They met as kids and subverted the school paper. Now they’re doing the same with Ladybird Books For Grown-Ups, BBC TV’s Philomena Cunk and more, with Ravel, Radiohead and Jeff Wayne in their heads…
Comedy writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, responsible for the Ladybird Books For Grown Ups, BBC TV’s Philomena Crunk and more, find that prog is no laughing matter. As their record collections prove…
“THE FIRST TIME THAT I PUT RELAYER ON, I THOUGHT IT WAS AT THE WRONG SPEED!”
If you grew up in the 70s you were steeped in prog anyway,” begins Joel Morris. “We both love Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds, which was the first cassette of music that I owned.” Jason Hazeley: “I love it so much I’ve got the multidisc coffee table version. I’d loved to have been at the meeting where Jeff announced a multi-record concept album based on a Victorian sci-fi novel with the best session guys in town and an orchestra and someone said, ‘That sounds like a reasonable commercial prospect.’” Joel: “People who said Rick Wakeman’s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth was ‘prog nonsense’ would have this. It’s not seen as prog, it’s seen as retro. But it’s the last of a cycle of prog records based on a novel.” Jason: “It’s also very good – Richard Burton’s narration then that fucking great D minor string section. Bernard Herrmann would have been proud of this. Then there’s those electronic sounds, all really well done.”
Joel: “Because of the electronics, it plugged straight into the first LP I ever had, the Radiophonic Workshop’s BBC Sound Effects No 19. If you liked Doctor Who, Jeff Wayne was completely comprehensible to a kid who has listened to TARDIS sound effects. But you weren’t into prog rock, were you?”
Jason: “I tried Tangerine Dream but they wouldn’t let me in. I played classical piano since I was about four.”
Joel: “When we met we crossed into each other’s musical worlds. I’d been into rock and heavy metal. When I first heard Led Zeppelin I expected them to be heavy, but there was folk and prog and flutes and Sandy Denny, songs about Hobbits and shagging. I went looking for who else was doing that and someone recommended Yes. I got Relayer, which I bought second hand for 25p. The first time I put it on I thought it was at the wrong speed. Recently I tried to learn the guitar parts and found I didn’t have enough frets. I love the bigness of it, the art… the after-the-battle bit in The Gates Of Delirium is one of the finest pieces of music I’ve heard.” Jason: “At this time I’m listening to Changes by John Williams, put together by Stanley Myers and his orchestra. Myers is a ludicrously underrated musician most famous for writing the tune on this album, Cavatina. He’s a great orchestrator and this is a brilliant album that says, ‘I’ve got John Williams who can play the guitar really well, what can we do with him?’ So there’s a thing based on a Bach prelude strung out to four minutes of weirdness. After this, I move into Brian Eno and minimalism.”
Joel: “I shared a flat in college with a guy whose record collection started with Roxy Music and then got into all the bands that sprang from that. Knowing Eno was ambient I was surprised to find guitary, poppy stuff such as Before And After Science. It’s not only got King’s Lead Hat, the audition for him to produce Talking Heads, it’s also got all the German musicians, like Cluster and Roedelius. It’s got a lovely British pop sensibility.”
Jason: “This is the most important record I ever bought: John Adams’ Harmonium. I used to record things from Radio 3 and if there was a name I didn’t recognise I thought, ‘I’ll give that a whirl.’ Through this I discovered Ligeti, Judith Weir, Xenakis and John Adams. I couldn’t stop listening to this. It starts with a sound of just a single D emerging out of a vast space. Then it gets gigantic.” Joel: “You got me into Adams ’cos you’d play that a lot in the car when we were kids.”
Jason: “I found out Harmonium was minimalism so I went in search of more, and then bought Shaker Loops featuring Steve
Reich. I played it recently with [conductor] Charles Hazlewood at Colston Hall in Bristol and he arranged us over the floor of the venue so the audience could walk around and get a different sonic experience. I’ve followed minimalism my whole adult life and I started going to as many Adams premieres as I can. Last year, as one of the celebrations for his 70th birthday, I went to a premiere in Berlin of The Gospel According To The Other Mary. On the flight back, I noticed John Adams. He was in business, I wasn’t. I bowled over and said, ‘Great gig last night!’ and he said, ‘Thanks, man.’ I went back to my seat and then thought I should have said to him, ‘You’re the reason I’m on this plane.’ Him and Ravel are the two most important things in my head.”
Joel: “We both were in bands; in the 90s mine found itself sliding towards folk, based on a gut feeling that I’d been raised by Bagpuss and The Wicker Man soundtrack. We were doing a TV show with [presenter and Prog supporter] Matthew Wright and he said, ‘Have you heard the Strawbs? You remind me of them.’ I sought out From The Witchwood, which I found very powerful.
“Thinking about bands that fed into Britpop, has anyone mentioned Camel? There are lines from Britpop to prog, such as Damon Albarn’s dad managing Soft Machine. A friend played me Breathless, saying, ‘You’ll like this,’ putting on Down On The Farm, which is Blur’s career in one song. It’s a whimsical take on country life interspersed with ‘doo-doo’ harmonies and big guitars.”
Jason: “Mike Oldfield has Tubular Bells hanging around his shoulders to the extent that he’s made about nine versions of it.
But Amarok is a delightful, surprising, weird and accessible album. A friend told me, ‘It’s one track, it requires some commitment, but go with it.’ It’s great, it starts with a fidgety thing that can’t make up its mind as a time signature, then the thing goes ‘blam!’ and comes to life. His stuff is great to work to.”
Joel: “I work to Mogwai and Midlake, to their album Antiphon.
I used to like Midlake for the lyrics, but this is great, very antiverbal and minimal – a psychedelic prog record to get lost in.
I need music to blot out…”
Joel: “We both love Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden. I can’t think of another album like it apart from Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom. An album of isolation, people in a strange mental space. The only band that have taken that forward is Radiohead. All these bands can write a pop song but what happens when you go beyond that? That’s what prog is.”
Jason: “For a band everyone regards as very serious and worthy, the opening track on each Radiohead album is a burst of joy.”