Steve Jolliffe — bodily contact
Ex-Dreamer Steve Jolliffe tells Mark Jenkins about his Journeys Out of the Body
Steve Jolliffe's name may be familiar to many synthesizer buffs, but if you have any difficulty placing him, the word 'Cyclone' should help. That album stands out as one of the most unusual in the long career of pioneering synth band Tangerine Dream, and Steve's influence is all over it. What is less well known is the fact that Steve was one of the founder members of the Tangs many years earlier, before any music was committed to vinyl. His brief re-appearance preceded a few years of relative silence until now, when he has a new solo album, 'Journeys Out Of The Body' to promote.
The story began in art school, where Steve played flute, sax and piano and experimented with several bands. This resulted in his going over to Switzerland for a period, and during this time he met Edgar Froese. "Edgar was working in a small electronic music studio in Germany and seemed very dejected. He wanted to get some of his ideas on the road and eventually we formed the first Tangerine Dream with myself on electric flute and Klaus Schulze on drums. We played very free, improvised music around the clubs and colleges in Germany, but after a while I got tired of the German music scene and moved back to England."
The next move was an English band called Steamhammer, not a heavy metal outfit as you might have thought but a semi-improvisational rock-jazz-blues band. Steve played some keyboards and vocals as well as wind instruments and appeared on 'Steamhammer 2' and several singles. At that point he began to become interested in electronic keyboards. "I had a Roland 100 system with a sequencer, a few other keyboards and a simple recording setup. With that equipment I did some film soundtracks for experimental filmmakers and developed a lot of my own ideas about music. Around 1977 Tangerine Dream split (with the departure for New York of Peter Baumann) and Edgar Froese invited me to re-join. When I got over to Germany Edgar and myself with Chris Franke and a drummer, Klaus Krieger, set to work almost immediately on the album that was to become 'Cyclone'.
Steve's influence on the band at a time when they were searching for a new direction were enormous. One of his first purchases in Germany was a Lyricon — "it's a wind instrument with sensitivity to both breath and the pressure of the lip, and it has a more-or-less conventional Boehm fingering, but it needs a completely new technique to play it. At first I couldn't do anything with it, but eventually I found a fantastic 'gipsy violin' sound which you can hear on side 2 of 'Cyclone'; in addition I played pianos, synthesizers, French Horn, flute and sax and some vocals".
"I live for my music and I couldn't imagine doing anything else."
The vocal element of 'Cyclone' was one of the many dividing factors in public opinion and the album was voted very much a mixed success — including by Steve himself, who feels a lot more could have been achieved. Many felt that the album offered an exciting new direction however, and were disappointed when internal friction called a halt to this version of the Tangs. Steve returned to England and a cottage in Somerset to work on his own musical ideas, and about this time a series of strange experiences began which decided the form of his new album.
"I've been aware since I was very young of the experience, in a state between waking and sleeping, of floating outside the confines of my own body — even of being half in and half out of it. At this time I developed the feeling because I had read of other people having similar experiences and began to understand what was happening. I could float outside the cottage and over the village, often noticing points which I could go and confirm when I was awake. I've tried to explain the experiences in the accompanying notes for the album — each track sums up a different aspect of them, such as flight over the village, the start of the experience or awakening the next morning."
"I've been aware since I was very young of the experience, in a state between waking and sleeping, of floating outside the confines of my own body."
Most of the work for the album was begun on 4-track in Somerset, transferred to a Fostex 8-track and overdubbed at Tony Duhig's studio (he of Jade Warrior), with Steve's Pro-One synth, piano, flute and sax being added to by Emulator and guitar. The album far exceeds the relatively limited equipment used and incredible recording quality has been achieved, with an excellent cut being helpful. There are four tracks with a variety of styles but an overall mood of serenity — obviously not a frightening experience any longer. Slow, bubbling sequences are overlaid by gently fuzzed guitar, flute and sax, with a subtle use of Emulator sampled strings and sitar arpeggios. What's noticeably lacking is the old-fashioned repetitive style of percussion/sequencer pieces, with 'Bent Cold Sidewalk' on 'Cyclone' being the most obvious comparison, at least in its more gentle phases.
The album's an unusual one enhanced by text relating the essence of Steve's experiences. Already another album is in the pipeline and the equipment used on 'Journeys' has been replaced by some of the latest in technology — a Yamaha DX7 and Roland JX-3P permanently MIDI-linked, a TEAC 38 8-track and mixer and a selection of wind instruments — minus the Lyricon which has been retired in favour of the more traditional expression of flute and sax.
The next album is already partly complete, with the tentative title 'Death of a Japanese Butterfly'. It promises to be even more compelling, with the digital sounds of the DX-7 linked to the JX-3P's analogue textures combining in huge washes of sound or the most delicate Eastern textures. The fate of the album depends partly on the success of 'Journeys', but Steve will continue to work on his unique ideas whatever happens. "I live for my music and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. All my time is spent here working on pieces, unless I need the sound of the piano which I still have in my cottage in Somerset. Obviously it would be nice if 'Journeys' sold well, but I'd still be doing the same thing if I was only making sixpence a month from it."
Interview by Mark Jenkins
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