Nostalgia: 'Garden Shed' by England
Interview Robert Webb

“I feel that England had its own unique quality”

(July 2010, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures by Maggie Alexander a.o., based upon a previously published article in Background Magazine Autumn Edition 2005)

In 1977 the world changed for me. At the time, a certain band from England with the same name, released an album which many people consider to be a real masterpiece. As far as I’m concerned Garden Shed is the best album ever made in the history of progressive rock. My all time favourite is not a classic Genesis- or Yes-album, but the debut album of England. Twenty years after its first release a remastered version appeared on CD. Now, more than 30 years later a special edition together with a booklet has been released. This is certainly a good reason to talk with the original keyboard player Robert Webb about this legendary album.

I would like to thank the band for making the best progressive rock album ever. At least this is how I think about Garden Shed. What’s your opinion? Did you realize at the time that you were recording something special?

Robert Webb: “We just went to the outposts of the earth to do what we believed in. We, and I speak for the group, are very pleased that it has meant something special to others.”

Can I have my money back, please?  I’ve sent it to the band for the special booklet that could be ordered after the release of the album back in 1977.  Sadly it never arrived.  I’m just kidding, but can you tell me why the people who paid for it never got it? What happened with the money?

“You are the first person to tell me that you didn’t get your one pound back. It’s probably a lovely thing to have done in retrospect. But, of course, this isn’t good news. At the time, the manager told me that he’d sent everyone their money back. The reason the booklet wasn’t sent, is because it never went to print. The artwork was produced, but by the time the album was sold the money given to the band had already been spent or was needed to keep the band going. We were renting a house in Sussex, you know. The manager turned out to be less than effective; not only did he fritter the modest sum the band had in advance of sales. He was unable to even keep the creativity going forward. After a year of ‘hot air’ we had to reject his claims as unreal and we went across to other managers.”

Well, starting with the story of Garden Shed. Can you tell our readers what happened before you made this masterpiece and who came up with the band name?

“The name of the band was chosen by Mark Ibbotson, the original drummer before Jode Leigh. Mark Ibbotson has been the manager of The Pretty Things since 1985 and he still is. The story before the Garden Shed- album is too complicated to go into here. The best thing for readers to do is to visit and look at the information there. Well, briefly, the ‘Garden Shed musical style’ band started in spring 1975, but there had been at least two previous ‘Englands’ under Mark. This version was originally a three piece: drums/vocals, keyboards/vocals and guitar/vocals. The band lived in a rented house in Sussex and rehearsed and gigged in a theatre in Maidstone. We lived and worked together as a small collective, however Mark saw himself as founder and leader of the band and he also controlled all the finances. Despite lots of good creative work - the epic track The Imperial Hotel was performed twice and recorded at Marquee Studios - financial difficulties caused Jamie Moses, who’s now guitarist with Queen, to leave the band. Martin our bass player had helped us out on the gigs and he became the fourth member. We found Frank Holland to replace Jamie. The compositions All Alone and Three Piece Suite had been written by myself and performed in 1975, although Three Piece Suite *) had a different end section. In March 1976 during a showcase performance for various record companies, Mark left the band. After five weeks of advertising and auditioning drummers, with Arista Records ready to sign us up, we managed to find Jode Leigh, who was well suited to the band’s artistic direction. Much of the old material was dropped, but we secured the record deal when Arista heard what we could do in the studio with the new drummer. We spent 1976 rehearsing and recording of what was to become Garden Shed: firstly with The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio in Maidstone and finally at both Air and Morgan Studios in London. To the compositions already mentioned we added Poisoned Youth written by Frank Holland, Yellow by Jode and Paraffinalea, Midnight Madness and Nanogram written by myself.”

*) The Olympic Studios version of Three Piece Suite is for the first time available on the new special edition Garden Shed-booklet and CD (edt).

Did the band write the six album tracks in the studio or did you already play them during live concerts?

“Nothing was written in the studio. My own compositions had been created and developed in the band’s various homes like Tunbridge Wells and Crowborough by self-multi-tracking on a Revox-recorder. This established most of the arrangements for keyboards and vocal ideas. In the case of Paraffinalea, I had overdubbed Jode playing a small kit in the living room. On my own compositions, I very much sought to reproduce the Revox-demo in the studio. Frank wrote Poisoned Youth in his bedroom at Crowborough mostly on his piano. Jode wrote Yellow on his Revox in his bedroom, borrowing Martin’s bass and my Fender Rhodes. The introduction of Midnight Madness was recreated from the Revox-version, which is lost now, using just one MiniMoog. The Moog can only make one voice at a time and we didn’t have sequencers then, so I started with the harp-like sound which runs throughout this track. We deliberately gave it a rubato tempo. We never used click tracks then; we preferred the human nature of regular or irregular pulse.”

On the album it says all band members wrote the songs together. Can you tell me something about the procedure of this process?

“As I already told you, mostly one person wrote a particular track and the bulk of the ideas for these had been already calculated on the Revox multi-track. The group had a ‘commune’ mentality and credited the writing and other aspects to the whole. According to their albums, this approach had been adopted by Genesis and we followed that trend. Remember, we were young and fairly inexperienced in a changing music industry. The group would wrap themselves around the composition, so the final product was a performance-composition. Of course, we played and rehearsed a lot, so we knew what each of us might do. We would often discuss things during rehearsals and listen out to what the other musicians were doing. Jode and I particularly had a spontaneous performance dynamic. We dwelt on this aspect a lot.”

Did you perform songs which were never released on any album?

“Yes, we performed one or two originals. After the album was released, we began writing completely new material, much of which is now lost, like Holloway Cell and Open Up. But others, like Creepin’ Instrumental, featured on the Last Of The Jubblies- album. We also performed at a residency in the South of France in summer of 1977 that is, after the album’s release. We were at a night club and so we learned lots of covers. It was an incredible set that included: ELP’s Blues Variation, The Isley BrothersLive it Up, Family’s Burlesque, Manfred Man’s Earth Band’s Joybringer and Pink Floyd’s Money.”

Was it difficult to tape the songs in a recording studio and were you satisfied with the final result?

“No, it wasn’t difficult. We mostly had defined the compositions on the Revox multi-track and it was merely a matter of capturing a good live performance to work with. Very little was overdubbed, we would play as much ‘live’ on the back track as we could. I would always add grand piano to emphasize the music and to fill in gaps where less was happening.”

Band 1977
England 1997: Left to right
Robert Webb, Martin Henderson, Jode Leigh, Frank Holland

For me, England’s sound on Garden Shed is a blend of the musical styles of Yes and Genesis. You brought the best of both bands on this album. Do you agree?

“I feel that England had its own unique quality. Of course we were influenced by other artists, just as Beethoven was heavily influenced by Haydn and Stravinsky by Tchaikovsky. My own influences were many, but to mention a few which critics have not spotted, I would say: Queen, ELP and Magma. Of course, other band members were influenced by other bands. Whatever our influences, we strove to make sense of our own sound.”

The way Jode Leigh played the drums reminded me a lot of Bill Bruford. Also the bass parts played by Martin Henderson sounded like Chris Squire. Many lead and harmony vocals could be compared to Yes as well. Was this done on purpose?

“I think Martin’s bass sound is superior to Chris Squire’s. Yes, Jode was influenced by Bill Bruford, but he brings a unique musical statement to the drumming in England. The only reason I think people hear the Yes-style vocals is because of the first section of Three Piece Suite. This track had been developed over two years, honestly speaking I can’t remember where the ‘block harmony’ idea came from; originally it was certainly just me singing this section on the 1975-gigs. The block harmony sound is not a characteristic of England in general. The vocal idea for this part of the tune probably was a subconscious reference to Yes’s Roundabout. I believe all musicians ought to be able to copy or mimic musics which have left an impression on them: it’s part of our apprenticeship!”

I also think that your keyboards sometimes were a blend of Rick Wakeman and Tony Banks and above all the sound of the Mellotron, acoustic piano and MiniMoog. Do you agree and were you influenced by them at the time?

“Yes, I particularly liked Tony Banks’ character and musicianship within Genesis, but I was also influenced by Keith Emerson’s allegro-style performance approach, which no prog fans seem to have spotted. Rick Wakeman was less appealing to me. I really enjoyed what he did on Tales From Topographic Oceans, but I generally found his sound choices, like the RMI-piano for instance, too insipid or too ‘paradic’, which is a new word, I think! Take for example, the feature of the Mellotron-choir on the Alleluia Chorus. I certainly preferred Tony Kaye’s Hammond-sound on Time And A Word. If you stop to think about it, there are not that many keyboard players that have left their mark on rock music. All of the really important and influential keyboard players were ‘hidden’. Who, for example, is responsible for the piano part in Don McLean’s American Pie? For me, that’s one of the loveliest and most interesting piano accompaniments ever. Also, can you tell me who played piano on Bridge over Troubled Water? No, you can’t, but this is central to musical development in the twentieth century. How about the Rolling Stones? A lot would be lacking in the sound if Ian Stewart or Nicky Hopkins hadn’t been there. I won’t bother to mention George Martin’s harpsichord playing on Revolver. I think what I brought to rock music on Garden Shed was an orchestral approach to keyboard playing. I’m nearest to Tony Banks in this respect. This comes from a very early influence from classical music. It’s not that I studied classical music, it’s because my Aunt Jean bought me my first album when I was eight years old: Saint-Saens’ Carnival Of The Animals with Ibert’s Divertissement on the B-side. My second LP was Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite when I was nine.”

Robert Webb with Mellotron

But you also had your own way of playing on the mighty Mellotron like no-one else did before?

“I had a great interest in the power of music. Why bother to play feeble sounds? The Mellotron gave me power. I also serviced and modified the Mellotron myself, which brought me closer to the instrument than most other keyboard players. You can read about my Mellotron modifications on our website:

Can you tell me which keyboards you used on Garden Shed?

“I used the Hammond RT3, Clavinet D6, MiniMoog, Fender Rhodes, Bosendorfer piano and a harpsichord. The last two were not my own. I played either in the studio or hired them.”

Who actually ‘discovered’ the band?

“Andrew Bailey, the host of The Old Grey Whistle Test, who stood in for Bob Harris, was the A&R man at Arista Records who first became interested in the band.”

Arista finally contracted England. Was it for just one album or more?

“During our contract, Arista had a change of the managing director. This meant that we lost out. The new director had no interest in promoting artists that his predecessor had signed up. Also, of course, Arista was primarily a dance music label. They had no other prog rock acts, as far as I know.”

Did you have total artistic freedom while recording Garden Shed?

“Yes, we had total artistic freedom.”

Paraffinalea was released as a single. Was this Arista’s or the band’s choice?

“The band decided to do so.”

Did you believe it could bring you fame and fortune or did you know that it would do nothing in the charts?

“I don’t think we were that bothered. Exposure through a hit single might have drawn people into listening to the rest of our music. Our ‘market’ was album oriented and we also had ideas about the visual side as well, so I guess we would have liked to take charge of a combined visual and musical experience. In 1975 the band did two gigs dressed in leotards and with manikins and other theatrical stage props; our concept was theatrical and musical.”

Did Arista promote Garden Shed properly?

“Not at all. As I’ve said, Arista had no interest in helping the band to succeed. There were two full page adverts in Melody Maker and NME, but that was all. Even the two marketing men at Arista were away on their holidays the week the album came out.”

Who decided to use Mike Cosford’s oranges cover?

“The band did. It was the best piece of artwork we saw at the time. Mike Cosford was becoming famous for album sleeves since doing the Peter And The Wolf-album.”

Why did you name the album Garden Shed? Did you have some other titles in mind?

“The album title was my own; the rest of the band liked it too. I suggested that the artwork to be based on the marmalade label called Golden Shred. Indeed, it had a triple meaning. The music was garden shed from the verb ‘to shed’, meaning that this was nature’s produce. A ‘garden shed’ is also a place where people - particularly men - get up to all sorts of ‘time out’ activities. Finally the similarity in sound to Golden Shred; this brand of marmalade is still available and its artwork was and is evocative of an earlier and better ‘English’ social climate.”

Did you use any sequencers on Midnight Madness?

“No. As mentioned earlier, the introduction is entirely made up of a multi-tracked MiniMoog. This includes the percussive sounds and the instrument that sounds like a cor anglais before the ‘brass’sounds begin.”

On the same track the synths sound like real brass instruments. Was this difficult to do?

“Each brass instrument sound was recorded separately. I was able to make slight adjustments in pitch, using the pitch wheel, and timbre, using the filter cut-off pot, while playing the part on the MiniMoog-keyboard. I knew that I was trying to imitate real orchestral instruments.”

Did you record All Alone as an intro for Three Piece Suite? You put a slow track in-between two up-tempo pieces? Was this meant to be this way?

“Yes, it was always conceived as a sad introduction to the Three Piece Suite track. Well, you can also read the booklet on”

The intro of Three Piece Suite sounds a bit like the intro of Close To The Edge by Yes. Where and how did you record the bird song of this intro?

“Well heard! The bird song was recorded on my Revox with two SM58-microphones very early one morning at the house ‘Four Winds’ in Crowborough. I was determined to stay up late one night and to capture the sound of the day starting. I didn’t know if it would be at 3.00, 4.00 or 5.00 am, but it was an obvious starting point and I recorded for about an hour from then on. We particularly liked the stereo image of the crow as it flew overhead. The microphones were positioned on the balcony outside my room. We selected the bits without wind noise and Robin the album’s engineer looped these sounds round for the purpose of Three Piece Suite. In the same period we trundled off one afternoon with a wheelbarrow to a small stream at the end of the road. We lived on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, so there were plenty of sites to record wildlife. The wheelbarrow had the Revox and a Neumann microphone on as well as every yard of electricity extension cable we could find. Jode found a house near the stream and asked the owners if we could plug the cable into their house. I’m sure they must have thought it quite bizarre. Anyway, we got a successful recording. It can be ‘felt’ rather than heard underneath Frank singing ‘…by the presence of a stream’. The Neumann actually dropped into the stream and stopped working, but this was after we’d recorded, thankfully! I still have cassette copies of these ‘outdoor’ recordings.”

Jode Leigh

Why did drummer Jode Leigh play bass on Yellow?

“Jode wrote Yellow. He is a very talented multi-instrumentalist and composer. He was always writing music and often putting ideas down on the Revox. We still have the original multi-track of this song, which was done entirely by Jode. Since Jode opted to play bass on the backtrack during the studio session, I suggested we all swap round instruments and come up with a unique track of us all playing our ‘second’ instrument. I played acoustic twelve-string, Martin played acoustic six-string and Frank played the Mellotron-strings with the volume pedal. Later, Frank overdubbed the Leslie-guitar solo and I added a couple of electric and acoustic pianos. Jode sings double tracked lead vocals on Yellow. We also stuck a couple of lolly sticks in the Hammond and let it sound throughout the recording. This was faded in and out when it came to mixing the track.”

Poisoned Youth is the second long epic track on the album. Just like Thee Piece Suite it finishes an album side. Was it planned or did it just happen that way?

“It just happened that way. Poisoned Youth is my favourite track on the album. The powerful Mellotron brass chords at the end were my own embellishments to climax what is otherwise Frank’s composition.”

At the end of this track we can hear some spoken words. Unfortunately, I could never comprehend these words. Can you please after 28 years reveal this mystery to me?

“These words are ‘A life of lust’. You’d have to have a pretty good music system to hear these off the vinyl.”

The album ends with the sound of storm, thunder and wind. Who came with the idea to use these effects?

“It seemed the ultimate climax for the album to finish with the end of Poisoned Youth and to make this last crash an explosion like the band finally blew themselves up! At least, this is my interpretation. To this I added the howling MiniMoogs. I suppose, I never wanted the band to finish! Sometimes I listen to the wind and I think it’s totally extraneous, but other times most appropriate.”

How do you look back at the time when you recorded this fantastic album?

“This was a beautiful period for me. The Garden Shed- album was the culmination of a lot of hard, but enjoyable work. It wasn’t our fault that the music industry shifted so dramatically. We have prog rock fans, especially in Japan, to thank for the present situation. But it’s not over yet! There’s more to come. Thanks especially to my partner Maggie Alexander, who has coordinated the Garden Shed Music project. We are keen to bring more music to the public and this time we will not be deterred by an intervention of the music business.”

Can you tell me an anecdote from those days?

“Maybe later.”

Did you ever play the entire album live on stage and is there any filmed material for a possible live album?

“No. By the time the album was out we had written new material and had to deal with the prospect of survival. No films were ever made of our live performances.”

How did the press and public react on Garden Shed? 

“The Melody Maker critic summed us up as: “Yes in Toyland.” It’s slightly derogatory, but there’s keen observation here. The public at that time were never given sufficient opportunity to react to our music.”

After Garden Shed you recorded The Last Of The Jubblies. Was it ever released as an album or only twenty years later on CD?

“Only twenty years later on CD. We paid for the session at Surrey Sound Studios ourselves. We would have selected from these and other tracks for a second album.”

Martin Henderson

The bass guitar was played by Jaffa. Had Martin Henderson already left the band?

“Yes. He quite understandably joined Jeff Beck doing a tour in the United States.”

When did the band finally split up?

“As far as I’m concerned in the autumn of 1978, but Frank re-joined with the original drummer and did some recordings with Jet Records. Since the revival of interest in the group and the first proper issue of the album on CD in 1997, I have recorded some backtracks with Jode and have also played live with Martin. It’s likely that we can produce more music.”

In 1997, the South Korean-company Si-Wan released the original album on compact disc. I believe they used just an ordinary old-fashioned long play album. What do you know about this release?

“Nothing at all. I only know that the album was badly copied onto CD in the eighties.”

You released a remastered version yourself and called it the England 20th Anniversary Edition. How did this happen?

“That was because of the interest from Japan in the album. I approached the former record company for a license to produce the album on CD. Although the album is apparently no longer their property, they granted me this and they gave me funds and the original master tapes. Martin and I then had the famous King Crimson-engineer, Tony Arnold, who digitally remastered the album for the first time. We now have this remastered version currently available with the Special Edition Booklet and CD on

Now almost thirty years later we can enjoy another Special Edition of the same album on CD. Can you tell me the reason for this release?

“I couldn’t have done this without the internet and my partner, Maggie.”

What can we find on this special release?

“You’ll find the Tony Arnold re-mastering of 1997 plus a booklet reproducing the original artwork for the first time that should have been part of the 1977 LP plus the Olympic Studios version of Three Piece Suite. This is the first time this recording has been published.”

I heard that all four original band members are going to sign ten copies of the album for their die hard fans. They can obtain them at an auction. Is this true?

“Yes, it is. I met with Frank recently and by September 2005 these ten signed copies of the Special Edition Garden Shed will be auctioned. Watch our website!”

There’s also a website for more information about this special release of Garden Shed (

) Can you tell our readers more about this website?

“We’ve tried to include a brief, but comprehensive summary of the history of the band and its music-making, information about former en current band members, thumbnail images of the booklet artwork, an online ordering facility, information about the instruments used on Garden Shed - particularly the Mellotron - and a message board.”

Did the original members get together after all those years and what happened to them 28 years later?

“We got together for a drink in 1997 and we met again recently on St George’s Day at Jode’s house in Cheshire. We all still play music, it’s incredible!”

Maybe you have something to say to all the fans in the world who loved Garden Shed. They played it so much that the record ‘turned grey’ as we say in The Netherlands. At least that’s what happened to my original copy.

“The ongoing enthusiasm of the fans of Garden Shed is inspiring for us. It restores both optimism and conviction that carefully crafted music played on real instruments by committed musicians is valued and appreciated. It certainly has provided the impetus for us to carry on music-making, taking many of the original ideas from England with us, but weaving them into new musical ideas and forms. We look forward to publish new CD’s and booklets as part of Garden Shed Music during the course of the next few years. Thank you to everyone who has supported this music. Your support is greatly valued.”

Finally, how much worth is an original copy of the album nowadays?

“I have no idea. It is worth a lot to those who love it!”

Robert thanks for your time and for answering all my questions. It was an honour to talk at last to one of the original members of England! 

“It’s been a pleasure.”

(With special thanks to project manager Maggie Alexander for all her help)

More info about England on the Internet:

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