INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS RAINBOW

 

On the occasion of the release of "The Chris Rainbow Anthology 1974-1981"
and waiting for "In a Perfect World"
Our interview to Chris Rainbow
From the solo works, to the collaborations with Camel and with the Project
Past, present and future of an extraordinary artist

Questions: Francesco Ferrua, Dario Pompili and Giorgio Rizzarelli
Direction and introduction: Francesco Ferrua

 


To the fans of The Alan Parsons Project the name of Chris Rainbow is known overall for the unforgettable vocal contributions with the duo Parsons-Woolfson: Chris' crystalline voice appears as lead vocal on songs like The Turn Of A Friendly Card, Gemini and Days Are Numbers, and, in many other Project excerpts, in infinite layers of backing vocals. But Chris is a great artist which collaborated also with many other groups like for instance Camel. And, not the least, he has a solo artistic production, characterized by fascinating melodies with vocal arrangements of unique complexity.

Which better opportunity to interview a great artist, if not at the release of his new album? We interviewed Chris just in the days when he released his new and definitive The Chris Rainbow Anthology 1974-1981. New, because, near the best old excerpts (anyway remastered) , it contains many previously unreleased excerpts; and definitive, because, according to Rainbow plans, this is, at least for some years, his last Best Of. The album, in fact, adds himself to the previously published Best Of and Unreleased & Demo Tracks, albums still available on the Japan market.

The Chris Rainbow Anthology 1974-1981 - double CD including an exhaustive booklet - hasbeen published in the West exclusively by Vital Spark, Chris' discographic label, in special limited edition. You can order the double CD directly from Chris (and in this case you get an autographed copy with dedication!), by email at chris@vitalspark.demon.co.uk , for a price of 25 English Pounds (to send through international money order or cash - shipping is included). Alternatively one can order the double CD from http://www.theavenueonline.info or, with credit card, from Townsend Records, easily reachable from Chris' official site www.surf.to/chrisrainbow. To those which are interested, we suggest to do fast, because this double CD, being a limited special edition, will not be available for a long time!

The money earned with this compilation will contribute to sponsor a greater project, which Chris plans to publish this Summer: In A Perfect World, a new album, that will be released at 21 years since Chris' last solo work.

We divided the interview in 3 parts: the solo career, the collaborations with Camel and, overall, the collaborations with the Project and the solo Alan and Eric.

 


CHRIS' SOLO WORKS AND HIS COLLABORATIONS IN GENERAL

PIPELINE: In your musical career you’ve been vocalist, keyboard player, composer and producer. Which of these activities did gave you the most satisfaction?

CHRIS RAINBOW: I think the last two activities gave me the most long-term satisfaction, but having said that, the instant gratification of doing a multi-harmony session in the studio takes some beating! I would have to say that any musical activity gives me extreme satisfaction if it involves some freedom of input from my end.

P: In your albums there are many vocal arrangements, fairly complex. Do you write them on paper, do you develop them on tape, or do you realize them in your mind?

CR: Regarding my own songs, the vocal arrangements come naturally to me when the actual song is finished - all my songs are composed first and harmony comes later, in the studio. Nothing is written down, I sit by the piano and work out any nuances that need to be addressed in detail, but mainly I work very quickly on the first harmony session, and then take the tapes home to realize further arrangements that may improve the track.
However on other artist's sessions (like APP), I would be presented with the track, and I would work out all the backing vocals within the timescale of that session - I think this is one of the reasons I was asked to the sessions so many times; I am able to compose backing vocals very quickly, and I am also able to perform very efficiently in the studio.

P: Your musical style has been influenced mainly by artists as Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Isley Brothers, Pat Metheny and Donald Fagen, but you’ve worked on albums of many different musical genres, you’ve composed jingles for radio stations and you approached also the folk music, as producer. Is there some musical field that you would still like to explore, and how would you define your music?

CR: Yes, I would dearly like to do film music. I did a film score once, back in the 80s, for the Scottish BBCTV Play For Today series, entitled The Lost Highway. I tried to get a copy of my soundtrack later, but they had lost the masters after the programme had been transmitted. Typical.
One of my favourite film music composers is Nino Rota. I have most of his work on film and mainly on Fellini's films. My favourite is Giulietta Degli Spiriti (Juliet Of The Spirits) - this, in particular, inspires me. I first saw the film as a teenager in Glasgow, and was able to buy it on video quite recently. Nino Rota is the most underrated composer worldwide.
Defining my own music is very difficult - I would leave that to others. I would just say that I enjoy making music to "sooth the furrowed brow".

P: In the 80’s you’ve teamed on tour with Camel and recently you toured with Donnie Munro. In all the years of your activity, have you teamed on others tours?

CR: Yes, I toured with Camel, Jon Anderson, Runrig, Donnie Munro on various occasions.

P: Do you like the live activity or do you feel more comfortable in the studio?

CR: I do like the "live" activity, and you cannot compare it to the "studio" activity because both activities contain different kinds of satisfaction. If I had to choose, I would be in the studio.

P: In Japan all your old albums have been published on CD. Are there plans to do something similar in the West?

CR: Yes I am releasing the last compilation in February as you know. This will be a Double CD with full biography and pictures. Just email me at chris@vitalspark.demon.co.uk and I will do the rest. Cost UK£25 including p&p.

P: Within some months your new work, In A Perfect World, will be released. Who plays with you on this album?

CR: The players on the new album will be most of the players I have worked with over the past 30 years - the list is long. I will be recording it here in my own small studio, mostly with my assistant Allan Cuthbertson, and contacting all those players (singers too!) that feature on any album I have been involved with that has my name on it!

P: Have you already planned a promotional tour?

CR: I have not considered a promotional tour yet; that will require A LOT of money, and I do not think the album will have a high enough profile to justify going on the road on the technical level I would require. However I might just strike lucky - you never know!

P: What will join In A Perfect World with White Trails?

CR: It's been 21 years since White Trails, and the only thing that the new album will have in common with the old stuff is the fact that there will be much more vocal harmony work to do! Also, the rhythm tracks will be much better.

P: Your first three albums were published by Polydor and EMI, two of the more important musical labels worldwide. Recently, instead, you’ve created the Vitalspark, you own label. This is a move that, like for you, has been made by many other artistes, and it’s clear that today’s musical market is changing in a very fast way. What do you think about this, and how do you see the music’s future?

CR: Today's music market enables the artist and his/her "patrons" to communicate direct. I am able to sell my albums direct to people who want to buy them, without having to go through record company/record dealers/record stores. That is why I have been posting messages on my webpage and other links, to sell the final Best of and Unreleased Tracks of Chris Rainbow. I can talk to fans direct and give them my personal attention. That is exactly what happened during the Italian Renaissance, when artists were funded directly by their "patrons", and created their art specifically to their patron's tastes - I like that idea.
The future of this way of creating and selling music looks good, but we will see significant changes in the music industry as a result.


Chris in his home studio at the Isle of Skye, 2001


RELATIONSHIP WITH CAMEL

P: The marvellous The Cloak And Dagger Man is a real vocal gem. The entire Stationary Traveller album is by many considered the best Camel's work. What is the importance in your career of this magic 1984?

CR: 1984 was a good year for me in that I was involved with different and varied session work. I was being asked to participate in many different musical genres and had to think fast in the studio most of the time, because clients didn't really want to spend hours constructing harmony arrangements or vocal counterpoint. "Counterpoint" was one of the important lessons I learned by osmosis through listening to Brian Wilson's work. By the time he was constructing the Beachboys Today album, he was experimenting with counterpoint at the end of each song, turning the outro into a separate piece of music. The Camel sessions didn't really involve much harmony counterpoint, but I guess it was a completely different kind of rock music to that which I had previously worked on. I agree that the chorus in Cloak and Dagger Man was dynamic, but that was as far as I was able to go in contributing as much of the "Chris Rainbow" sound without compromising Andy (Editors: Latimer) and Susan (Editors: Hoover)'s work. I really enjoyed the Camel years though, but I think the band had run it's course in the UK by the time I had joined. I was glad when Andy had his renaissance a few years after we had done our last tour; he was right to move to California.

P: A Heart's Desire and Long Goodbyes show all your extraordinary vocal attitude. Both of them are on a melodic key. Do you think your voice fits in particular this musical style?

CR: Both these tracks were perfect for my style of delivery, and in particular, Long Goodbyes is one of the best songs I have ever sung - it would have been a great APP track too. I am writing for my new album, and always tempted to write ballads of that genre, but it is dangerous to go too far in that direction when you know that too many ballads make for a dull album - played only occasionally.

P: We've seen your exciting and wonderful performance on Pressure Points Camel live. What about your relationship with Latimer and his band, in the past and nowadays?

CR: In the past we worked together for two tours and albums, and at the time it worked well, but Andy was constantly re-defining Camel and the music, and I guess my time with the band, like other members, was over by the end of the last tour. I haven't communicated with Andy for some years now - not for any negative reason - just because we're both doing different things now. I would of course like to do something with Camel again before we get too old!! Maybe on the production side.......?

P: On tour with Camel you’ve played also the keyboards, but in the studio you’ve always been a vocalist only. Why didn't you obtain one more role in studio as musician (on keyboard or guitar)?

CR: I didn't play more keyboards with Camel in the studio because there were far greater players than me to do the job. Kit Watkins and Ton (Editors: Scherpenzeel) were fantastic.

P: You don't appear on the latest Camel's productions. Did you listen to Rajaz, the last Camel album, and, if yes, what about it?

CR: To be honest I haven't listened to Rajaz - I will have to get a copy somehow! I haven't worked with Andy since we mixed the live video in Soho, London back in the mid-80s. I thought the music was taking on a more sombre mood both lyrically and musically by that time, and in retrospect I wouldn't have enjoyed working in the studio for most of it; I prefer a lighter mood in music, and Camel were beginning to dwell on the more negative aspects of the human condition.
What I can honestly say about Camel is this: I learned a lot from Andy about live work, and about dedication. He's one of the most accomplished British guitarists ever to grace the stage, but he has been overlooked by the music establishment for numerous reasons, including type of material recorded. He became a true friend during the brief time I worked with him, and only during soundcheck jams did we see the real guy - what a player; and what a rocker!! I remember thinking (during my first Camel tour) that the audience should see the soundcheck. He's a maestro. He also turned me onto Pat Metheny, and thence to Lyle Mays - for that I thank him.


Chris in CBS London Studio, 1977


RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PROJECT, PARSONS AND WOOLFSON

P: Your collaborations with Alan Parsons started from 1979, when The Project was already internationally successful. How has been for you to be called as vocalist for The Alan Parsons Project? Before entering their band, what did you think about the music of The Project?

CR: I was flattered to be asked to do the APP Eve album. I did not know of Eric & Alan's music at all, and it was Ian Bairnson who suggested me for the job because he had worked with me when Pilot was still going, and he played on my own album White Trails.
I flew to Superbear studios in Nice, flying first class which included free champagne - I knew this was a going to be a good gig by then. I arrived with a monumental hangover due to an album launch the previous night, and no passport, further complicated by the fact that I was smuggling a piece of technical equipment at Eric's request. At Customs Declaration I gesticulated to a waiting Eric and shouted "Here's the equipment Eric!!". The Customs Officers had a great time with that and the missing passport, which did my hangover no good at all.
When I arrived at the studio, sober and contrite, Alan was struggling with a less-than-efficient Ampex machine, and we had numerous breakdowns along the way; that was when I got to know the guys involved, and also the power dynamic of the Project.

P: What do you precisely mean for "power dynamic of the Project"?

CR: "The power dynamic" means the personal working relationship between Alan and Eric and the musicians. Alan and Eric were not inclined to bond with the band as "band members", but more as employers (which of course was the situation), although I stress we were becoming friends moreso in the latter years I was involved. I think they were guarding the integrity of the style of the Project against any substantive outside artistic influences.

P: Among the many songs of The Alan Parsons Project on which you sang as lead vocal, there's a favourite one?

CR: Gemini, Since The Last Goodbye, Days Are Numbers.

P: Your voice on the Parsons albums comes out very crystalline. We know that this is mainly due to your talent, but we also ask: to which point Alan operates with effects to improve it?

CR: Alan Parsons was (is) the best engineer I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I wish he had engineered all my solo work too. I achieved a good vocal sound with my own stuff, but his vocal recordings were perfect.

P: Your vocal performances are so perfect, yet so emotional. Let's think, as instance, to Snake Eyes. When you record a song, what are you thinking? Do you concentrate on the purely technical aspect, or do you try to imagine the situation described by the lyrics?

CR: For APP I think it's probably 50% technical and 50% emotional. Eric's lyrics were particularly good, but the melodies are demanding - just listen to TOAFC.

P: So, unlike us fans that consider TTOAFC a very visual song (we mean: the bright plastic chains that is the playing cards, the sign in the desert meaning Las Vegas and so on), you didn't have particular images while you sang it?

CR: No, I had no images in my head; this is the case for any song I sing - even my own. I sing for singing's sake, that is, I sing because I enjoy the voice more than the message.

P: In the Project, who developed the arrangements of the backing vocals? Alan, Eric, or you? Or was it a team work?

CR: Eric knew where he wanted the main BVs, for instance on a chorus or during a 2nd verse. However when that was recorded I would give them both suggestions and they would choose what they wanted. I would always record more than was necessary so that Alan had a choice when he mixed the tracks.

P: Your backing vocal tracks on The Gold Bug are very particular, especially, so to say, the lyrics. Do you have any fun story to tell us about this?

CR: The Gold Bug was first track second side on TOAFC- yes? There are no lyrics or text on this track, just "ba-ba-ba" and "doo-doo-doodoos", are you guys on some primo Italian Marijuana??!

P: No, we are under Italian Hashish, do you want some? No, we aren't under drugs! :-)

CR: The track was recorded before I came in, and Alan wanted some vocal backing to compliment the keyboard stuff. In retrospect I think the "ba-ba-bas" were not suitable - I guess that was my fault.

P: But we think that your backing vocals on The Gold Bug are really fantastic! Why, now would you arrange them really in a different way? Looking back, are there other excerpts you sang in the past for Alan and that now, if you could, you would interpret or arrange vocally in a different way?

CR: Yes of course I would perform many of the parts differently now; the track The Gold Bug you mention - I put that down to youthful exuberance! It should have been more subtle than it was. Alan always gave me a free hand when dealing with abstract backing vocal arrangements because that was what they were paying for: Chris Rainbow.

P: What do you think you learned from the duo Woolfson/Parsons and what do you think you teached them?

CR: I learned how financially successful recorded music could be by the material wealth that both Eric & Alan amassed in the 80s; I learned how good an engineer Alan was; his Abbey Road training was the best in the world, and he was of the "old school", in that he is a true "balance engineer". The main lesson Eric taught me was never to play cards with him in the studio, and how to write pertinent lyrics without sounding trite. I don't think either learned much from me apart from how hard it is too find a good and consistent backing vocalist with energy to sing for 8 hours non-stop. Oh, and I think I gave Eric the confidence to sing his own songs - to my cost!

P: Given your great value as author, did you ever think to propose to the APP or to the "solo" Alan a song written, arranged and sung by yourself?

CR: I am flattered for this question, but I hold no great value of myself as an author, more as a good "tunesmith". No - the songwriting on APP was absolutely Eric's territory, and guarded by big black fierce dogs. The solo APP writing duties (when Eric left) were then given over to Ian and Stuart, and I think Alan wrote stuff too. I came into this too late to contribute, even if I had been asked.

P: As you say the writing for APP was Eric's exclusive territory. Do you mean also the instrumentals? As we know, the instrumentals were composed by Alan (to be precise, with the exception of those signed or cosigned Powell, and of Where's The Walrus and the second half of In The Lap Of The Gods that were written by Eric). How much do you think that Andrew's orchestral arrangements have influenced the Project's instrumentals?

CR: Alan's agreement with Eric was that he should have at least one track on the Project albums so that he would earn publishing royalties. Andrew's arrangements had no influence because the instrumentals were recorded before Andrew came into the studio to hear them. It was easy for Andrew to create arrangements on these instrumentals because they were nearly all identical in chords and "feel" (time signature) on every Project.

P: Why did a band with success as TAPP give up, since the beginning, the idea of doing a show live? Do you think that there is someone or something in particular at the basis of this choice?

CR: I think that Alan and Eric were frightened to go onstage in case they could not reproduce the sound (I was also worried about reproducing my own sound on stage). Alan also was worried that he would look strange just mixing the sound, and I think he felt it would be too difficult logistically to mix from the stage. However Lenny, Ian and Stuart tell a different story when the touring actually started; maybe this question should be directed at them?

P: It would be spontaneous to ask you what story told Lenny, Ian and Stuart, but we can think that you're not able to add anything.

CR: I do not want to go deeper into this topic because these guys know better than I what the first tour was like.

P: OK, we’ll ask them when we’ll have the occasion.
You’ve been vocalist for The Alan Parsons Project starting from 1979 ("Eve"), to the breaking up of The Project ("Gaudi", 1987) and also on the following "Freudiana" (1990). In all those years, have you noticed some changing in the Parsons/Woolfson relationship, or did you even notice some problems between Eric and Alan during the recording of Freudiana?

CR: This is a personal question but I guess it needs to be addressed: The relationship between both EW & AP was always of a business nature, and never as a close personal friendship. I think they knew the partnership really did work, and accordingly, they tolerated each other's idiosyncracies for the time it took to record an album. We (the band) were always aware of an undertone (is that the right word?) in the personal harmony between them; and when we had the chance to be social together, Eric was always on guard and Alan kept a discreet distance, although on the face of it we had a lot of good laughs and good times together.
Having said that I can understand why this was so; these guys were very successful, and success comes with a built-in wall to keep out the bullshit and the gold-diggers. The trouble is the wall has to be there at all times, and, because we only saw EW and AP when a Project was being recorded, we never really had time to form a close personal bond together. In fact I felt closer to Eric after they split up, and I enjoyed Alan's company much more when he was on his own too.

P: As we know from an interview with Eric, he had intention to have you as vocalist in the project, never realized, of a studio version of the "Gambler" album. Did you have contacts with Eric about this or other solo Woolfson projects?

CR: Yes I did sing all the BVs on Gambler for the stage show - I still haven't heard the result. Eric didn't mention the studio version to me, and I did meet him in London late last year when I was working at Abbey Road with a Japanese guy called Hotei (managed in the UK by Lennie Zakatek). I was with Haydn Bendall and we bumped into Eric in the studio corridor - it was a great surprise and we went for a relaxed meal because this wasn't APP or EW business - just old friends, and resolved to keep in touch - as you do! Eric said he was working on something - maybe it was the studio version of Gambler.

P: …or maybe he was talking about the musical Poe, on which, as we know, he's working. But, talking back about Gambler, you say that you sang all backing vocals for the show. Now, the only published edition (until now - and moreover it's a very limited edition) is the "cast disc", that is the prerecorded base (the one used also in the show) with the superposition of the lead vocals live recorded in the theatre. In this CD you don't appear in the credits, and it doesn't seem to us that your voice is there. So it seems likely that Eric has kept the recordings of your backing vocals for the studio version (that was announced to be published before the end of 2000, but never published). Do you maybe know something more that could help us to solve this mistery?

CR: Yes, it is a mystery to me also; I do not know what Eric did with these recordings of mine. I will ask my friend Haydn Bendall, who engineered all these sessions for Eric, and I will get back to you about that.

P: You are a long-time Parsons collaborator. Did you notice some discrepancies between working with the Project and working with Alan, Ian and Stuart in The Time Machine?

CR: It depends how you define "discrepancy". The most evident change was the lack of (major) success both men had after the split. Bands splitting up is a hazard of the music business - we know this, and Eric and Alan are no exception: big hits, big success, big divorce. Behind all that, I think Eric wanted to pursue more traditional forms of creativity, and I think he was spurred on by the Lloyd-Webber successes, and the sudden interest Germany took in big production musicals. Alan too was getting "cabin fever" I guess. When he took APP on the road I was as surprised as everybody else; I think that move came just too late to revive past glories though. In my opinion they should get back together for a "trial period" just like married couples, and do another APP - life is too short. After all, it is now officially a "legend", being mentioned in The Simpsons.

P: Would you like to join Alan and the band in a tour? Did Alan ever propose it you? Which Project songs in particular would you like to perform live?

CR: Neither Alan nor Eric ever asked me to do a tour, promotional or otherwise. I would like to do some live stuff if the occasion arose, and re-create the songs that I solo'd on.

P: From an interview with Alan, we know that you will be in his new album. Do you already know if you'll participate as lead vocal or only as background vocal? Do you maybe know what nearly will be the new album about?

CR: Well, you know more than me - I have not heard from Alan about a new APP; maybe he is thinking about it! I did some stuff on The Time Machine, but that was in 1999.

P: Then maybe you will soon receive a call from Alan. We really hope that you will return at his side also as lead vocal!

CR: Yes of course I would be delighted to join another Project album adventure; in these days of digital manipulation one of the last frontiers is the one of live recording of actual playing musicians.

P: By now, remains only to thank you warmly for having granted to us this long interview, and to wish you a future rich of projects with success. We look forward to your two forthcoming albums, and it would be very beautiful to have you soon in Italy in tour, or maybe, as our special guest, at one of our meetings. The next one will take place the next Spring, in Rome, the city of many Fellini's movies.

CR: I would indeed like to travel to your meeting in ROMA, I believe Scottish and Italian people share a lot in common, including great artistic energies. Fellini and Nino Rota testify to that. If enough people buy my album I would buy a Ferrari!! Thank you all for your kind words and appreciation of my work - it means a lot to me.

P: So, as say we Project fans… UNTIL THE NEXT TIME…

CR: In Scotland we say: "I'm no awa' tae bide awa' " (I'm not going to stay away from you for long).