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 The Mole In His Hole - Cream - Vol.2 N°2 - June 1972


Why did you leave the Softs and what are you up to in Matching Mole?

Lots of reasons - and my decisions about doing new things are so varied that they must be rationalisations of some basic thing that I really cannot pin down at all. I needed a complete change of life. At the time, it must have looked like from the outside that I had it made. In fact I was miserable. Absolutely miserable. So everything had to change on every level.

WHAT were the main problems?

Well, I can justify or get pissed off with characteristics of people I'm working with according to whether I'm getting certain musical things I want from them and whether I'm giving the necessary in return. If they are and I am, I see our personal relationship as satisfactory. But if I feel they're not doing what they should be doing or I'm not able to give them what a musician should, then this tends to manifest itself in personality difficulties and I start to dislike the person intensely. And the scapegoat in this case became Elton Dean.

I was jealous and proud of being in it with Mike and Hugh and that their thinking had, as I'd thought it would, finally manifested itself in some amazingly original music - and I felt that Elton didn't appreciate it. The thing is, when we decided to expand the line-up, we thought in terms almost of an artisan to play the ideas already coming from the group as it stood. We needed a wider range of noises more than fresh ideas and also we wanted to try out being a rhythm section behind a soloist for a while. But either we weren't a good enough rhythm section or Elton wasn't interesting enough in that context to carry off those kind of responsibilities — and I don't think he gave a shit anyway. I don't think he was interested in what Soft Machine was. It was a better-paid, more secure gig than his previous ones, and ... I don't want to sound vicious about him, I mean we had good and bad gigs, he rightly liked Mike's writing a lot, and he and I liked very much playing together, blowing freely, and loosening up the prepared things. It balanced out very well sometimes. But it was essentially a false relationship. Not merely strained — relations in the Soft Machine had always been a bit bizarre.


Everyone had very different contributions to make to the band and we couldn't really agree; it could only be paths crossing, because we started out in different places and were going in different directions — and what would be satisfactory to one person simply wouldn't be to another. It'd be baffling. Like, someone would write a composition which you'd think beautiful and then arrange it and give the solo to just the wrong person, by which time it'd be too inextricably embarrassing to rearrange it. You know, it's his tune, leave him alone. We got so we didn't really know what each other was on about.

WHEN did that start?

The time the seven-piece went to France. Autumn, 1969. There were amazing difficulties on all levels, not excluding the practical one of not having the equipment or the money for seven people. Eventually it cracked completely. Poor old Nick got really screwed up. You know, there was a lot of happiness, -a lot of new things, a lot of problems, a lot of neuroses, added to which it was incredibly cold in the van and we were all a bit disorientated. The cracks just started to appear. The identity of the group became like a memory after that . . . for me.

HOW did it actually happen then?

Well . . . you get other people in to play Mike and Hugh's stuff, but to get in they have to be musically ambitious which means after a while they want to play some of their own material, and they play it to you, and you don't like it, right? And then it comes out in the open, let's face it, he's meant to be there for you, not you for him, and a hierarchy emerges which freaks out those people who consider they're wrongly placed in that hierarchy. The natural tendency then is to withdraw — cos no-one wants to think of himself as a shit or a schmuck. Then everybody starts getting formal with each other and by then it's turned into another job. From then on it's just a matter of time, really. Just a matter of time.

But, obviously my memories of that time with the Soft Machine are — well, like anyone's memories, like . . .

WHERE do those four records come into your memories? Is it documentary?

I never considered the Soft Machine recorded in any kind of intelligent relationship to our progress, what we actually sounded like. We'd take new compositions into the studio, record them, two months later learn how to play them, six months later discard them, and then a month after that go back into the studio again with more new things we hadn't learned to play properly. The Soft Machine at its best is hardly on record. At best, those records are only an indication of what the group was all about.

ARE you going to keep a sharper eye on the way Matching Mole is recorded?

No, it'll probably be just as ... I mean, all I've done is choose people with potential for excellence in themselves, not their similarity or me-worship or anything like that, so there'll be just as many difficulties — except there was no condescension in the original choice of people. No more Eltoning, in other words. Inasmuch as I ought to have owned up to him what I was asking him to do. Won't make that mistake again. In fact, I've avoided any quick, easy way to get a slick band together and it's yet to emerge what the new group will naturally be - if someone'll be on top of their music enough to turn into a leading-light, for example.

SO WHAT about the album?

Making that record and forming the group were two separate things. I'd have made it whether I'd formed a group or not. It's me. I had total control over it, said I'd choose the material, do the editing, litter the whole thing with fiddling about on the mellotron - with or without anybody's approval. It seemed years since I'd done a record. At the same time, I wanted to form a group because my ideas are more intense than numerous, I'm not a great fountain of ideas and I need to be in a group. I need other people around me to use their ideas and imaginations to pull the best out of me. Besides, I had to say I was forming a group etcetera or they wouldn't have let me do the record. Obviously they only like to record people who are out on the road with an act or something to promote it.

IS that pressure on you now?

Don't know really. I refuse to be pressured anyway.

SO WHAT comes next? Are you the leader or what?

Inasmuch as I chose the people in the band. But I see myself more as someone who pulls people together who might otherwise not have thought of it. Giving them opportunities. Like, Dave McRae is in no sense out of work — he's in constant demand as a session-musician — but Matching Mole is giving him an opportunity to play his music in a way that all the rest — Mike Gibbs, Ian Carr and so on — doesn't. I make space, is what I'm saying. I know what I'm good at and let other people get on and do what they're good at.

I feel what I'm doing, however much I enjoy doing it, doesn't cover enough ground to make me think I'm living a complete creative life. There are a few people who write — Hugh, Mike, Dave McRae, Kevin - with whom I like to fit in. I'm not capable of setting up situations by myself alone. I need other people, but only a very few special people and it's fucking hard to find them.

SO what were those two solo albums you made in Los Angeles?

Well, the Soft Machine in its first version had broken up, we'd done the last gig with Hendrix, at the Hollywood Bowl, Mike went back to London, Kevin went on to Majorca. The record company didn't know we'd broken up — the first album wasn't released yet, though it was six months since we'd recorded it - and there seemed no obligation to carry on; and I'd got various things I'd been wanting to do that I couldn't do with the group as it then was. It was a great relief to get into the studio and play all the instruments myself and do it along without having to be democratic about it. That's all.

WHAT did you record?

There were two sets. See, I went to the record company and said Look, Mike's gone back to London, I dunno ... I mean, it was winter, 1968, and I'd just got back to New York and I'd been approached to do some film music and I was quite happy. But they said 'No, listen, this record's amazing, we want to put it out, the group should go on the road'. So I said 'Is it? Should it?' And phoned up Mike in London and said 'Do you want to start up a new version of the group?' And he said 'No, yes, no, yes, Yes'. And I came back and he did his first writing for the group — bits of 'Esther's Nose-Job', which was pinched off a bass-line of Kevin's, actually — and we did these tunes I'd been doing which turned out to be the first side of Volume Two - arrangements of bits and pieces of half-forgotten stuff Hugh had done years ago for the Wilde Flowers that I'd worked into a whole in L.A. - Plus 'Moon in June'. Which didn't turn up till Third because I was terrified it'd be played wrong. Even then, I did all of it by myself - except the organ solo of course. That was Mike.

MIGHT you ever do another solo album?

Not foreseeably, no. I feel so much closer to the people in Matching Mole in terms of melody, feeling, and the rest. I'm not scared of doing my stuff with them. They've all been in groups that've done songs, for example, and I haven't been in one of them since I was with Kevin.

DOES that mean more songs in your set?

I'm dubious about it, because they'd be more complicated than the kind I've done before, and I might find it hard singing and playing at the same time. Bill might do some, but he'd probably have to write it himself. My stuff's written for my voice or is too specifically about me. And the others would find it hard to write for someone like me who can't read music and has a range of about three notes and you musn't write a semitone on either side of them if you expect it to be remotely in tune.

SO what are you up to live at the moment?

Rehearsing, mostly. Or we have been. Up until the second gig at the Festival Hall we were rehearsing in public; since then, with the exception of a disaster at Canterbury, we've to a great extent sorted ourselves out. I say this chiefly because most people would naturally think a group like this is pretty well-off, 'contract with CBS, album out, etc. In fact we're very poor and can't actually afford to rehearse properly even. We've had a lot of equipment nicked and the promoters in Britain aren't paying us a living wage. I'm not carping — we're paying our dues, like any other band — it's just that I want people to know that we don't use mikes that stop working every five minutes because we like them; we can't afford better. And when the PA blows, it's not... bravura, or something. It's poverty.

HOW do you see the roles of the other three in Matching Mole?

Phil is the only guitarist who doesn't conceptually piss me off a bit. I agree with him about how to play guitar and I really don't with anyone else. I admire lots of names — same ones everyone else does — and I don't want to start putting down other guitarists that aren't working in Matching Mole, but...

Well, the theory's like this: the technical side of I'm-a-guitarist guitarists is based on imitation bebop horn lines. But the sound's weak compared to what's come out of less technical music like- urban blues and rock and roll. So the idea these days is to get the two going together, the facility and the sound. And everybody's saying a lot of guys are doing it, but I don't think they are. . Like, someone for whom I have great overall admiration and who isn't going to give a shit what I say anyway, which is John McLaughlin. He's the answer to my dream of an acoustic guitarist who does what John Williams claims to be doing, which is total control of the guitar, understanding of it harmonically, understanding of bebop, understanding of Hendrix, and using the lot. But, as an electric guitarist, I find he does amateurish parodies of rock guitarists, but in a sort of tasteful, speedy way. If you analyse the solos on The Inner Mounting Flame, they're... they piss me off, frankly. As opposed to the Miroslav Vitous album where he's very good, or as an acoustic player on My Goal's Beyond. He's undoubtedly the most on-top-of-his-instrument guitarist around, but, in the end, frustrating — in a way that I don't think Phil will be. Because, though he lacks that facility, he really understands sound and harmony in a way that other guitarists don't. They just don't.

Dave... he's very simply the best musician I've ever worked with in my life. That's about all I can say.

Bill's a bass-guitarist, not a bass-player or a guitarist turned bass-guitarist. I just trust his taste and intelligence, besides which he's amazingly ambitious for his own music. He's actually an idealist and it's not just a job for him — it's important to him that what we're doing has a potential for being very good and satisfying. I knew him before I thought of him as a musician and I never thought he'd turn out to be capable of playing like he does; I'm pre-disposed to believe that anybody who could be that clear and objective in discussion could actually turn out to have that egotistical madness, that... silliness that most good players have. Sloppy thinking on my part, really. I saw him with his group and I was surprised what a natural performer he was — in fact I think of him as quite showbizzy really. So few people, in any case, outside of Jack Bruce and maybe Steve Swallow, have really used the bass-guitar. Not functionally; there are some fantastic functional players around, like Sly Stone's and the guy with Edgar Winter. Bill pushes all aspects of the instrument and he's sometimes very demanding to play with.

DO you ever think you and/or the band are taking yourselves a bit too seriously?

Sure. But it's a piece of self-deception that's as necessary as a raincoat in the rain. In performance or in any process like that, you arrive at a strange kind of elated insanity. You feel like God. And it's hard to feel like God and not take yourself a bit seriously. Or something. Know what I mean?

PERHAPS I meant self-involvement when two or three thousand people are watching you.

People used to say this about the other group I was in - which shall be nameless, and which I won't name, but can only be described as the Soft Machine — that we didn't acknowledge or play for people who'd come to see something else, that's true, but eventually the people who got to know and like us were incredibly relieved to have their intelligence and their sensitivity flattered enough to follow us in whatever way our fancy was taking us. In an inverted way, that's just a flash, avant-garde version of showbusiness, really. How many people you lose in the process God only knows but, if I can make a living at it, I'm happy.

ANY gripes about that show business in general?

What an opportunity! God. Yeah, okay. See, in the good old days, back when the Teds used to beat me up and take off me Dizzy Gillespie records and stick on Elvis, there was even so a thing about values in music. One knew where the real worth was. The barriers were very rigid, sure, but it wasn't confused like it is now. Today, the pop press is always telling me, the barriers are down and someone who used to get off on Marmalade celebrates his coming-of-age or whatever by going over to the Other Chart or whatever it's called in Time Out and thinks he's digging jazz or classical music when he's listening to his new Keith Emerson album. He's not. It's just pop in another form.

And I think the general smugness of music-listening today — I see it in people's record collections — is regrettable. If half the guys digging Keith Emerson because they thought he was jazz actually put themselves out and listened to, say Keith Jarrett playing the real thing... well! I just dislike the air of easiness about it today, as if good music is now miraculously disseminated to all via ELP or whatever. The really good musicians are, as ever, out of work — and the barriers are not down at all, it's an illusion.

WHEN a fifteen year old chick is digging Marc Bolan is she having the illusion that she's hearing great music or is she hearing great music?

Is it an illusion you're asking me that question? No, look. You've got to be honest with yourself. When I was fifteen, I'd be looking around in a record-shop and I'd come across an album-sleeve saying Charlie Parker is the Guvnor. None of my friends had even heard of him. The Bird? Who? But I bought one of his records to find out. And I didn't like it at all — just seemed a lot of fast noises. But I went on with it, trusting opinion of sources I respected, kept listening, and found out that Parker was, in fact, the Guvnor. And I took it from there.

That sort of experience is available for anyone, but I don't care whether or not they take it. Elvis Presley may also be the Guvnor, I dunno. But he's not pretending to be more than he is, nor are his fans. But fans of 'progressive' or 'underground' music are. It's both a pity and a downright shame. It's a pity that Keith Jarrett has so little recognition he has to play in a group he doesn't really fit into, or even like, but the leader is lazy enough to let other people play in his time. And it's a downright shame that he can't form his own group because virtually no-one has bothered to find out about him. Because it's easy and okay and progressive to dig Keith Emerson. Right? That's all.

Ian Macdonald

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