From Aural Innovations #8 (October 1999)
Mr Quimby's Beard - "The Definitive Unsolved Mysteries of..." (Freaky Fungi 2000, SPCD 014)
Not long ago I'd seen a posting on the internet spacerock newsgroup about Mr Quimby's Beard. After contacting the band I was sent their album "Out There", which you may remember we reviewed last issue. Also reviewed last issue was a more recent album, "The Unsolved Mysteries...". Scott Heller's review was a positive one but the feeling he was left with was that something was missing... that the songs "really feel like just pieces of something bigger and leave you wanting more".
So here we have the "The Definitive Unsolved Mysteries Of..." I can't compare as I never heard the original, but the songs on this disc flow smoothly from one to the other and do indeed give the sense that a story is unfolding. Hawkwind fans will drool over this and Mr Quimby's Beard's previous releases. Fantasy based themes and lyrics and epic instrumental jams make MQB a band that will easily appeal to spacerock fans. In fact, I took a personal interest in the band after realizing that I was far from alone in the USA not having heard the music of this talented band. But besides being a great spacerock band, I sense from the epic quality of the music and lush keyboards in spots that Mr Quimby's Beard would appeal to much of the general progressive rock community as well.
From Sunderland on the NE coast of England, the band consists of Ray on guitar and vocals, Kidd on bass and vocals, Hardy on keyboards, FX, and vocals, and Gaz on drums. Tim Jones guests on guitar and narration and Terri B contributes backing vocals, both of whom head the Stone Premonitions label and are members of the Rabbit's Hat and Body Full Of Stars.
The disc opens with "From The Sixty's", an intro piece with tribal percussion and crowd voices that seem to include announcements, chanting, and cheering. "Mystery (Part 1)" is an easy paced but intense tune with a heavy organ melody, thudding bass, and crunchy guitars. The guitar plays it's melody along with the darting synths and the whole song seems to function in an overture role setting the stage for the story that is about to unfold.
"The Calling Of The Clan" with its great horn sounding the call, works well as a transitional segment piece, and in terms of song placement the band has worked in several such transitional tracks. The upbeat music of "Clouds" is an example of why Mr Quimby's Beard would appeal very much beyond the spacerock crowd to include general prog rockers as well. It's very much in the Hawkwind vein but also has lush keyboard segments that include heavier space rocking guitars. Mr Quimbhy's Beard's extended instrumental jams succeed in carrying the listener to the fantasy realms that the music describes and the ride is an exciting one with plenty of thematic twists and turns.
"The Frailty Of Man" is another transitional piece that leads into "Mystery (Part 2)". I really like the keyboards on this track. They have a sequenced Tangerine Dream quality but there's also an early 70's organ sound. It's hard to explain but the whole track, like several others I've heard, has an early 70's feel but is in no way retro sounding. Like Part 1, this Mystery further illustrates Mr Quimby's Beard's musical story telling skills. And then there's the not so subliminal message to "sit back, smoke a joint, enjoy Mr Quimby's Beard".
"Beyond The Light" is a majestic instrumental with symphonic keyboards and astral synths that fluidly rise and fall, up and down, left and right. The music floats along until the guitar takes command and the intensity level soars. Hawkwind fans will love this track as the band rocks out hard in space while still keeping the listener on course for his/her personal journey. At ten minutes the music really has a chance to stretch out and develop making this one of the stronger tracks on the disc. The last couple minutes ease the pace once again and the guitar slowly solos much like an extended Dave Gilmour feast. "Darkness" is a Middle Eastern psych tune with a dark tribal feel. It flows smoothly into "Deejam" which brings us back to the heavy guitar/keyboard sonic intense space jamming. It's a short track but manages to make its mark in the allotted time. And the last two minutes are among the heaviest head bangin' on the disc.
The band does a good job of winding down with "The Shading Suns", which lead to "The Perplexity Of Infinity" where the journey ends on a quiet but regal note. The flute is the lead instrument gently leading us to the tale's conclusion. Happy ending? Sad? It's the band's intention that the story's path be left to the listener...
So wishing more information about these spacers we conducted an interview with keyboard meistro Hardy via cyberspace:
AI: Tell me about the difference between Unsolved Mysteries and the "Definitive" Unsolved Mysteries. Looking at the track listing for Unsolved Mysteries on the Mr Quimby's Beard web site I only recognize four of the song titles as appearing on Definitive.
Hardy: I think it might be easier to answer this question by starting much further back in time. When we recorded the first Quimby album we were financially limited to six songs with drums, (as Stone Studio had no facility for recording drums) and as we'd just lost our lead guitarist we were forced to record the songs that didn't rely too heavily on guitar solos. About a month after it's completion we went back in the studio to record the songs we'd left off the first album, now with a new guitarist (Dave Thorburn) we recorded what became "Out There". Neither of these releases were intended to be anything more than demos as both were recorded on an 8 track porto-studio and although they 've now been really well received, we know they could have been so much better if we hadn't had to submix so many times. We were just about to release "Out There" (Nov 94) as a promo/demo tape when Demi-Monde approached Stone Premonitions offering us a 3 year 3 album deal, on the condition that "Out There" was the first of the three. We tried to explain to Dave Anderson that if we were to re-record the best tracks from the two albums at Foel Studio the result would be a complete theme album rather than two albums each containing a separate collection of songs, but Demi-Monde were adamant that it was "Out There" or no deal (I think Dave Anderson was concerned that the feel of the album would be lost if we re-recorded it) so we signed. Another three years passed before the release of "Out There", and we never recorded the other two albums. Apparently they were part of an option that Demi-Monde had, but did not take up..
I went back into the studio in the back end of 1997 to start work on a follow up to my solo album "The Light" (which we'd recorded after the completion of Out There) but as the rest of the band became more and more involved it was decided to make this the third Mr Quimby's Beard album, and not just a hastily recorded selection of songs like the first two Quimby releases, but a more planned project this time, with a running theme as I'd previously done with The Light (I dislike the term concept album, but I suppose that's what it is). In the beginning of '98 we let all interested parties know that we were beginning work on a new album to be released soon, but due to one thing and another the initial recording of the individual songs wasn't completed until the end of that year, by which time many of the radio programs and zines that had been supporting us since we started were asking for at least some promo songs to play/review, so we released the unfinished Unsolved Mysteries as a promo only release, to meet this demand and to generate interest in the Definitive version which would follow. Meanwhile I continued to write and record the link songs and add the FX and Synths that were missing from the other songs, then I remastered the whole lot and what was "The Unsolved Mysteries of...." (a collection of songs that seem like unfinished parts of a bigger picture and leave the listener waiting for more as Scott Heller so rightly reported in the last issue of A.I. I'd still love to know where he got his copy from :-) ) became "The Definitive Unsolved Mysteries Of...." and finally after six years of trying we have released an "album" that we're all pleased with.
As for the difference in actual songs go, well.... they're all different mixes from the Unsolved promo version, but it's really hard to explain in detail without going through each album one song at a time, so lets just say some songs have been left off, some have been changed completely and some new songs have been added.
AI: Is the Definitive Unsolved Mysteries intended to be performed live in it's entirety?
Hardy: We've only just started rehearsals again after quite a lengthy break due to amongst other things the work we've been doing in the studio recording and then remastering The Definitive, so we're still in the process of working out what the set will end up like. Ideally it will include most of the Definitive in the same order as the album but with other old favourites slotted in between the new songs, but at this stage it's hard to say what we'll do.
AI: Tell me the story of the Beard itself. Has it been an on-going tale since the first album? Is the story and the Beard's power to keep war in check representative of any particular political views, as so much fantasy and sci fi is?
Hardy: I think the original mystical beard came from a fantasy adventure I made for my Amiga computer where the owner of the ginger beard couldn't be harmed by any non magic weapons (I haven't a clue why) and it just sort of continued from there. It's never really been a story as such, more an idea or a seed that we've tried and plant into the listeners imagination, the rest is up to them. Thus each listener has a different perception of what it's all about, we just try and steer them ever so slightly this way and that. By keeping lyrics to a minimum the listener is able to make up their own personal story. It's amazing how differently people interpret it, but this just proves it works. The main thing is that the music takes the listener on a journey whether or not it's the same journey as the next man isn't important, and as long as they feel the album took them somewhere I know we've achieved what we set out to do.
AI: How did D-Jam (now Deejam) from the first album happen to get resurrected for Unsolved Mysteries?
Hardy: The D-Jam on the first album was in fact just the start of a much longer song that we never recorded which was at first exactly what the title implies, a jam (in the key of D), but like many other Quimby songs over time it developed into a much more structured song, which we felt was now different enough and strong enough to be included on the new album and as we've always came out of "Darkness" and into it when playing live, it seemed natural to include it on The Definitive...
AI: You had mentioned that Mr Quimby's Beard started as a punk band. Tell me how you developed into a Spacerock band.
Hardy: In 1983 Kidd & Ray along with a couple of friends formed a Punk band and called it "S.A.D.".The original line up (although none of the four had ever even tried to play an instrument) became:
Eddy Stoker: Guitar
After about six months Eddy discovered that if he pressed his finger on a string and move it up the fret board the note changed, So it was decided a new guitarist was needed. Up until then I'd only been involved as a song writer for the band as I also couldn't really play anything (although I'd messed around with guitars, bass', and Keyboards when younger it had never developed past making a lot of noise stage), but I stepped in as guitarist (as no-one could be worse than Eddy). Frankie Warsaw (frontman with punk band "Leather Face" now) while passing Ray's house heard us practicing and offered to teach me how to play the guitar. At this time Bull, who still hadn't found the money for a drum kit or tried to play a set, dropped out, so we practiced without a drummer. About 4 months later we were confident (if not competent) enough to gig, Frankie although a fine guitarist not a drummer stepped in behind the kit. And even though it wasn't his chosen instrument he was still the most impressive band member. Quite honestly we were fucking terrible, but we loved it.
S.A.D only lasted four local gigs and one dodgy demo which included a new member MATTY (brother of webmaster Greg and cover artist for SPCD 014) playing lead guitar, after which we never played with Frankie again. If one person was responsible for the way we sound today it was MATTY as he introduced the band to music like Pink Floyd & Hawkwind not to mention mind opening drugs. So as our music turned more adventurous and included less and less lyrics, Ray featured on very little we did and we somehow ended up a three piece:
Kidd: Bass, voices
Matty: Lead Guitar, voices
Hardy: Rhythm Guitar, voices
Recording under a working title of 21st Century Module we played some very weird music often using effected house hold items as percussion sounds and making synth noises with our mouths, the best tape (and the closest to today's Quimby sound) that we recorded was a concept album entitled "Tonark" which included the original version of "The Forrest Song" (later on SPCC003). (We still recorded some songs under the S.A.D title with Ray's vocals during this period, nothing very memorable though.)
Nothing was recorded during this period because Ray, Matty and Kidd moved to London to work.
Kidd: Bass, Sax, Guitars, Drum programming, voices
Hardy: Keyboards, voices
Kidd returned from London with a (very) small Casio Keyboard, and was now a better guitarist than myself, so it was decided that I would play Keyboards and he would play everything else, which worked really well. So now recording under the name of "The Amazing Professor Tribbly And His Awesome Filling Machine" we recorded some of our finest work to date. Both Bringin' Up The Acid & Laugh in Ya Face originally came from this partnership (the only bit of B.U.T.A. that is the same now is the old people talking about heart burn & Laugh In Your Face was a ten minute+ jam) along with other songs like, "The Rattle Lurwurp", "The Attack Of The Enormous Wur Wur Tubes" & "All For A Reefer".
Ray (now a good guitarist) traveled up from London as often as he could and on each visit we recorded a couple of songs. The addition of a Korg Mono-Poly Synth & Zoom Guitar FX, give us a new sound, so we felt a new name was needed so Mr Quimby's Beard was born, although still only as a recording project and without a drummer. During this period we recorded over four albums worth of material which we passed amongst our friends.
Ray: Guitars, Vocals
Kidd: Bass, Vocals
Hardy: Keyboards, Synth, Vocals FX
Eddy Barrow: Guitars
At about this time Kidd joined Spacerock band Afresco Mantis (initially as a flute player but now a flute/synth player). I went along to watch them gig and was bit by the gigging bug or something. Gaz was at the gig and although we'd never talked I new he was a really good drummer back when we were SAD, so we asked him to join. We'd done a few 4 track songs with Eddy Barrow playing lead guitar so we got him involved and performed live for the first time as Mr Quimby's Beard six weeks later.
AI: You said your original involvement in the band was as a songwriter. Do you have strong interests as a wordsmith?... poet?... general writer?
Hardy: I was originally only a songwriter for S.A.D as the bands line up had been decided before I met them and although I'd never been in a band I'd already wrote quite a few songs/poems which were lying around doing nothing, so I offered them to S.A.D, who at that time had wrote very few songs of their own. It was definitely a case of quantity rather than quality though as most of the stuff I'd wrote at the time was pretty crap, but they were using it, so I kept writing it. These days I get a much bigger buzz from writing a song that doesn't rely on words to tell the story, so I only seem to write lyrics when I feel they're really needed, but I've always felt the need to be creating something, whether its some "out of it" board game, a computer fantasy adventure or a new album it doesn't really matter as long as I'm creating something I'm happy.
AI: I see that Tim and Terri from Stone Premonitions appear on your albums. Did you all hook up through some kind of Sunderland musical scene?
Hardy: Stone Premonitions put an advert in a local music newsletter back in 1994 looking for local space/psych bands to promote. We had just finished recording a live four track demo, so we sent them a copy, not really expecting a reply as this was the first demo we'd sent anywhere and it wasn't what you'd call studio quality by any stretch of the imagination, but fortunately for us Tim & Terri loved it for what it was and they had the foresight to see that if given the opportunity to record in a studio MQB had potential, and after meeting T&T we had no doubt in our minds that SP & MQB were made for each other. As for Terri performing on "The Light" & "TDUMO" ...well that's an easy question to answer. When you're looking for someone to do harmonies and Terri's offering you don't say no. She has such a good voice that it would have been stupid of me to struggle backing up Ray's voice in keys that I was never going to reach, especially when you have someone inhouse with Terri's vocal talents.
Tim's involvement in Mr Quimby's Beard is a bit more complex. He's (I think it's fair to say) a very reluctant Lead Guitarist and I don't think he realizes just how good he is. Just about every good Guitarist I've met loves to let you know (e.g.. they'll show off at every opportunity), but Tim is very different. We had recorded our first two albums with Tim as engineer before I even knew he played lead (the Rabbits Hat & Body Full of Stars both use Martin Holder as lead guitarist). So when I asked Tim if he fancied playing lead guitar on The Light and he did such a good job I was, although more than pleased with what he'd done on that album, quite pissed off that I'd never asked sooner. (Imagine how much better SPCC 003 and Out There could have with Tim on Guitar. Dave Thorburn's a great thrash metal guitarist but MQB aren't what you'd call thrash metal.) So as MQB were between lead guitarists while recording TDUMO I persuaded Tim he was the man for the job, and what a fine job he did.
AI: Is that Tim's voice on A Glimmer Of Hope?
Hardy: Yes. Tim's lived in quite a few different areas around the country and has a lot less distinct accent compared to the rest of the clan, who all have very distinct north eastern accents. It's hard to explain this via e-mail but basically people from other parts of England (never mind the World) seem to struggle to understand people from the NE of England.
AI: I keep seeing Ozric Tentacles show up in Mr Quimby's Beard reviews as a comparison. I don't think you sound anything like the Ozrics. Definitely more along the Hawkwind axis.
Hardy: The Ozric comparison seems to be a one quite a lot of people make, with both bands being English, we both released a CD on the Demi-Monde label and musically I think its fair to say that both Ray & Ed Ozric are influenced by amongst others Steve Hillage. The Hawkwind Style of Spacerock is definitely my favorite type of music, but we've never set out to make any of our songs sound like them, I suppose when you've been listening to something you like for so long it's bound to come out in your music.
AI: I noticed that Kidd is the synth player with Afresco Mantis, whereas he's the bass player with Mr Quimby's Beard. Is playing in Afresco Mantis an outlet for the synth player in him, or/and an opportunity to explore other musical interests? Any double-header live shows between the two bands?
Hardy: I think it might be better if Kidd answers this one:
Kidd: I started out in Afresco Mantis as purely a flute player and although I have always enjoyed messing about with Synths/keyboards it was simply an act of fate that I ended up playing them with the Mantis. Afresco Mantis were originally a five piece: Bert-guitar-vocals, Jim-guitar, Daz-bass, Chris-drums and Cobman synth/keyboards (the latter two are both talented artists who have between them designed all past Quimby album covers), until I joined them shortly after their first gig. We went on to do many gigs with this line-up (quite often double-headers with Mr Quimby's Beard, twice the trouble, but twice the fun), until Jim moved away to study music at university. We continued without a lead-guitarist and refined our sound to suit one guitar, which culminated in the recording of our (now deleted ) first tape Arizona Bush which we hope to re-master and re-release in the future.
Within the next twelve months Cobman lost interest with music and left the band leaving us with no keyboard player. We struggled along as a four piece for quite a while with no keyboards until I dug out an old Casio I had. It instantly sounded much better for it and I enjoyed it. Since then both me and Bert (alias Polly) have acquired quite an array of Synths & keyboards and now share responsibility in the shshshshswoooosh department along with our flute and guitar playing.
AI: Tell me about The Light and how you happened to do this solo project. Anything similar planned for the future?
Hardy: Guitarist Eddy Barrow had just left the band, as due to other commitments practicing and gigging had became impossible for him, but he still wanted to record when he had the time, so me and Ed started writing a studio only album. I think we'd wrote and recorded (on a 4 track) about four songs when Mr Quimby's Beard started work on our first album and the project was shelved, initially until it's completion, but it wasn't till after the arrival of Dave Thorburn and the recording of "Out There" that I re-contacted Ed, who by this time I think had lost interest. So I continued, now at the Stone Studio at first by myself, but later with the invaluable help of Stone Premonitions Tim Jones & Terri-B (both also members of The Rabbit's Hat & Body Full Of Stars) and Dave Musgrove (of NE Spacerock band "Krom Lec") . I also enlisted the help of Mr Quimby's Beard's Kidd & Ray on one track so it's not what you'd call a totally solo project, more a collaboration of like minded people working under the banner of my name. The actual concept behind the album is quite a heavy one about how too often people are tempted by false promises of better things/times, only to find after burning all their bridges that the path they've chose is not pathed with gold and once again they're back where they started only this time more alone than before. Fortunately (as with "The Definitive Unsolved Mysteries Of...." ) although a "concept" exists it was done in such a way that each individual listener interprets it in their own way.
As for similar future projects there's been talk between Kidd and myself of starting a new album utilizing the ever growing number of Synths we now have available to us, and although we've not yet started even writing it I can guarantee it will be full of our usual offering of spacey sounds.
AI: Tell me about the Mr Quimby's Beard live experience.
Hardy: Hopefully you'll have the chance to see and hear for yourself soon, as the next planned new release after The Definitive... will be a live video & album. It's still only in the planning stage, but it's definitely something we hope to do in the very near future, but for the moment lets just say we're tight, loud and because we use optokinetic lights very colorful. People usually think of us as a jamming band, but other than certain sections of certain songs we're really tight and what often appears as a jam is in fact a highly structured piece of music which will sound exactly the same time after time. This doesn't mean we restrict live songs to just sound the same as their studio counterparts. When you play a song for a few years it's important that it keeps developing and hopefully improving, but when your relying on in-house P.A's and can't always hear the rest of the band is nice to know that each member of the band knows exactly when each change is about to happen. Mr Quimby's Beard live shows go on for as long as the venues allow us, (we'd quite happily stay on stage all night ), so it's hard to say what length an average set lasts.
AI: Marijuana Nightmare, Bringin' Up The Acid, and The Forrest Song are kick ass rockers that I'd love to hear live. Do you still perform these at shows?
Hardy: I'm glad you like them: Marijuana Nightmare and at least some part of Bringin' Up The Acid have been played at every gig we've done since they were wrote, but unfortunately, because of it's intensity coupled with the fact it literally rips our throats apart, it's hard to find the right place in the set to put The Forest Song. If you play it near the start your throat hurts and the vocals suffer for the entire gig. If you leave it till nearer the end you can't put the same intensity into the screaming and the song loses it's frightening feel, but we're looking into ways of adapting it so it still scares the crap out of people without doing us too much damage and if we achieve this we'll most likely be doing all three this time around.
AI: Do you get to play many shows? In your area? Around England? Outside England? Festivals?
Hardy: Not half as many as we'd like. I'm not sure if it's bad luck or just bad timing, but every time we hear of an up and coming festival and try to book it we're told we're too late. But basically we're up for virtually any gig that's offered as the whole point of writing music is so people can hear and hopefully enjoy it. The Plan at the moment is to do a UK tour and then next year we'd love to do some kind of tour in the States. Events such as "Strange Daze" seem made for us and the U.S appears to be buzzing with loads of great Spacerock bands at the moment.
AI: What's in the future for Mr Quimby's Beard? Will the new disc be released soon?
Hardy: Due to the amount of workload recent Stone Premonition releases are generating for the already overworked Tim & Terri-b, we've just started our own label in partnership with Stone Premonitions called "Freaky Fungi", still under the Stone Premonitions banner, but concentrating solely on the Spacerock side of things. Freaky Fungi will run along side Stone Premonitions as a separate division on which we plan to re-release our first album and my solo album. Afresco Mantis have also expressed an interest in joining and then there's the live Quimby video and album we're planning, so I think we have a busy but really interesting time ahead. As for "The Definitive Unsolved Mysteries Of...", well that's going to be "Freaky Fungi's" first release and should be released by November the 1st 1999 and if the initial interest is anything to go by, the future's looking great.
You can visit Mr Quimby's Beard at their web site where you can listen to the entire album online.