It was a very hot Saturday the day of IQ’s 30th anniversary gig at the The Assembly in Leamington Spa. I and big prog Al had traveled down from Teesside arriving early so that we could interview the band prior to them taking to the stage. As we were ushered through the waiting crowd at the box office into the main hall we witnessed the attention to detail and degree of involvement that the band have as well as their crew in the preparation for such a performance. At this stage the band were in different locations and had to be rounded up by Neil Durant.
After placing his order for a Margarita pizza from one of the crew he led us downstairs at the rear of the stage. “Come and join us in our caravan”. Not thinking for one moment that he was serious. “You may want to take a picture of the dressing room” he said. To our amazement when we entered the basement beneath the stage there was a huge caravan/trailer which was mooted to have once belonged to Tammy Wynette though I am unsure if this was just tongue in cheek. Huge settees and dodgem cars along with period furniture completed the bizarre and unreal surroundings in which to hold such an interrogation.
Having herded the band together we all sat on the settees and introduced ourselves. Peter Nicholls then asked “Where would you like to do the interview? Why don’t we do it in the caravan? We all agreed and settled ourselves in the rather plush subterranean trailer.
They all squashed themselves onto the bench seat at one end with poor Mike Holmes wedged into the corner. I am unsure that it was the high temperature or a slight nervousness on my behalf but I started to sweat terribly.
Present were ND = Neil Durant, PC = Paul Cook, TE = Tim Esau, PN = Peter Nicholls, MH = Michael Holmes and of course PM, The Progmeister.
PM Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Progmeister. I’ve been following you guys for over twenty five plus years now.
TE Yes, every time I look round you’re there.
PM The thing that I was warned about before we arrived was to watch out for Mike Holmes and make sure that my questions are good ones and not stupid ones, so if I get under your skin Mike I do apologise. So, thirty years is a long time, what do you think has been the secret of your success?
MH Yeah, stubbornness. Why are we still here after thirty years do you mean? Well, nothing more than we really enjoy what we do. I think for me it’s not the most lucrative thing in the world, progressive rock isn’t the most lucrative thing in the world, we just love doing it.
PM Do you think that there has been a defining era or did you think that each venture had been the best thing you had done at the time as all great movie stars used to say?
PN I think we approach each new project differently and try to improve on what we’ve already done. We’re always aware of our history. We’re constantly challenging ourselves and trying to keep it interesting for people who listen to the band. I think there have been several defining moments – “The Wake” and “Subterranea” were important achievements.
MH I think “Ever” was
PM Funny you should mention that. Just before we set off today I was asked by someone who writes into the site regularly if you intend to release any of the other classic IQ albums as a special package like The Wake?
MH Funny you should mention that.
PN (whispers) Don’t tell him anything.
MH (laughs) I would like to tell you but I can’t! But, the year after next is the thirty year anniversary of Tales From The Lush Attic and although we’re conscious of trying to avoid becoming an ‘anniversary’ band, it would be nice to remix the album. For the first album we had five days in the studio, four days to record and one day to mix. It was never a really good sound. We just recently got the master tapes back and we’ve transferred them to digital. I’d love to do a decent mix of the ‘Tales’. It would be a nice approach…
PM With edits?
MH No, not with edits – there was one part in “The Last Human Gateway” where the keyboard bit just suddenly disappears and then goes back up again. That was a mistake in the mix but we just didn’t have time to do it again…
PC You could hear the mix being turned up and down.
MH …so we won’t be re-recording any parts, or taking bits out, it’s just that we can finally give the ‘Tales’ the mix it deserves.
PM My next question was going to be, “Is there anything that you would have done differently?” But you seem to have answered it.
PC Yeah, all of it (laughs)
MH There were certain parts of Frequency that I would have done a little differently but to be honest I was just glad to get it finished. It was just sheer stubbornness on my behalf that we got that album finished. It dragged on for a long time.
PM Was it torture to record?
MH Well, just about everything that can happen to a band happened during the recording of that album.
PM Mike, did you play one of the synth solos on Frequency?
MH Yes, I think it was on The Province? I can’t quite remember.
PM Yes, I thought it wasn’t a keyboard player that recorded it. (laugh) Moving on quickly as I know you guys have to get ready, I was wondering just how you all communicated your ideas before the internet came along. It can’t have been easy with all of you living so far away from each other.
MH Well, we just used to get together regularly, rehearse and jam. But it was all done by us getting in one place together.
PN We still do it the old-fashioned way – initially, we get together in a rehearsal room and play through ideas, each of us chipping in suggestions.
MH (laughs) Yes, indeed, but even now we still prefer to get together rather than merely send each other files for the recording process.
PM Mike – tell me about the Pulse project.
MH Oh yes, Pulse. Well it’s something that I’ve been doing with Geoff Downes, Tony Levin and Nick D’Virgilio, though as yet we haven’t been in the same room together. The closest we got to this was a few years back when we were recording the bass at Real World and Tony, Geoff and I were in the same building at the same time. There’s not a lot I can tell you at the moment, though it would be nice to arrange some live gigs at some stage.
PM That would be great.
MH Yeah, it would be good, it’s early days though.
PM What made you resurrect The Lens?
MH I’ve often wondered what The Lens would sound like now if IQ had never existed. It’s something that I’d intended to do for a while, but early last year I finally made the decision to get on with it. Most of the album is new material, but over the years I’ve had a few ideas that I intended to use with IQ, but for some reason didn’t really work out, so I decided to put them on ‘Regeneration’…
PM It’s very much like Tangerine Dream in parts, isn’t it? With a dash of Pink Floyd.
MH Yeah, nothing wrong with a bit of Tangerine Dream.
PM A little bird tells me that you have a collective penchant for hardwood. Do you think that Ikea are doing more for the preservation of such a precious commodity?
PC Well, I think their things are made from a sustainable source and there is no problem using a good hardwood.
PM So do any of you have Ikea furniture?
ALL (debate ensued)
PN No I don’t think I do. What about the rest of you?
MH I’ve found that about 5% of Ikea furniture is fine, and the rest of it is bloody awful…
TE No, I don’t think so.
PM The disdain for the download culture by one of your former band mates has been well documented. Do you share his views?
MH (smiling) The illegal downloading, yes. It robs people of their income. Things like iTunes, however, creates another outlet for getting music out there so I guess that we are mostly pro-internet.
PM Peter, can I just ask you a nerdy question?
PM When I drive across the M62 there is a huge antenna on top of a hill. Is that the one used on the cover of Frequency?
PN Yes, you’re right it is. It’s Winter Hill.
PM Talking about the M62, can you tell me why you don’t play any gigs north of Bury?
PN We don’t get asked.
MH It’s all down to cost really. We have certain expenses that we have to meet in order to play live – rehearsals, travel, crew wages etc… and we need those to be covered before we can agree to play somewhere. In general we have places that we play, that we know will result in a good attendance, and we rarely differ from that.
PM I was going to ask if you guys would consider headlining at the next Progmeister Festival.
MH Mmmm, we’d have to discuss that. Again it is all down to cost. We have the crew to pay and all the other things that go with it. It costs us around £400 a week to rehearse for such an event. It costs a lot of money to do such a thing and if you don’t sell many tickets…
PM So you would require a set fee?
MH Well, yes. We’ll talk about it later.
PM Peter, how are you going to remember all of the words for the Subterranea gig? It’s a very wordy production, isn’t it? Especially the second disc.
PN Well, recently we’ve played “Breathtaker” and “The Sense in Sanity” live so I’ve been able to start learning the words again. No doubt I’ll have cheat sheets hidden around the stage
PM I’ve been listening to Subterranea quite a lot recently and it really is an epic, some of the best work you have done…
PN Well, thank you. Yes, I’ve been listening to it myself recently… mainly to relearn it.
PM Are you looking forward to the Subterranea gig in Brittany?
MH Actually it’s to be held in Zoetermeer, Holland.
PN Oh, yes very much so.
PM Peter, I attended a gig at Bury a few years ago and there was an annoying man at the front who kept shouting out ‘wiggle’. What’s that all about?
PN That came about many years ago at a gig in Hampstead, I think. Something happened with the equipment and we had to do a bit of filling in. So Martin started playing something on the keyboard and I started singing “Wiggle”. Somehow it caught on! There’s even a version of it in the extras of the ‘Forever Live’ DVD.
PM Cookie, what’s it like being back in the band?
PC Well, I’ve been back in the band for three years now but it had a good vibe about it when I did return. I’m really enjoying myself.
PM Tim, what about you?
TE It’s been a blast. There’s a hell of a lot to learn though but I’ve enjoyed it.
PM And how do you feel about being part of the IQ family, Neil?
ND Well they’re all bonkers! The band have been very welcoming and inclusive, and so it has been very easy to become part of the IQ family.
PM Will there be a new album next year?
MH No, probably not next year as we’ve still got a lot of work to do this year to get the Subterranea show up and running. Maybe the year after.
PM When you write the new album will it be the unit that you are now?
PN and MH Definitely.
PM Do you intend to release any more of your classic albums on vinyl?
MH Well, I haven’t actually mentioned this to anyone else yet, but as we’re revisiting Subterranea (and it’s the 15th anniversary next year) I’ve been thinking of a very, very limited double vinyl edition… no real plans so far though.
PM Do any of you own a turntable?
PN Oh, yes. I’ve got one.
ALL (debate ensued) Yes, we’ve all got one.
PM I was told that ‘Dark Matter’ didn’t sell as well as you thought it would on vinyl.
MH True, we’ve still got a few copies left which makes us a bit hesitant about releasing any more.
PM Will any of you be attending a festival this year?
MH As punters you mean?
PM I can really see that you all need to get cracked on. So I will take my leave, many thanks to you all.
TE Safe journey home, catch you soon.
Following the interview we retired to a local hostelry were we had an emergency Guinness and reflected on our conversation with IQ. I must say that I was very impressed by their commitment and honesty. Having now met the band personally and gained insight into their passion and commitment I can fully understand their fans loyalty and devotion. It is a tonic to know that IQ are still playing quality, original progressive rock whilst others are choosing a different path. The concert that followed this interview was without doubt one of the very best I have seen IQ play. The Subterranea gig I have no doubt will be nothing short of magnificent. Now, where did I put my passport?
IQ, Probably the best prog band in the world.
For more information visit www.iq-hq.co.uk