(4 April 1950 - 28 August 2006)
Mark Bloch interviews Pip Pyle- Oct 17, 1996
On August 26th, PipPyle played his last gig at the Groningen Bicycle Festival at Groningen Beach in the Netherlands where there were a lot of concerts of various types of music happening in differant locations. There were even bicycles available to cycle from one concert to the next. Pip had traveled to France from the Hatfield and the North gig by train. He died in a Paris hotel at 2.00am on the early morning of August 28th shortly after this return to France. It may have been a heart attack. Daevid Allen said on Planet Gong that he died in his wife's arms. That's a good thing.
Having just learned of his death, I thought I'd get this interview up on the web for others to read. When Pip Pyle played with a reformed Gong featuring Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth in 1996, in New York I sat down with Pip for a quick interview. I recently saw him again at the Bowery Poetry Club for a Hatfield and the North reunion gig- one of only two played in the United States. Here is the totality of my 1996 interview with Pip in the dressing room of the club, who's name now eludes me. He was a fantastic drummer. one of the most amazing I've seen. He will be missed as a musiician but also as a person. His death comes on the heels of the loss of one if his pals, Elton Dean. Somebody wrote a little dirge for Elton which was played during the Hatfield gig. I think it was Pip. I will have to check my tape and see. I recorded part of it. I also recorded an interview with Steve Miller after the show which I will have to transcribe now. Ciao Pip, we will miss you!
-Mark Bloch 29 August, 2006
Mark Bloch: I read an interview with you recently where you mentioned the idea of a Canterbury Sound or Canterbury Music being a misnomer.
Pip Pyle: I mean it's just a tag that's put on something, which is kind of true in a way. But it doesn't really exist. What's much more Canterbury music as far as I'm concerned, is people like Richard and Robert and Kevin and... that's about it really. And Caravan, you know... I mean I never lived in Canterbury and neither has Phil Miller nor has Dave Stewart. In that sense it's not strictly true. But if its something journalists put on for convenience I suppose it makes some kind of sense.
Right. It seems you and Phil and Steve Miller were developing in a parallel universe somewhere.
I've known Phil since I was about 6 years old. He was like my best mate. I think we always played together in bands and we probably always will be. I love Phil. I think he's brilliant. He's great.
Where was that? Where did you grow up?
We were next door neighbors in this little village in the south side of London. You don't get thrown together easier than that, do you ?
And Steve is Phil's brother?
So then it took you how long before you actually, formally, played together in a band-- was that Delivery?
Yeah, that was kind of the first band you could call professional. Yeah we were playing together with Steve. Steve Miller was a really good piano player or a really good boogie woogie blues piano player so we used to play down at his house and stuff from when we were about 12. Fooled around even before that. Kind of like forever, really. But Delivery was like the first band-- proper-- that went out and did gigs and all that stuff.
How did you eventually hook up with-- was it Richard Sinclair?
Yeah that was kind of much later. Richard via.... Cuz I was friendly with Robert Wyatt and Caravan and couple of those guys before that. Maybe 3 or 4 years before I started playing with Richard I knew the guys from Caravan and stuff.And then Richard left Caravan and we just started playing together with Phil Miller and Steve. And later Richard and I and those two, we put Hatfield together.
Hatfield's a favorite of mine. Of course there's overlap. Do you like the various incarnations of these bands?
Different sorts of bands and different things occur. I like playing in lots of different bands. That's good promiscuity.
Do you think its annoying people like me keep bringing up the past?
Not really- it's OK. Its like I'm much more interested in new projects, new things that I'm doing now, you know. But yeah, sure.
How did you connect up with Daevid Allen for this Gong tour?
I started playing with Daevid, sort of, on and off since 1990. We did this TV show. It was kind of 'What are the old gits doing now?' That got us back together and we had to get a band together for that. A couple years later he was playing with another drunmmer and eventually, you know, he called me and asked me if I could join him and its gone on since then. This trip has been intense but over the last 3 or 4 years its been happening periodically in various formats.
You played on the very first Gong album right? Camembert Electrique?
Yeah. I was with Gong for about a year while they were in France. We did Camembert Electrique and couple of other lesser-known albums like Continental Circus and a record which is now obsolete. So you know I was with them for about a year. It was great. Then I went and got Hatfield together with Phil so I left to do that.
How did that all happen? Was it you and Phil?Yeah. In a way, it came out of Delivery, I suppose. Me and Phil and Steve.
Then, like I say, we started playing with Richard and Dave Sinclair, who was in Caravan.
What happened with him? He didn't stay for the album?
No. It was the same sort of reason that he left Matching Mole. He wanted to do, sort of, like, much more, like, pop songs. He wanted to do pop songs and we wanted to do this sort of torturted, clever stuff. So he had a kind of problem with that. I like him. He's a fantastic musician but at the time he got more and more sort of into pop music and we got more and more into other things. So in fact, you know, we were looking for an organ player. We wanted organ.Which, in a way, was why Steve wasn't in the band.
Yeah, why didn't you just have him?
Because he didn't play organ and also again he was into more into a more rhythm and blues thing. He was more into rhythm and blues. We did alot of tours with, like, American rhythm and blues artists in England. That was great. It was good experience, you know.
So how did you find Dave Stewart?
We saw him. He was playing with a band called Egg doing this weird shit. He had good gear; a good organ. He was a good musician. He read and everything so we just called him up and said, 'Hello would you like to come and audition for a band?' and it turned out really good.
One of the reasons I loved Hatfield was the blend of poppy music with quirky jazz riffs. It's funny that you said David was interested in writing these pop tunes because Hatfield did have a certain happy, poppy side...
I couldn't really... Yeah you'd have to ask him but I know that he wasn't really happy with certain sides of it, you know, the kind of experimental, improvised sort of thing. He just got off of that I don't think he was ever really into it. Similarly, in Matching Mole, where, I mean, he didn't like all that stuff. He was really good at it actually but... (laughs) He would have been perfect for the band but if he didn't really feel it then, that's it!
He started playing with this guitar player named John Murphy and it really was kind of that straight-ahead... pop tunes, you know. It could have been really good, you know, but I can't really define it. There was some agent of the music that he really didn't like.
Don't you think that a song like 'Fitter Stoke Has a Bath' is a pop song?
Yes, I suppose it is, really, except its 15/8. It is, isnt it? I suppose it is, though really its just a bit...
...you wrote that one, right?
You wrote the lyrics and the music?
You write music?
I play a bit of keyboards and and a bit of guitar at that time. I did that on keyboards actually. Yeah, I mean I don't play keyboard on stage but I can pull together a few chords and string them together.
Then what? Write it down? I'm curious about the process.
I do now. I didn't for 'Fitter Stoke', no. No I just sort of taught David the chords; taught Richard the words and Phil the guitar line and there you go.
You never wanted to sing songs like that?
I can't really sing, really. Think about it. You have someone like Richard who can so well. I have a range of about a minor third.
So what's next for you? I heard you mention a Pip Pyle project earlier... thats gonna be like a Pip Pyle...
...solo record. Everyone's on there. A few Hatfields, John Greaves, National Health. Barbara Gaskin singing some stuff. Hugh Hopper's on it, Elton Dean's on it...
Were you in that Soft Heap thing? I don't know much about that. What's that all about?
Yeah. Not many people like it because it's pretty extreme, you know. It's all improvised, electric, Apocalypse Now jazz or whatever. It's pretty hard to sell it you know.
One more thing-- forgive me, its a bit personal-- but Richard told me one way you originally connected was that somehow you were involved with.. or friends with... Robert's ex-wife Pam?
I was married to her!
How did that happen? You knew them from the same circle and fell in love? That sort of thing?
Yeah that sort of thing, as it goes. In fact Robert married my ex-girlfriend. It wasn't quite like that. But he's still with her... Alfie...
We used to live together. In '69 or something.
Wow. You guys must have the same taste in women and they, the same taste in men. At different times, I guess...
I don't want to keep you, Pip, but I really enjoyed the whole thing.
Here is my informal report on the Hatfield and North gig:
Here are some other sites with Pip Pyle-related postings: