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Interview - Steve Anscombe

Steve Anscombe is one of the


co-founders of Protos. Born
in Sussex, England, Steve 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, he has
been called "the greatest
guitarist never to have been
discovered", something that
finally changed with the
release of Protos's live album
Into the Mouth of the Tiger.
With the re-issue of the 1982
album, and Protos's live and
forthcoming album releases,
Steve's guitar playing and music writing is finally achieving
much deserved recognition. In this interview, he gives details
of his background and recent work recording a new album.

1) What is your musical background and how did you become


involved in Protos?

From the beginning I have had an interest in music. The body of a


banjo made a good drum. I did try learning the piano while young but
hadn't developed an interest in classical music so got bored! I was
offered the chance to learn the guitar at primary school, borrowed a
scruffy old accoustic with a lovely tone and fell in love. My mother and
grandmother were both pianists, my other gran sang. I can sing too
actually - backing generally. It's the limit with an untrained voice. I
grew up in a house with music playing on the radio or record deck from
early morning to bedtime. It's no surprise that music has become the
single most important thing in my life (other than people of course). I
didn't do a great deal with my music until I met Rory. It's fairly well
documented that a resounding thumbs-down to Shakespeare (Henry V
to be exact) was the catalyst. Whispered conversations resulted in
weekend get-togethers at the Duff (as he was then) family seat in
West Wittering, just south of Chichester. Musically we clicked. We had
other interests in common too, but the telepathy between us -
fortunate as only one of us reads music - allowed us to create, write
and arrange music that later evolved into material for One Day. We
were two teenagers, a guitar, a non-portable home organ, with loads
of musical ideas.

2) What were the key influences on your musical


development?

Personality-wise, a guy called Dave French figures large. He was my


guitar teacher at school. When I first picked up a guitar it seemed
natural to sit and rest it on my lap and play right-handed; despite me
being left-handed. Dave let me carry on this way around, and as I
warmed to the instrument he offered, at no cost, his time after school
(he was my form teacher at the time). He taught me to play songs by
The Beatles, Dylan, The Stones - some education for a 10-year old. I
would claim a pretty well developed sense of rythym, and will happily
bash the crap out of someone's drum kit given the chance. By the
time I got to secondary school could also claim to be a proficient
second guitarist. Dave continued to be my mentor and my first
experience of live performance came when I joined him on guitars at
my primary school for a performance of Joseph & The Technicolour
Dreamcoat. This was way back in 1973! I have always viewed my role
with Protos in a "no, but" sort of way; I have never been and never will
be a speed merchant. I don't make the fretboard scream in agony, but
I can make people think with my style
- make jaws drop and engage with
people because I feel the music and
can pass that on.

I'm not as polished or talented as the


other three, but unique none the less
and able to make a contribution. On
the playing front, there are two artists
who I admire above all others - and I
have been lucky enough to meet both
of them. Steve Hackett is my muse, if
you like. He was self taught, doesn't
(or didn't) read music, but what a
performer. Any genre, any audience,
he's the king for me. Hard on his
heels, and a truly amazing guy, is
Gordon Giltrap. I've followed his career
from folk club beginnings through the
big-venue-band era, round and back to
a one-man performance at a local arts
centre for less than 150 people. He leaves them believing that he has
played the entire set for them and them alone. Accoustic perfection.
I will admit that Panamor, from the One Day a New Horizon album,
owes much to his style. Steve Hackett, on the other hand, can claim
some credit for influencing the way I use sustain, pitch-bend
and volume pedals!

3) How do you go about writing music? What creative


process works for you?

Ear and longing! I don't read music so any ideas have to be pretty
basic, sequences, stories, knowing what sounds I want to hear and the
mood I want to create - then, with Protos anyway, it was a case of
playing the basics, talking it through and getting Rory to fill in the
gaps. Outcry on the new album is a perfect example - the opening
sequence is mine, we talked it through from there and Rory developed
the original arangement. If you know us and how we write, you can
readily spot the point at which Rory's imagination and craft take things
on. Working solo means creating solo pieces for accoustic guitar. Who
knows; if we ever get to playing live again, and get all pretentious
doing solo stuff; maybe one or two will get an airing!

4) What is your best memory of recording One Day a New


Horizon 25 years ago?

I have trouble remembering what I did


yesterday, never mind 25-years ago!
General memories include hanging around
doing very little, for long periods of time -
and also listening to Neil Goldsmith; our
then drummer, totally nail a fill in the
Fugitive - Rory & I turned to each other then and, I think, said
something like "Sh*t, he's spot on". The relief was tangible. There
were few arguments, engineer Sam Small was as patient as can be, a
quiet word or explanation was all that was needed. I remember the
feeling of telling my friends that I could not go out that evening
because I was off to the studio... The end result, listening to the whole
thing and thinking "it doesn't sound like that live". Loads of jumbled
thoughts and memories.

5) How has recording an album changed over the last 25


years?

Horse and cart to space shuttle! End of; there is no comparison. One
Day was created in a very small studio, with the end result entrusted
to magnetic tape, capable of taking 8-tracks of sound. I remember
talking to our engineer at one point, discussing the end product and
being told that aiming to get more than 18-minutes per side on a 12-
inch vinyl disc; with the amount of bass we wanted at one end of the
scale, and the clarity of four or five guitar / keyboard tracks on top;
was risky. The more you squashed on, the worse the end result would
sound. Today, with the software we had available we were able (if we
wanted) to record an entire orchestra section by section. We didn't, but
could have. IF we had wanted to! Probably the biggest single advance
from my point of view is the ability to get precisely the sound that I
want, rather than compromise due to limits on time or technology. I
mentioned sustain with respect to Mr Hackett earlier; the difference in
what I could produce on Noble Pauper, compared to the limits imposed
on me when recording One Day, are proof of this.

6) What is your best memory of recording The Noble Pauper's


Grave?

So far, taking a CD with three tracks; Born A Bit Blue,


The Final Dawn and Departures outside to Rory's car,
and whacking the volume up. The original MP3 versions
were created by Rory and it was not until we got
together in June and added other parts that either of us
got to hear the final version. It might sound a bit
conceited, but those three tracks just blew me away.
Mind you; if you can't shout about your own music after
having worked hard to achieve something, then you've got it wrong
somewhere. We just looked at each other and knew. We knew that,
regardless of our studio being Rory's lounge, we had created
something to be proud of. The guy across the street wasn't so
impressed. He came and asked us to turn it down!

7) If you could choose one track to recommend to Protos


fans, which would it be and why?

This will probably surprise Rory, but Nightime / Outcry from the new
album and it's not even finished yet! Having decided to run with the
new album as a concept (or not - freewill and all that!) this is the point
at which the story can grip the listener - two people, one real or
imagined, the darkness and silence of a lonely night and the
outpouring of emotion from a man who so desperately wants to
achieve. This is the emotional high point I think - there's a number of
musical highs along the way but this is the track that grabs me the
most. It is, I promise you, nothing to do with the fact that it is also the
track with the least lead guitar work. This album has stretched me and
the whole thing has been worthwhile, but sometimes, the simplicity of
the music allows the imagination to run riot - and Outcry does this.

8) What is progressive rock to you?

You know, I really have no idea! I have never really respected pigeon
holes - one of my later projects was a two-guitar duo thing with a
friend of mine; Doug Shephard. We share a love for 50s doo-wop, rock
& roll and so on. We worked on some three-hours of material, across
three decades, called ourselves The Recliners and with neither of us
being speed merchants, or particularly energetic, simply reclined the
lot and played it as an 85 year-old Mark Knopfler might! Protos is Prog
Rock - because, as my wife says, there's no words. Proper music, she
says, has words you see! Orchestral rock? I dunno. I get confused
when, because 2112 is a concept album, three piece rockers Rush get
labelled prog too - not to me; a truly fine rock band, but not a Camel
or Yes! Perhaps that's it. What's prog? Camel is. Snow Goose. Case
proven.
9) What next for Stephen
Anscombe and Protos?

I sometimes lie awake at night day-


dreaming that we have been invited
to play live in Japan - then the next
night I lie there shaking with terror,
fearing that someone might ask us
to play live anywhere at all! I am a
realist nowadays. If asked, I would
happily do a one-off somewhere just
for old times sake. I would think
very carefully before committing to
anything more. One thing I would
love to do is set the new album to
video - or even work with someone
to choreograph it for the stage. I
can't always express myself as fully
as I want to with the guitar; my
brain writes cheques that my hands
cannot cash you see, but I can
always SEE the music. The way it
should sound live, the lighting, the
effects, the back-projection. It's all
there and, for me, easier to acomplish than the live performance itself.
There are guitarists out there half my age who could do a better job -
as long as they remember where to put the silences! Back in the real
world, there will be another album, as long as this one proves the need
for it. We have more material, old and new to play with - and I'd be
there like a shot. All you have to do is ask!

10) Do you have a message for your fans around the world?

WIthout wishing to presume that we have an army of fans - the


message is as it was when One Day found its way to CD. To all those
people who had the original album on vinyl, on cassette and later
bought the CD; thank you. The past 12 months have been a truly
humbling and pleasurable experience. I hope sincerely that you'll take
the time to listen to The Noble Pauper's Grave too. We have put an
awful lot of thought, effort and time into creating something that will
be recognisable as being Protos - but with 25-years of technological
advances and personal growth behind us - this is the mature Protos! I
am extremely proud of what we have created and, regardless of what
the future holds, will remain proud of it. Quite honestly, this is the
highlight of my varied musical career.

Many thanks to Steve from NHM.

The next newsletter in October, to coincide with the release of


The Noble Pauper's Grave, will carry a transcript of the recent
Euro Rock Press interview with Rory Ridley-Duff.

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