Robert John Godfrey
Until their recent split, Robert John Godfrey was the keyboard maestro behind The Enid, whose massive underground following throughout Europe made them arguably the biggest cult band outside of the States. Frank Ellis met him to talk about his new residential studio, a solo career, and a new approach to recording.
Apart from an early spell with Barclay James Harvest, classically-influenced keyboardist Robert John Godfrey is best known for his pioneering work with cult progressive rock band The Enid, and for the creation of their successful farmhouse studio, The Lodge.
Godfrey has now split the group, described by Radio 1 as "the biggest cult band in Europe", more or less permanently after two sell-out concerts at The Dominion theatre late last year, and his new residential studio 'Longhome' takes a somewhat different approach to composition and recording. With the studio, near Wellingborough, now open, Godfrey is able to concentrate on launching his solo career, which begins with the headline spot at the UK Electronica '89 Festival in London on September 23rd. There's a change of image involved, too - Godfrey has lost seven stone in weight and has completely re-assessed his outlook towards a music industry which never took The Enid quite seriously enough for his taste.
"It came to a point where I had to do something about myself and my attitude and had to get my health and vitality together," says Godfrey, looking and acting as if both health and attitude are now very much together. "For one thing, we were forced to move the studio operation after our lease expired, and as my partner in The Enid, Steve Stewart, wanted to move more into production, it seemed that a new approach was called for.
"So the new studio looks at composition and production from a new viewpoint. It's a place where people can go and compose, in very comfortable and creative surroundings, with all the equipment they need, but without having to spend £1000 a day to do it. We're quite capable of doing mastering work here, in fact we've already completed a couple of pieces, but the studio is basically set up for bands who prefer a peaceful environment in which to record, and maybe they'll go somewhere else to mix, or maybe they'll stay here."
In terms of recording facilities, Longhome is certainly not lacking. Its Cadac desk and Studer multitrack are supplemented by many of the keyboards used by The Enid over the years - everything from an RMI Keyboard Computer to a Rhodes Chroma, and the more modern Yamaha TX816 with a KX88 mother keyboard, Korg DSS1 synthesizer/sampler, and a Yamaha C6 baby grand piano. Godfrey has yet to go for the very latest generation of synth technology:
"I'm interested in D50s and that sort of thing, but they tend to make you sound like everyone else's recordings and I don't want that. I use Steinberg Synthworks software to help me programme the TX816, and I'm quite good with FM now - but I'm still more interested in the music than in the technology.
"People think there's a world of difference between composing and improvising, but when Mozart composed a mass he'd do it spontaneously on to paper. I sometimes compose on the computer (an Atari ST with Steinberg Pro24 Version 3 software) but I really need to see the music coming out as I'm doing it. I like to be able to change time signatures so I can decide where each bar ends, not the software. I don't know of any software that really copes well with rubato; you can play freely into Pro24 but it doesn't give you any way to make those sorts of decisions afterwards."
With this set-up, Godfrey is currently working on an eight-minute opera for Channel 4 with librettist Robert Perry, and on a more substantial opera which - like the Channel 4 piece - is being written symbolically at first. "I'm using a leitmotif type of composition so I can work on the overall shape of the piece first - a lot of the music is very sound effect-based. It's about a reasonably successful post-war composer going through a mid-life crisis while composing an opera about the Brontes and Wuthering Heights, so there's a confusion between the music he's writing and what I'm writing; it's going to be presented on TV in a way which couldn't be done on stage. This is the first time I've done any writing directly for TV, although my PRS [Performing Rights Society] payments seem to show that a lot of Enid music has been used on TV in the past."
Godfrey now feels that The Enid had gone on long enough, or even too long, and that further association with the name may not be an advantage - even though the back-catalogue albums still stand up well. His Enid partner, Steve Stewart, recently recorded a Katrina And The Waves album which has entered the US charts, and was then involved in building a home studio for the band - which is what Longhome was originally meant to be for Robert John Godfrey.
"The new studio looks at composition and production from a new viewpoint. It's a place where people can go and compose, in very comfortable and creative surroundings, with all the equipment they need, but without having to spend £1000 a day to do it."
"The thing about Longhome is that it's ideal for a certain type of thing - it's not about an industrial facility but a lovely old house with good accommodation and good cooking; somewhere for people to go and be creative in their pre-production, for people to get together and rehearse - although we're quite capable of master quality, too." The studio charges are £300 per day, which includes accommodation in six double bedrooms, and Godfrey will be using the studio for his own projects when it's not booked up.
One of the main attractions of Longhome must be the desk - the last of the Clive Green period Cadacs, taken from Battery Studios, "an absolutely superb desk which everybody loves" according to Godfrey. "We've also got a very good tape machine in the Studer A800, and some very nice recording areas including a stone room in the cellar. One thing people might find unusual is that there's no visual contact between the control room and the studio areas - there's quite a lot of recording space but it's all split into small areas, with the largest area furnished more or less like a living room with the Yamaha grand in it. There are three rooms downstairs - the building is a large Victorian farmhouse on four floors with treble glazing, and because it's near Milton Keynes it's very easy to get to."
Longhome has just finished an album for Celtic Music by Uschloss, an all-acoustic folk/high energy band, recorded live in a Liverpool club and overdubbed and remixed in the studio. The equipment was easily up to the task - "There are no really posh effects here, but there are six digital reverbs including a Lexicon PCM60 and PCM70, a Yamaha REV5 and SPX90, and a nice reverb plate, a host of compressors and expanders including eight Drawmers, and delays including a Space Station and a Star Gate."
As a keyboard player trained at the Royal Academy and the Royal College Of Music, Godfrey has naturally seen to it that the studio has a good complement of keyboards, both old and new. "I still get a lot of use out of the MiniMoog - you can't sample it, it's just not the same. You also can't sample strings because the quality changes within the sound, so I go more for the Dave Bristow style of big multiple FM strings, for which I've developed my own editing technique. Programming Yamahas from scratch is stupid, so I try and find something that approximates what I need, then investigate it; some adjustments are very critical, but some sounds I make up in my head before I hear them. I find a lot of sounds by accident or happy coincidence, or by techniques like playing piano pieces on a drum kit multi-split."
Longhome is now automated with a J.L Cooper system: "The automation on the desk works extremely well - although we've got 16 faders and four groups shared between 32 desk channels, so sometimes I forget which channels correspond to which numbers. We kept the big JBL monitors from the old studio because they sound really nice, and there are hi-fis in each bedroom with the sound from the studio connected to the aux input on each one, so you can listen to the work that's going on wherever you are in the building. Basically, we haven't needed to change very much from the old studio, it's designed very much as I want it.
"The studio is very good for certain types of work, but I can't see us having a heavy metal band in here for three weeks at a time. And I don't want the place to be too cheap, but at the current price we think it's very good value for money - we have very few overheads because we haven't got a load of equipment on lease. We can hire in a 32-track digital recorder at about £750 per day, and we can master on to PCM F1 - I'm not sure about DAT yet, not so much from the sound quality angle as the question of compatibility between machines from different manufacturers."
Longhome's walls are about two-and-a-half feet thick, and the place is very spacious with extensive use of pine panelling. In addition to his operatic projects, Godfrey also uses the studio to work on some more pop-oriented music with a keyboard player who's living there, and Brother Beyond recently carried out three weeks of pre-production at the studio and may return to mix their album.
"Previously I was under the misapprehension that anything that was of quality would automatically be accepted by the record company on its merits. When things were rejected I took it personally, but now I see that we just weren't giving them what they wanted."
So does the establishment of Longhome and the launch of a new solo career indicate a change in approach for Godfrey?
"Well, previously I was under the misapprehension that anything that was of quality would automatically be accepted by the record company on its merits. When things were rejected I took it personally, but now I see that we just weren't giving them what they wanted. The first label we were on was brilliant, but they went bankrupt, and then punk started; we signed to Pye, which became PRT, but the guy who really believed in us left after four weeks. After that I decided to do everything independently, and all The Enid albums were sold by mail order until last year." At that time Godfrey set up a business, Wonderful Music, with Rob Ayling, who had been working for Ottersongs. "We never wanted any hippy association - our early music was similar to what contemporaries like Genesis and ELP were doing, but we've never been hippies, lived in a commune, taken drugs or anything like that.
"Recently I've been working on what could be called New Age music - I was commissioned by Matthew Manning, who's an alternative therapist, to compose a piece called Reverberations for his healing music label Nuage. It has more in common with The Seed & The Sower, which was a late Godfrey and Stewart production, than with The Enid albums; the early albums were very much classical rock, things like Salome and Something Wicked This Way Comes less so, and albums like The Spell reverberated a little. But I always enjoyed playing with a live band, and I miss it now; I'm looking forward to getting on stage at UK Electronica, and I'm going to mix in Reverberations with some completely new music.
"Apart from that, I'm really waiting for some good music software for the IBM PC. I've always used them for business and for our fan club database. I've looked at the Voyetra software, but I'm still looking. I find the Atari a little domestic; I never got into the Macintosh because I went down the IBM road very early on. I know how to use DOS and wrote my own housekeeping program for the PC; I know how to get in and read a file if it gets corrupted, but I don't know what you'd do in that situation on an ST. They're not physically very good, and I'm only interested in a serious industrial machine - although the Yamaha C1 portable PC may be interesting."
We left Robert John Godfrey to reflect on the possibilities his new solo career may have to offer, and to make plans for his alternative career as the manager of a studio which may at last be offering something a little different.
Longhome Studios (Contact Details).
Robert John Godfrey, seven other hi-tech acts and a giant laser/video display will be appearing at UK Electronica '89 at the Logan Hall, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1, on Saturday September 23rd. Doors open 1pm; tickets £12 plus SAE from; AMP Records, (Contact Details).
Interview by Frank Ellis