Interview with KEN HENSLEY

January 2002

hens2You may think of him as of rock ‘n’ roll prima donna or devout Christian, as of extremely humble person or a raging star – there are two things you can’t deny, one being his music and the other that Ken Hensley is a genius, with a songwriting gift equal to Paul McCartney’s and Brian Wilson’s, and a poetic eloquence to knock off both. “He’s going to return”, was a line of his, and Ken might have been singing about himself, because now he’s back and full-on.

– Not that during last twenty years you ever were object to your past, but you seemed to be keeping it aside of your life. What changed emotionally that you have immersed yourself in HEEP-related events now, beginning with HENSLEY-LAWTON BAND and all these recent activities?

Nothing emotional really… Just a desire to come back to England and my family after twenty years in America and a determination to return to my main love, which is music!

– You said before, there was a song titled “A Glimpse Of Glory”, which didn’t make it to the eponymous album, just like “Free Spirit“, and was to appear on the next one. Looking at the tracklisting, there’s clearly not such a song. Why?

Several reasons really, but neither “A Glimpse Of Glory”, still unfinished, nor “Running Blind”, which needs to be re-arranged and re-recorded, made it to the recent releases. One day I’ll release a CD of title tracks!

– “I Close My Eyes” debuted on HENSLEY-LAWTON’s “The Return”, where you announced it as a song for the upcoming album. How much of the “Running Blind” material was written at that point?

About seventy per cent.

– Did you and John Lawton plan to release a studio album?

We did talk about it but it will not happen as a Hensley-Lawton project. John and I remain good friends though we have different professional goals. I will always be ready to work with John in some capacity, and I am sure he feels the same way.

– “Proud Words“, your first album, had your picture taken by Fin Costello, who you worked with again now, for “Running Blind”. A full circle, then?

In a manner of speaking. Fin is someone who I trust and with whom I am comfortable working… Especially since I don’t like having my picture taken!

– So let’s talk about previous albums. “Proud Words” appeared at the time of HEEP’s success. How did you manage to be so prolific to have songs enough for such strong efforts like “Demons And Wizards”, “The Magician’s Birthday”, “Sweet Freedom” and your solo debut in between?

I have always written a lot though not everything is finished or necessarily worthy of inclusion on a record! This was true then and is true now, actually.

– In the “Proud Words” sleevenotes Gary Thain wrote about working with you “on this and many other projects”. What projects, beside HEEP, he meant?

I am sorry but I can’t really remember.

– The title track, “Proud Words”, was originally demoed during the “Demons And Wizards” sessions. Why it was left off?

I don’t remember exactly but there was a lot of material offered to the band, which didn’t get chosen for a number of reasons. The main one – and people often forget this – was that a vinyl album could only contain a maximum of twenty minutes per side!

– In case this song was released by HEEP, what title would you give to the record of yours?

That’s impossible to say… Maybe, “Demons and Wizards”!

– Where was the line drawn between the band and your solo career?

It was a thin line – the band projects just took natural priority. I didn’t really have a solo career, just wanted to share the music in another way and to learn more about writing, recording, producing etcetera.

– Was it the only band’s out-take that ended up as your solo song?

No, there were others but I don’t remember the titles.

– In 1976 HEEP tried also “The Name Of The Game”, ater you redid it to include on “Free Spirit”. Does that mean, your third LP should have been released even before you left the band?

No, it was just a band demo that didn’t become an album track. “Free Spirit” almost went the same way, actually!

– How did it come to the 1979’s session with Ian Paice, who’s featured on “Free Spirit” album tracks and “Inspiration” that appeared on “From Time To Time“?

I lived in an area where there were a lot of rock musicians, and we got together regularly in our studios.

– Could you tell, please, about Paul Kossoff, who played on original versions of several of your songs? It was the time when his problems with drugs started, wasn’t it?

I don’t know much about Paul’s drug problems and I wasn’t aware of it at the time we played together. I just loved his playing and was very excited to have him play on my demo sessions.

hens– Those songs with Koss and Simon Kirke on were recorded in 1971. Why “Black Hearted Lady” and “Cold Autumn Sunday” had to wait for two years and “Longer Shadows” for four, to be released?

They were demo sessions only!

– The same sessions produced also “If I Had The Time”. I was told there was one song more. How many more songs you laid down then and what those sessions were aiming for? For fun or for you to launch a solo career?

None, just the four demos! Demos of new songs, really.

– Were you close to the FREE camp, then? You played their “Wishing Well” and “Highway Song” with BLACKFOOT, didn’t you?

No, I was only close to Paul and Simon, and yes, we did do those songs in BLACKFOOT occasionally.

– 1973 wasn’t that busy for FREE, who played their last gig in February, so why didn’t you approached the guys to play on “Proud Words”? Was Koss then bad because of his addiction?

The more natural choice was to work with Lee Kerslake and Gary Thain et al, who I was more familiar with and who had more of the style I wanted.

– “Fortune”, you once said, is one of your favourite songs. But there are three different songs in this one! Did you write it like that originally?

Well, sometimes it just happens that songs fit together so well they can be merged this way – rather like “Paradise/The Spell”.

– How different were the circumstances in which “Proud Words” and “Eager To Please” were being done? The latter is much rawer…

“Proud Words” was more of what I call an “innocent” album, where I was just searching and exploring my songwriting and so on. By the time I got to “Eager To Please”, I had a major drug problem and a whole mountain of hidden agendas!

– Song titles of yours are not enigmatic usually, but what “Part Three” stands for?

I really don’t remember, but it is not unusual for me to give a song an unrelated title. Wish I could tell you something more “interesting” about this!

Mark Clarke sang “In The Morning”, which is OK. What’s strange is that the song was chosen as a single: Ken Hensley single with Clarke’s song sung by Clarke. How did it come about?

It was chosen as the most commercial song to promote the album, and Mark and I were working very closely at the time. Besides, I don’t like to do things in the normal “accepted” fashion!

hens1– What determined such a change in the style for “Free Spirit”?

I was very confused by this time and I really didn’t have the songs I wanted, but the label put a lot of pressure on me. On top of the pressure I put on myself.

– “No More” is one of the best ballads you’ve ever written, and it seems to be addressed not to a woman. Did it have anything to do with you having left the band?

As I said, I was quite confused at the time though, I believe, this song was just an “imaginary” one!

– In the liner notes to “From Time To Time” you wrote about “I Don’t Wanna Wait” and “There Comes A Time” being recorded in 1982 during a demo session. Was there an album in the works then?

Not really. I had written some songs while I was living in Colorado and wanted to record them there. At that time I was essentially retired, actually.

– What was the reason for the re-recording of “Free Spirit” and “I Don’t Wanna Wait” this time?

It was part of a plan to build two CDs, actually. To take two songs off of “Running Blind” and put them on a re-packaged release of “A Glimpse Of Glory”, which will come out later in 2002. At first, I wasn’t sure about it, but I believe both projects have benefitted, and I am deeply happy that “A Glimpse Of Glory” will have a new lease of life!

– The same with “Moving In” – but that one, though written while in BLACKFOOT, was recorded quite recently. Why re-do this one?

To give it new life and to take advantage of the opportunity to spend time in the studio with some of the players from the new band.

– Then “It’s Up To You” – another recent song. Weren’t you satisfied with the first version?

This is not a re-recording! I was – and still am – perfectly happy with the original.

– Regarding BLACKFOOT – how did you become a member? There should have been more interesting offers…

I was never a member of BLACKFOOT. I didn’t sign any contracts with the band or the record company. I just went along for the ride to see how it felt and, after a while, I realised I didn’t want to do that any more. I was invited to play B3 on their record and agreed to do the tour.

– “Think Twice”, “The Cost Of Loving” and “One Tender Moment” were put out on “A Glimpse Of Glory” while you wanted them to appear on “The Best Of” collection and talked about guest musicians, like Billy Sheehan and Frankie Banali, you’d love to play on those tracks. Did they played on demos?

No. But don’t rule out the possibility of something happening with them along the way!

– “Guard You Heart” – it’s the only song on “A Glimpse Of Glory” with you neither singing nor playing, and then you and John Lawton did it live. Why didn’t you touch it originally even though the album had your name on it?

Actually I did play B3 on it – I just forgot to give myself a credit! That was a Ken Hensley & VISIBLE FAITH album, by the way!

– The SHOTGUN project – why did it fail? Could you tell about that band, please?

It was a decent band but I really didn’t do it the right way. My motivation was all wrong and so the result was not very good. That’s what usually happens, isn’t it?

– Did you ever performed your solo songs live? Except for SHOTGUN and those from “Glimpse”, with Lawton, that is.

Not much, but I plan to in the future. I don’t know if we will do them on the first leg of the “Free Spirit” tour but definitely later in the year.

– There’s a lot of slide guitar in your songs. Slide is primarily considered as blues tool. How did you get to use it so efficiently? Dave Gilmour had a very similar approach on “Atom Heart Mother” and “Meddle”, incidentally.

If that’s a comparison, I will take it as a huge compliment! I actually developed my style by a complete mistake! I didn’t know that you were supposed to tune the guitar to an open chord and I learned to play slide with a normal tuning. I think it’s a little more melodic that way and doesn’t sound so bluesy. Of course, if I could play like David Lindley or Ry Cooder, I’d be a happy man!

Photo: © Fin Costello

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