The following interview was recorded by Steve Roberts in March 1993 and published in the UK Magazine “Zenith”.

All copyrights © Steve Roberts and Zenith Magazine.

Please give details of your new work/album, or tracks being recorded at the present time.

I am currently working on material for a new album (not library music) which will hopefully be completed, if not actually released, by the time this reaches print. I’m very pleased with the way it’s shaping up – to my ears ii sounds more cohesive than any of my previous albums and also richer in texture. Actually getting it released will be another story. ‘

Pulsar’ to me seems a little less frenetic than the other library CDs. Please give details of how you recorded and ultimately feel about ‘Pulsar’ and the library discs in general.

Well, tracks aren’t chosen for library albums in the same way as normal albums. With ‘Legion’ for example, the running order and the style of each individual track would be balanced against all others to give a ‘complete· feel to the overall album, whereas a library album is merely a collection of disparate tracks that are always used out of context. It wouldn’t matter if all the tracks were fast and heavy or slow and ethereal, the people who use library music would never play more than one track at a time anyway. With ‘Pulsar’, it’s possible that a slightly higher percentage of slower/medium paced tracks came off the musical drawing board at that time. I’m not exactly jumping for joy at the thought of library albums being sold commercially – they’re not, repeat not, ‘proper’ albums. They are intended, as I said, to fulfil a totally different function to normal albums. Personally, I ‘try out’ a lot of tracks as library music before deciding whether or not to use them on my own album – this gives me the opportunity to live with them for a while, make arrangement changes, add parts, swap sounds etc. For instance, most of the tracl<s on the forthcoming album exist in some form scattered across 3 previous library albums, so you can see why I get so annoyed when I hear that the library albums are on sale. What it boils down to is this – are people happy to pay £20 for something effectively half finished and undermixed when they could eventually get the full version for half the price? I think it’s all a bit of a con, sorry. ‘Pulsar’ was recorded in my own studio, though I did use Jerry Peel as an engineer(he’d previously engineered ‘Crash Head} Incidentally, I have nothing to do with choosing the the titles for any of the library music tracks.

Any sign of your film scores Turnaround’, ‘Buy and Cell’ and ‘Honour Bound’ ever being released? Are there contractual problems? Have you worked or are going to work on other film scores?

No sign at all I’m afraid – actually I’m never sure that soundtrack albums make for good listening anyway. After all, the music has been designed with a specific set of visual sequences in mind so the musical arrangements often sound very strange, very short and occasionally disappointing when heard in isolation. The 3 scores you mention are the only ones I have done so far.

I am interested in the pop songs you have been involved with. Can you give me details of the artists and records you have composed, played on etc?

What are you doing? Trying to get me shot? OK, for those of you that don’t know, I wrote the music to seven songs sung by Samantha Fox (yes, you read that right!) starting with ‘Touch Me’ in 1986. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed myself in what was, after all, a completely alien discipline to me (and I really do mean discipline). Anybody who tells you that writing pop songs is easy is lying. The songs I wrote (and played on) are as follows : ‘Touch Me’, Wild Kinda Love’ (both 1986), ‘True Devotion’, ‘I Surrender’ (both 1987), ‘Out of Our Hands’, ‘Confession’, ‘Don’t Cheat on Me’ (all 1988). In addition I wrote a song called ‘Anybody Want to Party?’ which was used in the film ‘Turnaround’ and sung by Anita Hegerland (Mike Oldfield’s ex wife).

A 6 part TV production of ‘The Stand’ has just begun filming (March ’93) in Sall Lake City. Would you like to score a Stephen King movie? Which ones?

Basically, I’d be willing to score music for anything like that – they’ve been talking about a film of The Stand’ for about 10 years now. In my opinion it’s easily King’s best book, but hard to make a film of I’d have thought.

Do you have other favourite authors? Shaun Hutson? He seems a bit more ‘heavy metal’.

To be honest, I’m totally fed up with so called horror books, though I’ve never read any of Shaun Hutson. Whenever I read these days, it tends to be factual rather than fiction, it’s just a phase I guess.

Is it strange hearing your music on TV or commercials? I’ve heard quite a few extracts being used by Granada TV.

Well, this of course is where you should be hearing library music – it may seem strange to you, but it’s basically how I earn a living, so long may it continue!

Do you get payed royalties each time the music is used, or do you get a one-off payment for each disc?

I get paid a royalty (small one!) each time it is played – well that’s the theory anyway. Actually, the main TV and radio stations are very honest, I’m not so convinced about the other more recent additions to the broadcasting fraternity though.

Things seemed to reach a high point when Jive Electro signed TD, Neuronium, yourself and er, the Willesden Dodgers. What happened? Was it low sales, poor promotion etc?

A combination of all those things I think. I have never felt bitter about Jive/Jive Electro, after all they basically gave me the opportunity to use the most amazing recording facilities and equipment available at the time. Let’s face it, Jive were in a no win situation from the outset as far as some quarters of the EM scene were concerned. If Jive Electro failed, then it was because they didn’t promote anything enough. Had they succeeded, then they would have been deemed to have sold out. There were some ‘structural’ changes in the management of Jive – two of the people most sympathetic to TD, Neuronium and me were sacked. Actually, virtually Jive’s entire roster at the lime was dumped – not just the Electro label. Promotion doesn’t sell masses of records, it just makes people aware that those records are available. Most people don’t like instrumental music, electronic or otherwise – I do and you do – but most people don’t, no amount of promotion will ever change that. What would help is radio and TV coverage – but there again, there are some people in EM who would consider this heresy. Jive Electro carried on for as long as it was possible for them to do so. In the end though ii comes down to simple mathematics, it was costing more money to make Electronic Music than they were able to earn back from it. If it was your money, would you have carried on? I’m bloody sure I wouldn’t have! I hear all sorts of odd stories about why Jive Electro finished but in reality nothing sinister happened at all. Basically, somebody tried to do something, failed and then stopped doing it – simple as that. It was good fun while It lasted.

I attempted to write an article on your music just after ‘Crash Head’ and had great difficulty getting any sort of response from Jive Electro. The best I managed was a very poorly photocopied biography. Were they responsible for changing titles on ‘Crash Head’?  

If you were dealing with Jive’s promotion department then good luck to you! Unfortunately ‘Crash Head’ was released at the time everything at the company was going haywire so I’m not entirely surprised. Actually, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a biography! The titles on ‘Crash Head’ – ah! What a wonderful, warm feeling I get every time I think about that! Basically, I’d rerecorded some of the tracks on ‘Crash Head’ mark 1 which had originally been scheduled for release at the end of 1986. This caused an inevitable hold up, by which time all the funny business at the company had started. The upshot was that some new guy, presumably eager to impress, gets hold of Crash Head’ mark 2 – changes all of the titles (to give it ·a more Stephen King type off eel”} then gets it pressed up and released. I knew about it for the first time when a friend rang me up to say they’d just bought it in the Virgin Megastore in London! For what it’s worth, the bloke responsible was also given the heave-ho, but it was too late to do anything about the titles.

Why do you think Jive are being so uncooperative about releasing ‘Legion’ and ·crash Head’ on CD? Is it not in their best interests?

I wasn’t aware that they were being difficult. In fact, to date I don’t think anybody has actually put forward a proposal to them – though I may be wrong about that. In their best interests? I doubt if they’re bothered one way or the other – it’s hard to say. Who can read the mind of a lawyer? It would be nice to get them released on CD – they are both mixed to digital after all, it seems a waste just to have them on vinyl.

Are there any UK musicians you’d really like to work with? Others?  

Well, I’ve worked with a few already – mainly guitarists, I seem to get on better generally with them than I do with other keyboard players! Actually, the most enjoyable day I’ve ever spent in the studio was when we had Gary Moore playing on a few of the cues for ‘Turnaround’. I think we must have had our jaws on the floor for most of the day, such was his astounding skill. And, of course, working with Chris Franke was a great experience. I’ve never come across anyone who could get such good sounds from synthesisers so quickly. As for the present, I’ve just finished a couple of tracks using a guitarist called Craig Joiner from a band called Romeo’s Daughter and also a track using vocals from my old songwriter partner, Loi Mason. Any others I’d like to work with? Well, I’d be very curious to see how people like Jean Michel Jarre, Schulze and Vangelis actually worked – though I admit that’s not very likely!

SR Speaking of possible collaborations, what do you think of ‘Pacific Coast Highway’? ‘Rockoon’??

Oooerr! Well, ‘PCH’ is pretty good I thought, though I guess ii wouldn’t be classed as an EM album as such. I bought ‘Rockoon’ on spec, ii was the first Tangs album I’d bought for about four years and … aargh! … it’s awful. It’s so bland and dull- no firepower whatsoever. When I saw them live in 1990 (Hammersmith Odeon) I really enjoyed the concert so the album came as a big let-down. It seems to me that looking back through their history they’Ve often gone through good and bad periods, so hopefully things will improve in the future. I feel the quality of their music suffers badly because of the sheer quantity of material they release – surely no-one could be continually musically Inspired by that sort of output requirement. TD are still, in my opinion (along with Schulze, Jarre and Vangelis), the most important contributors (and inventors?) of this entire area of music – nothing will change that for me, not even a duff album like ‘Rockoon·.

You have expressed some reservations about playing live. Would it not be feasible to put together a short tour?

Of course it’s possible – I’ve got nothing against playing live as such. I don’t know how other musicians go about ii, but it seems to take me a hell of a lot of work to prepare for just one concert. Also, the style of my music tends to be rather more, er, lively than most other EM – that makes it very difficult to reproduce live, I end up effectively having to rewrite each track and re-allocate all the sounds.

The inevitable technical question. Any new acquisitions to your keyboard studio set up?

Recent arrivals are : 3 ADAT machines to replace my 24 track analogue machine, Kurzweil K2000, PPG 2.3 + Waveterm (I last used one on ‘Legion), Roland Vocoder Plus VP330, Oberheim Xpander, Midimini (basically a Minimoog that stays in tune) and various FX units and processors. 

Have you heard any electronic music (or others) that you have particularly liked recently?

I’m not terribly impressed with very much coming out of the EM scene at the moment, though I should say that there’s a lot I haven’t heard so it’s probably unfair of me to make any generalisations. I remember enjoying Michael Shipway’s set al UK Electronica ’90, there was someone actually trying to do something a little different. I found Nick Franks’s music rather good too. Unfortunately it appears to me that most Electronic Music these days still consists of aimless 2 note droning chords accompanied by ever more aimless lead lines. no track under 10 minutes. cliched sounds, poor recording and generally lacking inspiration. At the risk of making myself very unpopular, I think that the whole image of EM is what prevents it from gelling out of the rut that it’s in. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe in goblins and pixies, fairies and elves, nor crystal or faith healing. I don’t believe in any of this New Age stuff – I believe in the here and now, not what I would like it to be. And I think that’s what most people in the real world outside of EM feel too – I think they see a group of people with their heads buried firmly up the arse of 1975 and with nowhere else to go, nothing new to offer. I know it’s not actually that bad, but I get the feeling it’s how ii is perceived. I mean, how often can you seriously call a piece of music ‘Cosmic Waves’ or whatever • it’s utterly meaningless. If you want to listen to a truly magical piece of ‘cosmic’ music, then listen to ‘Mirage’, not the hundreds of inferior clones that followed. To a certain extent we’ve all done it I guess, when I started out I tried to make everything sound like Schulze/T.Dream. But then very quickly you start to forge your own style. I know that the sort of music I do doesn’t appeal to everyone, but at least I attempt to create my own kind of EM, even if people think it’s crap. I’m not suggesting that everybody starts doing 100 mph wall.of-sound type music – just to try and break away from this tedious and regressive ‘cosmic’ malaise. And to make ·myself even less popular, I reckon that I hear more interesting and exciting sounds and ways of using them in modem dance music than in most existing EM. Going back to ‘Rockoon’, the whole album seems to consist of untreated Korg 01/W presets – I’d always thought that this music was supposed to be innovative, what the hell is going on? Are they really the same band that gave us ‘Ricochet’, ‘Exit’, ‘White Eagle’ etc? Maybe I should start listening to Country & Western – well, maybe not!   

Mark Shreeve Discography(as per 1993)

  • Ursa Major Mirage Cass 1980
  • Embryo Mirage Cass 1980
  • Phantom Mirage Cass 1981
  • Fire Music Agitasljon Cass 1981
  • Thoughts of War Uniton 001 LP 1981
  • Care Y Records Cass 1983
  • Assassin Uniton 021 LP 1983
  • Assassin Jive Electro HIP21 LP 1984
  • Electronic Soundmaker & Computer Music Cass 1984
  • Oracle* Bruton Music BR128 LP 1984
  • Legion Jive Electro HIP28 LP 1985
  • Legion Jive Electro HIPC28 Cass 1985
  • Legion (USA) Jive Electro JED1-9429 12· 1985
  • Legion Jive Electro JIVET-102 12· 1985
  • Legion Jive Electro JIVE 102 7″ 1985
  • Energy Fountain* Bruton Music BR131 LP 1986
  • Oracle* Bruton Music BR128 CD 1987
  • Energy Fountain* Bruton Music BR131 CD 1987
  • Crash Head Jive Electro HIP42 LP 1988
  • Crash Head Jive Electro HIPC42 Cass 1988
  • Riding the Edge• Bruton Music BR133 CD 1989
  • Power House• Bruton Music BR140 CD 1990
  • Pulsar• Bruton Music BR142 co 1991

This article has been kindly reproduced from Zenith Magazine.

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