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09/06/2012 EXCLUSIVE: Judge Smith, the 'Curly's Airships' interview (Part Two)

Date Published: 09-06-2012

Yesterday I posted the first part of a long and rambling interview that I did the other evening with the incomparable Judge Smith. It was meant to be about the imminent rerelease of the first of his groundbreaking songstory albums which tells the story of the Imperial Airship Scheme and the R101 disaster, but in fact we talked about all sorts of other things as well.

That's the problem when you have someone like me whbo has a grasshopper mind, interviewing a polymath like Judge. The conversation gets so engrossing that before long you completely forget that you are supposed to be conducting an interview...

Jon: You’ve got so many other things you are doing always.

Judge: It has been a rather long run of projects. Once The Climber started it hasn’t stopped really and it’s been too much to be honest. It’s been one thing after another really. The Climber and Orfeas happened – not simultaneously, but half of one and then half of the other. I got half way with Orfeas and then had to put it aside to do The Climber because there was the opportunity to do it and then I had to go back to Orfeas and once I had finished that I spent a long time making a demo of my Requiem Mass which is the first big piece I ever wrote in the mid-70s and it was written at that time.

It is a big piece; choir, brass and a rock band and it was put into a full score by my friend Michael Brand, the arranger, who helped me turn my imaginings into a musical manuscript. The connection is, he arranged a big orchestral piece on a Peter Hammill album, and it’s never been recorded.

My friend Ricardo Odriozola, who has been so helpful for me on Orfeas offered to get this pencil score into the 21st Century and get it digitised and give me the opportunity to revise it and make some changes I always had in mind for it. And we did that work which was fantastic and then I had to put it on to tape, just as a demo, so it’s done with samples, just to – as a proof of concept – to show what it might sound like and sooner or later I’ve got to make a decision as to whether I try and actually record it, but it would be a very big undertaking and would cost a lot of money. A full choir, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, a rock band and a good vocalist, because I can’t sing it. It needs a proper rock singer, a good singer. So I don’t know whether that will ever happen, but that took up a long time and then immediately I dived into the present project which is an album I’m doing with the American producer David Minnick..

Jon: Oh the guy who did the speech music?

Judge: That’s it, the guy who worked on those narrative passages in Orfeas. Speech music is what I call it. It doesn’t actually have a name. It’s got a history – it’s got quite an underground thread running through - the experimental music of the 20th Century, but as far as I know it hasn’t got a name so I called it speech music just for my own convenience.

Jon: I love the concept.

Judge: It’s fascinating stuff. I think I probably will go back to it but I am not sure what form or for what project. But it is very demanding for me, you really need to be a better musician than I am to make the most out of it. But even though David is an expert, it doesn’t feature on this next project of ours which is an album of songs - a relatively conventional song format album.

Jon: Does it tell stories?

Judge: Well the individual songs tell stories because that tends to be what I do. But no there isn’t one over-arching narrative. It’s a bunch of songs, like a proper album.

Jon: When is it going to be out?

Judge: Well, I don’t know – I’ve got several more vocals to do. David has some sessions with brass and strings to go and it’ll be finished when we are both happy with it. Later this year, when I can raise the finance to press it and issue it..

Jon: I didn’t realise the other day that you had done the songs for Not the Nine O’clock News.

Judge: Yes I did a few. That was fun.

Jon: Which were yours?

Judge: Well the one that people remember is Gob on You.

Jon: I used to sing that with a terrible punk band back in the day

Judge: Really? [laughs]

Jon: We did an absolutely diabolical version of it and I stole two of the lines for a song I did as well.

Judge: It has actually been covered by a perfectly legitimate punk band.

Jon: There is such a thing as a legitimate punk band?

Judge: Well... yes I see what you mean. Chaos UK.

Jon: That’s a name I never thought I would hear again.

Judge: Chaos UK have covered 'Gob on You' which I suppose is a legitimate piece of pride for me.

Jon: Well I stole the line "sex is boring, pain is fun, I wanna cut my fingers off one by one, there ain't no point in staying alive, I wanna be dead by 25" for one of my soungs thirty years ago so I owe you a couple of beers.

Judge: I did several others. And I can’t remember which ones get done and which ones were rejected so if I said I did that one but not that one, some Not the Nine O’clock News completist would say...that was never broadcast

I submitted a lot – I think there were about three in the end that they actually did. The big disappointment was they did one of my numbers for the very last song on the very last show which was called 'Happy Bloody Christmas', and it was very elaborate set-up done with a live audience and members of the cast came out into the audience and beat them up for not singing along and so forth. Only unfortunately, they handed Rowan who is an absolutely delightful man by the way, they handed him his microphone the wrong way round, so he sang the whole thing into the little wire coming out of the end. And so, of course, it was unusable so they went for... they did something dramatic and serious. They did 'Imagine' or something like that. The last segment of the last show. So it was a great shame and that was quite a good song.

Jon: How did you get involved with doing that?

Judge: Because before Mel was a TV performer he was a theatrical director and he directed a musical of mine at the Sheffield Crucible. A musical called The Ascent of Wilberforce Three which I wrote with Maxwell Hutchinson. We were a sort of musical writing team for a considerable length of time. We wrote several musicals together and Mel directed it. And that is how I got to know Mel. So when he joined this new comedy programme, I had an opportunity to submit songs.

Jon: I suppose that is the way the business works

Judge: Yes. But I’m not facile enough to get anywhere in television. You’ve got to be able to do things quick, which I can’t do.

Jon: But then again, if you had done that you might not have got around to writing Curly.

Judge: Possibly yes. Perhaps if I’d of had any legitimate career I wouldn’t have done anything so incredibly stupid as to do Curly.

Jon: The thing I found interesting. I listened to the three song stories in exactly the wrong order. I listened to Orfeas first, the The Climber and then Curly last of all. And the nearest reference point I got to that was the musical version of Edgar Allan Poe that you did with Peter Hammill twenty odd years ago?

Judge: Oh right yes. The Fall of the House of Usher – that was a good experience.

Jon: Because Richard and I got hold of a copy of that I can’t remember how we got it, or from where it came, but I remember sitting down with Richard listening to it far too loud, years ago and totally, totally getting it.

And so this seems to be a convenient place to break for today. There will be more tomorrow, and quite possibly the day after that...


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