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One can make music with two sticks, or with the latest computers. It's all the same in the end, and it's all very enjoyable to do. If there is one hobby or pastime to gift to your children, this is it. It beats sports as it doesn't get harder with age and it beats visual art as it offers the options of working on your own or in cooperative groups of almost any size. For those who have the ability (and for all but the truly tone deaf, this is literally just a matter of practice), it is a lifetime of pleasure waiting to be sampled.

My musical career can be broadly broken into three parts. The first was youthful, often pretty ropey but interspersed with the odd good moments. That was in the band Schrodingers Cat. Formed at Imperial College in 1985, we played what was called Folk Rock then but now would probably be called Acoustic Rock. We started out without a drummer and did ok, going down well at college gigs and some support slots with other folk rock artists. Our very first lineup had my future wife Isabel on electric violin, Nick Coates on electric guitar and Paul Kapusta on electric bass, with me playing acoustic guitar and harmonica. Paul was a rare character, very smart. He couldn't play the bass, being a violinist, but we really needed one so he volunteered to have a go. I lent him my rubbish old Fender copy and off he went. Six weeks later we played out first gig (for all of us) in front of 300 people and he was great. We got 3 encores, which was a pain as we only had 4 songs. He bowed out to concentrate on Physics later that year (sensible, more sensible than me anyway), eventually going on to earn a Phd in string theory and then becoming a Jesuit priest.

After Paul left, my girlfriend at the time, Sara Shepherd, took up the bass and a Phd student from aeronautics, Jim Clayden, joined us on drums.


Above from L to R: Tony, John, Zed, Isabel. Please also see the gallery for more Schrodinger's Cat pictures.

With lovely 20:20 hindsight, adding drums wasn't a great idea. Wanting to be 'a band' and sounding loud and impressive (something drums do well) led us astray from something quite interesting. My timing is very singer/songwriter, ie weirdly rubbish but effective. When playing solo it works well, ¼ beat dropped or added here and there is actually expressive. But coupled with a drummer, something went out of our sound. If you want to read about this kind of trouble, read about peoples experiences recording with Bob Dylan and you'll see what I mean. Jim was a good drummer (and after him we had several others) but what we gained in steady rhythm and sheer volume we lost somewhere else.

Nick Coates and I had a falling out (about what I cannot even remember now) and he was replaced by Zed on electric guitar, who is a great player and one of life's characters. We got louder and heavier as a result, which was a direction he and I enjoyed. We bought a transit van (very traditional) and played in various locations around London for the year after I left college. Here is a little picture gallery of Schrodingers Cat.

During that year I got a job working at one of London's large recording studio's, the Roundhouse in Camden and my life became dominated by playing and recording music, along with all the technology to accomplish this.

I wasn't really cut out to work for other people so despite enjoying my job at Roundhouse immensely (there were some really good people there at the time) I left a year later and with Isabel (who I was engaged to by then) we built our own studios, Joe's Garage, using money I earned from doing studio electronic maintenance around London and money Isabel earned from teaching the piano. The huge workload this entailed put an end to the band, although we reformed briefly to do some sets, including my sister Hannah on backing vocals. The tracks 'See You In Hell' and 'This Dark Hour' are from this era. We did this without drums. We could play a lot quieter and rehearsals no longer left the ears ringing. It was a lot more fun to do and sounded better, which is a memory I carry with me today and recall every time I'm tempted to add real percussion to anything.

Whilst I'd been working at the Roundhouse Studios in 1988, one of the engineers who worked there, Paul Borg, bought a 12” EP in one day. It was by Marshall Jefferson and I think was 'Acid Tracks'. I remember that it was electrifying, in a way that dance music had not been before. It was of course the beginning of the whole Acid House explosion, that led directly on to most of today's dance music forms. The Roundhouse recorded a lot of House and Hip Hop, and when we started Joe's, being in south London and being reasonably priced, we did too. In 1990, a year after we had formally opened, 'Little Fluffy Clouds' came along. Still one of the best Ambient/Dance tracks ever, this was the first dance music that really made me want to have a go myself. The whole album it came from, 'The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld', was great. There were a few other interesting things around at the time. The KLF had released the album 'Space', which I really liked and Neutron 9000 had recorded 'The Greenhouse Effect ' at Joe's. In short, it was a very exciting time musically, with dramatic new sounds, textures and ideas floating around.

At this point I got together with Aaron Greenwood (who was a DJ/Musician I had met through the Neutron 9000 sessions) and Richard Ashrowan and we formed Shen. It had a simple manifesto to start with. We were going to record using no live instruments (to wean me off guitars I think!), use lots of sounds sampled on location and use all the technology we could muster. At the time we had absolutely no ambition to play live. We did have all the downtime we could use in a great studio, Joe's Mix Room. This had 24 track Studer tape recorders, a 48 channel SSL desk and lots and lots of outboard effects. The result was 'The Spirit Of The Sea', a record that still sounds good to me today, although quite what sort of music category it fits in I've never been sure.


We released a track from it (Stornoway) on a Technology Records EP, then got bored of sitting in the studio. All the recording had been done overnight, from 8pm to 6am most times, so you can see why. We decided to expand our horizons, ditch the 'no instruments' rule and see what we could do live. A friend, Ian Ritchie, joined us and we started rehearsals. We ended up playing in quite a few places in London, including a long (I think nearly 18 month) residency at the Black Lion in Kilburn. We recorded some of our sets, which you can find over on the Shen site. We never did get around to making a studio record, so all that's left of that time are live recordings, straight off the outputs of the PA mixing desk. They still sound good to me, and we certainly entertained people when we played.

Around this time, Isabel and I had sold our studios and started another company, Hyperlink. This grew to be a monster, taking over my life utterly for six years, and it wasn't until that was sold that I was able to return to music. When I did, I wanted to make something much more personal. Richard Ashrowan volunteered to produce for me and for once in my life I shut up and let him tell me what to do. The result is the record 'Gone Away', which I am very happy with. It's all acoustic. We made some daft rules at the start, no percussion, no electricity (apart from the recording equipment) and no overdubs. This was very refreshing, and the chance to play with some excellent musicians (including our two superb backing vocalists Kathleen Willison and Natalie Williams along with Saxophonist Ian Ritchie) made the whole thing a complete pleasure.

Gone Away

Since then I have been doing a little writing and thinking about what to record next. The advent of the Eigenharp tempts me to use one and make a record, but the terrible examples of Consequences (made by Godley and Creme using the Gizmo) and Flat Tire (Made by Alan Holdsworth using a Synthaxe) haunt me!

Here's a little recording from towards the end of making Gone Away that didn't make it to the record. Its just me, an acoustic guitar (my Breedlove) and a harmonica on a neck stand. Recorded in the corner of an old stone room in a house called Il Gabro in Italy; Tell Me No Lies.


John Lambert, 2011


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