A Few Words With...Dik Cadbury

Dik Cadbury is perhaps best know for his inventive bass playing and vocals with '70s prog-folk pioneers Decameron and the '78-80 incarnation of Steve Hackett's band where he appears on the groundbreaking "Spectral Mornings" and "Defector" releases. Recently, Cadbury recorded & released a fine acoustic-based solo album appropriately titled "About Time." Cadbury let ProgSheet bend his ear and offered up insight into his past, present and future...

PS : How did Decameron originally come together and how did such a wonderfully quirky band get a record deal?

DC : Johnny Coppin, Al Fenn and Geoff March were all at the Cheltenham Art College in the late ‘60’s; Dave’s childhood sweetheart was also there and introduced him to Johnny, who had a band with Al at the time (‘Love to Mother’ I think!). They started out playing CSN&Y, The Band, Drifters and Fairport Convention songs in local folk clubs before Coppin and Bell became the ‘Lennon/McCartney’ team, writing their own. Geoff was brought in on ‘cello to fill out the bottom end and add a harmony. I was playing bass and fiddle and singing in a band in East Anglia called Totem and we met up first when they came to play the University of East Anglia, where I’d been studying German Literature before taking a sabbatical to tour with Totem. We then shared one or two festival bills – notably Norwich and Cambridge – before Totem folded and Decameron released their first album ‘Say Hello To The Band’ on Vertigo in 1973, with Pat Donaldson on bass and Gerry Conway on drums. They then decided they needed a permanent bassist and asked me to join – I joined in August 1973. How they got signed to Vertigo I’ll never know but when the first draft of Mammoth Special (2nd album) was presented to the A&R man, he’s reported to have listened to the first 30 seconds of the proposed single, kicked the off switch of the Revox with his foot and said: ‘Naah! I don’t see it!’ ‘Who signed this band in the first place?’ is another reported quote!

PS : What were Decameron trying to accomplish as a band - what sort of stamp, if any, were they looking to make?

DC : Contemporary English folk might sum it up; Prog-Folk has also been suggested! It was definitely the songs and especially the harmonies that drew me in! Johnny was listening to Vaughan Williams and Elgar a lot I recall, sounds which floated frequently out of his room at Gransden in Parabola Road (a flat the band shared). Johnny’s music definitely has a delicate aspect to it – his light ‘McCartney’ to Dave’s more gritty, acid ‘Lennon’ lyrics.

PS : I must ask for a little background on 2 songs off of "Third Light." Tell me a bit about putting together the song "Saturday."

DC : I had been begging Dave to give me a chance to contribute to the writing but the team was in full flood and none of the songs I brought with me seemed to fit the mould. Then, one day, Dave thrust a piece of paper into my hand and said Johnny couldn’t do anything with that particular lyric so would I like to try something. I battled with it for days, trying 3/4 and 4/4 and eventually decided that the natural speech rhythm was the only way to go! That’s why it’s mostly in 5/4 with bars of 3 and 4 just to be awkward! Sandy Roberton (Manager) kept phoning me up after we recorded it and begged me to write some more, but lyrics weren’t passed my way and that was that until after the band folded and Johnny went solo. Then Dave came to me and we started writing together; ‘The Trick’ and ‘So Very Young’ were two of our first collaborations and later, when we had our own ‘retro’ pub band ‘The Teenage Idols’ we wrote ‘Paper Round’ and ‘Love and How To Cure It’! We’re still writing some great songs!

PS : "Strawman" has a sort of eerie feel to it. Was that intentional?

DC : Definitely! One of Dave’s own masterpieces! The lyric says it all really and that riff was entirely his. ‘The mad and mythical strawman – a sad and doubtful fable…’ I think after we got that down, on New Year’s Eve, we had a party in the studio at which wine (provided by our publisher) and a cake containing ‘otherwise combustible substances’ was consumed before we used up at least 4 reels of 2" tape recording a seemingly endless jam session and Johnny found the ‘Lost Chord’! The tapes were never heard of again – funny that!

PS : What finally broke the band up in the latter half of the 70s?

DC : I always say we ran headlong into punk and new wave and couldn’t compete! I was trying to pull the band into a more commercial approach (I’d moved on to guitar by then – Tomorrow’s Pantomime) and the others weren’t comfortable with the concept of losing the acoustic roots. Geoff hadn’t intended to stay that long anyway. There were a couple of other writers I was interested in working with and to be honest we’d earned next to nothing all the time we’d been together – a real ‘hand to mouth’ band! It was a general malaise and frustration at the lack of progress and recognition really, certainly from my point of view! Had we become another Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span we’d have been happy. Maddy Prior loved our harmonies and was very encouraging but it wasn’t enough!

PS : How did you come to get the bass slot in Steve Hackett's band?

DC : I first met John Acock in 1970 when he was engineer at Ian Gillan’s Kingsway Studio and I came down to do a late night session on bass for some demos. I used to stay at his flat in Twickenham when Decameron were recording and he became the first engineer at Millstream (my 16-track studio in Cheltenham) when I opened that in 1978. I had to delay the opening while he finished off the production of ‘Please Don’t Touch’ in LA and Kingsway and we tested the studio Tannoys with the copy masters – what a sound….! He came in one day and told me he’d recommended me as bassist for the new touring band Steve was putting together and I got a call for an audition shortly after. Steve and I jammed for a while and then he said was there anything I wanted to play? I asked him to show me the riff in ‘Tower Struck Down’ and 5 minutes later we were happily blasting that out. Then he revealed that it took the session bassist an hour to learn it – I was IN!! I think my vocal potential (then unheard) also interested him.

PS : I'd like to ask you for a sort of "snapshot" of 2 members of that band to give a feel of how they were to work with. Let's start with the drummer: John Shearer.

DC : John was an incredible showman and clown (at least he thought so!!!). I think it was the size and visual impact of (no madam…!) the 19-piece stainless steel kit (+21 cymbals) that sold him to Steve as much as his pyrotechnic drumming and very innovative playing! He was very loud both on and off stage and it’s no surprise, given his love of and devotion to Tommy Cooper (English comic magician) that he’s now become a magician and entertainer. We recorded ‘Spectral Mornings’ in Wisseloort, Holland and I remember meeting one of Holland's best session drummers, Louis Debij, in the studio - he'd toured with Decameron in 1975 as the drummer with a group called Fungus and I got to know him well. I asked him to come and listen to the solo at the end of Clocks and he turned to Shearer after hearing it and said: "How many overdubs did you do?" JS: "None." Louis: "What are you - f*****g octopus or something?" His catchphrases: ‘Keep it in your trousers’ and ‘remember where you heard it first!’ still haunt me!

PS : And how about Hackett's keyboardist in those days: Nick Magnus?

DC : Nick was truly an underrated talent in the band; a phenomenal musician and highly talented keyboard player and synthesist. He could create any sound required out of thin air and the unison runs with him and Steve in the heat of Jacuzzi are truly awesome! I went to the Shepherds Bush Empire in Feb/March(?) this year to see Steve play; it was John Hackett’s birthday and Pete had e-mailed me to come along, promising Nick would also be there. I attach a photo of the 5 of us – JS was conjuring elsewhere! He’s very studio-bound these days and rarely seen out but it was great to sit next to Pete and belt out the vocals to Everyday after all those years – I think we sounded OK! (sorry – wandered off there!) Nick and I shared the delights of Disneyland, Ca. in 1980 – especially Space Mountain!! He’s also on the original Millstream demos of The Trick (with Pete’s vocal) and So Very Young – wonderful performances!

PS : That line-up had a powerful vocal blend, with Hackett, Pete Hicks, and yourself. Who did the vocal arrangements on songs like "The Toast" and "Everyday"?

DC : Me! Steve wanted the CSN vocal block harmonies on those and took the low part with me in the middle and Pete on top – he always preferred it that way!!! Apart from Pete’s lead and Steve’s grumble, I did all the voices on ‘The Virgin and the Gypsy’! My proudest vocal achievement!

PS : It seemed like a band that had fun playing & recording. What caused it to dissolve?

DC : Financial pressures we believe! The lack of ‘bums on seats’ and huge record sales plus the cost of the Genesis-scale production (sound and lights) and 5 musicians on the payroll! After us there were pick-up bands, including Nick for a while, but Steve had to scale down! He refers to us in his Archive set as his ‘dream team’ and I’m proud to have been a part of that! Many e-mails since seem to confirm that view! He’s constantly trying new things anyway and the point was to expose his own writing and ideas, which is why he left Genesis.

PS : Between then and now, Decameron has done some reunion dates & you have worked again with Hicks. Still in touch with Hackett?

DC : All the members of Decameron still live within about 20 miles of one another and we keep in touch. Johnny does an annual series of Christmas concerts at which Geoff and I add vocal harmonies, I play bass and Geoff plays ‘cello. We recorded a live CD ‘Afterwords’ in 2001, to raise money for cancer treatment for Gillian Coppin who sadly lost the fight later that year! The CD includes a live version of ‘About Time’ and 6 other previously unrecorded titles.
Pete and I keep in touch and write songs remotely – he’s busy in Kent and I live about 150 miles away in Gloucestershire! There are 4 titles on the About Time CD we wrote together – 2 from the last European Hackett tour in 1980.
Saw Steve as mentioned earlier this year and last October, when John Acock and I went to hear him in Worcester. These were the first sightings in about 20 years! John Acock and I play together in ‘Ego Ronnie’s Good Pub Band’ – he on keys and me on guitar and ‘ego’(it’s the bassist’s PA and van!)!

PS : You have a fantastic solo CD called "About Time." You sing & play guitar and other instruments on it, but no bass. Why did such a great bassist make that decision?

DC : Thank you for such high praise, sir!!! The album was commissioned as a ‘singer-songwriter’ album after the record company guy heard the raw demos John A and I made with just voice and guitar. We decided to lay all the tracks ‘live’ as guitar and vocal performances (no overdubs!) and then dress them with harmonies, fiddle, sax, keyboard textures etc but no rhythm section. To me it’s the songs that matter although I’d love to perform them in a band context! I’ve started doing showcases of my material in London with a house band and it’s exciting to hear a band behind stuff like ‘Closer to You’ and some of my newer unheard material. But it’s back to economics and the cost of musicians and PA etc.! I’m launching myself this year as a solo act – just me and the ol’ Gibson. I still love to play bass but that needs a band and I’m quite fussy about standards after Hackett!!

PS : Let's get into a few of the songs on "About Time." You and Dave Bell from Decameron wrote an interesting little number called "Paper Round." What's the story behind it?

DC : There was a series on TV some years ago called ‘The Boys From The Black Stuff’ by Alan Bleasdale in which Jimmy Nail plays an out of work tarmac layer looking for a job. He meets an old school friend in the pub and his friend is a successful footballer. Yosser (Jimmy Nail) says bitterly to his successful friend: "I could have been a footballer but I had a paper round!" It becomes the scapegoat or excuse for everything he never achieved and when I told Dave about it, he wrote me the lyric. Dave actually was delivering newspapers when he read the headline: Eddy Cochran dies…! ‘All the dreams I never found…’ We wrote it as a song for the Teenage Idols – I have it here on CD with Dave’s voice (me on guitar again!).

PS : "I Have To Set It Down Again," written by you and Pete Hicks, has a great lyric to it. Who or what was the inspiration for it?

DC : Oh dear! Looking over the edge of the precipice! I had the tune for this but couldn’t get the lyric started. So, in a hotel room in Holland in November 1980 I asked Pete if he could find anything. He said: ‘sketch me a verse and I’ll have a go.’ That was the first verse, which he kept and added to. I finally left my wife in January this year! I always wanted Nick to play the guitar part on that wonderful Bosendorfer he used for ‘Hammer In The Sand’ – maybe one day…?

PS : What is next on the burner for you?

DC - I have a new set of songs which I’d love to record – with a band this time. I’m playing them solo and getting great response. I’d love the time to visit Pete and work on more material with him – even to record with him because the vocal chemistry is still very strong! I’m still writing with Dave and have so many musical ideas I can’t get lyrics to which he or Pete might be able to make something of. Other than that, I keep the bills at bay by doing voice-overs (check out: www.voiceatility.net)

PS : I ask every musician this question: What are 6 CDs that you never get tired of listening to?

DC :
Crosby Stills and Nash
Peter Gabriel – So
Marc Cohn (eponymous)
Shawn Colvin – A Few Small Repairs
Nik Kershaw – 15 Minutes
Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
And (of course) Dik Cadbury – About Time (need to learn those songs!!)

*photos for this interview graciously provided by Dik Cadbury


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