An interview with
Hugh Hopper (2008)

By Beppe Colli
Feb. 3, 2008

As I argued in my reviews of said albums, the recently released Numero D'Vol and Clear Frame put the fan of the music we could (quite scientifically) file under "Canterbury, etc." in the pleasant position of being able to enjoy what s/he's listening to without having to fear the intrusion of the terrible "nostalgia" factor as a co-motivator of her/his favourable response.

What better occasion, then, to ask a few questions to the musician who, alongside Charles Hayward, is the only shared element of both albums?

The interview took place last week, via e-mail.

As a first question, I'd like to ask you about Charles Hayward: When did become aware of his work? I remember both him and Chris Cutler playing with you in Lindsay Cooper's Oh Moscow group (though on the released album from 1991 the drums are played by Marilyn Mazur).

Yes, Oh Moscow had several drummers: Marilyn Mazur, Chris Cutler, Pete Fairclough, Charles Hayward... Charles did a couple of gigs with us in Berlin (east and west) just before the Wall came down. That was the first time I had met him or played with him. I didn't know much about his bands - This Heat and Camberwell Now, although he and I were on parallel tracks, I think.

In recent times, two albums by two different quartets have been released: Numero D'Vol, by a line-up comprising you, Simon Picard, Steve Franklin and Charles Hayward; and Clear Frame, where you and Hayward play alongside Lol Coxhil and Orphy Robinson. Does the Numero D'Vol quartet actually precede the one that's on Clear Frame? Please, clarify this for me.

Yes, Numero D'Vol was recorded at Delta Studio near Canterbury, around 2002 I think. The band never played together apart from that one studio session - I wanted to record with Simon Picard, a sax player who is one of my all-time favourites, and so I set up the session, inviting along Charles and Steve, with whom I hadn't played for some years (with Oh Moscow, and with In Cahoots respectively), and whom I respected equally and wanted to play with again. I had the ADAT tapes in a box unmixed for a long time before I had time or money to work on editing them, also at Delta.

Clear Frame is from 2005.

Numero D'Vol and Clear Frame appear to differ quite a bit when it comes to their recorded sound, and also - I think - to the general idea behind the groups/the sessions. Would you mind talking about this? (Ha! The cover of the Clear Frame CD doesn't say where the album was recorded, and by whom.)

Well, Numero D'Vol was recorded at Delta and Clear Frame at Gateway, Kingston University, London, but Robert Wyatt's cornet and tenor horn on the Clear Frame CD were recorded separately at Robert's house and then dubbed on, looped and sampled. I wouldn't say the "concept" of the two sessions was at all different as far as the original playing goes - in both cases, we just improvised totally without any preplanning. Of course both sessions were edited afterwards, to get the "best" sections, and in the case of Clear Frame, to add Robert's contribution.

From what you say, I understand that Numero D'Vol is a group that exists only "on paper" - I mean, on that one CD; while I think I'm not wrong if I consider the Clear Frame quartet to be a touring entity. Would you mind talking about it? And also about the reason(s) why the Numero D'Vol quartet doesn't play live?

Yes, we have played several gigs with Clear Frame since 2004 - mostly in London, but in 2007 we played also 3 gigs in Austria and one in Switzerland. But Numero D'Vol was really just a studio recording idea. I like to do one-off projects as well as trying to establish regularly working bands... And Steve Franklin lives most of the time in Switzerland and Germany, so he is not readily available. Also, he has a large keyboard set-up, which makes it less easy to tour.

You and Lol Coxill go back quite a bit - I remember him playing on your album 1984 - but (unless I'm having a blank right now) it seems to me that you two have not played together that often, at least on record.

We have done a few gigs over the years - Monster Band in France in 1974 (but he was not at the concert where the live side of the Monster Band record was recorded), a gig with Mark Hewins and Dave Sheen in London in 1985 (The Mad Axe Quartet)... there are probably a few others I have forgotten...

What kind of keyboards, besides the piano, does Steve Franklin play on Numero D'Vol? And were those keyboards processed in post-production?

Steve has at least three keyboards and lots of effects, but in fact there is no piano at Delta Studio! That convincing piano sound is from one of his keyboards. I can't tell you what the keyboards are. I think there is one big midi master and an analog keyboard and another digital one. Arp? Prophet?

I'm sure bass players all over the world will be glad to read about what instrument you used on those albums, ampli vs. direct, etc.

Since 1995 I have used almost always my Peavey Foundation bass for live and studio work. I very occasionally bring out my old Fender Jazz bass, but I like the Peavey so much... And I only bought it because I wanted a cheap bass as a reserve in case anything happened to the Fender. In studios, I usually go direct into the desk and maybe have an amp as well, just to give a warmer sound if necessary.

On Clear Frame there are, think, quite a few overt jazz gestures - Robert Wyatt's playing, of course, but I'm also thinking of Paperweight, which reminded me a lot of Out To Lunch, with those vibes. How important is jazz, right now, as a source of inspiration for the quartet?

Well, we all have been influenced by the great jazz musicians. But also by the great rock musicians. And the great classical composers, and the varied ethnic musicians!

I know you've gigged quite a lot in a trio called Brainville 3, where you play alongside Daevid Allen and Chris Cutler. How did this trio come into being?

The first version of Brainville was formed in New York at the Knitting Factory tribute to Robert Wyatt in 1998. The line-up was Daevid, Pip Pyle, Kramer and me. Of course I had played with Daevid first in 1963. Kramer had the plan to record a CD with that line-up ("The Children's Crusade"). Then later, in England, we did a short tour as a trio without Kramer. Meanwhile, the next year, Chris Cutler and I played with Daevid and others as part of the Gong Global Family tour. In 2006 we resurrected Brainville as Brainville3, the current line-up of Daevid, Chris and me. Pip Pyle died in 2006.

I've heard that Brainville 3 are about to release an album. Given the current situation when it comes to the market, what kind of expectations do you have for it?

Yes, Chris Cutler is releasing it on his ReR label. I suppose it will tick over, selling steadily but not making us into millionaires!

Beppe Colli 2008 | Feb. 3, 2008