Oliver's 3 Ages of Magick
The 3 ages of Magick has been a project dear to my heart since my initial ideas back in 1997. I have always had a love of legends, mysteries and the unexplained. I had always said to my friends that I would love to write an album based of different legends and mysteries and so since that day I have been regularly given paper cuttings, magazine articles and videos on all sorts of subjects that people have thought would interest me.
I started writing a few pieces but many of them never got past the initial sketch form and the project just sat on the back burner whilst I got on with other more pressing albums.
However an interesting meeting changed all that. One day I was walking through Barnstaple town centre in Devon near to my home. I remember I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as the Jabberwocky writing sessions were going well and Heavens Isle had been released and was selling well. I walked past a record shop that had a poster for Heaven's Isle in the window and at that moment I bumped into Steve Howe!
I have known Steve for many years on and off as a kid during Dad's involvement in Yes. I really got to know Steve when my brother and I accompanied the ABWH tour around America in the early 90's. Steve spent a lot of time showing me his guitars and I also sat in the studio whilst he was putting the finishing touches to the 'I'm Alive' single which they were working on during gaps in the tour.
Anyway, Steve recognised me and said hi and asked what I had been up to. I was stood in front of the poster in the record shop window, so I moved aside, showed him the poster and told him all about the recording. He asked me for a copy, which I duly handed over and he said he'd have a listen and give me a call. I was flattered but didn't really expect the phone call I received.
Two days later he called. He said that he'd had a really good listen to the album and that he'd really enjoyed it. I thanked him but he said if I was ok for time he'd made notes on the different songs which he'd like to discuss. I was astounded as he listed various things about the album he'd really liked i.e. the use of various effects and sounds etc. He then invited me to his house in North Devon for a chat and to discuss some ideas he'd had.
I went for tea as we'd arranged and had a really enjoyable afternoon. Steve then suggested that we should maybe do some work together as he really liked the way my music was written and performed. He warned me that it may take a long time to sort a project out as him workload was about to increase with the release of the Keys albums and the impending 'The Ladder' album. We agreed to meet up again soon and Steve asked me to bring some of my ideas along and if I could bring a keyboard that would be great.
I then spent ages putting together some mixes of pieces I thought might work. All the pieces were ones I'd written after having thought about the mysteries/legends project. I put the cassette of the material on the side and loaded my electric piano into the car and set off to Steve's. I arrived and I set the piano up in Steve's studio, not expecting to actually play it because I had all the ideas I wanted to play Steve on the tape I'd painstakingly put together.
I then realised I'd left on the table at home...
I was livid with myself, here I was, in Steve's house, at his invitation to play him some ideas for a future project and the ideas were about 40 minutes away. I bit the bullet and told Steve, him simply replied that I shouldn't worry about it. I could just play him the ideas on the piano!
I am not a particularly nervous person, as having been brought up into a musical family we were all accustomed to having to deal with interviews of photo sessions etc. But on this occasion I was quite nervous. I sat at the piano and played Steve a piece I'd been working on which became 'The Forgotten King'. I finished it and Steve said 'Lovely', picked up a classical guitar, said start from the beginning and we jammed our way through it. I remember that Steve's opening guitar lines have remained all the way through the development process and still remain in the song exactly as he played it that night years ago.
Steve suggested that it should be a project we could work on together but as time went by and Steve went on tour and the project again took a back seat.
We met up again in 1999 and talked at length at one of our many get-togethers that we have. Steve then said that he was going to be too busy with Yes and his solo projects to devote much time to his idea of us writing an album together. He asked me if I'd written anything I'd like to play him. I had been working quite hard in the meantime on the Mysteries and Mythology project as it had become known. I had written quite a few pieces and had decided that it was going to be my next project.
I put the cassette on and Steve really enjoyed it and then asked if he could play guitar on a track or two, I jokingly replied that if he wanted too he could play on the whole thing. He then countered with the idea of being the executive producer of the album. He would contribute guitars and act as a sounding board for and ideas I had and he would make suggestions along the way as to how he felt the pieces could be developed.
So the project was officially on!
I then decided that I wanted the album to be as live and natural as it could be. This would involve using musicians that I felt could add something to my pieces which aren't the simplest things in the world to play along with.
I first recruited my good friend Tim Buchanan (a colleague from the R & B band 'Smokestack' that I regularly gig with) to play the bass guitar parts. Tim showed great enthusiasm for the project and we would spend many nights talking and working on various parts into the early hours.
I then contacted an old college friend of mine, Jo Greenland, for the violin parts. Jo and I have been friends for many years but up until that point we were just seeing each other occasionally at each others gigs. Jo also gigs regularly in the North Devon area with a couple of bands and so we are often working on the same nights. However one weekend I was not gigging and was out on the town with a couple of friends when I noticed that Jo's band was playing in one of the local pubs. I popped in to say hi and came away with the violinist for the album.
Three down and I just needed a drummer and one other instrumentalist. I had decided long ago that the album was to be an instrumental and be the album that I always wanted to make. But I required another instrument as well as the violin or the album would turn into a keyboard and guitar extravaganza. I wasn't sure if that was what people would want and I wanted it to be an album of well composed music, not a showing off session.
I had started writing a few new pieces that were showing signs of my interest in celtic music and legends and I thought that maybe a whistle or pipe player would be what I would need...
I was out on one of my frequent drives, (I love driving, I find it helps me relax and I can think about ideas and sort a lot of problems out in the car) when I remembered a friend telling me that if I ever needed a pipe player then she knew the perfect person. I was not too far from where she worked so I popped in and said hi. She told me about Tony, who was an excellent pipe Uilleann pipe player, an excellent whistle player and an excellent flute player. I duly called Tony and he came over to my studio and we got on fantastically well. We started work on some of the pieces that evening and I realised that I was nearly there. Just a drummer required.
The studio had been booked for work in late November/early December and I had a drummer in mind. I had found it hard to track him down and when I finally did he said that he would be unable to make the sessions. I was a little worried now as the sessions were approaching and I had no drummer. Now drums are the traditional thing to record in the studio first and this put me in a little bit of a fix.
All of the musicians approached for the project so far were all based in the West Country. Now contrary to popular belief there is a lot more to Devon than beautiful scenery and clotted cream. It also has a wonderfully relaxed lifestyle and a collection of some of the finest musicians you will ever see. I decided that as this album was to be a true reflection of me I would like to use mainly West Country musicians and record it in the West Country.
I phoned a few friends to see if they could suggest drummers and the same name came up a couple of times. Dave Wagstaffe. Dave sang backing vocals on Jabberwocky and is the drummer with the respected progressive rock band 'Landmarq'. I called him and he was very keen to be involved. I had my band with a couple of weeks to spare.
Now most studio sessions are booked with military precision and this was to be no exception. Steve had a very small window in which he could finish off his guitar parts and all the musicians were only available for a day or a couple of days at the most and so the recording began.
I recorded the album in a converted 15th Century barn in the middle of 110 acres or farmland in Cornwall. I had the most amazing time there. I had the keyboard set up to die for, it included two Hammond organs with Leslie speakers, a Rhodes piano, an Upright piano (built in Plymouth so keeping the West country link alive...) along with my studio which had been dismantled and rebuilt for the sessions.
I had a great team working with me in the studio, the engineer Paul Craddock who is a lovely guy and has great plans to expand the studio to become a residential studio. My good friend Mike Clarke was on hand to help sort out keyboard problems, fix and repair broken or dodgy bits of equipment and to help with the sessions in general.
Every morning would start the same way, a quick spin of the 'Gladiator' soundtrack with a cup of coffee and a discussion of what was to be achieved. At this point I must point out that all the musicians did a supreme job. The parts I had written for them were not easy but they gave me performances I could have only dreamed of and this helped the album become the album I always thought I could make. The recording sessions finished at about 2 o/clock one Tuesday morning and after dismantling the studio and driving home I went to bed for a few hours a very happy but exhausted man.
The mixing sessions were carried out by my good friend Karl Groom at Thin Ice studios in Virginia Water. Karl was responsible for the mix of Jabberwocky and is a very patient and knowledgeable person to work with. We spent a very hectic couple of weeks sorting out the mix and I have to say he did a great job. The album was then mastered by Rob Aubrey at 'Nomansland' and I received a finished CD which everyone that has heard it really enjoys.
I thoroughly enjoyed working on the album, musically I found it a great source of comfort whilst I was going through a personal upheaval and it helped make the latter end of 2000 very positive. I would like to thank all the people that encouraged me through that time when I really didn't think I would be able to carry out such a project.
Thanks to them, this album actually saw the light of day.