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27/04/2012 EXCLUSIVE: Judge Smith interview (Part Two)

Date Published: 27-04-2012


I particularly enjoyed my chat with Judge Smith the other night. As I wrote in the first part of this interview yesterday, it was less like an interview and more an informal chat, which is - I believe - the way these things shoud be conducted.

Most of what we discussed was about his song-stories, particularly
Orfeas...

Jon: What I thought was particularly nice about the way that you did it, was that it was totally and utterly unpretentious

Judge: Thank you
Jon: Whereas even trying to explain it makes it pretentious, trying to put it in words, it is actually just – you are tapping into an ancient tradition of telling a story with some jokes in it, while putting it to music
Judge: I do find it difficult doing it without putting the jokes in so it does tend to prevent too much self-importance or pretentiousness creeping in, because I feel compelled to put a gag in every so often.
Jon: I like Goerge Orpheus’ line about the audience being like meerkats. My wife and I laughed out loud at that and we had to pause the bloody cd because we were giggling too much
Judge: I got that off a friend of mine. A young lady I know who is cabin crew on Easyjet and they call the passengers the meerkats because you stand up at the end and you just see these little heads popping up and down, peering up over the seats. So I pinched it.
Jon: How many of them have you done so far, the song stories?
Judge: There are three. Orfeas is the third. Curly’s Airships is the first and in the middle comes The Climber. I don’t know if you’ve got that one have you Jon?
Jon: Yes, it is still in the shrink wrap on my dining room table. I have had a house full of people for the last few weeks, and I want to do it justice, rather than listen to it with half an ear whilst doing something completely different..
Judge: That is probably my favourite actually. Of all of them. But it has a very different line up in that it was written for an unaccompanied Norwegian male voice choir, and me, and a double bass and that’s it.
Jon: Now, that is a line you don’t hear very often. Now I don’t know which one to listen to first. I had my evening planned out and now you’ve put me in a quandary
Judge: Well I’ll be interested to know what you think of The Climber. It raises eyebrows because it’s got no guitars or drums in it, but it’s rock and roll to me. It’s just sung by a male voice choir.
Jon: Well they both sound wonderful. Hopefully I’ll get to listen to them both over the weekend. I don’t know which one I will listen to first.
Judge: The Climber is much shorter. It is a much shorter piece, but it follows the song story idea through. I’ve got the hang of this thing now
Jon: Are you planning more?
Judge: Well, I don’t know. I have been working very hard for a couple of years now, well since Orfeas I haven’t really stopped and I’m working on an album at the moment and I think when that is finished in a few months time I am going to take a break, and sort of take stock. Yes, there are two stories that are sitting there waiting that I would like to do but I don’t quite know in what form or format or how yet and I am going to take a break from inflicting my music on the world.
Jon: I wouldn’t do that
Judge: I am not retiring but I am going to take a breather I think. But there are a couple of things I could do, yes certainly, perhaps shorter, perhaps get both of them both on to a cd I don’t know
Jon: When was Orfeas recorded then?
Judge: Orfeas has got a funny sort of history. I started it before I started The Climber and everything went on hold for a year while I recorded and edited The Climber
Jon: Oh I didn’t realise.
Judge: Yes. Recorded the band numbers – George Orpheus’ band – in 2008, so the thing was written - or a lot of it was written - but then I got the opportunity to do The Climber which I had written before, but it had languished because I couldn’t find a choir. I was fortunate then to be approached by Ricardo Odriozola. He is Basque and lives in Norway, and is a violin professor at the Grieg Institute in Bergen. A wonderful chap with an encyclopaedic knowledge of rock music and a most fascinating and remarkable man, and I couldn’t have done this without him.
I don’t have the musical skills to do choir orchestrations and so on. I am very simple in terms of music: I don’t read music, I can’t play anything either; I can drum and I can sing, but I hear the music in my head in great detail, but then I have to struggle to get it out there. I am very ham-fisted with musical instruments, but technology is great. The computer has liberated me really. I can produce the melodies, chord sequences, the bass lines I can hear in my head so computer technology has been fantastic for me even though I don’t make computer sounding music, and I like it played by proper musicians once I‘ve written it, but I couldn’t have written it without the technology
There was a brief interlude while I asked Judge how to spell Ricardo Odriozola's name, and we digressed slightly..
Judge: On a wall of his place in Bergen there is a whole collection of all the wrongly addressed envelopes that he has received. A very great man. And he organised the choir for me and the whole thing was recorded in Norway so I was very, very fortunate indeed so because I had that opportunity Orpheus went on hold for a full year, having got half of it recorded every stopped when I did The Climber and then I had to go back to Orfeas... complicated.
Jon: Life does tend to get complicated. So the thing you are working on at the moment. Is that an ordinary – is there such a thing as an ordinary – album?
Judge: That’s a songs album. And I am working on that with a wonderful American arranger and producer called David Minnick.
Jon: I know that name
Judge: He was involved in Orfeas, he did some of the arrangements on Orfeas as well so you might have seen him in that book. He was part of the American ska revival in the ‘90s, there a lot of American ska bands, quite a lot of ska bands and he was part of that movement, and he has a wonderful album called I Didn’t Know I Was Singing. It’s telephone answering machine messages set to music with the speech music technique that I use in Orpheus, that’s why I got on to him because he was far and away the best person.
Jon: That’s why I know the name. I read an interview with you about that. I got really intrigued by speech music
Judge: It is a fascinating technique, it’s one that requires more musicianship than I’ve got really, but it has been fascinating working with it, and I think I shall probably use it again, but David is very facile with it; very skilled at doing it, but he is an amazing producer and this is a song album, there is no speech music in it or anything particularly avant garde. It is an album of songs that I have had, some of which have been sitting around for a very long time, waiting for me to get around to recording them. And so he is producing and it is his band, his orchestra, his musicians who are doing the recording and I’m doing the singing.
Jon: Any idea when it is coming out
Judge: Well I don’t think it will be too long. I would imagine it would be finished by the autumn. Though when it will actually come out I am not too sure. Probably by the new year I would think.
Jon: I look forward to that
Judge: I haven’t got a title – I think it is bad luck to give things a title that don’t exist. It will be unlike anything I have ever done before because it’s got...... it just is ...... It’s an American album, it’s got that full rock sound that I couldn’t do. It’s very exciting. And it is somebody else doing the heavy lifting. And that’s good
Jon: That’s always a good thing, in whatever genre
Judge: Well I don’t subscribe now to the do it yourself completely self-contained ethos. You get so much from using other people, and it is just a question of letting go to just the right extent. Relinquishing just sufficient control to get the most of other people.
Jon: I don’t think rock and roll is just a solitary experience. It always has been a joint activity
That - for once - wasn't me being naughty. I used to do the news pages for a tropical fish magazine into which I slipped as many drug jokes as I could, but on this occasion I am not guilty
Judge: I agree, it’s a balancing act. If you get too democratic about you end up with a jam session
Jon: Which are fun to play but bloody awful to listen to
Judge: It’s like free music which I did a little of in the ‘70s it’s tremendous fun to do but not much fun for people to listen to. I do like working with proper musicians. I do like that. So I don’t really want to do everything holed up in a room on my own.
At that point I realised that we had been chatting for over half an hour, and that my sweet wife (who had to do the transcribing) would never forgive me if I carried on much longer, so I drew the conversation to a halt. I think we were both disappointed, and look forward to carrying on our chat again soon...

 

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