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Rory Ridley-Duff Interview

Rory Ridley-Duff is one of the co-founders of Protos. Born in


Sussex, England, Rory first broke onto the music scene when he
co-wrote two tracks for the album Seaside Rock, in 1981. This
venture led to Protos's first album release, One Day a New
Horizon, in 1982. Since then, Rory's keyboard playing and
composing skills have drawn praise from around the globe. This is
the full English translation of Rory's interview with Nobuhisa
Nakanishi for Euro Rock Press - Japan's leading progressive rock
magazine.
Interview questions by Nobuhisa Nakaniski

1. Please tell
us briefly
about
yourself. For
example,
where you are
from, what
type of family
background
you have,
etc.?

I was born in a
place called
Littlehampton
and grew up in
a farming village called West Wittering on the south coast of
England. My mother, Ilse, is Austrian. She had to flee with her
two sisters during World War II and eventually settled in
England. She developed a good reputation as an artist locally -
some of her paintings have been exhibited in London. In her
30s, she met my father, affectionately nicknamed Chunky. His
parents worked in India helping indigenous people establish their
own businesses during the rule of the British. He went to
Cambridge University to study English, but later switching to
music. In adult live he became a marine engineer but died when
I was three years old.

2. When did you start to play music? Were you self-taught


or did you learn music formally when you were young?

At the age of two - so the story goes - I had an upset. I had


worked out how to climb onto a cabinet and put records on the
record player. Once I finished listening, got down, went to the
piano and started to cry. My mother asked me why I was upset.
I replied through my tears “Can‟t play it! I wanted to play music
for as long as I can remember.

I was four years old when I had a few music lessons but these
did not last. Some years later, when I was about 8, my mother
tried again but I hated being taught how to play music. I
preferred to compose my own. Before I took any exams, at just
9 years old, I refused to go to piano lessons. The love affair with
composing grew in my teens. We sold a piano and replaced it
with a combined organ/synthesiser. My formal music education
did not restart until I was 19 years old.
3. Who were early influences?

My first records were Tubular Bells by


Mike Oldfield, Sheer Heart Attack by
Queen and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
by Elton John. The first rock concert I
went to was Supertramp in Brighton
when I was 15 years old. After that I
was became totally hooked and wanted
to write as much as possible. My
friends got me listening to Deep Purple,
Led Zeppelin, The Who, Genesis and Pink Floyd. I later
discovered Yes, Camel, ELP and other progressive rock artists.
At first, I did not like Genesis, but after a friend - Helen Peters -
lent me Selling England By the Pound they became my favourite
band. I eventually did my undergraduate dissertation on the
musical output of Genesis band members up to 1986.

4. You formed Protos with Stephen when you were at


school. Please tell us how you got interested in
progressive rock? What was the original formation? What
kind of music did you play
back then?

Both Steve and I liked the


same kind of music but had
few records. We got together
every weekend to listen to the
music we liked, arrange music
that I was composing and
working out our favourite
tracks so we could play
them. When Seconds Out
was released, Steve and I
worked out the
harmonies/melodies to Los
Endos so that we could play
it. Mostly, we
composed/played our own
music. Tracks like Protos,
The Maiden, Panamor, The
Fugitive and Hunting
Extremely Large Animals were all written while we were at
school. In our early performances, we played entirely our own
keyboard/guitar compositions. It was only when Iain and Nigel
joined us in the early 1980s that we started playing cover
versions live.

5. Later, you enrolled on a Jazz/Popular music course at


the Chichester College of Technology. Does this mean that
you majored in music? Or you just took a course? There
you met Iain Carnegie and Nigel Rippon. Please tell us
how you met them and how you (re?)formed the band.

Yes - I did 5 years full-time study of music starting with a


Foundation Course in Jazz/Popular music at Chichester, and
finishing with a degree in music at London University. I was
amongst the first intake of about 25 students at Chichester who
studied all aspects of Jazz/Pop/Rock. By Christmas 1980, I had
learnt to write music and arranged all the Protos compositions for
drums, keyboards, guitars, flute, clarinet and bass. Iain and
Nigel were in the same college department - students of classical
music - but they each loved progressive rock/heavy metal
music. Nigel joined us first when he agreed to play bass guitar
for a lunchtime concert. Iain joined later, after we saw him play
with another progressive rock band called Night Flight. That line
up was stable for nearly two years until Iain and I left to study
music in London.

One Day a New Horizon

6. How did you get a chance to record, "One


Day a New Horizon"? Please tell us about the
label AIRSHIP RECORDS. How did you met
them?

We learnt of Airship through their Seaside Rock


project (a double-album featuring local bands). I can‟t
remember who told us, but I do remember going along to their
studio to ask if we could be on the album. We paid for the studio
time then got the money back selling the album to our friends.
We were the only keyboard-based progressive rock band on the
album, but they still included us.

Soon after, we saw Gemini play with a band called Nightflight at


the Regis Theatre (Bognor Regis). Gemini were selling an LP and
this intrigued us. We asked Richard Sharples (the business
brains at Airship) and Sam Small (the recording engineer) how
Gemini financed the album. We worked out that we had to sell
250 LPs at GBP 3.95. The project went ahead in late 1981 and
was released in April 1982. We sold all the albums at gigs,
through family/friendship, and at the college.

7. Please explain how the recording proceeded? Any


interesting story or fond memories?

We put down the keyboards to a click-track then added synth


bass, guitars and drums later. The drumming was difficult. Neil
was good playing live when he could follow my leads and cues,
but in a studio he felt unsettled and it took longer than we
expected. Sam Small was incredibly patient.

My most vivid memories came late in the recording. Firstly,


there were no computers at this time. Sam, Steve and I would
rehearse the mixing we wanted over and over again. Each of us
had a set of knobs and sliders that we had to control, with
markings on the mixing desk for volume levels at different points
in each track. When ready, we did a take and if we liked it, we
kept it.

The second vivid memory is listening to the entire album on a


mono speaker. Sam – the engineer - explained that the album
did not just have to sound good on a top quality audio system,
but also on a small radio. We made sure that the tiny speaker in
the cheapest mono radio would not crackle when our music was
played.

8. Please tell us about live gigs Protos had back then.


Where did you play? What
was your repertoire?

Our early gigs (when playing


as a four-piece band) were at
local clubs, school discos and
private parties in and around
Chichester (where Iain, Nigel
and I were studying music).
After releasing One Day a
New Horizon, we twice
played at „Rock at the Regis‟
sponsored by Airship (Bognor
Regis). We played three
times outside the Cathedral
in Chichester as part of the regional Arts Festival. The Rock at
the Regis gigs felt spectacular - the first time we felt (and
played) like a professional rock band. Airship hired a theatre
with professional sound and lighting.

Normally, the sets lasted about 45 minutes because there were


several bands playing on the same night. Ours always included
The Maiden, The Fugitive, Hunting Extremely Large Animals and
Protos. Other numbers were switched in and out as we tested
out new material like Superpowers, The Rally, Departures, A Bit
Blue, Tempest and Aftermath.

In 1982, we played only our own material but by 1983/84 Iain


persuaded us to introduce cover versions of Thriller (Michael
Jackson), All Night Long (Lionel Richie) and Firth of Fifth
(Genesis) to mix things up. We rehearsed Cinema Show but
never played it live. Iain also argued that we should have a
vocalist so we attempted parts of Jesus Christ Superstar with a
singer called Danny Walton. Steve and I resisted this and by
1984 - at our final gig for the Chichester Arts Festival - we
reverted to all instrumental progressive rock, including a cover
version of Firth of Fifth by Genesis.

For a while we had a manager called Brian Gartside who


arranged gigs in Brighton and
Littlehampton (further along the
coast). Outside the Chichester
area, however, we played to small
audiences.

9. How about the composition


process? How do/did you write
music?

In the early years, I wrote most of


the material and arranged it with Steve. Steve then started
developing acoustic guitar parts and I would add backing
keyboards and work out melodies. Tracks like Thing of Beauty
and Panamor evolved using this approach. Steve was a
competent classical guitar player and when combined with piano
accompaniments the combination was pleasing to us both.

When albums like Animals (Pink Floyd, 1977) came out, we


enjoyed double-layered keyboard/guitar passages and combined
keyboard/guitar „solos‟. We worked these into many of our
tracks (The Fugitive, Protos, The Maiden and Hunting Extremely
Large Animals). I think a characteristic of our music was the way
we focussed on strong melodies and interesting harmonic
changes rather than virtuoso guitar or keyboard playing.

Later, as my Jazz/Rock training progressed, I felt more confident


improvising. This comes out on tracks like Aftermath and A Bit
Blue (on Into the Mouth of the Tiger). This was quite a change.
Earlier we learnt our material note-for-note.

Once Nigel and Iain joined, we produced some band


compositions. Each of us brought passages of material to
rehearsals (both Nigel and Iain were competent keyboard players
as well). We debated and argued until we agreed how it could be
worked up into a full-length composition. This is how Tempest,
The Rally and A Bit Blue evolved.

The Music Scene in the 1970s/1980s

10. When the album was recorded, the musical scene was
dominated by the punk/new wave movement, and I think
demand for the prog music was weak. Please explain the
situation back then.

That was definitely true nationally, but locally classic rock music
was popular. Chichester is a harbour town with many small
sailing clubs around the area. There was a strong rock disco
scene that drew in kids from the schools and colleges. These
discos never played pop music, although they were later
influenced by punk. The most popular disco was called Freebird,
after the Lynryd Skynyrd track. It had a big following locally and
kept rock music including prog popular in the Chichester area
until the mid-1980s.

11. AIRSHIP RECORDS also released another Progressive


Rock rarity, and album by GEMINI ( Counter Balance)
which is surprising considering the then UK music scene.
Were they helpful towards Progressive or non commercial
Rock in general ?

Yes - Airship encouraged many local bands including those


playing progressive rock. There was strong contingent of prog
rock bands in the area with Protos, Night Flight and Gemini all
gigging at the same time. Although Richard Sharples was
commercially sharp (and creative) there was a measure of
idealism in their approach. They loved to make music, I think,
and tried to make it viable for local talent rather than seek big
money by getting in musicians from outside the area.

12. Did you know the GEMINI people or other Progressive


Rock bands?

We knew the musicians in Gemini and Nightflight (the band that


Iain played with when we first met him in 1981). I once stepped
in to play with Nightflight when their keyboard player was ill, and
even dated the cousin of one of the Gemini twins for a short
period. We knew Nick May (the Enid / Whimwise) who also lived
in Chichester - but the relationship was one of mutual respect
from a distance rather than a close one. There was also Mark
Rowbottom (later drummer with Lady Grey Down and Thieves
Kitchen). Mark, Steve and I were close friends, we supported
and helped each other at gigs as well and socialising together
regularly. Steve later played with Mark‟s band Stepping
Sideways for a while.

13. You also regularly played at the local festival. What


kind of festival was it? Please explain the takes included in
"Into the Mouth of the Tiger".

The Chichester Arts Festival is one of the largest in


the UK outside London. The town has a Festival
Theatre‟ that attracts actors, comedians and
musicians from the locality as well as the London
stage (like a small-scale Edinburgh Arts Festival).
The Festival office liked to arrange outdoor
lunchtime rock concerts and supported us by paying for
professional sound equipment. We would hire Benny Lillywhite
(who we first met at Rock at the Regis). He always produced a
terrific sound for us live and would record the gigs.

The takes on Into the Mouth of the Tiger come from two „Rock at
the Regis‟ gigs (in early 1982), one concert at Chichester High
School (in 1983) and one of the outdoor Chichester Festival
performances (in 1984). We always felt the sound at the Rock
the Regis gigs was warm and rich. Outdoors it is hard to get a
good sound. Benny had a good mixing desk and combined direct
lines from our equipment with sound picked up from various
microphones around the drum kit. The recording quality - for the
time - was close to that of commercially produced live albums
(and at no extra cost to the band).

We found tapes of the live performances in various garages and


attics after releasing One Day a New Horizon. With one or two
exceptions, they still played okay, so we transferred the audio to
digital and released them as a CD.

14. Around the end of original Protos, there was a little


resurgence of British Progressive Rock with the debut of
bands like Marillion etc. What was your feeling towards
this movement? Did this movement affected the activity of
Protos?
I never took to Marillion‟s music. Maybe I‟ve not made enough
effort to hear it but the first material friends played to me
sounded like a pastiche of Genesis material, rather than
something original. I never became a fan. Protos had disbanded
by the time Marillion became popular and my solo material
became more influenced by classical composers (Ravel, Debussy,
Satie, Stravinsky) music from the US (Al Jarreau, Pat Metheny,
George Benson, Chick Corea) and jazz/funk / experimental
artists in the UK (e.g. Level 42, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush,
Thomas Dolby).

After Protos

15. When and why was Protos disbanded?

We initially disbanded in 1983 when Iain and I went to London to


complete our music education. I went to Royal Holloway College,
London University while Iain went to the Royal Academy of
Music. Nigel stayed in Chichester to take a course that enabled
him to become a teacher. Steve – at that time – became a
postman and later joined the civil service. We still met up
regularly during study breaks. The following summer (1984) we
got together to write and perform again at the Chichester Arts
Festival. This was still a productive time. We revised the Maiden
as well as putting together a new version of Tempest (these were
later recorded by me for the Passing Decades album). In that
sense, we were still actively composing. However, this turned
out to be the last time we performed together.

We stayed in touch and remained close friends. Iain was Best


Man at my marriage to Caroline, while Steve gave a reading by
Bertrand Russell during the ceremony. I gave a speech at Iain‟s
wedding (in 1992) as well as an unusual wedding present: a
score/recording of „Variations on a Theme By Iain Carnegie‟. At
Steve‟s first marriage, I played a wedding march chosen by
them.

16. Please tell us about your musical and other activities


after disbanding Protos, especially about SLY and
DANZANTE (and about Clive Nolan's involvement in the
later).

Even while in Protos, I started branching out and writing music


for theatre. This resulted in A Light in the Dark, music for a
children‟s ballet scripted by Brian Gartside. I also wrote a
musical called Belloc, also scripted by Brian Gartside. This was
performed for a season at the Alternative Arts Festival in
Chichester (a bit like the Fringe Festival at Edinburgh).

I also started writing classical works for symphony orchestra but


it was not until the final year of my music degree that I heard
any of these performed. During my music degree, orchestral
works like Space evolved. I also experimented with a more 80s
feels in compositions like Passing Decades, London 125 and
Ghost Rap.

Sly was a diversion from serious writing - a bit of fun for the
summer period in Chichester. We quite liked the music of Sky
(John Williams) so we put together a tongue-in-cheek band
called Sly. It was a satire. Nigel would introduce everything in
an Australian accent and we pretended to be Sky for a day,
visiting the Chichester Festival for a special gig. In a sense, we
were a progressive rock tribute band before this idea ever took
off commercially.

Danzante was potentially a more serious undertaking. Clive


Nolan and Martin Pyne were also students at Royal Holloway
College (London University). We were all composers there and
shared an interest in progressive/jazz rock. They invited me to
form a band and we played about half a dozen gigs and produced
a demo tape. Recordings do exists (somewhere!). Working with
Danzante resulted in the development of my
recording/engineering skills. We also rehearsed material I had
written that later became part of the Passing Decades album.
Night Time, for example, was written for a student at the London
Film School. The was first recorded by Danzante. We tried out
Passing Decades and Space during gigs. Subsequently, I re-
recorded them several times until they evolved into the pieces
that were later published. One track from A Question of
Expression – Suite for Piano, Marimba and Vibraphone - was
commissioned by Martin Pyne. He wanted something that he
could play with his fiancé (later wife) Sarah Walker - she now
presents music programmes for the BBC.

Clive, Martin and I were all strong writers/arrangers: we all


specialised in composition and orchestration with (the late) Brian
Dennis and Eric Levi. I lost touch with Clive after he started
playing/touring with Pendragon, but still have a connection to
Martin Pyne (his wife and my wife are best friends). Danzante
disbanded amicably in 1986 after I started producing recordings
for other students at the university. I also spent time helping
Iain Carnegie record/produce his first solo efforts.

17. What made up your mind to re-release the Protos


album?

There is no greater incentive to release music than knowing there


is an audience who wants to hear it. The most important
experience was talking to Japanese, English and US buyers of
One Day a New Horizon after an auction on eBay. Yasushi
Tsuruta had a pivotal role – his enthusiasm and support was
vital. Steve and I had started talking about getting music off
tapes onto CD but it was only after I sold the first copy of Passing
Decades to Yasushi that we began to take the idea seriously.
Yasushi contacted World Disque and Garden Shed and after a
frantic (and exciting) round of correspondence, it quickly became
clear that this was a viable project.

Dave Martin, who runs a UK progressive rock festival, and Tom


Hayes who runs the US prog rock web-site Gnosis, also
encouraged us to re-release the material. They alerted us to the
way the UK/US record collectors had learnt about One Day New
Horizon. Dave Martin had bought/sold several copies to places
around the world and talked about the impact of the music, not
just the LP‟s rarity. It was a revelation that people were true
fans of the music rather than making an investment in a rare
record. Yasushi sent us copies of articles that had appeared in
the Japanese press during the 1990s and we finally began to
realise the impact the music was having in Japan. With orders
from Garden Shed and Marquee Inc., we put some of our own
money into a new company. This financed industry-standard
manufacturing for Passing Decades and One Day a New Horizon.

18. You have also released three solo albums. Please


briefly explain the concepts and music on the individual
albums.

The idea behind Space and Other Singles is to make progressive


rock music accessible to people who normally only buy „singles‟.
The idea comes from memories of Ennio Morriconi‟s sweeping
orchestral piece that hit the top of the UK charts in the 1980s
(„Theme for the Life and Times of Lloyd George). Steve and I felt
that the opening and closing sections of Space potentially had a
similar popular appeal. It could if released effectively – help
attract a new generation to this type of music. We edited two
extracts to stand-alone tracks then wrapped them around others
to create a history of my music writing and live performing.

The album Passing Decades takes its title from the opening
track. In the 1980s, I was influenced by jazz/funk, particularly
Mark King and Level 42. I still liked progressive rock but
combined this with new musical forms and influences coming
over from the US. Passing Decades (the track) was a hybrid
between 1970s and 1980s-style composition and I gave it this
name to capture how it bridges two generations of music
writing. It was released exactly two decades after the track
Passing Decades was originally recorded. Visually, I took up the
passing decades theme with pictures of my daughter (Natasha)
and wife (Caroline). Not only did I wish to convey the notion of a
girl transforming into a woman, but also connection between
daughter and mother, and the journey from childhood innocence
to adult sensuality.

A Question of Expression is an exploration (and challenge to)


contemporary classical music as a form of human expression.
While studying twentieth century music, my friends and I would
often despair at the emotional void it created in listeners. Once,
I was with my composer friend Richard Churches watching
symphonic works at London‟s Festival Hall: there was an atonal
composition by Pierre Boulez performed along with other French
music by Ravel and Debussy. When the Boulez work finished, an
elderly man sitting next to me did not clap. I asked him why and
he answered “It‟s complete bollocks, isn‟t it? We split our sides
laughing but had to concede the point he was making.

It changed the way I wrote classical music. Each track on the


album tries to evoke different aspects of human feeling. From
the joy of falling in love (Renaissance) to the brutish attack on a
person (Interrogation), or the numbing sadness of human loss
(When the Pain is Over) to the calm of travelling through places
untouched by human life (Space). Each composition attempts to
reconnect classical music with human feeling.

19. How about the possibility of reforming Protos. If yes,


how is your plan (live gigs, recordings) ?

We have discussed this and plans are progressing.


Originally all four members were open-minded but
Iain now says he would prefer to focus on new
musical ventures with Gordon Giltrap. He is also a
producer for the Phil Collins “Little Dreams
Foundation” and this makes additional demands on
his time. Steve and I plan to work on new Protos material and
have already identified another 50 minutes of promising
material. Nigel will join us in the recording stages to add guitars,
cellos and percussion. Our goal is another album in October
2007 (pictured, right). There are many hurdles to overcome, but
this is the plan.

New Beginnings

20. How about the musical projects by Stephen, Iain and


Nigel? Have you already got any specific ideas?

Iain is recording an album with a band called Bedsit Messiahs


(see www.iaincarnegie.com). At present, they only plan studio
work and a sample track is available on the web-site of Tim
Oxbrow. Their album is about half finished and Iain hopes to
complete it in the summer of 2007. At present they are not
signed to a label and Iain has not yet made up his mind how to
release it.

Nigel has produced 14 albums with a UK progressive-metal band


called Stone Cold. We‟ve started discussions on how to release
one or more of these through New Horizons Music.

Steve‟s primary interest is in writing/playing more material with


Protos. So long as we have the energy to write and there is a
market willing to buy, Steve and I will continue producing an
album each year for the foreseeable future. If he has solo
aspirations, he keeps these close to his chest but I would
certainly support him if he wanted to do this.

We‟ve also been discussing work with a talented instrumental


rock guitarist called Rob Fowler who lives in Seattle (USA). He is
putting the finishing touches to a band project called Digital
Chemistry. We hope to release his music through New Horizons
Music in 2008.

21. From your viewpoint, what does progressive rock


mean?

This is a difficult question. Originally (to me at least) it meant a


form of rock music that progressed beyond the popular norms of
the day and usually included keyboard playing as an integral
component of music writing/performance. Now, it is often more
backward looking, a type of music that draws its inspiration from
the styles of well-known recording artists in the mid-1970s. I
like to look both forward and back, and never forget that music is
a listening (rather than a writing or performing) experience for
most people. I write music to listen to. For me, the best music
draws on the familiar to create surprises for the listener. If you
drift too far from the familiar, you lose the listener altogether. If
you spring too many surprises, it is too intense to listen to. I
think progressive rock thrives when it touches emotions while
remaining dynamic and sensitive to other musical cultures.

22. Finally, please give your fans in Japan a message.

We are deeply grateful for the way your enthusiasm and interest
has changed our lives. More than any other group of fans,
people in Japan have kept the music alive and made it possible
for Steve and I to write more music. Please accept our warmest
thanks and best wishes.

© New Horizons Music Ltd, 2007 All Rights Reserved.