The Tan­gent

Techno and Earth, Wind & Fire. Brexit op­po­nent and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism pro­po­nent. The Tan­gent and their leader Andy Til­li­son cover plenty of bases…

Prog - - Contents - Words: Nick Shilton Im­ages: Casey Orr

Andy Til­li­son re­veals how prog and punk make their mark on his band’s new al­bum.

Key­boardist Andy Til­li­son has never ploughed a main­stream prog fur­row. Since the band’s 2002 birth, The Tan­gent’s course has sel­dom run smooth. Last year the band re­leased

The Slow Rust Of For­got­ten Machin­ery, Til­li­son swiftly fol­low­ing that with his Kal­man Fil­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion Exo-Oceans with The Fierce & The Dead’s Matt Stevens. With the re­lease of new Tan­gent al­bum Proxy this month, Til­li­son has be­come highly pro­lific again and ap­pears to have well and truly re­cap­tured his mojo.

“It de­pends on whether peo­ple like Proxy or not,” Til­li­son re­sponds can­didly. “The speed at which you turn some­thing around isn’t in­dica­tive of qual­ity. But I was en­thused by how the last al­bum turned out.”

Fol­low­ing the re­lease of Slow Rust…, The Tan­gent and Jonas Rein­gold’s Kar­makanic merged with a plan to hit the road as Tangekanic. But the tour was al­most still­born. Tan­gent sax­o­phon­ist Theo Travis was un­avail­able, Kar­makanic vo­cal­ist Göran Ed­man couldn’t at­tend re­hearsals and Tan­gent key­boardist Marie-Eve de Gaultier pulled out on the tour’s eve. Hav­ing planned to split the key­board parts be­tween them, her with­drawal gave Til­li­son a mas­sive lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge.

“It was a night­mare as there was no time to get any­one else in,” he re­mem­bers. “Sud­denly I had to play it all if we were go­ing to sound re­motely like the band we were pur­port­ing to be.”

Briefly Til­li­son con­sid­ered can­celling the tour. “Five min­utes later we re­alised the im­pli­ca­tions. We’d trav­elled from all over and booked ho­tels, vans, cross­ings, flights and made visa ap­pli­ca­tions. So we thought, ‘Hell’s bells, let’s just do it.’”

Vic­tory was snatched from the jaws of de­feat and the tour was sal­vaged, as doc­u­mented on this year’s wryly ti­tled live CD Ho­tel Cantaffordit.

“I wasn’t happy with my own per­for­mance and thought the early gigs were pretty dread­ful,” Til­li­son ad­mits. “But the au­di­ence were still en­joy­ing it, and by the time we got to Zoeter­meer we were re­ally cook­ing. Then at the Sum­mer’s End fes­ti­val we were at a peak and in Amer­ica it got even bet­ter.”

With the band en­joy­ing both play­ing and each other’s com­pany, the seeds were sown for Proxy, which fea­tures all the mu­si­cians who toured as Tangekanic, plus Travis.

“This last line-up of the band did a lot of laugh­ing, talk­ing about life, mu­sic and pol­i­tics – it was a great way to see the world with some good friends. I thought how nice it would be if this line-up made an al­bum.”

So is The Tan­gent in its rud­est health ever? “I don’t spend a lot of time lis­ten­ing to any­thing we’ve done be­fore. Once I’ve fin­ished an al­bum I usu­ally leave it,” Til­li­son an­swers. “I think some of our al­bums are great and some are crap and I wish I’d never made them. I never thought Not As

Good As The Book was one of our finest mo­ments mu­si­cally – the book was good and the al­bum ti­tle was right! But it’s some peo­ple’s favourite Tan­gent al­bum.”

Til­li­son’s mu­si­cal back­ground is di­verse. “I have al­ways loved pro­gres­sive rock but punk was tremen­dously ex­cit­ing. I loved Blondie, Talk­ing Heads, Tele­vi­sion and Joy Di­vi­sion. Be­cause

“Some of our al­bums are great and some are crap and I wish I’d never made them. I never thought Not

As Good As The Book was one of our finest mo­ments mu­si­cally – the book was good and the al­bum ti­tle was right! But it’s some peo­ple’s

favourite Tan­gent al­bum.”

I was 17 in 1977, I’m a pe­cu­liar gen­er­a­tion. I was be­ing called a bor­ing old fart in 1977. I ac­tu­ally saw Yes and the Sex Pis­tols in the same year. Prog was the sound­track of my school­days, and the post-punk era be­came the sound­track of my youth. If I’m asked to choose be­tween the two, it’s a hard choice. Be­sides, any punk band worth its salt started to progress from day two.”

Til­li­son’s cur­rent mu­si­cal tastes re­main won­der­fully di­verse, with his re­cent non-prog lis­ten­ing in­clud­ing 1990s techno and dance mu­sic, jazz fu­sion, Ger­man elec­tron­ica, as­sorted pop mu­sic and disco funk in par­tic­u­lar. “Septem­ber by Earth,

Wind & Fire has been played more in my house over the last 10 years than any other record. The mis­sus and I like to dance to it!”

While traces of disco funk may be tricky to de­tect on Proxy, the al­bum has some ex­plicit techno pas­sages, in par­tic­u­lar on

The Adult­hood Lie. “One of the defin­ing parts of pro­gres­sive rock was the ex­plo­ration of the syn­the­siser,” Til­li­son ex­plains. “At the same time, our sis­ters and brothers in soul and disco were also us­ing syn­the­sis­ers, al­beit for dif­fer­ent things.”

Til­li­son re­mains in­ter­ested in syn­the­sis­ers well beyond the pro­gres­sive sphere and namechecks The KLF, The Orb, The

Fu­ture Sound Of Lon­don, DJ Sammy and Skrillex. “Skrillex is prob­a­bly one of the most im­por­tant syn­the­siser play­ers in the world at the mo­ment, do­ing things with the syn­the­siser that make you go, ‘Wow!’”

That said, he’s also mind­ful of the need to play to the prog gallery with The Tan­gent’s new al­bum, cit­ing its ti­tle track as “the most retro song on the record. It’s got a lot of early-70s Can­ter­bury ref­er­ences. I like to ad­vance our mu­sic, but I didn’t want to make the whole al­bum techno. Peo­ple who buy our records are into prog rock so I wanted to give them some­thing they like and then present them with some­thing else and see what they think.”

Til­li­son rel­ishes chal­leng­ing his au­di­ence. “My en­joy­ment of pro­gres­sive rock in the past was never the re­sult of peo­ple giv­ing me some­thing easy,” he rea­sons. “The land­marks in my en­joy­ment of mu­sic have al­ways been things that were hard, where you thought, ‘What the fuck is this?!’ when you first heard it. You have to give them time – which is the big­gest prob­lem of liv­ing in 2018.”

Warm­ing to the theme of liv­ing in 2018, Til­li­son’s forth­right views ex­tend well beyond mu­sic. On the sub­ject of the UK’s forth­com­ing exit from the Eu­ro­pean Union, he’s a stri­dent Re­mainer.

“Brexit is ter­ri­ble. It’s the wrong de­ci­sion. Ref­er­enda aren’t a good idea – we pay peo­ple to make de­ci­sions and we used to have a sys­tem where we would find peo­ple who we be­lieved were ca­pa­ble of run­ning life for us. But I will ap­proach what­ever fu­ture is com­ing our way with as much op­ti­mism as I can.”

On The Slow Rust…, Til­li­son protested against Brexit on A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road. “The protest song has al­most be­come a laugh­able cliché, but how many Brexit songs were there? But far from get­ting an ar­gu­ment go­ing, it was largely ig­nored,” he sighs.

Til­li­son un­der­stands that some lis­ten­ers may not want any pol­i­tics in their mu­sic but he de­fends his right to in­clude them. “The care­free life we have lived in a peace­ful Europe since the 40s is too good to not spare a song on. So we did a song about that and a lot of peo­ple said pol­i­tics doesn’t be­long in prog.”

To counter the point, Til­li­son ref­er­ences King Crim­son: “‘In­no­cents raped with na­palm fire, 21st cen­tury schizoid man’: the very first prog al­bum, ground zero, the first track is a po­lit­i­cal protest song! Any­one who tells me that prog and pol­i­tics don’t be­long to­gether has ei­ther missed the be­gin­ning of prog or never re­alised what it was about.”

On Proxy he cel­e­brates the won­der­ful sight of the sky in the morn­ing on sub­lime in­stru­men­tal The Melt­ing An­dalu­sian Skies, al­beit in­spired by hav­ing trav­elled through France and Spain with­out hav­ing his pass­port in­spected since Dover. How­ever, re­fer­ring to him­self as a “rav­ing leftie an­ar­chist”, Til­li­son doesn’t give any ma­jor in­sti­tu­tion an easy ride.

“I’m no fan of the Eu­ro­pean Union, or the Gen­eral Synod, the Vat­i­can, the White House or White­hall,” he re­veals. “I’m not a great fan of au­thor­ity!”

In his youth he was a fan of an­ar­chist bands Chum­bawamba, Crass and Dis­charge. “They were big in­flu­ences on how I live. The EU is not some­thing I would have gone to war to pro­tect, but the at­tack was re­ally about so many want­ing ‘our coun­try to be just for us’. I don’t see it that way – we’ve ben­e­fit­ted cul­tur­ally for cen­turies from im­mi­gra­tion. And prog rock has al­ways been about bring­ing to­gether dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal styles and cul­tures from all over the world.”

Ap­proach­ing his sev­enth decade, re­tire­ment isn’t on Til­li­son’s agenda. “I can’t give up be­cause I like do­ing this too much. Every year since 1977 I have made prog rock mu­sic. But be­cause I was never part of the main­stream ex­plo­sion of prog rock, it’s been a strug­gle.”

How­ever, he’s en­tirely com­fort­able with his sit­u­a­tion. “I’m not try­ing to be­come fa­mous. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I thought

I’d have a ca­reer as a rock star. But since the 1990s that’s not been in my head. I’ve lived a life with­out much money,” he laughs, “but I seem to have en­joyed my life a lot more than many peo­ple with a great deal of money!”

“Peo­ple who buy our records are into prog rock so I wanted to give them some­thing they like and then present them with some­thing else and see what they think.”


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