special thanks to Valentin Radu for translating.
PCM: You are a very distinguished artist in Romania but here in the United States there is very little information about you. I understand you were a child prodigy. What age did you discover the piano?
Dan Grigore: I was three and a half.
PCM: How did you discover it?
Dan: We had an old up right piano in the house. I started by reaching up and playing the keys. And then I heard waltzes and romantic songs on the radio and I would start to reproduce them on the piano and then I would make up my own compositions.
PCM: Your parents recognized this?
Dan: My mother was a very gifted amateur violinist, my grandfather was very gifted painter and musician. He found my first teacher. After that I started to study harmony.
PCM: Was it hard to study in a communist regime?
Dan: There was a teacher named Mihail Jora who recognized my talent and helped me to get approved not to attend daily school but to have special schooling. Because of that I was kind of spared some of the hardships of the communist regime.
Twice a year I has to have exams to show I was learning the regular disciplines including sports. For my physical education test I had to jump over a hose. (laughter).
Then Jora’s wife got arrested and jailed for a year because her sister’s husband spoke on Radio Free Europe. There were no trails, two guys in leather coast would just show up and many times you didn’t know what was happening.
When my grandfather was 80 years old, he wrote a letter about the conditions in Romania at the time and threw it over the fence of the American Embassy in Bucharest and the KGB people saw this and he was arrested and put in a hard labor camp for seven years. His family was trying to get him out and said he didn’t mean to do this and that he was irresponsible and crazy. He said, “No I’m not! I am responsible and I know what I am doing!”.
PCM: How old were you when that happened?
Dan: Fourteen or fifteen.
PCM: Did it affect you in your musical career?
Dan: My family and I were suspected after that. You have to understand how paranoid these people were. Remember I said my teacher’s wife was arrested too.
After my grandfather got out of the camp there was a regime change and there was another leader named Nicholau Ceaussescu. He was the one everyone knows but we had bad leaders before him as well.
When he came to power he stared a nationalistic attitude of freedom. In 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, Romania was the only communist country that didn’t sent troops. Ceaussescu received a lot of international recognition for that, even in the West. My grandfather wrote a letter to Ceaussescu praising him for his nationalist attitude and standing up to the Soviet Union. Ceaussescu got the letter and asked his assistants about this man. He was told that my grandfather was an old man who spent time in jail and that he was very poor and didn’t have a pension anymore. Ceaussescu ordered his pension to be restored, all including from the time he spent in prison.
I speak a lot about my grandfather because he was my hero. He is where I got my moral core from. He is my inspiration and thanks to him I got the power to endure what life was like at that time. part 2 – part 3
PCM: When did you make your concert debut?
Dan: My concert debut was in October 16, 1957 with three pieces by Enescsu.
Dan: My concert debut was in October 16, 1957 with three pieces by Enescsu.
PCM: You also taught at the University of Bucharest?
Dan: I was head of the piano department at the University of Bucharest from 1967 until 1969 and then after the revolution 1991-2002. I left the position five years ago because I wanted certain reforms in the education and administration. I had no help or support.
PCM: What would the government do to control your career?
Dan: I was not allowed for many years to leave Romania to perform. I was not even allowed to go into other communist countries. They would invite me but the state agency that organized concerts for every Romanian artist without my knowledge would write the promoters that I broke my arm, I broke my leg or was sick otherwise. I didn’t even know about that until after the fall of Ceaussescu. They would mix up the hands they said I broke. Sometime they would say it was my right hand and sometimes they would say it was my left.
At one point I was allowed to go on a tour of Western Europe. The only reason I was able to do that was because the official government pianist got sick and the organizers in other countries said they would not allow that program to be changed. They wanted somebody that could play that repertoire. There was a lot of money invested in that tour for the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra. It was right after the big earthquake in Romania in 1977. There was a woman from the state agency that told the promoters not to cancel the tour. She said “you have to take my word for it, I have a man that can play these pieces.” Then the press came out and the front of the Soviet papers said, Joy and Jubilation for the Replacement.
The year 1996 was a very bleak year for the revolution in Romania. The Palace of Congress in Bucharest where Ceaussescu held the party Congresses, was a huge hall that seats about five thousand five hundred people. I had to play a big concert there with the Bucharest Philharmonic. We played the Beethoven Emperor Concerto and at the end I played two encores. The first one was a little Beethoven minuet and the second encore was a rag time by Scott Joplin. Everybody stood up and started to clap and cheer
The next day Ceaussescu forbid any musical activity in that palace again because he was so paranoid. Secondly, the American Embassy made arrangements for me to be invited to America for a month (all expenses paid) to be part of a cultural because it was clear that it was a message, not just a piece of music. exchange program. Of course, Ceaussescu did not allow that to happen. I used to do these encores in other concerts too. I wanted to show the Ceaussescu regime how out of touch with the times it was.
PCM: Was it dangerous for you?
Dan: Somehow, they never put me in the gulag but I was prohibited to play anywhere. I constantly got threats. They threatened to fire me from all my jobs and I dared them. I said, “Fine, please. I will wear a sign on my chest that says, “Romanian Pianist Hungry, Needs Job” and I will walk in front of the central committee of the Communist Party.
PCM: Are you married?
Dan: I have a wife and a son.
PCM: What was your wife’s reaction to this?
Dan: She told me that if there is any possibility or occasion that I have to defect to the West to be a free artist please do it because she would be fine in Romania and we’ll find another way to reunite and some point. I knew my family would never be fine if I defected. So, I never did.
PCM: Did you worry about students like Valetin Radu who played jazz?
Dan: I didn’t know he was doing that like he didn’t know what I was doing in my concerts. It’s like don’t ask don’t tell.
PCM: Were your students in danger for being your students?
Dan: Yes, they were under the scope because of the connection.
PCM: Did anything happen to any of your students?
Dan: I don’t know about many of them. But one of my best students won a scholarship to study in Boston and the Ceaussescu regime wouldn’t allow him to go and, as a result, he was in Bucharest at the time of the earthquake in 1977 and died very tragically.
PCM: Before Valentin came to the United States in 1978 was, he able to tell you he was leaving?
Dan: You wouldn’t announce to anyone that you were leaving until you are already where you were going out of fear that something might happen to you on the way to the airport.
PCM: How did you stay in touch with Valintin after he came here?
Dan: We lost touch for many years. Valentin didn’t return to Romania for many years. When he did, he would visit me at the University and bring me American cigarettes. I smoked then. Then he stopped coming back to Romania again for many years.
We lost connection for almost 8 years, 1985 -1993. The first time I played in the United Sates was in 1993 in Plainfield New Jersey. The Romanian ambassador in Washington DC drove up to see my performance. He told me that he made a sacrifice to see me because Valentin Radu was performing in Philadelphia that same night. He didn’t know we were teacher and student and I didn’t know they were friends. He said that you can hear Valentin in Philadelphia anytime. I said, “Valentin is in Philadelphia? You must give him my best”. That was how we rekindled our relationship.
PCM: The concert this weekend is a celebration of your fifty years on stage. Congratulations!
Dan: Thank you! There is a celebration in Romania and Philadelphia.
(Valentin Radu has been translating)
Valentin Radu: This is a jubilee concert of fifty years and a very significant event. I am very proud that we are doing this to celebrate Maestro Grigore and he joined us. Last year we marked ten years of collaboration between Ama Deus Ensemble and Dan Grigore. I am very humbled that he is doing this. It will be the first time we perform the Grieg Piano Concerto. This is the first actual concert that Maestro will do fifty years after the date of his debut on October 16th 1957 in Bucharest.
Anniversary Gala with Dan Grigore was performed on Friday, November 2, 2007 at The Kimmel Center, Philadelphia.
The band Renaissance I would have to say has been one of my biggest musical influences. I still binge listen to their recording non stop days at a time. I was thrilled to be able to speak with Annie Haslam. This interview is from 2014.
Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield has stated about Renaissance ,”They had a very big influence on me in my young years -the classical/rock cross-over, which I’m still drawing from in my own compositions”.
This conversation picks up right after I introduced myself.
Annie: Did you ever get to see Renaissance in concert?
PCM: I saw them on the Song for All Seasons tour. I was upset when I missed the Camera Camera tour.
Annie Haslam: Camera Camera is one of my least favorite albums.
Annie: Unfortunately by doing that we really screwed ourselves up. Instead of progressing with the music that we made that was so unique, we went in a completely different direction and we lost our style. That was the downfall of the band.
PCM: Did the record company put pressure on you?
Annie: A little bit. Jon wanted to take the band direction in a different way. We all followed. I am such a strong person now. That would never happen now! It was meant to be. If everything didn’t happen I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing and I am very happy doing what I’m doing.
PCM: Do you think that the band was growing? If you kept doing the same stuff as Renaissance..
Annie: We could have carried on doing the same thing but we needed to take it into the future. We needn’t have gone so radical. We took away all the classical feel of that lovely lush orchestral feel. It was gone. The five of us in the band at the time had a way of making magic doing that kind of thing. Once we changed it we sounded like anybody. They were ok songs but they weren’t great like the old stuff. Anybody could have sung those songs.
PCM: When Jon sang the song Only Angels Have Wings was there a lot of arguing in the band about having it on the record?
Annie: I was suppose to sing that but I was ill and couldn’t get to the studio. I had the flu so Jon did it. I though it was dreadful. As much as Jon was a great bass player he wasn’t a singer. I was very upset, I wish I wasn’t sick but there was nothing I do about it.
PCM: Were you on that tight of a schedule?
Annie: Yes, but it was something that was going to take weeks to get my voice back.
PCM: I was surprised to learn that you started singing at twenty-two. How did you develop your voice?
Annie: I think it was always there. My brother was a brilliant singer. He was a cross between Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. There’s a song on this new album with him. It is the only song we ever recorded together. I had a boyfriend who realized I could sing because I would sing at parties after I had a few ciders. Then I went to voice lessons with an opera trainer and that is when I learned I had five octaves.
PCM: Did you consider a classical career?
Annie: My teacher wanted me to. I didn’t know what I wanted at the time.
PCM: Who are some of the singers you listed too?
Annie: I listed to Anna Moffo and Maria Callas. I use to listen to Barbara Streisand, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
PCM: Have you met Joni?
Annie: No, but I have met Joan Baez and I was shaking when I met her. She knew who I was. I was thrilled.
PCM: How about Joan Armatrading?
Annie: I like her. We were managed by Miles Copeland at the same time. We did a European tour together in 1973, early days as a band.
PCM: Did you expect to make a career with music?
Annie: I was hoping to. The first job I had was in a cabaret group in a dinner theater in London for six months. The guitarist said, “Annie you’re wasted here”. We were a cover band. He saw an ad in Melody Maker for a girl singer for an international rock band. They didn’t say the name but when I called them I found out it was Renaissance so I went out and bought the album and learned the songs. I went for the audition.
PCM: Were you still taking vocal lesson at the time?
PCM: Did you have concerns about damaging your voice?
Annie: No, because it wasn’t rock. My voice isn’t delicate. It’s not like I felt it was a delicate instrument. It is a strong powerful instrument that I developed by going to a proper trainer and learning how to breath correctly. I think you can damage your voice if you don’t know proper training.
PCM: Are there any singers that make you cringe when you hear them because their technique is so bad?
Annie: There’s a lot out. Do you remember Paul Young?
PCM: Yes, I liked him.
Annie: He has a fantastic voice. From what I was told he sang from his throat and strained his voice. Rod Steward sounds like somebody who completely abused his voice to me. That’s not my kind of voice. I like voice with melody in them.
PCM: Who do you listen to now?
Annie: I haven’t bought any cd’s for a long time. I love Mary Fahl she was in a band called October Project. She has the most incredible voice. You should pick up their first album its fabulous. Kate Bush was always a big favorite of mine. Tori Amos is a copy of her, I don’t listen to her.
PCM: I don’t get the Tori Amos thing either. Weren’t you also a fashion designer?
Annie: I did fashion sketching. I wanted to be a designer. I went to a company in London called *******. I was taken on temporarily and I was there for a couple of weeks. The man who owned the company was there and saw my work. They gave me a sketch book and asked me to sketch outfits they brought into the room. The guy who owned the company said,” I like your style. I look forward to seeing you when I get back from my holiday”. Basically saying I got the job on a permanent basis. He went away and his girlfriend was left in charge. They gave me a book and said we want you to come up with as many ideas/ designs as you can in your style. So I came up with whole wad of ideas and then they took the book from me for two hours and then they fired me.
What they wanted was new ideas and they stole my ideas and then got rid of me. That absolutely broke my heart. I’d already done many thing to work my way up to be a designer, I worked for Saville Row Taylor, Jeager Clothing who is a big company in England and then I got the job at ******** . I remember I called my parents and they said, “As you know we are going to Canada for a month, we will take you with us”. I went with them and while we were there we went to a pub in Toronto and they were having a talent competition and I got up and sang Those Were the Days who Mary Hopkins made famous. Her husband is Tony Visconti who later went on to produce some of my albums. Then I started to go into more competitions and then I got my job with the show boat.
PCM: So you never had starving days as an artist.
Annie: I didn’t. I have been very very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of upsets, a lot of tragedy in a short space of time. Renaissance was already touring they didn’t have a record deal. We had a sort of manager but then we got an agent with the John Sherry Agency. The band changed, different members came in and out then Miles Copeland came on the scene. That’s when we got the record deal with Sire Records and Seymour Stein and the rest is history.
PCM: That was such a different time and it was all new. Do you think that exists now for artists?
Annie: I’d like to think it was. It’s very different now. The music business is very different now. There’s very few record labels. The ones that there are, are big. There are many brilliant musicians out there, where do they get played? It’s not the same anymore. It’s wonderful having (((XM))) radio. (((XM))) still plays Renaissance. It’s not the same, that’s for sure.
Who knows how much longer they will be around they stick with the big artist who they know will sell. And with the advent of bootlegs which is another thing that is so heart breaking, its so wrong. It make a lot of artist feel why should we bother, somebody is going to steal it.
PCM: I remember in one of your newsletter’s you wrote about a bootleg DVD. That was on ebay from one of your shows.
Annie: It’s not there’s to sell. Its poor quality, people are ripped off and they take the money and run. I don’t know about you but I am a heavy believer in karma. In this life time!
PCM: Are you familiar with yahoo group and the CD tree’s?
Annie: The yahoo groups?
PCM: They are absolutely dedicated fan clubs. Somebody will have a recording from a concert or radio program and they will send it to one person who will make copies and then send it on to the next on the list. There is no money is involved.
Annie: They do it within themselves? I have heard about them but how do you know they’re not selling it down the road.
PCM: I have a lot of stuff from the tree’s. These are dedicated fans who share your feeling. I think there is a difference with that and ebay.
Annie: I guess I am jaded. People will send me emails about stuff and there is nothing I can do. There’s a bootleg out of Still Life. It has a white cover. I don’t know why but I was searching the other day and I though why should I look there’s nothing I can do. It would cost me a lot of money.
PCM: I had read one that you would never over dub your voice. What made you change your mind?
Annie: When I started to live with Roy Wood who is a musical genius. I learned a lot from him musically. When I did my album Annie in Wonderland. He was the one who talked me into doing over dubs for the album. Song for All Seasons was already written and Northern Lights, I remember the guys coming into the studio one day, why don’t we try putting three voices I know they recorded more than one voice why don’t we put them together to see what it would sound like in the verse. That’s where you have the triple tracking. That’s what made it special, why it was such a hit. So it was Roy Wood, he turned me around. He was a brilliant man.
PCM: Do you think it was your classical training that initially prevented you from over dubbing?
Annie: Possibly yes, I was also one of those people that was a little afraid of change. The older I get the easier it is to change. It a hard thing to do, change something you know.
PCM: Was it easy getting Annie in Wonderland out?
Annie: It was wonderful. It didn’t get enough publicity.
PCM: Do you think it was because of your voice and people didn’t know how to market it?
Annie: I don’t think so. Seymour Stein was really behind us. Maybe, I don’t. Know. I’m not sure . A lot of the details I have forgotten or put behind me. The thing is with my music I’m trying to let it go and just don’t remember things because I don’t want to. I’m a different person now. When I do interviews I don’t want to go on about my past because everybody knows it. I don’t mean that against you. I was just making a point about why I didn’t remember things.
PCM: I didn’t take it that way. When I called you I did have a different idea for this interview. I wanted to talk you and classical music and your painting. I figured you must be tired of talking about Renaissance. But we have gone in a different direction.
I read that you used a different technique when working with David Sancious on the last tour.
Annie: Yes, David probably is in the top five session musician on this planet for keyboard and guitar. I was asked to do a benefit last year and it was to much time and money to get a band together for five shows so I asked David. He improvises everything. He doesn’t play a song the same way twice. I really had to have my wits about it. I had to watch him, have eye contact. I didn’t get it together until the third show. It was completely alien to me. I had to face him. On stage I couldn’t stand like I normally do facing the audience. I had to do it side on facing him. It was brilliant once we got the eye contact. We did a couple pieces we wrote together. We didn’t record it for cd. Nothing is going to happen with that.
PCM: I did see you a few times and I was at the show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Do you remember that show?
Annie: Yes. Most of my solo career I didn’t have a proper manager or agent.
PCM: Is it hard marketing you?
Annie: Yes, definitely, it’s unique music. It’s not commercial. I’m not that kind of commercial entity. I guess if somebody like a really brilliant manager came said OK, right let do this. Like what they did with Enya. Enya’s music puts me to sleep. I don’t want to be judgmental. I’m making a comment. It’s amazing what they did with her. They’ve made her a huge star. It’s what you can do with money.
PCM: I think they put the same album in a different sleeve for soap stores.
Annie: I shouldn’t say that, she has a wonderful voice.
PCM: You don’t sing anymore?
Annie: I did the thing with David Sancious I did a guest song on an EP with a band called Magenta from Wales, I worked with Jon Wetton and Jeff Downs last year. I did demo work for a film called Roger in California. I needed to move on from music. I doesn’t give me pleasure anymore. It’s to stressful, the business is different now. I do have something in the back of my mind that I won’t get into now.
PCM: You have a CD Woman Transcending coming out soon?
Anne: I felt time is going by so quickly and with the state of the world now, If I get any ideas I just want to go with it. We have to seize the day everyday. I was going to leave this album a few years down the road. One reason is the publishing end of this is so vast to get it all together but I thought, you know I’m going to do it now. So I got all the songs together that I had on cassette and DAT for several years, since the seventies from my solo career that were recorded as just really great demos that never saw the light of day. Songs that never made an album because there were to commercial, like the Bee Gee’s song. There’s a Mike Rutherford song a Carl Perkins song, two Perkins songs. One by Carl and Family and one by his son and daughter. Two country songs! And then I sing with my brother Michael, and a song Reaching Out that was with the Intergalactic Touring Band, that’s the last song on the cd with the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s just gorgeous. There’s also a song I wrote with Steve Howell called Lily’s in the Field that we wrote for a benefit concert I put together in 1995 that for kids of Bosnia.
PCM: It’s think this is a good time for it, not in a couple of years.
Annie: That what I felt. Why wait? I’m gad I did it. The art work is a painting I did the Essence of Leonardo de Vinci. It came to me at the end of the day. I had these paints left over and something took me over and I ended up with this painting with this white dragonfly in it. I don’t know where it came from. I had no intention of putting anything in it. I feel a strong connection to him. He was a good man, he was a vegetarian and a singer. They also called him the Renaissance Man.
PCM: Would you ever write a book?
Annie: I get asked that a lot. No, I would have to live my past again why do that. I have already made my money from my past. Why go through all that again. I don’t have the time anyway I am busy painting now. I love it with a passion as much as music if not more.
PCM: Do you still practice your voice?
Annie: I never did. We practiced as a band before a show or tour. I didn’t have the patience to practice. I’m singing at the Sellersville Theater on January 26th. It’s a show called Wine, Woman & Song. I will be performing with guitarist Bob Miles. I will only sing three songs and it will feature some of my art work. It will be fun. What I will do is put on some cd’s a couple of days before the show and sing along to get my breathing back because I haven’t sung for a while now.
PCM: Can I ask some really dumb questions that only a fan can ask?
Annie: Go on.
PCM: You recently sold your tambourine on ebay, why?
Annie: I didn’t want it in my house anymore. I don’t need it anymore. I’ve a pair of maracas I might be selling too. The ones I used in Prologue.
PCM: What did you think of the Michael Dunford’s cd The Other Woman? Did you know it wouldn’t work?
Annie: I thought the title would doom it. It was that and it said Renaissance. People were expecting to hear me and were disappointed when they didn’t . Many people complained to me about that.
Did you think it was bad?
PCM: Yes, the title was bad. I would have listened to it differently if it was called Dunford-Adlington or something.
Do you still have the Annie necklace?
Annie: Yes, I have two now. I had one made for my mum whose name was also Annie. When she passed away I inherited it. They’re rather big and bulky but I guess that’s what the rappers wear now. Look at that, I started a trend.
PCM: That should be your new line of jewelry, “Annie Bling“
(Annie laughs at that. It is the great five octave laugh that all Renaissance fans are familiar with.)
Special thanks to Julia Lopez for translating during the interview.
PCM: I understand you have a very special work in progress for this program.Carmela: Yes! It is the farruca rhythm. The farruca was my fathers signature piece. I will be incorporating some of his steps with my own. This will be the first time I have used his steps.
PCM: You will also be dancing with Julia Lopez and guitarist Carlos Rubio along with their dance company Flamenco Ole, how did you start working with them.
Carmela: We met for the first time at his memorial service in Lancaster, PA. It was important for me to stay in contact with the people he has worked with in the past to keep his legacy alive. From Spain I had contacted Julia with an idea for a program I wanted to do with her and Flamenco Ole. Through a grant from Dance Advance we were able to present it at the Painted Bride a few years ago.
PCM: When you get an idea for a dance are you seeing shapes in your head?
Carmela: No, flamenco is different from the ballet. It is an emotion. I am presenting an emotion through my hands, the way I move my arms what I do inside a rhythm with it. We have traditional steps. It is what I do as a dancer working closely with the guitarist that define who we are as individual artists.
PCM: When you were starting work on the farruca how did it come to fruitionCarmela: We started with the rhythm. I would tell Carlos were I wanted a falseta and he would have ideas. It is a total collaboration between the the two of us.
PCM: What is your rehearsal schedule?
Carmela: We rehearse three hours everyday.
PCM: What was it like growing up with Jose Greco as your father?
Carmela: He was my father, he was bigger than life. He was a beautiful statue to me. I didn’t see him as the world did -as a dancer. I saw him as my father. I am one of three children. My sister is a famous classical Spanish dancer in Spain and my brother is also a famous flamenco dancer.
PCM: What is the difference between classical Spanish dance and flamenco dance?
Carmela: Classical Spanish dance is similar to the ballet and danced while playing castanets. It is a very difficult form of dance.
PCM: Do the three of you ever perform together?
Carmela: We have in the past toured with my father. It is very hard for us to schedule anything together now because we all have very busy careers.
PCM: Is there a particular tour that stands out the most to you?
Carmela: A few years ago, I along with another dancer were invited to perform in Russia. We were in St. Petersburg, Moscow and few other cities. It was a breath taking trip.
PCM: Were you surprised to find Flamenco in Russia?
Carmela: Not at all. Flamenco is everywhere!
January 29,2006 – 3:00 PM – Kimmel Center
Artist web site: www.pacopena.com
PCM: What was the first rhythm you learned?
Paco: The first rhythm was Soleares.
PCM: Was there ever pressure on you not to play the guitar but do something that would bring money?
Paco: That is a very good question. Well, the thing is, we were nine children in a very poor family and certainly the concern, particularly my mother’s was that everybody had a basic education and be good enough to get a decent job and so on. So I did go to school. I was into that and I eventually got a job in an office to soon, but never the less it was a job. My mother, wisely never objected to me going with other friends She made sure that the friends were good people. I was very young and they wanted me to go with them to play. I always played all day, everyday. She did realize it was a social connection with the world for me. It’s a very good question, I never thought about it. She never did object to me doing it. On the other hand she wanted me to have the skills to do something else, “a proper job”, like a job in an office. I suppose my love for music, for the guitar became strong and I left the job and I just decided to be a guitarist.
PCM: Did you put pressure on yourself to make money?
Paco: Not to make money but to be able to survive. If you imagine a family of people who do manual work, my mother use to have a store in the market selling vegetables to feed us. She only had my older brother and me and seven girls. It’s a matter of necessity to make sure you are able to look after yourself in some way. It’s not making money as such, but being able to be alright in life. The pressure was never to strong, it was always wishing that I would be alright but never demanding strongly that I take a job.
PCM: Was there a particular time when you took a deep breath and said, “I’ve made it” and what was the recording that was from that time.
Paco: That’s a good question, I suppose one could look at it and analyze it. It’s difficult, I’ve never said “I’ve made it” in that way. There are significant landmarks. I always loved playing with flamenco dancers and flamenco singers, particularly with singers. I was never interested in being a soloist as such, I wanted to be in the background but one day I decided to be a soloist because I needed my life to be more interesting than it was. I don’t mean interesting artistically but more demanding on myself to achieve more, to go much further. So I decided I was going to be a soloist. Example, playing for my debut concert in the Wigmore Hall in London was a magnificent feeling , when the audience reacted to me, God forbid, who am I? When they reacted so nicely, so well to what I had to offer. I think that was a revelation and it was saying I want to do something, I have to continue to work and project this image. Soon after that I played with Jimi Hendrix at the Royal Festival Hall in London. There were four different guitar acts, but to play with Jimi Hendrix was a fantastic event, really. So you could say those little things make you realize you made something of your life. They are little steps in becoming human, becoming what you are. I’m not one to say, “Oh you’ve made it“. I never felt that way.
PCM: Where you familiar with Jimi Hendrix?
Paco: Yes of course. Not enough, I was to much into my own thing but I was aware of him as a fantastic artist.
PCM: Have you ever played an electric guitar?
Paco: Well I tried now and then, it’s to difficult.
PCM: When are you coming out with your new cd, Requiem for the Earth?
Paco: It’s being done at the moment. I’ve done it live, I have to analyze it and do it in the studio, I want to do it soon.
PCM: Do you have artistic freedom with your record company?
Paco: Oh yes, I can do what I want.
PCM: Was it hard getting Misa Flamenco out?
Paco: Not at all. They were really delighted to get something different out at that time. For me it was a bit of an experiment. I don’t like the word experiment, it was a trip, an adventure to combine two strong musical cultures like classical and flamenco in that way. It fascinated me and when talking to the record company they got excited talking to me because I was excited. So the same applies to the Requiem. It’s a very intense work, but it has a comment on what is happening to the Earth in a negative sense but it also has a positive theme like looking to the future and calling to our awareness so that we may learn to protect the future for our children.
PCM: How much time do you spend practicing?
Paco: Really quit a lot, particularly if I have my responsibilities. If I have to do things then I need to practice. I suppose when I was younger I practiced more.
PCM: Do you have a favorite rhythm?
Paco: I guess it is still Soleares, the rhythm is fascinating. You drift into it. It’s wonderful, expressive, not difficult but demanding in wanting to get right into it and do more with it.
PCM: It there one you think is difficult?
PCM: Well yes, in flamenco there are rhythms that have great complexity and you always try to find new bits of expression within them. The Buleria for example is so exciting and fast. Each rhythm has a moment. Sometimes you feel you’re doing something and everything happens right and sometimes you don’t.
PCM: I remember driving to Connecticut to see you and then the next tour a club in New York, then Town Hall a few times and then Carnegie Hall. This is your first time in Philadelphia and there is another city you are playing in for the first time. Do you feel like you are conquering the United States?
Paco: No, its not a matter of conquering. I do what I do, it is what I believe. Therefore any people who feel that they want to experience it, I am delighted to go there and take the challenge and convince them. It’s not a matter of conquering. I’m connected to this tradition. I love it, so I do it with love not aggression.
Joan Armatrading -The Goddess of Change
I have seen Joan 97 time in concert since 1977, 15 cities, 6 states. This interview took place January 19, 2011 and for me became a testament as to my wife’s love and dedication to her family. Tanya passed away 36 days after this interview from a hard battle with ovarian cancer. The interview with Joan took place at 6am east coast time because of our time difference. Tanya was in a lot of pain and we had been up for almost 24 at this point. She knew I had the interview coming and was more concerned that I was going to miss it. A few minutes before the interview was to take place she closed her eyes wanting me to believe she fell asleep; I knew she really wasn’t sleeping. I quietly went into the other room to speak with Joan. The interview lasted 15 minutes, as soon as I hung up the phone Tanya called out, “I am in so much pain”. When I sat next to her she asked if the interview what what I dreamed it would be. My wife saw Joan 6 times with me.
Long recognized as a pioneering force with a career spanning three decades, the Saint Kitts born Joan Armatrading has maintained an acclaimed and storied career. The three times Grammy nominated British artist has garnered countless accolades which include Top 10 albums and singles (“Love and Affection,” “Willow,” “Drop The Pilot,” are but a few), not to mention a #1 debut atop the Billboard Blues chart in 2007 (a first for a female artist from the UK). She has made VH1’s list of the 100 Most Influential Women in Rock, has been nominated for a Brit Award, gave a command performance for Nelson Mandela on his 70th birthday at Wembley Stadium, received an Honorary Degree from Birmingham University and the list goes on—truly a charmed life and career!
David: You will have your third live recording Live at the Royal Albert Hall released in February in the United States. Your last live CD/DVD Live All the Way From America from 2004 was produced, directed and edited by you. Will you have the same role in this release?
Joan: Yes, because they are all songs I’ve written. I do that with everything I do even thought I haven’t been credited.
David: Why are you releasing another live CD/DVD on the heels of Live All the Way from America. It was almost fifteen years between your first live recording and the last.
Joan: No reason, I get asked a lot by people who come to the shows for many years to do another live album. I did Live All the Way From America and Into the Blues; especially after Into the Blues people were asking for a live recording from that. It was a great live sound and I was into it myself obviously.
David: How did you discover Anderson Guitars?
Joan: I went hunting for guitars and I took my tour manager at the time to a shop and came back with a stack of guitars and the one I chose was the Tom Anderson. It sounded great. It was clean. I took that one and I needed two more. At the time I played a Strat that I couldn’t take on the road anymore it was very buzzy.
David: Do you collect guitars? How many do you have?
Joan: David, when have you known me to answers questions like that. I will answer any question about my music. I don’t tell people how many I have. I have quite a few.
David: Do you have a dream guitar?
Joan: Not Really. I look at guitars all the time because I’m looking to see if there is anything new. It doesn’t have to be a new guitar per se. I just found a Strat and it’s really really good. It sounds very different, quite chunky. It was nice to get something that plays really different and works. I’m always looking for guitars in all the countries I go to.
David: Do you have a nylon string guitar?
Joan: I have one I don’t play on it much.
David: Who made it?
Joan: It’s a Gibson.
David: I understand why you don’t use it.
Are you working on a CD of new material?
Joan: I’m writing now. I will give myself a year it will be 2012 when it comes out. I will be sixty-one.
David: Your tours are always extensive. Does touring get harder as you get older?
Joan: It’s tiring anyway even when you’re young. I’m a healthy strong person so I do all right. So yes it’s a tiring thing and I am busy all the time with interviews and meeting people. While the band is on a break I have a lot to do. I’ve been doing this for forty years I’m use to it.
David: Speaking of healthy and fit you ran in the New York Marathon. I heard you didn’t train.
Joan: I did do some training. I couldn’t do as much as I would have liked. I did do some. A few days before the race I hurt my knee but I finished the marathon and I got my medal and raised 175,000 Euro’s for charity.
David: Your last recording with A&M Records was Square the Circle in 1992. That Album was just dropped in the market. What happened?
Joan: That’s up to the record company to do what they wanted. There were changes within A&M. Life changes that’s how it goes, people move on. My records do well.
David: Then you went to RCA and did What’s Inside.
Joan: There again, there were changes as well. That’s what I mean, things change all the time. I just generally don’t have control over how a company moves in and moves the artists. You just have to work with what’s there. What are you gonna do? It affects a lot of different people. You can get wrapped up and held up in things. I’m not that kind of person. I’m a very positive person. I take what comes and do the best with what I have. It’s a simple philosophy for me. I’m not a complicated person when it comes to how to be happy. I think the record company has to have the freedom to do what it has to do to be a record company. You have to accept that to do the things you want to do. That’s how things work. You have to understand that.
David: Do you have a favorite CD?
Joan: Usually the one I’m writing. I wouldn’t be able to answer that one. It’s like when people ask what is my favorite song I wrote. I can’t answer that because I’ve written so many. If I had to say it would be Love and Affection because that’s the one I came in on, but it’s very hard to answer.
People will ask what is my favorite gig. We do this all the time and we might come off the stage and say that was great like when they would sing Best Dress On from the last tour. That worked very well. We would think that nobody else would sing that loud or that many times but then we go to the next place and the people are as into it.
David: Speaking of the song Best Dress On, where did that come from?
Joan: I don’t know. I should know but I don’t remember.
David: That song seems to be speaking directly to people who are dealing with the fear and uncertainty of cancer.
Joan: It’s definitely for healing, for people who are trying to make things work. As I said to you before I’m a very positive person and write about the good in the things we make. When I write I try not to write positive stuff all the time. It takes me longer to write something that isn’t positive.
David: Where is Ma-Me-O Beach?
Joan: It’s in Canada. It’s not a beach I went to I saw the signs for it on the road from the tour bus. I didn’t write the song there it came about later.
David: Was Secret Secret a freeing album for you?
Joan: Secret Secret was the record I decided that I would say exactly what I do on the record. All of the members of my band said I should be taking credit for what I do so yes it was freeing for me because it was when I started working on my own. I didn’t have producers in the studio with me. Not that working with producers was a bad thing. I’ve worked with fantastic producers and learned a lot from them.
David: Was it freeing vocally for you? That was the album you started vocal phrasings like the line where you sing, “ Bap par dap……..ah”.
Joan: Right, that was from Persona Grata. Not really because again on my records I sing what I want to sing and I write all the harmonies. Whatever vocals I did are things I write like the low voices on Down toZero. Nobody is there to say why don’t you do this.
David: Have you been asked to produce anybody?
Joan: Yes, but because of time I haven’t been able too. It is really a lot of work to produce.
David: Do you ever see yourself only producing and not writing?
Joan: It would be nice to produce somebody but I kind of have to write and I want to write
David: Why did you write about the Goddess Oya?
Joan: That’s a real goddess. I was thinking of change and I wanted to write about it. I wanted to find out if there was a goddess that would guide you safely through change. I did a search and found that there was a goddess. I wasn’t surprised to find out there was a goddess of change.