Hugh The Hugh Banton Interview
Lymm, Cheshire
5th October 2001
Interview by Tim Locke
Photography by Phil Smart
(some material supplied by HB)


All Material Copyright


Tim: Have you recorded anything recently apart from 'Curly's Airships'?

Hugh: I have now - my latest project is Bach's 'Goldberg Variations' - since Curly's Airships I've been looking around for a project ... I've been going to make my solo album for 25 years now! ... but I've not actually done it yet, but I have now! I sort of start various projects and then get sidetracked and throw them away - I'm afraid I need a project that has a start and a finish, which was why I could do Curly's. Judge just told me what to do, so I did it and he put it together - so that's what I need. So I figured I would pick something and so... how did I pick the Goldberg Variations? I don't know, I thought I would try and do an organ version - I've always liked it - so that's what I have been doing since June.

Tim: Is it completely classical, or with a rock feel?

Hugh: It's completely classical - it's absolutely authentic - I haven't got an outlet for it yet - I'm going to start looking for one when I've finished it - some time next week - There are 75 recorded versions of the Goldberg Variations I know of, most of them are piano or harpsichord, (it was written for harpsichord) so I'm just going to join that lot. It's one of those works that you can keep re-visiting and re-interpreting in different ways - so it's coming out rather well, I think.

Tim: Played on a Banton Organ?

Hugh: It is, it's all being generated in the studio. I have the electronics of a Banton Organ so it is being constructed as I go, with overdubs and overdubs and overdubs, but that will not be obvious when it's finished; it will sound like an organ performance - one could say it's cheating, but it's not. You could not do what I have done any other way, so therefore it's not cheating. You could not sit down and play the Goldberg Variations like I have done it - so I am happy.

Tim: Can you describe what you've done?

Hugh: I recorded every note as a Midi file, but using it like a tape recorder, so, literally, the only purpose of using the Midi is just to get the notes down, stored - a Midi file is just like a pianola roll - it stores when the notes are played - Midi files do have something of a bad name because you can do quantising, which will sort out all your timing errors and things - which is absolutely fatal - you know, it's another reason why synthesizer music sounds bland - so I don't use Midi recording like that - I just start it and I play - I do correct wrong notes - I'd be a fool not to - if one makes a slip it is possible in a Midi file just to go and shift it and put it right. Now I do have a Banton Organ generator which will run from a Midi so that is stage 2, getting it to the right sound and that is where I can multi-track. I can use the same recording ten times over for the different organ stops - so it's literally like assembling the organ one stop at a time but, nevertheless, in the end it's just as if you had done them all at the same time. It records better that way. I've got much more control over the recording - if you were just recording an organ performance, you could just record in stereo, but I'm using 32 tracks - it's a long-winded process, but it is the only way to do it.

Hugh at the helm

Tim: Going back to the '70s again, how did it affect you when the band finally split up in '78? ... Especially as it was originally you who recruited some of the band members through International Times?

Hugh: I was kind of out of touch with them in '78, '77, - I wasn't really paying much attention, to be honest, I was being an organ builder.

Tim: Involved with something else?

Hugh: I left because I wanted shot of it at the time and it took a while before I got back in contact again - I saw them once or twice, went to a gig or two, one in Manchester - It wasn't until 1979, when I was having kids and Peter Hammill was having kids so we had another interest in life and we started talking to each other a bit more around that time.

Tim: Do you have any plans to play professionally again, or do you play professionally now?

Hugh: I play in a pantomime every year, that's about the only live thing I do these days, apart from things with Van Der Graaf Generator, reunions and things - I did pub bands in the '80s - a fiver here and there and so on, just for amusement, so, as for giving up the organs and everything in order to do that, I don't think so.
If I can do something with this Bach then I'll do more.

Tim: Do you think 'prog rock' as it's now called will ever come back to great popularity?

Hugh: There's good and bad in all things aren't there? The influences go on - I would like to think that the good aspects of it - the trail blazing things where we were trying to merge different musical styles were the good thing - instead of just having a four-four rhythm and playing C, F and G, we were doing all sorts of extraordinary things and that all stopped - that was very depressing to me, it had got very sort of straight - ... - I mean if you look at the charts now - don't start me on the charts now! It's just fairly pathetic. The music that gets to number one now just has a lyric and it has a chord and you can dance to it and that's it! God, that's disappointing!

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