Monday, June 05, 2006

Calling Earth from by the Sea

The General and Duchess Collins - Molecular Love
The General and Duchess Collins - Kate's Song

It is always sad when a band you love falls apart. It’s happened to me many times, and though I have never needed to phone a hastily organised support line or the Samaritans to help me through the tragedy, it can sometimes be hard to come to terms with the fact that a band you thought would be there for you forever is no more. Once the tears dry, there is often one thing from which you can gain solace. In most cases, the various elements of the band will start to make music of their own. So where initially you had one, you could now have a handful of new artists awaiting permission to enter your heart.

When the Beta Band called it a day in 2004, I was absolutely gutted. Once the dust had settled and I realised that Steve Mason was bringing King Biscuit Time back and John Maclean and Robin Jones had formed The Aliens, things suddenly didn’t seem so bad. And now, former bassist Richard Greentree has thrown his hat into the ring with the launch of his new musical project. After an interview with Mason on BBC 6 Music, it was believed that Rich had given up on music and was working as a carpenter. While this was partially true, a tip from a Beta Band insider also revealed that he had recorded an album entitled ‘Calling Earth’ under the bizarre moniker, The General and Duchess Collins. Although unmastered at this stage, demand for the album has been strong, with Rich laboriously manufacturing copies himself to send out, in return for a donation which will be put towards building a proper website.

Rich has been kind enough to answer some questions for Spoilt Victorian Child about life after the Beta Band, the influences behind the record and the pilfering of unpublished Ernest Hemingway short stories -

Joe C: Alright Rich, thanks for speaking to Spoilt Victorian Child, how's tricks?

Richard Greentree: Things are all good, very sunned out from sailing and tennis, not that I'm living that life! Just had to take a break from the screen.

JC: Can you explain a bit about The General and Duchess Collins? What's the name all about? Who's in the band?

RG: The core of the band is really just myself and Simon Ritchie, virtuoso guitarist/ pianist. Robin from the Betas, and now Aliens, is our man on deck for recording and performing, but his day job lies in The Aliens.
The name The General and Duchess Collins is from a short story by Ernest Hemingway that never got published, and was purloined from his South American home by an associate of mine that was performing some drainage work there.

JC: Things have really taken off since the interview Steve did with BBC 6 Music was published online. A few comments left in response to the article alerted many fans to the existence of TGADC and lead to you being approached directly by fans seeking copies of 'Calling Earth'. Can you tell us a bit about what's happened since then?

RG: Well that is kinda how it happened. I gave a copy of it to a guy I was doing some carpentry work for and he published my email address with the accompanying story that I was sending them out on request. Two people tried it over as many weeks, then when they suddenly received the record, they wrote about it online and the requests came flooding in.
So I set up a myspace with tunes up there for anyone to take or listen to, decided to limit the CD mail out to fifty (it became seventy because I'm a soft spot for a nice letter) and asked people to send back donations to fund the set up of a real website. The response has been faith restoring, people have sent artwork, birthday cards, their own records and very generous amounts of money, one donation was 1000% what I would have received when signed to our major label, for the sale of one record, but never did because it always went toward paying back the debt. I know that’s only one record and with a major you’re selling many more, but it does prove that selling fewer copies but maintaining your own control can be an option for an artist these days. I have decided for now to make the album available on my upcoming website, which has a few pages but is still in construction, , and to let it slowly build that way, while we concentrate on some live performance and the film side of things.
It is worth mentioning that anyone that goes there looking for the record will find the way to purchase it but it won’t be arriving on their doorsteps until mid/end June. Just finishing artwork and mastering to complete.

JC: The album's great. It's Beta-flavoured for sure - elements of folk, country and psychedelic rock - but you're bringing your own unique something to the party. The non-acoustic tracks remind of when Badly Drawn Boy plugs in his guitar and there's definitely a bit of Bowie in there somewhere. What are the influences behind the record – musical or otherwise?

RG: The main influences for me at the moment are Motown and punk, not that you will really hear that on the record but it’s what I would like to hear in my own mind. Saying that I mainly listen to hip hop, or the Arctic Monkeys, (What an amazing album that is, a lyrical miracle) but I never think of the genre or who the song sounds like, I grew up in the Beta Band remember! Although I can’t hear it I am pleased you said Bowie because he is timelessly classic and no doubt.

JC: How did you go about writing and recording the album? Have the songs been around since you were in the Beta Band? And how was it working without Steve, John and Robin?

RG: I started 'Calling Earth' as a solo project while still in the Beta Band. At that stage it was to be an EP, but after we split I dealt with the gaping chasm left in my life by spending every waking hour in the boardroom of a derelict electrical wholesalers warehouse, I was lucky enough to have the keys for, recording the rest of the material to make up an album. About fourteen tracks sieved down to ten. As to working with Steve, John and Robin, it was in turns a beautiful, exciting, hilarious, morbid and dangerous, not to be missed once in a lifetime experience. As to working without them, it was the same, but without so many funny bits!

JC: There's this perception of the Beta Band towards the end as being Steve's band, musically and creatively. Is this unfair? What level of influence did you, Robin and John carry?

RG: For all Steve’s creative genius he can also be very stifling, and sometimes he made it difficult for people to realise their potential. I am not going to say anything he doesn’t already know. In the last interview of his that I read he said the end of the Beta Band was down to, “…him being held back as a front man” and “…a lack of ideas from the band.” I think that The Aliens and The General and Duchess Collins shows that the ideas are still there, and as for being held back, HUH!? I love the man but he is a royal pain in the ass, and he knows himself that he has a problem with destroying the things in his life that mean the most to him.

JC: Watching the documentary on the making of 'Heroes to Zeroes' from the 'Beta Band Best of…' DVD, it's evident that you were finding the constant struggles with your record label frustrating. It seemed that you three had to act as mediators between Steve and Regal / Parlophone. Is this the case? And was it a relief when it finally ended?

RG: I think I kinda answered this one in the last question. It’s nice that people lament the death of the Beta Band at the hands of the corporate devils, but you know what, you make your own luck in this life.

JC: How come you didn't join The Aliens? Was it on the cards or have you always been set on doing your own thing?

RG: Well firstly because they didn’t ask me! After we split it was necessary to go our own ways and experience things freshly, and I really wanted to be in control of the sound I made. A band is a wonderful thing, but you only get to make a quarter of the choices, if you’re lucky! And I knew I had a total vision for the way I wanted my things to go. Anyway, I think their dynamic is just right, they are very old friends and the sound they are making is testament to that. I can hear the love in that music and that’s the best sound in the world.

JC: You live close to Portsmouth, a city that has never struck me as a hot bed of musical creativity, but then I know next to nothing about the place. Is there a scene down there? How do you fit into it? Any other bands from the area you'd recommend?

RG: Dude if there are any other bands, which I am sure there are, I don’t know about it. I don’t go out enough, the place is too dangerous, I send my wife to the supermarket because she is less likely to get beat up, (she is from Streatham). Nah, I came back to be near my family when having our son and to get on the property ladder in a place where it was financially viable. It has its pros and cons (if cons is short for convicts then it has more than average) but it sure nice to be by the sea, “A beach is a place where a man can feel, he’s the only soul in the world that’s real” etc…

JC: So what happens next? Have you had any interest from labels or are you going to go down the DIY route? Any plans to play live?

RG: Again, I think I have already answered this one previously. I have had some label interest and some management interest but I really want to see how far this information ‘seeding’ process can take things before making any big decisions. The single most important aim is to get back in the studio and record the next record; I have some very strong songs and want to give them the full studio workout. That and getting some live performance underway, which should be happening at the start of August.

JC: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Keep us posted on any developments with the album!

RG: Cheers. x

Buy 'Calling Earth' from The General and Duchess Collins' website
Visit The General... at My Space

1 comment:

scottyT said...

Portsmouth ain't that bad...
As for bands, there are some great sounds currently coming out of the City. Do yourselves a favour and check out Carmen Rosa and Bluesky Research on Myspace. Two of Portsmouth's mightiest bands right now.