Fireworks Magazine Online 44 - Gary Hughes / TEN


I have to admit it, I never thought it would happen, but Ten are finally set to return with their excellent new album ‘Stormwarning’, their first new material in five years. Although mainman Gary Hughes released a solo album ‘Veritas’ in 2006, we haven’t heard anything from him until Frontiers announced late last year that Ten would be returning with a revamped band line-up and a new producer in Dennis Ward. Ant Heeks sat down for a chat with Gary to get all the details.

What have you been up to since your last album?

Well as a band we’ve been going through a lot of changes, Steve (McKenna) left the band a few years ago now, then he kind of came back in for a while, and the problem was getting people together to do this album. I think the problem essentially with a band like Ten is we’ve obviously been on the block for a lot of years now, and you kind of start to look at the situation in a retrospective way and you think ‘well are we gonna do another album, is there gonna be another album?’ And some days you feel like there is gonna be one and some days you think well, shall we pack it in? But I think when you start to think about things like accumulative sales and worldwide sales, although we’re not doing anything like the sales we were doing say for instance at the back end of the nineties, if you still put all the sales together in say for instance a football stadium it’s still very respectable, so it’s not enough people to make you kind of Phil Collins type of money, but at the same time it’s not insignificant enough to pack it in, you know? That’s the dilemma we hit every time we make a record. But I think this year there’s kind of a new vibe with the band, a new hunger there again within the band which is what I was kind of looking for from people, and really what’s happened is that in the departmentthing reals of the band where I felt the hunger wasn’t there any more, we’ve had a bit of an overhaul, a bit like a car having an MOT we’ve had the brakes and one or two other things changed, you know? And the people in the band now are really up for it, I mean there’s no question about Paul Hodson (keyboards) and John Halliwell (guitars), they’ve been stalwarts in the band, but it’s sometimes hard to keep the hunger going over the years in other departments of the band, people drift off and do other things like solo records and session work, and when it comes to the Ten album there’s not always the excitement there anymore to do it, so I didn’t really want that this time, I thought if we’re gonna do it let’s make sure that it’s got a bit of vibe to it, let’s drag it kicking and screaming into 2011, which I think we’ve done. Neil Fraser (guitars) has come in now and he’s playing very much in a Ten style but with his own touches, his own feel, he’s got some aspects that Chris Francis had, he’s got some aspects that Vinny Burns had, but he’s playing very much with his own blues background as well, as well as being very technically competent, so he’s added another dimension to the sound. And I think that Mark Sumner coming in and playing the bass, on past albums some of the bass has been programmed, certainly on the last one, ‘Twilight Chronicles’ Chris Francis played the bass as well as the guitars on the last album, so it’s nice to have a bass player playing the bass this time, and very competently indeed. And I knew that it had to be this time around because if you’re going to get somebody like Dennis Ward in to mix the album, essentially he’s a bass player anyway, so the bass had better be good! But in every department I’m really pleased with this record, and I’m looking forward to doing some live work on the back of it as well, because a lot of the songs are screaming out to be played live, so that’s the next thing really.

Is there anything about this particular moment in time that made you want to resurrect the band?

Not really, I think really the plan was to get the album out for the tenth of October last year so the date would have been 10/10/10, that would have been the perfect release date, but two things kind of scuppered us on that, one the album wasn’t finished, but also it was a Sunday anyway so it was a bit of a weird day to release anything really. The timing for this has literally been now it’s finished, it took a while, and because it’s been slightly different this time with the recording process, obviously I’m used to seeing everything through to the mixing and the mastering, but we took a step back to the late nineties when we used to get outside engineers in all the time to mix the Ten albums, on the first three Ten albums it was Mike Stone, and Rafe McKenna mixed ‘Spellbound’, Tony Newton mixed ‘Far Beyond The World’, we’ve always kind of recorded it, got all the bits onto multi-track, and then considered at that stage that we were too close to something to actually mix it, and it always had that little bit of a vibe about it because somebody else mixed it, and we enjoyed that. In more recent years budget and various things like that had some impact on whether we choose an outside mix engineer because obviously it costs money at the end of the day, and we considered it was more important to put money in the bands pocket rather than the production engineers pocket, but this time Frontiers decided that they were going to do it differently this time, they were going to control it lock, stock and barrel, they’re essentially financing it, so they said ‘you record it, don’t worry about mixing it because we’ll pay for Dennis Ward, we’ll pay for the artwork, we’ll pay to get it licensed in the States, we’ll get it licensed in Japan,’ so it’s them taking the reins a little bit, which was quite weird for me this time around, but now that the whole experience has happened it’s been quite nice to just be able to concentrate on the songs, and make sure the songs are right, make sure the lyrics are right, make sure the performances are right, and then just hand it over, just washing your hands of it until it’s mixed, which is quite good really, it’s quite a purging or liberating experience if you like.

Regarding the cover, you’ve gone back to Luis Royo who created the ‘Spellbound’ and ‘Babylon’ covers, what is the story behind the artwork?

The thing is, the brief from Frontiers was to try and examine and focus on the strong points that Ten had in the past, throughout our whole anthology as far as the albums were concerned. Certain things have worked, others haven’t worked quite so well, and we had to do a lot of soul searching and try and be objective and find what were the strengths in Ten, so essentially this album is based on the types of materials that we feel were Ten’s strengths. There’s more than a big nod to the first two albums and also ‘Spellbound’ on this one, there’s probably little essences of all the albums, but mostly the first two and ‘Spellbound’, and that’s no accident. Not so much a directive, but that was a polite request from Frontiers, that was the kind of album they wanted, and in doing that we looked back at what we felt were our better album covers, and the Royo covers came up each time, we felt that was more where we were at, and Frontiers were screaming out for us to go with a Royo cover again this time, so essentially it was something that was decided between the band and the label, but I think the label had already made their minds up that it was going to be a Royo cover, and it was just a case of contacting Luis again and seeing what he had that we could use, and obviously with an album title like ‘Stormwarning’ it opens up a whole world of imagery and ideas, and he sent back 20 or 30 options that he thought might fit the bill, and we went with the burning city idea, and Frontiers went along with it. And also with Frontiers being Italians, any excuse to get a woman’s backside on an album cover will do very nice for them, so there you go! (laughs)

Has the title ‘Stormwarning’ got any reference to anything in particular?

Not really. ‘Stormwarning’ the track is kind of the bastard son of ‘After The Love Is Gone’ off the first record, it’s very much in that style. In fact we intend to try and segue that when we play live just to give the idea of Ten then and Ten now. But there’s no real hidden meaning as far as the band’s concerned, I’m a bit of a Sci-Fi geek on the side, and the lyrics of that track are based on a Star Trek episode that I watched years and years ago that I found quite compelling, almost like the last man and woman on the planet, it’s the tragedy of being the last beings on the planet, so no, it’s nothing to do with the band.

So what else has inspired your lyrics on this album?

Various different things, I tried to look a little wider ranging than just the love songs or the tragedy songs that we’ve done in the past, I’ve always tried to find different angles on different things in any case. There are lots of different approaches to the songs, for instance the track ‘Endless Symphony’, obviously it’s exactly what it says, it’s a comparison between somebody’s life and a symphony, the idea that a symphony has lots of different sections of light and shade, lighter moments and darker moments, and the idea that somebody’s life has that as well, almost as if it follows somebody’s life through from birth to the requiem at the end, I thought that was quite an interesting thing. I mean in an orchestral way we could have taken that to the eighth degree, we could have made a thirty minute piece of music out of that, an instrumental piece of music out of that quite easily, but not so easy to put it into a song, and also to look at the lyrics as musical terminology, the violence and the calm, the sentiment and the heartbreak and melancholy all bring out the andante, the allegro or the legato type of imagery of those type of emotions. And also the idea that music and life are very much parallel, I don’t think there’s anyone alive that doesn’t have some piece of music that when they hear it, whether it be on the radio or in the car or whatever, it doesn’t immediately cast them back to a certain place in time. Everybody has at least one song that does that, I have hundreds of songs that do that and probably you too, but it’s the idea that music goes through the course of your life. There are various different ideas on that on the album, one of them is ‘The Wave’, which again is an emotional thing, the idea that the waves keep coming onto the beach, and although they come, they retract again and head back out to sea, and they’re haunted by the memories of everybody’s lives, and that’s where ‘The tide is ours but echoes haunt the waves’ comes from, it’s almost as if everybody gets that imagery created by millions of peoples lives washing into the beach and disappearing, and getting washed away at the end of the day. Different things like that, lots of Sci-Fi, lots of dark strange phenomena type of things, the centre of the universe and the idea that somebody could quickly become the centre of your universe almost in the blink of an eye. I suppose it’s all about frailties of the heart and frailties of the mind, and also at the other end of the scale the strengths of those two factions, you know?

Is there a good chance that you will be getting out and playing live?

Yes, very much so. I’m fact at the moment I’m talking to two promoters, one for a set of Japanese dates, they’re always first off the mark with anything to do with the live side, it has been about five years since we played in Japan, and that was always a big territory for us, certainly back in the nineties, so we’re looking at putting some dates together for that, and I’m talking to a Spanish promoter as well that we have worked with in the past about doing some dates over there, so if those sets of dates come together and if we can coincide them so they’re close enough together to start of pinning together a tour there a couple of guys I know who want to put things together in Germany and Belgium and Holland, so if we can tie one or two shows in those territories then it makes perfect sense to come off the back of that and put some shows together in the U.K. And I think that we need to do that, I want us to get back into the venues, and they don’t need to be the biggest venues in the world, but as long as you’re back in the live arena and in people’s faces, and at this stage I’d rather do a clutch of five or ten gigs in the U.K. than do a festival at the moment, and I know it sounds like reverse psychology at the moment, but I think a festival, although it’s obviously an opportunity to play to a lot more people than you could with ten shows, it’s like an anonymous thing, it’s an androgynous thing, you can’t touch people the same way. Especially a band of our ilk, because not everybody in the audience is going to know you, and the ones that are in the audience and are trying to enjoy you aren’t going to enjoy you like they would in amongst three or four hundred partisan fans, so I think a series of dates in smaller, sweaty venues would get us back to where we were really, and that’s what we need to do now, we need to bash it out and make this a well-oiled machine.

I have heard about an Internet campaign to get Ten to support Magnum on their tour this year.

I did hear something about that, and there was also something coming back from Frontiers at the time about, obviously they’ve just signed Whitesnake, and there was the possibility of potentially doing some dates with Whitesnake, and everything was up in the air, the music business is a funny thing, there can be twenty things on the go at one given time, and you’re lucky if one or two of them comes off, but we’re open to anything, any suggestions from all over the place. And because that came through and it looked like it might be around the same time, it was kind of let’s hold fire about different things, and although there was an Internet thing about Magnum, I mean Bob (Catley) and I get on great, everybody knows we have a history of working together, but there wasn’t any official approach from any of Magnum’s representation, so again it was probably a little bit of wishful thinking on behalf of one or two diehard fans. I mean musically, it would be a very nice blend, Magnum and Ten, but nothing came through officially, but you never know, maybe one of these days something like that may happen, but I think it might have been a bit too early for us for it to be this year.

Ten years ago around the time of ‘Far Beyond The World’ you were still touring regularly. Do you think that putting Ten on hold to do your ‘Once And Future King’ project harmed the band?

I think it probably did, I don’t think it harmed us with regard to our standing in the market, if you like, but where it did harm us was within the band, because we lost the momentum of what we were doing, and although at the time Vinny went off to do his solo record as well, he did it a lot quicker than I did my two albums because of balancing all the singers schedules and everything, so I think for a while Ten were waiting around for me to finish it, even though essentially the bulk of the band were the musicians on it, I mean Vinny wasn’t because it was the advent of Chris, that was the first product that Chris played on for us, but I think that it had it’s own kind of impact within the band. And especially because at the time, when it was completed there was a promoter in Belgium who wanted to put it on as a show, and he wanted to put it on a festival with as much of the original cast as we could get, but when we went down the avenue for that it just became so expensive that it couldn’t ever possibly be done, but because that was spoke about and seemed to be in the pipeline, one or two people in the band thought ‘hang on, is Ten a priority or is Gary’s solo thing a priority here?’ And I get that now. And that’s why nowadays I try and keep the other things around and make sure that the priority is Ten, and everything else is worked on as and when I’m not working with Ten. I don’t think that was always the case, maybe it was a learning curve for everybody, and I’ll be the first to admit that maybe it did have an impact.

Have you any message for Fireworks and Rocktopia readers?

Yeah, many thanks for sticking with us over the years, and obviously this is a new chapter, a new era, and I hope that everybody gets behind it the same way as they have done in the past, I think it’s about time that the British bands got considered on a par with foreign acts, and I’m sure that they’ll get behind it. I think the kind of people that read Fireworks and Classic Rock and things like that, they’re the ones that we’re still making records for, so hopefully all I can ask is that they like the new album, and they come and say hello at any live dates that might transpire in 2011 and beyond.

Read the full interview with Gary in Issue #44 of Fireworks, available very soon from participating WHSmiths and right here at Rocktopia!

TEN Gary Hughes Interview

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