A CHAT WITH: ROSS GODFREY
aaamusic | On 07, Feb 2015
Ross Godfrey was one of the founding members of Morcheeba, the British band that mixed rock, trip hop, folk rock and downtempo, producing eight albums. Interviewer Anthony Weightman chatted to Ross ahead of the release of the debut album Little Mountain, a gentle, soulful mix combining his multiple instruments with the vocals of Amanda Zamolo and the voice and guitar work of Steven Forshaw.
Anthony Weightman: Firstly, would you like to say a few words about your new album Little Mountain?
Ross Godfrey: It’s a record we made in 2014. It was a very quick record to make. We started writing some songs which were very organic and heartfelt. It was a traditional songwriters album. We were trying to achieve something with simplicity, but also a depth and beauty.
Anthony Weightman: Together you share a love of the late 60’s English folk of Pentangle. Two years ago I chatted with Jacqui McShee who said that the late Bert Jansch was a quiet mannered man who wrote some fine songs and that any tribute would have to reflect his personality. I actually reviewed the celebration of his life at the Royal Festival Hall. Do you feel that the folk music world gave him the farewell he deserved?
Ross Godfrey: I don’t think he was very well known outside the folk music world. Within the music world people really did value him. I remember reading a quote from Neil Young saying that Bert was very much the Jimi Hendrix of the acoustic guitar. I thought that that was quite a magical thing for Neil to say about him.
Anthony Weightman: Yes, Neil Young contributed with his video link of ‘Needle of Death’ at the Royal Festival Hall tribute. You’re also very much inspired by Fairport Convention. Personally I was very lucky to see Sandy Denny live during her lifetime and witness the exquisite beauty of her songs. When I recently saw Fairport Convention live they played ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ by Sandy and it completely changed the tone of the evening. Do you think her songs still have an extraordinary effect on people?
Ross Godfrey: Yes, they do. There’s a simplicity in her beauty in a day and age when so much reliance is placed on technology. Someone like Sandy Denny comes across with a real purity of soul and musicality. With Bert and Sandy there’s an element of English people not really paying much attention to their own heritage. They’re not very patriotic as far as music goes. We always like to listen to American and world music and we’re very modest about what we’ve contributed as a nation. Because of that English folk music tends to be swept under the carpet a little bit, which is a shame. You don’t have the same thing in Ireland or Scotland where they are much more proud of their artists, especially in the folk world.
Anthony Weightman: Steven Stills, referred to in your biography, was once described by Graham Nash as a musician with a vision. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young became hugely influential and well known for their intricate vocal harmonies. Steven played most of the instrumentals on their debut album. Do you think that that, it itself, reflects his importance as a musician?
Ross Godfrey: I think he was a genius, to be honest. I think the other guys had great voices, but Steven Stills seemed to be able to play every instrument in a way that was unbelievable. An incredibly talented man. I think that his first solo album was one of the best male singer songwriter albums of all time. He was sort of eclipsed by Neil Young in the mid 70s but, to be honest, I prefer his style and voice. Neil used to write brilliant songs, but Steven seemed to have an all round magic.
Anthony Weightman: You also refer to Joni Mitchell, a legend for those poetic, personal and socially aware songs that were hugely imaginative and very rich in texture. She’s probably one of the most important female artists of the last century. Would you like to say a few words about her?
Ross Godfrey: Well, my girlfriend Amanda, who’s in the band, really loves her. Albums like Blue are absolutely amazing. She has an incredible voice and wrote brilliant songs. Also she bridged the gap between lots of different musical genres. Her album Mingus bought together the jazz and folk worlds. She used her ability to improvise. She will always be remembered as one of the great artists of the last century, yes.
Anthony Weightman: Personally I loved ‘Sound Mirror’, your Gordon Giltrap inspired instrumental. He’s a delight because he makes complex guitar work look so easy. When I saw him live he told a bizarre story about meeting Jim Marshall, of the well known Marshall Amps. Jim presented him with a signed bird table, which apparently he makes when he’s not making amps. To me this track seemed to capture the joy, bounciness and humour of Gordon Giltrap. Was that your intention?
Ross Godfrey: Yes. It was Steve who came up with the introduction guitar riff and it sounded great. We pulled out a couple of my old vinyl records from my collection. Gordon isn’t a purist. He isn’t afraid to use electronic effects. We wanted to embrace that spirit. That’s why we paid homage to him in that way. I listened to him as a teenager and he’s been one of my favourite guitar players.
Anthony Weightman: You once jokingly referred to musicians getting together being like statues being played with on the coffee table of the God Zeus. Seriously though, do you believe we have limited control of out fate and that much that happens to us is simply the result of chance?
Ross Godfrey: I think musicians channel things a lot of the time rather than completely inventing things themselves It’s not necessarily a conscious effort. Steve and I play and fall into a groove. You try to fall in step with a collective consciousness within a band. You come up with riffs and you don’t remember where you heard them.
Anthony Weightman: When you met Steve Forshaw he were busking in London’s South Bank. It’s quite a difficult thing to try to do. Passers by often seem guilty, embarrassed, indifferent and perhaps don’t give applause to show their appreciation. Curiously, experiments seem to show that when a very well known musician puts on a brilliant performance busking, but remains recognised, audiences react in exactly the same way. Could you say a few words about how you personally feel about busking?
Ross Godfrey: Well, when I was about 14 I used to go busking in Ashford and Folkestone. I was quite an accomplished guitar player by that time. I played light blues. People didn’t want to look at you eye to eye. They didn’t necessarily show any appreciation. They might put down a coin and then shuffle off. When I saw Steve busking I was really quite impressed. He was doing a Van Morrison song at the time. If you’re a musician and you see someone who’s really good, you stand there and appreciate it.
Anthony Weightman: A few days ago we had the New Years Honours List and there’s a view that it reflected the national musical scene at all levels, though there were no knighthoods or dame-hoods. How do you feel about that tradition?
Ross Godfrey: I think it’s OK. I can understand how some people refuse them because they seem pompous and weird. I think they’re a bit silly and should be taken in a light-hearted way. People who take them too seriously are either a bit pompous or reactionary themselves. Making a statement by giving it back isn’t really taken much notice of.
Anthony Weightman: ‘What We Gonna Do’ is a Fleetwood Mac influenced song. Stevie Nicks once said that “Fleetwood Mac travelled on beautiful aeroplanes. Stayed in incredible hotels. Had limousines. Had anything they wanted, and it was beautiful.” Is there any thing idyllic you can think of that you’d like to add to her list?
Ross Godfrey: Fleetwood Mac is great and a lot has been made of their inner turmoil. At the end of the day they are all absent friends. It’s the same as when you read about how Paul McCartney and John Lennon divided The Beatles and basically got divorced. They met up together once a month and had dinner. The reality is they were friends but just didn’t want to make Beatles records together anymore.
Little Mountain featuring Ross Godfrey play London’s Slaughtered Lamb Wednesday February 11th…