Dr Alex Paterson of The Orb talks about their upcoming album with Lee Scratch Perry, Little Fluffy Clouds, and his Australian connections with theAUreview’s Mary Boukouvalas.
How’s it going?
You’re my last one and I’m afraid I’m a bit tongue tied but I’ll try my best.
Thank you so much. Have you had much of an opportunity for a break at the moment; are you at home relaxing or doing lots of interviews about the upcoming album?
A bit of both really; I think they think this is a break really when they put me in interviews at 9am after a bank holiday and they give me eight interviews without any prior warning.
Oh no …
That sucks …
That really sucks.
Well it would’ve been nice for them to say look you’re doing eight interviews, can I have a break for half an hour?
Are we able to do that? Would you like to take a break now and give me a call back later?
Nah, we’ll just carry on and I’ve let them know that we’ll just carry on … well, you’re my last one.
Great – I can keep you as long as I want then …
Here’s me moaning about it; getting it off my chest. I’ll lighten up and carry on …
Would you like to get a coffee or something at least?
Nah, I’ve got half … I’m cool; too much coffee.
Okay. Well let me know when you want a break … I haven’t interviewed you before even though I have wanted to so if you don’t mind I’ll start by going back to the beginning. Who were your main influences musically when you were growing up?
Wow … what age group? (laughs) A little toddler?
Haha … well what was the first record you bought?
First record I ever bought was T-Rex
And a load of really crap records until I came across Alice Cooper; got into Killer, Love it to Death, School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies. They were the ones. Also got into Led Zeppelin at a very early age thanks to my older brother. He tried to get me into Jimi Hendrix but even to this day I still don’t get it. You’ve got to be true to your emotions. I mean he’s okay when I hear Jimi Hendrix I know it’s Jimi Hendrix, I’m not that’s stupid, not that dumb. Some of my best flatmates when we were growing up were Jimi Hendrix crazy. One of my best friends, to this day, he stopped drinking the day Hendrix died. My mate … to this day he still hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol in respect to Jimi Hendrix dying. When he listens to Hendrix tracks, I’ve seen the hairs go up on his arms.
Wow ... I wish I had that effect sometimes (laughs) I get that a lot with Bob Marley. I think it’s a generational thing.
Maybe, yeah … like we get it with you.
Every time I hear ‘Little fluffy clouds’. That was the very first track I’d ever heard from The Orb. It’s still one of my all-time favourite songs. How did it come about?
Well that’s a very long story. It started when a very, very, very, old friend, we went to school together. He was a year behind me when we left school, he had a spare bed, in a bed sitter, in Earls Court - sounds very Australian really. And so I moved in there, with him back in 1978, we just shared a room for a year and within that one year he joined Killing Joke, and his name is Youth and I became a Killing Joke roadie. I was also his Prefect at school -that’s how far back we go. I do remember one moment way back, whenever the Crime of the Century by Supertramp came out, we both argued when we came back to school in September who bought it first over the summer. We were a bit like that with music from a very early age.
Anyway, fast forward to the beginnings of Orb, me and Youth had a record label called WAU! and I started doing The Orb with a certain member of the KLF called Jimmy. Jimmy and I fell out and Youth and I were still best mates and still doing the record label and Jimmy and I had done Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain, and I decided to do better than Huge Pulsating so did Little Fluffy Clouds.
Well how it came about was this friend of ours in Birmingham called Simon had this cassette that he sent us and he said I think you all should do this because he was bowled over by Huge Ever Pulsating Brain.
Huge Ever Pulsating Brain opened up many doors for us, just in its nature, and we did the John Peel Sessions, which was one of the most requested Peel Sessions of all time.
It’s just one track but one track for 20 minutes, but some of the reactions we got from that were just totally mind-boggling. We had prisoners writing from us in prisons saying: thanks for the holiday. Some really weird shit going on. There you go. So then Jimmy went off and What Time Is Love was making really big waves for KLF. And I really wanted The Orb not to be a KLF sort of side-kick band cause that’s what Jimmy wanted it to be. So basically Jimmy left The Orb and Youth joined The Orb to do Little Fluffy Clouds, and basically Jimmy and Youth were in another band called Brilliant and there was a bit of rivalry going on, but Youth pulled his fingers out a bit more and we came up with this real gem called Little Fluffy Clouds
That’s beautiful, thank you. Why did you call yourselves The Orb?
Why not. True
Umm … I was asked this recently ... a friend of mine, he was basically a lodger, he popped around every night, grabbing food, playing backgammon and listening to music, he had a really big van and he helped us move equipment around and he became really good mates with me and Jimmy and Youth, we were sitting there one night and he came up with The Orb and we’re like: Where did you get that from? That’s it. That’s how we got the name and he’s always had a credit on all the albums probably for that very reason. And it’s Chris Watts plus one. And he still hasn’t paid. It has to be.
You are a good mate. How do you feel you’ve matured musically cause you’ve done like thirteen studio albums.
Apparently so. I’ve done other albums other bands, I’ve got quite a few projects I’ve done. FFWD would be one which springs to mind. The album we did in ‘94 which is completely unavailable and will remain so till the day I die hopefully.
You don’t like it? I haven’t heard it I’m sorry.
No. I want people to have things that they can’t get hold of. That’s what makes them special.
I agree but it would be nice to be able to listen to them now.
It’s something to keep and cherish. I’ve only got one copy. I’ve got one album and I’m missing one of the vinyl. So that’s how precious it is. It’s precious, vinyl is, it gets scratches, little pot holes everywhere and it’s not the same as cd but it’s still nice and rich.
Vinyl is definitely having a comeback especially in Australia. I don’t know what it’s like overseas.
Well we’re putting this album out in vinyl if anyone is interested.
A lot of people will be
And we’re bringing out three 7 inches
Different colour vinyl
That’s great. What colours?
There’s a green and a gold …
I think there probably is because it’s called a Ball of Fire. It was quite amusing actually really it’s got three singles one called Soul Man and you can have any colour for soul, and we’ve got Golden Clouds. What colour would you think you would go with that? Golden Clouds? Yellow? No, red or something.
Haha you’re joking …
No, I said: C’mon guys. I twisted their arms. I said: C’mon, I am an artist afterall darling. Let’s get it a bit more symmetric. Let’s get it in all in order a bit.
You need to coordinate these things.
Golden Clouds is yellow gold and Ball of Fire is red and Soul Man can be green cause green is cool.
Yeah, it is cool.
I have a green man tattoo on my right shoulder.
Do you? Why did you get that?
To cover up an old Celtic that after about 20 years it turned into, dare I say, it looked like an elephant, an elephant’s trunk with big ears.
It started off as a dragon with wings and it morphed into this elephant. I got a cover job that turned into a very big green man with very red eyes.
Do you do art as well? Do you paint or anything?
I did. It was art school for a little time. I did do some art pieces for this album.
You have to go theorb.com and you’ll find there’s a deluxe version of the album that you can purchase and inside each album, the first thousand albums, will be a slice of my art work in it, five foot by four foot. Old school paintings four of them and then cut them up into 250 pieces each. Each canvas and one was a mountain theme and one was a drum machine and one was this big shite quite literally, and the other one was a kind of a big giant comet coming towards the ocean.
(Receptionist interrupts to tell us our fifteen minutes are up. Dr Alex Paterson tells her: We’re going to carry on for a little while longer; if you want to go, you don’t have to interrupt us and we can make our own merry way home. Thank you for your time.)
Hi … I definitely have to order one of those; they’re numbered as well – collector’s edition.
Three 7”s on vinyl and you’ll get a CD. And we’re hoping if this goes well with all intents and purposes. I’m too superstitious for all that. I don’t want to ask the record company how’s it going it. It must be going well by the fact that people want to talk to me about it. We would like to do a second album.
How did you actually start collaborating with Lee Scratch Perry?
Patience, lots of patience and a big slice of luck. The end result was basically keeping ourselves true to what we wanted ourselves to achieve with him and fighting off his ideas of having more of an 80s feel, a 70s feel about the album, where we kept it as isolated from that sound as possible. By not bringing in any brass sections or getting some female folk melodies, I enhanced his voice. Finding out and developing ways of enhancing his voice itself without actually having to have anybody else around him.
Neither of us have done a vocal album before. We got an engineer to help us out. We’re one of Thomas’ best friends knows very much about vocals, in a basic channel style kind of vocal thing. You had certain delays you offset the vocals it’s distant and you don’t have to use other vocals to create that effect just use the same thing … and don’t be frightened.
Experiment … if it doesn’t work, you’re never gonna hear the ones that are shit are you?
Well I hope not…
Well unless you’re really dumb and you think it’s really good and actually sounds crap. Then you’re in another world of toxigen.
I know that you recently came to Australia …are you thinking of touring again soon?
I think we might be coming around February. That’s being talked about, manager’s gone on holiday for a month worst time of the year to go on holiday, the album comes out next week, I think he comes back the day the album gets released. Nice timing. I have got a list as long as my forearm of the things that need to be done and one of them is a tour of the Asian area. I’d like to go to Singapore as well … do something to break up the journey.
It’s too long for you is it, that flight?
Ha the flight … well, fly out, do some gigs in Japan, go down to Melbourne, then to Perth, then Singapore … aha … not too difficult. It’s only up the road for you as well. Talk about arse and elbow type of things. We fly to Australia, do a gig in Perth and then go to Bali and then over to Brisbane How’s that?
You can do that … so close
It’d be nice to have done something and then get into Australia and stay there.
You haven’t had much time to stick around and enjoy the place …
Australia? Australia … I’d like to think I know certain elements of it… I’ve been there many times now. I remember the hotel in Sydney. Did the millennium thing with Earthcore, outside of Melbourne I do remember that. That rates as my best DJ gig. We did a couple of other gigs with Earthcore as the Orb as well. Up in a big forest outside of Melbourne, it was like 400 miles away. I have been down to Phillip Island three times and Apostles Road and chilled out down there. Kind of cool drive, brilliant scenery. Stunning stuff down there. It’s like the Argyles but 20 times bigger; it’s the southern most point of Portugal facing the Atlantic, pretty much the same thing to the southern ocean coming up to the twelve apostles. I have been in to the Blue Mountains. It’s quite cool.
It’s kind of odd, these things do go under the radar. This bloke got in contact with my agent who said I’d like to take Alex around on a DJ tour of Australia; gave him the dates; gave him the figures to add up and he was complete tit I’m afraid. It was basically, once I got there … well certain elements were telling me this is really bad what was going on. Anyway, I get off a plane from London to Perth . he meets me in Perth with loads of grizzlers which gives you an idea of what an idiot he was. Okay.
What year was this?
Around 2004 and we got as far as Sydney. It was Easter Saturday I was playing on campus, all the students had gone home. I popped round to the local record store and couldn’t help but notice a load of Orb CDs in there and a bloke came up and said: Hey mate what are you doing in town? I’m doing a gig around the corner. Well no one’s told us.
So, no publicity?
No publicity. I’d done this gig in Perth where nine people turned up and I got to Adelaide and it just got worse. And if you think it can’t get worse than nine people, it did. If it gets any worse I’m out here. His itinerary was me doing gigs in Newcastle and for the life of me, I’ve never been to Newcastle but the gig in Perth was something else. It was like playing in the south of London, it was all these rival gangs and everyone on the beach.
Got to Sydney and said see you mate I’m off. That’s when I went to the Blue Mountains. Hence that’s why I remembered it.
It got to a point in Sydney where you had a whole night of bands playing and he was trying to get me to put a band up to sleep on the balcony of my hotel room.
What? That’s ridiculous
I said you don’t know what you’re doing. What kind of advertising have you done? And listen to this, he said he had done one hundred posters. His name has gone out of my memory bank. All I remember is that he was a magician. And I asked him if he could make himself disappear. It just got under the radar. He really did not know what he was doing.
Well at least that experience didn’t stop you from coming back.
No, it didn’t put me off. But I’ll tell you what it did do … this is how silly it got, he’s like well I got you here on my visa, cause the bloke in Sydney said I don’t believe it this is really embarrassing. It’s a bit like what you’re saying but I was getting it in the face. You’re playing around the corner, nobody knows you’re playing, it’s Easter Saturday, we just happen to be open for a couple of hours, why don’t you you come back and we’ll do a proper gig, we’ll get some people, get some faces down there. And I said that sounds like an idea, I’ll blow him out, go for a holiday and I’ll come back and do a gig here and I did exactly that. But when I got back the bloke said I am going to tell the visa people that you’re doing a gig illegally. And I said this is now really pathetic mate, fuck off. They’re going to get you when you go to leave the country. No, they’re not. You believe in Big Brother too much mate they want people like me in the country because we make money for them. It creates a kind of monetary system we all know about it. It’s commerce, that’s why we get a work visa.
I am so glad it didn’t put you off and you are coming back again.
I mean it’s always a love and a little hate between Aussies and the Brits. The love and the big hate is between the Brits and the French. When it comes to the cricket …
Oh, those little rivalries, they’re nothing.
Yeah, like when we won the test series in Australia last year, I was going around all the shops asking for t-shirts. Have got any of those test series left in the shop mate? One of them went out the back to have a look and came back and said: You’re not serious about this are you? No, not really, I’m just winding you up.
Did you happen to go watch the match?
No I suppose in a way I should. I know plenty of people who do but I am more of a football lover.
Twenty20 I really do want to go a Twenty20 one day soon. I did do a test series back in 77, 76 when it was England and West Indies but that’s just cause I could listen to reggae music and get stoned. The cricket thing came in second, and then you go out and do gardening.
Thanks so much. It’s been pleasure and an honour.
Thanks Mary - It’s been an ace interview, best that I can remember. I’m getting good at this game. Whereabouts are you?
I’m in Melbourne.
I‘ve stayed in St Kilda many times. Here’s a connection I have with Australia and it’s a nice thing to end on, with the millennium gig, my girlfriend and I we created our little baby girl
Oh, how gorgeous.
Yeah she was conceived on a houseboat in a week of mayhem millennium gigs. It was brilliant.
I’m so glad you have that connection with Australia.
On another note, my mum used to let the part of the house to lodgers and from the age of seven til ten years old, my mum had four Australian nurses upstairs. My mum would say I was always up there.
So you had a lot of scraped knees then Alex?
(laughs) Young boy of course I did. I wouldn’t have been a young lad if I hadn’t had.
Haha but of course. Thanks Alex.
Thanks. You take care. Bye for now.
The Orb's THE ORBSERVER in the Star House featuring Lee Scratch Perry is out through Cooking Vinyl/Shock Records September 14, 2012
THE ORB photo credit: Tom Thiel