Dave Sin­clair

Former Car­a­van, Camel and Match­ing Mole man Dave Sin­clair is back with a new al­bum that em­braces mod­ern tech­nol­ogy yet has di­rect links back to his Can­ter­bury scene hey­day. From his home in Ja­pan, he gives Prog the low-down on Out Of Sinc…

Prog - - Contents - Words: Mal­colm Dome Images: Kiyoshi Take­bayashi

The former Car­a­van founder talks about his lat­est solo al­bum.

Even in the ec­cen­tric world of pro­gres­sive mu­sic, it’s un­usual for any­one to claim to have been in­spired by a 17th-cen­tury choir­mas­ter at St. Paul’s Cathe­dral. But that’s ex­actly what Dave Sin­clair does. “John Blow, my an­ces­tor, was or­gan­ist and com­poser to five kings and queens of Eng­land, and is buried in West­min­ster Abbey. My mother’s maiden name is Blow, and al­though she has no par­tic­u­lar mu­si­cal tal­ent, her brother had an ex­cel­lent tenor voice and sang in var­i­ous choirs. His son, Nigel Blow, my cousin, also had a tal­ent for mu­sic and com­posed tunes with flu­ent melodies. It was one of those tunes that in­spired me to start writ­ing what be­came the con­sis­tently top-voted Car­a­van track of all time, Nine Feet Un­der­ground.”

When he was young, Sin­clair joined a Can­ter­bury choir and en­joyed singing hymns, play­ing the pi­ano and com­pos­ing: “But I only re­mem­bered the com­po­si­tions I re­ally liked as there was no way of record­ing avail­able to me then. At that time, com­posers us­ing or­ches­tras with lots of per­cus­sion along with choral back­ing held a big at­trac­tion for me.

“It wasn’t un­til I was much older that I found out about John Blow, hear­ing that he had been the first com­poser of op­er­atic pieces in Eng­land. And the Home Again track on my new al­bum was ex­panded into a lengthy piece partly due to his mu­si­cal in­flu­ence.”

Sin­clair is un­ques­tion­ably one of the most im­por­tant mu­si­cians to be associated with the renowned Can­ter­bury Scene. A founder mem­ber of Car­a­van in 1968, he has also been a mem­ber of Match­ing Mole, Camel, Hat­field And The North and Po­lite Force.

Sin­clair last left Car­a­van in Oc­to­ber 2002, and left these shores for Ja­pan in 2005, where he has con­tin­ued pur­su­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing solo ca­reer. And with Out Of Sinc, the sixth al­bum he’s re­leased in the last 15 years, he has shown a ca­pac­ity for adapt­ing to mod­ern cir­cum­stances by rais­ing the fi­nances re­quired through PledgeMu­sic. How­ever, he ad­mits that it was ne­ces­sity that drove him in this di­rec­tion.

“Al­though I had pre­pared most of the ma­te­rial and ideas for the al­bum by 2014, it proved to be an up­hill strug­gle get­ting un­der­way, with so lit­tle fi­nance avail­able. Things moved along very slowly on bor­rowed money un­til I met [Car­a­van front­man] Pye Hast­ings in 2016 and he sug­gested I run a PledgeMu­sic cam­paign as he thought it would be very suc­cess­ful. I even­tu­ally started this in late 2017.

“You have to be pretty ded­i­cated to work through a cam­paign like this, but I was lucky to have amaz­ing sup­port from my wife and Ky­oto Mother­ship Stu­dio [where Out Of

Sinc was recorded], along with all the great mu­si­cians who played on the al­bum – and, of course, those fans who sup­ported me by pledg­ing. It was this sup­port that made it pos­si­ble for me to com­plete the al­bum in a much shorter time than ex­pected.”

Through his ex­ten­sive con­tacts, Sin­clair was able to call on the ser­vices of such gui­tar masters as the afore­men­tioned Hast­ings, Andy La­timer of Camel, and Doug Boyle (associated with Car­a­van, as well as Robert Plant) to play on the al­bum, all of them record­ing their parts re­motely.

“That’s a good thing,” he says of this mod­ern way of work­ing, “be­cause it’s rea­son­ably easy and cheap for any­one to have some kind of record­ing gear at home. Do­ing it this way also gives you more of a chance to prac­tise and hone the part in or­der to get the right feel, sound and rhythm. It works well for some peo­ple, but ob­vi­ously not for ev­ery­one. When Doug Boyle played gui­tar parts on my Full Cir­cle al­bum [2003], he did it in the stu­dio with­out pre­vi­ously lis­ten­ing to the tracks, but on that oc­ca­sion his ap­proach worked ex­tremely well.”

How­ever, there were also down­sides to cre­at­ing an al­bum with the mu­si­cians spread across the globe. Sin­clair says, “Work­ing from a dis­tance can be neg­a­tive in the sense that some record­ings can sound a bit me­chan­i­cal, due to the tech­ni­cal way of record­ing us­ing com­put­ers and click tracks. But I also ap­pre­ci­ate that in the stu­dio you’re some­times lim­ited by time and can feel pres­surised to per­form well. I was very care­ful in my choice of gui­tarists for each track, de­pend­ing on their style of play­ing and the sort of track they might pre­fer play­ing on.”

Sin­clair was, how­ever, de­ter­mined to col­lab­o­rate with a rhythm sec­tion who were on the spot with him in Ja­pan.

“I was adamant that I needed to work more closely with a drum­mer and to that pur­pose I brought [rock and jazz per­cus­sion­ist] Jim Bash­ford over to Ja­pan. We’d al­ready played a small gig to­gether in the UK and he was a keen fan of my kind of mu­sic, apart from be­ing an ex­traor­di­nar­ily tal­ented mu­si­cian play­ing many dif­fer­ent styles. He al­ready had a spon­sor­ship with Cano­pus drums in Tokyo, and they very quickly shipped a full kit down to Ky­oto from Tokyo.

“Af­ter re­hearsals at my friend’s lake­side house in Makino with Jim and Larry Fu­ji­moto – the bass player and owner of the Mother­ship stu­dio in Ky­oto where I was record­ing – the three of us went into the stu­dio. Later, other mu­si­cians sent in their recorded parts and we added those into the mix.”

Sin­clair sings on the tracks him­self, along with Yammy, a Ja­panese vo­cal­ist. “I recorded all my back­ing, har­mony and lead vo­cals at my home,” he says. “Yammy recorded in the stu­dio. I first met Yammy at Mother­ship Stu­dio, but it was two years later that I went along to one of her gigs. I was so knocked out with the live per­for­mances, her charisma and vo­cals that I asked Yammy straight af­ter the gig if she would sing on my al­bum. And be­cause of her par­tic­i­pa­tion, I was able to record some tracks which un­til then I hadn’t been able to find a singer for.”

One track that will catch the at­ten­tion of those with an in-depth knowl­edge of Sin­clair’s his­tory will be If I Run. It dates back to 1971 and his days with Match­ing Mole, but re­mained un­recorded un­til now.

“In 1971, af­ter the re­lease of In The Land Of Grey And Pink, I left the band and spent some time in Por­tu­gal work­ing with gui­tarist John Mur­phy. I re­turned to the UK af­ter re­ceiv­ing a telegram from Robert Wy­att, say­ing, ‘Come back, your coun­try needs you!’ I moved to Lon­don to join Match­ing Mole. The band re­hearsed and played If I Run live with Robert’s vo­cals and lyrics, al­though at the time I be­lieve it was called Run And Hide. I wrote the mu­sic for it.”

The song was never recorded, and was even­tu­ally for­got­ten – in a sim­i­lar way, Sin­clair says, to an­other track he wrote in Match­ing Mole called Amews­ing, the ti­tle al­lud­ing to Robert Wy­att’s house where the band stayed and re­hearsed in Lon­don. (This track has also been re­ju­ve­nated, with Sin­clair record­ing it for his 2004 Full Cir­cle al­bum, re­nam­ing it Peace In Time.)

“Both these tracks came back to life when Richard Sin­clair, my old Car­a­van band­mate, dug out and played some old tapes to me dur­ing re­hearsals with his band in the 1990s. It wasn’t un­til much later that I added the ex­tra solo sec­tion at the end of If I Run.

“Af­ter mov­ing to Ja­pan in 2005 I made some demo record­ings with Hideyuki Shima, a com­poser, bass player and Berke­ley stu­dent from the Ja­panese band Six-North. We recorded If I Run with Hide’s ar­range­ment and Percy Jones on bass, and later Phil Miller, who had played gui­tar in Match­ing Mole, played a solo. When I re­turned to the UK to record Robert for my Stream al­bum [2011], I asked if he could also sing on our If I Run demo, but he was un­able to find his orig­i­nal lyrics for the track and the demo was never com­pleted.

“Thank­fully, around the same time I was record­ing with Robert, I was able to record Tony Coe’s bril­liant clar­inet solo on If I Run in a Can­ter­bury stu­dio. Fi­nally I rewrote Robert’s orig­i­nal lyrics

in the first sec­tion with an in­ter­est­ing story on sim­i­lar lines to his but with a dif­fer­ent sub­ject mat­ter, bear­ing in mind the whisky bot­tles and the aroma in my old Can­ter­bury flat, and the sig­nif­i­cant tran­si­tion from al­co­hol to mar­i­juana… from an al­co­holic haze to a so­porific daze if you like!”

Some veteran mu­si­cians these days feel that record­ing new mu­sic is a waste of time, be­cause there’s no call for this from fans. Sin­clair ac­cepts this re­stric­tion, even if he doesn’t en­tirely agree with the sen­ti­ment.

“Yes, to a cer­tain ex­tent I think that’s prob­a­bly so. But for some mu­si­cians, as they grow older they gain knowl­edge, ex­pe­ri­ence and in­sight into life in an in­ter­est­ing way and con­tinue to be pro­gres­sive in their out­look. This, re­flected in their com­po­si­tions, can some­times be un­der­stood and ap­pre­ci­ated by the fans or other peo­ple of a sim­i­lar age.”

In­deed, Sin­clair’s 2005 move to Ja­pan had a sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence on his mu­si­cal ap­proach.

“In­ter­est­ingly, soon af­ter ar­riv­ing in Ja­pan, I was told by many fans that some of my more folky songs had a sort of Ja­panese feel to them, and that if the lyrics were in Ja­panese, this would be even more ap­pre­ci­ated. Maybe it’s be­cause there’s a rich tra­di­tion of Ja­panese folk-type songs here called Enka, and in a strange way some of my songs are lean­ing slightly in that di­rec­tion, the folky in­flu­ence prob­a­bly due to my Ir­ish an­ces­try.

“I’m now work­ing on a Ja­panese ver­sion of Is­land Of Dreams, the English ver­sion of which is on my new al­bum. The Mayor of Kamijima, where I live, has asked if they can use the song as a theme tune for the town, which is won­der­ful. I’ll be record­ing that with some other new tracks soon and we’ll re­lease this as a sin­gle. Yammy will be the vo­cal­ist.”

Sin­clair will al­ways be closely linked to Car­a­van, even though he left the group 16 years ago. And in the year when that band reach the land­mark of their 50th an­niver­sary, the key­board player is very proud of his in­put and im­pact.

“In the early days of Car­a­van I don’t think we gave much thought to the fu­ture, ex­cept that sooner or later we’d have to give up our won­der­ful and ex­cit­ing life­style and get a proper job. I never even dreamed that af­ter turn­ing 30 years old I would still be go­ing on stage to play to peo­ple… it seemed we’d be far too old!”

Sin­clair feels it’s quite an achieve­ment that Car­a­van are still up and run­ning af­ter all these years. “I feel proud to have had such a big in­put into Car­a­van’s first three al­bums,” he says. “But also look­ing back now to that time 50 years ago, I re­alise that Nine Feet Un­der­ground was merely a se­ries of riffs and chordal se­quences I liked solo­ing over all slung to­gether into one track. Al­though it worked as a band project and has been much ap­pre­ci­ated over the years, it can’t be com­pared to my new 18-minute Home Again com­po­si­tion, which I feel helps to show my ma­tu­rity as a mu­si­cian in a com­pletely new light.”

Dave Sin­clair still be­lieves he has much to of­fer mu­si­cally, and he hopes to be able to tour his new ma­te­rial soon. “It’s a bit tough or­gan­is­ing any­thing on a grand scale with­out an agent, booker, man­ager or record com­pany. I am hop­ing to get a more per­ma­nent band to­gether in the fu­ture for tour­ing pur­poses – it’s some­thing I miss a lot.”

So, af­ter such a lengthy ca­reer, is Sin­clair sur­prised that there’s still in­ter­est in what he has to say mu­si­cally? “In a word,” he says, “yes. In two words: yes, very!”

“I’m hop­ing to get a more per­ma­nent band to­gether in the fu­ture for tour­ing pur­poses – it’s some­thing I miss a lot.”



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