Recorded at Night of the Prog 2012, Loreley, Germany, 07.07.2012.
At Night of the Prog 2012 I had my second opportunity to see Arena live. And this time I figured I'd take my chance to have a small chat with the band. In between Enochian Theory and Airbag sets I went to check if someone from Arena is available for the interview. I was soon directed to their small dressing room where Mick Pointer was waiting for the chat and John Jowitt was practising on his bass in the corner.
Basically, Arena was kind of gone for 6 years with the albums.
Yeah, for release of music for sure.
Yeah, I was talking about the music. And in that period fans were kind of left lingering about whether you will go on, or not. You said you will - and you did. So, why was the pause so long?
Well, bare in mind the album (Pepper's Ghost) came out in early 2005 (January 17th) and we did pretty much gig throughout the whole of 2005, I think our last show was in November 2005 in Canada. And every year after that we also did do some sort of shows or small tours. But people had their own things that they wanted to do. Clive (Nolan) was writing a musical (She) and John Mitchell was involved a lot more in It Bites and I was doing this Marillion tribute band, Script for Jester's Tour, 'cause it was the 25th anniversary of the Marillion album (Script for a Jester's Tear, the only Marillion album to feature Mick Pointer) being released at in 2007-2008, something like that. So, we all were doing individual things as well as collectively. So, there wasn't really a huge feeling from all of us that we were ready to write another album.
So, you just needed to spread out and come back.
Yeah, to spread out. And then in about 2009-2010 we started meeting with the other guys about, you know, "Let's plan something. Recording. What shall we do?" And some old problems arose with the line-up. Then the vocalist Rob Sowden left in 2010 and we met Paul Manzi, and got to know him and that sort of inspired us to want to write a new album, started working on a new album. And then John (Jowitt) came along and was interested in getting back involved with Arena again. So, then we had the new line-up and that gave us the push to write a new album, finish a new album, which we did in 2011.
Might you elaborate why did Rob leave the band?
We actually put a few demo tracks together. We wanted to change direction a little bit and I think we had 3 tracks together which were sent to him because we wanted to release them a little bit earlier. Not like singles but just get them online, or something. But he didn't like them at all. He just had a problem with the material and just said "No, I don't want to be involved with that." So, it just felt the right time to make a clean break of it. So, he left before we had Paul Manzi. There wasn't that we had Paul Manzi ready. But Rob left and we knew of Paul Manzi and contacted him. "Would you like to come and record these tracks? See how you sound on them, do you like it?" He sounded amazing, he liked it. "OK, you got the job!"
How did fans take the new vocalist, Paul?
Well, I think they're used to line-up changes with Arena nowadays. You know, 7 albums and 4 vocalists - it's not a good record to have. But that's just sometimes how it goes. Personally, I think they reacted really well to it. In fact, we've had the best reviews we've ever had for any album we've ever done. By far the best reviews we've ever had. So, clearly the people heard it, really liked it. So, that's as good as you could hope for, I suppose, is to get that.
So, these are the studio reviews. How did they take the live presentation?
Ah, OK, that was a different matter.
No-no, I'm interested in both.
(Laughs.) Well, obviously, first of all he's got to step into the shoes of three other vocalists which is not going to be easy. So, the only way he can deal with it is do it in his own way. Of course he gets pointed in certain directions so his performance would be similar to the other people as best he possibly can. But, if you've heard it, if you've heard all other vocalists, clearly Paul Manzi has a much better voice range than any of the others put together. He has amazingly strong voice. It's more of a rockier voice than maybe the other vocalists we've had.
Is his performance rather more theatrical than previous vocalists?
If you mean is he running around the stage with wings on his back...
No, but he did have a top hat and...
Yeah, he's got involved in that a little bit. With particular tracks he does certain things the other vocalists have done. So yes, he does do a little bit of that show. But, you know, only his own personality can come across. You can't force someone if they don't like putting make up on. But that's never been Arena's thing anyway. We've always been a bit rockier than we have been theatrical, if you like.
Yeah, as I understand Clive is the one that wants to be theatrical and has created a musical.
Well, Clive can wear some wings if he wants. It's up to him. But yeah, I think you have to do a certain amount. There's no point standing there and staring at the audience. That's pointless, because, you know, it does help if you move around a lot. But certainly as the set goes on, he does tend to become very animated.
That might be a good word to describe him.
So, I happened to be in Leamington when you finished the tour. The album came out the day after the show. So, how was it to make a tour to promote the album (The Seventh Degree of Separation) before the actual release of the album?
That was another experience we wanted to try. Because as probably all the bands you talk to you find there's a hell of a lot of people downloading for free. You can't stop it. There's nothing you can do about it. But of course it does impact on our record sales. And if we don't have record sales we don't keep going. It's as simple as that. And, you know, as much as you can make the argument for for and against downloading, I'd rather not get involved in it really anymore. You just have to go with it. So, that actually was the reason why the album came out, we were in the town where we were playing, the audience that would normally purchase an album from us, purchased it directly from us. Because, again, as you know, there are not many record stores left. OK, we actually made it available to download via iTunes, and it was available to purchase online and from the tour. But it actually wasn't in the shops until we finished the tour. Whatever shops there are left. The days of bringing an album out, like it used to be, and everybody'd be waiting on Monday morning to purchase a CD, or a record, is over. So, all we tried to do was an experiment. We had to try it.
And did it work in this regard?
Well, I think the album sales we've achieved so far are pretty much in line of what the expectations of it would have been. If you asked me 7-10 years ago, I would have expected to sell double of what it's done. Because of simply people were purchasing it through shops. But we're not alone. Everybody's album sales seem to have gone down 30-40% regardless of who they are. Unless, of course, you're an up and coming band where they are going to grow for a while. But we've been around a long time and we just wanted to try things differently, hoped that things would work out.
Did the new songs work live before people had actually heard the songs?
We never did a huge amount of new songs. I think 5 or 6...
I think in Leamington you did rather more.
I think so.
(Here Mick seems to be a bit stumped and perplexed.)
Um... Nah, it was just 5 or 6, wasn't it? That tour.
Crew: Yeah, I think it was 5.
And they are relatively short ones as well. There's no huge long tracks on there. Well, of course, like anybody hears a new piece of music, they are a bit bemused to start with. Because they've never heard it before... How many?
Six. OK. How many are we playing tonight, John?
John Jowitt: One, two, three...
Crew: 'Cause if I remember right it was "(The Great) Escape," "(One Last) Au Revoir," "Rapture..."
John Jowitt: Six.
Crew: "(The) Tinder Box..."
(Here I have to make a small note that in the end Mick and the crew were wrong, at least as far as the gig in Leamington Spa is concerned. They played, in fact, seven songs off the album, i.e. just more than half of the total number of 13.)
Six, OK. But there's two tracks you're hearing tonight that we didn't play on that tour in November. But like any band that plays new material within a 2 hour set it probably takes up about 20-25 minutes, something like that. So, there's still three quarters of the show of material that everybody knows. So, we try to mix it up as best we can. The hope is, of course the album is for sale, you play a piece of music that they are going to really like and if it's available there and then, then buy it.
OK, here's another question. What do you think of the bands that go on tour to promote their new album and they actually play like 2 songs from it and all the rest are classics.
Depends who that band is, I suppose. Seems to me that the older the band become, the less new material they do.
That's the thing. Years ago I saw Deep Purple live, there was the Bananas album. And when they went on stage they presented practically most of the album and then some of the classics. I remember the crowd was really bemused about it and I was one of the few who actually new the material.
Well there's the old argument that if you're in a band and you're playing "Smoke on the Water" every night, and you've been playing it for 40 years, you tend to get to a point of "Oh, my god! I really don't want to play that song ever again." But of course, there's thousands of people out there that want to hear you play that. So, to a degree you owe it to them to play it, but on the other half, and the bands point of view, I do understand why they stop playing some of the classics. I think you have to get that mixture right.
So, what in context of Arena is this kind of a song that you feel like you've played more than you wanted to?
This is not necessarily from my point of view but for others in the camp is "Solomon." And we're not playing it tonight. That is a track that we have played pretty much every show we've ever done.
Was this the track that to you usually ended the set on?
"Solomon." Just about 15 minutes long. Big instrumental part in the middle.
Starting from now then, what will be your set ending song?
A track that we have brought back is the last track of The Visitor album, actually called "The Visitor." I personally think it's pretty much the best guitar solo John Mitchell has ever done. In fact, it's probably one of the best guitar solos I've ever heard. Personally. It's a great ending to a show I think. But we have played it in the past and brought it in and taken out again. But that's of course a personal opinion, other's might think differently, but that happens to be a good ending.
What do you personally think which is your favourite album of Arena?
I suppose everybody always says it's the last one they've done.
Yeah, because obviously that's the most recent one mind. But...
Well, it's a year past basically.
Yeah, it's not bullshit. I think there's stuff I love on every album. But I particularly liked the last album for the production, the way the material was approached, Paul Manzi vocals - I really love his voice, it's just more my style of vocal, really. Yeah, I'm going to have to say the last album, sorry.
It is what is.
Yeah, it is what it is.
As I understand the production of the last album was really different and you kind of showed it on the DVD. Do you think the result is far better because of that? Or is there anything you actually have wished that the old times were back and you could do it the old way?
No, I never wished the old days were back. No, I think the way the production is always progressing, every year it's different from last time round. It's always an improvement on the sound, I find. Maybe I'm wrong. I'm no great lover of doing it on an old tape machine. Squeak-squeak-squeak. Trying to line everything up, and doing that... Nah, keep bringing technology in. Everybody else uses, why not use it? It's there - let's use it.
Make best of it.
OK, what are the plans now that one album has been finished for a year?
OK, well, the tour is already booked for November. So we're going on a short tour. But we're going to Canada, France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. So, we're doing a general circuit of Europe.
Why don't you reach further up North, Sweden or Finland?
We have been up there. But there's one huge problem with countries up there - how far away it is and how expensive it is to get there. But I was in Oslo in September with my Marillion tribute band. So, I do get up there. Sweden as well, in fact. But it's easier for me to do that because of the costs. Arena is a much bigger beast than that. And so, there's X amount of money you need before you can do it. If you know someone who's prepared to put some money up then put them my way.
Yeah, if I was in Finland or Sweden, I might know someone. Unfortunately I'm from Estonia, so that's even harder...
Well, you know we've played in... not Latvia... where have we played in the Baltics?
Was it a festival?
We've done a festival and we've done a gig there as well. It's Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Yeah, sorry, we played Lithuania twice now. But never Estonia. Never been to Finland.
You have been to Stockholm.
Yeah, quite a few gigs. And quite a few gigs in Norway. We've been all the way up North to Trondheim, we've been up there. So, yeah, it's all good.
To finish up. Do you have any new music coming up with Arena?
No. (Laughs.) No, because we haven't attempted to write anything yet. Again, Clive and John are busy with other projects. But yeah, there will be a period very early next year when we'll start looking at that, and what we should do about it and what the future is for us, if there's a future, whatever we can do. Yeah, we do whatever we can. I mean, to be somewhere like this (Night of the Prog, Loreley) is fantastic. It's a great experience for us. But, as you know, we've already been here 3 years ago. But we have furthered up the bill this time, so that's progress.
So, one day headliners?
Yeah-yeah! Well who knows but that would be great to think that we could... Sorry, just excuse me, I'm not being rude but I have to go in 2 minutes.
I'm fine with that. It was nice talking with you.
You'll have to excuse me, 'cause we've got to get the equipment on stage.
Posted on 14.08.2012 by
I shoot people.
Sometimes, I also write about it.
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