INTERVIEW  by DAVID ROTH

I want to ask you about "Sell Out Joe". Why did you not use vocals in your Father Mucker CD?

Well actually, Sell Out Joe was first recorded in 80/81 in London with Alan Mark (Graucho) on Vocals, and different musicians on guitar, bass, and drums. Then when I started recording Father Mucker in Berlin, there was Sandro Ricciarelli on guitars, and we recorded the first tracks with acoustic guitars, and tablas.

You mean you were also on the acoustic guitar.

Yes, I did the rhythm guitar, as also Sandro. He was the guitar specialist. And as we progressed and the electric guitars came on, it seemed to me a matter of time before I brought in the vocals. Andy Clark did the vocals a bit later, though when I mixed the album in Munich, I decided to pull the vocals out.

Why?

Because I wanted Father Mucker to be instrumental, then. Even though there are a few tracks there with vocals, that was how it was.

What made you name the song with that name?

In 1979, I was for about nine months in South East Asia, and there I was confronted with the genocide in Cambodia. About two to three million humans were murdered. It was a horror filling situation and on my return to London I decided to record the number with vocals, which I did.

There was also at this time in S.E.Asia the Vietnam Refugee nightmare.

Yes, you are right- you are very much aware of what was going on then, and also now.

Was that the only song you recorded in London at the time.

No, I also recorded three other tracks.

Why were they not released?

Come on. No label big or small was going to bring that out. Another track was called Showdown and the playing was simply great. Though I had the feeling that they wanted lyrics like "the sky is blue, I love you, how do you do", at that time. I did check out a few labels.

Is that why you decided to have your own label GSP?

I was always very interested  from the late sixties/early seventies in having a studio set-up where I could record. But it did not happen, or was not meant to happen. GSP is there for me to do whatever I want, and whenever, without being told to do this or that, because that is how it is "supposed" to be done.

It was during this period that you went to Nepal?

I had been going to Nepal from the early seventies, usually for a few months at a time, and then back to London. It was in the early eighties that I started spending more time there.

You were studying Tablas there with your teacher.

Yes, though I had started early as a child, it was at the beginning of the seventies that this teacher came into my musical life. I had been looking for a while, for someone mature who had the essence of the the instrument at hand from it's earliest roots. Someone who had the awareness of the instrument from the last century. And this gentleman was not only a great player, he also knew how to teach.

Not many great musicians turn out to be good teachers. I wonder why.

Yes, that's a fact. The art of teaching is another level of music. One must also gauge, or be able to gauge how to bring the student to a standard, where it makes fun to want to learn the instrument. I think many a student has given up learning music because it was turning out to be difficult and too serious. Which music on it's highest level is-it is the most difficult profession in the world. Takes a lifetime. Some musicians, later in life end up with some serious injuries and disabilties.

What is that due to?

On many an occasion, it can be the wrong position of holding an instrument, overdoing, doing what has to be done, perhaps also because the musician is actually not that fit and healthy. Fortunately here in Germany, there are doctors specialised in handling problems arising from playing a musical instrument. Another fact is that the teacher, or the teaching process does not come down to the levels of where the student is at. If one cannot climb Mount Everest and ski down it like a Ferrari, it is also fine, to play music on a lower level. But our demands, the demands of the achievements of the instrument, the heights attained by some brilliant musicians, can also be a hindrance to the musician. If only it was possible for the teacher to bring across a piece of music composed, to the level of the student, and allow it to take it's musical process and progress, it would be okay. But we humans want to hear flamenco, or the raga, or the guitar boogie, etc, played as fast as that,that had been done before, by some great musicians. And if some student cannot reach that level, then there are very few in tune to say,"Hey, it's fine, there is no problem driving your musical car with only three wheels. Take your time".That helps to take the hectic out of the tenseness.

Recently, there was this Tsunami, that started in Sumatra and went across Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, and I thought about your number "Solid Water Blues" on Father Mucker. Did you have that in mind when you recorded it in 1999?.

When I was in Nepal, I used to go quite often, treking up the mountains. Not beyound four thousand meters or so, used to talk with the locals, and those arriving from higher heights, also regions like Tibet and nearby. Way back it became obvious to me that there was something not being as before, with the nature. Also in my visits to Islands in S.E.Asia, I started noticing over a period of years, that the water was eating well into the coastline. When the glaciers start melting in the Himalayas, which is the roof of the world, then a huge disaster is not to be avoided. So coupled with both these factors, and also seeing the polutions levels, in the Himalayas, and the regions around, getting dangerously high, it was that which made me record Solid Water Blues.

You used fourteen Tablas on it. Was that difficult to record?.

Well, every track on it is a first take. I feel if you are going to do a number with that kind of name, then it requires it's own identity. One cannot fine tune something after say ten or twenty or more takes. Perhaps in films that can happen, and one can edit it later, but a  professional approach from a director, will ensure, that the pruduct is as real as it can be made. With this number I was very emotionally there, though being my own album, I was also professinally aware of what was going on in the control room, with the Tablas, the other instruments, and myself. The Tablas are in front and leading, and the guitars, bass and percussion are backing it. That's it actually.

What about the Sam Gopal Dream in sixties, that made the most impact on you?.

It has to be the music made by the musicians. It was unique, with Mick, Pete and me to start with, Tablas, Guitar, Bass and Organ. We were growing, these were wonderful times with them and I am happy that it occured then.

Around this time Jimi Hendrix jammed with the Sam Gopal Dream. I read in an interview you gave to a magazine in Singapore, that asked you why did the world not know that you had played with Hendrix. Why have you not mentioned this before, and also let your fans and readers who come to your site, know about other great musicians who have jammed with you?

When Father Mucker came out, it being my first album on GSP, I was trapped, erroneously, in the usual demands of publicity with the release of the CD. This magazine in London reviewed it, and in return, asked me about that jam  at the Speakeasy, in 1967 where Hendrix sat in with us. I think Pete also added something on it. As for mentioning, or dropping names, to induce other people to buy my music, or listen to me, is for me not on. I do not have to do that to bring my Tablas to other people's attention. The fans out there, and  music lovers are hip and cool. What has "Mighty Mike" or "Blazing Joe" got to do to bring the tablas and my music to the attention of other people?. If others are doing that, then it is okay for them. Either one has got it in oneself or one has not. Simple as that. It is no use going on the runway like a brand new airliner, going round and round in circles, unable to take off. No amount of make-up and glitter can make it take off

I realise that you rarely give interviews. Is there something about the "dentist drill" or the "extraction process" that makes you feel uneasy, or do you see it as an intrusion into your life?

I draw a clear line between my private, and the other side, of performing in public, and the studio process.

But much as you want to feel free to express yourself with music, thoughts and the current of words, I too want to feel free in being able to ask what I think and feel will bring wisdom, curiosity, and strike a flow in communication.

Sure, but the private area of my life, my personal relationship, my friends, my family, you do not have to penetrate into that. There are certain acceptable areas, and also there some undesirable directions. It is fair to mention that, I feel.

How do you feel about relationships between men and women. What are the things that are important, you find that can make a relationship between a man and woman work?.

It is important to have love. I feel trust is also an essential ingredient. Though the most special thing is to be able to talk and communicate. Sometimes we humans talk to each other, but we do not talk with each other. It is when we leave ourselves and our thoughts, in the library that we always carry with us, and get into sharing and caring, with the other person, then the music will start playing. I feel sometimes, we humans meet someone and are knocked off our feet, but in a strange process later, they want to change the other person. To accept the person you love, or who loves you as he or she is, now that is going places. I know it is easier said than when one is in the middle of it, but maturity is also needed. One does not have to be one hundred to arrive there. Some in their teens, twenties and thirties and so on, are also there with their kind of maturiry. The human has got to work it out with the one he or she is with. There is no fixed mantra for happiness. Though quite often, the lack of an identity, or understanding oneself, can become a burden to the other. It is like there are a few different people in one person.

In another interview with a reputable newspaper here, you mentioned that you were interested in the workings of the left and right sides of the brain, and how music could help damaged people and those with Alzheimer or depressions. Also that strong rhythms do have some input with muscles. Is music that powerful?

There are today many specialists working on how the brain reacts with the use of music as a therapy. I think it is great that music therapy is in use for patients who had strokes, heart attacks and other illnesses. When one is aware that out there, there are many who might have had problems that arise in being sad and depressed, then I feel that music that is made specially to help others to relax and lay back, is indeed a must. In our world out there, some cannot be reached. There is simply no one there at that particular time to reach out and give that person a hand to console, calm or take the edge out of that tense and unbalanced situation. Perhaps the others do not notice, or do not want to get involved. Perhaps in their world of I, Me, Mine, there is no place for anybody else. Music can relax, stimulate, and also cause reactions. Depending on the type of music. I feel that when one can combine the muscular factor and also the workings of the brain to induce a desired result, then one has got started on something. Sure it can take time, and perhaps we humans want everything quick and served as one wishes. With treating illnesses and other ailments, time is always one of the essential factors in recovering.

In 1968 you recorded Escalator with Lemmy, Phil Duke and Roger D'elia. How does it feel to be part of something that is still regarded as something of a collector's album more that thirty years later?

Escalator has escalated, and is still escalating. I am living in a new century, and do not look back that often. It can be a strain on the neck. It was a very nice experience and I have fond memories of the great times with Roger, Phil, and Lemmy.

You also had a Band with same name, with Alan Mark, Mox Gowland, and Freddy Gandy. I gather later you called it Cosmosis. How was that experience?.

It was great with Graucho(Alan) Mox and Freddy. Beautiful times. When we changed the name to Cosmosis, Bernie(Holland) was on guitar. Isaac Guillory(guitars) entered the picture a little bit later, and also played with us- Amsterdam, London, and so on. That's it for now. Let us take it further, the next time. Very nice to have this exchange with you.

Thanks for the observations, recall, and your time.

This part of the interview, is on a bus, in a journey in Laos, between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, heading towards the north of Laos.

Why did Cosmosis stop existing?.

Wow.! To talk about something from 1971 in England, here in Laos, and to travel back ,rewinded, to an experience, is something one does not go through, while travelling forwards in a bus, that often. It is so real here, the view looking out, the people going about life in such a natural way, simply because, that is how it goes on.....We came to a halt through circumstances,

You had a motorbike accident then, you mean?.

Yes, one of the experiences of that time.

I heard that you had a bad accident, that affected your back, how did you handle that?.

The truth is that one cannot handle, something that had not happened in one's life before, that is a painful experience in itself. Something ,one's mind has to cope with, a process, that is disturbed, by not being able to handle matters.

You mean the pain prevents the flow of thought and decision, on matters?.

Yes my brain, mind, soul, or whatever, was blocked, being able to reason reasonably, and logically. Pain registers on the brain like a constant tone, and anything else does not have a sense, to it. Sure I was aware of matters going on, but the reality of it all was different. I had two vertebraes or so, not in harmony with rest of my spine. And this can lead to what we are talking about.

What helped at that time?.

I started spending a lot of time in the studios. This was a beautiful experience, not only as a learning process, but also, the studio being soundproofed, was a calming enviroment. It is great when silence can prevail occasionally. Plus, I had a few really dear family of friends, who were there.

It must have been difficult not having the band there?.

Well, actually I was not there myself, and sure it was not easy to accept, that I had to come to terms with all that. During this time I recorded an album"Building B", with Mox Gowland, Isaac Guillory, Andy Clark. That was, on hindsight,, a positive experience, that I felt was due to the power of music, as a drive, a healing emotion, one is unaware of it at that period in time. Something that is unknown, till one comes to be aware of it, usually much later, in this instance.

Is it not around this time that you first went to Nepal?.

Yes, initially it was to have a change, and to let the injury heal. Though, the first time I was there, I was drawn totally to the country, cultures, language, music, the foods, the mountains, the smells were also Nepalese. Also there I met my Tabla teacher. So that is how it all came about.

Then there came the periods in Amsterdam, Paris, Spain?. What are those craters, where nothing seems to grow around, I keep seeing out of the window every now and then?.

These are where they dropped bombs during the Vietnam war.

But this is Laos, I did not know about this, at that time.I thought the war was in Vietnam. Did you?.

I came later to know about it. But we cannot expect, to be told everything that happens in our world. The newspapers, radio and TV stations have other considerations, like profit, sales, vested interests, the quote, and so on. Quality and Truth can suffer occasionally. You yourself as a writer and journalist must be aware of that.

I want to know the truth, and I work on it. I am someone who believes in the good of man, and will continue to do so. Don't you too?.

Yes, of course. But there are all these other areas, like brain -washing, disinformation, misinformation, constipated information, and after a while, I do not know what the news is trying to tell me, if anything.

Reminds me of the lyrics in your song "Uhland" on your "Father Mucker" CD. "What is the use of listening to the news, when you do not understand the language it is in"?

Really, the lyrics were,"How can it be news, when they tell us, what they want us to know"?. But in the process of recording in the studios, one sometimes comes across the beauty of language, prose, rhyme, musicianship, and so on .And what comes out at the end, can also make sense, even when one did not mean it that way, in the first place. The beauty of creativity can be amazing sometimes. that is if one allows it to take a hold.

I like to come back to Amsterdam, Paris, and Spain, and ask you what it was like, being in these places and cities. What took you there?

I love Amsterdam, and I was there alone, without a band, in '74, for some time. It was a really nice time. I did "Sam's Jam" at the Paradiso Club for a while, and then to London,....there was some music to be played with Didier Malherbe and Patrice Lemoine, on some sort of Gong renuion, in Paris. Didier, Patrice and me played something with a guitarist, whose name I cannot remember right now. He was good, and I hope he forgives me for this lapse. There I met up again with Daevid Allen, who I had not seen since the sixties, when he was with Soft Machine. He was living in Spain at that time, and asked me to come over, and play on a recording he was doing, and also to play on something, his wife Gilly who,was also recording then. That's how it all came about, in a few sentences. Sure I was in Amsterdam for longer periods, like in Paris too, growing and developing. Spain too had it's private sides for me.

You do say alot, but there again between the spoken word, and the written sentence, you seem to let some space and silence come through. Is this a way of not wanting to say too much, or are you also trying to tell me something?.

It is really beautiful the way you are invoved in this interview. I feel this is more of a joint expression from both of us, though you want me to talk about times and periods in my life, that are differnt from, what I live in, and with, in this world, now. It is fantastic how the brains and minds, can recall, and go through experiences, but one is also put through, having to digest all that, that has happened before, once again. And there I feel, it is best to say what I feel, and also allow the readers, to draw their own interpretations from that. Words have pictures, emotions, knowledge, music. They stimulate, and how they can hurt too.

I see that there is the French colonial influence still here in Laos. Did you also experience that in Malaysia?.

There was Malacca, that I as a child had to learn about.

Then came in the Dutch there at somepoint I think, or....?

Actually, in the fifth century or so, the Indian princes came through, took what was beneficial, then came the Portugese, the Dutch followed, then came the English, and at some time the Japanese, were there too, then came the English again.

Seems to me like the original version of Piracy and Pirates, or do you feel it otherwise?

Well they come in, plunder, rob and steal, kill, and go home, get decorated for that, and make fortunes. That is one way of seeing it. Sometimes, as with the British Colonial Rule, in Malaysia, they do some constructive things, like architecture, education, medical facilities, rule of law, and somethings like that.

But their version of it, and not that of the local cultures, religions, or people?

That is how the dice rolls for those, who do not know any better, simply because, they were never out of their own enviroment. And the benefits of education, and sometimes higher education, is denied to those, who are deemed not to be favoured for it. Then there is the muscle playing it's role too.

Today, the new Colonialism seems to me to be the Arms and Weapon stranglehold, do you notice that too?.

That is a never ending industry, which I find painful and sad, to think about, and talk about it. I hope you can spare me further involvement on this topic.

Then came Berlin. What took you there?.

I was in Kathmandu in the eighties, and towards the middle of that period, I felt like I needed a change, so I decided on Berlin, as I had not been there before. It was '88 when I first came there. I did something there with a band I put together called "Sangit" with violin, flutes, sitar, tablas and another instument. We did two gigs, one recording, and that was it. The musicians were in London and I was in Berlin. Also I wanted to get back to the rock/blues format, which I feel good with. So I met up with Andy Clark again. I put together a band called "Clark-Gopal", and we did many gigs in Berlin, and also the old East Germany.

This was the time of the Wall coming down, wasn't it?.

I was there just before it came down, though with Andy, it was in 1990, that we first recorded, This was one year after the wall. We did "Soap Opera", and the next year '91, we recorded "Not for Sale". In between I had recorded "Father Mucker".

This must have been a really creative period for you then, or what do you think?.

Yes, it was really nice. It was fantastic and wonderful, to record and play with Andy. He speaks a language, that we both understand. I feel, an almost telepathic chord with him, it so nice to be in tune musically on that level. And we also have our own sense of humour, that takes care of the good vibes. Recording in Hansa Studios was a beautiful process and experience. There were some really special people there, who will always remain in my thoughts, and memories.

I see here in Luang Prabang, a wonderful place with special pagodas, buddhism in a very original form, the Mekong flowing with it's secrets under the currents, and wonder what you think about all this as an Asian, or do you view it differently?.

I feel more like a Musician, than as an Asian, though by birth in Malaysia, I was blessed to have the benefits of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other cultures, while growing up. Though I also see what is going on here in Laos, and in Asia, from that "Outside Looking In" viewpoint, and sometimes I feel uneasy with the way it is progressing, in some matters, like the way Nature is hammered at. The Mekong is bringing it's poisons and chemicals from up there in China, and then goes through, areas likes Laos, Cambodia, Vietnem, and Thailand. There are millions whose livelihood depends on the Mekong river, and what it throws up. The Timber logging here, and in the areas around in Asia, like the Rainforests in Borneo, (Sarawak and Kalimantan), is turning this part of the world into a furnace of damage, that cannot be repaired anymore. The underground water reserves, are being poisoned with toxins, chemicals, fertilisers etc, in countries like China and India. This will eventually have side affects, particularly on people who draw from this reserves, and create products for themselves, and other humans, to nourish and survive. Most humans are in that daily "Inside Looking Out" way of living. Next stage is, that one is not well, and does not know what it is, Skin problems, breathing, nerves, and other new permutations, of mixtures, of some kind of new "additives cocktails", that spell damage.

Is this not a problem that has to be solved by the leaders of all these countries?.

Sooner or later, Nature will redress any imbalance. There are some decent and caring people out there, who have compassion.

But there were musicians and artistes like Lennon, Picasso, etc who spoke out, did they not?.

I do not know what Lennon was doing in America then, what his circle of influence was, and so on. I did like some of his music. As to other musicians and artists, I can understand when they stand up and voice their Voice against injustice or atrocities. But then you are getting into the perimeter and domain of politics. And a musician and artist must stay neutral, even when voicing against unfair practices. Or they should join some party, perhaps start one. Make your music, create, but no violence please. That blows it all. What might be politics to most, could be spiritual for me, or even medical, on rare occasions. As to Picasso, I have here no idea where he was at. I have none of his paintings, though I have seen few of them. I will have to research on that, when time permits.

What about artists who protest against racism, and discrimanations against races and minorities?.

Every one is free to like or dislike, in private. But to practice racism in an open way, is a disgusting and despicable prejudice. One should never take away the dignity and respect of a fellow human, whether on grounds of race or sex, or for any other reason. Racism is not an area that is exclusive to the "White and Black" platform. There is racism in Asia, there is racism in Africa, there is racism in South America, and it goes on. The human has sometimes, this mentality of exercising power, particulary over the weak, the illiterate, the poor, and sometimes the unfortunate. But I do believe that the majority of humans have good in them, and will always come through to help out, those in need. Though the Times are also creating a divide of a chasm, where the benefits of having, works like a hypnotic blindness. The artist is also, or was, for some, "The Eye and the Ear" of future generations. I would love to play music, and hope some can enjoy it, others can dance to it, and hopefully a few can dream to it. Perhaps some can relax to it and forget, for a while, whatever that needs to be put at rest.

You have left me, with lots to dream about. Do you dream?.

Yes, sometimes they are clear, other times they pass by, occasionally there is music,....it is such a beautiful process, our bodies. You sleep, but there is a whole other world going on. One is not consious of it factually, but one feels that something has happened in one's sleep, one wakes up refreshed and bubbling, or it feels like there were some mountains to climb that night.

What do you think of death and dying?.

It is the same melody that starts with birth and ends, with the body stopping to function further.

Do you believe that there is a world after that?.

No one has come back and told me more about this. But all this energy cannot just stop, when the body gives up. Some say this, and others want it precise. There has to be another room where,the next dimension exists, and can exist, and one is not "aware" of this. It is a question of believing, and with that, one can think, observe, and feel more about, the unknown. It is a journey of discovery. That brings one into the spectrum of curiosity. The Pure is always much more stronger than the negative.That's it for now.

Thanks for this, and I hope, there will be other times of feedback and revelations.