“I just sit at the back and make nice sounds…”

The ever-mod­est IQ and Jadis keysman re­veals all about hold­ing songs to­gether, avoid­ing ex­per­i­ments and swap­ping tour­ing for trains.

Prog - - Intro - Words: Dave Ever­ley

What in­spired you to first take up key­boards as op­posed to, say, the gui­tar?

Well, the piano wasn’t as glam­orous as the gui­tar, but it al­ways looked more log­i­cal to me. You’ve got low notes one end, high notes the other, so just con­cen­trate on the bit in the mid­dle and it’ll be fine.

Which other key­board play­ers were you in­flu­enced by?

I wasn’t re­ally in­flu­enced by key­board play­ers a great deal. I got into the whole pro­gres­sive rock thing late, so I went through the 1970s bliss­fully un­aware that Gen­e­sis and Yes and ELP ex­isted. By the time I dis­cov­ered there were other peo­ple who were do­ing that sort of thing, I was do­ing it al­ready.

You once said that you weren’t cut out to be the next Keith Emer­son. So what did you want to do with the key­boards? I guess I liked be­ing the en­gine room, adding and sub­tract­ing things and man­ag­ing tex­ture. I’ve never re­ally seen my­self as much of a soloist. I can play as fast as any­body else if I can be both­ered, but I’ve never had any great de­sire to do that sort of thing. I think the gui­tar is a much more ex­pres­sive in­stru­ment to have as a solo in­stru­ment. I’ve writ­ten just as many gui­tar lines over the years as I have key­board lines.

Was there ever part of you that se­cretly wanted to jam knives be­tween the keys or swish around in capes?

No. I’m not a flashy per­son like that. I’m not the­atri­cal. I’m one of those ‘sit at the back and make the right noises’ guys.

One of the crit­i­cisms of the neo-prog move­ment that IQ were part of was that it wasn’t mov­ing things for­ward. Was that a valid point? Neo-prog is a ter­ri­ble term. Amer­i­cans made that up. They weren’t there. And it’s not a valid point. No­body else was mov­ing mu­sic on ei­ther: metal bands weren’t, reg­gae bands weren’t, funk bands weren’t. But it was the prog peo­ple who got the flak for it. It was only from the press – you didn’t get any of that from the pro­gres­sive rock old guard. There was never a dis­tinc­tion among mu­si­cians. It was al­ways from the out­side.

Did you ever feel hemmed in by the prog scene?

Not re­ally. I was never one of these peo­ple for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in mu­sic. Ex­per­i­ments be­long in a lab­o­ra­tory and not in a record­ing stu­dio. I al­ways try to take the stance of try­ing to make pro­gres­sive rock mu­sic more ac­ces­si­ble to a main­stream au­di­ence. It didn’t bloody work, but it was worth a go.

You quit IQ in 2007 and re­tired from mu­sic the fol­low­ing year af­ter your sec­ond solo al­bum, The Old Road. Why?

I didn’t re­tire from mu­sic – I was forced out. The cli­mate I was in didn’t en­able me to carry on with it any more. It was the point when broad­band in­ter­net was com­ing in. Peo­ple were il­le­gally down­load­ing ev­ery­thing. All of

the com­pa­nies The Old Road was shipped out to went bank­rupt, one af­ter the other. And the al­bum never paid its bills. I thought, “It takes four or five years to do this, ev­ery wak­ing hour, and you never break even.” The last track on The Old Road is about the end of my time in mu­sic. All you can hear at the end of that al­bum is the black­birds singing in the gar­den: “That’s all the songs you’re go­ing to get.”

Do you still play to­day?

I do the odd thing, as much to prove I can keep my hand in. The last time I played a key­board was back in May, on the Jadis tour.

What do you do in­stead?

I was al­ways in­ter­ested in steam en­gines so I mess around with them. I’m a fire­man on a steam train. Ba­si­cally, I build a bloody big fire in a steam lo­co­mo­tive and make it go. And I drive them too.

Do you miss be­ing in a band? No. I don’t mind get­ting back and do­ing the odd show here and there, but it does feel like look­ing through an old photo al­bum. It’s like re­vis­it­ing a for­mer life. It’s quite nice to do that, but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time.

Do you see your­self as one of the great key­board play­ers? Good lord no. Just a bloke that sits at the back and makes a few nice sounds that hold the whole thing to­gether.

IQ, CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: MARTIN ORFORD, PAUL COOK, MIKE HOLMES, TIM ESAU, PETER NI­CHOLLS.

MARTIN ORFORD (SEC­OND FROM LEFT) WITH JADIS.

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