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Interview with Brian Coombes (Rocking Horse Music Club)

...about the Phillips/Rutherford-Tribute-Shows 2019, via Email, 28th April 2019

In April 2019, word has reached us that the British Club Trading Bundaries will be hosting an interesting event this November. Trading Boundaries has a lot to offer for anybody interested in arts, from a gallery to exhibitions and there is also a nice Café. Trading Boundaries is also well known for interesting live music events. Steve Hackett plays shows at Trading Boundaries with his Acoustic Trio regularly. But the venue is also well known among tribute bands and they do a lot of shows there as well. On 15th and 16th November, Trading Boundaries will host an interesting event related to Genesis. American band Rocking Horse Music Club will perform early solo stuff from Anthony Phillips and music from Mike Rutherford's first album Smallcreep's Day. Special guest will be vocalist Noel McCalla.

Helmut Janisch from (GNC) had the chance to interview Brian Coombes recently. Brian is the producer and creative director of the band Rocking Horse Music Club as well as their bass and keyboard player:

GNC: What can Genesis fans expect to see with regard to the length of your show and tracks played from Anthony Phillips' first three albums and from Smallcreep’s Day?

Brian: The shows will be a combination of Ant Phillips music and material from Mike Rutherford’s Smallcreep’s Day. We’re rehearsing a good long set of Ant’s material (over an hour), which focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on his first three solo albums. As I’ve been selecting material for the set list, I’ve been trying to include songs from each side of Ant’s musical personality: rock music, 12 string music, and piano music. Each of those will be covered. I don’t want to give away the entire set list, but I can tell you that we’ll be performing Nightmare, Um & Aargh, Paperchase, Collections/Sleepfall, Bleak House, Which Way the Wind Blows, Silver Song, and others. We’re also thinking about adding some early Genesis that are related to Ant, perhaps Let Us Now Make Love and something from From Genesis to Revelation.
The Smallcreep’s Day material will be a 30 minute part of the set, so it’s just a sampling of songs from that amazing album. We’ll be playing a few of the standalone tunes from that record, plus a selection of parts from the longer suite of music that was one side of the original vinyl album. Noel McCalla, the lead singer on the album, will be joining us on stage to perform that material with us … I’m also hoping to get him to sing on one of Ant’s songs.

GNC: How did you get in touch with Noel and got him interested to participate?

PosterBrian: Interesting story about how Noel came to be involved. I flew to London in January 2019 to discuss the project with Ant and then meet with Michael Clifford from Trading Boundaries to discuss the particulars of the show. Ant and I met at his place in the early afternoon, then Michael joined us in the evening. As the three of us were talking about the show, Michael mentioned that he was friends with Noel McCalla and that Noel had expressed interest in performing Smallcreep’s Day with a band someday. I loved the idea of having Noel involved and mentioned that maybe we could do a few Smallcreep’s songs in our set. It made sense to me because Ant had played keyboards on that record, so it all tied in. We got Noel on the phone then and there, while we were sitting in Ant’s living room. I believe that it was the first time Noel and Ant had spoken, because the basic tracks for Smallcreep’s Day had been recorded in Sweden without Noel, then Noel recorded the vocals in England. We all liked the idea. And I loved that I had played a role in introducing Ant and Noel to each other after all these years.

GNC: Will Anthony or Mike be involved in this project somehow?

Brian: Ant has been actively involved in an advisory role already. We’ve discussed the set list, instrumentation, guitar tunings, and he’s shared a few amusing stories of the creation of those original albums. He’s been a valuable resource as we’ve been rehearsing and recording the material. I’m hoping that Ant will be attending the shows, but I have not actually asked him about it. I’ve never met Mike and I haven’t spoken with him about the shows, but I did hear back from Trading Boundaries that he has given us his blessing. I’d certainly welcome any involvement that he’d like to have.

GNC: There are quite a few links between you/Rocking Horse Music Club and the Genesis world. As far as we know it all began around 2015 or 2016 with either Anthony Phillips’ guest appearance on Anna Madsen’s album Efflorescene or with the Harmony For Elephants project where several Genesis related artistst as well as you contributed music. Can you tell us a bit about how this started and developed?

Brian: I had floating around the fringes of the Genesis world for years. Back in the 1990s I was in a prog rock band called Tristan Park. We did quite a bit of touring in the UK and supported acts like John Wetton, Arena, and Grey Lady Down, and we performed at a Rotherham Rocks festival for the Classic Rock Society. From there, Martin Hudson at the CRS introduced me to Ian McDonald from King Crimson, who performed on an album that I recorded with my wife back in 2003. I had also arranged to have Steve Hackett play on that record, but the session was scheduled for our final day in London. We planned to go to Steve’s on our way to the airport, but we got on the M25 (the circular road around London) going in the wrong direction. By the time we discovered our mistake, it was all we could do to make it to Heathrow in time for our flight, so the session never happened. Because I had arranged the session with his manager at the time, I don’t think Steve even knew about it. I told Steve that story when we met at a Harmony for Elephants event a few years back.
From there, I met Ant when I asked him to play 12 string guitar on Anna Madsen’s album. While I was at Ant’s I met Dale Newman. When Ant introduced us, my comment was, “Dale Newman? Bleak House Dale Newman?” Bleak House had always been a favorite of mine, so it was cool to meet Dale. Ant ended up playing on three songs for Anna’s record that day. Through Ant, we became involved with the Harmony for Elephants project. Our contribution to that record features Rob Townsend from Steve Hackett’s band, as well as drummer Jonathan Mover from GTR. I had met Mover backstage at a Steve Hackett show here in New Hampshire a few years ago. He is originally from the area, so he does sessions with us every so often.

Rocking Horse Musc ClubGNC: Our fanclub has a long relationship to Dale Newman. He was special guest at our 2008 fanclub convention for a long interview and a live show where he played his music. So, we are curious to know more about the connection between you and him, especially on his most recent album.

Brian: Around the time of Harmony for Elephants, Dale and I started making plans to work together on a new album. He sent over some demos and we discussed ideas for the record. He then flew to New Hampshire to record with us here at Rocking Horse using many of the Rocking Horse Music Club players. We loved the songs and we had a musical connection with Dale. The following year we traveled to England to record a new batch of songs with Dale at the Farm in Chiddingfold. I met Tony Banks during those sessions. Dale’s latest record features many of the musicians that will be performing the Ant and Smallcreep’s material in November.

GNC: When Dale was our guest in 2008 he also played a live version of Bleak House. Wouldn’t it be a nice idea if he would sing Bleak House at the live shows in November?

Brian: I’m actively trying to persuade Dale to perform Bleak House with us in November. But it’s a difficult situation, isn’t it? For fans of the original recording, Dale’s vocal from 1979 is amazing. To ask him to recreate that magic all these years later is a big ask. Singers are always compared to their earlier work, and unlike piano or guitar, the human voice is a fragile instrument that is subject to all the ups and downs of life. I’ve just sent Dale a MIDI piano file of Bleak House so he can play around with it and find a key that may work for him in 2019. If he decides not to sing Bleak House with us live, I’m hoping that I can convince him to sing it with us in the studio for the tribute album. And I’m hoping to get him to the shows in November, whether he sings or not.

GNC: You have just mentioned that Rocking Horse Music Club are working on a tribute album. Can you reveal what this is going to be?

Brian: We’ve been using the studio to learn and rehearse the songs for the show, so we decided to record them as well. I’m a record producer, so it’s been amazing for me as a fan of Ant’s music to reinterpret these songs that I know so well. We haven’t slavishly copied the original versions, but we haven’t taken them so far afield as to render them unrecognizable. The record will be about an hour long and will feature a few special guests. So far Jonathan Mover, Dave Mattacks, Nick Magnus, John Hackett, Simon Collins, and Dale have all expressed interest; I’m working on the logistics of making all of those appearances happen now, so the list of guests is subject to change! The record will also feature a few talented local artists, including former Miss America contestant Caroline Carter and American Idol star Evelyn Cormier (we’re doing records with both of them at the moment, and there’s a chance that both of them may join us for the shows in November). They both contribute amazing performances on the Ant tribute album!

GNC: Will you do further concerts like those in England in November, playing live either Anthony Phillips’ music or selections of Smallcreep’s Day?

Brian: At this point, there are no plans to play additional shows, so we’re hoping people will come out to Trading Boundaries.


Interview: Helmut Janisch

Harmony For Elephants - info and review
Anna Madsen - Efflorescene on iTunes
Dale Newman - latest solo album on iTunes
Rocking Horse Music Club - Official Website

Event at Trading Boundaries
Tickets: 15th Nov | 16th Nov

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