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Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Judge Smith Interview

The Judge Smith Interview

Judge Smith, founder member with Peter Hammill, of Van der Graaf Generator, talks to Jim Christopulos via a U.S. to U.K. phone hook-up. The interview took place on February 14 2003, and covered the very early period of Judge’s prolific career as an artist – mainly, the Van Der Graaf Generator era.
JC: The first thing I want to ask is how you got interested in music, what was your upbringing regarding that?
JS: Well, I went to a public school, a single sex all-boys public school in England. So there was a built-in audience for anything because there was nothing to do. If you had a band, there would be people to listen to it, to play in it. If you did shows there’d be people to come and see it.
JC: Just because there was nothing happening. I mean, you weren’t scoping out chicks... [laughs]
JS: There were no girls, girls were absolutely verboten! And of course this was the mid-sixties, music was kind of very happening at the time. We all loved R&B, we all had big record collections. So it was a very obvious thing to try it ourselves and put bands together. Different sorts of bands, different sorts of music (most of it rubbish). Bands like the Shadows, bands trying to be like the Rolling Stones. [laughs] That’s how I got into it.
JC: What kind of stuff were you into at that time, what were you listening to?
JS: The first Manfred Mann album, the first Animals album – all the first albums of the great British R&B acts. Of course I liked proper blues, I liked jazz. I used to go to Ronnie Scott’s club a lot. Folk music as well, the early Bob Dylan stuff, early Simon & Garfunkel. And just the regular chart pop records, ‘cos there was some great stuff, absolutely amazing records.
JC: I think that’s something that guys my age and younger can’t really appreciate, the whole social "happening" aspect of it. It was something new. I can read about [the sixties] but I didn’t live it, it must have been an extraordinary time.
JS: There was a huge buzz and of course at an institution like my school, it was heavily frowned on. But the times were liberal enough so that you weren’t actually beaten for doing rock & roll, you were just disapproved of. Eyebrows were raised but you weren’t physically punished as you were for some things. It was perfect, there was just enough repression to bring out your creativity.
JC: And with the "raised eyebrow"...it’s no fun without a little rebellion anyway.
JS: Oh yeah, it was a definitely rebellious thing but it wasn’t hardcore. You weren’t risking your life, you were just unpopular with the authorities – and there’s nothing nicer than that!JC: Were you playing drums then?
JS: Yes, and singing. But I could never really do either!
Judge in 1968
JC: I was gonna say that you at least had the singing part down because I’ve heard that and I like your singing! Anyway, I know you had a trip to the States around this time...
JS: Well, that was after leaving school. Music wasn't all I was interested in. I wrote poetry seriously, but I never combined the two ideas into writing songs seriously. You did standards, you didn’t do original material. This was the ethos. For serious expression, you wrote poetry. It didn’t occur to me until after school to put the two together and write my own stuff. As times changed and you get toward the end of the sixties, we start to get psychedelia, Sgt. Pepper, and these possibilities start coming together. Anyway, I went with a guy from school [to the States], we both had a year before we could go to University so there’s like a gap year. We got unlimited Greyhound Bus tickets – ninety-nine days for ninety-nine dollars. We crossed the Atlantic on a small Irish steamer, an extraordinary experience! That’s how we got to the States and we went around America in a big circle for three months on a Greyhound. We got to San Francisco, got off the bus in the middle of the night, didn’t know where we were, wandered around and went into a cafeteria. Then a whole bunch of people came in with long hair, sandals, lots of beads, mustaches and stuff, and we thought "Whoa! Hippies!" We were short-haired nice young British public schoolboys. [JC laughing] We looked a little travel-worn and beat, I suppose. So they sat down at our table and started talking. We explained that we’d just come and asked them what they did. They said "We’re a band." And we said, "Oh, that’s great! That’s what we’ve come here to do, hear the music! What band are you?" And they said, "You won’t have heard of us, we’re very new. We’re called Country Joe & The Fish."
So they fixed us up with somewhere to stay, a San Francisco house-on-the-hill with two amazing girls. It was great! They took us around to concerts, it was amazing.

Read on...

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