Eno: organizer of musical events

From an unknown publication, probably in 1974, by Lisa Robinson. From the Jeffrey Morgan Archive.

Eno - full name Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno - calls himself a non-musician. Yet, he's sitting in his Drake Hotel suite playing a lineup of glasses filled with liquids of varying degrees. It's music, all right, as is the music he's made with Roxy, and then more recently - his own solo lp (Here Come The Warm Jets) and his concerts with John Cale, Nico and Kevin Ayers in England. Before Eno left Roxy - a subject he says he no longer wishes to discuss because he finds it tedious but will under duress - he “treated" the instruments through synthesizers. First standing at the back of the hall, and then very much onstage, Eno was a visually important part of the group as well as musically. When it became obvious that there really could be no Star in Roxy except for Bryan Ferry, Eno left. He is quite happy with his present situation.

“I consider myself an organizer of musical events,” he says, in between eating a sandwich, playing the glasses, experimenting with, err, various forms of dadaist art, and fiddling about with a toy ukelele. "Once, at the very beginning of Roxy, it was possible to do that, it was exciting, and it was one of the most interesting experimental situations that could have existed. Just the idea that we didn't really want to have a focus onstage, it could have been Andy or me or Bryan. That was before we ever came to the States.

“And for a time there really was a triple ambiguity. But - apparently Bryan didn't want it that way and he conned us, really. I left because I had no other choice. Bryan said he was never going onstage with me again. We didn't disagree musically, and we never have, really. Anyway, he thought that I was trying to take over as leader in the band - mainly because I started getting a lot of press, and he thought I had done this whole operation behind his back.

"I was never interested in any of that and it's obvious that that wasn't my role in the band. The thing that fascinated me about Roxy was that there was this interplay of musicians and it was all up front even if it didn't seem that way. Potentially there was the possibility of anybody being a star for fifteen minutes - it wasn't the traditional kind of thing. We didn't want the traditional concept of anybody up front with a spotlight and the rest all with long hair standing around in the back."

Anyway, enough about Roxy. Eno - since leaving that band last year, has become involved in some of the important musical events of this past season. June 1 1974 was a concert organized by Island Records' Richard Williams - Kevin Ayers asked Nico, John Cale and Eno to join him on that day at the Rainbow. "We decided what the format of the concert would be and then the role sort of fell on me to be the keeper of the thing.

"I generally kept it from straying off the subject - which was that somebody would come onstage, and then go off again and then somebody else would have to come on, just the mechanics of what would we do in between the two people. Just making sure that we thought about those details of the actual stage problems and the whole layout of the set. So in fact the rehearsals were the most efficient rehearsals I've ever been involved in and we only rehearsed for about 20 or 25 hours at the most - which isn't a lot."

The result was the Island record titled June 1, 1974 - although not all of the numbers that they did were included. (Nico also sang 'Deutschland Uber Alles' and "Janitor of Lunacy'” and John did some from his forthcoming lp …)

“Apart from The Who, the Velvet Underground were my first rock heroes,” Eno commented, "so working with John and Nico (who had both been original members, Ed.) was really the fulfillment of a dream. The Who had come out in England with this expression of frenzy and madness that was unprecedented at that time - nobody was doing that.

"I had never seen the Velvets, but I had worn out all the records, and I tremendously admired John and Nico and Lou Reed for their separate contributions to the group. Working with them was of course interesting; both of them are very demanding people in a way - and so am I in another way. It was a very volatile situation and those are the ones that interest me in music. We weren't sitting around patting each other on the back saying 'groovy', 'let's blow together' - it was quite intense."

The concert crystalized an idea that had been happening for Eno, which was that a band didn't have to have a fixed personnel, the concept that there is enough dialogue between a certain group of musicians that at any time any number of them can get together and do some work. 'I've been thinking that this is the way to do things for a long time," he said, “I'm getting away from the idea of having a fixed group that stays together all the time."

“Just the idea that there can be a getting together particular situations of musicians who otherwise would not be able to come together. Of course we really couldn't take it on the road, because we'd fight after a few gigs,” Eno smiled. "Also because we're all basically into doing things on our own. And nobody in that set of people is prepared to commit themselves to be part of just one unit.”

“I'm not interested anymore in the idea of a front man and background musicians. The nice thing about that concert was that it wasn't a fixed focus, everyone there had their time and everyone was equally important. And this didn't only extend to the star names on the record, Robert Wyatt was involved and he was very important to the concept. All the other people on stage - there was no feeling of some people doing the interesting things and the others doing the hard work. It wasn't like that. Of course, those situations are so much easier to construct if you are only interested in doing it once or twice. You can afford to do it, you can afford to spend the money. And you can afford to forget your ego a little while to do it. And take into account that all the people on that stage are very egotistical, really. I don't mean they're necessarily trying to be stars - but they are people who make a strong musical statement of some kind or another."

Summing the experience up, Eno said, "First of all, it was a great concert, the best concert I've ever played - easily. I've never enjoyed anything so much. And secondly it produced an album which I really love and thirdly it proved a point which I thought was possible and which had never been proven in England successfully before - and that was the idea of the superstar get together. It's been such a disaster because what happens usually is that you get the lowest common denominator of every person. You don't bring out the best points in them, you bring out the points where they all agree, which is way down here."

Eno has been involved in a variety of albums this past year - his own solo, the June 1 concert, John Cale's forthcoming lp on which he is listed as executive producer, the Portsmouth Symphonia of which he is a member, a bizarre recording that he made with Robert Fripp ... and he feels that he wants to keep that rate of output and diversity of output because they're all very different from each other. "I was involved in all of that to the extent that they took a large amount of time to do, I didn't just walk into the studio and walk out again. It wasn't like doing sessions, but it was being quite heavily involved in it. Now I want to continue to do that, and if I start touring, I'll have to sacrifice those things and it isn't possible for me to do all those albums and go on tour. It's out of the question."

"I don't like touring much because I think for me it's not a very productive situation. I would like to do special concerts with special people, but you can't make those things happen too often, really."

In terms of Eno's own music - he says that his "technology" isn't developing very much. "But if you notice the difference between the "Baby’s on Fire” cut on my solo album and on the June 1st album there is a big difference. First of all, on the June 1st one there is an 8 part instrumental thing happening. All the instruments are playing very simple parts, there aren't any solo displays, or anything like that," Eno points out. "It's working with a combination of simple parts that change at different times. It's to do with overlaying very simple parts on simple structures but watching the progress of the parts in relation to each other and organizing them so that they change or so that each part changes into another simple part at a given time. But that another musician will be changing his at another time. So there's always this mesh and interplay of things changing and happening but there is never any complex movement on the part of any of the musicians. There is never any improvisation for example. I'm anti-improvisation and into note for note organizing. But, I mean the 'Baby’s on Fire' cut on the June 1st lp sounds crazy but that comes from being incredibly disciplined. Not from everyone getting on stage and playing anything."

When I mention that I particularly like his singing, Eno smiled and said, "I've always enjoyed singing and that's the first thing I can do because it's the only musical response that I can control in any way. But Bryan wasn't into letting anyone else sing lead in Roxy - so, that was another thing - no lead singers."

As to his work on John Cale's lp, Eno was listed as executive producer along with Roxy's Phil Manzanera, but he played on it as well. "I play much less than Phil because that wasn't the role I was fulfilling anyway. And generally, I was a kind of consultant or advisor, anyway. John was using me to bounce ideas off of, and get reactions from. It was a very intense month, it took a month to do and it was a month of solid work. I considered myself totally committed to that album at that time; John would ring me up at half past five in the morning and say 'I've just had this idea for such and such, what do you think?', and we would talk for one half hour. And I considered it part of my role to do that because that was really my only role at the time. I wasn't sort of putting hot licks on the album. And it was interesting - being this sort of consultant, ideas consultancy. It was very pleasant and the album is tremendous; I think it's the best John Cale album really - it has a whole other direction on it that he hasn't touched before. And it gave birth to the possibility of the June 1st concert."

Brian and his party trick. "Do not hit me -- I have glasses."