. Bedtime story type thing. It was just this thought I had, like an old fashioned tale to calm you back down. I thought the crackling just gave it that old vinyl feel. I'm glad you say it works though because in my head it works, but you never know if other people are going to think it's daft. PB: In your sleeve notes you write that there’s no doubt that the sound on ‘In a Strange Slumber’ is a departure from that on the earlier Dodson & Fogg albums. In which way would you say it differs? CW: I'm not sure really. Listening back again I think it kind of sounds the same actually. Maybe some of the heavier stuff near the end, but then again there were heavy tracks on the other albums too, so best ignore me on that one. I was talking nonsense. Ha, ha. PB: Would you agree though that there is a particular Dodson & Fogg sound? I felt instantly, even more so than on the earlier albums, that there was no doubt I was listening to Dodson & Fogg when I first heard ‘In a Strange Slumber’. CW: Really? That's great to hear. I hope there's a sound, like a feel or something. I like to make things varied and colourful but hope too that there's a style to it all. Kevin Scott, who plays piano on the album and co-wrote the last track with me, said I played unusual chords. I think that was the way he said it. So, maybe being self taught gives you more of your own style or something, as you were never taught anything and you pick it up from all sorts of places. Maybe that makes you have your own style. I don't read or write music down. It's all sounds to me. PB: You also write in the sleeve notes that you’re hoping "to think of something else fresh for the next go." Does this mean that you’re going to abandon the Dodson & Fogg project or just hopefully take it in another direction? CW: I was going to stop it for a while and focus on writing again and do some other music collaborations, but I have already changed my mind. I have been working on a film script, got some audiobook comedies to finish and I've already recorded some songs for a future Dodson & Fogg album. Only difference is I don't think it will be in six months time, maybe a bit later. I don't think I can stop Dodson & Fogg. It pulls me back in to the swamp. Don't even know what that means but it sounded good. PB: After six albums as Dodson & Fogg in such a short space of time, there’s a feeling that you’ve come full circle with this latest album. There’s almost a feeling that this is the album that you’ve been aiming for, and now it’s completed it’s time for you to maybe close the door gently. Not lock it, just close it for a while. Have you accomplished what you set out to do with Dodson & Fogg? CW: It's weird because I never set out to do anything, I just kind of do things and finish them and then do something else straight away. With Dodson & Fogg it started as a bit of fun doing acoustic demos. Then it built into getting more interested in production and different sounds being explored. Curiosity really, seeing if I could pick up some violin, play flute a bit, learning as I went along. For the next one I want to bring it back to acoustic guitars, maybe some flute and mandolin too. The ones I have done so far were really natural, they kind of just came out really quick and I haven't put loads of stuff on to them, so looks like it might be a bit like the first album I did, in its mood at least. See how it goes though. It might turn into an epic erotic space prog musical about a falcon. PB: Even after glowing reviews for all the Dodson & Fogg albums you still seem to be modest about your talents, especially your skill on the guitar, and going back to your sleeve notes again you write that you feel your music isn’t popular enough to be considered fashionable or cool. Do you not feel that you are creating music that, while satisfying the needs of an older generation, is also reaching out to and inspiring all age groups? CW: People who buy the albums and share them online on forums and things like that, or get in touch to say they enjoyed it they seem to be of all ages and of both sexes, so that's great. Even if they're not buying it, they're hearing it on Spotify, enjoying it, spreading it around. That's all you can want as a musician, for people to hear it and enjoy it hopefully. Sales are the second thing of interest, for me anyway. I'm still obscure really, but I like it that way; make enough to get by, spend time at home with family, post CDs out, see nice reviews online. For websites like this one to actually take the music seriously and give it some time, it is very rewarding. Don't really need much more than that, do you? So much of the music scene is a middle class thing really, kids who've had money to fall back on and been in a position to take the risk. I like the fact you can do creative things yourself if you work at it, make it like a 9 to 5 job, invest in your own projects rather than have an advance or funding. I've gone off topic now but you know what I mean. PB: Do you have a favourite track on ‘In a Strange Slumber’? One that means more to you personally for whatever reason than the others? CW: I like 'I'm Coming Back' because 1. it has Celia Humphris doing some gorgeous vocals on it, and I am still in awe when she sends vocal tracks over. I still haven't got used to that yet! She was in Trees for god's sake. 2. I don't know why I am numbering things here but I'll carry on... 2, it makes me think of my family. But I also love what Kevin Scott and I did together on 'A Sweet and Strange Surprise'. That's a song I am proud of. He's definitely a guy who will be on board in the future. He arranged the strings for two tracks as well, and is a very clever chap. PB: If there was one thing missing from your earlier albums it was the sound of the sitar. Your songs called out for it in a way, so you can imagine my delight when Ricky Romain lent his talents to your last album. The two instrumentals on ‘In a Strange Slumber’ that feature Romain and his sitar are standouts (No, nothing to do with the absence of your vocals!). Have you any plans for a totally instrumental album sometime in the future? CW: Yeah I'd love to do that, I find instrumentals really fun. I always want to have more of them, but I end up writing lyrics because I sometimes think I am being lazy if I just stick to instrumentals. I love Ricky's playing, he is amazing. The stuff he does on' Never Be Alone' sends shivers up my spine. Plus he's a great artist too. His work should be checked out. PB: Are you planning any live gigs? I’m sure you get asked this all the time and I guess that the answer could be that you’d have to assemble a pretty diverse bunch of musicians to do the songs justice in a live setting. CW: Yeah, I would like to one day, but maybe just do some solo acoustic shows. Imagine carting a ten piece band around the country, sleeping in hedges, transporting the gear in wheel barrows and standing with the birds to get fed bread and chips, to keep the costs down. It would be ace to do it, but probably not realistic for my audience size. So maybe solo gigs, with songs converted to a solo performance, maybe using my electric guitar too. I'll do it one day I'm sure. PB: Even if ‘In A Strange Slumber’ is the last we are going to hear from Dodson & Fogg for the foreseeable future, can you confirm that Chris Wade isn’t going to slow down too much musically and that his many fans will hear more soon? CW: I was going to stop it for a while but I came up with more ideas, and I love the fact that Dodson & Fogg can have anyone on it and go anywhere I want it to go. The fact that people enjoy it too makes it even more tempting. It's so much fun. I think the people who listen to it accept that it changes styles and has varied people on it, so it's a perfect outlet really. There will definitely be another one next year. I'm not sure why I was going to abandon it for a while, but whatever reason I had is gone now. PB: Thank you.

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