Martin Hudson asks John Young 6 Questions; maybe 7!
It had been quite a while since I had last spoken to John Young, these days better known for being the founding member of the band Lifesigns, a band I knew little about. My little knowledge of this band was mainly down to my handing over the running of the Classic Rock Society in 2009 and then taking a ten year rest away from the hurly burly of bands and new albums etc. Time to do some catching up with the eponymous Lifesigns (2013) and Cardington (2017) behind them and more to come. John had, of course, performed under my watch at the CRS as a solo performer and also with his own band, John Wetton, Qango and Greenslade but first a topical question!
The Covid19 pandemic is affecting everyone in one way or another and especially the likes of musicians so how was day to day life and John’s career coping with it? I do know that he enjoys walking and wildlife and rabbit spotting!
Yes it is quite interesting. I was touring at the beginning of the year on my day job with Bonnie Tyler and we went to Russia and Norway in January and had just got back off that and basically everything stopped. Initially we weren’t sure what was going to happen but we did manage to do the Lifesigns UK shows until lockdown kicked in. We realised the ‘Cruise’ wouldn’t happen and the Bonnie gigs were cancelled.
I was talking to Nick Beggs about this and musicians are quite talented in the art of juggling and when one door shuts another usually opens, so with live music stopping it was then time to do more recording and that’s what we’ve done. We have to do a new Lifesigns album anyway so it was fortuitous in some ways as this gave us more time to work on things without being sidetracked.
I’m never bored and one of the things I find interesting is people on line saying they’re bored. I go for long walks down the canal and then there’s shopping and catching up with domestic stuff. I do take some pictures on the walks as you know. Somebody told me I was turning into David Attenborough but I do find nature inspiring. I’m lucky where I live, there’s just so much to see. I go for a walk down the same canal most days and there’s two options basically, right or left, but you see different things every day and I’m fascinated by the colours of the seasons. To be honest and thinking of previous springs, I’ve lived here for ten years now and I’ve always been away touring I’ve never seen spring so it’s been a joy to watch nature take its course. It’s absolutely wonderful.
So going back to those days of performing for the Classic Rock Society in Rotherham. Back in 1991 there wasn’t much or anything at all of a progressive rock scene and Rick Wakeman famously says that we helped resuscitate the genre. Could John remember what he was up to in 1991 and onwards?
I was younger then (laughs). I was very fortunate because people came to me with work. In 89/90 I was in Asia and in 91 I was in a band called The Law with Paul Rodgers and I was with him for about 14 months. I also had my own business called Music Control that strangely enough supplied larger bands with equipment: Genesis and bands like that. We also made a synthesiser called Deep Bass Nine so I was a very busy bunny around that time.
Then in 1993 I joined Bonnie but as far as prog went I worked with John (Wetton) and recorded with him. I was a fan of Asia when I was a younger lad and then I joined the band after working with JW in the MTV band in London, he guested with Phil Manzanera. I was too tongue tied to say hi but the following week I got a call. ‘Have you heard of Asia’ ‘yes’ I replied… ‘Great you start Monday!’ I went to Japan with John and we did some shows in Europe but I think the CRS was certainly the first signs that something was going to happen again in prog and we were all very grateful.
So in reflection you did play solo for the CRS and with your own band, with John Wetton, Qango and Greenslade. You were quite a fixture!
I don’t know whether I played with the Strawbs for you too but to be honest it all becomes a bit of a blur and people have to remind me. I remember talking with Clive Bunker when I was with Uli Roth back in 1985. I used to keep a record of all my gigs and I spoke to Clive and asked if he remembered a particular gig and he said, ‘I don’t remember anything’. He said, ‘it all blurs into one’ and I’ve found that too over the years – I’ve done so many shows – it’s all blurred into one just like Clive. We’re very fortunate, people like myself, and guys that work around me like Dave Kilminster. We’ve managed to do a lot and unfortunately the only drawback from that is that you tend to forget a lot. It was very interesting speaking to a guy at a Lifesigns gig last year who worked with me playing at a Roy Wood gig at the NEC many moons ago. He hadn’t really done that much playing since and remembered every second of that day .. it was really fascinating to remember with him.
As for the CRS shows I did and the people I played with, yeah John (Wetton) had his demons but as far as I’m concerned I’d sing his praises all day. He was an incredible player and composer, his compositional skills taught me an awful lot and I’d been a fan right from hearing him as a kid and listening on headphones at home. Everything from King Crimson to UK, to get to work with him was really good and obviously we had good days and bad days but I think his skill was undeniable. Dave Greenslade was also a lovely, lovely man to work with and we’re still good friends.
I think it’s funny because if you are like myself and Dave Kilminster and a lot of the people that came up after the prog scene had come and gone we worked for a lot of these people. In fact I supported The Humans on a tour and after my soundcheck Robert Fripp came up and said, ‘You know your only problem John, you were born five years too late’. The thing is we all ended up working for other people so I have great memories with so many different bands and it’s been a joy to come to the CRS with everything and everyone I worked with. Obviously though my favourite moments are when I get to do my own thing!
I think with Dave Greenslade one of my best memories was when I involved a couple of the Bonnie Tyler guys (the sound and light guys) to work with us and we were in Yorkshire somewhere I think, a little theatre type place. Angus is also the lighting guy for the Cure and is quite a character, so we turn up at this show and Angus asks ‘Where are the lights?’. So the guy at the venue says we don’t really have proper lights but we do have some ambient lights over the stage. He said, ‘There’s two switches’. (John laughs) So one of my favourite memories is of The Cure’s lighting guy standing there pressing two light switches for the whole gig! They do still talk of Dave Greenslade very fondly and it was great fun. We even did a live album with Greenslade at the CRS in Rotherham and the JY band as well.
Creating your own band is something special, something John is proud of but pulling a crowd was always hard work.
Yes I think it was difficult. A lot of us presumed off the back of the bands that we’d been involved with that the same people had seen us with other bands like Asia or John Wetton would come along to see the John Young Band but that was not the case. It was the same with many musicians. I remember going to see John Wesley and thinking there should be loads of people there for a guy that worked with Porcupine Tree and there was hardly anybody there. That seems to have dogged all of us. We’ve managed to build Lifesigns gradually over the years and now finally we get quite a reasonable audience but it wasn’t easy. I remember Davey Paton from Pilot came to a recent Edinburgh show, we stood at the back after the show having a beer and he said to me, ‘You know what John everyone wants to be in that band.’
I used to think as I was growing up that I’d love to be in Genesis or Yes and I remember when It Bites came along thinking the same. There are some bands that stand out. Lifesigns is a band I’ve always wanted to be in and to work with such amazingly talented people has been truly remarkable.
I think it’s quite strange now with our band there’s a lot of musicians in major outfits like Genesis, Yes, Focus, Gentle Giant, ELP, there are people from all of those bands that absolutely love Lifesigns but trying to get to their audiences is really difficult. It’s also a problem I think that the CRS came up against in as much as you try to lead people to the new pastures it’s very difficult. Even if you talk about the great names that played for the CRS like Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett, John Wetton, Jan Akkerman etc. and the people that worked for them and played for the CRS it was difficult. In context if you think of Dave Kilminster he’s an amazing guitarist. He plays with Roger Waters and he played with John Wetton, when you take him out of those situations it’s still very difficult to put bums on seats. You know as well as I do that you pull unknown bands in from other countries and there’s been eight people there. One of the things with the John Young Band is we got used to it. Robin Boult and I used to joke about it as part of the fun of it was the social event of going out for dinner before the gig. At the gig we’d generally outnumber the audience.
So how does John Young think music has changed from the early years to today?
The problem with music and a career in it is that it is different from being a doctor or someone that deals with facts and figures. It’s all about opinion and so it doesn’t matter how educated my musical opinion is it’s only the same as the next person. So if somebody likes to hear Comfortably Numb on repeat that’s fine and if somebody wants to hear UK , Bruford, Brand X etc that’s fine too.
Lifesigns isn’t just prog, we don’t really like genres and we’re a mixture of all sorts; jazz-rock, pop, fusion we’ve even had a single out. We had pluggers going round and we were record of the week on Radio Woking (he laughs), so it’s a very different scenario. The meter for me and I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of people is whether or not the hairs go up on the back of my arms and I think that’s amazing. The problem today in popular music is that it is pretty dull and so it’s things that are unique that I get drawn to. There are a lot of unique bands around now that are inspiring and interesting and I do think some music has turned a corner. We did start Lifesigns because I found some progressive music a bit dull so I thought, well I’ll start something new and my goodness it seems we might just have got it right. There’s always going to be people that like The Wombles and I’ve no problem with that. Everyone’s allowed to have their own opinion but I just like things to push boundaries and there’s a lot of bands starting to do that again. Some have been too keen to stay in their comfort zone and that comfort zone was something that appealed to people that had been there in the 70s and wanted more of the same. What I like to see are bands that take us to somewhere else. I’ve spoken to two record companies that have said they are interested in anything that appeals to three to five year olds and that’s how popular music stands at that moment. What we really need is a new Old Grey Whistle Test, we need something that can showcase things to see whch artists are breaking new musical boundaries and help to make people aware of new intelligent music.
And so onwards to the band Lifesigns and John’s chance to bring me and maybe a few others out there up to date.
Now these days we are very strongly linked with our audience. We know many of them very well, it’s a lovely fan base. The interaction between the fan base and us through Facebook is massive and yet if you look at bands from the 70s they tended to be aloof. So that’s all changed. I’m an eternal optimist and I think there’s always room for new music even in these dark days of lock down and everything else. The way the industry works it’s changed so dramatically so we have to think very laterally in the way we approach things so everything with Lifesigns is in house.
We record everything ourselves, we do all our own advertising and everything comes through Lifesigns HQ. We have some of the best musicians in the world and I know that because it’s the best band I’ve ever played in. To work with these guys is an absolute honour. Our new album is going to be £20. Some people have said to me that I can’t do that but I replied that we have to put value back in to the music. With inflation at the moment CD’s should be £46.50. I can’t download petrol and we have to make sure we are looked after. Our fan base is very strong, we have donations and subscriptions and all sorts of other things we do to make it work. We put three or four tracks on Spotify and if you want to hear the rest of it you have to buy it. There have to be changes in the way that we market and sell music in the future.
We recently made arrangement for Zoltan (Csorsz) to come in for the departing Frosty (Beedle) on drums and that was Dave Bainbridge’s idea and Zoltan pretty much said yes straight away. In the time between the announcement and Frosty leaving and Zoltan joining we had ten drummers get in touch with us so I feel really honoured that the band is seen in that light. Dave is an incredible musician, as you know. I’m about the third best keyboard player in the band (he laughs). Jon (Poole) plays keys, he plays drums, plays bass. Dave plays keys, guitar and we’re very lucky Zoltan has joined and Steve Rispin is the fifth guy as our engineer.
In conclusion I chucked in a seventh question regarding the future and how John saw things in his crystal ball?
Difficult one that Martin. Sadly everything is in limbo and our favourite gig ‘Cruise to the Edge’ has had to be postponed. Obviously everyone has to stay safe and I’m hoping that once that’s all sorted we can kick in again towards the end of next year or even the beginning of 2022. I know that people are booking shows for next year but we are quite happy to be recording at the moment and we’ll see as and when Covid clears. The only other thing we did have booked was the HRH shows at the O2 in Sheffield and as you have mentioned maybe we could come and play for the old CRS crew sometime.
Great to talk to an old friend again in Mr. Young, a gentleman that talks a lot of sense but plays sense too!#