During the course of 2020 Richard Norris has been quietly releasing some meditative masterpieces. Via his Group Mind label and Bandcamp page – under the name Music For Healing – he’s made available, digitally, long-form pieces – we`re talking 20 minute compositions – drug-like drones, raga remedies – collisions of new age and kosmische – with all proceeds going to the mental health charity, MIND. Some of his shorter works have made it to bespoke vinyl, such as the recent, beautiful, Elements set. 2020 also saw the official pressing of Paul Woolford`s epic re-imagining of Floatation – a balearic benchmark co-produced by Richard, with Dave Ball, as The Grid – celebrating 30 years since the tune first blew the world away.
Where are you from?
I was born in Southgate, in London, up at the top of the Piccadilly line. My family was from around there – Enfield, Palmers Green. It was called Middlesex then, rather than Greater London. Once Damien Hirst told me that the band I was going to form with Joe Strummer should be called Middlesex, because of the line in our song Diggin The New that went “boy, tran or girl”. I took it as a sign. I was from there.
Where are you based?
Currently Portobello Rd, but moving to the country. Mainly to have a better view from the studio window. And clean air.
How did you first get into music?
Punk. It triggered everything.
Weren’t you only 14 when you got your first record played on John Peel?
Yes, he played both the Innocent Vicars records. He wrote to me a few times too. A massive influence. I can’t imagine that I’d be doing music without him.
Where you in any other bands after the Innocent Vicars? I have visions of you being this crazy young guy – promoting clubs / gigs and writing fanzines. Is that anywhere near the truth?
Yes indeed. I had a fanzine called 99%. It was a good time to be very young and excited about music – with the DIY, Rough Trade thing going on, it opened doors, and people were helpful and accessible. We got interviews with The Clash, The Damned.. It was unbelieveable, really, being 13 or 14.
How did you go from punk to more psychedelic stuff? I know a lot of people were “turned on” by Julian Cope`s famous “Tales From The Drug Attic” article.
The local band / DIY scene in St. Albans, where I spent my teenage years, was very healthy. There were loads of bands, labels, fanzines, youth club gigs. We weren’t old enough for pubs! Tracey Thorn recalls it well in her book Bedsit Disco Queen. We played gigs with her bands Stern Bops, and later Marine Girls, who we had a great affinity with. One local label was Waldos, who had a roster primarily from Watford Art College and had a very strong art / punk design ethos. Phil Smee, who ran it, is a phenomenal, designer, as were Cally, Ron West and Nick Egan from the Waldo’s band The Tea Set. Cally went on to be head of art at Island Records, and manage Julian Cope, The The, Bill Drummond and more. He also looks after the Nick Drake estate. Nick Egan designed for The Clash, Bob Dylan and many more, and directed Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares To U video, among others. Ron West designed the ghetto blaster on Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock cover, which Nick did the sleeve for. I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by all this talent, a booming DIY ethos, and cheap pressings, fanzines, gigs and John Peel.
Waldos morphed into Bam Caruso, a psychedelic reissue label, which was run by Phil and Cally, putting out rare UK psych, The Prisoner soundtrack and loads of others like The Seeds and the Left Banke. Phil and Cally were phenomenal record collectors, turning me on to psych, kosmische, dub, folk, soul.. all the good stuff. I got a job at Bam Caruso, so got to be round Phil’s house every day, making compilations, doing the post, editing our Strange Things magazine, colouring in the lettering of a Chocolate Watch Band reissue comp, living music. It was an excellent education.
How did you get the job writing for the NME? What sort of stuff were you initially covering?
I got the job at NME as I was constantly going to their offices to try to get them to review Bam Caruso records. I also chatted to them about the Strange Things mag, which news editor James Brown was particularly interested in. I also kept badgering them to cover acid house, from the end of 1987 onwards.
Were you working at Strange Things at the same time as the NME? How did what you were covering for Strange Things differ from what you were doing at the NME? Were you interviewing people, reviewing gigs and records?
There was a crossover. I wrote and co-edited Strange Things in 1987-88, and wrote for NME 88 -90. After that it was full time music with The Grid. The Strange Things coverage was more cult related stuff, so interviews with Alan Moore, Kathy Acker, Wire, the Go Betweens, Psychic TV. For NME it was mainly writing about dance in my Space Cadet column, and a few features and gigs – Front 242, S Express, Baby Ford, a ton more. I remember reviewing Pink Floyd at Wembley, going to Belgium loads of times for the big New Beat feature, going to New York and covering Blaze, Ce Ce Rogers and Ten City. It was a freelance thing mainly – I was already working on The Grid.
Are you still doing any “regular” writing / journalism now?
No, although I might write some stories down for a book when I get time.
Did the job bring you into the “orbit” of Creation Records and the other C86 associated bands and labels? Didn’t Alan McGee manage you at one point?
Yes, working at Bam Caruso brought me into the orbit of people like Jeff Barrett, who had run a label called Head and had a band called Loop on it that I liked. This was just before he started Heavenly. I probably met Alan a bit earlier. He managed me for a while when The Grid were at Warners. For maybe about three months!
Also much later, you ran the label Eruption, for Creation. Did the label have a musical focus, a particular genre it was promoting?
Such was the madness of the times that I didn’t do anything at all for Eruption. I did get a Creation calling card with ‘Richard Norris – A&R’ on it, but didn’t sign anything. Didn’t even have a desk (laughs).
How did you meet Breyer Genesis P-Orridge?
Through interviewing Genesis for Strange Things magazine. Gen knew about the Bam Caruso records, and was going through his ‘hyperdelia’ phase. I knew of his reputation and knew Throbbing Gristle. He was a one off, a trickster, a bit of a charlatan. He said “Have you heard about acid house?” This was mid 1987. I hadn’t, but the idea of a psychedelic dance music was very appealing. Then he said “Shall we go and make an acid house record next weekend?” Which is what we did. We made an album of what we thought a new psychedelic acid music would sound like, without ever hearing any records with a 303 on them. I didn’t hear Phuture or Adonis` No Way Back or tracks like that until after we finished the record.
We just went into a small studio in Chiswick with Gen and Pauls, a bunch of my Bam Caruso mates, some Psychic TV people, Dave Ball and an amazing engineer called Richard Evans. He was a wizard – he was using an Atari and Akai samplers and helping us make tracks in an hour. That was the rule on Jack The Tab – all tracks had to be made and finished in an hour! Gen kept moaning “get on with it” when me and Dave were working on the M.E.S.H track, as it took an hour and a half. For a while after I thought all electronic records were made in an hour!
The record came out on my label, Castalia Records, put out from my front room in St.Albans, using Bam Caruso’s distributor. We were lucky in that it was out quite early – we finished it in September 1987 and it came out early in 1988 – and there weren’t many other albums about at the time that referenced acid house. Although ours never mentioned the words acid house. And certainly sounded nothing like acid house – it was more of a deranged early sampling record in the spirit of Cabaret Voltaire or TG, with a bit of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts and some psych thrown in. It sold loads of copies though and got me on the cover of NME.
Gen ripped me off on the Jack The Tab, unfortunately. We made up a while later, but he licensed the album to Brazil, Spain and America, without telling me, pocketing a few grand of advances in cash! It sold tons in the US and I’ve never seen a penny from those releases. Despite it being on my label. I found a note in a PTV record the other day that said “Dear Richard, sorry about thee money for Brazil!” So not great financially. But making the album was a phenomenal experience that was worth more than money. It was an incredibly fun record to make, about a dozen people in the room, all jamming little snippets of ideas, taping stuff off videos, adding mad effects, sticking it down straight away, no second guessing. Which is why it still sounds strange and fresh. I haven’t made many albums in that way, with live sampling, keyboards and all hands on desk… maybe it’s time to do another.
Were you also interested in the occult, and people like Robert Anton Wilson? Or was this a result of meeting P-Orridge?
I was interested in all forms of subculture, so the occult was part of that. Also the beats, Burroughs, Warhol, John Waters, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Re:Search magazine, JG Ballard, Richard Brautigan, the usual suspects. It was hard to get information about them at the time, apart from in places like Compendium in Camden (legendary book store) which was a lifeline. Gen was good at spreading information about such things.
How did you learn about acid house?
I knew about house music a bit before acid house. Everyone did – Jack Your Body and Love Can’t Turn Around were already big chart hits, and you could hear house, Hi NRG and electronic music in places like Camden Palace, with Colin Faver and Eddie Richards, or at Pyramid at Heaven. I’d started going out clubbing a lot earlier, when I was still a teenager. The St.Albans contingent of Nick Egan, etc. were well connected and would get us into White Trash, run by Dencil (Williams) of Troy, which was a tiny club with a Saturday Night Fever lit up dancefloor, and the Mudd Club, run by Phillip Salon. This was around 1983. There was also the Alice In Wonderland psychedelic club at Gossips a bit later on, and a bunch of others. We were continually on the milk train back to St.Albans at 4am.
Regulars at White Trash. Dencil Of Troy at the centre.
How did you end up at Shoom?
The boyfriend of one of the people on the Jack The Tab album, Laura B, knew Colin Faver, who was quite an established alternative and electronic promoter and DJ. He was playing at one or two of the early Shoom nights – I think Danny went on first. So we went down, then kept going back. We used to go early, so Jenni wouldn’t knock us back at the door, and brought T-Shirts to give out, as my mate had a printing place. I still have a few of them.
Did you also go to places like Future, and Spectrum?
By the late spring, early summer of 1988 me and a gang would be going out pretty much every night. We couldn’t find a good night on Tuesday so we stayed in then. But yes. The main club for us was Clink St, with Paul Rip, MR C, ‘Evil’ Eddie Richards and E-Mix. It was a darker, a different vibe from Shoom, which was more poppy and melodic, and The Clink was certainly as important and as electric as Shoom or any of the other nights. It got less press though so has somewhat slipped into the background of the ‘four guys go to Ibiza’ myth.
Primal Scream`s Loaded and your Jack The Tab track as the Wild Angels both contain the same movie clip. Did Andrew get the sample from you?
I don’t think so, although he would have heard Jack The Tab as he was a big TG and PTV fan, so would have heard it. Andrew Innes remembers sampling it from the Peter Fonda film for Loaded in the studio, so they didn’t get it from Jack The Tab. But it was a cult `60s film that people like myself and Andrew Innes and Andrew Wetherall would have been aware of.
Wasn’t the first Grid record that crazy cover of Lime?
Yes, called On The Grid.
How did you know about Lime?
Dave Ball was a big fan of Hi NRG, so we listened to things like Italo disco tracks, Lime, Klein and MBO`s Dirty Talk. We both loved Hi NRG. I used to DJ occasionally at a place called The Bell in Kings Cross, which was where the Big Chill Bar is, which was a very vibey gay / mixed place. Loads of Hi NRG got played there. So we were aware of Lime and Bobby O and Italo.
Digging around researching and writing this “history” of the “balearic beat” – its been really interesting to uncover this loose group of friends and associates – with similar interests – who were kind of brought together by Shoom and Future – people like yourself, Andrew Weatherall, Hugo Nicolson, Youth, Alex Paterson, The Orb / KLF. It must have been a super exciting and creative time?
It was. It seemed like you met hundreds of people in the space of about three months. And still know them all now!
Would it be OK to talk about Floatation a bit? I know you’ve probably talked about this a lot. I read 2 recent accounts about the making of this landmark track, and am still fascinated by it. As a naive raver and Weatherall groupie I had this idea in my head that you and Dave were the seasoned musicians, and Andrew just rocked up with a bag of obscure records to be sampled. But reading your accounts I now know this wasn’t the case – and that to a certain extent you were all kind of winging it.
Well there was certainly an element of winging it. Dave was the far more experienced musician in The Grid, although I’d also been making records before. But Dave had worked in great studios and with excellent producers and had mentors like Daniel Miller and Mike Thorne throughout Soft Cell. So Dave certainly wasn’t winging it.
I’d got signed to Warners on a solo deal, on the back of the Jack The Tab album. The Grid was initially going to be me and Gen, but Gen had had various not good dealings with major labels and backed out, so they signed me on my own, with a view to working with a bunch of different producers. The first one was Dave Ball, and it was clear straight away that this was more of a band set up between the two of us, so he became the other half of The Grid. It was a bit insane being signed to Warners – their roster at the time included Prince, Madonna, Simply Red etc… and there’s us who got signed on the back of a mental sampling record that was never going to get played on the radio. It helped that Cally from Bam Caruso was the A&R. We were given a small advance and made the album, Electric Head, at Pacific Studio in Shoreditch and Eastcote Studio in Kensal Rd, Ladbroke Grove. We’d made about 16 tracks and handed it in, and Cally said he thought we should do one more. So we decided to do a track that would be the last track on the album, and to make it sound like the closing music for a movie. Dave was a massive John Barry fan and had these two chords that sounded very John Barry like, but didn’t resolve. I added a third chord which lifted Dave’s darker notes into something a bit more uplifting, so you get this great ‘happy/sad’ reflective feeling in the track. We got in a guy called Julian Stringle to play clarinet, a mate of Dave’s. We thought of it as a closing album track, and never thought of it as a single. Someone thought it would be, though, and we asked Andrew to remix it. I think it was his second or third remix.
Andrew and Hugo Nicolson were a great team. Hugo was great at dub and effects – I think he’d worked a bit with Adrian Sherwood beforehand – whereas Andrew was good at the whole picture. He wasn’t at all hands on but his ideas are certainly all over the remix. They did a long mix, at Battery Studios, and then we thought we’d add a vocal, so went back in with me and Sasha Souter, a friend from Shoom, and made it up on the spot. I’d been in a flotation tank in St John’s Wood a bit before, so that may have been an inspiration. Also the Herb Alpert track Rotation – I liked that title and wanted to call it something with that feel. I still have the tape of the vocal sessions – Weatherall is in the booth, giving suggestions, I’m writing lyrics down in the vocal room and giving them to Sasha. It was a very quick process, pretty much made up on the spot. Then Andrew and myself oversaw the vocal version. Dave wasn’t about for the remix – I’m not sure why – he’d already put his musical stamp on it however.
There`s an army of obsessives like me out there spotting samples – Sheila Chandra, Musique du Burundi (?), 3rd Bass (?) – were you all throwing in ideas?
Sheila Chandra yes, not sure about the Burundi drummers or 3rd Bass. Those were all Andrew’s idea.
Whose idea was it to sneak in the Stone Roses at the end?
Andrews, again. Although he wasn’t that hands on in a technical or musician kind of way, Andrew’s stamp is all over the remix.
This was all pre-digital so were you tangled up in 100s of tape edits?
Yep. All tape – 24 track 2 inch tape, then 1/4 inch master tape. There was a lot of playing effects live on the desk. Things like the Yamaha SBX 90 multi effects used to get a caning – we’d chain them up together so the reverb went into a full on phaser or whatever – that was great for those big reverb drum hits on Floatation.
Given how amazing the track is, why did you never work with Andrew and Hugo again?
They were off doing other things. It was pretty much just a remix thing for them.
Were you largely “dependent” on engineers at this point?
Not really, they were part of the mix but we made all the music. Dave and I both had sequencers, keyboards and samplers, so it wasn’t the case of the engineer making the record. Far from it. We used to have to spend a couple of days with any new engineer, who would start on day one telling us what to do, but by day two had learnt a new bunch of studio tricks from us. Either that or fled because they couldn’t take our way of working! It was pretty extreme. Apart from standard keyboard parts, we’d set up loops and record them to to the 24 track tape, so you’d have tons of loops going, then arrange the whole thing on the desk. Which in the days of very basic automation was quite tricky and very much on the fly.
At what point did you get to know your own way around a studio?
I’d been making records and been in bands since I was young so had some recording experience. Between Jack The Tab and the first Grid album I learnt the sequencers we used and got some keyboards. We didn’t use any computers on the first Grid album, although I think we got into Cubase on the second album and I got the first Mac classic when it came out. The first track I made on it was Rollercoaster, which made the top 20! Quite something for a track that sounds like a washing machine in a tangle with a Dalek.
How did you get to hear the recent Special Request remix? Did Paul approach you? Some people have said its too long – but personally I think they`ve completely missed the point.
I actually asked Paul to do it and he was very excited about it. He said it was the best day in the studio he’d ever had, or something like that. It is a bit long, but it needs that for the spacious element. I did do a shorter edit. Well a seven minute edit anyway!
You also worked with fellow members of the Boys Own “team”, Terry Farley and Pete Heller. Was that a similar process?
Pete and Terry did A Beat Called Love pretty much on their own, although I recall Pete being really into a percussive drum thing I’d programmed on a Roland R8, so that could have been during that remix, or he may have come to visit us at Pacific when we were making the album.
How involved were you with Boys Own? Did you contribute to the fanzine?
Around the time we were making the Electric Head album, I moved to Goldbourne Road in Ladbroke Grove, and we started working at Eastcote Studios round the corner. It’s a great place, in a courtyard with a few office units. One of the units came up for rent, so I got it as The Grid office, which we then shared with Boys Own. So I was about for that, watching poor hapless punters who wanted tickets for parties coming in and getting the piss taken out of them by Steve Mayes or Terry! Andrew didn’t come in much, but Terry and Steve were there a lot. Occasionally I did some typing for it if no one else could be arsed, and I also did cartoons, and collages taken from old 1939’s Boys Own annuals and changed a bit. I did the cartoon that had a sampler, a keyboard and a record deck on it, and said “now go form a band” or whatever, as an update to the punk ‘here’s three chords’ now go form a band’ cartoon. So I was around.
I remember you had a “nightlife” column in the NME, and you wrote a review of Shoom – focusing on what Weatherall and Farley were playing upstairs at Busbys – stuff like Mr Mister`s Broken Wings. What did you make of “balearic”? Wasn’t old pop tunes almost the opposite of punk?
Upstairs at Busbys was great. I can’t remember Mr Mister but they played a lot of good records up there. I liked Balearic, as I have always loved pop music, as well as odd sounding records, so it was okay with me. It’s kind of how Dave and me bonded – over tacky Hi NRG, film soundtracks, but also Throbbing Gristle and Suicide. I liked the lightness of some of the original tunes, but also liked the more dark proto hardcore and techno they were playing at Clink St and Rage.
How did you convince the NME to send you to Ibiza to cover the opening of Amnesia in 1989? What were your first impressions of the island and the clubs? How barmy was that trip? Who else went with you? Jack Baron? Helen Mead?
I’d been banging on to them about acid house for nine months before they printed an issue where it featured heavily, so they were quite receptive. I asked the editor if I could go to Ibiza for two weeks, and take my girlfriend along as paid photographer, and he very kindly said yes. At the time it was a strange proposition – no one from the NME world knew about that scene. But they let me go and I made it to the opening party of Amnesia in 1989, which was quite a night. Clusters of very over excited UK clubbers mixing with rather sophisticated, and it seemed much older, Euro clubbers, S&M people with whip marks on them, all sorts. And then heading to Ku or Cafe Del Mar. It was a great fortnight.
Did you also, later go on the Flying Records Ibiza 90 trip? Were you involved at all in A Short Film About Chilling?
No, didn’t go, although they used Floatation in A Short Film About Chilling.
Were you DJing at this point? If so where did you play, what sort of stuff were you playing? Do you have a vast collection of rare and obscure records? Do you still buy records?
I played at a few acid things. I did have a big collection of records at the time, mainly psychedelic albums and singles, also soul and reggae, among others. I never really thought of myself as a DJ, although I subsequently did DJ a lot. I’ve always been more into the writing and production side. Recently I sold about 90% of my records as a job lot. They are now stored next to Andrew Weatherall’s records in a lock up. Home at last! It was a very liberating thing to do. I had way too many, too many to listen to. I kept all my ambient records, some reggae, lots of German and African records. I am now buying more vinyl again, mainly ambient, drone, electronic, African and German records again…
Did the Electric Head album sell well?
Not really, certainly not in Warner Bros terms. Which is why we were quickly dropped! It’s weird, they should have got Floatation away as a hit. There were signs in London shops like Trax, in the window, saying ‘No copies of Floatation’, because there was such demand and they’d run out. I think the label dropped the ball on that one, and we certainly weren’t a top priority for them, which you had to be to get anywhere.
On the follow up 4 5 6 you have a whole host of “celebrities” – Dieter Meier, Dagmar Krause, Robert Fripp, Andy McKay – did you just call these people up?
We signed to Virgin after being dropped by Warners – we did a mix for Boy George – Bow Down Mister – George liked it and got Virgin to sign us. The head, Simon Draper, who`d previously been responsible for bringing Faust and other kosmishe and art rock bands to the label, liked us. He introduced us to David Enthoven, a well known manager who’d previously managed Roxy Music, T-Rex, King Crimson and ELP. Unfortunately David had somewhat overdone it on the recreational party favours, and had been in rehab. We were the first band he took on after that. He rang me up and said “I’ve heard your first album, and I cried. It reminded me of the first Roxy Music LP.” I was sold instantly. He was an excellent person, and managed to get Robert Fripp, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera and more to play on the 4 5 6 album. Deiter Meier was our idea.
When Eno remixed Heartbeat and you remixed Ali Click, were you all present at the sessions?
No, it was a remix swap. Eno was amused that we put a spoken word thing from an `60s LSD documentary on our mix of Ali Click, which told the story of Brian, who did things like eat lightbulbs. We thought he’d knock it back but he liked it and licensed the sample at great expense. With the mix of Heartbeat, he sent us about 17 mixes back, and a diagram, and a chart as to which mixes fitted which mood. It had notes on each mix, things like ‘this one is suited to designer drug situations’. I don’t know him at all, he was just someone the late great David Enthoven put us in touch with. I did speak to him last week though, for a documentary thing I’m doing with Hannah Peel for 6 Music next year.
Justin Robertson did a few remixes for you. Did he come into the studio to work with you?
No, he always worked separately. Those mixes were very important to us getting more notice, particularly the Crystal Clear one, which got us our first of five Top Of The Pops performances.
What was your reaction when Swamp Thing got in the charts and you ended up on Top Of The Pops again?
The track was a bit of an in joke to start with. We never thought the record company would release it, as it was kind of taking the piss out of po-faced boys techno, which had become very serious at the time. We just thought it was a comment on that. Our thoughts were “what’s the least techno instrument you could use on a track?” Dave happened to hear this guy play in a pub near him in Marylebone, where he was living, so we stuck a banjo on it. It was in the charts for 17 weeks and sold a million copies worldwide. It was hard to live down, to be honest.
Did The Grid ever play live?
Yes, we did a bunch of UK tours, things like Megadog in Manchester with Aphex Twin and in London, at the Rocket with Orbital and at a New Years Eve Megadog at Brixton Academy. We also played in Japan with Autechre supporting, and also Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark. We played live quite a lot.
Why did The Grid take a hiatus in around 94? I mean you must have been so busy – the two of you did a ton of remix work between 1990 and 94. Did you just need a break?
It was more that we were slightly dazed by the reaction to Swamp Thing and the promo and touring. There was pressure to follow it up with a bigger hit. It got to number 3, so we thought the record company would want us to make the next one get to number 1. Which is quite a pressure when you are trying to write a tune! We should have just taken a year off. In the meantime I started working with Joe Strummer, and went off in other directions, and Dave started working with Ingo Vauk who had engineered a lot of Grid tracks. They went on to remix David Bowie and write one of Kylie’s best tunes.
What were the Vic Reeves sessions like?
Quite drunken! Him and Paul Morley thrashed us at pool.
How did you come to work with Billy Ray Martin? What was the process like? Could you have retired – financially – after Your Loving Arms?
Not really, we only produced it, rather than writing it. We did okay out of it. We had worked with Billie previously on an E.P. called 4 Ambient Tales, on R&S offshoot Apollo. That was great. Kind of ambient torch song, with the great pedal steel player BJ Cole guesting on it. I still love that record a lot, particularly the track Planet Of The Blue.
Do you and Dave still work on tracks together?
Occasionally. There’s always talk of doing more tracks. We never really split up.
How did you meet Erol Alkan? Can you tell me more about Beyond The Wizards Sleeve?
We started work after Erol had heard me play a bunch of psych tunes on Sean Rowley’s radio show on BBC London. He was intrigued, I made him a ton of CDs, then we started playing them in seven hour back to back sets at Catch in Shoreditch. Then started doing edits for playing out, then put them on E.P.s, then got a bunch of remixes in, then made the album. I’m proud of the work we did together but needed to move on.
You kind of continued with that sound, solo, as Time And Space Machine, and your still pulling in high profile remixes – Soft Cell, Blancmange, Noel Gallagher, Bryan Ferry. I absolutely love your version of Alphaville. In recent years though your solo work has moved towards the “ambient” and totally electronic. What prompted this musical move?
I`ve always been interested in atmospheric music, be it soundtracks or kosmische music or ambient. I’d never had the space to do a continued ambient series, to really work at it and develop a sound. I’ve been doing that for the last two years, every day pretty much. It’s as much craft as art, chipping away at an abstract sound. Very different from dance music.
On your bandcamp site you state that the aim is to create music that might help / improve mental health, and the funds from your lockdown releases have been are donated to the charity MIND. What got you interested in mental health?
I moved back in to my Portobello Road house, and there was a lot going on outside – deals, threats, being surrounded by 10 people outside my door… not a good feeling. I had to create a safe space for myself inside, as it was effecting my mind. So I started writing ambient music for myself, as well as listening to a lot of ambient and drone music, including the drone work of Eliane Radigue, while meditating. This helped a lot, so I decided to put some out. People wrote to me to say it was helping them, too, so I decided to do a weekly 20 minute piece called Music For Healing during lockdown, and give all profits to the charity MIND. We raised quite a few quid.
How do you know when to “finish” those long ambient tracks? Is the temptation to just let them play out infinitely – since they provide such a comforting cocoon?
Creating ambient music is a bit like creating an abstract painting. In one sense it can be freeing, as you can do whatever you like, but in another way, the limitless possibilities can be overwhelming. The way I make them is to impose some form of rules about the pieces, some form of structure. So, for example, I’ll use just one synth for the whole track. Or only use a certain amount of elements. When mixing I use a series of prompts to do different mixes – some practical, some that encourage randomness, like ‘use every other track in the mix’, or turn off all effects. I find that having some structure helps clarity and also helps kickstart creative ideas that you wouldn’t normally arrive at.
I’ve never really had problems finishing tracks. I think it’s because of deadlines, which I am very used to. At NME if the piece wasn’t in on time, it didn’t go in, so I learned to hit deadlines rather than watch them sail past. And I’m not a perfectionist, which helps. I find it helpful to aim for excellence rather than perfection. Although excellence is very subjective of course! In the end the track isn’t finished until the listener hears it and adds their thoughts and impressions to it. So you have to let it out into the world for it to be fully realised.
Over the years you’ve been involved in countless collaborations from Ambient Soho`s Rocket to Andy Chatterley and Matthew Best as the Droyds. What are you working on right now? Do you have any collaborations currently on the go?
No. I’m giving myself to develop ambient music full time. It’s a bit like painting – you have to show up every day to refine it. Although I have started a new fairly trippy kosmische project called Hypnotic Response that will be released next year. I wanted to do something a bit more beaty and psychedelic. I’ve also started a subscription service for my music on Bandcamp. I have 9 CDs and 6 pieces of vinyl lined up for next year, including a Music For Soundtracks album, featuring work for a Cold War Steve documentary that was recently on Sky Arts, and other soundtrack music, the Hypnotic Response project, the follow up to the Elements album and monthly Music For Healing pieces. So I don’t have much time for collaboration at the moment.
Yes I`ve visited his studio but we mainly swapped tracks via the internet for this project. I like hanging out with Jon, he is a very calm and thoughtful person who operates at a different pace to anyone else. Plus I get to quiz him on rare ambient and new age cassettes from the `70s and `80s, which he has vast knowledge of. Hopefully we will do something together soon, there is talk of an album.
Can you tell me more about the Lewes Psychedelic Festival?
I moved to Lewes years ago and started the Lewes Psych Fest with my friend Chris Tomsett aka innerstrings. He`s a great psychedelic lighting guy, who has recently branched out into making videos, and a great talent. I was living there for a few years, and we had some great nights. Chris has carried it on for years now, with all sorts of fine psych bands. I’m moving back that way next year so might join in again.
Are there a lot of psychedelic characters down there on the south-east coast?
I know a fair few music people and acid house veterans have made their home there. Yes!
You wrote Paul Oakenfold`s biography. Are you working on any book ideas at the moment? Your own autobiography?
I`ve been pondering it, making notes. I was glad to do the Oakenfold book, as it was a very short schedule, maybe five months, to do all the interviews and write 100,000 words. I kind of did it to see if I could. So yes I am working on something . There’s loads of stories and characters including William Burroughs, Shaun Ryder, Joe Strummer, Timothy Leary, Sun Ra, Leigh Bowery, Dave Ball, Marc Almond, Genesis P.Orridge and a cast of thousands. I’m just wondering what the underlying story is, apart from the usual bunch of anecdotes. I’ll certainly keep pondering on it and making notes next year, and maybe do something about it in 2022! (smiles)
You can purchase Richard`s music, or subscribe to his Music For Healing project, over at Bandcamp.