Chuck Schuldiner Project

Sunday, August 9, 2015

An afternoon with Mabel Greers' Toyshop - Interview with Clive Bayley and Bob Hagger

In an age where band reformations have become such a common occurrence in the music scene, it seems as though we've grown accustomed to such otherwise celebrated occasions, to the point where little comes to surprise us in the mere fact it feels as though most of the major bands from the past 40 years seem to be still active. One band, however, which I, for one, was not expecting to reemerge into the music scene was Mabel Greers' Toyshop, one of the forgotten gems from Prog Rocks' history pages. Formed back in 1966 by Clive Bayley and Bob Hagger, the band would later go on to morph into the band "Yes", leaving their previous project behind with very little written or recorded traces... until the bands' recent reformation in 2014. (If you weren't already, I recommend you read back the last paragraph with some epic soundtrack playing).
Naturally, when one is presented with the opportunity to attend one of the bands pre-tour rehearsals and catch up with the band, one can only jump on the occasion with a firm and determined "Yes"!
Like I've said earlier, I've become rather dubious when it comes to longtime band reunions, but this band, however, seemed to have stood the test of time. The majestic and timeless melodies wrapped in an old-school yet thriving sound shined through the bands' locked-in, brilliant performance.
The band played a full set consisting of their newly released album, their at long last debut record
New Way of Life, released after nearly 50 years since the band's first inception. The album consists of a combination between reworked songs from the band's original catalog along with some newly composed material. The set flew by to the sounds of sunny chords, sweet melodies and synth soundscapes swelling up the room, each tune flowing very nicely one after the other with the newer compositions convincingly bridging the gap between 1968 and 2014. There is something undoubtedly very special about Mabel Greers' Toyshop; what it is exactly, I'm afraid I can't quite put my finger on it, let alone put into written words, but I've no doubt that you'll feel the same way if you get a chance to catch these lads' brilliant set. You'll understand that this reunion was no mere lackadaisical effort but the reemergence of something great, an artistic urge and a passion left intact even after all of these years.

After the bands' rehearsal ended, the band took the time to have a friendly discussion with their audience and Bob stepped out from behind his drum kit to meet up with us and to give a brief history of the band. I took this occasion to catch up with both Bob and Clive to ask some questions about the bands' history and its latest developments in hopes to shed a bit more light unto this bands' unjustly forgotten tale.

How did the band get back together after all of these years?
Clive: Bob tracked me down after 45 years on Facebook.
Bob: It was when Peter Banks had died. Of course Peter was in the band with us in the old days.
I was on an airplane reading the newspaper when I read that Peter Banks had died. When I got off the plane I called Clive, got a hold of him to discuss and talk about it and that’s' when we decided to meet up. We met in Nice, at a restaurant called "La Petite Maison" and that’s' when the idea came up. We got a hold of Hugo and Alex and we went to a studio in Nice where we practiced. We wanted to see if it was do-able.
When we finally did the album, once we had finished laying down the tapes (which we did here in Paris), we got a hold of some friends; Billy Sherwood and Tony Kaye, who live in Los Angeles. We asked them if they would help us with the production of the album. We sent our tapes to them and of course they got very excited about it. So the album actually has Billy Sherwood playing some keys, and some bass and Tony Kaye playing Hammond Organ. Billy also did some of the production work for us. We've got TWO albums in fact: we've got the Paris tapes, which is the original set that we did with just the three of us (Hugo, Clive and myself) and then we've got the one that we released, which is the one with Billy Sherwood and Tony Kaye on it.

Clive: It was a tiny little rehearsal room and we thought "Let's go in there and make some noise" and it was good.

Bob: We just played the old stuff all over again.

How did it feel when you first started playing these songs again for the first time in 45 years?
Bob: Aaah, magic!

Clive: Great, yeah!
Bob: It never goes away you know? Maybe we were teenagers when we wrote them and played them originally but it stays with you. It doesn't go away. It's quite a sensation playing it again.

Clive: It was nice improving on them too, giving them a twist. It was never about copying it exactly, that would have been a disaster. So there are very strong elements that are in there but it's definitely rearranged.

Bob: We hardly listened to anything; we just did it from memory... which had advantages and disadvantages.

Clive: ... yeah, since we left bits out. But it shows we still have a memory, which is good (both burst out laughing).

How did you come about writing songs that fit the rest of the material that you had written back in the day?
Bob: It was quite natural actually.
Clive: The idea was to take 5 or 6 of the original songs and then flip them a bit, not playing them the way we used to play them, although we were playing some from memory. On one song in particular we just left a major bit out (laugh) and after we recorded the album we thought "There's something wrong here... oh yeah, we've messed up! We've missed up the most important bit of the song!» So now we've put the section in on the live set but obviously it's not on the album. Other than that, we've got lots of songs and we've got enough songs for the next album. The last one you've heard which we're still playing around with is one of the new songs. We've got another albums' worth of songs, we just need to get together and put them down.

Bob: The way we do it is that Clive usually comes up with the idea and he puts down the chords and the structure, we try it out like we did today, he goes back to write the lyrics and then we put it all together afterwards. Clive has written just about all of the material.

Clive: Except for "Oceans", which we came up with in the studio. We were just mucking about and recorded that in Paris and luckily Alex put "record" on. The whole psychedelic thing was actually just freewheeling and then afterwards we tacked on an old song I wrote about 5 years ago "Singing to your Heart".
We also like adlib-ing a lot, because in the old days we used to adlib the whole time, just get up on stage and play anything and it kind of worked. Maybe it wouldn't work so well today.

Bob: It was different then, we had a lot of Bluesy Jazz influence and so we would tend to have a theme. So we'd start with the theme and then go into the solos and then come back to the theme again, but off course things have become a lot more structured these days. (laughs)

Were there any songs from the old days that you've left out?
Bob: Yeah…

Clive: Actually, I've found a tape recently, which I’ve sent out to copy, it hasn't come back yet but it's basically a reel-to-reel quarter inch old Grundig tape in a suitcase which is going to be 50 years old. It's either got a load of our songs on, or it's got a load of nonsense on it. One or the other (laugh)!

Bob: There are a couple of songs of which we can only remember the titles and we've tried to get the memory going since and trying to play it, but it just won't come. So some of it is gone. Then we also used to do some cover versions in an original way. On the first Yes album, you remember "I See you" from Byrds. We used to play that. We also used to play "8 Miles High" from Byrds. We played "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles, and Yes did it again afterwards. We always did it our own way. We'd never sit and learn the music, we just listened to it and say "we can do something like this!" and that's what we did. You have even heard it incorporated into some of the songs we've got now, there's a little bit of theft from some classical music that Clive has incorporated. It just fits so nicely, and we'd probably be sued for stealing peoples' music! (laugh) We don't actually learn it, we just hear it and play it the way we knew it.

How would you compare your recent experience in the studio with your previous recordings back in the early days of the band?
Bob: It's totally different, completely different. There are some old tapes out there, there are actually two sets of tapes: one that were the BBC recordings that we did live and then there were some demos that we did for MCA records with Mike Leander, there's 2 or 3 of those out there with "Beyond and Before", "Electric Funeral"...
But the recording process is totally different now. In fact, when we went into the studio, Alex was kind of surprised "We've got computers here! Why do it like that??" (laugh).

Clive: It's dangerous, because on the album on some of the songs there are four guitar tracks, because when you're in the studio you can hear something else with every new layer you add. On the album it's fantastic, you've got at least four guitars plus the bass or sometimes even two bass lines. You just keep adding, but when you get to play it live you're like "... hang on a minute! I can only play one guitar!" (laughs). So you need to decide what to leave out and it's really hard.

Bob: That's something we didn't do in the old days. You wouldn't think of doing triple guitars on one track unless you had three guitarists.

Clive: It's annoying, because you hear it. When you're singing and playing lead, it's pretty much impossible. I can play rhythm and sing, but when you're playing lead guitar and singing and there are bits you hear that you wanna do, what happens is that you think "I'm gonna put that in". You start singing rubbish and out of tune because you're focused on the guitar. So it's one or the other. So that's the difference, because in the studio, we made that sound happen.

Bob: Alex didn't actually play in the studio, he was our engineer. When we finished and we had the three layers of guitars and we were wondering how we were going to do it, we asked Alex to come and play the rhythm guitar parts and some of the leads (laugh).

Clive: We're still one guitar short (chuckle)... potentially. 

So these new possibilities actually influenced the writing process for this album then?
Clive: Definitely, a hundred percent.
Bob: There are more layers than we would've had in the old days.

Could you explain the title of the album and what it's all about?
Clive: Well it's about a new way of life (laugh).

Bob: We've both been doing business for 45 years.

Clive: Exactly, and we've had enough, let's start playing music again! (Laughs)

Bob: As for the album, we were looking for an album cover that would represent a "new way of life", and we struggled to find something. We asked an artist to come up with some ideas and we saw the indian head (the one that is on the cover) and we went "wow! THAT represents change!", because if there's one set of people in the world that went through massive changes, it's the American Indians. So that's the link basically.

Clive: That last song we played today was written after the album was released. We thought "now we've got an Indian head on the cover, we better write another song about it". So that American Indian rhythm should be on the first album but it didn't exist yet (laugh). We're bit late on parade on that one.

Bob: Maybe we can call the new album "Old way of Life" (Laugh)

Clive: Yeah, that’s' not bad! (laugh)

Could you explain where the band name comes from?
(Clive looks intently towards Bob)
Bob: ... Sorry! (Laughs)

Clive: It's his fault!

Bob: You know... in those days everybody had crazy names, the wildest possible names the better. We used to play with "The Crazy world of Arthur Brown", "Jethro Tull", "Wishbone Ash", "Big Brother and the holding company"... all of these wild and wonderful names... We thought "We've got to come up with something" and... (laughing) We just came up with "Mabel Greers' Toyshop".

Clive: There is no Mabel, and there is no Toyshop.

Bob: ... and we’ve regretted it ever since (laughs).

Clive: There must have been someone called Mabel Greer.

Bob: There is a Mabel Greer. She was American, and there's a book about her and her legacy. I don't remember the story, I'll have to check it out again, but it's something about a will, and there's a whole story about her last testament.

Clive: That’s' interesting. It's been in your subconscious for some time.

Bob: It must have been, yeah. We'll have to check that.

So she never owned a Toyshop?
Bob: No, she didn't, not as far as I know (laugh). We thought toys were a great metaphor for music at the time...

Clive: and the world currently today is a toyshop, and then Mabel could be the American Indian... there are lots of different spins on it. You came up with a name in 1966 and we thought we'd use the same old name this time round.

Bob: Peter Banks hated it, and that’s' why they changed their name to Yes when we left. He HATED it with a vengeance (laugh).

Clive: ... not his kind of thing.

So that’s' why they changed it after you guys left?
Bob: Yeah... "So Clive’s' gone we can do it now!" (laughs)

Were there any influences from more recent bands with this latest record?
Bob: I'm very very bad at modern music. If it was released after 1972 I've never heard of it! (laugh)

Well we were discussing about Porcupine Tree earlier on though, right?
Bob: Yeah, they were really good! They played some really good stuff.

Clive: I was into Genesis a lot, so after I left the band I was hanging out with Genesis a bit at Christmas cottage when they were starting. In the area where I lived in Kingston, there were a lot bands : Moody Blues, The Yardbirds, Clapton.. they were all from that area, so we would just meet up anyway and see what’s' going on. My favorite band was Genesis though, I thought they were brilliant.

Could you name one of your favorite albums, movies and books?
(answering with little to no hesitation)
Bob : Dark Side of the moon is my favorite. But I've also always been a big Clapton fan...
Clapton and Hendrix. There's also jazz... I always talk about Mose Allison, he's one of my all-time favorites, please check him out! He's a white guy who was born in the Deep South in a cotton field and I think his father was a Foreman in the cotton fields. He grew up with black guys, learning and singing the blues. He also learned the piano by himself, he plays Jazz Blues. My Hero!

Clive: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis probably, that's a good one... Seconds Out by Genesis!

Bob: Films? Oh because of “Sweetness” Buffalo 66! (Laughs)... Oh gosh, we're not used to answering those type of questions!

Clive: My favorite book is probably Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and to contrast that nicely, one of my favorite movies would probably be Ronin with Robert DeNiro, a sort of French gangster movie. I love action films, I actually like bizarre action films but when it comes to reading I like eastern philosophy and stuff like that. So Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is PROBABLY, in terms of a novel, one of my favorites, because it just sums up everything in one... and it's only about a 100 pages long so you don't lose the plot (laughs).
Bob: I don't have the same culture as Clive. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth! I must've read it 50 times!
Clive: That's a great one! They also made it into a film, they made 2 films… the early one and the recent one with Bruce Willis.

Bob: The earlier film with that English actor Edward Fox is actually also one of my favorite films... I'm a bit of a James Bond fan as well (laugh).

Clive: You've got to be, man, you're British!

Bob: (still laughing) I have no choice!

Clive: It's like not liking the Queen if you don't like James Bond (laughs)

Any preferences?
Bob: Casino Royale has got to be the best. The first one. 

Clive:… Dr.No was the first one though, the one with Sean Connery.

Bob: Yeah… he was the only real Bond for me!

What's your take on the newer ones by the way?
Bob: I like it up to the point where they go to Scotland. I think that film falls to bits when they get to Scotland (Skyfall).

Clive: Craig is alright though, he's a hardboy Bond isn't he? He plays it well. I think Sean Connery wins, Roger Moore I didn't think he did it well but I think Daniel Craig does it well.

Bob: He's a brilliant actor!

Any closing words?
Both of them turn to each other with a smile on their face and start singing the James Bond theme and laugh.

Article and Interview by Robin ONO
A very special thank you goes out to the Staff at Him Media, and to the whole band for offering us this amazing opportunity!

Mabel Greers’ Toyshop

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