The very excellent drummer Bill Bruford gives the impression of being a very down to earth kind of guy in this interesting interview from the time when he kept the rhythm for Genesis.
Portrait of the drummer as a seeker after truth not wearing a shirt
The shirt has nothing to do with it. The philosophical bit has. You are looking at a man who renounced BIG MONEY (i.e. Yes) for ART… and now shows cavalier disdain for all potential Solid Gold Drum Stool Awards. BILL BRUFORD, currently gigging with GENESIS, tells CHRIS SALEWICZ why.
Are you quite sure that you`re definitely not joining Genesis full-time?
What if they asked you nicely? Would you join them then?
Bill Bruford shakes his head in a most positively negative way: “No. No, I couldn`t.”
Because it does sometimes happen that a new musician is brought in for a tour – as you have been for the Genesis US and European jaunt – and is then sussed out by the band and if they like him then he stays.
This is rather what those publicity shots of you and Genesis drummer-in-residence Phil Collins smack of to me.
“No. If Genesis asked me to join them full-time, I couldn`t because I would lose my sense of inquiry if I did. And it`s not the place for me. It does, however, get me to America which is what I want to do. It gets me playing on big stages, which I love doing, and so forth.
“But full-time? No.
“Not, incidentally, that they would want me to either. Because they also appreciate, I think, that I`d probably rock the boat too much and scream and shout and generally get in the way of their very concise idea of what they want to do.”
Right, it goes like this: Bill Bruford, top thinking person`s percussionist and the only King Crimson drummer seen to actually smile on stage, gets a call late last autumn from Phil Collins, Genesis drummer and vocalist now that the band is Gabriel-less.
Collins is in possession of Brand X, a weekend blowing band. (“Brand X is really the player`s kind of escape route from the songwriters, I think, in that playing behind the songs doesn`t entirely give Phil everything that he would like. So he forms Brand X which is a very loose group with not a terrific sense of direction about it so he can air his views elsewhere. And thereby feels all right in Genesis presumably.”)
Would Bill like to come out to play? Yes, please. Bill goes and percusses some four or five times whilst Phil Collins drums. Bill probably gets a certain sense of deja entendu when Collins gets underway: the Phil Collins drumming style has almost certainly had its evolution directed by a thorough earful of Bruford`s playing on assorted Yes records.
Surprise, surprise: Bill Bruford is now percussing and drumming with Genesis on their current tour, thus enabling Collins to take the vocal parts up at stage centre.
Did Collins have this planned all along, you may well ask. Did Bruford spot the footprint of a gigantic hound? Will the audiences at the Genesis concerts be able to tell Flora from Stork?
And so Bruford, aware that he is finally actually Doing Something that warrants a re-statement of his existence to the rock populace at large, gets himself interviewed.
Last summer, I`d bumped into him and suggested a quick C120`s worth. No way. Bill was not actually doing much of great copy-value. He felt it would be demeaning to do an interview of the “Well, I`m getting a band together, aren`t I?” nature. An awareness of the need for selling-points at such occasions is a healthy asset for any rock musician.
It must be said, however, that this Bruford-for-Genesis lark does seem to come close to proving that the man has probably driven himself into a corner by having played with first Yes and then King Crimson.
“Oh dear. The double-edged sword of the track record, that.”
And that this Genesis gig is almost too predictable.
“Well, it certainly covers the English branch of rock,” he nods, stretching out on an exceptionally fire-damaged goatskin rug (mine actually), and ruminates on his gigs since Robert Fripp called the cessation of existence of King Crimson in late summer, 1974:
“I mean, if you throw in Gong, the National Health and Roy Harper” – with all of whom Bruford has boardtrodden during the past 18 months – “that`s a reasonable cross-section of what`s happening here. And if I don`t have any great solutions at the end of that lot I don`t have any great solutions.
“Yeah, it`s funny, that. End of a seven-year twitch in a way.
However, I`m sure that the general conception of Genesis – general conception for the non-afficianado, that is – is that the band is very much in the shadow of Yes.
“Let me tell you,” Bruford scolds, as he presumes incorrectly that I`m speaking only of the US market, “as someone who`s been out on the front, that we tend to lump that kind of English thing together. Well, they don`t necessarily do that at all.
“Genesis get the same manic letters that every band gets – that I got in Yes and I got in King Crimson and I`ll doubtless get in Genesis, about `We think you`re the creators of the universe`. And `you`re the heaviest thing that`s ever happened` and all this nonsense.”
So you obviously don`t think that what they`re doing is Yes-ified?
“They don`t. They certainly don`t.
“But I know they use similar techniques in getting the music together. And – when I was in Yes – quite similar discussions went down about how the music should be created. Yeah, for the purpose of this conversation they`re much of a muchness.
“But the consumer doesn`t see it that way at all.”
Pinteresque pause. And then: “Genesis are actually a Song Group. And quite lightweight at that too. They don`t even like to be considered very `heavy` or anything like that, you know. Songwriters. Very much songwriters.”
As is perhaps half the rock world (sic), Bruford is more than a little amazed that Genesis have not only proved with “Trick Of The Tail” that Peter Gabriel is not necessarily regarded by the band`s devotees as having been synonymous with the band`s name but that they actually appear to be more popular now than they were a year ago when Gabriel remained still a member.
It seems, more than anything, that it`s the prospect of clearing his head of this country and its musical creative barrenness that impelled the percussionist to take the Genesis gig.
“It`ll be good to get back to America. Get re-energised and re-vibed,” he says. “There really is nothing here for musicians – apart from that little National Health axis – who want to play. Which is really what I want to do. I don`t really want to fart around with images and stuff, you know – I`d rather play. And I`m not gonna get a lot of very interesting gigs in England.”
Bruford was “within pissing distance”, as he so quaintly puts it, of forming his own band last year, “but it got bogged down for various reasons – most of which stem from the fact that you`re 2,000 miles apart.”
Jeff Berlin, the bassist he was enlisting into the band, appears to epitomise the kind of musician he`s been so far unable to come across on the British music scene.
Bruford shrugs his shoulders resignedly. “He`s 22. Four years at Berkeley School Of Music. Plays anything standing on his head. Fantastic bass style. Fantastic bass technique. No complications at all. Where`s the amp? Where`s the gig? Plug me in. I`m away. I`m a jazz musician. I`m a rock musician. No problem at all. Doesn`t think about it. Get in and do it.
“But forming the band was a bit of an uphill struggle,” he laughs, “so rather than force it, I`ll stay loose, keep my nose clean and stay out of trouble.
“Watch, wait, observe and absorb.”
In effect, Bruford has opted out of the game of being a Rock Star. Contrary to what I`d somewhat naively assumed, he has not been coming close to the bread-line. There is obviously something amiss when his management company are very happy indeed that he decided not to form a band as that could have entailed a rather severe tightening of the purse strings.
As it is, there`s always a Pavlov`s Dog around who`ll fly him over the Atlantic so they can find a drummer for their second album.
Actually, Pavlovian kennel-minder supreme Sandy Pearlman is waxing orgasmic about Bruford`s abilities in the current issue of ZigZag. But he`d better watch out. Bruford likes to kiss and tell:
“What happens is you tend to do the thing on the idea that you thought it was anonymous. Or that you were just being hired to play. But, of course, you`re not – because you`re also being hired for your track record, because the group can benefit from your track record as well.
“And the next thing you know, there are journalists sitting about all the time and you`re tacked on to some sort of a group.
“And I don`t think it`s really fair that I should be used that way, you know, so I kinda resent that a bit.”
Having been part of it then having made a conscious decision to opt out of it Bruford is very well aware of what is going haywire with rock`n`roll big business – and thereby with rock`n`roll in general.
Rock`n`roll, you see, isn`t too far removed from the corporate non-thinking that infests most of the world`s financial institutions. And, of course, much that falls into the category of corporate thinking is born of paranoia that the individual decision maker – at all levels throughout the institution – may have his position jeopardised by threatening talent emerging below him.
Hence talent does not always out by any means. This is not profound thinking. Any trained sociologist should be able to tell you that.
Trained sociologist will probably neglect to consider, however, that this trait is as prevalent in the rock`n `roll business as in, say, the Houses Of Parliament.
Tell me, Bill, where are all the 19 to 22-year-old talented rock musicians?
“I think that`s been fixed by the wealthy rockers, you know, who`ve cut themselves a slice of the action and want to keep everybody else out of it – even if it`s only buying PA systems that kids can`t afford, you know.
“We`ve got a nice slice of the action and everybody else who didn`t make it before the gates closed… Well, it`s tough shit.
“There was a particularly sunny vibe when everybody was playing instruments in about 1968, 1969. And people were beginning to get rich and everybody had a record contract, you know. And that`s all ended.
“There was a very sunny few years when the Chris Squires of this world got rich. And they can count their chickens that they lived at that time – because in very few other times would they have been so lucky, I think.
“I expect I`ll go on doing the rounds playing on everybody`s records. I mean, yeah, it`s a career, isn`t it really?
“Perhaps when another five or ten years have elapsed we`ll all have a good second-wind of ideas of what to play among the 35 to 40-year olds. Perhaps I`ll do nothing until around my late 30s.
“I`m trying to hover, you see.”
Yet, of course, you created that problem by leaving Yes.
“Yeah. Deliberately so. Well, that was to avoid getting farmed out and believing that you`re great and that you don`t have to do another day`s work in your life.” When did you first become aware that that was a strong possibility?
“Of being farmed out and bought off? And rendered thoroughly inactive?” Bruford laughs.
“Oh, I dunno. After I joined Crimson. When I realised I would have maybe lost any sting I had in the bass players` commuter belt down the A30.
“It`s an old trick that: so much money about that you daren`t say anything against it.
“But I don`t have any solutions, though. I`m just hovering… trying to get around with some of the better musicians around. Like the National Health. And learn something. See if maybe they`ve got an answer because I haven`t really got an answer.”
A full page ad in NME for Budgie. Nice one.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Buffy Sainte-Marie, Graham Parker, Louis Jordan, Jimi Hendrix, Horace Silver, Jimmy Castor, Nazareth, Rick Wakeman.
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