When it comes to rock keyboard players, everybody seems to be looking back to the classic ’70s era and turn a blind eye on the present. That’s quite stupid as there’s a good crop of ivory tinklers in the game on the forefront of which is Clive Nolan. Mostly known for his position in PENDRAGON, there’s more than half a dozen bands that Clive has or had a skilful hand in. The last project of Nolan’s is CAAMORA, a rock opera-oriented concoction that even made it to the stage with fantastic "She". So what’s going on in the maestro’s head at the moment?
– Clive, with all the success of CAAMORA and PENDRAGON’s forthcoming album and 30th anniversary, what’s the main focus of your attention now?
Right now I’m busy preparing a large amount of music for the PENDRAGON tour. We need to carry about four hours with us, because we are planning to change the set around as we go. We are kicking off the new album and the tour with a special weekend of PENDRAGON where the fans will get to hear all of this music! It’s sold out already so I’m looking forward to that one. I am also trying to make a proper start on writing a new ARENA album.
– Wasn’t it strange to be singing while hearing your keyboard part played by someone else, during the “She” performance in Poland?
Actually, it didn’t really occur to me. I played all those parts on the studio album, so I was quite happy to let others worry about them. The singing kept me busy!
– Did you feel comfortable in one of the lead singers’ role?
I really enjoyed performing as Leo. It was something that came naturally to me since I had been singing various parts as the writing process continued. My plan was really for Leo to only have a small amount to do, but his role kept growing as the rock opera developed, so in the end I had an awful lot of lyrics to learn… I’m terrible at remembering lyrics (Laughs.)
– Is “She” a continuation of sorts of the ARENA’s “Immortality?” subject?
Completely the other way round! I discovered the story of “She” when I was a child, and the subject lived with me from then. It influenced many albums and lyrics I wrote over the years, and, in truth, I was just waiting for the chance to write something based on that original discovery.
– “She”, “Jabberwocky”, “Baskervilles”… Does the literary foundation make it easier for you to base an album on or does it restrict you?
I enjoy working with such classic literature. I have always been big book reader, and this is just part of my life. I think it’s inspiring to work with these… not restricting.
– All these prog operas have an impressive list of performers. Who – and how – did the casting?
For CAAMORA, the whole thing began with meeting Agnieszka Swita. We talked about the idea of “She”, and Agnieszka was keen to be involved. Finding the rest of the musicians was not a difficult task. I have worked with most of the performers before and respect their abilities. I just chose the right people for the job.
For other projects such as the Nolan & Wakeman albums, we had some people in mind which we thought would add the right kind dimension to the albums. We wanted Bob Catley’s voice – that was an easy decision. We thought it would be great to get Ashley [Holt] back, because he had performed on some of Rick Wakeman’s classic concept albums. The other musicians were chosen to make an interesting blend of performances.
– How come that with all the PENDRAGON’s complex arrangements, there’s only Nick Barrett credited as a sole writer? Is that the reason for your prolific work on the side?
Nick writes the songs in PENDRAGON. I write for ARENA, CAAMORA and all the other bands I work in… (Smiles.) It’s a nice and different challenge in PENDRAGON to concentrate on performance rather than the structure of the songs.
– Being quite advanced in computers, how can you relate to the ‘back to nature’ songs such as “A Man Of Nomadic Traits”?
There is a lot to be said for stepping back a little. I don’t think all technology is good. Actually, I think it has made the human race a less appealing species!
– PENDRAGON, SHADOWLAND, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, ARENA, Nolan & Wakeman, NEO, CAAMORA: how would you concisely describe each of the bands and the difference of your part in these?
PENDRAGON. In this band I am the keyboard player. I have been a part of PENDRAGON for the longest period of my life.
SHADOWLAND. This was my first attempt as a singer and ‘front man’. I really enjoyed performing in this band, but other priorities got in the way. We still hope to re-unite for some more shows at some point.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. This project is still missing the third album! I wrote most of the material for it about twelve years ago, and it’s still sitting on a disk waiting for a budget.
ARENA. A slightly heavier sound within the symphonic genre. I write the music with other band members, and I write the lyrics. ARENA is a more volatile group of people, but I think that makes them exciting on stage.
Nolan & Wakeman. This was a lot of fun to do. We got to work with some great artists. Recording [MAGNUM vocalist] Bob Catley was always an easy job.
NEO. It was a fun idea to put together a band that basically played music we were all a part of already. It was a nice challenge to play the music of IQ and PALLAS.
CAAMORA: This has been the major part of my life for the last four years. “She” is my ‘magnum opus’… (Laughs.)
– When you compose a new piece, how do you decide which project of yours will it go to – or do you compose especially for each project?
I ‘put on the right hat’, and go from there. (Smiles.) I tend to know what I am writing for. I need to be in the right frame of mind to suit whichever band or album.
– What was the CASINO record, one of your most obscure one, about?
It was a religious analogy written by Geoff Mann. He was an inspiring guy to work with, and his death was a shock to me. We were planning to make another album.
– How did the concept of two keyboards project with Oliver Wakeman come about? Were you inspired by the GREENSLADE approach?
I just met with Oliver one day. We went to the pub and talked about various ideas… by the time we left, we decided to make an album. The only reason was that we thought it would be fun to do.
– Was there ever a temptation to play with Oliver’s dad, the “Jabberwocky” narrator? And would you admit there was the “King Arthur” influence?
We thought it was better to get Rick to narrate, and for myself and Oliver to be the keyboard players. I’m sure there is some ‘Wakeman influence’ on the albums – more from Oliver than me, though. (Laughs.)
– You did a twin keyboard thing before, with Martin Orford. Was there a whole project with Martin planned?
There was always an agreement that Martin would write a piece, after I wrote this one. Sadly, we never got round to that.
– Your imprint is all over John Wetton‘s "Rock Of Faith". How did you team up with John – through Martin who’d played with him before?
I met John Wetton quite often at gigs. Then he decided he wanted to come to our studio, “Thin Ice”, and we just got talking about the album. Then I became involved in the keyboards and production. Then we co-wrote “Rock Of faith”. It was just a developing situation – I think it’s a great album!
– You’ve worked with several female singers. Is it a challenge to write for a woman’s voice and from a woman’s perspective?
It is a challenge. It is a different process. It’s hard to find really good female voices, but when I do, I think the results are excellent.
– I consider the “Old Priest Suite” one of the best pieces of yours. Is there a chance for a full album built around it?
It was written to go with a short film. What you hear is all there is.
– Which of all the albums you’ve done to the date gave you the utmost pleasure?
– What’s next for CAAMORA, then? I guess you’ll hardly go for another opera?
If CAAMORA do more, it will be another rock opera. However, that represents another three years of hard work, so I am not in a hurry to start yet. (Grins.)
– As busy as you are, what do you do in your spare time to enjoy life in full?
Mostly this is what I do! There is very little spare time – I work in music seven days a week. We were even recording some of the CAAMORA material on Christmas day, a couple of years ago. I do enjoy going to the cinema, and I read a lot.
Many thanks to Agnieszka Kulpinska of Metal Mind Productions for helping us get in touch