Mama, the UK’s all era Genesis tribute band interviews John C about the intricacies of reproducing those Genesis keyboards
This weekend, the band will be performing their annual show at Theatre On The Steps in Bridgnorth. This theatre is most unusual in that it’s half way up a huge staircase, hence the name. We had a great time here last time we performed and tickets are selling very well so far, without any real promotion from us. In fact, this website update and the ensuing email newsletter represent the first time that we have promoted the show directly. So if you’re thinking of coming down, buy your tickets pronto because a bunch will sell in the next few hours (I think at last count there were less than thirty left!).
You can buy tickets for Theatre On The Steps from their website or by calling into the box office (The Tic, Bridgnorth Library, Listley Street – open 9.30am to 5.00pm Monday to Saturday). You can also phone the venue on 01746 763 257.
It’s time for another interview with the band. This time we collared John C, our expert keyboard player, and got all geeky with him. Well, he got all geeky with us to be fair! Here’s the interview along with a new promo clip from our upcoming live video:
Mama Website: Hi JC and thanks for agreeing to share your technical secrets with us!
John C: Cheers n tha.
JC: Well there are really two ways you can go. With the early stuff it’s really just a couple of organ sounds through a chorus and / or phaser, an RMI style piano, sawtooth based mono synth (preferably an ARP) and of course some Mellotron sounds. Post 1982 it gets a little more tricky – early wavetable and sample based keyboards weren’t great by modern standards but had some unique sounds that aren’t that easy to emulate accurately unless you can get hold of the kit, or samples of it.
MW: Do you have all the sounds used by Tony Banks?
JC: No. That’s not the way I do it. I am pretty good at working out the type of synth sound I am listening to and then I go to my workstation library to find something similar. That works probably eighty percent of the time. If I don’t have something I am happy with, I start looking for instrument samples.
MW: Isn’t the object of a tribute to use the original instruments and the same sounds as Tony Banks?
JC: I know a lot of the other Genesis tributes try to do that and with the early stuff it’s true that you need to get that “70’s Sound,” but I doubt that Tony would be using those sounds if Genesis went on tour this year and they probably wouldn’t be using the the sounds from 2007 either. He would probably try to capture the spirit of the original with new technology, which is really the approach I use.
MW: So how does that work with a signature sound, like the Mellotron choir in Afterglow?
JC: Well as an example, the Mama choir is not actually derived from Mellotron. It’s a Cambridge Boys Choir from Omnisphere and a mixed choir from a Korg instrument, not the Tape Choir though. I just tweaked around until I got what I thought was nice. It still sounds Prog though. 🙂 Sampling the original instrument is not always worthwhile anyway. ARP samples are really cheap and ‘orrible sounding till you process them with something, so if I find an Oberheim synthesiser in my library that is simply better then I just go with that.
MW: On stage you use a Korg Wavestation, a Roland XP80 and Roland Fantom G6. Why those instruments?
JC: In actual fact all the sounds are output from the Fantom. The other two are controllers only and have their MIDI outputs merged to the Fantom MIDI input. There are Wavestation sounds sampled to the Fantom along with Synclavier and a few others, but doing this allows me to create layered textures within one workstation environment with any sounds I need. It’s similar to using a soft synth platform on a laptop.
JC: No. Again it’s the Fantom. We use sampled rhythm loops when we need to for an authentic sound. In the tracks “Mama” or “In the Air tonight” for example the sound of the drum machine sets up the accuracy of the whole song and with today’s technology it’s easy to isolate and capture from the original recordings. I just snip sample loops and lay a click on a muted channel for James and I to keep in time. When you use any sort of computer based rhythm machinery the drummer is not the band timekeeper so we slave to the machine. LOL! This is the way Genesis would do it live on stage.
MW: Does Mama use a sequencer?
JC: Apart from drum loops, only on one song. It plays the strings synthesiser part on Many Too Many. You can’t voice the chords on that correctly for piano and strings with just two hands because the strings don’t play all the same notes in the same way as the piano. In other words I can’t just layer a pad sound under the piano as it won’t sound right. There isn’t a live Genesis performance that references Many Too Many (the Knebworth video is apparently mimed). Some people might think I am using a sequencer or overdub in the run up harmony at the end of the Follow You Follow Me solo but that isn’t how it’s done. There is a sample note under every key with the correct second note that “hides” until I footswitch it in. The run is not in perfect intervals.
MW: You have been using the Fantom since Mama formed in 2012. Many mainstream acts are now touring with soft synths running on a laptop. Is that something you would consider?
JC: I have been looking at this for a while now. The Fantom was originally only intended as a stop gap to a Korg Oasys 76 becoming available at a sensible price, but I think that wouldn’t be a smart move now in terms of migrating to a closed hardware platform. If I am going to invest time in improving and reprogramming the sounds on a new system it’s going to be software based and on a platform that will evolve rather than going “end of life” within a few years. I’ve been working with Arturia Analog Factory with software versions of antiques like ARP2600 and Prophet 5 and some of the preset sounds are instantly recognisable Banks / Collins type textures. I’m yet to be convinced that a Windows machine wont fail on the road because they fail at home when I stress test them, but I have seen Paul Carrack, Simple Minds, Ultravox and Steve Hackett Band using Macbooks on stage so I’m considering a setup similar to that used by Roger King.
MW: Does that mean we won’t see the little Moog again?
JC: I keep trying to justify a use for that. It’s great for bass and huge filter sweeps but that’s not something that features a great deal in what Tony Banks does. So far I’ve been dragging it out for the cosmic lawnmower but not much else! It’s not an accurate lawnmower but it makes everyone go “WTF?” when you overdrive the filter and sweep it which is highly amusing! It’s a Moog. What can I say? Like most keyboard players of my age I have given up on analogue in the past only to regret it. Yeah it’s more Rick Wakeman or Peter Bardens than it’s Tony Banks but Oh…. the joy of knob twiddling! (Note to Andrew Latimer…if your present Camel keyboard player does not use a Moog please issue a P45 immediately!)
MW: Moving on, we noticed you have a plastic flower sitting by the keyboards. What is that about?
JC: Ah yes. My mascot “Douglas the Dancing Daffodil!” Well he’s there especially for the guy that used to hound Genesis with calls for Suppers Ready but now turns up at the odd Mama show. He keeps asking for a flower. What’s that about?
MW: You’re not a fan of the early Prog material then?
JC: I’m not as familiar with stuff before Wind and Wuthering. Scattered knowledge of the Lamb and Selling England. I know there are a lot of folk that love Genesis and expect Mama to tackle that early stuff but several other bands are doing it really well so I’d rather we looked at Home By The Sea than Harold the Barrel. The band have labelled me “The Anti-Christ of Prog” but that’s not necessarily true. I’ve jumped from hard rock Deep Purple to Barclay James Harvest, then Camel, then Genesis in the favourite band stakes so that’s pretty proggy. Then I went West young man via Toto to Doobie Brothers, Hall and Oates etc. That is what happens when you play in pub bands!
MW: Apparently you can do a Jim Kerr worthy of “Stars In Their Eyes?”
JC: But good! Yeah, thanks for bringing that up. Actually you should try putting a picture of Jim and Marko sided by side. Spot the difference! I like a lot of the Celtic vibe. I might get an invite to watch Runrig in Scotland one day – HINT HINT! Just don’t utter “Andrea Corr” or I may faint!
MW: And on that bombshell it’s time to end. Thanks JC!
Don’t forget to order your tickets for Bridgnorth as soon as possible, or there will be none left! If you’re not already signed up to our email newsletter, please register on the top right hand side of this web page. See you at the weekend. 🙂