Questions to Francis Lickerish
By Tetsuo Uchida
1. The SECRET GREEN's album released in '09, To Wake The King, gave a great surpise and joy to the fans of THE ENID, especially of those early albums when you were with the band. About a year preceding the release, there was a rumor that you would make the comeback to the musical scene. What made you decide to do it?
There were a number circumstances that helped me decide to return to music. I had not played a note since 1986 and had come to believe that I would never have anything to do with music again; but Life seemed to have other ideas. My work life (as a therapist) took a sudden and unexpected turn and I found myself unemployed. I decided to use the time to walk the Camino pilgrimage across Northern Spain, 800 kms. from St Jean Pied-a-Port in France to Santiago on the West coast of Spain. This journey gave me time to reflect on who I was and what I really wanted. I got married to Helen and as a wedding present she gave me my Lute, and I began to re-learn that beautiful instrument. Then we went to India. India changed my life forever. I saw and learned things out there that went very deep into my soul, and standing 6000 meters up in the Himalayas watching the Sun rise over Nanda Devi I felt I had to have another go at writing music. When I returned to England, I began work on To Wake The King.
2. More than 30 years have passed since you left THE ENID, and I've heard that you are engaged in a counseling-related job in the meantime. During this interval, did you do any musical activity? If there is any recording, please explain.
I left The Enid in 1981. Later that year I went to live in Southern Ireland where I became a music teacher and got involved with some local Irish bands. When I returned to England in 1985, I formed my own band called Rutterkin, but sadly this did not last very long and there are no recordings to speak of. After Rutterkin, I vowed to turn my back on music forever!
3. To Wake The King is a fantastic album that exceeded our expectation, integrating the traditional grace of the U.K. and grand symphonic sound, and I was especially impressed with the sophistication of your unique songwriting and guitar style over time. Some tunes have Celtic musc elements, and I am very much interested in your musical background. Please look back your musical background including how you started to play music.
Well thank you. I really am delighted that you like To Wake The King. I was brought up in a musical family. My mother was involved with opera, my father collected English folk music and my older brother played Big Bill Broonzy and Robert Johnson on the guitar. I was surrounded by all kinds of music and I guess I just soaked it up. When I was 14, I heard an album of the lute music of John Dowland played by Julian Bream and I thought to myself "That's what I want to play". So I began to pick out lute tunes on my dad's guitar. Then of course I got into rock music. My big influences back then were Captain Beefheart, The Rolling Stones, The Band stuff like that and I started to play the electric guitar. But I always seemed to return to a very English, folk-like style of playing. I am also influenced by several classical composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Bax.
4. We can understand that To Wake The King is a band album having you as the leader. Please give account of interesting stories about its production and its background story.
To Wake the King seemed to be fated. It was very strange in a lot of ways. I have always wanted a female singer in my band and many years ago I had worked with Hilary Palmer, but we had lost contact and I hadn't heard from Hils for over 20 years. I began work on To Wake the King and of course, I wrote the songs with a woman singer in mind. Shortly after I began work, I received an email from Hilary, the first contact we had had for all that time! I asked her if she might be interested in singing on my new project and she said "Of Course, It's fate!" and so it was. Shortly after that, I got a message from Willie Gilmour. Again we had had no contact for over 20 years. I told him about To Wake the King and the rest is, as they say, History. I found recording To Wake the King a very emotional experience and I think that Jon and Hilary also found it so. I used to travel up to Inverness to write with Willie Gilmour and we would spend hours remembering our days in The Enid.
The soul of To Wake the King lies in the English folk tradition and the legends of King Arthur and, more particularly, Merlin. There is a legend that Arthur is sleeping somewhere in the hollow hills and when England's need is greatest, Merlin and Nimue the enchantress will awaken him again. The whole album is set in another England, an England of the heart.
5. In the autumn of '12, a long-awaited new album, Far And Forgot - From The Lost Lands, was completed, and its distribution in Japan is decided. I was impressed with the grandeur and perfection of this new album at the first listening, but this time the album is released as your own solo album. Can we understand that this is an extension of SECRET GREEN?
Yes absolutely. Secret Green is a project rather than a band and includes Hilary and Jon especially. It was suggested to me that I bring out Far and Forgot under my name as my name is familiar to some people from my time with The Enid.
6. In addition to the members of SECRET GREEN, such players with whom you played during your ENID days as Terry Pack, Tony Freer and Martin Russel. How did you organize the musicians who made an appearance on this album?
The internet is a wonderful thing! I am really pleased to be working with these people again. It was easy to organise them playing on Far and Forgot, they were all very helpful and genuinely delighted to be asked. You have left Neil Kavanagh off this list. Neil and I go back 40 years when we used to play together in school bands. Neil is a professional engineer and an excellent bass player also. He was the first bassist with The Enid and appears on the original recordings of In The Region of The Summer Stars. We have plans to record an album featuring all the ex members of The Enid, including Nick Magnus and Steve Stewart.
7. This album is more fantastic and story-oriented, as the last tune, "The Disenchanting", quotes a phrase from a masterpiece, FAND. If there is any story as the background of the album, please discuss it including the framework of the story. Is there any link between this album and Aerie Faerie Nonsense on which you played a role as the key person back then? Can we understand it as sort of a sequel?
There is a story to Far and Forgot. Again it concerns England and what this country has lost or sacrificed. I guess it must be the same in Japan that in the ever accelerating race for 'growth' and progress much that is essential to the dignity and proper evolution of humanity is trampled under the iron clad boots of corporate greed and aggressive rationalism. I feel it is a much darker album that To Wake the King and the ending is ambiguous.
Is it a sequel to Aerie Faerie Nonsense? One could say that it is. That album was the dearest Enid album to me and the one that I had most involvement in; it grew out of the music for a play called The Quest for the Holy Grail that predates In the Region. The theme at the end of Far and Forgot is not actually taken from Fand, it is a direct reference to The Holy Grail and the forlorn hope contained within that symbol. In a sense I am saying that we as a race are in desperate need of something higher, some intervention from somewhere to show us a way out of what seems to be a rather desperate situation.
8. Please pick up tunes you especially think important in the album and give us your comments on them.
Brides of the Wind is by way of a prayer to Mother Earth. It is a plea to Dana, Danuna, Diana and Damoyna, all names of Earth goddesses, to join with the wind and sweep away the darkness."Sisters Awake! The long dream is ended.Wonder and war await. Ride out with the Warrior Wind". The middle section is based on an ancient English song from the 13th century called The Cutty Wren. It is a revolutionary song from the peasants revolt of 1381.
The Disenchanting is a long piece about the death of magic and wonder in England. Willow Hill is a seascape depicting the last of the Tuatha de Danaan, the Faerie Folk or Elven, leaving England, or Albion as it is rightly called. This moves into Lyonesse, a last glimpse of the majesty of the lost land of myth that fades into the mist. There is then a brief lullaby or berceuse called The Rain Curtain played on Cor Anglais that transports us to the Other World, the realm of Faerie. Here we find ourselves in Broceliande, the enchanted forest of Arthurian legend. Our path leads us at last, through long hours of leafy twilight to the Oak in which Merlin the sorcerer was trapped by Vivien the enchantress. This is illustrated by a musical quote from On Merlin's Ground from To Wake the King. There follows a funeral march. Soft and sad at first, we hear it in the distance. It draws closer and grows more desperate and angry until it comes full into view with a blast of horns and drums. There is a brief moment of hope, perhaps even triumph but that is swept away by doubt and disbelief. The album ends with a question. A question to which I do not know the answer.
9. In a sense, this album seems to be difficult to reproduce on stage. Is there any possibility about organizing a gig? If yes, what kind of musical arrangement and stage configuration do you plan
I would love to perform this live and will start making plans to do an album launch gig soon. It would be perfectly possibly to reproduce this onstage with 2 guitars, 2 keyboards, drums and percussion, bass guitar and vocals. It wouldn't be as technically difficult as one might think, but there would need to be a lot of rehearsals.
10. Please let me ask about your ENID days a little. I believe the role you played for a few albums including the debut album was huge, especially for Aerie Faerie Nonsense. How was the band formed? At that time, what role each member play in the period?
I was the founder member of the Enid. The band existed before Robert Godfrey joined, although it wasn't called The Enid then. Steve Stewart, David Williams (bass guitar) and myself started the band at a sort of school called Finchden Manor in 1973. We formed to write and play the music for a play called The Quest for the Holy Grail, the last play that was to be performed at Finchden as it was being forced to close down. It would take too long to explain what Finchden Manor was, (have a look at the web for more details)it is enough just to say that it was very dear to all of us. I wrote the music for that play and after Godfrey joined, it was transformed into the first two Enid albums.
11. Please tell us about interesting stories/fond memories about making of Fand.
Fand was recorded at Morgan studios in Willesden, London. It formed the second side of Aerie Faerie nonsense. It was based on themes and ideas from the Holy Grail music and just sort of grew out of these ideas. We had been performing a much shorter version of Fand live for a while, but it was clear that it needed developing. We had very little money, and the studio was very expensive so we had to take the cheaper time. This was usually between midnight and 9am and so we became creatures of the night for a time. Fand drew us in. The music took on a life of its own and almost told us what to write and play. It was very exciting and moving to feel the piece grow and come to life. When it was finished< we were all quite exhausted and stunned by what had come about. I don't think any other band at the time was making music like this.
12. When we look at the live video at hammersmith whose tape you kept for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the huge set of equipment and a high level of reproduction of the tunes (especially those included in Touch Me. From the band's viewpoint, I assume it was a very tough job, so please tell us any difficulties or stories about your toil.
Tough doesn't describe it! We never used backing tracks, there was no midi or anything like that. The synths were all analogue and mostly monophonic. The guitars were pretyy much plugged straight into Marshall amps. It was difficult, but we did it. We would rehearse for months. Literally all day everyday for 3 months at a time. There were 14 hour days,, little sleep no social life at all, just the music, music music. I can remember spending 2 whole weeks rehearsing just 8 bars of Albion Fair! If we didn't have enough hands, we would get the roadies in to play keyboards or percussion. At the end of Fand, for example we might have 10 or 12 people on the stage. We did it though, and I am very proud of what we achieved. Not many bands could have pulled off what we did with something like Albion Fair!
13. After you left THE ENID, the band lost its fantasic style and changed its musical style. In Six Pieces, there seemed to be musical difference, and why did you decide to leave the band?
Frankly, I left because of Robert. I couldn't take him anymore and I was very sad about the direction in which The Enid was headed. Robert was wanting to do material such as "Hi Ho, Hi Ho Its off to Work We Go" and I felt we were in grave danger of losing all our dignity. By the way, the version of my leaving that he gives on the Birmingham Town Hall DVD is not true.
14. At the Enid Convention held at Northhampton, SECRET GREEN and THE ENID got together, and it appeared to be the two bands were on good terms, but now you seem to keep the distance. How about the relationship between the two bands? (Please explain as much as you can tell, if this is OK.)
I don't think it is necessary to go into this in public and I would prefer not to discuss it. In hindsight, it was a mistake to try and re-kindle my relationship with Godfrey and it has cost me a lot of time, emotion and money. It was my choice to distance myself once more. I suspect that the relationship is finally over and I can't see myself working with the Enid again, although I am still good friends with Dave Storey.
15. Please tell us about your plan in the near future (gigs, recording, sessions, etc.)
At the moment I am working on an album of lute music with Hilary. I have plans for 2 more albums in the To Wake the King, Far and Forgot series, the next one being an acoustic album called 'Small Songs of Albion' and a final orchestral work with the working title 'Until the World is Mended'. I think I have already mentioned a joint project with Neil Kavanagh involving all the major ex-members of The Enid.
Live gigs are a bit of a problem. I really want to play live, but the work involved is huge and it simply is not generally worth it for a one off gig; however, if I was offered a tour or a string of 3 or more dates, I would jump at the chance. How about a tour of Japan???
16. What impression do you have on Japan. If you have ever listened to Japanese music, please pick up some and give your comments.
I have always seen Japan as a nation of great depth and dignity. You have a culture at least as ancient and as rich as ours and I have great respect for it. As for Japanese music, I am very fond of it, or Japanese classical music I should say. I find shamisen music quite exciting and compositions for the koto have a serenity and grace that seems unique to Japan. I also love taiko drums! We used taiko on Brides of the Wind.
In terms of rock bands, I am a bit afraid of the Japanese! You seem to be able to take a style, such as jazz or heavy metal, and take it to the limit! It seems that most of the best technical musicians are in Japan!
Thank you very much.
My Pleasure. Thank you for asking me.