I caught up with bassist extraordinaire Nick Beggs in between legs of the 2017 Steve Hackett ‘Genesis Revisited and Classic Hackett Tour’. We discuss all things Nick Beggs related, The Mute Gods, working with Steve Hackett, Steven Wilson and much more………
Interview and photos by Tim Darbyshire
Tim Darbyshire (TD): So Nick, firstly thanks very much for taking the call.
Nick Beggs (NB): No problem
TD: Let’s start in the present. last Thursday and Friday we went to Oakville And Buffalo, two great shows. How was the Buffalo show with the orchestra, how were your preparations different?
NB: Well to be honest with you, there was no preparation needed on my behalf whatsoever. I think there was a couple of end cadences which changed due to the points at which they’re transcribed. They’d taken something from an earlier incarnation of the song, and we’d since developed the arrangements a bit. The end of Firth of Fifth, there was four bars different from what they’d done so I had to change what I played there, but that was it.
I think really, to be honest with you, the best thing to do is to just ignore it, carry on doing the gig as normal and they fit around what you’re doing – that was the idea of it anyway.
TD: Have they seen the music before, did they rehearse or I guess they’re just classically trained musicians that read off the sheet music?
NB: Yes exactly, that’s how all orchestras work. It’s too expensive to get a 64-piece orchestra together for rehearsals. Orchestras work on a very different kind of scale to musicians of the rock or jazz idiom. Time is money and of the essence, they have to take five minutes off every half hour or every fifty minutes whatever it is – it’s heavily union led.
So there is no discrepancy for error, the orchestrator will do all the work. He met up in London with Roger King and they talked a few things through. But no, from our part it was turn up, ignore the orchestra and get on with what you usually do.
TD: Hardly any interaction then between the band and the orchestra? Was it a case of they’re just sitting behind us playing the music?
NB: Yes, we talked with the conductor (Bradley Thachuk) and his brother, the arrangers, and they were great, we had interaction with them.
TD: He seemed to be having the time of his life on stage – Bradley
NB: Yes, and Steve his brother, they’re both big prog-heads. It was a nice experience and it would have been better if the orchestra been sat on an angle, on terraced seating to be showed off more. From what I could hear, they sounded wonderful, but I couldn’t hear that much of them. It’s a distraction really, when you’re used to playing – and there is no rehearsal time for the band with the orchestra – if you’re hearing the orchestra playing new parts, and you’re ‘hearing’ the room it can be a distraction…….
TD: Sure, I went on the balcony pre-show and it was a good view of the orchestra behind the band setup, but from the floor it was just the band, you could see the double basses on one side and some violins on the other.
NB: Yes I think the balcony was definitely the best vantage point for viewing the concert, I don’t know if sonically it was better or not.
TD: Sonically, to me the orchestra was helping Roger’s parts, filling in textures and colours. giving it a nice feel. From where we were, the bass was very quiet – but I guess it has to be so you don’t drown out the orchestra?
NB: Yes, generally on stage the sound was quite quiet. You’ve got so many frequencies occurring in an orchestra anyway you have to mix it accordingly. And you know with only four hours to get it together in terms of sounds and run throughs you’re not going to have an ideal scenario no matter how good your front house sound guys are, your conductor, it’s not going to be 100% right.
TD: But it was considered a considerable success, yes?
NB: Well it was sold out! That’s as much of a success you can expect on that level.
TD: Artistically though – everyone seemed very happy?
NB: Yes, we had a lovely time.
TD: The Oakville show the night before was a more traditional Hackett gig. A great theatre, compact venue and the bass sound goes right through you.
NB: Yes, probably quite a different mix to the one you got the next night, because of the shape of the room as well. It was mixed more for a rock ensemble, you didn’t have to leave headroom for the orchestra.
TD: Where did you get the idea of using your fists for the bass pedals during Shadow Of The Hierophant?
NB: Well it’s really because it’s Gary (O’Toole)’s drum solo to be honest, and I didn’t want to be standing in his eye line. I didn’t want to be obscuring the audience from seeing what he was doing – turning all the rhythms round and doing all the polyrhythmic stuff you know, so I thought I should just sit down and hammer these things.
TD: In a way, that’s what people were looking at – what’s he doing down there!?
NB: So it backfired then did it?
TD: Not really, it’s such a crescendo, the build up to the end of Hierophant, the whole place was shaking!
TD: So you’re back in Steve Hackett’s band – is that for the whole touring cycle or just until the UK and Europe dates are finished?
NB: It’s for this year.
TD: So there’s plans for more dates later in the year?
NB: Yes, there’s plans for later dates, they’re sorted of added on as we go, but we’re not too sure yet.
TD: Will that include a return to North America and specifically Canada?
NB: To be honest I really don’t know – it could do but I can’t confirm that.
TD: You had to learn to play the guitar touring with Steve Hackett. How was that?
NB: A challenge. I had to do it in three months and it’s quite complicated stuff although you’re not playing lead lines per se. You’re playing some linear parts – you know it was a challenge and I’m really glad that I took, because it sprungboarded me to The Mute Gods project really. After that I started writing songs in a different way and approaching the whole songwriting overview very differently.
TD: So the Chapman Stick – isn’t that a guitar and a bass in one instrument?
NB: Yes it is. You can’t really play guitar music on the Chapman Stick, not to that extent. You play music that’s made for the Chapman Stick really.
TD: It’s really not like a regular guitar then
NB: You can play some of the voicings and some things work quite well, but it’s peculiar to itself you might say.
TD: It’s a touch guitar as opposed to plucked strings?
NB: Yes that’s right
TD: I did notice you didn’t use the Stick on the current Hackett tour, but you have before?
NB: I had planned on it, but it seemed each time the set was being revised, another Chapman Stick song was being dropped – for no reason other than the songs just didn’t seem to work as well, so I thought ok I’ll leave it behind this time and focus on other things.
TD: The set is based around Wind And Wuthering this time, do you have any songs that are your favourite Genesis songs to play or Steve Hackett songs?
NB: Well to be honest with you, all of his stuff I love. I always did, and the Genesis stuff too. With his departure I found the band not as interesting. And Then There Were Three was very good and a lot of people cite Duke as an album that’s worth listening to, but I never really listened to it. I think they lost something, and I realised that between him and Peter (Gabriel), that was the reason I really loved the band in the first place.
TD: I completely agree. People say they prefer Peter Gabriel era Genesis, but when you think about it more deeply, I think Steve Hackett era Genesis is more accurate. A Trick of the Tail……
NB: Trick of the Tail is amazing and so is Wind and Wuthering, and so is Seconds Out. You know the first Genesis Live album and Seconds Out are both quite ubiquitous live albums, that kind of informed a generation about what a live album should be really.
TD: I love the Genesis Live cover, the blue sheets the backdrops and the red box head – there’s just something about it, obviously the music as well…..It must be good to play music live that you grew up with?
NB: Very much so, it’s always great to have the opportunity to work with your heroes.
TD: I bet, and Steve always surrounds himself with amazing musicians.
NB: He’s very easy to work with. He’s very appreciative and always makes you feel very welcome and tells you how much he’s grateful that you’re in the band, and I think ah Steve we’re all here because of you, because we love you, you know.
TD: And that’s the reason we all keep coming to the shows. Rob Townsend as well, he adds such a different angle, a different take on the classic material, and of course he’s on the new Hackett albums.
NB: I think Steve needed another improvisational soloist in the ensemble you know, he needed someone who could extemporize ideas each night and sort of duet with him, duel with him. Rob is great like that, and using a soprano saxophone in that way – again thinking orchestrally – it doesn’t tread on anyone’s toes, and it always works.
TD: It does, I’ve seen the band many times down the years and never been disappointed.
TD: Although you need to come back here as the shows I saw I didn’t get to hear One For The Vine!
NB: Yes, we did change the set around quite a lot for various reasons. We played One For The Vine on many of the shows but not the ones you turned up to. I don’t know why that was, it’s just the way it happened.
TD: I’m guessing you wanted to run through Supper’s Ready a few times before the performance with the orchestra?
NB: Yes that’s right
TD: I can’t really sit here and complain about hearing Supper’s Ready live can I?
NB: Yes I guess not!
TD: So, your other main touring commitment is with Steven Wilson, and has been for the last 5 years or so.
NB: And Kim Wilde
TD: Yes, Kim Wilde, is that still ongoing?
NB: I was going to be doing something with her at Christmas, but it got cancelled. But you never know with Kim, she might have some space that I can fit in with. A lot of time I’m too busy with other stuff so she’s had to get somebody else in when I’m not available. I do get back into the project from time to time, they’re such great people to work with.
TD: So who has priority then? Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett, Kim Wilde or whoever asks first?
NB: Well I’m sure you appreciate, as a musician you know you go where most of the work is, and there’s been times when Steve Hackett hasn’t been touring that much, and Steve Wilson has, and vice-versa. You know Steve Wilson’s not doing any touring this year so I’m with Steve Hackett.
TD: On the Wilson side, I know you were in the studio recently with him recording. Are all your parts finished?
NB: Yes, the album’s finished.
TD: Have you heard it?
NB: I’ve heard some of it, I haven’t heard the finished mixes obviously, but I’m meeting up with him probably later in the week to take the dogs out for a walk.
TD: You live quite close to him then? You’re in Leighton Buzzard?
NB: Yes he lives just down the road from me in a little town called Hemel Hempstead.
TD: So is Steven surprising us all again with this album?
NB: Well, I shouldn’t really talk too much about his album, because he’ll want to do that when it comes out, but suffice to say – yes you won’t be disappointed. It’s going to be quite a surprise, it’s going to be a great album.
TD: I heard he’s signed with Universal, is that correct?
TD: I’m not sure how I feel about that. Happy for him if it moves him up to a higher league…
NB: Actually it’s a subsidiary of Universal….
TD: Ok so the album’s out later in the year but there’s no touring until next year?
NB: Yes, as far as I know.
TD: So, onto The Mute Gods. I guess you’re very close with Roger (King) from working with Steve Hackett, and Marco (Minneman) from touring with Steven Wilson. Did it just come about because you thought I’ve been playing other people’s music for so long, it’s time I did some more of my own?
NB: Yes, more or less, except somebody else said that to me. Thomas Waber at InsideOut put those words into my head.
TD: So you just needed a little push?
NB: Yes, well I said I don’t think anyone’s interested in what I’ve got to say. He said I think you might be surprised….
TD: Did it come together in hotel rooms on tour, or do you always have a collection of songs ready waiting for various projects?
NB: Yes, and I also always have a recording set up with me when I’m travelling.
TD: A laptop and…..
NB: A laptop and a soundcard and a keyboard or guitar.
TD: So you record any ideas as you get them?
NB: Yes, I came up with three new ideas this last month on the road with Steve Hackett.
TD: For The Mute Gods 3, the next album?
TD: So the new album (Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth), I’ve read some reviews where people are suggesting you’re really ranting. To me it doesn’t sound like that, ok lyrically you’re having your say – as everyone should – but the album itself doesn’t sound like a doom-laden, morose angry rant to me. Some of the songs seem pretty ‘up’.
NB: I think it depends how much you want to distill it. If you look at the lyrics, I think the lyrics are very dark. There’s some dark melodic ideas and it’s quite gnarly. It’s not as ranty as a Rage Against The Machine album or something of that genre. It’s melodic, but it’s the angriest album I’ve ever made.
TD: You’re having your say on the state of the world. 2016 was a crazy year……
NB: The thing that always amazes me is just how much distance there is between the right and the left politically. So those who voted in a certain way, those who voted the other way – there’s no middle ground. And therefore if people don’t agree with what you’re saying they’ll come down on one particular side, and if they do agree they completely agree and know where you’re coming from.
But something I’ve learned from making this record is I’m not going to try and please anybody. I’m going to please myself and I’m not doing this to win friends and influence people. I’m doing this because I’ve got something to say – and that has to be the essence of why I’m making these records. If I’m trying to engender a fan base, it will come across as disingenuous. Frankly I hold very strong views.
TD: Well a lot of it makes sense to me
NB: That’s probably because we’re of the same political persuasion, but when the far right is gathering in the wings and you have idiots voting for Brexit and fuckwits voting for Trump you’re going to alienate people – I don’t care about that, that’s what I’m prepared to do. I’m prepared to call people out for what they’re doing.
TD: That’s right, in the artistic community, anyone you speak to, I can’t imagine them voting for Trump.
NB: No. Last night a guy came on The Mute Gods Facebook page and left a message saying Nick Beggs has lost himself a lot of fans by being very rude about the Brexiteers. I just went in and said thank you for inspiring the album, I’ve not finished with you lot by a long way!
TD: There’s a lot wrong the way we treat people in the world today, corporate power, government cover ups……history has taught us we should be very aware of the far right rising.
NB: It’s going to get worse. We are moving towards a very draconian time. Resources are going to be stretched to breaking point and it costs a lot of money to have care in the community, and to be considerate and altruistic, and when it comes down to it and governments are being squeezed, and people are being squeezed due to the trickle down effect, it’s going to become a very untenable society.
TD: We seem to have lost all the middle ground, over the last 20 years?
NB: It’s where we’re at. We had the boom period of the 80s, if we’d gone back to post war Britain you’d see a lot of austerity then, much more than extreme than this – but we’re heading back into a period of that kind of difficulty for large swathes of society. The disenfranchised are growing….
TD: The gap between the haves and have nots in society is growing, obscene corporate wages, the banking crisis etc, it’s all linked.
NB: It’s a perfect storm.
TD: So much greed at the top, I guess this is a whole different conversation……..
NB: Well it’s not really to be honest with you, this is the essence of what I’m writing about, this is what The Mute Gods is about. It’s about me turning the spotlight on the mechanisms that have got us here.
TD: The love song that closes the album (Stranger Than Fiction), is that the antidote? Love can save us?
NB: I think love is the only thing that can save the day. If you can find love in your life it will make sense of everything, it’s like a lottery win. But if you focus in on the things that are self-seeking and build walls around yourself and pull down the portcullis and pull up the drawbridge, as society is doing, then that’s where we’re heading.
I also take issue with religion – religion has sold us with the footnote that God is love, but we know that not to be true. We know that God’s representatives here on Earth and all the agencies thereof, do anything but love. We know that Christianity does not have the moral monopoly.
TD: You used to have religion didn’t you?
NB: Yes, I was a very very committed Christian for decades.
TD: So what changed then?
NB: I realised that every decision I had made appertaining to my faith had been based in fear and a desire to please something that I thought had my best interests at heart. And then I realised that you can’t build a life or a future on something there is no proof of, that actually on a daily basis seems to become less real, less potentially real.
On a global scale, on a universal scale, science is proving this. We are welcome to have our own thoughts and ideas, but that’s all they are. We do not have the right to push those beliefs or set up systems from which to govern over people and put down credos and dictums by which people should live. It’s time we came out of the dark ages and realised what stupid idiots we’ve been.
TD: All we hear about is Isis, but crazy right wing religious groups in America are
NB: You look at the hate preachers in America – they are every bit as bad as Isis.
TD: I thought religion was meant to be based on love, all you hear about is hate.
NB: Well true love is totally un self-seeking, otherwise it can’t be true love. It has to be based in an act of kindness as a guttural knee-jerk response based on your level of humanity. When we see these poor people who have suffered terribly because the West have bombed them…..and you know the East as well because a lot of these terrorist groups have Russian weapons. We make these weapons, we put them out in the playground and all these children are being blown up, and we wonder why they want to come and live in our country? It beggars belief……
TD: Power, money, corruption….
NB: I feel all we need now is a couple of pints and we could put the world to rights!
TD: I’d love to , but I’m on the wrong side of the pond at the moment!
NB: I don’t have great hopes for humanity, I think we’re living on very thin times and don’t think we’ve got long to go. I think in the next hundred years we’re going to see life become very very difficult for the human race. I think there’ll be an enclave of the upper echelons who can afford to buy themselves in to a safe island somewhere, a safe haven. But I think society is going to become untenable for our children and our grand children.
TD: Very sad
NB: Yes but we’ve only got ourselves to blame, nobody else, and God is not going to save us. Nobody is going to help us, there will be no revelations, no second coming, no anti-christ.
TD: We’ll just fuck the planet up and that’s that
NB: Yes, that’s it, and it doesn’t matter, and when we’re all fossils…..you know
TD: Are you glad you’re 55? Not sure I’d want to be 18 again, life seems harder now?
NB: Well I feel like I am perennially 21, I have that sense of vitality, but the thing that I don’t envy is the folly of youth, the ignorance and the ability to think that you know everything – and the inability to take good advice. But that’s a good metaphor for humanity……
TD: It’s a sobering thought though, we both have kids.
NB: Well it is, my kids have a great outlook on life. They listen to me when I start talking about this stuff, but they’re going to live their lives, have good life expectation. My children are very fortunate and for as long as the world seems to rotate they will live their lives in a way much better than my parents did, or my grandparents did.
TD: We’re a similar age, I think growing up we expected things to get progressively better?
NB: There are things that are better, things that have moved on, and there always will be. We’re living ever more in a global village, where the effects of one country can have even further far reaching effects globally than before. Technology pushes the reality of nightmare scenarios under our noses.
TD: And everything’s so throwaway these days, no one has any attention span.
NB: I have some hopes and dreams. I dare to believe that the spirit of certain types of entrepreneurial thinkers will continue to make life better. I saw somebody the other day who was selling a new patent – it was a fridge that worked on oxygen, and it could convert oxygen to the basic requirements to keep refrigeration. It was an oxygen engine and I thought , that’s the type of people that are going to save us.
TD: You’re right, it’s like the car industry, the technology is there for us all to be driving electric cars, but the car manufacturers and oil companies hold us back.
NB: Of course the petro-chemical industry own all the patents. One of the most polluted roads in the whole of the UK is in Swansea, you’d think there’d be a move towards cleaner cars, cleaner fuels, better environment the way we see things on TV, but the particulates issue is still a massive issue.
TD: On your social media you often post pictures from your garden, butterflies and the like. People seem ignorant to the fact that if we continue to kill our pollinators there will be no food left.
NB: People don’t have time to think about it. People are being waged war on by governments. Governments use silent weapons, they use commerce, they keep us in our places, keep us under the cosh. We have to pay this bill or that tax, we are in a perpetual battle zone of our own and for those poor souls that are financially unfeasible they just fall by the wayside and become a statistic. Governments are very good at silencing their dissenters. They use it with commerce.
TD: As we get older not everything is quite as perceived shall we say?
NB: The paradigm is always changing. The landscape is always changing politically and socially, environmentally everything is changing all the time.
TD: Yes, the environment is a big one. So Nick, anything else to add about The Mute Gods? Your favourite song on the new album?
NB: My favourite track on the album is The Dumbing Of The Stupid because I think it speaks to our generation.
TD: There’s no misunderstanding the sentiment, just from the title. I know you’re very busy these days, is Kajagoogoo still an ongoing project?
NB: No. We did something about nine years ago, and that was good. It was almost like a kind of revisiting of it for old time’s sake and I felt that we did quite a lot of good with that. But in terms of moving forward, there’s no point in revisiting that project.
TD: I guess that’s when everyone first heard your name
NB: Yes of course, it was globally quite well received but it was a pop act, it was very much of its time and it did what it was supposed to do which was to chart.
TD: It got you out there though, and has given you a life in music.
NB: Yes it got me started. It got me started in a way that was very disposable, but it was absolutely right and made for the 80s. It was made for the 80s, by the 80s, in the 80s.
TD: So despite your numerous live commitments, will we ever see The Mute Gods on stage?
NB: I really don’t know the answer to that question. At the moment, the interest in the band seems to be growing to such an extent that it’s likely, but I can’t really make a decision on that until the release of the third album. I want to give myself enough time to consider everything.
TD: Is The Mute Gods’ third album now your priority, after promoting the new album?
NB: Yes, that’s my next project. You say promote the new album, but to be honest with you, when you put an album out all the work’s done by the time the album’s out there, so it can be a real anti-climax. You’ve been working on it for maybe a year or so, had all this intimate detail, you do all the press and that leading up to it and then it goes out…..and it’s like, ok you have to let it get on with it really, let it have its life.
TD: You mentioned Thomas Waber at InsideOut earlier. They seem to do great work with prog bands and prog-metal bands.
NB: I don’t know if I’d have done it if it wasn’t for Thomas, he galvanised the whole thing. He made me start thinking about it, and on more than one occasion put the idea into my head. I kind of pushed it out initially, I thought nah…..
TD: I love the fact that in these days of streaming, they release deluxe editions, mediabook editions, 5.1 mixes and all that. Is that just for our generation?
NB: Well they know the demographic – they know what these things mean to that demographic, and it’s not just people in their 50s, younger people are coming to this…..they’re being seduced by the same things that we were, and for good reason. They’re good things, good ideas, they’re tangible, you can hold them, look at them and they relay information in a far more compelling way than a digital download will ever do.
TD: I obviously grew up with vinyl. Could you believe say 10 years ago that you’d be releasing your new album on vinyl?
NB: Well I was always incensed when I couldn’t buy stuff on vinyl. I remember the first time I went into a record shop and couldn’t buy a John Martyn album on vinyl. I got a bit angry with the shopkeeper! I thought hang on this is ridiculous, it’s not this guy’s fault but at that particular time I saw him as part of the problem because they’d turned their backs on something that was tried and tested – and something that I loved, and again I’m not the only person who thought that.
TD: It’s kind of like the perpetual software/hardware upgrade cycle.
NB: Yes, and I think those things are ok providing you accept that. You have to find your level, your entry point in to the digital realm. Some people like to digitize their vinyl – I know some of my friends do – now they’re getting crackles and everything but then they’re running it through filters and you’re in a whole other area of expertise.
5.1 mixing, you know it all depends what your comfort zone is.
TD: I love 5.1 mixes, listening to Close To The Edge, hearing the parts Steven Wilson has added back in from the multi-track tapes. It’s a great way to revisit classic albums you grew up with.
NB: He has a very nice way of referring to that, whenever he does a 5.1 mix he says he doesn’t want to change anything, he says ‘I just want to spring clean the Sistine Chapel’. Isn’t that great?
TD: That’s great, and he’s very good at his spring cleaning, he’s got a good ear.
NB: He’s the best. He’s great, he knows his stuff.
TD: Nick, thanks for all the live shows over the years, with Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett. You always seem to be having fun on stage
NB: Glad you enjoy it, I’ve got the best job in the world haven’t I?
TD: We could do with a few less nude shots of you but apart from that I think we’re ok……
NB: Au contraire! The world needs more nudity, you know you can trust a man with no pockets. Also when you take your clothes off and run towards a man with a gun when you’re naked, you know he’s going to run away.
TD: It’s the safest defence?
NB: (laughing)…I’ve done it a few times
TD: It’s a good job I can’t see you now isn’t it?
NB: Yes, I’m laying here completely starkers! …….No I’m not, only joking Tim
TD: Well Nick that was great, thanks again for you time. Hopefully we can do it again some time
NB: Alright, I’m sure I’ll be heading over the pond sometime. Have a good rest of the day, and thanks for your time and thanks for your interest.