Perfect Sound Forever


Slapp Happy reunion, Pink Floyd encounters, Sinead O'Connor collaboration and more
Interview by Jason Gross, Part 5
(December 2023)

Here at PSF, we have an ongoing tradition now of doing an annual article with multi-instrumentalist/composer/polymath Anthony Moore, covering his multi-decade career. First, we surveyed his Slapp Happy years, then his Henry Cow years and tape experiments, then his Flying Doesn't Help album and various productions, then '80's albums/major-label-dom/initial Pink Floyd encounters. Now, moving up a decade, we cover with him more of his work with the Floyd crew, Richard Wright's final album, meeting and working with Sinead O'Connor and the Slapp Happy reunion and musical theater project. As Moore said, "OK, here we go! For the 1990's..."

PSF: How was working on The Division Bell (1994) different than working on Momentary Lapse (1987) with the Floyd crew?

AM: From my rhizomic memory cells, I get the indistinct sense that time spent working on both projects merges into a single period. I believe we began work on The Division Bell pretty much in the same fashion as when starting on Momentary Lapse. The magical location remained the same... Mr. Gilmour manning the helm of a fine, old riverboat moored at the edge of a secret, walled garden, containing a wondrous 'Soundhouse' (Bacon, New Atlantis 1626), full of ancient, analogue gear, redolent with history.

This conflation of time is, quite likely, a false memory... certainly much happened in between; not least a huge tour for the PF trio. In fact it's definitely wrong. I just looked up TDB and I see it says it was recorded in 1993. I guess that MLOR was completed by 1987! That's one helluva lost weekend.

Back to The Division Bell... I guess we started off in a similar way to MLOR, but progress was typically and glacially slow. Other things started bubbling up... the commission to write an opera for Channel 4 TV with my old band Slapp Happy. So I didn't stay the course and faded out fairly early on. "Wearing the Inside Out" is the only song that made it. I am very proud of that song. The title is acutely ambiguous - are you wearing your heart on your sleeve, opening up, showing what normally remains hidden? Or are you driving yourself crazy with overthinking and simply wearing yourself out like an old tyre. I was happy to implement another favourite trick by superimposing two parts of the song, a verse and a chorus, on top of each other. It was a a privilege to write this song for Rick as I had a deep affection both for him and especially his way of playing keyboards, with his brilliant chord inversions that so coloured all the music of PF from day one. Thus, a couple of years later, I leapt at the chance to co-write and co-produce his solo album, Broken China.

PSF: For Broken China (1996), could you talk about working and writing with Richard Wright? Did you also get to work much with Sinead then? The album really had a lovely sadness to it.

AM: Once again, I find myself in a fabulous setting amongst the giant, rustling trees of a mistral-blown garden in the South of France (my guardian angel working overtime). The album has recordings of those trees, as well as crunching gravel, smashing bottles, etc., running through it - a subtle documentation of place. Rick had constructed a rudimentary sound studio in a shack by the pool. I recorded onto a digital multitrack, a very early Radar, possibly Creation 1, or 1st gen, Otari edition. At that point, I was engineering, as well as producing, writing and playing, so there was a learning curve. But I'm a sucker for technical challenges and still stick to Linux and the wonderful Paul Davis' Ardour software to this day. Open source forever! Even the scary Richard Stallman won't put me off (though I can't program to save my life apart from minimal 'bash' and a few 'scripts'). There were good mics, all Rick's keyboards and an elegant Bosendorfer; I had my trusty '57 Fender Duosonic. We wrote together and separately and managed to lay down much of the musical elements that appear on the album.

After a year or so of flying in and out of Nice airport we finally ported the entire project to London where I was able to get Laurie Latham on board. Rick admired the playing of drummer Manu Katché who liked to work with bass player, Pino Palladino. I loved the work of both. I knew Pino from the Paul Young days and of course Laurie Latham was central to that.

The rest of the recording proceeded in the normal way until at the last minute it was taken out of our hands and turned over to James Guthrie to mix. I was surprised and a bit disappointed in the final result, especially the CD, as the sound seemed to have lost some of its sparkle; I just had the feeling something changed. James has a long track record and is a proven master of his trade, so I can only imagine the absence of crispness came about at the mastering/cutting stage. Laurie and I did not have quality control at that point. All along I'd felt an intense and personal connection with the project. I came up with the title 'Broken China,' wrote half the album and played on it as well, not to mention spending a couple of years bringing it to fruition.

To answer the other part of your question, Rick had enormous respect for the work and presence of Sinead O'Connor. He asked me to meet her and see if she would be interested to sing on a couple of the songs. I remember visiting her home in West London. The conversation took place (as all good conversations do) in the kitchen. She agreed to come along to RAK studios to record the vocals with myself, Rick and Laurie Latham. There we discovered a bit of a problem. The completed backing tracks were in a key that meant Sinead had to reach the very lowest part of her range. This was not entirely comfortable for her, but I loved the deep, gravelly sound and she agreed to continue. I can't help thinking that the granularity and wonderful 'greyness' of her voice which so much suited the two songs and the mood of the album, would have come out more clearly had Laurie and I been around at the final stages - I suppose it's no surprise that songs about struggle should have been a bit of a struggle to realise.

PSF: There was a Slapp Happy reunion of sorts for Camera (2000). How did it come together? How was it similar/different working with Peter and Dagmar then? Any thoughts about trying to re-stage it?

AM: The project that took me away from The Division Bell was the aforementioned opera commission. There was a call-out from Channel 4 TV to submit ideas for a TV opera. This was intended as an exciting new genre where opera could be realised beyond the constraints (in the eyes of some) of theatre and realised with all the freedoms of film (presumably, scenery, flashbacks, special effects, etc). Slapp Happy came together to dream up a story that could be turned into a 'libretto.' Peter [Blegvad] is the powerhouse of mad visions and between himself and Dagmar, with some input form myself, we came up with a story about Melusina and her infinite inner cosmos where she had been living, with no connection whatsoever, to the outside world of so-called reality; that is, until a tax inspector comes knocking on her door! She lives in a house that is vastly more spacious on the inside than the outside. We decided to call the piece "Camera." Of all the submissions, Channel 4 chose six of them to be broadcast across the UK. We were lucky enough to be one of them.

Working with Peter and Dagmar is always an enormous pleasure, whatever directions we explore. This really hasn't changed much since 1972. But yes, this was a Slapp Happy project that was always intended to be utterly different to the collections of songs that appeared on Sort Of, Casablanca Moon, Desperate Straights and Ça Va .

For Camera, I imagined I was composing more in the vein of 'Music theatre.' As I'm not schooled in scoring parts, I assembled a virtual 'orchestra' of sounds and instruments in the digital realm and set about inventing the music. We three would tweak the words and Dagmar who was playing the main character of Melusina would test the sing-ability of lyrics and melody. Together, we knitted the thing together. The other parts were sung by opera singers. I worked with the Balanescu String Quartet and my dear friend Terry Edwards on the brass parts. We then hired further classical players and took the project into the recording studio.

As the work was conceived for film, I doubt (to answer your question) that we'd go for a live staging of it.

To be continued...

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