With the two special C5 tribute gigs fast approaching. I thought it would be a great idea to catch up with Tim Cross.
Many thansk to Uli for this great interview...
Finally, here it is, the exclusive interview for the TUTS Forum with Mr Tim Cross, one of the main musicians who played keyboards on many of TV Smith's albums from the days of The Adverts up to "Not A Bad Day". Also he was involved in producing and arranging many of the songs. More info within the interview. Here it is (questions by Uli):
1. Which music did you "grow up" on? How did you get involved in the music scene? When did you start working with Mike Oldfield?
I grew up with classical music. My mother played the piano, my
father had a good baritone voice, and both were very keen on classical
music. From a very early age I loved Mozart, and he is still my
favourite composer, by far. Bach has been a great influence, too; and
until I was 14 I didn't take notice particularly of pop music, because
it seemed pathetically simple in comparison to the achievements of the
baroque, classical and romantic ages of music. "Honeypie" by the
Beatles was the gateway for me, as it pastiched the 20's dance music
which I quite liked. Then I got into loads of pop bands, and rocky stuff
like Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes, and I really liked a lot of Frank
Zappa. However, I never thought of myself as a jazz musician, as that
was an area of music which I didn't want to investigate. It's very
clever, but I get a bit bored of it after a quarter of an hour. I
started my musical career (after studying composition and harpsichord
at Dartington college of Arts) in the advertising world (as tea-boy,
mood music librarian, editor, and finally composer of "jingles") for a
studio in the west end of London. After 2 years, I went freelance, and
continued to write and record industry music. I met Mike Oldfield early
in 1979, and after auditioning , went on 7 tours with him for the next
four years. I admired his work as it was more experimental and
groundbreaking than what was around at the time; it was musical
journeys, rather than the banality of 3 minute pop songs, which I
admire, but feel I have little talent for.
2. When and how did you first meet T.V. Smith? Were you into punkrock? Please tell us how it happened that you joined The Adverts.
I met T.V.Smith backstage (I think) at the Royal Festival Hall,
where I'd just done a gig with Mike Oldfield in the summer of 1979. Tom
Newman, who had produced "Tubular Bells", was working on Teeve's 2nd
album, "Cast of Thousands", and felt it needed extra colours and my
keyboard skills. I didn't particularly like punk rock at the time (I
felt quite intimidated by the clothes and attitude at first), but got
on very well with TV and Gaye, and got my punk education that way. I
appreciated that he was a great songsmith, that his words were witty
and sophisticated, and below his gloomy, shy exterior, he was very
funny and a great mate. He still is, and we always have a great time
and loads of laughs when we work together. I joined the Adverts in
between tours with Oldfield, as the new album relied on keyboards, and
I relished the prospect of playing live with such ludicrously different
artists. I have always welcomed the learning of new styles and
techniques in music; it's the only way to prevent stagnation.
3. What was the "farewell tour" with the Adverts like? What do you think, was it more sadness or more relief that it was all over?
The "Farewell" tour of the Adverts happened rather sooner than
expected; I wasn't experienced in the downfall of a band, and it is
more appropriate that you should ask TV about it. Of course, there were
arguments and disputes within the band, and with Michael Dempsey, the
manager, but that was pretty normal; musicians can be fairly bitchy and
childish on the road (I must have watched "Spinal Tap" 12 times, and
let me tell you, there is NOTHING in that film that doesn't ring true!)
I think it was a combination of the damage the press were doing to poor
Gaye, who was constantly savaged by the tabloid music papers, and TV's
realisation that his songs would be better served by technically more
accomplished musicians. However, we did have fun on the tour, in
between being spat on, and the occasional bottle being thrown at me
from the odd purist who believed that keyboards had no place in a punk
band.... well it's still debatable. Sadness and relief in mixed
quantities, I think. I always had something else to get back to.
4. You were part of the first line-up of T.V.'s Explorers. What are your thoughts on this particular band and why did you leave after a few months?
Oh dear, I can't remember much about the Explorers. The songs were
as good as ever, and the players much better, but at the time I was
halfway between being a session musician and becoming a producer, and
no-one was sure who was at the helm of that particular boat. The
production of music is at first quite a tricky balance of getting the
best out of musicians by making them comfortable in the studio, and
feeling valued; but a camel is a horse designed by committee - if
everyone has their say all the time you get nowhere, and slowly. I
think I had to go away and grow a bit more at that time, and let T.V.
do the same. It happened again between "March.." and "Not a bad day";
nothing personal, just a breath of different air.
5. A little later you worked with T.V. on his first solo album "Channel 5". Many fans enjoy your keyboard work on this one. What were the inspirations for it? Did you have to push T.V. a bit into a more "contemporary 80's sound" or was it T.V. who told you he wanted to take this direction?
"Channel 5" was enormous fun to do, and one of the happiest times
of my life. We used a lovely studio, small, cheap and unpretentious in
Croydon, with Phill Brown, an absolute legend, as engineer; Tim
Renwick, who'd played for just about everyone of any significance, a
lovely tape-op called Ralph, T.V. and me. Everyone was extremely
talented, but above all really nice people; no clashes or conflicts, no
egos, it was a complete collaboration of production between the four of
us. I'm still proud of that album, but find it difficult to listen to
because of the rather pedestrian Linn drum programming; we'd had to
hire in the machine, and the sounds were particularly primitive. Also,
this was before sequencers or computers, so all that keyboard stuff on
"Cracking up" and "Fire in the darkness" is played, not sequenced. Just
as well Phill was pretty quick on the old drop-in, now just another
6. After this (for the rest of the eighties) T.V. had difficulties in finding a recording contract. What are your views on this and the "music business" in general?
Oh don't get me started on the music business. Like most musicians
I'm lousy at business, I just want to make music. I was best at
business when I worked in advertising when you asked for buckets of
money to write a 30 second piece of music to advertise something that
didn't matter. Those days are long gone. When you're doing something
you actually believe in, it's hard to be dispassionate about it, let
alone put a price on it. A&R men have no more idea than anyone what is
going to be the next hit, so they are simultaneously controlling and
cautious. You get ripped off, they compromise you, they don't listen,
and my god they don't understand. You just do your thing and trust that
by making the right musical choices, you will be allowed, by some
kindness of fortune, to survive.
7. T.V. had his band Cheap, you played keys on their album (released after the band's disintegration). Did you go to see them live occasionally? Any particular thoughts on this chapter of T.V.'s career?
I liked Cheap, and I did go and see them a few times. TV did the
right thing by going back to the roots of a working band, who were
mates, obviously less accomplished musically speaking, but who would
play the songs at the top of their ability, and have fun gigging. My
job on that album was to get the best out of them, then provide
appropriate keyboards. It was the gateway to "March..." because "Gather
your things and go" worked so well acoustically, we knew that a
significant new direction beckoned us. But Cheap was a very necessary
stage, and I liked them all, and thought that they did very well.
8. "March Of The Giants" is viewed by many fans (incl. myself) as one of T.V.'s finest albums. Please share some of your memories of the recording sessions for this album.
Yeah, "March of the giants" is one of my favs as well. We wanted to
keep it as acoustic as possible, and by using Indian, Egyptian, and
South American percussion, we felt the whole thing would age better
than drum kit, and definitely drum machine. I also kept the keys down
to a minimum, and mostly stuck to real piano, accordion and vibraphone.
Of course I did use synthesizers and samplers for strings, bagpipes,
and the like, but I tried to maintain an acoustic feel, and at least
provide the illusion that we were all playing together. Tim Renwick was
fairly busy so we only had him for one session, so we got another
Oldfield mate, Rick Fenn to provide electric guitar for the remaining
songs. Again, it was a good, cheap studio (the same one we did the
Cheap album in), and the engineer, Steve Cherry was very funny, bang
into the songs, and contributed a lot of good ideas as well as a few
backing vocals. Electric bass and female vocals were provided in a day
by a very talented couple, Simon Edwards and Ginny Clee; there is quite
a lot of female vocals on that album, but it's fairly subtle. It's
certainly the one album I listen to most often, and am most proud of.
Usually, when you do an album, you don't listen to it much afterwards
as you've been there in so much detail that it has all the surprise
value of tickling yourself, but I still get goosebumps hearing
"Borderline" or "Gather..."
9. The next album recordings happened without you. Do you like "Immortal Rich" and "Generation Y"? What do you think about T.V.'s music and lyrics in general?
As I said earlier, we did our best on "March..", but still no
significant interest from the industry or the press, so what do you do?
You all move on. I couldn't have tried harder to interpret T.V.'s songs
as best as I could, and I couldn't start a new one thinking, "Right,
they didn't like that, so what now?" So I got into dance music, and
T.V. went solo. You know it, there's some GREAT songs on those two
albums ("The day we caught the big fish" is a total classic) and the
production is far from lacking. Besides, if I stay off a couple of
albums, you buggers can appreciate what you're missing, so you're cool
about getting me back.
10. After this "little break" you started working with T.V. on new recordings which later turned into the excellent "Not A Bad Day" album. Also you added keyboards to T.V.'s CD "Useless - The Very Best Of", did this happen in parallel to working on the new stuff?
You mentioned in the TV Smith Forum that your song "The Revolution's the same" was the starting point for the both of you working together again. How did this come about? What was the inspiration for this track?
We got together again because I'd written the music to what became
"The revolution's the same" and needed his vocals and words on this
track, which was essentially a house tune. I'd loved that track by
Leftfield with John Lydon's vocal on it, and was after a similar
approach. Then T.V. introduced me to the Hosen, because he wanted me on
keyboards for "Useless"; they were far from sure at first but we got on
well once I'd met them. They're a surprisingly sweet bunch, and they
treat their people very well. I've always had a great time with them.
It was a great opportunity to go back to the old songs and do them
again, with the benefit of hindsight. It's funny recording songs just
as you're learning them, so by the time you get to gig with them,
everyone knows them better than you did when you'd recorded them. I
think T.V. usually takes most of his songs on the road before they get
to me, so he can work out what's the best tempo, what flags and so on.
Good idea, really. "Not a bad day" took about 4 years from start to
finish because Teeve was touring a lot and I was working on a bunch of
other stuff, but the majority of Tim Renwick's guitars were recorded on
September the 11th 2001, which was well weird. We wouldn't have known
about it if Renwick hadn't phoned his daughter to remind her about her
dental appointment, and she said "Dad, put on the TV NOW!" and we sat
there glumly for an hour, until we agreed that there was fuck all we
could do about it, so we recorded some memorable guitars instead. Far
from a bad day.
11. Also, I enjoy discovering 'strange little noises' (keyboard or samples) in some of the songs on "Not A Bad Day", were these your idea?
I've ALWAYS put funny little noises on T.V.'s songs. It used to be
the standing joke that I would musically illustrate his words
literally, so right in the distance of a song about cryogenics there
would be TV doing his impression of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse voice;
there's cell phones and my creaking door and babbling people on the new
one, loads of subliminal stuff. I hate the thought of boring our
audience, or not giving value, so I put on little sounds that you'll
only notice about the thirtieth time you hear it. We all think of
various effects; for instance it was Phill Brown who brought in the
tape of Neville Chamberlain announcing, "This country is at war" on
"The beautiful bomb" (Channel 5). I come up with a lot of individual
sounds as it's my job to arrange the songs, but we've had a history of
negotiating what's darkly funny, and what's just plain corny or over
12. Tim Renwick has played on many T.V. recordings together with you, from "Channel 5" up to "Not A Bad Day". Did you enjoy working with him? Do you happen to know what he's currently doing (e.g. bands he plays in)?
I know I keep on saying that all the people I work with are really
nice, talented and funny; but that's one of the joys and compensations
of being a musician; after a couple of initial mistakes, you end up
working only with your mates and your heroes. Tim Renwick is definitely
a hero; he's played with Pink Floyd, McCartney, Clapton, Harrison,
Elton John and on and on; but he's unpretentious, modest, witty and
really rather lovely. He's very English, and he's everything that's
good about the English. He did the acoustic guitar solo on "The lion &
the lamb" in just one take. He's always joking and laughing when he's
playing, and it's not until after he's left do you realise what you've
actually got out of him. So, of course, I love working with him, and
T.V. and I have never underestimated how privileged and lucky we were
to have him. At the moment he's living in Cornwall in semi- retirement,
but he's got a couple of local bands that he plays with. He turned down
Van Morrison three times a couple of years ago... too much hassle.
13. According to your website you've been working in many different musical fields (house, baroque, advertising jingles, music for children etc.). What are your current projects?
I'm currently working on two albums with Dana Gillespie; we did
two others last year. We do Indian music, so we're still working with
Pandit Dinesh on tablas. We do devotional music and traditional Indian
Bhajuns with real Indian acoustic instruments as well as overtly
trancey synths, so it's probably a bit hippy trippy for you punk lot,
but I like it. It gives me another musical language to work with. I've
also done quite a lot of kid's music over the years, which I enjoy.
It's good to stay versatile, and it's the only way that I'm still
(just) making a living out of music. I also work with up and coming
young musicians; they keep me in touch with current trends, and I help
them by facilitating the recording process.
14. Can you please tell us which ones you consider the highlights of your own musical career? Which artist you worked with (or record you played on) would you recommend to us?
Highlights? Well, it's always nice to play to really big
audiences, and I played to large audiences with Mike Oldfield. But I
was particularly flying when I played with Dana Gillespie for Sai
Baba's 77th and 78th birthday in Puttaparthy, South India for the last
couple of years. The Indian people are a fantastic audience, and I feel
in tune with them on all important matters. They are steeped in wisdom,
are spiritually tolerant, eat well and laugh often. We played a
traditional bhajun last year, and thousands of beautiful voices joined
Dana's, which pretty much blew us away. Everyone was singing, and
singing well. It was simultaneously thrilling and humbling. Which was
15. What music/artists are you listening to at home?
I really like "The Streets", particularly their first album. I
enjoy The Darkness, and some of Emenem, Drum and bass tunes, some Fat
Boy Slim stuff. Vom from the Toten Hosen always plays me great punk
tracks when I'm staying with him; and I serially listen to Mozart's
38th and 39th symphony in my car, because it minimises my road rage.
But I enjoy most types of music, as long as it's a damn fine example of
its genre. Also, as a musician, you're always checking out the other
guys: how did he do that, do I relate to this, could I have done this
better, or is this so great that you don't want to make comparisons?
When I'm working intensively on an album, I don't listen to stuff that
might inappropriately influence me, but generally I listen to a lot of
different stuff. I love it when my mates come round and put on what
they like; in every group, there's always at least one who wants to be
D.J., so I'm happy to let them get on with it and further my education.
I'm fairly crap at remembering names of bands and tunes, now, though,
but I've plenty of young friends who know exactly what's going on.
16. Last question is of course: will you work with T.V. again?
Well of course I'll be working with T.V. again. We always will.
It's a touchstone in my life, and there will always be a new slant for
the production of his songs, and I believe that I'm best qualified to
provide it. In fact, at the moment......but, no, NO! it's too early to
talk about that. You'll be wanting it next week, and these things take
time. But yeah, there's always projects in the pipeline, songs that
we've demo-ed long ago that need re-recording and releasing, always new
stuff too, so watch this space.
Hope this fills in your gaps, as I was saying back in 1979.
Thanks for your loyalty over the years, thanks for noticing what I did,
hope you enjoy the next lot, and take care of T.V. when he's on the
road. He only needs a floor to sleep on and a plate of vegetables......
And a kiss for all the pretty fans, and a thumbs up for the rest of you,
Finally, thanks for doing the interview!
Also, thanks to Ian Cheeseman, webmaster of Tim Cross' homepage and to TV for sending me Tim's replies over.