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Interview with The Greg Foat Group (english version)

The Greg Foat Group
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau, for Paris DJs - september 2011)

This spring Jazzman Records unveiled a new sensation with The Greg Foat Group's Dark Is The Sun, a fantastic jazz/soundtrack first album. Talented british pianist and composer Greg Foat was kind enough to allow us an exclusive interview : he tells us about being a child in the Isle of Wight, sci-fi novels, keyboards, analogic recording, a mysterious female French singer and being a DJ.

He's also prepared especially for Paris DJs an exclusive Greg Foat Sci-Fi Bugalu Mix, a fun party mix with a touch of sci-fi weirdness...

The Greg Foat Group

01. Like The Bees, you come from the Isle of Wight. Is there any particular climate there to breed musicians?
I love the Isle of Wight, I think it is a very special place. A lot of working musicians are based there as well as retired musicians. I learnt to play by sitting in with retired session/jazz musicians that had played on all the cruise ships that passed through the solent in the 60's 70's and 80's. Those guys had a great musical heritage and had played different styles of music all over the world. There has always been and still is a strong live music scene on the island in bars, hotels, clubs and more recently the festivals. I also used to play in the Isle of Wight County Youth Jazz Orchestra, Tim Parkin from The Bees was the lead trumpet!

02. What is the life of a kid or a teen living on the Isle of Wight?
The island is a beautiful place to grow up. I think childhood lasts longer there than in a city. I played music with my friends and went to the beach in the summer, then I moved away when I was 18 and by 19 I was living in London studying for a degree in music, djing and playing some of the big London venues, but I have always returned to the Island to escape the hustle of the big city. I think the older I get the more I appreciate the tranquility and space down there.

The Gordon Beck Quartet

03. How did you come to music? What were your musical heroes?
I fell off a piano stool when I was 3 and cut open my eye.
I had been banging on a piano at a party at my Auntie and Uncle's house and had lost my balance and slipped off the stool which then fell on me. I was lucky not to lose my eye. I guess my love/hate relationship with the piano started then! When I was 10 years old I asked my parents for a piano and my dad bought an old cheap upright from my uncle (not the same one) so that I could have my own piano to play and I remember spending all day on it learning moonlight sonata. After that my piano teacher gave me a simple blues to learn and I figured out how it worked so that I could improvise myself and make up my own tunes, I quit classical tuition pretty soon after that. A few years later Jeff Clyne and Trevor Tomkins came to my school and did a jazz workshop, (after that I joined the Isle of Wight County Youth Jazz Orchestra) Jeff also sent me cassette tapes of various jazz pianists. That Christmas I got a jazz encyclopedia from my parents and I read that Jeff had recorded an acclaimed album with the pianist Gordon Beck called 'Experiments With Pop' I wrote a letter to Jeff Clyne asking him about it and he sent me back a cassette tape with the albums 'experiments' and 'gyroscope' on it - I fell in love with the Gordon's playing and listened to that cassette for years until the tape wore out. He is by far my biggest influence and hero and I now own pretty much everything he has ever recorded. I asked Jeff for his number and called him up and went to visit him a few times and he taught me a lot. Sadly Jeff passed away a couple of years ago and Gordon is now quite ill and doesn't remember me.

The Greg Foat Group

04. 'Dark Is The Sun' is your first record, but before that you played a lot as a sideman.
I have been playing professionally for many years, I have toured and recorded for many different artists, highlights include doing a recording session with QuestLove and touring Europe and Scandinavia with Wendy James.

05. On the record you play a large variety of keys. What's your favourite?
I don't really have a favourite, I love big grand pianos, little upright honky tonks, Hammonds, Elkas, Hohners, whatever it is as long as it is real and not a modern sample based keyboard. I like instruments with character, I also like old cars. I am not a fan of digital equipment in music or cars!

06. A part of the personnel on 'Dark Is The Sun' is swedish.
Yes, this is because I recorded most of the album in Gothenburg, Sweden at Mattias Glava's Kungalv Studio. I first met Mattias when I was recording for Universal Scandinavia as a session player back in 2001. He has one of the finest Analogue studios in the world, His mixing desk used to belong to Donald Fagan and the 2" Tape machine we recorded on was purchased from Paul Butler which he used to record the Bees first album on!

The Greg Foat Group

07. I know you love reading sci-fi novels. 'Dark Is the Sun' is one those.
I love Phillip Jose Farmer, he is one of my all time favourite writers, 'Dark Is The Sun' is a great book and I highly recommend it. I wanted to record a soundtrack for it. I also hope to one day be able to make it into an animation movie like 'Planete Sauvage' or 'Gandahar' (I am also a big fan of René Laloux).

08. How do imagine your next album?
I find it hard to fully imagine the finished album, but I have a rough plan of what I want especially in terms of production and sounds/instrumentation. The creative process for me works quite haphazardly. Sometimes I go into the studio with a fully written and arranged piece that I have been working on for months and it just does not work, other times I go in with a vague idea and improvise and then suddenly it works out. The track 'Uncle Bessie' for example I made up in the studio in 5 minutes and recorded it first take.

09. There's a female french singer you'd love to invite on this next album.
Yes, I am totally in love with her! She sang on 'Samba Miaou' by the Full Moon Ensemble. Unfortunately I cannot find out any more information about her as she is only credited as 'Sarah' on the album. If only I had a time machine then I could travel back to 1969 and marry her. Sarah's voice gives me goosebumps every time I listen to that record.
(I also asked John Klemmer if he would be interested in recording with me).

10. Tell me about this collaboration with The Heliocentrics.
Nothing is confirmed yet, but I am hoping to get both Malcolm and Jake to play on my next album. I have spoken to both of them and it is looking promising. I am also hoping to get Paul Butler on a couple of tracks too, and also Matt Halsall.

11. You have published an autobiographical book called 'Gigolo'. Do you aim to be a writer, or was this just about sharing some uncommon experience?
I used to write quite a lot, I had a regular column in a woman's magazine in the UK and it evolved into the book from there, my friend Amanda who ghostwrote the book with me was my editor and came up with the idea of getting it published, so I went along for the ride so to speak.

The Greg Foat Group

12. How the musicians and musical world react to the book?
I get mixed reactions really, most people see the funny side, but some people are rude to me about it. To be honest anyone who knows me also knows that I did the whole book and publicity thing as a joke. I had to play a character and put on an act. It was a few years ago now and it gets a bit boring having to keep explaining it to people, especially as I would rather be known for my music.

13. In how many languages Gigolo will be translated?
It is available in English, German, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, Czech and Hungarian. I am sure there are some cheap copies available on ebay if anyone is really that interested.

14. Last question? You're djing also. What is your conception of being a DJ? Do you own a very big vinyl collection?
I own over 1000 lps and a few hundred 7"s. I've collected vinyl since I was 11 years old. I started borrowing my parents record collection and then I would go hunt out the sounds I wanted in the old second-hand record stores and charity shops on the Isle of Wight. When I moved to London and started djing in 1997 it was only ok to dj the original vinyl and no re-issues! So I really had to expand my record collection. These days I very rarely play my vinyl out, I mostly dj with my laptop, at least once or twice a week in London and quite a few gigs abroad. I have played clubs in New York, Miami and L.A and I have regular gigs in Sweden, I also dj quite a lot in Paris, mostly at Le Baron and Le Prescription Cocktail Club.

Interview made by Nicolas Ragonneau for Paris DJs in September 2011.
Photos by Alex Lambrecht

Links :
The Greg Foat Group : discogs | facebook | parisdjs
Jazzman Records : official | discogs | facebook | myspace | parisdjs | soundcloud | twitter | wikipedia | youtube
Nicolas Ragonneau

Nicolas Ragonneau

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