Barclay James Harvest
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Mel Pritchard Interview, July 1998
This interview was conducted by Keith Domone for the official BJH fan club magazine, Nova Lepidoptera, and first appeared in issue #42 of NL in September 1998.
NL: Firstly, we wanted to ask you about the River Of Dreams album, whether you were happy with the way that it turned out?
Mel: I think itís as good as anything weíve done, in fact in some ways I think itís a lot better than some of the things weíve done in the past. Iíve got to say that it took a little bit longer than was expected, but it was just one of those things. John had booked his holiday and stuff like that. In terms of the overall sounds and the songs, yeah, I was happy. Whether the songs turned out as expected when they were written, I couldnít tell you, but they all sound good to me. Itís a nice Barclay James Harvest album - it covers all bases from rock Ďní roll to melancholy and anywhere in between.
NL: Do you have any favourite songs from the album?
Mel: I like ďThree Weeks To DespairĒ. I know itís not a very ďupĒ subject, but it was the way it was done - the rhythm track was done pretty quickly, so there wasnít a lot of birth pain with it - it just seemed to be a magical thing. We all seemed to be touched by the muse at the same time, and it went down a treat. The song, as well, especially in this part of the world where we live, you can see things like that happen. You see it every day, and your heart does go out to them. Itís a nice reflection on life, as well.
NL: Were you surprised that the album didnít sell better?
Mel: For the last three or four albums Iíve always felt that they should have done better. Whether there was not enough live work or the promotion wasnít right or there was no single on it per se, I really donít know. All I can say about that is that in my opinion it was not because of the quality of the album.
NL: Why do you think the album hasnít been released in England or France?
Mel: Youíd have to speak to David (Walker) about the contractual things, but we signed directly with Hamburg, so if the other territories donít take it up on license then it wonít get released. You canít walk in and demand that they do it. We wouldnít put it out unless it was of a quality, anyway. Weíve done it before, weíve had to go back to the drawing board with a couple of songs and have a look at them. Weíve never been a band thatís put two songs on an album and the rest is padding.
NL: How was the tour of Germany and Switzerland?
Mel: It was great! I always enjoy touring. The only thing I will say about it is that I would have liked to have done more gigs, because once youíve gone through the rehearsals and youíve got a few under your belt then youíre in the mode, and rather than being four or five weeks it could have been eight, nine, ten weeks. Firstly you could play to more people, obviously youíre getting tighter as well and it just becomes more enjoyable. Once Iím in tour mode I could just go and go and go. Having said that, youíve got to remember that I havenít got a family. For me, when Iím on tour Iím an eighteen year old again. My mind is eighteen, but whether my body would wear it I donít know!
NL: How was the feeling within the band on that tour?
Mel: Itís always good. Obviously weíve known each other for a long time, we know each othersí foibles, so we give each other enough space, we know when people need time alone. Gone very much are the days when you all go out for a meal every night and you all hang around together. Of course, if there was a night off we all went out and had a chinwag and talked about what was going on. Iíve never had any problem with morals - er, morale! Being on the road with x amount of people, thereís always going to be somebody whoís not in the same mood as you at any one time, but you need each other.
NL: Can you tell us how the decision to take a sabbatical came about?
Mel: It was more about John and Les, I think. For me, looking kind of inside but still on the outside, I think itís a time to reassess what direction weíre going to go into, rather than just keep going through the process of another album and a tour. It was getting a little bit flat. The court case took a lot out of us - looking back now, I donít think we realised how much it did take out of us. Itís only when you get working again that you realise how much itís drained you. I certainly think that from John and Lesís point of view that itís more of a reassessment. Itís being adult about it - thereís no great arguments, it was just ďis this really what we want to be doing or should we take time away from each other and see what happens?Ē
NL: Some fans are concerned that this could be the end of Barclay James Harvest as we know it.
Mel: With the conversations that went down, I didnít get that colouration of it, but, having said that, Iíve been through as much as John and Les have, with the court case and doing albums, finding producers, engineers and all the peripheral things that go with it, plus signing contracts and all the rest of it, and it was like ďletís just take a breath here and see if we are still doing the right thingĒ.
NL: What are your own immediate plans?
Mel: Actually, nothing at the moment. I still practice, I still get on the kit, but I canít imagine me working in another band except Barclay James Harvest. Until something happens, I donít know. I will have to do something pretty quickly, but I donít want to get too involved in something, just in case. If we have another meeting and say, ďRight, itís a goer againĒ, I donít want to be locked into something that excludes me from doing it. Iím just taking my time and thinking things through. Obviously Iím optimistic about everything and hope that we will get together, rested and getting a a bit more excitement in things, and see how it goes from there.
NL: Would you like to tour Britain again?
Mel: Yes, and I donít know why we havenít done it for such a long time. It would be wonderful. The audiences have been good, and the thing that we mustnít forget is that this is where we started. Without the people in Britain - Iím not saying that theyíre still around now and into us now, [NL: I think they are, actually!] but without that input the band wouldnít have carried on through its formative years to do the things that we did. You never really forget that. Every time we talk about touring, Iím one of the first to say, ďWell, whatís the chance of doing some dates in England?Ē Itís a bit like the record company not taking it up; if nobody offers us dates, then thereís not an awful lot we can do, really. The last time we toured it was doing universities and I thought it was very successful. I thought we went down well, and I was really expecting the same kind of thing the next time we went out, but it just seemed to go quiet again. Why that is - the older I get in this business, the less I know, unfortunately...
NL: Weíve already heard that John and Les intend to pursue solo projects. Can you see yourself getting involved in either or both of those?
Mel: If they asked! If they needed a drummer, and they wanted someone of my style and technique, I would love to do it. They know Iím always available. If theyíre having trouble with drum sounds or theyíve got a drummer and need someone to explain a few things, then Iím more than willing. Weíre still good friends! Any or either of them, Iíd be more than happy to help.
NL: Talking of drum sounds, a lot of fans have said that they prefer the sound of an acoustic drum kit.
Using the electric one was when we started doing the festivals when it was just in and out. Weíd used it on the album and it was kind of all right, and if youíre doing a quick turnover and you donít know what equipment youíre using - in the old days weíd take our own crew and our own PA and weíd have a separate mix for everything, but the way itís going now itís very much a quick turnover. Everythingís being digitised and you donít have that much time on soundchecks. We just thought itíd be a good safety net to use electronically digitised acoustic drums. I must say on stage theyíre a lot easier to cope with, the electronic ones, but in terms of the overall feel and the ambience, my heart is still on the acoustic side. Thereís nothing quite like the sound of an acoustic kit. The only thing is that you canít control the volume that much in smaller places, and my kits were getting bigger because we were doing the stadiums, and then we had to go back a little bit. I was a little bit in the haze about which way to go, and Martin (Lawrence) and I talked about it, and he was happy because he was doing the outstage sound along with the studio, and it was kind of a co-decision. If something came along where acoustics would be made available or I could take mine, then thereís something about tuning the snare drum to what you want, not just using a sound that theyíve programmed in for you.
NL: What kit are you using currently?
Mel: Iíve still got the Pearl. Donít ask me what model number it is! In the studio I usually use a mix-match of an old í57 Ludwig that Iíve got and the newer Pearl - Pearl snare drums. As I said, I havenít got a clue what models they are, so for the drum aficionados, I canít help you! Itís one of the smaller ones, more on the jazz side than the rock side. Iíve got a choice of two, and of course the old Ludwig - Iíll keep those forever. They date back to the Ď50s, early Ď60s, and there; just something about the warmth of the sound. Like everything else, they get better with age...
NL: You talked about joint decisions on the kind of kit to use and this sort of thing. How much input have you had to the sound of the finished product in recent years?
Mel: Certainly on the last two albums with Martin. With Pip (Williams) it was not taken out of our hands, exactly, but it wasnít so much of a co-decision. On the recent ones working at Johnís, I can go in at any time I like, I get the sound up on the electronic or acoustic. You can have a drum sound in mind, but everythingís always compromise. If you like, the compromises have been going a little bit more my way. I prefer the heavier side, but a lot of the current songs donít need that, they need the softer, more lilting kind of drum sound. Itís never been a problem about my input in the sound - what always controls it is the song. If they sound good together, itís because that drum sound works well with that guitar, organ and bass or whatever. You canít be too dogmatic.
NL: As a non-songwriter, have there ever been times when you would have preferred to have had a bigger say in the musical direction that BJH has pursued over the years?
Mel: No, I donít think so. Thatís never really been an issue. I wish I was a songwriter, because I have ideas, but theyíre not finished in my head, if you understand what I mean. Itís as it should be - the one who writes the song has always got the final decision about which route itís gonna take, and Iíve got to respect that always, from the year dot.
NL: Any messages for the fans who will be reading this?
Mel: Just, without sounding too crass and glib, thank you again for all the support. Without you, we wouldnít be anything. I hope to see you soon, and Iíd love to see you in England!
NL: Great, and finally weíd like to thank you for all the brilliant music over the years and to wish you lots of luck with your future plans.
Mel: Well, thank you. Thereís nothing high on the horizon, but I want to make myself available for whatever happens down the road.
NL: Right, hope to see you at a gig before too long.
Mel: All right.