Interview Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales)

"Last year Cocoon came as a surprise to many people including myself"

(July 2015, text by Angelo Hulshout, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures provided by Peter Jones)

As a young child Peter Jones lost his eyesight due to eye cancer. However, this has never been an obstacle for him to dedicate his life to music. This English multi-instrumentalist already has a background in pop and − as he calls it − adult contemporary rock, but he reached instant fame in the international prog rock community at the end of 2014, when his album Cocoon (see review) was released under the moniker of Tiger Moth Tales. This is an album full of music inspired by his childhood memories, fairy tales, TV series and influenced by the classic prog rock acts of the seventies and eighties like Genesis and Yes, but also contemporary bands like Big Big Train, Haken and Frost*. In February 2015, he wrote and recorded a second album called Story Tellers - Part One which was released in June by the White Knight record label. This was a good reason for Background Magazine (BM) to do an interview with Peter about the album and the things that move him.

Peter, thank you for letting me do this interview. Could you just give a brief introduction for the readers of BM who Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales is, and something about your musical background?
Peter Jones: “Well, of course. When I grew up, I did a lot of things young people do. I played in bands, performed in school plays and was involved in doing 'children's stuff'. When I finished school, I wanted to go to university, but in the end I decided not to go but instead take a kind of sabbatical year. Well, that turned into a sabbatical of fifteen years eventually. In the meantime, I hooked up with my friend Emma Paine to form the duo 2-To-go. We
Peter Jones
started playing in clubs and pubs and were quite successful. On occasion we still do, but not as frequently because Emma has two children and a teaching job now and I, well, I have my own things too nowadays as you know. After that, I released a solo album, with so called adult contemporary music, or 'normal music'. At the time, I had no intention of going into prog, although I had been a Genesis fan from age nine or ten, and I loved experimental and classical music as well - which are part of the roots of prog of course. Still, I never envisioned doing a prog album, certainly not one that would actually sell. Instead, I thought pop music was the way to go for me. That didn't work out very well; I got disappointed in the music business and I felt like quitting completely. So, last year Cocoon came as a surprise to many people including myself. When I was disillusioned with the music scene, I ended up with a writer's block and no will to stay involved. However, as an experiment, I started writing down musical ideas that occurred to me - just to see what would happen, which lead to the writing of A Visit To Chigwick and in the end to the whole album. At first, I had no intentions to release it, but after I had finished the album, it appeared to be quite good and I got in touch with White Knight Records who wanted to release it. I was surprised by the positive and encouraging comments. Apparently this was going to achieve some sort of recognition in the prog world. It really seemed to catch on, surprisingly. I guess the childhood theme helped a bit too, since that is recognizable to everyone. It just worked.”

Well, while you're talking I'm searching through some web sites and I see almost only positive reviews, so it worked indeed.
“Yes, I'm humbled by that, and it led to more as well. Multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed of Magenta already knew and he asked me to play in support of Magenta. He either asked me to play the recorder on the EP Spectral Mornings originally released by Steve Hackett. That EP has been released for charity reasons and in favour of the Parkinson's Society. I was astonished by that request and I ended up playing on the folky, Celtic instrumental version.”

You made a fabulously quick introduction into the prog scene. Who helped you on your way besides Rob Reed of the White Knight Records label?
“Well, after writing the album, I got talking to Gary Marsh of the instrumental prog band Red Bazar, of which I'm a big fan. He helped me find people interested in prog through Facebook and forums. At the time, I thought prog was a dying animal, because I hardly knew any fans. I found out that they're still there, but they're scattered around the world, so you really need to know where to look for them online. The average man in the street hasn't got any idea what prog music is. Gary introduced me to the Frost* and It Bites forums on Facebook, where I found more like-minded people. Through that, I also got familiar with the more contemporary prog, which I hadn't known before. Then Pete Wait on the Frost* forum picked up on the album idea and introduced me to Rob Reed. He championed the album and that was a real compliment, since he's known as a very particular, picky producer.”

Well, mixing all the instruments of so many individual tracks must have been a challenge for him as well.
“That was an interesting phase indeed.”

Now you're appearing on Facebook, Progzilla, doing support gigs and suddenly we learned that the new album Story Tellers - Part One was recorded in just one month. How did that happen?
“Yes, sorry about being present everywhere! Through the Frost* forum I learned about the RPM Challenge: write and record your album in 28 days. If you participate, you are expected to do that in February and the results are published on the RPM website. That interested me, and I
thought of participating. So, I started collecting ideas in my head but I didn't write anything down until February. The theme of the album is a spin-off of Cocoon, so with a lot of childhood elements. I wanted a concept, but not a heavy one, but one that everyone can relate to. Children's stories can do that, and still leave room for experimental stuff. So it gave me scope, without putting me in shackles. I then started writing and recording in February, writing the music on piano, with a lot of improvisation in the first two days of January. From there, I added the rest of the music layer by layer. It's mainly guitar and keyboard this time though, not many other instruments. I ended up with a collection of songs with Sleeping Beauty as the binding factor across the album. I wrote the lyrics at the end, because they aren't my strongest point. Having the music already helped me, because I knew exactly how much time and space I have to get my message across. After finishing in 23 days instead of 28, I considered sending it into the RPM Challenge, but sent it to Rob Reed at White Knight Records first. He told me to not publish it on RPM, but hold on to it for a while and then release it as a normal album. They liked it a lot apparently, and at the end of June it's been released six months after Cocoon. However, this is not the second album I intended to write. That's still in the making and will eventually become the third Tiger Moth Tales album. Story Tellers came up and took precedence for a while.”

You recorded the album in just 23 days, that's amazing! You say that you hear mainly piano, keyboards and guitar. Will that make the sound differ from Cocoon?
“No, it differs not that much, actually. You'll miss the 'little instruments', like the zither, sarod and melodica. The sound will roughly be the same as on Cocoon. If songs sound differently, it's because of the way they are recorded. I couldn't do everything layer by layer due to time constraints, so I had to combine things sometimes. One thing that made me really happy was playing the acoustic nylon guitar on one track, inspired by my biggest inspiration Steve Hackett.”

Those 'little instruments', as you call them, and the nylon guitar remind me of something you wrote on Facebook a while ago. You said that there are too few instrumentals in modern music.
“Yes, that's true. I said that in a reaction to someone complaining about the many and long instrumental parts on Steven Wilson's new album. He said they were boring, or self-indulgent. I disagree. Bands that I listen to, do play many instrumentals and to me they're part of prog and allow you to narrate a story. On The Knife and The Battle of Epping Forest, Peter Gabriel did some narrations in a great way. Imagine what you could do if you let the music tell the story instead of the vocals. It keeps your mind busy since instrumentals are not just showing off they're part of the decoration. In relation to this, I have to say that I like to rant on Facebook occasionally. Another example is the tendency to criticize prog for not moving ahead, not progressing. Steve Hackett's Wolflight for example, didn't meet people's expectations. Of course, the album doesn't sound like Voyage Of The Acolyte, but things change. The problem seems to be that the more we get, the less we want. There's so much prog right now, I can't even get through everything I bought. I dislike prog being criticized for this, because it's still the most inventive genre in the world.”

People who love prog say that the music should progress and change, but at the same time they want to listen to what sounds familiar.
“Indeed. That's what I mean. The seventies were a huge breakthrough, and some people say we' re only rehashing it now. It was the first wave however, and it still influences us. If we didn't listen to it, we would be told to do so. We never get it right, people are contradicting themselves. Progressive rock is healthy and I bought more of it in the last six months than in the past six years together.”

Well, that applies to me as well. Let's look at the next twelve months. You have an album out, two by the time this interview will be published and you're playing with Magenta. What are your plans for the coming year, a tour perhaps?
“More support gigs are lined up, but I can't tell which, because they're not confirmed yet. It would be great if that continues. Touring, well, that leads me to the third album again. I'm thinking about it, and it might happen, but there's no timeline yet. I do have some people in mind to form a stage line-up, though. Also I'm working on an album with Red Bazar. They've been playing mostly instrumental so far, and I'm writing lyrics for a joint album now. The writing is almost complete. I'm just staying busy, and still reeling from the Spectral Mornings recording.”

So a lot of things have been planned. If you do all these things on the same level as Cocoon, you may stay around as long as Steve Hackett.
“Yes indeed. Well, let's say that if I'm as unprogressively in twenty years as he is right now, and I'm still around, I will be very happy!”

Thank you for giving an interview to Background Magazine.
“It was my pleasure, thank you.”

More info about Tiger Moth Tales on the Internet:

       review album 'Cocoon'

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