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Anthony Reynolds - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 29 / 4 / 2010

Anthony Reynolds - Interview


In what is our third interview with him John Clarkson speaks to former Jack front man Anthony Reynolds about 'Blues for Bobby Solo', the new EP he has recorded with La Muneca de Sal, and his two recent books on the Walker Brothers and Jeff Buckley and forthcoming one on Leonard Cohen

Anthony Reynolds is of a restless, wandering spirit. When Pennyblackmusic first spoke to the Welsh singer-songwriter in 2002 at the time of his band Jack’s third and last album, ‘The End of the Way It Has Always Been’, Reynolds, after spending some years living in Dalston in East London, had recently moved with a long-term girlfriend to a rural village in Shropshire. It was to be another five years before Pennyblackmusic would speak to him again at the end of 2007 to coincide with the release of ‘British Ballads’, his first album under his full name and what Reynolds, who had released other records in between under the monikers of Jacques and Anthony, would describe as his “final debut album.” With his relationship having come to an end, Reynolds had moved on again, back to his native Cardiff after an absence of thirteen years. Reynolds has just released on Chaffinch Records, a small Lanarkshire label, a new six track vinyl and download only EP, ‘Blues for Bobby Solo’, which was recorded with a Spanish group La Muneca de Sal. 2010 finds him shifting parameters again and having recently returned to the UK after spending a tortured year living in Spain. A similar sense of changefulness embeds Anthony Reynolds’ musical work. Jack’s trio of albums-‘Pioneer Soundtracks’(Too Pure, 1996), ‘The Jazz Age’ (Too Pure, 1998) and ‘The End of the Way It Has Always Been’(Les Disques du Crepuscule, 2002), were orchestral, epic-sounding works that merged Reynolds’ velvet-throated narratives of drunken hedonism and unfulfilled lust with lavish string and keyboard arrangements. Always a cult act, Jack attracted a small, but die-hard audience. Yet, despite being involved with relatively high profile labels, they never made the breakthrough into the mainstream. Even before Jack’s break-up after an extensive European tour at the end of 2002, Reynolds had formed Jacques, a solo project. Jacques’ records were sparser in sound and more indie pop-oriented. There were two albums, ‘How to Make Love Part 1’ (Setanta, 1997) and ’To Stars’ (Setanta, 2000), and two EPs, ‘Roses for Ashes’ (Acuarela, 2001) and ‘Romantic’ (Acuarela, 2002), after which Reynolds decided to retire the moniker. Anthony’s only release, the barely heard ‘Neu York’ album (Secret Crush Records, 2004), which was released on an American fan’s obscure label, was even more lo-fi and low-key. ‘British Ballads’ (Hungry Hill ,2007) , however, despite being recorded on a similar shoestring, was a return to the orchestrations of Jack. The most autobiographical of all Anthony Reynolds’ work, it told with aching introspection and also surprising euphoria of Reynolds’ and his former girlfriend’s decade-long love affair and featured appearances from Vashti Bunyan and Dot Allison on vocals, former Cocteau Twins member Simon Raymonde on guitar and the Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook on drums. ‘Blues for Bobby Solo’ again finds Reynolds taking a different direction. It maintains much of the beauty that has been a predominant factor in all of his music, but, featuring echoing soundscapes, grinding guitars and brazen vocals, is blunter and harsher-edged than a lot of his other work. Its six tracks include two instrumentals, the self-loathing ‘Be My Next Ex-Girlfriend’ and a cover of Black’s 1987 classic single, ‘Wonderful Life’. He has been busy too in other ways in the two and a half years since Pennyblackmusic last spoke to him . Always a writer as well as a musician and the author of two poetry collections, ‘These Roses Taste Like Ashes’ and ‘Calling All Demons’, his long-delayed biography on the Walker Brothers, ‘The Impossible Dream: The Story of the Walker Brothers’ (Jawbone Publishing), finally saw publication in August of last year. At almost the same time, a second biography, ‘Jeff Buckley: Mystery White Boy’ (Plexus), was also published. A third music biography, ‘The Remarkable Life of Leonard Cohen’ (Omnibus press), is due out in October. Anthony Reynolds is presently working on both an album and musical about Freud with folk musician Charlotte Greig. He will be releasing an album too with La Muneca de Sal later this year and has also been recording songs for a soundtrack for a short film for Welsh director Cathy Boyce. Pennyblackmusic spoke to him about the creative, but also turbulent last few years. PB: The last time Pennyblackmusic spoke to you at the time of ‘British Ballads’ you described that album as your “final debut album”. You also said that you “wanted to stop making music for a few years now” because you wanted to see if you were just getting into the habit of making music. You seem two and a half years on, however, to be making as much music as ever. What has brought about this change of heart? AR: I am doing a lot of music, aren’t I? I am not as possessed though by music as I once was as I am now doing so many other things in addition to it. All that I previously did was music. It was the whole content of my life. I don’t know if anyone can choose what their plans are going to be really. You can’t stop overnight your feeling for music. I think what I meant thinking back on it was that I didn’t want to go through all the palaver of trying to find money to make music. Releasing and marketing music is a very different matter to actually making it. PB: Jack’s records came out on established labels such as Too Pure and Les Disques du Crepuscule. Your most recent releases have, however, been on less well known labels. Are you happy with that and doing things on a more casual level? AR: I have never really subscribed to the idea of happiness. It is always fleeting. PB: Would content be a better word? AR: Being content is something that frightens me really. The idea of being content or being happy doesn’t really concern me. It is odd. I lived in Spain until recently. I came back in October. I lived there for a year. One of the good things about going to another country is that you can tell all your old jokes again because no one knows them (Laughs). People sometimes ask...they seem almost duty bound to ask, “Are you not disappointed with the way things have turned out for you?” They might have seen me in a concert about ten years ago or something like that and in Spain especially - I don’t know why - they thought that I deserved more of a result with things and with Jack in particular. They could not believe that I had been unsuccessful, so that made me think about why I make music and I realised I just love the process of making it really. I was probably a bit of a freak in that I have never looked at chart placings, as I am sure, say, Phil Spector would. It has never been a business for me. I remember playing concerts and looking at the audience sometimes and thinking, “I don’t know why you are here. I don’t know what you want.” In opposition to many people that I know, I love entertainers. Robbie Williams, say, is a great entertainer. Sammy Davis Jr was a great entertainer. Elvis Presley was, but I never been given any affirmation really that I was that. If I had been given five hundred grand to make an album or if I had been given a grand, I think that I would have found myself almost exactly as where I am. PB: The last time we spoke you said that you didn’t want to play live anymore because you wanted to make music which is beautiful and you couldn’t do that without finance. To take you up on this point of how you like the process of making music, is creating something that you see as beautiful the most important thing for you? AR: I wouldn’t say that was the only criteria. There is a beauty in a kind of ugliness too. On the last Jack album, ‘The End of the Way It Has Always Been’, I wanted to get an ugly language across, ugly like Ted Hughes’ The Crow’, which is not superficially or aesthetically beautifully, but cosmetically it is kind of pleasing. I have got a fetish for beauty certainly. In terms of playing live if I was like John Martyn and I was brilliant at playing live and even if I wasn’t and people were paying me like a grand a gig, I would probably do it on my own. I felt that the only thing that I had to offer in the live context was with a group. I think that me just playing the guitar is not much cop really, but me playing with a good group that was more acceptable. PB: You do actually still play the occasional gig though. You’re playing one in Glasgow shortly. AR: That is partly down to Charlotte Greig. I have been collaborating with her for a few years now. We have just started this project on Freud which I have been blown away by. In all my musical experiences, which is quite extreme, which goes from singing with the Moscow Philharmonic to recording a B side in a bedsit room, this is the one of the most emotively powerful experiences of my life. I have got a secondary role on it. I write the music and play piano and sing, but Charlotte has written all the lyrics. We have been writing the album by improvising and the first track that we did was the first time that I had ever played the keyboard and recorded it. When Charlotte started singing it, she started crying. Her whole face was just totally wet. It was literally like witnessing a shamanistic event. It was so powerful and it was so pure. We have recorded about half of the album in Charlotte’s own home studio and in the summer we are going to take those tracks to Italy because I know a wonderful arranger there. He is going to be doing arrangements for strings for them. It is going to be a theatrical production as well. ‘Freud the Musical’ (Laughs). I want to take it further and Charlotte wants to play live. I will be playing some of my solo and Jack stuff at the Glasgow gig, but Charlotte is going to be there too and we are going to be doing some of the Freud stuff too. We are rehearsing twice a week at the moment because we are also doing the Laugharne Weekend festival in Wales too. We are doing a set of stripped down versions of the songs on the Freud record just for our own pleasure. To go back to the original question though, when we talk about playing live my idea of playing live was the last Jack tour. That was my ideal setting with the band. It cost a lot to do, so I won’t do that kind of performance again. I will still be appearing and playing music. It just won’t be as the singer of a group again. Another thing about this project is that after ‘British Ballads’ I decided that I didn’t want to sing any more romantic songs. Neither does Charlotte. It is one of the many things that we have got in common. She didn’t want to write about such stuff either. PB: Yet your new EP, ‘Blues for Bobby Solo’, includes a cover of Black’s ‘Wonderful Life’ which is one of the great songs about love having not worked out. Surely that is a romantic song. AR: It is romantic. Yeah. What I meant by romantic was in-love romantic. I don’t think of ‘Wonderful Life’- and I do love it- about being about a man and a woman especially. Everyone has their own interpretation of course and I know that Colin Vearncombe wrote it after breaking up with his wife, but I have always interpreted that song as much as anything about being alienated and being alone maybe. . PB: Would you say the same thing then about ‘Be My Next Ex-Girlfriend’ from the same EP? AR: Yes. It is an anti-romantic song which is still romantic in fact(Laughs). PB: Who are La Muneca de Sal? AR: They have been going for years. One of the particularly pleasant things that has resulted from e-mail is that I get to hear sometimes from musicians from all over the world who were Jack fans. It is quite touching actually because it makes you realise how relative things are actually. It is weird to think that people saw you when they were nineteen and are now in their late thirties and still remember you. This was a group that had actually seen Jack in Valencia where they are based and they asked me to collaborate basically. On that basis I didn’t know what else to do other than to agree (Laughs). It meant a lot really that they remembered Jack. PB: You are doing an LP with them now. Has it been recorded? AR: It is called ‘’Collapse Under the Empire’. The basic tracks have. Most of the rhythm tracks and also the guitars have been recorded, but I want to re-record the vocals and the strings, so when I go to Italy I am going to be hanging that off with the Freud sessions. PB: Who is Bobby Solo? AR: Right, well, Bobby Solo (Laughs). I had a weird time in Spain. My grasp of Spanish when I left and before I went there was non-existent. I didn’t speak a word. It was a crazy thing for me to do. I had become a baby to live with and I had developed a big drug habit. It was for the most expensive drug habit that you could have, so I decided to move abroad and to not speak the language (Laughs). I guess that I did it as a kind of test really. The consequence of not speaking the language, and living on the edge of my nerves, was that it was very hard to relate to people in a big way. A lot of people there were so wonderfully supportive and all spoke English to me. There is only so much that anyone can give though and then when the people I was living with went on holiday I was left alone in this enormous flat, this big kind of cheap xanadu-like place. Along with my coke habit, I spent a lot of time strung out and alone and I would at random buy film posters. I love original one sheet posters, and I bought one of Bobby Solo. He was an Italian film star, a B movie film star and I remember it became a focus for me. I would go for two weeks without speaking to one person, which was a surreal experience at the best of times, but especially when you are high and not sleeping and drinking too much. I would speak to friends on the phone in Britain, but even then my phone was getting fucked up. I didn’t have a land line and no internet and looking at this Bobby Solo poster with him on the beach in this 60s movie I started to think that I was the guy on the poster (Laughs). Bobby Solo, what a beautiful moniker that is! I felt sorry for myself, so it was about me that I guess. PB: Yet despite these problems you have managed to produce not one but two books basically. AR: Well, they came out during the last year. The Walker Brothers book was actually written a while ago, but its publication was delayed. People do, however, seem to be impressed by my range of work and the rate of it if not the quality (Laughs). I can’t help but feel though that sometimes it is just a cover story. I am not really tackling the real work. What the real work is I am not even really sure. While I have never done anything just for financial reasons, I feel disabled in some ways socially and I don’t feel like that I could ever do an office job, so out of necessity because my work is not always very successful I guess that I have to do a lot. PB: One of the impressive things about ‘The Impossible Dream’ was that it was a biography about the Walker Brothers rather than just about Scott Walker as other books have been in the past. Was that a criteria that you set out for yourself? AR: Absolutely. I grew up hearing their music and it was like furniture in my house because of my mother was a massive Walker Brothers fan. When it came to writing a book about them, no one had actually had written about how those amazing records were actually physically made which is what I also did. There was all this crap instead about Scott Walker, the great reclusive. He is not a recluse. He just doesn’t crawl to publicity. He is no more of a recluse than you are or his postman is. I thought was a negative thing to keep focusing on. When it came to writing my book I realised that part of that is laziness. There is no research in those kinds of books. When you’re writing about a myth, you can just wank off the pages. They were also most definitely a group. Scott would have never been able to achieve what the Walker Brothers did on his own as he was never extrovert and my book focuses on that too. PB: For obvious reasons you didn’t interview Scott. While you did interview some of the musicians and people that had worked with them, you didn’t interview the other Walker Brothers, John and Gary, either. Do you think that was something that in some ways enhanced the book rather than being something that was detrimental? AR: It is a very strange thing because I did a lot of promo for that book and for the radio especially and one of the first questions these provincial DJs would ask was “How could you possibly write a book without speaking to any of the people?” I considered how many books that I have read on Caruso or Mario Lanza or Truman Capote or Elvis or Hitler or Mussolini. There are some beautiful books that I have read about all of them and they are of course all dead. You absolutely do not need to speak to the subjects whatsoever. It is nonsense. It is a child like attitude. The other thing is these guys gave so many interviews. There is little else that they could possibly say on the subject. Another of my criteria for writing the book was that I wanted to write a book that didn’t infringe on my morals. I didn’t want to write about Scott’s marriage. I didn’t want to write about people’s sex lives and such like. You don’t have to write about that. You can write a book that you feel comfortable with and I didn’t want to go in that direction either. It is an interesting point though that you have made. I did actually approach the two other guys. You’re right. I didn’t even bother with Scott. I know that he will speak about the past if it is in conjunction with new work. The other guys were, however, about to publish a book of their own and weren’t interested. They were quite snooty in fact about it. I don’t know if it did enhance the book . I don’t think that it actually made any difference really. I would be amazed if anyone could write a better book about the Walker Brothers. PB: What was the appeal to you of Jeff Buckley? Why did you write a book about him? AR: The Walker Brothers book was stuck in my hard drive because ,God bless him, my original publisher, Sean Body at Helter Skelter, was very ill with leukemia and has since passed on. I was pitching books to various publishers and one of them was Plexus. I had an e-mail relationship with the editor there and she didn’t want to go with any of my ideas. Now I would never write a book about anybody if I wasn’t interested, but I thought that Jeff Buckley was cool and he intrigued me and it basically paid my rent for a year, so I agreed to do it. It is not like I have got loads of savings. I tend to go from project to project, but I thought he was an interesting guy. I like his father’s music very much, but I had never really listened to him. As I researched the book, I fell in love him during the process of the book though. He was a very evolved, special individual. I was quite surprised at how much I liked him because he is so fashionable in a way. PB: You have also got a biography of Leonard Cohen coming out in October. What direction will that be taking? AR: My take there was to actually get into the making of the records again which was once more something that had never been done. It is all “Oh, Leonard, the suffering poet” which is cobblers. It was something that I wanted to read about, so that is my angle with Leonard really, the bread and the butter, the making of the work without which there would be no Leonard Cohen as such. PB: Last two questions You have been working on a score for a film by Cathy Boyce. What is this film? AR: Well, Cathy is really interesting. She is the daughter of Max Boyce and again she was a fan of my music from way back and I met her though a mutual friend by chance. She is based in Cardiff and she has made a few short films. I had never understood the meaning of short films. To me a short film was something that came on before the main feature when I was a kid (Laughs), but she has educated me. It is a whole different thing. It is not just the stepping stone to mainstream films and is an art form in itself. She came to Spain and she said that she loved my early work which a lot of British fans do (Laughs). You feel like Woody Allen when people say that to you. “I love your early work. I love your funny films. Why don’t you make more of those comedies?” In my case though it is, ”Why can’t we have more strings?” We got on great though. She didn’t want a score. She wanted songs, so I just recorded two songs for it in London the other week. The film is going to be called ‘The Red and Green’ and she has just started filming it. PB: Do you see yourself primarily as a musician or a music writer these days or, taking into account the fact that you have written poetry and other things as well, do you see them as inter changeable? AR: Do you know I have never ever seen myself as a musician? Never. I only ever learnt guitar and piano as far as I was able to write songs on them. I never learnt scales. I was never wigging out doing solo stuff. I love it when people do, but I can’t. I can play drums pretty well. I was a drummer for years, but I never aspired to be a musician. I didn’t even think of myself as a singer until I was paid to sing at two Syd Barrett tribute concerts in Italy last year. I don’t really think of myself as anything to be honest. I have enough problems and issues as we all have, just getting on trying to make the most of a day, and so it is just something that doesn’t really concern me or. Everyone lives their life to their own perspective. People’s perceptions of me, outside the very few people that I know, have never really mattered to me. I am just really what I am. PB: Thank you.

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Anthony Reynolds - Interview

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Interview Part 1 (2011)
Anthony Reynolds - Interview Part 1
In the first part of a two part interview, Pennyblackmusic Bands Night headliner Anthony Reynolds, who will be releasing a double CD retrospective 'Life's Too Long' in April, chats to John Clarkson about his former band Jack's first two albums, 'Pioneer Soundtracks' and 'The Jazz Age'
Interview Part 2 (2011)
Interview (2007)


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