John Jowitt: "With IQ I Feel Lucky..."
John Jowitt should be no stranger to readers of this site, not only for his membership as bassist in IQ, but also in no small number of other bands over the years - Arena, NEO, Blind Ego, Frost*, and Jadis, to name a few. In May 2008, Jowitt will be returning to the Rites of Spring Festival stage with Blind Ego. Earlier this year, Youri Komarov spoke with Jowitt for Russia's InRock magazine (published in Russian); we share that interview with you in English.
Youri Komarov: Hi John! First of all I'd like to congratulate you on the next title "Best Bass Player" you were awarded by Classic Rock Society last year. If I'm not mistaken that is not the first one?
John Jowitt: Thank you very much. Actually I think it's my eleventh award since 1993!
YK: By the way, at a certain site in the list of Award Winners someone wrote as follows: "Best John Jowitt - John Jowitt." What do you think on such wording?
JJ: Heh! Well it's true you know! No, I'm very grateful and very lucky that people like what I do.
YK: If you do not mind, let's start from the very beginning. As I know you were born in Birmingham. Please tell us about yourself. Who are your parents? When did you begin to play music? Are you musically educated?
JJ: My father was a maintenance engineer at a big factory, and my mom did lots of jobs, finally settling into office work. My dad was always sorry that he'd not taken the opportunities that life had presented to him, so I learnt a big lesson there, I tend to say yes to everything and then see how I'm going to make it happen. I learnt trumpet at school, this was my only formal musical education. As a child I loved my dad's jazz and big band records much more than my sister's Beatles albums. Still do.
YK: What kind of music has most inspired you at a young age? One day you mentioned about being a big Yes fan. By the way, which of Yes' albums is your favourite one and why?
JJ: Louis Armstrong was the man for me, hence the trumpet, and my first son is called Louis. I loved a lot of popular classical music, too; music that created pictures in your mind, things like "Peer Gynt" and "Hall Of The Mountain King." When I went to secondary school, in my class you either liked Yes and ELP or Genesis and Pink Floyd. I took the former, still would. My favourite Yes album - that's a pretty impossible question, but Relayer was the second album I ever bought and I still love it.
YK: What inspired you to first pick up a bass guitar. Who are your favourite bassists? What band did you make your debut in as bass player?
JJ: I got into bass quite late, messing around with friends in the sixth form at school, though I always loved the bass on records ? "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" by The Walker Brothers [Righteous Brothers, I think he meant -ed.] was always a favourite because of the bass. A lot of the Motown stuff too - anything by James Jamerson; for example "I Was Made To Love Her" by Stevie Wonder. Other great bass players - the usual suspects, Chris Squire and Geddy Lee in particular, and, of course, Jaco. But I think the best bass is understated, serving the song. A great recent example is Pino Paladino's recent work on the John Mayer album Continuum. The first band I played live in was a local band called Revolver, at Redditch College in 1981. Crikey.
YK: In the beginning of your music career you used to play in several bands including Ark, one of numerous bands of the so-called new wave of progressive rock. Please tell us a few words about those times.
JJ: I liked all sorts of music to listen to, going from prog to punk to rock to new romantic as the musical environment changed, and the bands I was in reflected that. I joined Ark in 1987. I'd been playing in a Birmingham band called The Cuddly Toys. Their previous bass players were S. Paul Wilson, who joined Classix Nouveaux, and Paul Raven who joined Killing Joke. I came in pretty much at the end of the band, but we did met David Bowie's former wife Angie, and ended up playing some shows as her backing band. We rehearsed in Birmingham at a new studio that was setting up, and of course they got a lot of good publicity from having Angie there. Anyway, they remembered me, and some time afterwards, after a spell playing in a very punky band called The First (with whom I played the Marquee for the first time), the owners called me to tell me that a band they'd had in called Ark were looking for a bass player. They said they were prog, I said "Oh I used to quite like that stuff (!)" and that was that.
YK: You joined IQ in January 1991, after Les Marshall died tragically. Sorry, what happened to him?
JJ: Les sadly committed suicide. I don't think anyone knows the full reasons.
YK: By that time you had left Ark already. Had you any alternatives besides IQ? At one time, you undertook an attempt to become a member of IQ, but that time the band chose Les, isn't that correct?
JJ: I left Ark because I thought they'd taken a turn up a blind alley at just the wrong time. We were on the up. We won a Best Band competition and ended up playing the Marquee several times. We had released some recordings. We'd played our first gigs abroad, in Paris and in Holland in Tilburg. We were playing up to 80 shows a year, all over. We had a charismatic front man in Tony Short and a good stage show. We had a fanatical following that was growing. And all at a time when Fish had left Marillion, and people were looking for something to replace them. And so half the band decided they didn't want to be prog any more, but wanted to be an English version of Guns and Roses! I argued, hated the new material, and when I found I wasn't enjoying it, I left.
In 1989, we'd done three shows supporting IQ on their Are You Sitting Comfortably? dates in England, got on well with everyone and loved the band. I left Ark because I wasn't enjoying it, not to join IQ. It was always definite that Les would be the bass player to replace Tim, having been part of the scene for years, and I spent a year not really playing. After Les died, Martin Orford called me and that was that. They've never confirmed I'm a member, but they still ask me along...
YK: And so, during [the past] 16 years you have been a permanent member of one of the cult British prog bands, which was there at the very beginning of a new generation of progressive music with Marillion, Twelfth Night, Pendragon and the others at the same time. Do you find your career to be successful?
JJ: Absolutely. I play music I love with one of my favourite bands. I've been playing music for 25 years now, and I've played all over the world. I've helped write some great songs that mean a lot to people. I play with some fantastic musicians, and have made some great friends, particularly in the people that come to see the music. I know how much it means to me - I can remember the first time I heard "Outer Limits" and pretty much fell in love - so I think I know what it means to other people, too. Sure, some people play to bigger audiences, or earn huge amounts of cash (which I don't, by the way!), but music is too important to leave to accountants!
YK: I think you also can claim a place in progressive rock history as a musician who was a member of three (!!!) leading progressive bands of Great Britain - IQ, Jadis and Arena simultaneously. Moreover, I've heard that you became a member of both Jadis and Arena pretty much by accident, didn't you?
JJ: My only regret is that I haven't played with more! But there's still time! My only problem with IQ is that we never do enough. I'm still of the Ark idea that we should be playing at least 80 shows a year! That will never happen with IQ, so I play with other bands to get that buzz.
I joined Jadis after playing as a session on their More Than Meets The Eye album. I was travelling to Germany with IQ for my second ever gig with the band when Martin Orford said he was recording with Jadis but they didn't have a bass player. I said "I'll do it," and we both laughed. He then said "You serious?" and I said "Yeah..." My first gig with Jadis was a benefit for Les Marshall, and when I heard they were playing some European dates supporting Pendragon, I said to Gary Chandler "If you've not got a bass player by then, I'd be happy to do it," and stayed for four years, going back again at the turn of the century. Great band, but very much Gary's show rather than a band you can contribute much to. And I do like to contribute, whether it be organisation or writing, anything really.
With Arena, I went to see their first British gig and thought they were great. When Cliff Orsi left, Mick and Clive came along to an IQ show and I think we all had the same idea...!
YK: Have you ever faced the question of which of the bands was your main priority? As I remember, formerly you were attaching great importance to participation in Jadis, weren't you. I mean the years 1993-94.
JJ: Well, playing music has always been my main priority. I couldn't believe my luck when I joined IQ - I was a big fan, and to be asked to play in the band, it felt like I'd won the lottery. I couldn't believe, though, how little playing the band did, particularly given how much potential we had. Remember, I'd gone from a situation with Ark where we were playing 60-80 gigs a year, whereas with IQ I feel lucky if we do more than ten shows a year. There's always been one or another person in the band who had other priorities. I actually announced I was leaving the band in 1994, but decided instead that if other people had other priorities, mine was going to be making music with anyone who would. Both Arena and Jadis were in that position for a while; I used to say IQ was my heart but Arena was my head. In the end, I decided IQ was too precious to me, and I also decided if some people gave less effort, others had to give more to compensate. And I still find plenty of time to play in other bands!
YK: How did you turn out outside Jadis last year? As I know, you declared nothing officially, so it looked not quite clearly?
JJ: I don't really know. I've not been told anything officially. I'm probably the wrong person to ask.
YK: After leaving Arena in 1999 you are still continuing to take part in Clive Nolan's projects, in particular in new project Caamora with Agneiszka Swita. You already contributed on two songs that appeared on mini-album Closer. What next?
JJ: I love working with Clive; he's incredibly intelligent, and knows it, but he's good fun and I respect his abilities and achievements a lot. He's writing towards an album based on H Rider Haggard's book She, which we're recording over the summer and which will culminate in a live concert in Katowice on the 31st October. I understand that the release will be a box set DVD and album, and feature a choir and orchestra. [Both the album and the boxes set are due out January 2008 -ed.]
YK: Now about the project NEO. Excuse me, but don't you think the idea itself is not to be too much original. In point of fact you (NEO) offer a certain re-make of well-known songs from back catalogues of the band like IQ, Arena, Pendragon, Pallas, which exist well at present and which all of you use to play in, don't you? Probably it would be more interesting if to pay attention to another British prog bands of the 80s which one cannot listen to today unfortunately, Twelfth Night or Quasar for example. [Though a reunited Twelfth Night played live recently -ed.]
JJ: You're quite correct, as a band we have no integrity at all! We are our own tribute band. The point was to play music of people in the band with a different line-up. For example, Nick Barrett likes "Outer Limits" by IQ and asked if he could sing that. We did talk about getting Andy Sears involved so we could do some Twelfth Night, but he lives in Spain these days.
YK: Blind Ego - the solo project of RPWL guitarist Kalle Wallner and most likely the last for today you've taken part in. I've heard you met Kalle at some festival. What was next? What about this project attracted you, and did your expectations came true?
JJ: I tend to say "yes" to anything that's offered! With Kalle, I met him in America at RoSFest three years ago, RPWL and Jadis shared the bus, too, and from the airport. I saw their show and talked to them all. The next time we met was in Aschaffenburg in Germany where RPWL supported Arena in 2005. Again we were all chatting before and after the show, which was when Kalle asked me. I thought nothing was going to come of it, then twelve months later he asked me to come over and play. I like heavy music, and although melancholy in places, it's a good strong album. It was also great playing the album live at the release party in Kalle's home town. We're touring the album in May and hopefully September. I've made a friend in Kalle, lovely bloke, and a great guitarist. [Like Blind Ego, RPWL will also be at RoSFest 2008 -ed.]
YK: If to compare it with last year's work with Jem Godfrey's Frost* project, what could you say? It seemed to me that in Frost you had to play not exactly your kind of music. Am I not right?
JJ: Depends what my kind of music is really! I've got a very wide ranging taste in music. I'd certainly have bought the album had I not been in the band, so I can't really agree. I can't think of a music [style] that's not my kind of music. There's only two types of music - good and bad!
YK: Recently IQ finished a European tour dedicated to the 25th Anniversary of the band. Tell me of your impressions, please. Whether IQ is welcomed equally both in Great Britain and in other countries today. By the way, Martin confessed in one of his last interviews that the performance in Oberhausen, where we just have met, was probably one of the best IQ gigs of all time. If so, I was in luck twice.
JJ: We have great fans and friends who come to the shows all over the world. I was knocked out by the reception to the band in South America for example, and would love to go back. It's always special playing with IQ; I always treat every show like it might be my last with the band. Yes, it was a good gig in Oberhausen.
YK: What kind of music do you listen to now? Last year lots of interesting bands working in the progressive genre appeared. Which of your recent discoveries can you note?
JJ: I don't listen to much new prog. I'm a bit afraid of finding something I really like and then regurgitating it, I think. My favourite listening currently is the Deftones new album, John Mayer, The Noisettes, Pop Levi. Though I am looking forward to the next Rush album...
YK: For 25 years you've been playing prog, more than 30 albums you have contributed to were released. Which of them, in your opinion, is worthy to take place in Progressive Rock Albums Top 10 and why?
JJ: Crikey, is it really that many?! I can't say what albums are the best, that's for others to decide, if any! Music means so much more than the sounds, what you were doing at the time, etc, and so much more if you play on them. I'm particularly proud of The Visitor by Arena. Clive was very generous in the writing process, and I'm proud of my contribution to writing and arrangement. I'm proud of Seventh House by IQ - writing IQ albums is such a painful and violent process that hearing them as opposed to playing the songs just tends to remind me of those emotions! With Seventh House Martin Orford was much less involved in the writing process, so most was written by Mike Holmes and me.
YK: You've already played with many outstanding rock musicians. Do you have a sacred dream to play in some all-star line-up. If so, whom would you like to see in this band?
JJ: Blimey, if I'd only ever played in IQ I'd be happy, but...
YK: And so. Guitars - ...
JJ: Trevor Rabin
YK: Keyboards - ...
JJ: Kevin Moore
YK: Drums - ...
JJ: John Bonham
YK: Male or female vocals - ...
JJ: Janis Joplin
YK: Probably somebody else?
JJ: Bill Hicks!
YK: Now a few words about your life out of music. Are you still living in Birmingham? What are you occupied with at time free of being involved in music? Or on the contrary, are you occupied with music at your leisure[, too?].
JJ: I now live in Stourbridge, which is a town just outside Birmingham in the old industrial area known as the Black Country. I have my own business getting planning permission for people and companies to construct new buildings. I've always worked; I've never been able to say "musician" on my passport.
YK: Are you married? You've mentioned your first son Louis already. I know you have a daughter, Ellen, as well. I think she is about six years old already. How many children do you have? Does your family share your passion for music?
JJ: I met my wife, Kate, when I went to see Ark play before I joined. She was married to Tony Short, the singer with the band at the time. After a couple of years with the band, he ran off with someone else, so I ran off with Kate! All very scandalous! We now have three children, Ellen, Louis (named after Louis Armstrong) who's 4, and Daniel, who's just coming up to 2. I'm very lucky. Kate understands about music and bands and why I do it.
YK: What are you working on at the moment?
JJ: Lots on currently. I had to cancel playing with Starcastle due to the pressure of other shows. I'm playing some shows in support of the new Blind Ego album, playing with Kalle Wallner of RPWL. The album also features John, Clive and Paul Wrightson from Arena, as well as Yogi from RPWL and Tommy Eberhardt. Writing of the new IQ album is almost finished; we start recording in June, plus several festivals and shows later in the year in support of the album. I'm writing with Andy Edwards from IQ and Mark Westwood from NEO for an as yet unspecified project. There's also bass and some gigs on the new Clive Nolan project Caamora, also featuring Mark. Several songs have been recorded for an upcoming release, culminating in the recording of an album over the summer based on the story of H. Rider Haggard's She. We're performing She on 31st October 2007 at the Wyspianski Theatre, Katowice, Poland together with guest vocalists, instrumentalists, orchestra and choir for a DVD release. Plus a couple of things on the horizon [that I] can't tell you about yet! [Incidentally, Starcastle will also be at RoSFest 2008 -ed.]
YK: In the end, what would you like to wish to followers of progressive rock?
JJ: Enjoy music, enjoy life!
YK: Thank you very much.
Photos: 1, 2, 5 - John Jowitt with IQ in Oberhausen, Germany in 2006, © Youri Komarov; 3 - IQ at NEARfest 2005, © Stephanie Sollow; 4 - NEO at RoSFest 2006, © Stephanie Sollow;
Ark - The Dreams Of Mr. Jones (1988)
Jadis - More Than Meets The Eye (1992)
IQ - Ever (1993)
Jadis - Once Upon A Time (ep) (1993)
Jadis - Across The Water (1994)
Arena - Pride (1996)
IQ - Forever Live (1996)
IQ - Subterranea (1997)
Arena - Welcome To The Stage (1997)
Arena - The Cry (1997)
IQ - Seven Stories Into 98 (1998)
Arena - The Visitor (1998)
IQ - The Lost Attic - A Collection Of Rarities (1983-1999) (1999)
Dirtbox - Uneasy Listening (1999)
Jadis - Understand (2000)
IQ - Seventh House (2000)
IQ - Subterranea: The Concert (2000)
Jadis - Medium Rare (2001)
Jadis - Live Outside (2001)
IQ - The Archive Collection - IQ20 (2003)
Jadis - Fanatic (2003)
John Young Band - Live At The Classic Rock Society 2003 (2003)
IQ - Dark Matter (2004)
Jadis - Photoplay (2006)
Frost* - Milliontown (2006)
Blind Ego - Mirror (2007)
Caamora - Walk On Water (ep) (2007)
IQ - Forever Live (DVD box set) (1996)
IQ - Subterranea - The Concert DVD (2002)
Jadis - View From Above (DVD) (2003)
IQ - IQ20 - The Twentieth Anniversary Show (2004)
IQ - Live From London (2005)
IQ - Stage (2006)