Cult Heroes No. 21: The Enid
How could a genteel, classically inspired new band expect to compete with the manic punk movement in the mid-70s? But the story of The Enid is far from being a lovely stroll in the fields, sniffing the flowers and making nice music for tea drinkers. This has violence, insanity and more than a touch of controversy. Malcolm Dome explains out why The Enid deserve to be hailed as Cult Heroes. Check out all previous Cult Heroes.
Three wild, crazy young near delinquents, who would constantly argue and get into punch-ups? Sounds like the normal activity of a rock ‘n’ roll band. But we are talking right now about The Enid. Yes, the band most would regard as representative of a more genteel manner, almost shying away from any form of confrontation. Aren’t they just a bunch of classical musicians who dream of an England long gone – if it ever existed? Obviously, you’ve never spoken to Robert John Godfrey, who’s been the principle spokesman for the band ever since its inception 35 years ago. Like the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (www.powell-pressburger.org), the music of The Enid may seem superficially as sweet as a tea rooms WI meeting in the 1950s, but beneath the surface lurks lurid darkness and a cruel, twisted insight into the realities of society.
“This isn’t about whimsy, about fairies at the bottom of your garden, about hair flowing in the wind. There’s a lot of power in the music, the sort that would appeael to fans of heavy music, if only they’d give it a chance. The few who’ve discovered us by accident have become genuine fans. Our music can go from a whisper to a scream. It’s heavy metal Wagner – and if he were alive today, wouldn’t Wagner be in a heavy metal band? His whole philosphy was, ‘Everything louder than everything else’. Where others would settle for four horns, he’d demand 12!”
Robert John Godfrey first got attention with Barclay James Harvest. He was a crucial part of the band’s first two albums, Barclay James Harvest (1970) and Once Again (1971), before effectively being forced out.
“It was such a Spinal Tap situation,” he laughs. “It was the band’s girlfriends who forced the issue. They were from the Lancashire/Yorkshire area, and couldn’t handle the idea of a gay man like me, with a plummy accent. The shame is that Norman Smith (who produced those albums, and also worked with early Pink Floyd) believed that had we stuck together, then Barclay James Harvest would have been as big as The Pink Floyd!”
So Godfrey, after releasing one solo album (in 1974), started The Enid, with guitarist Francis Lickerish and guitarist/bassist Steve Stewart – all three had been at an experimental Kent school called Finchden Manor, which became notorious for its unusual approach to education in the 1960s.
“Everyone at that school was quite literally wild. And, as the three of us had been there, our relationship was interesting. It would quite often lead to very violent arguments. I was especially physically violent, and had my nose borkne on one occasion and gave as good as I got. You can imagine that life with us was never easy. But a lot of the reason for this was that we all cared so passionately about the music.”
The trio stayed together long enough to record four truly spectacular albums: In The Region Of The Summer Stars (1976), Aerie Faerie Nonsense (1977), Touch Me (1978) and Six Pieces (1979). They remain among the most resolutely inventive of all progressive albums from that era, even though Godfrey isn’t enamoured of that term.
“There are too many bands today for whom the term ‘progressive’ means jist repeating what was doen back then. I admire the likes of IQ, who are so good they’re probably better than a lot of the original bands!
“Where we differed from so many others in the 1970s was in the way I used advanced classical harmonics. So, while our music is very tuneful and romantic, what it also takes onboard is my obsession with harmonics. We’re not advanced in the sense of jazz, but more along the lines of classical composers like Mahler or Ravel. So that gave us a unique place in music.
“For me, one of the haredest thinhs to do is to get the right guitar sound for this band. I admire our current guitarist, Jason Ducker, because he took ages to get the right sound, which is almost like an opera voice. I know it may seem strange, but the more the guitar is the hooligan in the band, the more it allows me to be extreme in a romantic sense. The juxtaposition works.”
But, one thing The Enid have never been is predictable, as Godfrey readily acknowledged.
“When we did Something Wicked This Way Comes in 1983 it was a departure for us, and there were a lot of fans who didnt get what we were doing. But then we also picked up a new audience. Then we went back to what we’d done before on The Spell (1985), only for Salome (1986) to again be something different. Actually, I did that album intending it to be the soundtrack for the Ken Russell film of the same title. But he rejected it, which in the end was just as well. The movie turned out to be soft porn, and I’d have been embarrassed if my music had ended up on something like that.
“But Ken Russell is someone I admire. Like me, he shoots from the hip and sometimes doens’t think before he says anything. He has done some awful stuff, but haven’t we all. And when you look at his finest works – I’m thinking about those great documentaries he did for the BBC in the early 1960s, on the likes of Elgar – they are simply magnificent.”
In recent years, Godfrey has battleed against mental problems, something he addresses on the new Enid album Journey’s End.
“I spent ages on drugs, just sitting in front of daytime TV. I don’t know exactly what the problem was – maybe I was bipolar – but I deal with this on Journey’s End. Those times also made me appreciate to some extent waht Brian Wilson, for me the greatest popular music genius of the 20th century, might have gone through.
“I also confront the concept of death on the album, which is something so many people avoid. I also look at the whole idea of dreams. Not in the sense of the surreal or fantastic, but more about the people I’ve met in dreams whom I’ve never encountered when awake.”
Godfrey, while not conventionally religious, does have his own thinking on the best way to approach life.
“Generosity could be my religion. Like everyone else I have regrets in life, although I have always been able to move on from the band things I’ve done to people – and there have been some. What I feel is that if you are generous to others, then hopefulyl they’ll be generous to you. When I moved to Yorkshire to work with Barclay James Harevst, I was surprised by how generous and open people were as compared to the south of England. Maybe it’s because they had so little that ,unless they sharedl people would starve.”
Musically, Godfrey is delighted with the current band line-up, featuring himself (keyboards), Ducker (guitar), Max Read (vocals), Nick Willes (bass and percussion) and Dave Storey (drums and percussion).
“This is not a bunch of old men reliving the past, but an exciting new band. The response so far has been very encouraging. We’ve even been to America for the very first time, and got a great reception. I am very encouraged by it all.”
The man has also got the right back for the first two Enid albums, and also for his 1974 solo album Fall Of Hyperion.
“Those are all owned by EMI. But it turns out that the man who now runs EMI, Guy Hands, is a huge Enid fan and has been on our mailing list since the 1980s. So I called him and asked if there’s anything he could do. He’s a very busy man, but replied he’d see what I can do. So, now those albums are being reissued by our label.”
Godfrey, who co-owns The Lodge Recording Studio with Max Read, (www.lodgerecording.co.uk) is also battling another , unrelated record company to regain control of his music. But for the first time this century, The Enid not only have a future, but a leader who’s inspired and focused again.
“I never think of myself as leader of The Enid, though. I’m my best when collaborating with others. That brings out the best in me. Otherwise, I obsess too much about the music and find it hard to just let go. I have become the main spokesman for The Enid, but this is a band.”
And one who, in their own way, were as anarchic and edgy as any of the punk bands who were effectively their contemporaries. And they’re more relevant today than some of those angry punks who’ve grown complacent and innocuous. Don’t believe me? Check out the following tracks:
Find out more at www.theenid.co.uk
Tags: Barclay James Harvest, Brian Wilson, Cult Heroes, Dave Storey, Francis Lickerish, IQ, Jason Ducker, Ken Russell, Max Read, Nick Willes, Norman Smith, Pink Floyd, Robert John Godfrey, Spinal Tap, Steve Stewart, The Enid