An interview with
Hugh Hopper (2003)

By Beppe Colli
Feb. 10, 2003

It was in 1999 that I had the pleasure to interview Hugh Hopper for the first time. Since then, just a few CDs have been released: first it was The Swimmer, a pleasant album by a nice quartet (piano, drums, bass and vocals); then Cryptids, the second chapter of his collaboration with singer Lisa S. Klossner: an album that to me sounded more successful than their first joint effort (and I'm really sorry that not too many people seem to have bothered to listen). Very recently there was Jazzloops, his new solo CD. So I thought the time was right for a conversation: to discuss the new album and tie some loose ends. I sent him some questions via e-mail on Saturday February 8. You can read our exchange below.

If you don't mind, as a first topic for this conversation I'd like to ask you about your recent CD, Jazzloops: what was the initial impulse behind this new collection?

About 18 months ago I started to get a small recording studio together - not to record bands, but to work on sampling and assembling soundscapes. It's a Cubase VST Audio system working with a PC - not the most sophisticated set-up but OK for the personal sort of music I like to produce. It's really just a modern version of all the loops and soundscapes I have been doing since the 60's, except that now I don't have to cut up and paste together real tape - the computer does all that (and much faster). I have always been attracted to the atmosphere of loop-music since working with Daevid Allen in London and Paris in 63-64. He really showed me the way and sowed a seed for me. I like to play live with other musicians as well - that's a different buzz - but there's something special and very personal about working away in intricate detail on soundscapes.

What's the source material? There seems to be quite a lot of real-time playing on quite a few tracks: was it overdubbed over the loops or was it the other way round?

Mostly I start with a rhythmic loop, like bass and drums from a live gig, either natural or pitch-shifted or slowed down/speeded up. That sets the rhythmic feel. I then add colours and solos - myself on bass or guitar (even some backing vocals here and there!), or sax players like Simon Picard and Pierre-Olivier Govin, who both came down to record at Delta, the studio next to mine. In some cases I have sampled solos that I had already recorded on gigs and maybe stretched or twisted them to fit the atmosphere of the piece, like the sax solo by Didier Malherbe on Sfrankl.

The CD credits are a bit on the vague side - i.e., the players are not credited for each individual track (though I think Elton Dean and Didier Malherbe are quite easy to spot). But what about a track like Nigepo - is it Nigel Morris + Pierre-Olivier Govin?

Exactly. It's a loop of a drum figure by Nigel from Isotope days, over which I added bass and other colours and then had Pierre-Olivier solo over the backing track. He's great, my favourite alto sax player at the moment - such a singing, flying voice on sax.

Here's the line-up. Almost all of the bass is me. There's a lot of unidentifiable loops and samples of course, from various very obscure sources, but the featured musicians on the tracks are:

T3 Simon Picard (sax) Christine Janet (tpt, vx)
Afrik HH (fuzz bass) Simon Picard (sax)
Garrisoi HH (vx) Simon Picard (sax) Christine Janet (tpt) Francois Verly (tabla)
Sfrankl Didier Malherbe (sax) Steve Franklin (synth) Pip Pyle (dms)
ACLoop HH (fuzz bass) John Marshall (dms) Elton Dean (sax)
Calmozart Pierre-Olivier Govin (sax) Didier Malherbe (vx) HH (fuzz bass, gtr,vx) John Marshall (dms)
Aintpo Pierre-Olivier Govin (sax) HH (gtr, Hammond org)
1212 Pierre-Olivier Govin (sax) Patrice Meyer (gtr) Kim Weemhoff (dms)
Digwot Pierre-Olivier Govin (sax) Robert Wyatt (vx, pno)
L4 Pierre-Olivier Govin (sax) HH (gtr) Francois Verly (dms)
Nigepo Pierre-Olivier Govin (sax) HH (gtr) Nigel Morris (dms)

Is it a Jimmy Garrison sample on the track Garrisoi?

It certainly sounds like him, doesn't it? It came from one of those discs you can buy of different riffs, and it reminded me of Garrison, the sort of Coltrane drone things he was so good at and which influenced my own playing and writing very much. I never saw him with Coltrane but I saw him with Archie Shepp. He grunted all the time, like Elvin Jones does. The pair of them must have been scary as a rhythm section - grunting away together while Coltrane sailed away on sax.

The CD is on the Burning Shed label: is it available in the shops or via mail order only?

On the web only, at They are a great new company. They burn CDs on demand, they have an interesting catalogue of ambient and other music building up. They are musicians, Tim Bowness and Peter Chilvers who have started the company. It was funny how I came in contact with them - they already had a CD called Hew Hopper's Base by a group named Sebastian. It's nothing like my music really, Sebastian called it that as a tribute to me. I emailed them to see what was happening and they invited me to send some music if I had some available. With my new recording studio I have been producing so much new stuff that I immediately offered them a collection of loops, which was Jazzloops.

One of the true original bass players - John Entwistle - passed away. Who do you consider as doing quality work nowadays?

There are lots of technically very good bass players, but I don't hear anything really new or startlingly different. That guy in Morphine was great - two strings! But he died. I listen more to ethnic music these days, as well as all my old jazz records. I think I am more interested in different sounding tunes and the overall atmosphere of the music than focusing on single players, especially bass players. In fact I am more attracted by good drummers or sax players than fast tricky bassists.

Thanks to the CD reissue phenomenon, all the musicians who've had long careers - I think this to be true both of the Rolling Stones and Evan Parker - find themselves competing with their own past. Since the old Soft Machine catalogue is still in print - and with CDs of unreleased stuff constantly surfacing - do you ever get the feeling that your present work does not get the proper amount of attention?

Well, I understand why people want to hear the old stuff - I do it myself with other musicians. But I have to keep producing new music. It's like breathing - I don't have the choice: it just keeps coming.

What about the quartet that put out the Swimmer CD? Any chance of a Vol. II?

No plans at the moment. Jan Ponsford who sang on that record has also been down to Delta Studio to record some voice over my loops - that'll be on the next collection. She's a marvel. Great improviser and can also sing great harmonies to songs.

In our previous conversation you talked about your collaboration with Lisa S. Klossner, Different, but at the time I had not listened to it. I have to say I enjoyed the second CD more: Cryptids was more clearly recorded and had quite a lot of "humans" playing on it. Any news in this department?

We have about half of another CD recorded already - continuing the trend away from midi to real musicians. Patrice Meyer and Phil Miller on guitar, Andy Ward and Charles Hayward drums on different tracks. I was listening to the first one recently for the first time for a while and I still like a lot of the songs. Yes, it's very minimal - mostly just synth and Lisa's voice. But its day will come!

Hughscore have quite a few fans here in Italy - as they do, I suppose, everywhere. Please, keep me current on this.

We played at the Progman Cometh festival in Seattle last summer, 2002, (the first real Hughscore gig), but it's hard to get together to work on a new record - Fred Chalenor and Elaine Di Falco have divorced and she's living in California, and Tucker Martine is always so busy in his own professional studio. But we are officially supposed to be doing another CD for Cuneiform when we get a chance.

Last topic: I've heard of a project called Software. Would you mind telling me more?

It's now called Soft Works. Allan Holdsworth, Elton Dean, John Marshall and me. Leonardo Pavkovic's idea. He's an enthusiastic New Yorker (from Croatia, Bosnia, Italy and other places) and a Soft Machine fan. We recorded in London in June 2002 and Allan took the tapes back to Los Angeles to mix and do his guitar solos (he's never satisfied with first takes, or second, or third...). We also played at the Progman Cometh festival - so far our first and only gig. The record, Abracadabra, is released first in Japan March 2003 and we'll be touring there to promote it, and then later in Europe and USA. Allan is a strange person to work with. Very nervous. Stands at the back of the stage like a haunted owl, plays very quietly. I'm more used to players like Patrice Meyer, who can rattle your teeth with a storm of sound when the moment is right.

If there is anything you'd like to add, please feel free to say it here.

I still like playing live with the right people and I still enjoy working on my own projects in the studio. I am producing more music than ever before, doing a lot of collaborations. Sometimes it's with musicians I have never met! There's a CD coming out soon on Cuneiform called Uses Wrist Grab. The band is called Bone and it's Nick Didkovsky from Dr Nerve, John Roulat from Forever Einstein and me. Nick recorded some stuff in New York, I recorded some in England, we shuffled it to and fro across the Atlantic. John added drums and finally Nick mixed it in New York. And we've never met each other! Another project is recording songs with a friend in New York called Virginia Tate - her words, my music. She sings and we have various guests like the Connecticut musician Jim Matus on guitars and Greek lutes. I'm starting a new collaboration with Tim Bowness of Burningshed, also David Willey of Hamster Theatre. And I just did a remix of a track for Theo Travis, who is the latest sax player in Gong. I hope to die happily working when it's my time to fly!

© Beppe Colli 2003 | Feb. 10, 2003

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