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08/06/2012 JUDGE SMITH: The 'Curly's Airships' interview... (Part One)

Date Published: 08-06-2012 fact it turned out to be our widest and most rambling talk yet. Partly because the two of us are now comfortable with each other, partly because Judge is exhausted after what would be a punishing schedule for a man half his age, and partly because I am in a spectacularly unfocussed headspace at the moment, this interview, was possibly the least formal that I have ever done.




I enjoyed it. I am pretty sure Judge enjoyed it, and I hope that you will too...



Jon: I was very impressed with Curly


Judge: You’ve done a wonderful review of it. I am so touched, Jonathan. A very kind and generous review.


Jon: It’s no more than it deserves. It is a remarkable piece of work.


Judge: Thank you. I have had some wonderful responses from people which I’ve collected since it first came out, and if it’s right for people it’s very right for people.


Jon: It is the one of the song stories that most sounds like you were once in Van de Graaf Generator


Judge: Oh yes. It’s got Hugh Banton all over it basically. That’s so distinctive.


Jon: I thought his organ playing was absolutely extraordinary on it.


Judge: Yeah, he’s amazing. He runs a successful organ building company so it and he gives every impression of being a middle-aged business man, and stick him behind the keyboard and you get extreme, violent, astonishing organ playing that you would expect from a kind of long-haired madman.


Jon: It is, some of that playing is completely insane.


Judge: Yeah, he’s just fantastic. It was a very complicated thing to do because Curly was recorded in analogue on a 16-track machine that I had to take up to Cheshire to his home on numerous occasions to record the organ stuff. It was a very complex procedure to get all his organ stuff done.


Jon: I was thinking that. When I was reading the liner notes it almost the last great dance of analogue recording. Three or four years later it would have been done completely different.


Judge: Yes, it was the last thing I did analogue. As soon as it was finished I dismantled the studio so I knew I wasn’t going to go on any longer with it, and sold all my kit and braced myself to join the digital world. Which I don’t regret at all – it certainly makes my life more easier. I’m not particularly romantic about analogue.


Jon: It’s actually interesting, because half the people I talk to now for Gonzo are telling me how they make incredibly complicated albums all on a laptop and it is interesting to hear something that was recorded in the old fashioned way.


Judge: There’s a lot to be said for it, but for my particular circumstances being not a performer of music, being a writer rather than a performer, being digital is a huge advantage. I am an old-fashioned writer in many ways, but it is still an awful lot easier for me to get that stuff down onto a computer than it is onto reels of iron oxide.


Jon: I am itching to see Curly done live.


Judge: Well, I like performing very much on stage. I haven’t done nearly as much of it as I’d like, particularly in recent decades. I did perform quite regularly with a band in the ‘70s called The Modern Beats which was a London pub band, which was great fun. We gigged quite a lot and I did enjoy that ever so much. But that wasn’t doing original material. We did early ‘60s pop songs played in a very new wave, or punk-style. Our by-line was 'Too fast, too loud and twenty years too late'. But it was a fun band. But since then, it has been few and far between really. Both recording and performing are costly things to do. They require a lot of resources and a lot of time to get a band together for example. And I felt I wanted to spend what time I had, and what resources I had at my disposal, on making records rather than running a band. It is a regret in many ways. I do enjoy performing live.


Jon: I would love to see Curly on the stage.


Judge: I think it could be done. I do have a scheme for doing it, mind you I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to carry it off now, but it would be possible to do. I would like to. It could be done as an illustrated lantern slide show where Curly McLeod presents an old-fashioned lantern slide show with a long pointer as if he’s giving a lecture to the Women’s Institute.


Jon: Gosh what a lovely idea


Judge: So it could be done as a one man show.


Jon: And with backing tapes rather than a band?


Judge: Yes. In fact, when I mixed Curly’s Airships with the amazing David Lord, we mixed everything two ways, with and without the lead voice so it would in theory be possible to put together a performance tape as it were that could be sung to live. But I rather doubt if it is every going to happen.


Pushing a project like that is a full time job, and it is a full time job for someone with a lot more drive and chutzpah, and bottle than I can generally summon up.



We will continue tomorrow, and the next day after that, and quite possibly after that as well. However, for the record, I would love to see Curly staged the way that The Who did Quadrophenia about fifteen years ago (released on DVD about five years back) with a band playing it live interspersed by narration and film clips. If I had the resources I would do my best to persuade Judge to stage it. But I haven't, so this must remain just a rather pointless pipe dream...




Check out Judge's artist page at Gonzo:


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