Thursday, August 13, 2009

Giorgio Gomelsky's Memories of Magma 1973

This was a debate in 2007 that took place on the Avant-Progressive Yahoo Group. Giorgio gives us some fascinating recollections of the time that Magma frecorded MDK at The Manor in England in 1973. Giogio also weighs in on the popular Tubular Bells vs Magma debate.

(Greg Manson wrote)
I always thought the story was that Oldfield was the tea-boy at the Manor studio when Magma was recording Mekanik, and swiped a theme he heard in the background while mopping the dunny, and I have to concur with Vander's point that he must have because Tubular Bells was obviously less than half an idea stretched beyond breaking point, and nothing Oldfield recorded afterwards was worth two knobs of goat shit.

(Aymeric Leroy responds)
That's a very elegant way of putting it... ;) Anyway... That story just doesn't make sense in the light of chronological evidence. It may be tempting for Magma fans who dislike Oldfield's music (& persona ?) to jump on it but the main theme from "Tubular Bells" had been around for a long time when Magma first came> to the Manor Studios. The first side of the album was even finished. I've argued this on forums before to I won't repeat the facts here (unless politely asked to) but Vander's story doesn't hold. And I'm more of a Magma fan than an Oldfield fan. I would guess they had influences in common rather than stole from each other.

(Giorgio Gomelsky responds)

Interesting debate. Where, and how, Aymeric are you getting the"chronological" evidence?

I did not have the opportunity to follow the previous argumentations you mention, could you email the "facts" to me?

Taking Magma to the Manor Studio had been my doing. Simon Draper, a great music enthusiast, was my good friend and had informed me of its construction, and Branson, trying to promote the studio, had given me a really exceptional deal. Furthermore, I knew one of the engineers there, who actually later came to Valbonne with the Rolling Stones Mobile to record Kohntarkosz . True, the studio was not as yet completely built and, also true, Mike Oldfield (not as a waiter!) was there using it when it wasn't booked by paying customers - and , understandably, wandering about like a lost soul when it was :-) !.

The Manor was a "residential" studio with rooms, kitchen, living rooms, etc. When you booked it, you also lived there for the time you were recording, very useful. The studio itself was in an old chapel across from the main house and you walked across a little garden patch to get to it.

In the dining room of the main building, there was an upright piano. Christian often used it to work out details and tempos for parts we were about to record. The "piano cycle", because of its hypnotic effects, was also a way for him to relax and believe me, he was not light-handed about it. When he was banging away, the entire Manor was vibrating....

I clearly remember when Christian first sat there and used it. It was at the very beginning of our sessions. I had gone from the studio - where I was playing some Magma rehearsal tapes to the engineers to give them an idea of the material - to my room to pick up some tapes I had forgotten, and was walking through the dining room back to the studio. It was raining that day, and in true Gothic fashion, the old Manor was sort of dark and spooky. Just before exiting the main house from the dining room, there was a little even darker alcove where cutlery and plates were kept and as I walked through there I literally bumped into Mike, who had obviously just entered the house. He was standing there listening as if transfixed, his jaw literally dropping to the floor as if receiving some kind of revelation. Clearly he had never heard anything like it. It made me smile.

Apart from anything else, it suggested that if we got to play to UK audiences, we had a chance of surprising them. There is no way you can argue "common influences". At that time, the mix of those prevailing in the UK were miles removed from those on the Continent. Sure, there were common ones, mainly based on US black music and rock, but in France (and elsewhere in Europe), there was additional interest in contemporary "classical" music, like Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Ravel, Schoenberg, Stockhausen, etc., as well as "modern jazz" like Miles, Coltrane even early Weather Report, to which Continental audiences were more exposed, as American musicians were allowed to freely play in Europe whereas in the UK, the Musician's Union, ever since the 30's and to protect the livelihood of local musician, had instituted a ban, unless UK artists would be "exchanged" meaning offered gigs in the US, which, until the Beatle shit there, was a a rare occurrence.

I felt bad for Mike being put on the back burner by Branson's desire to"monetize" the studio. Of course, it's rather humiliating for an artist. But perhaps it turned into a windfall for him, because I'm totally convinced that the stay of Magma at the Manor had something to do with the main theme of TB. If, in fact, as Aymeric says, part one of TB had already been recorded (which speaking to the engineers whom I had interpolated about it at the time I doubt), there is nothing that would have impeded Mike to revise it after having been exposed, time and time again, to Christian's all-pervasive riffing sessions at the living room piano. Besides, it's well nigh impossible not to compare the "piano cycle"riff, note by note, to it. Remember also, Magma, at the time was an "illustrious unknown" in the UK, due to return to the Continent after the recording sessions, far away and out of circulation, hence difficult for anybody to reference.

My impression of Mike at the Manor was that of a typically "English" shy yet agreeable and keen enough young fellow who was intensely looking for an artistic identity. Simon Draper believed in him and Simon's taste was visionary and impeccable. As is often the case, no doubt from times immemorial, musicians (and audiences) intuitively pick up and assimilate into their practice, pieces of sound which reveal "missing links" in their understandingand appreciation of music. Where that stops and "plagiarism" starts might be debatable. This is a difficult one, but I do think that so many years later, it would not be misplaced if Mike at least acknowledged he had, on that rainy day in an old spooky manor house near Oxford, HEARD Christian's definitely "exorcistic"riffings.


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