Interview source: The Quietus
Lovers of the strange! The Legendary Pink Dots are back with brilliant new album The Gethsemane Option. The band’s Ed Ka-Spel runs through the strange world of their history
June 15, 1980: Stonehenge Free Festival
This marks the first significant event in the illustrious career of myself and The Legendary Pink Dots. To be precise, it was inside a tent at the Stonehenge Free Festival.
It was 3am, maybe 4am and the whooping sound of a Korg synthesiser was bouncing across the field, reminiscent of the emanations created by one of those machines from The War Of The Worlds. I threw on a coat and dived out of the tent, as did Phil (Knight) and April (White)… it was pure cosmic synchronicity. We walked to the source of the sound – a three-piece band in a far-off corner with a full-on light show and an audience of just us. I never did find out the name of the band, but they planted a seed.
I bought a Korg MS10 and a cheap drum machine on hire purchase on the day after our return from the fest, and a band formed with Phil and April perhaps one month later. Our friend Mick Marshall taught us the rudiments of playing keyboards and then he joined The Dots as well.
Boxing Day, 1984
All my wordly possessions in the back of an estate car, in the hope that there would be no customs officer asking for some kind of document.
Mick Marshall did the driving. We travelled by way of Belgium into Holland where I intended live and hopefully thrive in the years to come. I quit my day job at a local rag days before and had amassed a princely sum of 8000 pounds which was meant to see me through for at least say 10 years. I’d fallen hopelessly in love with a woman in Amsterdam, it seemed that the Dutch were the only people who ‘understood’ me and the UK was in the grip of the evil Thatcher and her cronies. Go East young man….
Well, those savings lasted a few weeks. I had to leave my temporary home in Arnhem as there was a marital war going on all around me – I was being used as a plate tossed at the wall by whoever was the angriest. Ultimately I fled with a synth under my arm on a train to Amsterdam – I literally had to break into the old house with a few band members in order to rescue the remains of my worldly possessions a few weeks later. I slept on the floor of a friend for a while, then found a squat… These were the hard times. The cheese on toast on alternate days times. The “Actually we only release records by Edward Ka-Spel as an act of, you could say, CHARITY” times. Amazingly the rest of the band (bar one) also took the boat to Amsterdam so we could all be poor together.
1987: The Skinny Puppy Tour
I opened for the Puppies on a 30 show tour of the US. Just me, a keyboard, a cassette deck and a microphone. A taste of that rock & roll lifestyle. A nightliner that Bon Jovi had used weeks before, a real road dog for a driver named Rick; roadies accidentally abandoned in desert truck stops, a near lynching in a truckstop in Alabama (don’t believe what they say about how Americans love that cute British accent). Hallucinations in Delaware and a build-up to the recording of Tired Eyes, Slowly Burning – the first Tear Garden album.
Of course, songs resulted from this great adventure,notably the epic ‘You And Me And Rainbows’ – composed during the course of one night with Cevin, and ‘Cloud Zero’ which is about feeling utterly displaced, disorientated and longing for a home that sadly didn’t exist at that time.
1988: Shock! Horror! Legendary Pink Dots SPLIT!!!!
It was one of those tours. 43 shows. Fond memories of sleeping on a bench in Carpi, Italy; cops pulling the power at midnight in Rome; traversing the entire length of the Alps in order to pick up a forgotten floppy disc; stalkers, psychos; a resignation within the band at the Swedish border on the eve of a (gulp) two day drive. But… just the FIRST resignation. “I can’t take it anymore” became as familiar as cheery morning greeting as The Dots found themselves reduced to TWO.
So what’s it to be then eh brother? Phil and I recorded an album (well… half an album) and planned another tour. A sax playing buddy (Niels) who owned the caravan lived in at the time joined the band, went with us to the USA a few months later and stayed in the Dots for the next 21 years.
Well seemingly so….The record company (PIAS) actually liked The Maria Dimension and promoted the hell out of it, with maybe 30,000 flying from the stores in the first few months. We sold out sizeable venues, Warner Brothers approached us…and, well that was it. The record company hated the follow-up Shadow Weaver and despised the sister album Malachai even more. Maybe it was the track with the creaky floorboard or the 20 minute ever-changing opus that paid tribute to David Lynch and Carl Orff.
1991: Bob Pistoor RIP
We lost our finest musician and firm friend, Bob Pistoor, to lung cancer. A wonderful guitarist and a good man who, in his youth, had been asked to stand in for Syd by Pink Floyd when the former went AWOL on a Dutch tour. Bob was the co-writer of some of the Dots’ most appreciated songs – ‘I Love You In Your Tragic Beauty’ and ‘Belladonna’ (the lyrics for the latter were written by me while standing ankle-deep in the Aegean Sea wearing a cape).
1995: El Woodstock!
…well… nearly. We were invited to Mexico City for a show in an outdoor volcanic arena. No ordinary show either- Cevin Key was guest second drummer and a week’s holiday was thrown in for good measure. In fact an estimated 2,500 showed up, although more than half crept through the rocks in order not to pay. It was almost my last ever show as someone enthusiastically attempted to pull me offstage – a seven foot drop onto solid rock. Happily my survivalist instinct kicked in just in time.
My guardian angel worked overtime during that tour. On a run through New Mexico deep in the night we encountered a ghost rider just as we were overtaking a truck. Thankfully the merciful trucker slammed on his brakes and we swerved inwards as Phantom Frank speeded on his way for his presumed appointment on the other side.
1998: LPD At The Fillmore
Holy shit… I kid you not mes amis – we headlined at that immortal space. It’s just that sense of history..the feeling that Miles, Zappa, Floyd, Airplane, The Grateful Dead had all commanded that stage, eaten cheese sandwiches in that dressing room, and handed over a chunk of money in commission for sold merchandise.
2009: SHOCK! HORROR! Legendary Pink Dots Split
It was a hard journey back from an otherwise spectacular London show in 2009 as first, long term guitarist Martijn de Kleer quit The Dots, and then Niels ended his tenure in the band.I guess it was all becoming a bit hard again. Tours were crawling through Latvian and Slovakian outposts as it was the only thread that was keeping us alive. The 12 hour drives in a tiny van didn’t do much for the sanity of the passengers or the driver…What did we do? We recruited guitarist extraordinaire Erik Drost back into the fold and recorded an album, after a brief road tour of Romania, Greece and some Czech and Slovak outposts.
2013: The Gethsemane Option
Thirty-three years and maybe we got it right this time. We found ourselves a new label – the estimable Metropolis Records from Pennsylvania and are trusting them with the release of The Gethsemane Option which took just over one year to create, produced perhaps 5 radically different mixes for every song and a handsome collection of outtakes that will eventually see the light of day in another project.
And now it’s time to hit the road yet again. We keep telling ourselves that i’ll be the last tour of America… but somehow that continent always lures us back – even (perhaps especially) those ‘weird’ little places where the audience crunch cockroaches as they stomp to that irresistible beat… well, if they’ve had a few.