Interview 2003 - by Menno von Brucken Fock
The name REDSHIFT guarantees high quality EM (Electronic Music), comparable to the best Music put out by Tangerine Dream in the late seventies. Letting the listener feel his emotions via the sounds of the unmatched modular Moog synthesizer is essential to his music. Recently Redshift’s fifth album “Halo” saw the light of day which received an outstanding critic and a special recommendation in iO Pages Magazine No 43. Although Redshift started out a four piece band, they are now a trio, but the main man without any doubt is Mark Shreeve. This now 46 year old Londoner plays an active role in the EM-Sscene from 1978 onwards. It seemed about time for iO Pages Magazine to hear the story of this sympathetic musician and EM-pioneer in his own country, the UK. Here’s what Mark had to say….
Mark, who did you get involved in the Electronic Music and where did you learn to play and master electronic keyboards?
Like so many teenager boys I played the guitar and tried to play stuff by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. I was blown away by Keith Emerson’s (EL&P) Moog and the weird sounds Pink Floyd managed to produce. Furthermore I was intensely fascinated by the music from the tv-series ‘Dr. Who’ and I still like those tunes today! Because we used to have a piano at home, back then a house in a nice and quiet part of Wales, I knew something about keyboards as well. My parents urged me to take lessons but in spite of their offer I preferred to fiddle things out on my own, besides, I thought the range in sounds of the piano to be too limited. When I became 18 years of age I decided to move to London where I wanted to study architecture. There I found out that the big city turned out to be nothing less than a playground-paradise for young adults like myself and there I learned about synthesizers: all them specialised stores packed with electronics: awesome!! I must admit I used to go there quite a lot and unfortunately, after a while I was denied access to some of them because they noticed me playing the instruments all the time but never buying anything…. I earned a living as employee with an architect bureau, tried to study in the evening and played and composed music during the night. Obviously this way of living couldn’t last and after two years I decided to quit studying architecture and of course the management of the bureau wasn’t too happy with my decision. After hearing Tonto’s ‘Zero Time’ I was impressed but when I heard a part of Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra on the BBC, I was blown away completely and I just had to have my own equipment and I was determined to compose my own music too! In 1978, with the money my girlfriend provided, I bought my very own first synthesizer, a Yamaha and started experimenting with it. With very poor means I recorded my first cassettes.
Who were your most important examples and considering the fact EM was hardly popular in the UK in the late seventies, how did you manage to release your First album?
I was mainly inspired by Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream but also by Cluster, for their weird sounds and effects, perhaps also a bit by JM Jarre and Vangelis. Because of an advert in a music magazine (Melody Maker) I sent a cassette to Martin Reed (Mirage) and before I even realised it was released (‘Embryo’)! Also ‘Ursa Major’, ‘Phantom’ and even ‘Thoughts of War’ have been released on cassette via his label. All of this music had been recorded by a Revox A77 with very modest equipment: most important instruments were the Yamaha CS30 and a Hohner K4. Through Jarli Lastad (‘the mad viking’) I got in contact with Tormod Opedal of Uniton Records and he provided the financial means to release ”Thoughts Of War” as an LP. ‘Assassin’ has been released by Uniton also but when I managed to get a contract with Jive Electro, ‘Assassin’ has been re-released through them. The real first release for Jive Electro was ‘Legion’.
On ‘Legion’ there’s a track called Icon, written together with TD’s Chris Franke. How did this happen and did you stay in touch with Chris after that recording?
When I was recording ‘Legion’, Tangerine Dream happened to be recording in the same building. At some point I got stuck trying to make my final arrangements of the last track. Somebody suggested to ask one of the members of TD for help. Christopher immediately volunteered to help out. Some years later, in 1993 Chris and I met again when Ed Buller (Node), fully unintentional by the way, played a tape of my ‘Nocturne’ album while Chris was sitting in his car. This happened in America by the way. Chris got really excited and called me on the Phone and asked me if I was interested in putting out ‘Nocturne’ through his label Sonic Images. After that album I haven’t released any more albums as MS and besides, I would have had to deal with the businessmen of Sonic instead of dealing directly with Chris himself. To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled about this prospect.
On the limited edition CD ‘Wild’ there’s a track called ‘Red I’, recorded live on the “KLEM-dag” 1995. Perhaps this was the beginning of Redshift? Did the sudden change in musical direction happen intentionally or just a matter of trial and see what happens? Do we have to consider Redshift as a band or rather as a project and what kind of role does your brother Julian play?
In the eighties I was able to incorporate more and more rock-elements into my Electronic Music by using better, more sophisticated and more powerful drum-machines whenever they became available: heavier, more bombastic on every album, ‘Nocturne’ being the utmost ‘over the top’ release. At that time I went through a faze that I realised I simple didn’t know how to achieve more power and depth in a forthcoming album. In the same period (beginning of the nineties) the aforementioned Ed Buller reacquainted me with the grandeur of the big modular Moog and helped me to get my hands on one of those through his contacts. I believe this Moog came from someone residing in Beverly Hills and it cost me a fortune to get this big piece shipped to the UK, but who cares…I finally had my own Moog-system! Mainly to support ‘Nocturne’ I performed live on stage as Mark Shreeve at the “KLEM-dag 1995” with Julian (my five years younger brother) and James Goddard and I intended to use RED I both as an experiment and also as a break between all the heavy stuff we would be playing that night. The crowd responded with an extraordinary enthusiasm and a while later we decided to reanimate this type of forgotten EM with new élan and doing that, my problem of how to come up with a decent successor to ‘Nocturne’ had been solved at the same time. Rob Jenkins (guitar and webmaster) joined later but is no longer with Redshift anymore. Redshift I is my creation almost exclusively, the other studio albums for more then 85%. Although the live albums are a band thing naturally, I am the only full time musician of Redshift. Many years ago I was under the impression that my brother Julian wasn’t interested in EM at all but nevertheless I asked him one day if he’d be willing to help me out with the live performances. To my surprise he agreed instantly to be there whenever I needed him and since that day he has joined me on stage practically every show I’ve done. I doubt very much if either James or Julian consider themselves to be band-members of Redshift, so I’m inclined to categorize it as a project!
Working with a modular Moog is not an easy task but essential for the Redshift-sound. Why not using the digital counterparts of the Moog-system? Do you think the popularity of this kind of “retro-electronic Music” is growing and how do feel about this personally?
As long as you play ‘live’ a modular moog is no problem at all. More difficult things become if you want to record overdubs afterwards: it takes time and patience to tune the Moog and create exactly the sounds you want, before you can get started. Furthermore the instrument is highly sensitive to dust and you cannot program sounds you have been using on a previous occasion so this means you have to find that same sound all over again, which can be quite frustrating. The warmth, depth and the emotion one can put in the sounds generated by this system are definitely not matched by any of the digital synthesizers, not even close! Through time I have managed to establish a fairly extensive collection of keyboards and I have my own studio in what was supposed to be our living room. Guess I have to feel sorry for my poor girlfriend, to have to put up with me like that and on top of this she paid for more than one of my keyboards in the early days! As far as I can appreciate, there is no spectacular change in the popularity of EM in general. In my opinion however there is a surplus of second rate trash, put out by people playing pre-programmed keyboards. Furthermore, you can’t compare what TD is releasing nowadays to what they used to put out some decades ago, can you? Maybe there is bit of shift in appreciation towards our kind of music: it might be more appealing to people who get sick and tired listening to all those records, recorded with the same kind of synthesizers, with the same kind of sounds and melodies and prefer to listen to stuff people like myself are trying to create. The sales of our albums are a pretty steady figure: around 1500 discs for each release. The mean age of the audiences on the festivals seems to get higher and the number of people attending seems to diminish however! I don’t think the term “retro” is correct: Tonto started out with a primitive sequencer in 1970, but TD acclaimed international fame using this type of keyboard. Both the instruments as well as the way we play them as Redshift is totally different compared to Tangerine Dream in the seventies.
In the past you also wrote pop-song for Samantha Fox amongst others. What kind of experience was that? Have you done anything else outside of the EM?
The experience has been both unique as well it made be feel deadly tired. You see, being my own boss I wasn’t used to working with producers and text-writers and also the whole approach is entirely different from what I was used to. The goal is to come up with a catchy melody in a tight musical structure and within the time limit of approximately 3 ½ minutes, while in EM, things are about to start and you have merely finished your intro!! So you never know when a tune has got hit-potential! Working with Samantha has been fantastic, apart from the joy seeing all those people looking very jealously in my direction every time Samantha used to walk into my door, which at that time was quite regularly. Especially, because back then I was living in a modest home in a somewhat inferior part of London, people must have thought that she couldn’t possibly be the real Samantha Fox!! During the mid eighties I have composed a few soundtracks, one of them being for ‘Turn around’ a movie from 1986, but I didn’t like those movies at all. Technically, the making of a soundtrack is a task not be underestimated! To my regret I have been unable to work for a while due to two motor-accidents and because of those I lost all my existing contact in the film industry. If you want to be a major player in the world of soundtrack composers and makers of commercials, you have to put in a lot of time and you most certainly need to have a network and you must be able to keep in touch with all your business contacts. I must admit I don’t have enough time and I have been failing to keep in touch sufficiently these last few years. However I do - until this day – compose music for libraries and tunes for TV-programs.
The last update of your website www.redshift.dircon.co.uk is from November 2002. Does that mean you are not particularly interested in maintaining an updated site and how does this relate to the necessity of putting out albums as private releases and thus distribution through the internet?
You are absolutely right and it’s merely proof that I only use software in computers related to my music and nothing more. Rob (Jenkins) maintained the site but as you know now he is no longer with Redshift, so that’s why! There will be a new site in the air soon, (www.redshift.biz), created by Jason Cutler, so stay tuned! By the way there’s another site with a lot of information about both Redshift and myself: www.redshreeve.republika.pl All Redshift albums can be ordered through the Redshift site afore mentioned. The choice to release albums privately is inevitable unfortunately because the costs of having them released by a record label are way too high and cannot be covered by the sales.
What about live-shows? Do you have any shows scheduled?
At the moment I have no plans whatsoever. It all comes down to the costs and the benefits. I lost money on almost any of the previous shows we did! Only when a concert has been recorded and a live-album can be released, then we’re talking about breaking even. So honestly, performing live is more or less a hobby. To cross the channel with all my gear (especially bringing along the huge Moog!) is hard to finance. Too bad actually, because nowadays I enjoy performing live, whilst in the earlier days I used to be quite nervous and I didn’t like it nearly as much as I do now, so it’s a pity the shows are so few….
Which are your favourite EM albums and what kind of music do you listen to whenever you have the time to do so?
Without a doubt amongst my all time favourites are Mirage and Irrlicht by Klaus Schulze, Phaedra, Rubicon and Ricochet by Tangerine Dream, but also the first three albums by Jarre and Ignacio by Vangelis together with Cluster II. I listen to many different musical genres: from classical to rap or pop. For example I think the trip-hop of a band called Goldfrapp is extraordinary and also produced extremely well. I intend to go to a show by the reformed NICE shortly: old loves never die!!
What kind of influence did those motor-accidents have on motor biking as your passion? Do you have specific plans for the (near) future?
You know Menno, I’ve been riding a motorbike for some thirty years now and apart from some sliding accidents, most of them being my own fault and mostly on slippery wet surfaces, I have been involved in “only” two major accidents. About ten years ago the injuries were so bad I had to fear I’d loose a leg….that really scared me but luckily I still have both my legs but it took me half a year to be able to stand on the previously injured one! In spite of the accidents I still am and will always be a biker till I die. By the way, I managed to get my driver’s license too so occasionally I’m driving a car nowadays!
About my future plans: recently Ian Boddy came over and spent a week in our house and we have been working on the third ARC album and gave it the final touch, so that one will be released shortly. Furthermore I intend to work on the sixth Redshift album…..
Is there a better point to conclude this interview with such a amicable, sympathetic and multi-talented guy? A motor biking musician with a pet cat of 20 years of age….I wonder if it’s boss will have 9 lives as well…for the sake of Electronic Music let’s hope he will!!
Interview by Menno von Brucken Fock (with thanks to Paul Rijkens).