AAJ: You play beautifully yet within yourself. How difficult is it in a dynamic band like this to rein yourself in?
GH: I don't try to rein in anything, really; I like to go to the edge. I feel good there. And that's not a feeling expressed in terms of wild and furious playing. For me it exists in the most understated things, just the same. I try to play as eloquently as I can and with beauty and poetry, but also of course as a constant reaction to everything that's going with the other musicians and from the sound of all of us together.
We all push and pull with each other wellone minute someone's a protagonist, the next we're interacting or being more collectively conversational. And I think all this kind of improvisational balance is reached just through the compatibility between the personalitiesthe trust and real inner pursuance within each of us. And Richard, Julian and Michael all have those qualities.
For me, I just live it. Every note is important, and I strive harder and harder to make just the best music that I can. For a drummer to be in tune with those principals just as much as any linear or harmonic instrumentalist, I think, is the very healthiest thing anyway.
AAJ: Your drumming on Hotwired is very inventive and driving, but it in no way dominates proceedings. It is very sympathetic to the requirements of the music. Is this something that you set out to achieve at the beginning?
GH: Yep, very much so. The drums are about being inventive, being supportive and inspirational, and raising some good heat when the time comes too. But the drums are also totally as much a musical participant as anything else, and they should always be played that way.
In this setting particularly, and this setting for me incidentally is not new. I've had a lot of input in the bebop kind of realms and so called "straight-ahead" jazz playing with a lot of different people over the years, even though it may be a shock for some people to hear me in this kind of context.
I also feel very much at home on a smaller-based jazz kit too. In fact the first times [guitarist] Allan Holdsworth and I played, I was on a pretty small kit. Beyond that, it's just all just about the musicthe conversational and interplay aspects, the feeling of it, and how we can get to make some meaningful and spontaneous poetry together.
That's totally my main concern and quest, and was absolutely what this group was about from the beginning. And I'm really happy in the fact that Hotwired, our album, really highlights that in a very nice way. The drumming I almost don't even hear in drumming terms. And you know, when that happens, I feel I'm really succeeding a lot more at being the kind of drummer I always aspire to be.
AAJ: David Gilmour, guitarist with Pink Floyd, once said that no matter what guitar he held in his hands, he could always get his sound out of it. How much does your own sound depend on the equipment you have at your disposal, and how much of your sound is down to playing style?
GH: I think Dave's bang-on in that comment. I know this is me saying this, but if I revisit the recent album I did with [guitarist] Robin Trower and [bassist] Jack Bruce Seven Moons (V-12 Records, 2008), a few of the things I did with Holdsworth, or a big band session, or even some of the stuff I did with the Level 42 group, I think it's actually quite evident it's the same guy. I think it's evident anyway.
Another story is of an afternoon jam session a few years ago in Ronnie Scott's club in London once with [drummer] Dave Weckl and both kits were onstage as I was playing with guitarist Jim Mullen supporting his group this particular week. Anyway, at one stage we switched kits, and he got on mine and I got on histwo very differently tuned set-ups. And Dave sounded just like Dave, even on my little cranked up sounding jazz kit, and you know I don't seem to ever bring about a different sound characteristic no matter whatever kit or whoever's kit I might play.
I'll get a rental kit, right out of the boxes, and I'll always get this sound. As far as I feel, it's really like that with all instrumentalists. For drummers it's everything you've been through as a player and everything your technique has been adapted to in the past.
My old big band stuff is in thereit's in the clarity of the way I hit and way I guess I formed, but more significant than anything else. And as Allan Holdsworth says, the sound's just in your hands. It's an amazing thing though, isn't it?
I find all this akin to the fact you would instantly recognize the certain sonic characteristic of a person you know whose speaking voice is instantly recognizableinstantly, out of the multitudes of speaking voices you may have heard over the last many weeks or months in your life.
It's not just the sonority, it's the whole nuance and "music" of the way one person in particular will articulate something. And it really is just unique and that distinctive. Incredible, eh?
AAJ: Absolutely. The sound of the music, and I'm talking about the quality of the recording, is also really great. Listening for example to "Deux Deux's Blues," I thought how up in the mix everything is. You must be pretty happy with the way this has turned out sound-wise?
GH: Oh, I am. I was lucky. I think I made some good decisions as to where and how we recorded it, and I should say it all really worked out for the best. And it was also at a studio not even too far away from where I live. This guy has got a lot of vintage microphones and a lot of nice warm tube equipment, so the recording had quite a ... I think you picked up on ita very kind of analogy presence to it which was ideal for this kind of music and this album, and I am really happy with it. It's punchy and warm and ideal for what we set out to doreally perfect for this band and this music.
AAJ: Who is this guy you mentioned?
GH: Philip Bagenel, and he's just great. He's been in the business for a long, long time, in a central London studio that he runs with all these massive overheads. But he just works and works, and manages to get by okay. He's got a bit of a history to him too, in that he used to work at a place called the Gaslight in New York and actually did out-front sound for Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra when they first emerged, on their very first concerts. So he has been around.
AAJ: You're bringing this out on Abstract Logix?
GH: Yes, and Souvik [Dutta] is a good friend, great spirit, completely on the level, and he's totally in the business for and towards the music and to the musicians, which is rather wonderful and very rare to find. So I'm very proud to have this record released by Abstract Logix.
He's always been very interested and supportive of ideas I had, and of course he now works for [guitarist] John McLaughlin so there's also another tie there too. He's a beautiful, beautiful guy, and I've been excited about the way he wants to work with me on this. And it's really the first time I have ever had so much support from any kind of label.
AAJ: In the song "Take 5" there's, for me, a hint of a motif of "In a Silent Way." And I hear very clearly the same motif, I think it's in the title track of "The Things I See," your piano tribute to the music of Allan Holdsworth. Is this intentional or just one of those things that makes its way there by happenstance?
GH: You are bang on the money. Yeah, you're right, it is straight out of "In a Silent Way." And for the life of me, I don't know where that came from, on either occasion. It just came in. Instinct just made me quote it or something. Funny.
AAJ: It's a beautiful motif.
GH: It is beautiful, and at John McLaughlin's sound checks, we were always going into it. There's something really hypnotic about it. Ah, that's just Miles though, isn't it? Some of those bass lines he came up with too. Just fantastic.
AAJ: I remember in an interview not that long ago Herbie Hancock saying how he hears Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) everywhere, which is true, but I hear In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) everywhere, in so many musicians and so much diverse music. Is that your experience as well?
GH: Absolutely, it's a pivotal and seminal Miles album, and testament to one of his incredible turns. Those albums are just so... well, the world knows it, the world of musicians anyway, how important those records are. For me, In a Silent Way and Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1970) are desert island discs. Period.
AAJ: A tune I love on the album is "Angels Over City Square." With this cracking energy, it also has some free jazz and a slightly mystical element. And listening also to Complete Diary of a Plastic Box, mystical impressionism seems to be a presence in your music, which to me ties in with "In a Silent Way." And I think you could write a very good soundtrack to a movie. Would that appeal at all?
GH: It's been a long ambition to do that, Ian. Although my music is not set to imagery, it evokes imagery inside of me and it's great when other people pick up on it. That's all I ever wanted to do anyway: produce music that can bring up things inside people.
AAJ: To me this album Hotwired sounds a bit like a soundtrack to a modern-day urban thriller. I mean, it has all the moods, the suspense, energy, mysticism and edge.
GH: Ha! I'm delighted to hear that because that's exactly how I feel about it, and also it really ties back to when I was very young studying classical piano and, as my mum reminds me, I used to go up to the little room in our house where the piano was, and I would just turn the light out and improvise very sparsely for a long while, just looking to stir something in me.
I realized later it was very similar to what [composer] Thomas Newman had suddenly emerged with on this "American Beauty" soundtrack. And people have been copying him to death since he came out with itfunny little quiet suspended triads hanging there, with so much tension to them. Everyone's been doing that on the TV ever since, shamelessly, but the first time I heard that soundtrack, I thought, God, that sounds like me. Peculiar experience.
AAJ: You have firmly established yourself as a pianist with your two tribute albums, your interpretations of music inspired by Allan Holdsworth and John McLaughlin. It's really a tale of three Yorkshire men isn't it?
GH: Yeah! It is, I guess. A tale of three Yorkshire men, I like that. (laughs)
AAJ: What was your first encounter with McLaughlin's music? Was it the Mahavishnu Orchestra?
GH: Yes, it was, and my introduction to the Mahavishnu's music was a real testament to my dad and what kind of man he wasa very benevolent spirit towards me musically, but also a great musician himself. He used to work in music for televisionin fact, I used to do a lot of the music for him too, but he couldn't enter me because at that time I couldn't register my name as a composer since seemingly I was too young.
AAJ: Presumably he gave you pocket money for it, no?
GH: Yeah, he did. He actually gave me so much. I never got the chance to tell him how much he gave me.
AAJ: Beats doing the paper round for pocket money.
GH: Yeah, absolutely. (laughs) Well, every time he had one of the big TV sessions, there was a sizeable band coming from London, and he would be checking them out on my behalf saying, "What should my son be listening to?" And one brought up for me a cassette of Head Hunters (Columbia, 1973) and I also had a Tony Williams Lifetime compilation, but on another one of these occasions, someone brought an album called Birds of Fire (Columbia, 1973) and my dad was advised I should be getting into that.
John McLaughlin and The 4th Dimension l:r: Mark Mondesir, Hadrien Feraud, John McLaughlin, Gary Husband
He dutifully brings this album home, and since I always wanted my father's approval of the music, I said, "Oh great, but do you like it?" and he said, "No, but just go upstairs and play it." (laughs) It's a story which really encompasses the selflessness and wisdom of my dad, that he could see right past his own taste barrierand of course the music just captivated me right away. The thing was, I was going around thinking this was somehow just modern commonplace music. My contemporaries thought differently. (laughs)
AAJ: John McLaughlin has described how strange it was to be sitting in his room as a kid listening to Miles Davis, and then a few short years later he was playing with him. The same could be said for you. How did you end up playing with him?
GH: I did spend a good few years going to gigs; I was just too young to have seen the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I think the first thing I saw of his was Shakti in 1976, which was perfectly good enough. And then I saw the One Truth Band, and on each of these occasions I would always make it my business to stalk him a bit, give him update, a cassette or anything I could to get an impression out of him, and on a couple of occasions later, he actually offered me a slot.
I remember, it was in the mid '80s I went to hear himI think Tommy Campbell was playing drums with him at the timeand I said, "I want to play drums with you." I had balls in those days. (laughs) I took him a tape recorder with earphones and said, "John, please listen to this." And I played him a drum solo I had just done with Allan Holdsworth from a piece called "Metal Fatigue" that I was kind of proud of it at the time. As I remember he was playing a pinball game as he was listening, but I think it was actually going in, bit by bit.
Shortly after that, he said, "Well, I do have a second keyboard slot open at the moment." And I said, "Nah, I want to play drums." (laughs) I was insane enough to turn it down. Some years later, I was on tour with Billy Cobham and he asked me to play on the first track of an album called The Promise, (Verve, 1996) one that features him and [guitarist] Jeff Beck
I was really trying to make it happen, but it just turned out to be impossible in the end. I missed it. It was really third time lucky, and this really came together at a good time as, really, I can be of much better assistance to him now as a musician. So it's all for the best.
AAJ: I think that Industrial Zen (Verve, 2006) and Floating Point (Abstract Logix, 2008) are two of the best albums he's ever recorded. What was it like to work with McLaughlin on Industrial Zen?
GH: Just, just greatI can't put it any other way. He is one of the most generous people, in all respects, artistically, in terms of your input, fiscally, and just totally supportive and straight up as a man. There's a big challenge in playing for somebody like that for me, automatically, but to have somebody be that straight up with youI mean, if he doesn't like what you're doing, he'll let you know.
In general it's very difficult for me to think of anything that isn't completely inspirational about that man. He has really helped me too, and I am absolutely overjoyed to be working with him nowI mean, I would sweep that guy's floors.
AAJ: What was the audience reaction like in America to the Fourth Dimension concerts? I think I'm right in saying that it was the first time McLaughlin had played there with an electric lineup for ten years or so. Is that right?
GH: It was good. It was very, very good. I think. You're right though, it had been quite a while since John had toured with an electric band. The only real big shame about that tour was that I was in near agony with three lower-back prolapsed discs and could hardly even stand up or walk straight through the whole tour.
I was taking so many painkillers and mind-altering anti-inflammatory drugs, and it didn't lend itself in the least to what I was trying to do onstage, but I just had to do the best job I could. So it wasn't the ideal situation, on that US tour, at all. But I think the reaction to the tour was really good thoughthat and the Industrial Zen album, and everybody was very excited about a new electric project from him. The spring and summer tours that followed, in Europe, were tons better.
AAJ: Being on the road with John McLaughlin, he must have plenty of interesting tales. After all, his career has been nothing short of remarkable. The temptation must be to pester him all the time for stories about Miles and Tony Williams, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti. Does he tell a good tale?
GH: Yeah, he tells a good tale, and holds court very well, all of which I just lap upquite a few great Miles stories. We played quite a bit of music on the bus, just about everythingbags of John Coltrane, obviously, quite a lot of Miles. But the main bus tape of the American tour was Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise Records, 1966). He just loves Sinatra, as I always did too. It was all no surprise to hear that his musical enjoyment and his palette is as wide as it is. It's a universal thing for him, music. Life is.
AAJ: I love your description on the sleeve of your solo piano album to describe McLaughlinelegance, conviction and swagger. I thought that was a perfect combination of adjectives to describe him.
GH: I like the swagger adjectiveand pretty much when I thought of Elvin Jones too, he had a lot of swagger. Perhaps Elvin epitomized it.
AAJ: You've mentioned already McLaughlin's wide musical palette, but you yourself don't really fit into one box. The two of you are kindred spirits in that sense.
GH: I really feel that, Ian, and I always kind of felt that. Maybe it's unconsciously one of the reasons I was very drawn to what I felt John was about in the first place, and it's the fact I feel very much at home with people who are very open. There's so much broadness to John I just haven't found in a lot of musicians. The term universal really seems to apply to him, yet I can hear something in him that is always like one messagealways such a clear, unconfused message.
Actually I really worked hard to try to define my feelings about him in those notes for the A Meeting Of Spirits album. And with the help of my darling at home, whose literary skills are excellent, we managed something I was really happy with in the end.