Have A Cigar

The cover CD of the October 2011 edition of Mojo Magazine features a version of the Pink Floyd classic Have A Cigar performed by non other than John Foxx And The Maths.

In an exclusive interview,
John and Benge detail how they put this track together...

 Have A Cigar

Metamatic : How were you approached for this project?

Benge : It came through John's manager, Steve Malins.

John :
Steve got a call from the guys at Mojo, who'd had the initial idea.

Metamatic : Did you get to choose which track to cover?

Benge : Yes initially, we were asked to choose any track from Wish You Were Here, so we immediately thought Welcome To The Machine would suit us best. But we were beaten to that by another band - Geoff Barrow / Beaks, I think. So Cigar was our second choice.

John : Entirely our fault - we hesitated for a day or so. I think we were working to some release deadline on another project - and that's when
Geoff zoomed in on Machine. Good choice, but it left us a bit adrift.

Then a good friend,
Isobel, said we should do Cigar. She was right.

Metamatic : Do you know who else has covered tracks for this project?

Benge : Only Beaks, we'll have to wait and see who else was involved.

Metamatic : How familiar were you with this track / the music of
Pink Floyd?

Benge : I was always quite into Pink Floyd. They are one of the few bands who seemed to keep their art-school credentials intact during the 70's, even though they were so commercially successful, which is an extremely rare achievement - staying cool and also populist. I also love the production sound of their records, it's always so beautiful and so well constructed.

John : Agreed. This is where I go longhand. I saw The Floyd for the first time at the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream, at Ally Pally.

Syd was still functional and they were brilliant - all noise and light and confusion, exactly what everyone was up for.

 John Foxx

This was the dawn of psychedelia, and that first concert left an indelible impression. Lots of firsts - saw Un Chien Andalou, Jan Lenica films and Mark Boyle's lightshows. Lennon and Brian Jones were there, and almost everyone who was to become the underground of late 60's London - from the drug deviants of Granny Takes a Trip, to Oz and International Times. All in one night, in Spring 1967.

It felt like the world had turned technicolour after those dark grey days of the 1950's. Even after the pop years of the early 1960's. It was a glimpse of the future. You could breathe.
The Floyd epitomized all that at the time.

Interestingly, their later records from
Saucerful Of Secrets and Interstellar Overdrive to Shine On You Crazy Diamond, were what the coming German bands picked up on - along with The Beatles and Tomorrow Never Knows.

Popol Vuh and Tangerine Dream particularly used those tracks as starting blocks for their music. Of course these musicians were usually a bit more sophisticated than the Brits, because they were also directly involved with current European experimental music - Stockhausen was lecturing in Dusseldorf and Cologne and members of Can (and also Conny Plank) were working with him as students or assistants. They all also related to the work of Pierre Schaeffer, in Paris, as well as the feedback experiments of The Who.

So that ensuing German art rock scene of the early seventies was strongly informed by this previous British Psychedelic era - and the visual style influence was total.

For years I imagined we'd actually started it all in England, then I found out recently that
Warhol began it a few months before - in New York with The Exploding Plastic Inevitable event at the Psychiatrist's convention. Wild film projections, lightshows, smoke and feedback chaos. The films of those events are truly and eternally beautiful. Plus Gerard Malanga does a wondrously daft whip-dancing routine with Nico.

If you look out the
Alexander Palace films of The Floyd, they are very similar in spirit, but far more optimistic, with less inferred urban psychosis.

Ironic, considering how it all went for

Hard to believe now, but at that point
The Floyd were the nearest thing London had to the Velvet Underground. Our own truly adventurous and experimental avant-garde band. I always want to keep that moment alive in my head, just for my own purposes.

Metamatic : Was the track recorded at Play Studios?

Benge : Yes.

Metamatic : What equipment did you use?

Benge : We used all of the following...

Drums - Linn LM1
Main Synth Sequence - ARP Odyssey / ARP Sequencer
Other Synths - Moog Polymoog, Minimoog, Korg Monopoly, Oberheim Xpander, Serge Modular
Vocals - Roland VP330 Vocoder
Toy Laughing-Box


Metamatic : Did the song present you with any technical difficulties?

Benge : I have to say it was an extremely hard song for us to do. When you first listen to the original track it seems fairly simple, but actually it has all these complex little time signature changes that keep happening, and it is not at all straightforward - don't forget it was recorded in the mid seventies! I had read about Led Zeppelin doing the same thing - it was apparently a tactic these huge bands used to stop people covering their songs in clubs - and believe me it works!

Have A Cigar was a bit like doing a Rubik's Cube - in the end we gave up and converted the whole song to a 4 / 4 time signature, which meant changing the arrangement and verse / chorus structure a bit. But in a way it suits us better because we like to take the simplest path when we write together.

John : I was lucky -
Benge had sorted all the problems, so I could enjoy doing my bit. It was relatively easy. Psychedelic is my second language.

Metamatic : Why were the lyrics changed? (from '
The band is just fantastic, that's really what we think. Oh by the way, which one's Pink?' to 'The band is just fantastic, the sound is really fat. Oh by the way, which one's Matt?')

Benge : 'Matt' = 'Maths' gettit? It's the sort of mistake any coked-up music executive might make.

Metamatic : Would you consider playing this track live as
John Foxx And The Maths?

Benge : I'm not sure about that - we'll have to have a group discussion about it. I would like to.

 Benge and John

John : It's an idea. But I think I'd rather use something with lyrical content more suited to the spirit of The Maths, rather than some complaint about record companies. The Floyd went noticeably quiet on that front after the royalties came in.

That entire universe has evaporated now, so it would be more timely to recover the original spirit from 1967. Scrape the barnacles off, shake its hand gratefully, then record what it does, before it dies again.

Metamatic : How did you feel being asked to cover a song?

Benge : It was a real honour to be asked, and I've never done any thing quite so technically demanding before. In my past life running a commercial music production studio we were often asked to produce 'soundalikes' of famous tracks, which is a whole other discipline and can be great fun - you have to reverse engineer a piece of music and get in musicians and singers and stuff. But we were always under strict deadlines and could never bring anything of our own into it. So it was really interesting doing this because we had free reign to interpret it however we wanted - which was essentially to throw as many synths at it as we could!

John : Yes - we both really enjoyed injecting the whole thing with Germania. In retrospect, I like to think it was our wee way of illustrating some of that forgotten thread of music history - the Psychedelic to Electronic / European evolution - in a single recording.

Metamatic : Are there any other songs which you'd like to cover in a similar fashion?

John : Now you come to mention it, quite a few are springing to mind - Jumping Jack Flash, The Last Time, There She Goes, Paperback Writer, Strawberry Fields, SkySaw, Becalmed, a section of Kind Of Blue, Like A Rolling Stone, Play it Cool, America, Rebel Rebel, Love Minus Zero, All Tomorrow's Parties, Virginia Plain, Gloria, The Lady Is A Tramp, Madam George, Ode to Joy, You Really Got Me, Neon Lights, Gymnopedies, the theme from The Third Man, Carmina Burana, All The Young Dudes, A Day In The Life - I remember playing that live on a 12-string guitar in Salford, when I supported Stackwaddy.

It would be a bit of a challenge to make any of it sound like
The Maths - but I know we could do it. If you can convert Pater Noster to electronics, you can manage.

You'd have to surgically remove any Blues tumours and give it all a hormone boost, via Brit grunge synthesis. A bit of
Warhol effect might be permissible. Imagine Jumping Jack Flash re-imagined as filthy electrovelvets. That would really be something. We'd have to get together with Soft Moon and Xeno and Oaklander to really do that one justice.

Benge : After doing this, I think we could take on pretty much anything - maybe an electronic version of the complete works of
Anton Webern?

John : Or a medley of significant standards - personally, I'd vote for the inclusion of
Burning Nude Panic by The Wooly Fish - Preston's number one psychedelic group, 1968.

Let us not forget that the 70's happened in Preston first.

For more information on Benge - check out his blog...

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