Interview: Peter Nicholls of IQ

Post image of Interview: Peter Nicholls of IQ

“Touring, touring, is never boring…” Joey Ramone once sang so truly. Being on tour with British prog rockers IQ specifically means the exact opposite of boredom. If an unsuspecting stranger were to walk into an IQ concert, he’d probably be very puzzled to find people dressed up as angels, astronauts and comic book heroes, both on stage and in the audience, partying frantically to songs he’d have difficulties to even clap along to.

The level of interactivity at an IQ show is really outstanding, and the fact that the band plays shows all over Europe on a regular basis, despite all of the band members having full time jobs and families, illustrates how this band is all about creativity. So we were of course very happy when singer Peter Nicholls agreed to do an interview with us about IQ’s recent Frequency tour and their plans for the near future.

nolivelost: The road to ‘Frequency’ seems to have been one of the most turbulent productions of all your albums so far. There have been line-up changes in the band and the album took about 5 years to be made. When it was finally released, it received enthusiastic reviews from critics and fans alike. Are you happy with the outcome and the reception of ‘Frequency’?

Peter Nicholls: Yes, we’re all very happy and, for me, this is our strongest work for some time. The last few years have been pretty turbulent for us: Paul Cook left the band in 2005, followed by Martin Orford two years later and so ‘Frequency’ is the first IQ album to feature Andy Edwards on drums and Mark Westworth on keyboards, both of whom make a great contribution.

In addition to that, not long after Martin left the band I was taken into hospital with pneumonia and that brought everything to a halt for several months. I had a long period of convalescence before we resumed work on the album and Mike and I worked more closely together on this one than we have done in some time, which I found very rewarding and enjoyable. This album has been an exercise in survival but we were determined to get through and we did so with a great album, in my opinion. Mike’s production work on ‘Frequency’ is his best to date.

nolivelost: You played a couple of new tracks before the release of the album. How was the audience reception back then? Did you play the tracks specifically to test them with a live audience, or just to treat your fans with some new material?

Peter Nicholls: We’ve always played new material live as we’re writing it. Not only is it a good way to introduce something new in the live set, it’s also interesting for us to be able to get a reaction from an audience hearing the new material. The track ‘Frequency’ was received well right from the outset and that helped give us the confidence to move forward with the new songs.

nolivelost: The special edition of ‘Frequency’ comes with a bonus DVD featuring a complete show recorded in Zoetermeer. IQ have always embraced live videos and released a number of live DVDs. What are your thoughts on this medium? Do you think the essence of an IQ show or live shows in general can be captured on video at all?

Peter Nicholls: Well, I don’t think there’s any substitute for actually being there at a live show. You can’t truly capture the atmosphere on a live DVD. Speaking personally, the albums are the most important aspect of what we do, the studio recordings are what we’ll ultimately be judged by, but we’ve played live for many, many years now and we’ve honed our craft on stage. When we started out, playing live was a huge and integral part of what we did. It’s good to know that some of our live performances have been preserved for posterity. I also think a live DVD of a complete show is a great thing to include in a special edition of an album.

nolivelost: You played some live shows all over Europe and in the US to promote the ‘Frequency’ album. Can you share some insight with us on the logistics of an IQ tour? How complicated is it to pull off international shows without any financial and promotional backing from a major record company?

Peter Nicholls: Touring can be very expensive indeed. We tend to concentrate on playing smaller blocks of gigs, usually about three at a time over a long weekend, because organising a single tour would probably be prohibitively expensive, besides which we all have families and ‘real’ jobs so taking a big chunk of time off work isn’t really practical these days.

nolivelost: Paul Cook returned to the band at the start of the ‘Frequency’ tour. Can you give us some insight into how it all came together? Did you have to kidnap him and strap him to a drum kit? Did he have to learn all the ‘Frequency’ parts in a couple of days or did he have more time?

Peter Nicholls: It all happened in a far less dramatic way than you might think. Andy Edwards had to take some time off from the band for various personal reasons. We knew he wouldn’t be around for a year or so, so we asked Cookie if he wanted to step in again, while Andy was away. Luckily for us, he agreed straight away. Eventually, Andy decided that his life had changed so much he couldn’t see a way of committing to us again so Cookie’s return to IQ became permanent. He had plenty of time to learn the new material and it’s really interesting hearing his spin on it now when we play live. Just as Andy didn’t want to replicate all Cookie’s drum parts when playing older material, Cookie is injecting more of his style and personality into the ‘Frequency’ songs now, which is great.

nolivelost: In September 2009 you played a special show at the Lido in Berlin. It marked the first Berlin gig in 16 years and served as a kind of celebration for a lot of longtime fans and supporters of the band. Was it an extraordinary experience for the band too?

Peter Nicholls: It was an amazing night and we really enjoyed playing the whole of the ‘Frequency’ album as a single continual piece. We weren’t perfect, we made a few mistakes, but the audience were so enthusiastic I don’t think anyone noticed! There was a very strong atmosphere that night.

nolivelost: The Berlin show saw fans flocking in from all over the world, some even from as far as Japan. Are you still surprised about your level of international success?

Peter Nicholls: Yes, definitely. I think the key to maintaining the interest and support of our fans is to keep building on our high standards when we’re writing and recording new material. This comes back to what I said earlier about the albums being the most important part of what we do. As long as people recognise that we still make sure each new album is as good as we can possibly make it, which requires a lot of time and effort, they will hopefully stay with us. A disappointing album would see people start to fall away, I think. But we’ve been very lucky indeed in having loyal, dedicated fans who stay with us and know that we always do things to the best of our ability.

nolivelost: IQ’s website offers a great level of interaction between fans and the band. Do you think the relationship between fans and band has changed a great deal compared to the days of hand-copied fanzines, or is the new technology just making communication faster?

Peter Nicholls: We’ve always been accessible and approachable and I honestly don’t think we’re any different now from the way we were back in the early 1980s. The new technology certainly makes everything faster and more immediate but we’ve always had this level of contact with the people who support what we do. It has often been said, and I do think it’s true, that this feels more like a worldwide extended family than a band/audience situation.

nolivelost: With your origins in progressive rock, today you get a lot of press from metal and hard rock magazines. Do you percieve yourselves as a strictly progressive rock band at all?

Peter Nicholls: I have no real idea how we’re perceived. Labels can be very restrictive. We’ve always described ourselves as being progressive simply because that’s the most easily understandable label to apply to our music but as for being ‘strictly progressive’, no I wouldn’t say so. We don’t feel we’re constricted by that label, we still do what we want to do without really caring how our music is described.

nolivelost: You played the ‘Frequency’ album from start to finish during the second leg of the tour. Was that a spontaneous idea or a plan from the beginning?

Peter Nicholls: It wasn’t spontaneous because playing the album in its entirety required a lot of rehearsal! The album wasn’t written as a concept piece, there isn’t a single lyrical thread which holds it all together, as there was with ‘Subterranea’, for example, but when we listened back to the album once it had been completed it did seem to have a natural flow to it, a real cohesiveness which held it all together.

There’s an atmosphere and a mood which you can hear from the start of ‘Frequency’ to the end of ‘Closer’, and for me there isn’t a weak track on the album, I like it all. So we started talking about the possibility of playing it all live, kind of like a mini-‘Subterranea’. We’ve only performed the album live on two occasions so far but I’d be happy to do it again at some point in the future. ‘Ryker Skies’ is getting stronger each time we play it, it’s becoming more of a performance track now.

nolivelost: 2009 has seen a trend in full album performances with a lot of progressive rock bands. What was your perception of the audience at the full album performances? And what was it like as a performer? Is it very different to playing a regular setlist?

Peter Nicholls: Yes, it’s quite different because, with the ‘Frequency’ album, we’re trying to maintain that atmosphere for a full hour with no breaks. From a performance point of view, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed doing ‘Subterranea’, the idea of diving in at the start of ‘Overture’ and not coming up for air again until the end of ‘The Narrow Margin’, that really appealed to me. For the audience, it must have been more like watching a film than a gig. ‘Frequency’ audiences have really responded well to hearing the whole album, particularly at the Berlin gig.

nolivelost: 2010 marks the 25th anniversary of the classic IQ album ‘The Wake’ and there are rumours about plans for a special re-release and some live shows celebrating this anniversary. Can you say something about whether this is true and if so, maybe even share any details with us yet?

Peter Nicholls: Well, this is all very much at the planning stage and nothing is confirmed but I’ve been going through boxes of tapes recently and I’ve unearthed some previously unheard recordings from the time of ‘The Wake’ which we’re now sorting through. Back in 1985, the intention was always to perform the whole album live but this never happened because I left at the end of the UK tour with Wishbone Ash. So this would be a good time to finally realise that dream, I think. Stay tuned for details!

nolivelost: Are there plans for a new IQ album yet? Any new music emerging?

Peter Nicholls: Not yet, no. ‘Frequency’ represents about four years work from start to finish. We’re not quite ready yet to embark on another project of that size.

Thanks a lot to Peter for taking the time for us, and being such an entertaining and insightful interview partner. We’ll keep you up-to-date with any news about upcoming IQ shows.

Interview: Björn Kahlenberg – Photos: Dominic Aniballi, Björn Kahlenberg & Christian Lesske
(photos taken at IQ’s show at the Lido Berlin on 2009-09-04)

Posted by Bjoern   @   10 Februar 2010


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Feb 10, 2010
8:08 PM
#1 Thom :

Well then, roll on the WAKE shows!

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