By Jason Barnard
Formed by Tony Durant at Exeter University in 1970, Fuchsia played a ground breaking mix of orchestral progressive folk influences, releasing just one fantastic self-titled LP before going their separate ways. Tony went onto to new projects thinking Fuchsia were long forgotten and even become a star in his newly adopted homeland of Australia.
However over the years the album’s value has soared, word has spread across the globe leading to prestigious recognition as one of Mojo’s Forgotten Classics. After a forty year gap, Tony released what must be one of most most long awaited album follow-ups, ‘From Psychedelia To A Distant Place’ . Finding critical success second time around and connecting with a new generation of fans the past year has been great for Tony. He reflects on his incredible journey in the music industry with Jason Barnard.
Firstly, it’s a huge privilege to speak to you Tony as the Fuchsia album is a favourite of mine. However, there’s much more to cover so let’s start at the beginning. What music that inspired you in your teens and what bands you were in before Fuchsia?
I was in Cape Town as a child to 10 and heard Doris Day and Rogers and Hammerstein shows like Oklahoma, Annie Oakley “Cant get a Man with A Gun”… “Woman uh huh”. All the stuff the 60’s rebelled against as being pap.
Later in my childhood my parents bought me a little Dansette record player that was confiscated during the week! I was only allowed to use at weekends and got into various records like Cliff Richard and his single “Mean Streak”. Cliff was quite snarly in those days. Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass Boys “Last Train to San Fernando’s sheer energy and excitement also caught hold of me. The bluegrass-skiffle thing is always something I’ve listened to but never actually played. It’s probably a regret I never went there.
I was at boarding school at 14 or 15 and really got into The Everly Brothers. They had an incredible vocal approach. There were a lot of country-romantic songs but there was also hard edged stuff like “I’m Not Angry”. I’ve always had a peculiar dichotomy between being a folk and a heavy rock artist. The two things exist side by side and come out at different times. Their records always had a great production too and I learned a lot about harmony through them.
At boarding school I was getting used to living alone with a lot of blokes and the sixties rebellion started to come through. I started getting into things like The Pretty Things and The Beat Merchants. Rebellion! Long hair!
Pete Townshend was amazing. He could capture the frustration of a generation. And me, in a public school and destined to go down a particular career path. The Who with lyrics like ‘nothing gets in my way, not even locked doors, not gonna follow the life that’s been laid before. I get along, any way I dare, anyway anyhow anywhere…” Wow, I love it!
At school I started mucking around with drums. I was erroneous in my decision that if you wanted to pick up chicks you played guitar. I subsequently found out drummers did better than I did! Anyway I started playing guitar and played some Chuck Berry riffs and got into a few local bands. I was in a band called The “Junkies”. I mean, how naive was that!
Later I got into a band with Bob Chudley and Chris Cutler called Louise. Chris went onto be in Henry Cow and various other left of centre bands. It was early psychedelia 1966-67. We were listening to stuff like The Yardbirds and then Pink Floyd came along. “Arnold Layne”, “Piper At The Gates of Dawn”.
Tony Durant, 1969
The whole thing was amazing. We go up to clubs in London, 24 Hour Technicolour Dream, Soft Machine with Kevin Ayers, a lot of avant-garde stuff. Syd Barrett seemed to be breaking the rules, if you listen to the chord sequence to Arnold Layne it’s a really weird progression. It goes down a semitone run and is quite peculiar. The idea behind the song: “Arnold Layne had a strange hobby, collecting clothes”, transvestite idea. The political and social awakenings were going on it was experimental in all areas.
In Louise we lived in Sutton, there was a whole social scene we were part of was a profound influence. Over the summer of 67 Chris, the drummer’s parents went away and left him alone in the house. It became this sort of commune place and we all used to hang out there. I got exposed to all sorts and manners of music and philosophies. Chris was a partial Communist you could say. He certainly thought about stuff I never had and was an influence on my thinking and others around at the time. My upbringing’s beliefs were under challenge.
Louise, Wallington Public Hall, Sutton, 1969
We’d listen to avant garde /experiments in sound stuff like Karlheinz Stockhausen: “Stimmung” from 1968. We used to go see the Soft Machine at Middle Earth. Their approach to music, again, was very different, especially with the line-up, keyboards, bass and drums as they lost their guitarist; very visually interesting.
Music I found opened up many windows to many people’s ideas, like the political, social conscience of Bob Dylan. His early ‘folk’ protest stuff dealt with injustice such as “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, “Masters of War”, “Hard Rains Gonna Fall”. Lyrically they’re like impressionist paintings and they set this scene for you. In their way, many of these were songs of social ‘revolution’, a theme I continued in a way with the Brecht/Mahagonny, “Pirate Jenny” and the punk stuff later.
Which songs did you carry forward from your group Louise into Fuchsia?
None. It was a total break and went to Uni to find a new environment, a new ‘scene’. It was not an acrimonious break and we remained friends after. I found a world of new influences.
What’s the link with Louise for “Me and My Kite”? It also reminds me of Syd Barrett.
Whilst I was at Exeter University Bon Chudley sent me a copy of “Me and My Kite”. I wanted to help him a bit and it fitted in so perfectly with Fuchsia. Yes, it was very Syd. He was always an influence on us all in Louise and an amazing guy. We used to see him in Electric Garden and places like that. His chord sequences were always a bit odd, which I liked. “Me and My Kite” has that ‘cultured voice’ style of vocal.
How were Fuchsia formed?
Louise had gone as far as they could I felt. and I needed a complete break so I headed off to Exeter University in 1970 and I thought I’d do a degree there. It didn’t materialise that way as I soon got back into music.
I met up with Mike Gregory, who was in the Albion Band later, plus Mick Day on bass and we had a 3 piece heavyish rock thing. We started writing new songs and it all grew out of a theatre thing about the Spanish Civil War I was writing for at Uni. Guillén poems and all that.
One of the songs I did with Louise had strings in it and I suddenly got exposed to all the classical music at university. I used to go to concerts and hear Bartok, Bach, Beethoven and all that stuff. I went to a lunchtime concert and I think they were playing Prokoviev. It got to the end of the first movement and there was this stunning looking woman playing cello. She played this beautiful piece. I was so enraptured by her that I burst into spontaneous applause thinking it had finished but it was just the end of the first movement. Everyone turned round and thought “Who’s that ignorant oik clapping?!”
Then came the idea to integrate strings into what we were doing. The original idea was to have two sets of music, one ‘heavier rock style’, then integrate strings for the second half.
I advertised and found the girls, Vanessa, Maddie and Janet who were great. They’d come in and score it all up and play. When they played “Gone With The Mouse” and they came in with the middle section it just absolutely blew me away. I thought “Wow, I wrote that!”. For all its flaws the first album has some wonderful moments.
Fuchsia album reissue, back cover – Night Wings Records
What were your aims for the band and what groups did you see as your peers/admire in your early months?
The aim was to write something totally new! Obviously there was a cumulative influence of all that went before but nothing I chose to be influenced by. Maybe people like Comus, Jan Dukes de Gray were compared to us and we to them, because we all grew from the same tree, as it were.
Could you tell me about the influence of writer Mervyn Peake?
So, the name? I’d already started writing the music in this style. Greg came up with the name as it seemed that the gothic style and the imagery of Peake seemed to suit us quite well. I then read the books, but there was never any conscious effort there on my part to absorb and use Gormenghast. It was there already. I remember the first ad. Well, the only Ad! “The strange first child of the Groan dynasty…unpredictable, mysterious etc.” It seemed to fit!
What was your songwriting process and did any of the other band members shape the songs? Some of the tracks are quite complex like “A Tiny Book”.
I wrote everything, except drum and bass parts. Greg had quite an inventive take on things. The arrangements were ‘as is’ dictated by how the strings/guitars/vocals went. I wrote for strings on one track tape machine as I couldn’t score music. It was trial and error. I’d record guitar playing, say the violin part, play it back, modify. Then play cello part against guitar, then recorded the violin part. On “Gone With The Mouse” there’s is a middle bit that’s a bit like Bach. I’d record the chord progression, and play it back against the cello part back onto the tape recorder and so on for violin and viola.
I was determined in my youthful arrogance, to break away from all influences in the writing. So yes, very much breaking away from traditional writing forms. Take the “Nothing Song”. Rather than verse/chorus/verse it was chorus/solo/verse/chorus chorus end. That really pushed the boat out! I make a joke about it to audiences now. Hell, the arrogance of youth! “You’ll need help with this one, it’s hard!” I remember when I heard the result of all my amateur string writing played as a band for the first time. I was blown away.
“Just Anyone” was the only track without strings and was in the abstract lyrical style of what Bob Dylan was doing round about that time. It has these disjointed images that creates an overall picture. It’s a song about living alone and dying alone but I don’t want to be depressing, life’s pretty dam good. The imagery is strong and I’m proud of that, it’s all right.
As an aside I think I’ve always had this split personality, wanting to be a heavy metal player, while probably being best suited to more melodic gentler styles. It did emerge in Dave Warner. Maybe we succeeded really well in that no one could categorise it, and thus market it.
It’s said that Caravan’s manager Terry King “discovered” Fuchsia. What was his role?
I thank him now. How it came about? Paul Conroy, an old friend who booked bands such as Louise at Ewell Technical College, played our demo to Terry who loved it. There were the harder rock songs, and string arrangement songs on the same demo. It occurred to me many years later that maybe he thought he’d get the other songs as well, but he always was interested in the girls as a selling point. So he signed us.
I’ve heard you went into the studio after only one gig. Can you tell me about those recording sessions, it must have been nerve racking?
It was quite a nervous episode. No double tracking of strings. I was always very fraught as a recording person. Our lack of experience made it a bit like ‘treading on eggshells” I know I was probably a pain to work with, never satisfied.
Fuchsia LP, front cover
Were you pleased with the results and what are your favourite tracks?
I don’t know what I expected. Perfection?! As an artist, you spend ages looking and fixing flaws in all departments. Maybe I got to the point where I failed to see the merits, only the flaws!
The album received good reviews from the music press at the time. Although some such as Sounds thought that the “girls…deserve a stronger vocal role”. What’s your take on this?
Yes, maybe, but where they did sing it really worked. I’m not sure they could have sung any of the other songs effectively. Maybe I could have written more for them? But I didn’t!
Fuchsia seems to defy being pigeon-holed and blend elements of folk, prog and orchestration. Do you think this was a key reason to why the album did not sell hugely at the time?
Yes. It was trying to come in on the outgoing tide toward the end of that prog-psych-folkrock era. There was no publicity/touring promo so it really did have no chance.
One of the few adverts for Fuchsia, Melody Maker, October 1971
How long did the group last after the album’s release and what did you do after you split?
It’s funny as an artist, you always criticise what you do to move your ideas your ideas forward. I got so wrapped up in thinking that everything that was wrong with Fuchsia and just couldn’t see what was right with it. For four to six months or so I just didn’t know where to go. We recorded another demo in 1971, “The Band” and “Ragtime Brahms” but there was no interest. I felt very responsible in a way, breaking it up, but what do you do? Then I just wanted to play to escape the pressures and demands of original music. So we became ‘Star’ which was fun. It was same band minus strings doing Lou Reed and other covers. There was also another guitarist doing the singing and I was heavy guitar.
After Star I spent time in London and tried writing again. It was totally commercial stuff and was terrible! Then Greg and I were in Punchin’ Judy which was a pub band in London and we were signed to Transatlantic Records. I also used to do sessions for Transatlantic’s publishing arm for different singer-songwriters.
Punchin’ Judy, 1975
I also did some stuff with Greyhound. They were a reggae band and were very successful band before I joined them! They’d just done a new album and it was on Transatlantic too. We did a few shows like Jimmy Saville’s. Then I took a year out to ‘do something really good’.
Speaking of that, can you tell us more the material that makes up the “Fuchsia, Mahagonny and Other Gems” collection? Despite being drawn from a range of sources it hangs together really well; there are some excellent tracks like “Pirate Jenny” and “Mary Used to Play the Piano”.
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill wrote the Threepenny Opera back in 1920s/30s Germany despite the Third Reich and all that. It was very dangerous at the time. I had an idea to rewrite what they did in writing songs of revolution and this became the Mahagonny project. I listened to the original Brecht and Weill version of “Pirate Jenny”. Sadly my version pales into insignificance. [laughs] But it’s not bad: the idea of a prostitute dreaming of better things to come and revolutionaries marching the streets and ripping down the shutters of the houses.
I had some great people involved with me to do it and was almost a reflection on Fuchsia again. I had this thing of writing for strings and move me more into the area of theatre. It retrospect the music is really strong but where I didn’t succeed was that I just didn’t know enough about dialogue.
I took it to Virgin Records and they really liked it. However it was dependent on an Arts Council grant which I didn’t get so I never managed to develop it further. As soon as it looked like it was going to move Dave Warner from Australia stepped in. Mahagonny could revive itself. We are doing one or two of the songs from the sessions now and people seem to like them.
With your work with Dave Warner you enjoyed commercial success in Australia. Can you tell me more about that period?
Dave Warner came over to England in 1976 and it’s one of those extraordinary tricks of fate that changes the course of your life. Greg the drummer from Fuchsia was going out with a nurse in Brixton and Dave happened to move into the flat upstairs. Dave and the nurse met in the hallway one day and got talking. He was doing some demos in England as part of his year away travelling and needed a drummer and guitarist. She said, “I’m going out with a drummer and he works with a guitar player”.
This led us to record some demos at Spaceward Studios in Cambridge with Greg on drums, me guitar. They were weird tracks, strange music I thought. They were real wild colonial boys, my dad had warned me about! We became friends and he was such a nice guy. Dave was very determined. He said he wanted to get me over when, not if, he got a deal.
Dave Warners from the Suburbs, 1979 (Tony Durant second from the right)
Out of the blue, I get a call saying come over to Australia, produce one album and do one tour. I’d just finished the Mahagonny project which wasn’t going anywhere. He got me in as a migrant to play pedal steel guitar! He got enmeshed in a conversation with the immigration authorities and the musicians union over there who agreed he had to advertise first but no-one in Western Australia could do what I could. So I must be the only musician/migrant!
So I came to Melbourne. With Dave it was almost an Australian punk kind of thing, pretty guttural. He was a very good lyricist. At first we had one tour and did one album. But it went gold and we were like pop stars jetting everywhere!
There are many funny stories! The drummer had a bit of a substance problem and he was very friendly with this girl. Unbeknownst to us she came into Sydney airport when we were in the middle of a tour and got busted in customs with about five kilos of smack. I went back to the hotel I was staying at in Bondi. There’d been a burglary in the room next door the night before and there were two gorillas, police, standing outside my room.
They said “Allo mate. You know why we’re here?” I thought “Of course I do” and said “Come in guys. Do you want a cup of coffee?” They said “No, no mate” and grabbed me and threw me down on the bed. They went through my bank books and found reasonably large deposits of money in every city we’d played in as David would pay me after every gig. They thought I was part of this distribution thing and were getting very heavy.
I was really worried. They went through my guitar and I thought they were going to tear it apart, then my amp. Then one of them said “I’ve found it. I’ve found it chief!” He was up behind a sink, pushed the curtain back and found this jar of powder and took a huge snort of it before I could warn him. It was the remains of the washing powder I washed my shirts in! He was rolling round the floor with his eyes streaming. The head constable said “I’ll have that cup of coffee now mate.” [laughs]
In this period I went back to England, then came out again and again. I did about six very successful tours with Suburbs. We were very big, probably helped by the fact that we only really toured when I was here in Australia. Limited supply, big demand! Sadly we never got of Australia as people think we could have been successful in England.
I also continued to work in England and did the “I’ll Remember Her Face” song around 1978 now found on the “Fuchsia, Mahagonny and Other Gems” record.
How did ‘I’ll Remember Her Face’ come about?
Yes, I was playing with Dave Warner in Australia and I was going backwards and forwards. I got this opportunity to write for a small film. The music they wanted was in the folk tradition. It was about going back in time to this place in the seventeenth century and falling in love with a woman. He gets set in his life there and she wants to tell her where he comes from but he won’t tell. In the final scene he is happy to be there. He’s walking with her, throwing a stick for the dog, chatting to her through the woods walking hand in hand and they come to this graveyard. The dog runs off and he’s chasing it. He looks up and he sees a bus go by. He looks down and there’s this gravestone and it’s got this lady’s name on it. At this point “I’ll Remember Her face, I’ll Remember Her Name” comes in.
John Tams of the Albion Band offered to help me and sang. It was only ever two verses for the film. The Albion Band were going to record it but never did and I never finished it until recently when I wrote a new middle section and a final verse. I’d love John to sing it again. You never know.
When were you aware that the Fuschia LP had became extremely collectable? Bootlegs circulated in the 90s and the album was increasingly praised in the music press. I assume this was what led to its remastering and re-release?
I had a call from my friend Dave Warner, asking me had I heard of a band called Fuchsia?! He’d been contacted by Italian niche record company owner, Gianpaolo Banelli. I had all but wiped this from my memory so I was amazed at the outcome of the conversation with him. This was about 2003 I think and I was told the Fuchsia album had become a cult item, selling for X dollars and people had started to pirate it. I had no idea. I managed to remaster the album, fix up a few of the flaws as I saw them, and re-release the record through Nightwings. It sounds much better than the original and was well received.
What inspired you to write and record the new album “Fuchsia II: From Psychedelia to a Distant Place”. Were you apprehensive about revisiting the sound and risk not recapturing its magic?
I always loved music of that style. I’d finished some documentary projects I was doing, then my friends the Cairnes Brothers from Melbourne approached me to make a documentary on the Fuchsia story, which really inspired me to start writing again. I only ever intended doing a few songs for my family! Fuchsia never really went as far as it could. It had great moments but there’s a lot left in me that could take that string pop song arrangement thing and take it to the next stage.
I had a lot of encouragement, and the songs grew, in stages. At first I was only going to do an EP recording in my little studio with sample synth strings and drum programmes. This led to me using real strings. I’d catch local music teachers putting their violins and cellos into their cars, and I’d press gang them! It started sounding really good, then Lloyd (drums) expressed great interest in getting involved. I had so much help. It never really occurred to me in the end that this was anything inferior, only a development.
How would you compare your new material to your debut and what new have you brought to the writing and recording process after all these years? There are some shared lyrical themes like the opener from Fuschia 1 “Gone with the Mouse” and the final track from the new album “Piper at the Gates”; although you seem to have greater perspective demonstrated by “Melancholy Road”.
My playing is better! I have had a lot more experience, especially in producing for others, in the vocal area especially. The songs have really evolved over time from inception, and really determined their own outcomes, if you see what I mean. The music seems to come from the deep within sub conscious, and then the conscious mind eventually puts some meaning to it in terms of a central idea. The album may not be as adventurous in some ways, but 40 years of music have come and gone, and maybe its harder to be heard as being that adventurous.
I do think the album is therefore more accessible. In “Piper at the Gates”, like “Gone With The Mouse” on the first album is a song about the decline of civilizations. Now that is a broad and adventurous topic for a pop song! There’s this darkness in the music and the song: “snapshots of the blindness in living within a failing civilization”.
“Melancholy Road”, that theme [sings] was written for as a piece of music of a film. It was this guy on a melancholy day. The sun was shining and he was mowing the lawn. It was a lovely memorable tune. I started writing off that and that song started off as “Old enough to know better”, was about growing old and facing up to your demons. Then I thought “This song applies to so many people.” There are 30 year old people that have worked in a career for 10 years and are suddenly thrown out. It happens all the time now, there’s no security in life anymore. It was a song to those people who’ve been displaced by society.
But the song has a positive end: “I’m moving away from Melancholy Road. Follow your dreams wherever they may go.” This is me coming in, follow your dreams everybody. Go for it. When I play it live now, I do it with lap steel and violin for the theme and kind of works.
To me Fuchsia 2 retains some of the key elements of the Fuchsia LP but rounds off some of the experimental edges to produce a more instantly accessible record. It is in many ways, better. Two of my favourites are “Lost Generations” and “Rainbow Song”. Great lyrics too!
Yes, a really accurate observation. I love both those songs. All of the songs on the new record evolved over a long period. I’d done films and jingles, things like that. There were great little bits of music that kept coming back to me and I used those themes to start writing.
There was one exception “The Girl from Kandahar”. I walked past this newsagents shop and there was a picture in the window that attracted my attention. It was an appalling picture of a girl who had her nose cut off by the Taliban. It was awful and really incensed me so I sat down and wrote “The Girl from Kandahar” about the idea that we all individually have the right to our own freedom. People really like that one too.
Fuchsia 2 has received a fantastic reception, Record Collector said: “Returning with dignity and verve, Durant’s created a worthy follow-up to his age-old gem. Did we have to wait quite so long?” It must be very pleasing.
Yes, truly amazing. If anyone had said to me 2 years ago that I’d be out there fronting my own band, and singing…yes, singing, I would have said “No way”! It’s been an incredible journey. People really understand what I’m trying to do.
There’s some excellent footage last year’s live show in Sydney, where you now live. Do you have plans to build on this success and come over to Europe?
Yes. David Svedmyr wants me to come over and Me and My Kites will be my backing band. I’d love to bring the band from here but I just don’t think financially it’s possible. Playing live has come as a new revelation. My “Suburbs” mate Dave Warner, remains in shock as to my singing, where for all these years the impression was I had nothing to contribute in that area. That was my own decision.
You’ve also just released a new single with “Me and My Kites”. Your old demo ‘The Band’ gets a great makeover and is an excellent companion piece to the new Fuchsia album.
David, who’s based in Sweden, got in touch about four months back. They’re lovely people who absolutely love my music. They are really cool and said they wanted to do “The Band” which was a demo I did with Fuchsia to try and get a record deal after the arrangement with Kingdom came to an end. I said “Do it as you want to do it”. When I heard it I thought “This is nice kind of tune”, and then they said “Would you sing on it?” The idea of a group of young guys doing one of my old songs?! Well, I’m blown away, and getting me to sing on it. Well, they do a lovely version. Thank you David, you’re a good man.
It truly sounds like a single.
Thank you. I actually took the demo to a record company and there was a young exec there and he started going on about it sounding like Slade. It was a strange thing to say as it was a gentle song! In those days I was incredible sensitive so any form of criticism, slightly to the left of positive, I was incredibly hurt. I have a little bit more of a thicker skin now.
It seems that Fuchsia’s popularity is growing and your music, new and old being praised more than ever. What’s next?
I would love to play live more. I have a great bunch of people around me, who I love being with and really appreciate the music. They play so well. I need a good publicist here in Sydney, which should get us into more venues. The band is really good, and we need to get out more.
I plan to do a vinyl release in a few months, and make that the Aussie release, and try to get some momentum here. I have probably been taken a little by surprise with the reviews in UK and Europe. We need to try to capitalise on that now with a press driven live playing campaign. I’m doing another tour with Dave Warner and will be doing a few spots as Fuchsia with Dave.
I have also been working hard on scoring all the string parts on Sibelius, a great scoring programme, so that any string player can step in and do a gig. I’m also doing a video of “Melancholy Road”. It should be fun!
Also, I would love to do the Mahagonny songs live as part of a show…i.e. finish that project too! Even do one of the songs as a film clip. They are little cameos which could stand up as a 5 minute film.
Thank you Tony, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. Please let me know about your future releases European dates in particular.
Please listen to Tony’s Strange Brew Podcast show too.
With thanks to Keith Jones at Fruits de Mer for his support. All photos used with the kind permission of Tony Durant.
Copyright © Jason Barnard and Tony Durant, 2014. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without the permission of the authors.