Ron Geesin - RG
Ron Geesin, the celebrated musician/composer, has had a reputation for producing some of the most original if avant-garde music in the 20th century. He has been responsible for producing a wide variety of music utilizing many types of instruments, both as a solo artist and for the soundtracks of many many films. His most famous and renowned musical creation was the 1970 sound track for the film, "Music From the Body," a collaboration with Roger Waters, the leader and co- founder of Pink Floyd.
Ron Geesin was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, on Dec. 17, 1943. He began learning to play the violin at age 9, the harmonica at age 11, banjo and guitar at age 15, and piano at age 16. He began writing arrangements and playing jazz, at 15, and was also influenced by, and played blues, Jug-band, folk, and skiffle. By August 1961, at age 18, he left home to join the "Downtown Syncopators" jazz band, and in 1962 recorded his first EP record. During the next four years, Ron continued to record and tour with the band, establishing his own solo act in-between and playing jazz clubs, pubs, and cabarets. In April of 1965, he recorded his first solo EP of four banjo solos. The following May he left the band, and in the Autumn recorded his first TV commercial soundtrack.
By 1967, in-between writing and recording many soundtracks for documentary films and TV commercials, Ron began developing experimental tape work and sound effects for experimental films, wrote the music for his first solo album, and was featured at many folk music clubs as a one man show.
In October, 1968, he met and became friends with Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. One year later in October 1969, he met and became friends with Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. From January to March, he worked with Roger Waters on the music to the film, "Music From the Body." And then from June to July, co-wrote "Atom Heart Mother" with Pink Floyd.
Q: When did you first meet Roger and in what circumstances?
Ron Geesin: After meeting "Nicky" (as he was called then) Mason, at our (mine and Frankie, my wife's) basement flat, in October 1968, and our having struck up a warm friendship with Nicky and Lindy through the next year, I was introduced to Roger through them, probably at a party or other social gathering. I first visited him at 7:30 on the 8th of October, at his house on New North Rd. in London. We, (Roger, my wife, and I) went out for dinner on the 29th of October 1969, and from then on, I struck up an equally close friendship with Roger and Judy.
Roger's and my first game of golf was on the morning of November 4th 1969, and since I didn't drive a car, he picked me up in his hotted-up-mini, and we went out further west in London to a course there, (I can't remember the details). We played together several times until I left London in May 1971. One memorable game was in the winter of (probably) 1969/1970, in the thick frost and freezing fog, with yellow/orange balls. I played with Roger and Pete Townshend (with whom my wife and I had also a good social relationship). I was slightly better than Roger at the time, and we got on fine, but Pete Townshend was terrible, and stormed off early in the game in a rage!
Q: Had you heard of Pink Floyd before this?
RG: I would have heard of Pink Floyd (but only just) because of gigs and from meeting Nicky Mason, and I played at the Alexandra Palace on the 29th of April 1967, and Pink Floyd was on the bill. Pink Floyd at the top of the list, me on the bottom.
Q: Could you explain your musical history for us?
RG: Much of my musical history can be got from the above chronology. I have always been a keen appreciater of black jazz, skiffle and jug-band music, not blues in the folk sense. I am moved by the utterances of individuals in most fields: Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Sergei Rachmaninov, Gabriel Faure, James P. Johnson, Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Hari Prasad Cahurassia, and most virtuoso executants of Global ethnic music.
Q: Could you explain how you came to do the sound track of the "Music From the Body" with Roger?
RG: "The Body" film producer, Tony Garrett, asked John Peel, who he should get to do the music, who was good (or different) at writing and playing film music, and he said Ron Geesin. I then asked Roger to do the songs. On the film, we worked completely separately, he in London, and me at Notting Hill. This was all done in early 1970. In the Summer of 1970, I wrote all the brass, choir and cello arrangements and melodies of "Atom Heart Mother," for Pink Floyd.
Music From the Body, the soundtrack from the film, was made for Harvest in late Autumn 1970. All of my stuff was made in my studio at 208 Ladbroke Grove, London W10. Roger's songs were re-recorded at Island Studios, Basing St. just nearby. We produced each other. Several pieces were remade for the album, and some were completely new, and not in the film.
Q: How did you become involved with "Atom Heart Mother," and where did the title come from?
RG: My involvement with "atom Heart Mother" is covered in the book; "Saucerful of Secrets." The title happened thus: Pink Floyd plus 10 brass players, a 20 voice choir, and a solo cellist, were recording it for BBC R1 "Peel Sunday Concert" at the Paris Cinema, Lower Regent St. on July 16, 1970. It had no title, although what I call the 'backing track' version on which I worked had the working title of "The Amazing Pudding." I said to Roger, "I bet you find the title in there, pointing to John Peel's tabloid newspaper, and Roger picked out the relevant headline.
Q: Did you enjoy working with Roger?
RG: Yes, very much.
Q: Would you have liked to have worked more with him?
RG: Yes, I think we were a potentially lethal team.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on Roger's music today?
RG: Not much. I can't stand the Bob Dillon-ish American accent, or the meddling in politics. He's got plenty money coming in, so should make pure expressionist pieces and not try to conform to some imagined acceptability factor.
Q: What do you think of the split with Roger and the rest of Pink Floyd in 1985?
RG: He was grumbling most of the time I knew him, so the split looked inevitable. As a supporter of the individual expressionist, creator/artist, and not in any way against the Pink Floyd group, I actually suggested it as early as 1971.
Q: Is Roger better by himself, or is Pink Floyd better without him?
RG: Neither is 'better.' The relationship had run off the end of it's pier!
Q: Do you have any contact with Roger today?
RG: Yes. I've just come back from spending a happy half-a- day with Roger, first time in years.
Q: Did you and Roger discuss creating music together again? Are you going to make a new album together?
RG: We don't talk much about actual (musical) creatives and at the moment we are very separate in our thoughts about that. There is no plan to work together again.
Q: Did you enjoy your visit?
RG: My visit went well. He taught me how to "dry-fly-cast" in a nearby river, for instance. He played some test sections from the French Opera idea for me.
Q: What does he think about his Fan Club REG?
RG: He enjoys knowing that people are interested in his work. But he cannot get involved in any kind of what you'd call dialogue. I would add that the "dialogue" between artist and the public goes; the artist creates the work, and the public reacts. Each sentence in this "dialogue" may be years apart, and the artist has to have a reasonable amount of private space/solitude in which to think of the first and subsequent sentences!
Q: Do you have any contact with any of the other members of Pink Floyd?
RG: Yes, with Nick Mason.
"Music From the Body" By Ron Geesin and Roger Waters
The music comes from the cinematic adaptation of Anthony Smith's 1968 book "The Body." The film's producer, Tony Garnett asked John Peel, the famous English radio show producer, who had a vast knowledge about musicians, bands and music business in general, for ideas about who could do the soundtrack. John suggested Ron Geesin, a man of ingenious imagination and avant-garde musical prowess. But he could only do the instrumentals. Songs with lyrics were wanted as well. So Ron, asked Roger Waters who was a friend, for help.
For the music for the film itself, they worked separately during the early part of 1970, Ron at a studio at 208, Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill, London. And Roger worked at studio's at 186, New North Road, Isington, London.
RG: My studio in Ladbroke Grove was a fully insulated 'padded cell' box on the top of the building, the 4th floor. It was only about a 12ft. X 12ft. room.
"Music From the Body" was made for Harvest Records in the late Autumn of 1970. Ron's pieces were done in his studio and Roger's songs were re-recorded at Island Studios, Basing Street nearby. Roger produced Ron's pieces, and Ron produced Roger's. And there were some pieces on the album which were not included in the film.
RG: "Our Song" is based on my tape-edited body rhythms and Roger's teeth-grinding and other micro sounds. I took my portable recorder to the toilet! The child heard in the song is my first son, Joe Geesin.
RG: For many tracks, I used a lot of the long tape-delay system mentioned by Nick Mason in the Mojo Magazine article (May 1994).
RG: This is Roger and me moving an imaginary sleeping body from one place to another. It is really one big adolescent giggle, except, we were both about age 27!
"Give Birth to a Smile"
A vocal track with Roger on vocals, Ron on Piano, and Gilmour, Mason, and Wright, sitting in as session musicians.
RG: "Give Birth to a Smile" has all the other Pink Floyd members on it. They popped round Island Studio's to help out, and with me on the piano. In the first half of the song, there are female backing singers, which Roger uses for the first time here. The second half of the song consists of these backup singers doing the lead vocals on the chorus. The song is the standard guitar/drum/bass/keyboards, not the acoustic instrumentation which all the other songs contain. "Give Birth to a Smile" is an excellent way to end the album. It is a nice cheery, and soulful song.
RG: The original EMI/Harvest album has specially commissioned
'Picture' labels. My idea was based on the 1920's and '30's
idea for 'Big Stars' on 78 rpm discs. I have the original
contact strips of Roger and me. Also my little company,
HEADSCOPE, was selling the Warner Bros. video "The Body," with
all the different original music, until a few months ago when
the supplies ran out.