Interview with KEN HENSLEY

November 2004

hensley04There are many sides to the man. Well, it’s the same with every one of us, yet Ken Hensley is very controversial – at least, in the words of those who dealt with him. With all the communication with Ken that this scribe previously had, seeing Hensley in public performance – during the URIAH HEEP annual festival in London – was a revelation in terms of the image-shattering. Ken was so different to the opinions heard before. So the interview wasn’t planned, it was only a flash-like decision to clear some things up. Thanks to Hensley’s fiancee’s help, just after midnight the tape started to roll. Think for yourselves, then, go figure.

- There have been many nasty things said about you. Having seen you for the first time, I must admit you come across as a very honest person. So who’s the real Ken Hensley?

People are going to say things about me if they work with me or live with me or have to be with me in business or whatever – maybe they like it, maybe they don’t: that’s their opinion. In the end I have to be completely happy with myself and completely sure that I’m the best person I could be. Of course, not everybody would agree with me, but there’s nothing I could do about that. What other people think of me is not important to me.

- Do you have the feeling that other people want you to be what they think you should be but not what yourself want to be?

Well, all of us would like for everybody to be the kind of person we want them to be. Unfortunately, I cannot do that. I mean, I am, first of all, a Christian and, secondly, a person with very very serious personal opinion, so I’m motivated by many many things and, certainly, not by the need or desire to satisfy other people’s ideas of who I am.

- How does it all inform your music?

My music is simply… Eh, well, it’s not simply, but it’s an expression of how I feel about certain things, and so the cicrumstances of my life do definitely influence my music. I can only follow my heart and do what I do and hope that, along the way, I’ll make some people happy or encourage them. I want my life to be something that is benefit to others.

- Don’t you think a little bit of conformism could have been more commercially valuable?

Of course! Always! If you want to capitulate to what commercial needs are, you can always be commercially valuable, but I’m not interested in being that.

- You said you usually start with the lyrics and then find a melody to them, yet is there originally a melody in your lyrics, phonetically?

I always write lyrics first and the rhythm and the melody come from the lyrics. It always comes from the lyrics: words have rhythm and words have melody. Basically, I don’t think phonetically – I think poetically. I do make some corrections afterwards, but rarely because I think up my lyrics as they come and usually they find their way onto paper the way I want them to be. When a song has come, I work on it and develop it, but once a song is finished the arrangement comes, and I often change the arrangement, with the song mainly untouched.

- Still, why change the arrangement if the original one is fine? That was the matter with “I Don’t Want To Wait”, which you re-cut acoustically for “Running Blind“.

What we did was we took the song, the melody and the lyrics and just played it, just because somebody said, “I like that song! What if you play it with a new band in a new arrangement?” I said, “We’ll try it”, and we tried and liked it so much that we did it. The same could happen with any other song.

- Would you make this song – a great pop song! – commercially successful by giving it to, say, Britney Spears?

If they take it, they take it; it’s just that my objective is not to write songs for other people for them to be commercially successful – my objective is to share my music with people. Music is the gift that God gave me, and my job in life is to share it. If He calls for somebody else to record it – fine, but my objective is to not find people to record my songs.

- So you feel like a medium between God and people?

No, that is my gift and my purpose is to write, but maybe He uses my songs for His own purposes, I don’t know. All I know is that I have to be ultimately faithful to the gift and to share it as much as I can.

- Talking of arrangements, I was very surprised, having listened to “The Last Dance” and found it to be a guitar-based album, whereas you’re usually thought of as a keyboard player. How come?

It’s just because most of the songs were written on guitar – that’s just the way it came out. Maybe the next album will be piano-based or organ-based or whatever.

- Lately, you’ve been recoding new versions of your old songs. Does this go along with this line of yours, “Just give ‘em what they want, and send them away”, which clearly addresses the fans?

Wow! How easily things can be misunderstood! This song is about record company people – not fans! I have been doing some of the old songs with new arrangements in my live shows, and so the idea for the “author’s anthologies” came from that, really.

- Do you try to shed a new light on these songs?

The idea is to give them new life in some way, whether that is by a new arrangement, adding the orchestra or simply by giving new musicians the freedom to interpret the songs in their own way… without disturbing the integrity of the song of course!

- On “The Last Dance” you sing, “What value lies within the past?” Did you find an answer to the question?

I think it was Titian who said, “From the example of the past, the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future” [a Latin inscription on the artist’s “An Allegory of Prudence”, National Gallery, London]], and I think this is wisdom. The past has infinite value if one learns from it, so it is an ongoing thing, really.

- What the musical you’re working on, “Life”, is about? Who do you plan to get involved in the production?

– At present I am working on the outline so it’s a bit too soon to think about the whos, wheres and whys. It covers many different and individual aspects of life from the points of view of a group of very different people, and my plan is for it to be challenging but with a very strong, positive overall message. I hope that’s how it works out!

- All this activity and the fact that you’re turning sixty this year lead to a conclusion you’re scoring up your life. Do you, really? What’s left for the future?

– I’m not sure I know what you mean by ‘scoring up my life’, but I do seem to be in the most creative phase of my life… ever! I am really enjoying it and I just let it flow as naturally as it wants to. I am sure that everyone thinks differently as most of life begins to be behind them, but I know why I am here and my only real focused goal is to live each day to the fullest and to try and honor God and be an encouragement to others. What the future holds is firmly in God’s hands, and I am very happy about that!

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