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Moscow Circus - Interview

  by Dave Goodwin

published: 22 / 12 / 2016

Moscow Circus - Interview


Dave Goodwin talks to Moscow Circus front man Jonathan Beckett about Casio keyboards, his mum and their new album 'Resounding'

I had arrived at the Hockley Arts Club early so was able to get a good look at this very popular bar in the centre of the Hockley district of Nottingham. It’s actually up a little sidewalk and if you didn't know it was there then you would surely miss it. When my drinking partner arrives he quickly sheds his coat and tucks into a beer. Jonathan Beckett is also a resident of this fair city and is also singer/songwriter with 80's indie-rock outfit Moscow Circus. My initial greetings find him to be a quiet but very eloquently spoken fellow with a slightly nervous demeanour. We chuckle like a pair of schoolboys as he puts down a rather heavy bag full of vinyl goodies. I started by asking him how he ventured into the world of music. JB: I didn't pursue music at school, really, as a kid. It sort of came later when I started to write songs for myself at home. I'm self-taught really and it was just something I started doing, the classic bashing around on pots and pans to make a bit of a din! That was when I was around nine or ten and I started buying records. My mum and dad didn't even have a record player. Luckily my uncle was getting rid of his old music centre to upgrade to a new stacking system. It was one of those wooden surrounded things but it had a great pair of speakers in it. PB: Mum and dad weren't particularly musical, then? JB: My mum was actually. She and her two sisters sang as a group called the Callaghan Sisters, sort of like the Beverley Sisters, a 1950's harmony trio thing. There's no surviving recordings of them but legend has it that they were really very good. They would sing locally on local radio and such but also they would go down to London on a regular basis as a sort of semi-professional outfit. They sang with Harry Roy and the Joe Loss Orchestra who were the big bands of the day in places like the Copacabana Club. It's a good bit of family history which I'm quite proud of really. Strangely though I was never encouraged to take up music myself or play an instrument so it must have just filtered down in an unconscious way somehow. PB: What did you start playing? JB: Well, my mum and dad borrowed a little electronic keyboard from a neighbour once to see if I liked it. It was a Casio MT40 keyboard. You know the sort with the dozen or so preset sounds on it and a few preset drum patterns too. PB: I had one too! It had about six different drum sounds on it like a bossa nova beat. JB That's it! I remember trying to get some beats off of it but it was quite incongruous and ill-fitting. For a few moments the two of us break in to imitations of that very early drum sound, sounding like a Nottingham cross between Kraftwerk and The Flying Pickets. PB: So you started with keyboards? JB: Yeah, and for my thirteenth birthday, my parents bought me my own keyboard, the same model as the one I had borrowed. I was incredibly keen to start making my own multi-track recordings, but this was before the days of easily affordable multi-track equipment. I got round this by using two old tape recorders to make multi-track recordings by recording a part, then pressing play and playing a second line, while recording both parts to the other tape recorder. Although there was naturally some depreciation in quality, I found that by using this method that I could make reasonable quality multi-track recordings. It was good enough for me to make my own little cassette albums anyway. PB: I know you also play guitar, so when did that kick in? JB: I carried on writing songs on the keyboard until I was seventeen, when I borrowed an electric guitar off a friend, and taught myself some basic chords. I then started writing songs on both keyboard and guitar, and in 1987 I formed my first band, Great Big Word. I had already played in a covers band called Out Of Order alongside Great Big Word’s drummer Tom Parratt, but this was our first time playing original songs together. After Great Big Word split in late 1987, Tom and I formed Critical Hippo with our friend Pete Temperton on bass. Changing our name to Moscow Circus, then Stigmata, we gigged around the Nottingham area before splitting up in 1989. We reformed in late 1990 with another friend Martin Haddelsey on keyboards, and we did a few more gigs before splitting again in 1991. PB: When you were in Out of Order what covers did you used to play? JB: Through 1986 we played some of the pop rock stuff of the day, some Bowie, like Ziggy and ‘Rebel Rebel’, and I managed to slip in some of the synth things that were going off at the time like OMD. In fact the first album I ever bought was ‘Organisation’ by OMD. I started buying records in 1981 and had to work my way back to discover the first album. PB: Did you learn any covers when you first started making music? JB: I recorded a cover of New Order's first single 'Ceremony' in 1983, when I was 14 years old. I also covered the Joy Division song 'New Dawn Fades'. I loved Joy Division and New Order, after first hearing them on the John Peel show. 'Procession' was another fantastic early New Order single, although I didn't cover that one. Jonathan makes a sound imitating the start to the track and as he does without thought I come in with the bassline. Jonathan then moves in quick with the infectious ‘Procession’ drumbeat tapping his fingers on the table as drumsticks and it was then as we were smiling at each other and getting louder by the second that we realised we were not the only people in the small room. JB: I had a solo EP 'She's a Vampire' out on 2010 on a label called Occultation Recordings which was the same label that the Wild Swans are on. I know the Wild Swans' frontman Paul Simpson and he was able to introduce me to the label owner Nick Halliwell. As the Wild Swans were part of that scene from Liverpool, Paul played 'She's a Vampire'to Will Sergeant from Echo & The Bunnymen. He really liked it and I was really made up about it. I have always liked the Bunnymen and to get some recognition from one of them all these years later was amazing. Things like that don't happen very often. Not to me, anyway! PB: What made you reform Moscow Circus? JB: Well, we got back together in 2008, and it was because two of us were 40 and we thought we would do something for it. Have a party, you know? I'd done stuff with the other lads in the past and we decided to do it and we played a few sessions rehearsal wise and we really enjoyed it so we did a few gigs and enjoyed that too. We did a well-received gig at Junktion 7 in Nottingham and it went beyond just being a thing for us. PB: Are you all actively writing together? JB: Not as a band, no. I do a lot of stuff in my own name, solo stuff. We just find it so hard logistically to get together. We did a few shows to promote the album. We played some gigs in Nottingham and Cambridge. When we do meet up we concentrate on rehearsal. PB: And what of the album? How did that come about? JB: We decided to record the album at Hypermonosonic Recordings in Nottingham, with Tiago Queiroz from Nottingham’s excellent Thee Eviltones as our producer. We chose Tiago to work with because we liked the guitar tones on Thee Eviltones record, and Tiago proved to be a very nice, enthusiastic guy who liked and understood our post-punk influences. Although the basic tracks were recorded quickly, the process of adding overdubs and mixing the record was a protracted affair, as it was difficult to get studio time for one reason or another. But by early 2014, the album was finally mixed and mastered. Then there was another lengthy delay as we scrapped one lot of artwork and started again from scratch. Finally, with some great cover art and a superb-sounding record, we were all set to release our debut album, some wenty-eight years after playing our first gig together. PB: Wow. That's got to be some sort of record, surely? JB: Quite possibly. The last hurdle was figuring out how to release it. I had finally had my first solo release with 'She's a Vampire' in 2010, and I was aware that having the backing of a label would help us to sell more records. Unfortunately, all the avenues we explored in this direction turned out to be dead ends. So, in 2015, we decided to set up our own label, Echolocation Records. With this in place, we released our debut album ‘Resounding’ on May 27, 2016. PB: What’s the future for Moscow Circus? JB: We have no immediate plans to record a follow-up album, but we have recorded three non-album tracks, which we may release as an EP in 2017. And we also plan to continue playing live together for the foreseeable future. PB: Thank you.

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Moscow Circus - Interview

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Resounding (2016)
Excellent debut album from reformed Nottingham-based post-punk Moscow Circus, which consists of material written almost thirty years ago

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