Interview Mike Varty and Steve Gee (Landmarq)

“The gap between the last albums was not intentional and we were not exactly idle in that time”

(November 2012, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)

In 1998 the British neo-progressive rock band Landmarq recorded their latest studio album<Science Of Coincidence. It took the band fourteen years to come up with Entertaining Angels (see review), a strong follow-up album. Why took it so long to release a new album, what happened in between these two albums and why did Dave Wagstaffe left the band? These questions and more I asked the new keyboard player Mike Varty and founding member bassist Steve Gee.

First let me say that it's great to have you back with a fantastic new album. Do you also feel that way and what are your expectations for Entertaining Angels?

Mike Varty: “Making a new album is always fun for me, but it's a whole bunch of hard work too, so I try not to expect too much just in case I'm disappointed when it's released! Fortunately I'm usually very pleasantly surprised, and more so with Landmarq because the album's better than we all expected and it's been received very well by most people.”
Steve Gee: “I would reiterate Mike's comments and just add that we are extremely pleased and proud of the new album. Reviews and comments have so far been very positive. We're now looking forward to getting out playing as many live shows as possible.”
Present line up of Landmarq

Your latest studio album Science Of Coincidence was released in 1998. Of course, the logical question is: why did it take so long to come up with a new album? Would you please explain what happened in the meantime?

Mike: “Apart from some major things which occurred during the making of this album, I'd say that it's always a struggle to find the time, the money and the energy to keep a project of this size going. It actually hinges on a lot of hard work and good will from everyone involved, and just sometimes we need to take some time off, so it can take much longer than we expect!”
Steve: “Yes, fourteen years is quite a gap between two albums, though it was not intentional and we were not exactly idle in that time. We released two live albums: Thunderstruck in 1999 and Aftershock in 2002. Then, following keyboardist Steve Leigh's departure from the band and Gonzalo Carrera joining, we continued to play a series of dates around the UK in 2003. We'd also an offer from Metal Mind Productions in Poland to play a live concert in Katowice which would be filmed for a DVD release, but we were unable to take this up at the time for various reasons. At the beginning of 2005, we parted company with Gonzalo and an old friend of the band joined us on keyboards. This was, of course, Mike Varty. In November 2005, we took up the offer to go to Poland to film the DVD concert. Turbulence, Live In Poland was released a few months later in 2006. In 2009, Metal Mind also released a separate CD of the Turbulence concert. In all this time, we had been rehearsing and writing material for a new album though we weren't too sure when we would finally begin recording. Some of this new material had been played at the previously mentioned gigs so when we went to Poland, we felt it was a good opportunity to play the new songs as we still had no definite plan in place to go back into the studio.”

Many songs of the new album already appeared on Turbulence, Live In Poland. Wasn't it a bit strange to rearrange and record these songs for the new studio album?

Mike: “For me it wasn't really strange; it was actually very satisfying to be able to take the songs to their 'final conclusion'. A live performance is always a compromise, but when you have time in the studio then you can let the creativity free and give the songs what they deserve, all those extra bits of nuance and excitement.”
Steve: “Playing new material live is always a good way to test things out, see how an audience reacts and generally help to shape and mould the music. We certainly had plenty of time to work on this process and in and out of the studio we were able to really develop the songs further.”

Some of the songs on Entertaining Angels were co-written by the keyboardist who replaced Steve Leigh. How important was Gonzalo Carrera for the band and why did he leave?

Steve: “As is often the case, an idea for a song can be brought to the table by all band members; we may then
Gonzalo Carrera (picture Henri Strik)
work on it and arrange it more or less together. We were happy when Gonzalo contributed in such a way to two of the songs on the new album. However, as with many musicians, Gonzalo was also involved with various other projects and bands and unfortunately this began to encroach on the times when we needed to work on Landmarq. We eventually had to take the decision that it would be necessary to part company if we were to continue with our plans for world domination! One thing we are grateful to Gonzalo for was introducing us to saxophonist Laurent Hunziker and ex-ELO cellist Hugh McDowell, with whom we played a couple of live shows in London and elsewhere back in 2003/4. It seemed only fair to invite them to play on the album, too. We were naturally very pleased when both said yes and they went on to make some wonderful guest appearances on Entertaining Angels.”

When Carrera left he was replaced by Mike, who's a great deal responsible for the success of Credo. Steve, how important is Mike for Landmarq?

Steve: “Hmm, Mike Varty, yes, I think I've heard of him, but seriously. We've known Mike a very long time and, in fact, we started working together on a band project called Syren in the mid-nineties when the original keyboard player Steve Leigh was finding it increasingly difficult to commit to Landmarq due to home and work commitments. Mike's skill as a pianist and keyboard player is equalled by his skill as a producer, which he has developed particularly well in recent years. We were extremely pleased and relieved when he agreed to join Landmarq in early 2005. He certainly had it all to do, at the time, as we were due to travel to Poland a few months later where we played the concert in Katowice which resulted in the Turbulence, Live In Poland.”

I believe the original album title wasn't Entertaining Angels but Mother's Ruin. Did you change the title because Oliver Wakeman used the same title for his new album?

Steve: “This certainly isn't true! While we did have a few titles being proposed for the new album, the song Entertaining Angels was already becoming a strong contender in the Landmarq song collection and it was agreed that this would also be a good title for the album.”

Many bands that didn't release new music for a while returned with an album that only contained one hour of music or less. Landmarq released an album containing 72 minutes of music plus an additional disc containing 28 minutes of music. Was it difficult to choose which songs would appear on the main album?

Mike: “Yes, and it was also difficult to choose the order of songs! I think the fact that
Previous line up Landmarq with Dave Wagstaffe (top-right)
we have more than an album of songs is a result of the DVD release, because right after that we started working on quite a few new songs, probably because we wanted something new. When we got into the studio we found we had rather a lot of material and we just thought we'd record it all - why not? Then we came up with the bonus CD idea as a bit of a 'thank you' to our fans especially as they'd waited so long for it.”

Would you please generally explain the lyrics of all the songs separately?

Steve: “To be honest, in many cases, I'd rather allow listeners to form their own ideas rather than explain things down to the last detail. For my own particular lyrical contributions to the album, I'll just say that Mountains Of Anglia is about deception, Personal Universe is about isolation and breaking away from society, Spiderman (part 2 of the track Calm Before The Storm, HS) is a fictional tale of a very anti-social type of person. Tracy wrote the lyrics to Prayer (Coming Home) in tribute to a young man and family friend from her village of St Mawes in Cornwall, who tragically died in a boating accident in 2005. The song has also been suggested as a tribute to soldiers engaged in conflicts in foreign lands with the hope that they return home safely and as soon as possible.”

Some of the songs are associated with the music Landmarq made in the past. Especially Calm Before The Storm reminded me of the strong instrumental parts of Science Of Coincidence. Did you have any special reason for that?

Steve: “I don't believe there was a conscious effort to re-create any particular styles or patterns from previous Landmarq material. We just want to look forward and explore other avenues where we can take our music. It just so happens that we have a liking for a strong melody and good song structure, but also like to stretch out on the instrumental side of things too. Because we can..!”

The bonus disc contains the beautiful track Stormbrewing written by Mike. Why didn't you write more music for Entertaining Angels except for co-writing on Calm Before The Storm?

Mike: “When I joined, obviously the tracks on the DVD had already been written, but not just those in fact, even the new songs on the album had pretty much been written. So I kind of got in at the tail end when most of the writing had been done. Stormbrewing was my showpiece track for live performance mostly, and on the album I'm grateful to the band for allowing me to turn it into a separate track rather than simply being the introduction to the song Thunderstruck!”
Steve: “Mike has summed things up pretty well there. I would just add that we look forward to Mike presenting and co-writing new material along with the rest of the band.”

The bonus disc contains some hidden tracks as well. Why did you include them and when did you record them?

Steve: “It was kind of a late decision to do this 'hidden track' thing, but we thought it might be nice to include just a little behind-the-scenes insight of some of what goes on in Planet Landmarq. In fact, we had a whole bunch of recordings from various past rehearsals, many of which were recorded by our former drummer Dave Wagstaffe on a small digital recorder which was mostly just left running. It was Tracy who took on the task of sorting through the numerous clips and found the three tracks that made it on to the bonus disc.”

The new album has a very beautiful cover. Who was responsible for this fine artwork?

Steve: “A friend of mine, Alan Winterflood, is a very talented artist and graphic designer and he very kindly agreed to do the cover art for Entertaining Angels after we gave him a few rough points of what we had in mind. We were absolutely pleased and thrilled with the result.”

It must have been difficult to find a record company or a distributor to release the album. How did you solve this problem?

Steve: “We really have to thank the folks at QEDG Management who we were working in conjunction with in the production of the album.”

The album contains a picture on which the musicians are playing cards. It includes the words: 'Tracy always knew she would have the upper hand!' What does it mean?

Mike: “It means that we always do what Tracy says..., ha,ha.”
Steve: “Ha,ha, yes indeed!
Tracy Hitchings

I know many people who find Tracy's wonderful voice sounding rather erotic. Do you agree?

Mike: “As the songs progressed during the writing stage, I remember Tracy week-by-week developing every detail of every song in ways that I'm sure most singers aren't inclined to do. Certainly, she has a wonderful and magnificent voice and erotic in places, for sure!”
Steve: “Erotic and exotic!”

Are you going to promote the new album with live shows in Europe and the rest of the world?

Steve: “We've already started lining up live dates for later in the year here in the UK and at the time of writing we have played a successful gig as guests of Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash at The Stables in Milton Keynes. We are also rehearsing and preparing for our next date at The Riga. We've also spoken with a few people regarding shows in Europe for instance in The Netherlands, France, etcetera, though this may be for 2013. We would certainly love to return to the USA and go on and tour in the rest of the world.”

(On February 8, 2013 Landmarq will perform at Lakei, Helmond and a day later at Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer. On April 19, 2013 they are part of the Rock Ittervoort line-up, HS)

Would you please tell me why Dave Wagstaffe left the band and who replaced him?

Steve: “Dave has left to play for Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash. Sadly, he couldn't do Landmarq and MTWA due to a clash of live dates and so he was forced to make a choice.”
Daniel Martin

Could you already introduce the new drummer?

Steve: “I can't say much about it at the moment. I'm hoping to get a biography soon from him. But for now I can tell you that his name is Daniel Martin. He is a young, energetic and technically astute player and a graduate of DrumTech, having won a scholarship in 2006. He's originally from Scotland and hailed as a drumming prodigy, Daniel was also in the final of Young Drummer of the Year 2005. He says he was brought up on progressive rock, particularly early Genesis, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Zappa and Captain Beefheart followed by Tool, Porcupine Tree, Amplifier and others. He is currently teaching drumming, doing sessions and other live work, including drumming with The Distorting Glass, a heavy electronic rock band based in London.”

What are the plans for the future for Landmarq and do we have to wait again so long for the next album?

Mike: “Well, we constantly jam new music whenever we rehearse, and I always make a point of recording it for future use. So, let's say that we have some good things in the pipeline.”

Thank for your time and for answering my questions.

Mike & Steve: “You're welcome!” 

More info about Landmarq on the Internet:
       Landmarq Website
       review album 'Entertaining Angels'

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