Last weekend saw The Enid step out on stage for the fifth iteration of HRH Prog. It’s the fifth consecutive year the band have performed at the festival. This appearance marked a significant change, however. As usual, the band took the opportunity to break new musical ground, as one has come to expect from these pioneers who’ve refused to stand still since their inception in the 1973. But this year, they did so without Robert John Godfrey and three other band members, following an exodus of sorts in 2016.
Godfrey, the founder member, stepped down from the live side of The Enid in April 2016, just weeks after their previous HRH festival appearance, his departure from the live arena hastened by his Alzheimer’s Disease. I spoke to Robert in between last year’s Prog IV and the Cadogan Hall show that marked the end of his tenure in the ensemble. “I can’t cope with the stress of the live side of it”, he candidly admitted. “I’m having memory lapses on stage and all this sort of thing. So no, I can’t do that. But still, intellectually, I’ve got all my marbles, so I’m not concerned about all of that. I think this illness was detected very early on. I’ve been keeping myself as active as possible and I’ve been willing myself to keep it at bay. Of course, a point will come where I will know that this is no longer a sensible thing to be doing and I shall probably give in very gracefully.”
There’s a certain irony to The Enid having been christened the house band at Prog. Robert John Godfrey himself has no time for the term. “I hate prog. I’ve got to tell you: prog is bog. I had a good go at it the other day. Because so much of it now has nothing to do with progressive music. It’s more a nostalgia trip. Initially I think Prog Magazine was started for reminiscing about the 70s and now it’s been really taken over, almost squatted on by high profile musos, none of whom know how to write a song.”
“The whole thing about the progressive era, back when I was involved with it, when it was a movement, was there were people from every conceivable background in music, from rhythm and blues, from folk, from jazz, from classical music and various others: those all came together in some of these bands, some of whom were truly transcendental in that they made a whole movement happen that influenced art, and more generally film, fashion, all the rest of it. That is missing now. What we have is this horrendous label, the “prog” label.”
The band’s sets at Prog typically bear little resemblance to the full Enid concert experience, where concept is all important. Godfrey’s sign-off show, entitled Dust, was the third in a trilogy dealing with the bigger issues in life. “The transcendental ones – the ones that go beyond gender, beyond tribalism; the real issues that are facing the world at the moment: consumerism versus the environment, all those things are part of what the Journey’s End trilogy is about. At the heart of it is the idea that we’re all interconnected, through society, through each other. We can’t take a breath without relying on some other human being to do it. If you look at a bookshelf, and look at a book, that is actually having a relationship with the person who wrote that book. We simply can’t get away from each other. The music is an allegory about that relationship between our individuality and the great collective unconscious which all human beings are inextricably entangled with.”
At Cadogan Hall the band walk on as though beginning a classical repertoire performance – demarking this as formal occasion before a single note has been played. Opening with ‘Heaven’s Gate’, from Invicta, and ‘Dark Corner of the Sky’, from The Bridge, The Enid ask the audience questions about their very identity. They don’t shy away from addressing politics, either: singer Joe Payne’s happy to dedicate ‘Who Created Me?’ to the Tories. Godfrey tells me that he sees hope in politics in the shape of Owen Jones: “he’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s got the right kind of heart and he’s attractive. He’s personable and he will succeed, I hope.”
As far back as 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Enid had referenced the threat of nuclear war. Another of Godfrey’s “threats”, the convergence of the sacred and the secular, rears its head through the playful use of Christian symbolism in ‘Someone Shall Rise’. “There are a number of things on collision courses; they are global matters”, explains Godfrey. “They are not things the nation state can affect in any way. I do see the end of the nation state and the beginning of global citizenship. I think our future rulers are far more likely to be the descendants of Google and the rest of it, than they are ever going to be a superpower again, as superpowers just aren’t super anymore.” Godfrey litters references to the military into his conversation, and these same themes appear in the musical presentation, too.
Each song is thoughtfully brought to the stage, with Payne dramatically lit in front of an LED screen. Some of the band’s more recent compositions bring to mind Andrew Lloyd-Webber at the disco before the addition of staging. Make no mistake, this is musical theatre, and Payne pulls a variety of inventive pixelated poses over the show’s duration. To bring the Dust show to life, the band worked alongside director Simon Drake, whose other clients include Kate Bush. The result is a visual spectacle as compelling as the music, even if some of the video messages in the second half of the main show lack subtlety.
The Cadogan Hall set concludes with two songs about love, both taken from the Dust LP. ‘1,000 Stars’ provides a positive, hope-filled end to a thought provoking performance. The overall impression one is left with is not dissimilar to the “Love Conquers All” edit of Brazil: in spite of the dystopian “threats”, a utopian end is achievable. The theme here is about social progress and evolution as much as it is about the musical equivalents. The entire set is comprised of the band’s four most recent albums – no classic material gets an airing. “The problem is that imitating the past is not what I want to be anything to do with”, Godfrey muses during our conversation.
The encores that see Robert John Godfrey say goodbye to touring life are carefully stage managed. Firstly, we’re thrilled by the pomp of Leviticus, before Godfrey treats the crowd to a delicate solo performance that highlights why, as he puts it in interview, “There will be no sort of direct retro-fit”. Godfrey was always far more than the musical director of The Enid – his keyboard work is nuanced and central to the band’s orchestral grandeur in a live environment. “There’s not much of any great technical difficulty”, Godfrey says about his playing, “there are a few little pieces here and there. But mostly it’s about musicality. Knowing how to phrase something and how to make something ordinary sound beautiful. It’s more about that than pyrotechnics.”
In spite of Godfrey’s insistence that “a replacement for me isn’t going to be too much of a trouble”, the “changeover”, as he walks from the stage to take his place in the audience, and Zach Bullock takes his seat for the final number, is an emotional moment for both men, young and old. It’s made all the more poignant by Godfrey’s on stage spoken word recital that signals his farewell: a poem from the Tennessee Williams’ play Night Of The Iguana.
“Sometime while night obscures the tree
The Zenith of its life will be
Gone past forever, and from thence
A second history will commence…
… Oh courage! Could you not as well
Select a second place to dwell
Not only in that golden tree
But in the frightened heart of me”
The band, sans Godfrey, launch into ‘One and the Many’ to round off the show. It’s a song that makes full use of Payne’s fine voice. I suggest to Godfrey that Payne is quite a discovery and he’s quick to correct me. “He discovered us, really. We got to know him whilst he was virtually still at school. He would come in here with his band from Tring (Tramp Etiquette), and they would make their pop records. He then went off to university and whilst he was there, we had a little touring choir, called The Decibels, who went around with us during the promotion of Journey’s End and he was one of those.”
“We put out a message to see if there was anybody interested in doing it and he was; we realised that there was something about him, and also the fact that he and Max (Reed, guitarist) took to each other in a wonderful way – that was another surprising element. So Joe came along and he was a powerful, charismatic but untutored raw pub singer, really, when we first met him. He knew how to switch on the power but that was about it. He did have quite a substantial range, but nothing compared with what he’s been able to develop since he joined us.”
In Payne’s bona fide star quality, The Enid had found a new focal point. Godfrey composed The Bridge with Payne as a vehicle for the young individual, “to try to take him to places he’d never been with his voice before.” Godfrey’s own move away from the stage was made so much easier by the arrival of Payne as a fully formed frontman. I spoke to Payne after the Cadogan Hall show and he sounded exhausted, as you might expect from a performer at the end of a tour. It was as though all his energy had been channelled into the performance. Of Payne’s transformative time in The Enid, Godfrey says “He’s been through one hell of a journey.”
That journey has since seen Payne leave the band after five years, citing depression. Shortly after the tour’s completion, his health deteriorated and the outwardly confident singer realised he needed medical help. He’s now back on his feet, and working on solo material, and the departure seems entirely amicable. Later on in week that this announcement went public, Godfrey issued a statement. Long term drummer Dave Storey was hanging up his sticks. His departure had been planned for the end of the year, but a rescheduled hip operation forced Storey to step down from the stool sooner than expected. Artist Dominic Tofield, back from Vietnam, where Godfrey told me he was “getting stuff out of his system”, would replace Storey on the drums as per The Enid’s succession plan. Max Reed was also moving to a back-seat role. He’d continue to be based at The Enid’s HQ, but like Godfrey, Reed will no longer play a part in the band’s live shows.
The Cadogan Hall set, now available on DVD, was marketed as the last filmed appearance of five band members: Godfrey, Payne, Storey, Reed and also Nick Willes, who added heavy bottom end on bass and percussion. Going forward, The Enid would operate as a largely instrumental trio of Tofield (“technically brilliant”), Bullock (“a tremendous sense of keyboard harmony”) and guitarist Jason Ducker (“coming on in leaps and bounds”). Godfrey describes his relationship with his younger charges as “paternal, avuncular, maybe a bit motherly as well.” Godfrey spoke of his plans to create albums in the vein of The Bridge, to develop these artists, beginning with one for Ducker entitled The Gordian Knot.
“We live in an extended family of people who aren’t related to each other. It’s the only way an independent band can do things. We simply don’t generate enough turnover to keep everybody living totally separate lives, paying independent rent, looking at their own separate televisions. We share all that. We live in a great big place – you wouldn’t think it was; it’s like a rat run, almost, across the top of a lot of shops in the down town part of Northampton. We’ve got eleven bedrooms and two studios in the premises.”
“We’re not a hippy commune because that implies something completely different: a commune was where people lived in a kind of nest, doing hippie things and all of that. This is more like being in the army, where of course they have outside interests, of course they have family and relationships but in the end, when you’re at war, or at least on exercises, then you’re all in the barracks. Actually you’d be surprised how rewarding that can be. You give up a lot of privacy and independence. Suddenly the struggle of life, where you’re trying to be serious about being a musician, but then you have to get up at six o’clock and go out five days a week, get to work, do that, and how do you feel when you get to the end of the week doing a job you don’t really like anyway? Do you feel like practising? Have you got time to write a song? All of those things. You have to do it 24/7 if you’re serious.” It’s hard to imagine kindly, intelligent Godfey as a drill sergeant.
The band’s financial stability comes from The Enidi, a subscriber’s fan club that provides access to the band and exclusive content. “I’m going to be the driving force within the fan club, to build it and to create this movement that I’ve been talking to you about. Because I’ve got to get the funding to make this work. So I’ll get it from there.” Most of The Enidi have stuck by the band through this period of change. The mutual trust and respect between The Enid and their fan base works both ways. Godfrey says “in fact the prog audience are such lovely people. I spent a couple of hours in the audience after the show (at HRH Prog IV), just chatting to people. You meet people who are really unique individually, and I am so keen on spending my remaining years trying to promote a new movement. A trans-generic idea, a home for the new progressives and surrealists.”
Godfrey has a name for his movement: “Pangeneria. That represents a kind of place, a forum where I’m going to seek out who I think are the most interesting, most courageous and talented musicians and invite them to become part of that umbrella. So that we can actually try and create a new movement. Because you have to have a genre – if you’re not called something, it’s virtually impossible, you might as well be a voice in the wilderness. So you have to be part of someone’s army. But what you want is something that transcends the ordinary, established genres, to break the boundaries of them; to make use of each other.”
“People say ‘it’s all been done, you can’t do anything’, that’s so much bollocks. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what we could do. And of course there’s been all these fantastic developments, not just technically, particularly in the genre side, emanating from rap and club music as well. If we’d gone back to the 70s when this first started and all those type of genres had been out there, then they would have been using them.”
Homily, Godfrey’s new limited edition solo album, and Resurgency, the new album from The Enid, are both released this month. On Thursday night at this year’s HRH Prog, the young trio premier the new Enid studio album. The set surprisingly features vocodered vocals from Bullock, the live launch suggesting an album full of dark, oppressive textures. Described as a “crossover album, a bridge between the old and the new”, the set and album feature material from the Journey’s End trilogy, reimagined. It’s a far cry from the neo-classical overtones of the Dust tour.
Opening with all three members playing percussion, vocals are present from the start in a sound that’s strangely reminiscent of Pink Floyd circa Ummagumma. Bullock sings “this is my vision”, but it’s not, entirely – Robert john Godfrey might not be seen in the new line-up, but his influence is strongly felt. The digitally processed vocals are a world away from Joe Payne’s operatic delivery of old – ‘Who Created Me’ marks Bullock out as a keyboardist who sings, rather than a vocalist, and the new ensemble lack a visual vocal point. The 2017 incarnation of The Enid are proficient, but it’s hard not to feel they’ve been thrust into the limelight too soon. The rearrangements are brave and one senses there are bigger tests to come for the trio. The show isn’t an unreserved triumph but doesn’t fall flat either – overall, pomp remains undiminished by circumstance.
If anyone can navigate these kind of choppy waters, it’s The Enid. With a one-off performance with Godfrey lined up to coincide with his 70th birthday, The Enid now seem uniquely positioned to cast one eye backwards whilst ever forging onwards. “It’s transcendental. We’re rebels. Rebellion because it’s healthy to rebel. To be disciplined, to be anti-establishment, to be wanting to ask uncomfortable questions and affirm forgotten beliefs. I think this is a very good thing to be able to do.”
“Through music, we can open up all kinds of ways in which people can think about some of those possibly very treasured beliefs, that people thought they’d put to bed, that they really need to ask again, because we’re living in difficult times. I’m a child of World War II and I remember what it was like, and the trauma the grown-ups were going through at the end of it. I saw that and we’re facing something like that again, it seems.”
The Enid are also billed to close the festival on Saturday night. Whilst the band don’t attempt to keep the details of this second performance a secret, the programme and onsite information give those in the crowd little idea of what to expect from this set. The capacity crowd present for Wishbone Ash mainly dwindle into the night, but those that remain are not serenaded by the new, young line-up that performed on Thursday. Instead, they are treated to a Robert John Godfrey solo piano performance that is at times romantic, at others impressionistic, occasionally experimental.
“I could go on”, Godfrey says, to cheers, before turning to the post-midnight gathering to deliver a lecture that somehow ties together Brexit and the future of progressive music. There are a few heckles from drunk punters, who probably weren’t expecting to contemplate the death penalty at this stage in proceedings, but overall there’s a warm response to this surprising turn. “If we want to be a tolerant society we have to be tolerant”, says Godfrey from the stage. There’s a predicable dig at Prog magazine, and an understanding, if disapproving, aside to those of his generation who voted to leave the EU. Meanwhile, his opinion of Wishbone Ash’s headline performance is unexpectedly generous. Defending his decision to hand over the Enid, Godfrey likens the band to another group who once stayed with him. That group is Gong, who now, like The Enid, contain no original members.
The speech is full of clarity, with strong opinions sitting alongside flexibility-of-mind. Godfrey signs off the festival with a salute to his beloved ideals: “long live progressive music and art”. Is progressive music about being forward thinking and addressing the social and musical issues Godfrey tackles in his talk, or is it about faeries at the bottom of the garden? It’s both, of course, and Godfrey acknowledges as much, whilst reminding the audience that to many young musicians, “prog is a leprechaun they don’t want to be associated with”. Laying down the gauntlet, his challenge to the audience is for them to change this perception. It’ll be tough, as it will be for Godfrey’s young charges in the coming years, but one senses that overcoming these obstacles is necessary to ensure the longeivty of both progressive music and The Enid. Ducker, Bullock and Tofield lead the applause from the front row, as Godfrey exits the stage. One thing is for sure: these three intrepid souls are definitely up for the challenge.
Photography by Charlie Gardner.