RECORDING "THE FALL OF HYPERION"
By CHRIS LEWIS – Vocalist & Lyricist
Prior to the formation of The Enid, Robert John Godfrey released The Fall of Hyperion on Charisma in 1974. However, this apparent "solo album" began as the work of a band. In a frank and entertaining reminiscence written exclusively for this website, singer and lyricist CHRIS LEWIS recalls his experiences working with Godfrey and recording the album, which also featured Jim Scott, a/k/a future Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman Scott. This article is ©Chris Lewis and may not be used without permission.
Sometime in 1972 I got word that Robert Godfrey wanted to meet with me with a view to me doing vocal work on some of his ideas. Prior to that I had been working with a band called Warlock and had written and performed some of the material that was to eventually receive the RJG treatment. My Lady Eleanor and Mountain of Invention where two that were reworked and re-titled for the FOH Album.
I met Robert and the guy that was our first bass guitarist, Tony Ball, at a big old rambling country house in a village called Bredon, just outside Tewkesbury. Tony and his wife rented the house, which was in sore need of repair – it was more like a hippie squat than a bona-fide residence.
There was a Steinway grand there and just the three of us started to try a few things. Robert’s direction then was a hymnal-cum-biblical type thing, which sounded very straight and righteous to a former progressive heavy rock performer. Once some of the medieval flavour of my lyrics started to permeate the ideas started to fly. This process took several months and during this time other musicians that I had previously worked with, local to the area and known to Robert, started playing their part in the line up. After about six months we had a set worked up which would enable us to perform. It was a great time – we were like a family then. The line up was:Chris Lewis: Vocals and percussion
The band was called Siddartha.
We formed a company with articles of association and such to enable us to better manage our own affairs. Robert was the dominant personality and things tended to revolve around him. As long as I was able to write and sing my little socks off I was happy.
We were able to generate a wall of sound. We played at such venues as Imperial College and even the Marquee – an amazing place to perform. The atmosphere in that place is always charged with expectation and the audience was really hungry to hear new ideas.
At Imperial College we split the audience completely. A coloured guy doing a mock conducting routine led one half while the other more appreciative section was led by tattooed bikers and ultra cool bohemians. Bottles and glasses were hurled at us but we carried on and eventually won them all over. By midnight they wouldn’t let us go.
Illicit substances may have softened the resolve of some while others were surely transported to a world where medieval pageants were played out on a misty field emblazoned with banners of argent and golden majesty, where chivalry and honour were the bywords of a lost and more worthy age. Where the majesty of the hawk and raven were juxtaposed to the grace and beauty of the swan and the Sunne In Splendour was the rallying insignia for men of heart and blood. Phew! That’s better!
It was while we were touring that Tony Stratton Smith saw us and expressed an interest in the band. I think Robert did a lot of behind the scenes work to ensure that the right people were at our gigs to see us. During this time a young guy would keep turning up at practices and gigs to give a hand to the roadies where he could – he just wanted to be around music. His name was Jim Scott (James Honeyman Scott), later to be guitarist in The Pretenders.
We were offered studio time to get some demo work done which was at Joe Browns’ studios. Yes that Joe Brown. He is just an ordinary regular great bloke! While the others where in the studio laying stuff down I was invited into his home and his then two fantastic little children came running up and dragged me into their games. They were two little blond headed lookalikes – about 6 or seven years old I think, wearing matching bib and brace dungarees with a big smiley face on the front – brilliant!
One of them grew up to be the famous lady rock artist Sam Brown – what a voice.
We did our acetate demo and then things went quiet for a while on the promotion front but relationships within the band started to come apart particularly between Robert and Tony. We owed money all over the place – the 7.5 ton Luton that we transported our gear to gigs in was repossessed and we were off the road.
Some time went by and we were doing nothing then Robert got in touch to say that we had been given the go ahead to put an album together but he wanted a new line up. He asked me to contact various people and he rounded up others giving us the line up listed on the album.
We all headed for Netherton near Tinmouth – Torquay. It was Robert’s parents’ home, which they ran as a summer school for rich people from overseas to send their children to. It was a beautiful place – a sort of neo-Tudor Country House with large grounds and a wood, which ran down to the estuary.
Robert’s father was very much ex-army type. We were told that he had suffered capture and torture in the war. His mother was rod of iron matron type. Both of his parents regarded us long haired bunch as an avoidable evil that they wanted gone as soon as possible – we were made as welcome as a nasty rash. The accommodation was a room in the house (and I do mean one room for all of us to sleep in) plus an old damp caravan stood just outside the back of the house which would accommodate two. Jim Scott and I grabbed the caravan. Knowing what a smelly unhygienic lot the others were (talk about "The Young Ones") we opted for pneumonia rather than bubonic plague.
Jim and I used to spend half the night in our beds just laughing about anything and everything. I was really into Cheech and Chong then and Jim used to get me to mimic all of their sketches endlessly. Great times. During the day we would rehearse and write, rehearse and write and then rehearse and write some more.
Our stay at Netherton was surreal. The children ranged from 5 to 15 years of age. They had a wonderful teacher in a young woman with huge bosom whom they loved dearly. Roberts’ father however disapproved of her sunning herself in her bikini on the lawn so she told them what to do with their teaching post and I ran her to the station. From then on the kids had some old buffer friend of Roberts dad whom the kids played up rotten. They were all of different nationalities (but regardless of age) could speak excellent English. They used to pretend to the old buffer that they could not understand the language.
They all had filthy rich parents and had pocket money that would take a normal mortal a year to earn. They used to get the eldest of them (a Spanish girl called Susie who was 15 but looked 18) to sneak down to the local pub and buy bottles of champagne, which they smuggled back to their rooms and got totally smashed. The local landlord thought that his ship had come in.
On one of their binge nights they were caught in the shower – all 12 of them – having a genuinely innocent frolic in the nude! The Godfrey elders held a kangaroo court and decided that a 7 year old little French boy called Etienne was to blame. His parents were summoned and he was expelled.
As we had a load of sound equipment set up in the basement we decided to do a disco for the kids. It was then that Jim came looning into the room while the party was in full swing, smashed his head on the overhead pipes and slammed to the floor with his right elbow taking the force of the fall. The result was a broken collarbone. Jim was devastated. We were due to start recording in three weeks and he could not properly manoeuvre his arm or his fingers to play the guitar work.
I drove straight back to Cheltenham to pick up Lynn Oakey to fill in until Jim was better. This worked very well and as Jim’s arm mended they did some amazing guitar work together.
We had to go to London to do the recording work and we stayed in a hotel in Notting Hill run by a permanently drunken Scottish woman who called herself "Jill the Thrill from Notting Hill." The studio we used was Sarm Studios at Algate East. The studio staff were great people – particularly Gary Lyons, senior sound engineer. He always bought us supper and was fantastic company with a wicked sense of humour. His engineering skills were second to none and most of the creative sound work was down to him.
We were given a producer called Neil Slaven. Big in the blues market apparently, linked to such greats as Eric Clapton. He did not have a clue as to what we were trying to do. I was staggered when I read the sleeve notes, which referred to the album as an experimental work by Robert Godfrey and Neil Slaven. What the hell had I been doing for the past two years?
While working in the studio I was privileged to meet the internationally famous percussionist Tristram Fry. His excellent work on our album speaks for itself. He was most impressed with Roberts writing and the way that he had laid out the parts that Tristram (and his assistant) had to play.
While the instrumental stuff took an age to get down I got off light I guess because having written the melodies and lyrics myself I was able to do most of it in one take. There was a hold up for a while when I woke up with a mouth full of ulcers. The doctor said that it was because I was run down.
When I was well again we did some double tracking but that was complicated by the fact that my vocal patterns delivered themselves virtually identically each time so much so that they had to fade from one track to the other to make sure that they had both been recorded. In the end they put one of the vocal tracks fractionally out of sync so that it sounded like the two voices that it actually was.
We went to a club called the speakeasy most nights. It was the place for up and coming to see and be seen. I was introduced to a guy and I waxed amazing about what we were doing. After a while I asked what he was up to and he told me that he was on his third album and how one of the others had gone gold. I was talking to Danny McCafferty of Nazareth! Eager to please and very pissed I blurted out "I think your vocal style is the best thing since Robert Plant - I think that your latest single Electric Lady is fantastic!" He replied "That’s Geordie you silly c..t."
Still at the Speak Easy, I had more luck chatting to Tim Rose (Walk Me Out in the Morning Dew) but he was a lot older and I wasn’t quite so pissed. I also goosed Lynsey De Paul. Well, her skirt was so short that you could see the crested cheeks of her bum just below the hem – it was asking to be squeezed.
A lot of the studio work was creative. Robert seemed to bring that out in people – certainly in me, that is one of my great regrets at us parting company. Robert’s style was very overbearing and the music that the album contained was "edited" by him. I did a great soaring vocal piece at the end of Isolde:
The words and the vocal strength of this passage was one of the best things that I had done and after hearing the result in the studio I was really looking forward to hearing it on the finished album.
I got my copy, which I had to order from the record store. Everyone thinks that the artists get a free copy – not in those days they didn’t. I sat down and listened, getting quite excited about hearing that particular passage – It wasn’t there!
I couldn’t believe it! When I asked Robert about it he brushed it off saying that the album was too long and they had to cut something. That incident was typical of the situations that could generate such ill feeling and animosity.
To have your art treated like a disposable piece of dross while the expectation of the other party was to treat his work with reverence and respect. I would weave melodies over Roberts’ instrumental work. A magical experience which in itself is very rewarding but you do like to be credited for what you have created.
Writing this I realise that I have been carrying these sour grapes around too long. I am still carrying Robert’s baggage for Christ’s sake!
All in all it is not an experience that I would have wished to have missed. I met some wonderful people and had a great time. I wonder if some obscure station in Japan would like to interview me? Would I be big in Japan! Now who recorded that?
Thanks for the Catharsis!
©Chris Lewis. This information may not be reposted without permission and proper acknowledgement