From Aural Innovations #8 (October 1999)
Omnia Opera is one of those few bands that become legendary in their own time. They easily fall in the SpaceRock Gods category. Their music is some of the heaviest, most effects laden around. And with each listen, to any of their releases, you discover something new that you had not heard before. Often compared to seventies' Hawkwind, it is often said that they sound more like seventies' Hawkwind than Hawkwind. Their songs are filled with massive psychedelic guitar solo's, interstellar keyboards, manic drumming, and both male and female vocals. All guaranteed to take you on a ride from the deepest realms of you mind to the outer limits of space and beyond. This band does not pull any punches.
Forming around 1986, Omnia Opera took their name from the Arabic book of occult, the Quabala. While reading through the book one day, they came upon the name Omnia Opera, roughly meaning "a coming together of elements", and chose it as the name of the band. They also liked the way it sounded. Rob Lloyd and Ade Scholefield were the nucleus of the group. Soon recruiting Andy Jones and Mike Tongue they sat about to create a type of music they loved. Eventually they asked Nat and Lisa to join them in a photo shoot, "to make the band look bigger", and girls ultimately joined the band.
1986 saw the first Omnia Opera cassette release "Beyond the Tenth" on which you can not find one bad track. The opening track, "Each Day", is a full-on frontal lobe attack that slides right into one of their classics, "Oracle of Knowledge". Other greats on the cassette are "Screen Dream", which later became "Space Bastard", "Living In A Time" and "Each Day". They followed this up in 1987 with the cassette release "Celebrate for Change". It is not quite as strong as "Beyond the Tenth", but it is great nonetheless. Containing the tracks "The Awakening" which clocks in at over 16 minutes, "Summer of 85" a song about that year's police action at the Stonehenge Fest, and "Earth Tribe". Both of these cassettes are more psychedelic then any of the other groups from the U.K. at this period of time. They both received an underground cult status that rivaled the Ozric Tentacles. Following a two year gap, 1989 saw the band's only live release which contained six new tracks. Included was the track "Radar Ghosts" which was later the band's debut vinyl release on "The Music of the Spheres". Soon after the band split up.
Andy Jones joined a Goth band called Ambelian which released a cassette tape in 1991 entitled "Intravenous Fragments". Whether goth is your cup of tea or not it is well worth a listen. Neil Spragg went on to form a prog/psych outfit called Blim. Ade, Rob and the girls became Omniasphere. Basically the music was very much like Omnia Opera without bass and drums which made it more reliant on electronics.
Around 1991 or 1992 Richard Allen heard Omnia Opera's cassettes and contacted them with a record deal which resulted in two releases. The self titled "Omnia Opera" debuted in 1993 and consisted of a mix of old and new material including, on the cd release, the 15 plus minute psychedelic monster "Freeze Out". With full- force gigging around the midlands, the band would share the stage with the likes of the Cardiacs, Hawkwind, Agents of Chaos, Here and Now, Poisoned Electrik Head, The Pink Fairies and Daevid Allen. It would be a full four years before the second release "Red Shift". By this time the band had split up once more. Andy and Rob carried on together with a few other musicians as Omnia which sounded like a heavier Omnia Opera minus the loads of effects. And as with anything the members of Omnia Opera have touched or done before Omnia's cassette release "Seeking the Elusive" is well worth owning. It holds everything that any fan of Omnia Opera would love.
The end of the century finds both Ade and Rob married and doing their own thing. Neil is DJ'ing in Birmingham and playing drums with a group called Mocca. Andy is playing bass now with a band called Bohinta that playeded at this summer's Glastonbury Fest.
I recently caught up with Andy Jones:
Doug: Is it correct to say that Omnia Opera was founded in 1986?
Andy: No, '85
Doug: It was Rob and Ade at first, right?
Andy: Well it was.... Omnia Opera really didn't exist in 1985. I teamed up with Rob and Ade via a mutual friend. And we really didn't have a name for the band at that moment. We all just listened to the same sort of music. I really liked what they were doing and they liked what I was doing. We just, sort of, melded the two together, you know.
Doug: What bands were you all into at the time?
Andy: Ah... a bit of Hawkwind. The psychedelic music of the time. That was mainly what we were into.
Doug: On the first two tapes you had two different drummers. Why was that?
Andy: No. The first two tapes were the same drummer. A guy called Mike Tongue. He is this great, really great drummer. But he was a crazy bugger. He was really mad.
Doug: What is he doing now?
Andy: I think he is in a kind of tribute band. Making loads of money playing in a Blondie tribute band. He is an absolutely phenomenal drummer. He was influenced by Keith Moon. He ended up playing naked on stage a few times. He would take all his clothes off and be drumming naked. He was more out there then any of us, you know what I mean. Mike didn't try to be weird. He was weird.
Doug: What about Steve Smith?
Andy: Smithy, he came along cause Tonguey stormed out one day. Ade and Rob played a practical joke on him. They put this drum machine on the floor and said "Oh, we don't need you anymore. We've got this drum machine". He was so highly strung that he took it really seriously. And that was the end of his drumming career with Omnia Opera. We had another drummer for awhile. But then he left. And then Rob sat on the drum stool for a bit. We then got in touch with a guy named Steve Smith who was living down the road in a different town. He came along for about eight months. Um, it wasn't really his cup of tea. He wasn't really into Omnia Opera. He was into a different kind of music. He had found it really difficult to imitate what Tonguey had done. We had to write new material really that he could put his own drum pattern to.
Doug: When did Neil come into the picture?
Andy: Ya, after the eight months we got a couple of adverts out and we auditioned various people, but they'd all sort of come along for a couple of weeks and then they would get fed up with it. It was all too weird for them. And eventually we put up an advert in a shop in Birmingham and Neil saw it and got in touch with us. He was just perfect. He was a really good drummer and he was a bit of a freak as well.
Doug: Did Neil have a style similar to Mike Tongue's?
Andy: He was closer to it then say, Steve. Steve was more of a rigid drummer.
Doug: Many people refer to Omnia Opera as a festival band. But in reality you really only played a few, right?
Andy: Ya... It was just one of those things. You play a few festivals and you get put about as a "festival band". I liked it at first. But then I began to hate the label. It really kind of narrows down your options.
Doug: I can see how it would pigeon-hole you.
Andy: Ya... a big time pigeon-hole and we were forever trying to break out of that one. Even to this day. We haven't played a festival in ten years and we're still getting branded with that label.
Doug: What festivals did Omnia Opera play?
Andy: We played at one called the Wick Festival. And that one was a free festival. And then we tried to play one at the Barbery Castle but we got rained out. And we played one in Worcester. And, um, I can't remember any others. I think there might have been one or two more.
Doug: How would you describe Omnia Opera's music?
Andy: I think it was heavily influenced by the likes of Hawkwind and stuff like that. And Pink Floyd. And then over the years, our last four or five years, we were getting into techno gear. I don't know where it would have gone if we had carried on. I think it may have become more danceable music. Had a lot more of a dance beat. Even Neil has become a DJ. He said that he felt that it was the most psychedelic music he'd ever heard. I think we would have been influenced by the likes of the Chemical Brothers and groups like that. Nothing that original really. I think it would have been an amalgamation of spacerock (horrible label) and electronic influences. I was trying on the last album to put in more and more variations. I wanted to stray away from that label. If we had done a third album I think people that were really into Omnia Opera may have liked half of it and hated the rest.
Doug: What were the reasons for the band's final split?
Andy: Final split up...hmm.
Doug: Did it have anything to do with Red Shift sitting around with Delerium for years?
Andy: Well the album was supposed to take three months. But, it ended up being almost a year. And although we were all looking forward to the end of the album there was a bit of animosity within the band. I won't name names. And one day Neil came up and said that he was just not enjoying it. "I'm just not enjoying it. I'm not happy". He was just depressed by it. We all just didn't want to carry on with what was left. With the way it was going. And the album just didn't come out because Delerium felt that we weren't bothered with it because we were over.
I also, on another occasion, had a chance to speak with Neil Spragg:
Doug: How did you come about joining the band?
Neil: I'd just left another band (The Capitols, dodgy indie), and a friend saw an advert for a drummer that Omnia had put up in town... it was kind of psychedelic, so I got in touch.
Doug: Were you familiar with them prior to this?
Neil: No, I'd never heard of them.
Doug: What kind of music were you influenced by?
Neil: At the time, progressive/experimental/psychedelic stuff... Hawkwind, Gong, King Crimson, Can, Faust, Coil....
Doug: How did you get into the dance and DJ kick?
Neil: I went to work in Holland with some friends for a few months in 1992, went to a couple of raves, and was totally blown away...the music was like nothing I had ever heard before. Heavy, very psychedelic (to me), very rhythmic. When we came back, we decided we had to set up a club over here doing similar stuff (there was nothing like it at the time), and in fact two clubs were born. House of God (heavy-duty techno stuff) and Third Eye (trancier, more psych stuff). Third Eye fell by the wayside a couple of years ago, but as you know, House of God is still going strong (7 years later). It was a natural progression for me to write my own stuff, as I'd always felt a bit frustrated being "just a drummer"!
Doug: What is one of your fondest memories of Omnia Opera?
Neil: Spending endless nights on Ade's couch, with Andy sleeping on the floor...often we would spend hours putting the world to rights, or just talking shit to each other (sounds a bit wet I know, but I think I learnt a lot off Andy). As far as gigs etc. go, we had a lot of good 'uns, and a lot of shit 'uns. One of the weirdest was at a party in the middle of nowhere (the 'Turkey Hunters Club'???), where the people putting it on had decorated a little wooded corpse with chopped liver. Hmmmm...
Doug: What was your first gig with Omnia Opera like?
Neil: I wish I could be romantic about it, but I honestly can't remember our first gig together...
Doug: What can you tell me about Blim?
Neil: Blim was a project which was intended to be more of a progressive thang, and I like to feel that in our own way we did some pretty fucked-up stuff, and some quite beautiful stuff. It was basically comprised of a core of me and three close mates, and a couple of other session-type people. We did some pretty cool gigs supporting Ozrics/Poisoned Electrik Head etc.) and a couple of out there tapes ("Zero" and "No Frills").
Doug: What are you involved with today?
Neil: I'm still drumming, with a band called Mocca, which is more song-based heavy/tuneful rock stuff (what a dodgy description). We're working on an album at the moment, which we will probably put out ourselves if no-one else takes the plunge. I'm also recording stuff as Sir Real (on Round Records) and DJ'ing most weekends. Oh yes, I have a highly lucrative career writing music for fruit machines. Generally, I'm still dreaming of expanding people's minds with my music....
Omnia Opera Personnel:
Rob LLoyd- guitar, vocals
Ade Scholefield - keyboards, samples, programming
Andy Jones- bass, guitar, lead vocals
Lisa Moriarty- vocals, dancing
Natalie Jones- vocals, dancing
Mike Tongue- drums
Steve Smith- drums
Neil Spragg- drums
Beyond the Tenth 1986
Celebrate for Change 1987
Myths of the Ghandarva: Rituals of Beyond (300 only)
Cassette: Surfing the Zuvuya 1990
No Frills 1993
Cassette: Intravenus Fragments 1991
Andy Jones- bass and vocals
Rob Lloyd- guitar
Steve Smith- drums
Captian Bagly- Synths
Cassette: Seeking the Elusive 1997