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Fryars Vs Simon Drake

Electro synth-pop musician Fryars enters the house of a master magician

Taken from the June Issue of Dazed & Confused:

Following the success of his breakthrough track “The Ides” in 2007 and its parent album, Dark Young Hearts, Fryars aka Ben Garrett went quiet. Then in 2012 his name made a return to music blogs as a polished electro-balladeer, clocking up superlatives for songs like “Love So Cold”, “In My Arms” and “On Your Own”. But like any truly progressive performer, Fryars wanted to step things up, calling on the services of Simon Drake, the illusionist who helped devise and performed in Kate Bush’s only ever tour, to co-ordinate a series of live shows. For 17 years Drake has been performing as an illusionist at his mysterious abode The House of Magic, located just south of the Thames. The pair reunited to talk about their mysterious masterplan under the candle-lit haze of a smoke-filled chamber lined with skeletons. 

Fryars: I hadn’t seen your shows until quite recently.

Simon Drake: I don’t do kids shows.

Fryars: But I knew you did live visuals.

Simon Drake: Yes. I’m a magician and illusionist, but the important thing is always the music. When I was growing up, long before video or anything like that, I decided to be a music visualist. I saw Arthur Brown do ‘Fire’ when I was 12, in 1968. It completely changed my life. I was watching Top of the Pops in black-and-white and there was this guy with his helmet on fire – I have the original helmet up there. (points) Arthur became my mentor in a lot of ways, because I eventually joined the record business and got to know him.

Fryars: I think you might have mentioned that over dinner the night we met. I promised to send you some music, but that was three years ago and I was still working on this new record, so sorry for never getting round to it. Anyway, two-and-a-half years later, when everything was actually done I sent the music over and you said you’d spent, sort of...

Simon Drake: Three days working on it, on and off. I hadn’t done this sort of stuff since my 20s. I did Kate Bush’s tour in 1979 and 1980; I wrote all of the visuals with her and her brothers over several months and then performed seven characters in her show with her. I’d not been in touch with the scene since then, so I wasn’t sure what I could do. But I was struck by how atmospheric and well-written your stuff was.

Fryars: I wasn’t angling. I didn’t actually expect you to come back with a plan for an arena tour! (laughs) Obviously you haven’t done anything like this for a while but you’re charismatic and interesting, and after we first met I went to one of your shows, got really drunk and was completely into it. I was just impressed that someone had done something so completely original. The whole idea of this house; you walk in and it really is a magical, cool place. It’s a venue, it’s a business, whatever. But actually there isn’t anything like it, other than Disneyland.

Simon Drake: That’s right. I often say it’s like Disney on acid, and you’re just seeing one bit – there are four floors, so it’s huge! I peddle an atmosphere and that’s the big thing here. Right now we’re in a very low House of Magic atmosphere. There are lots of things that aren’t on, music being the most important one. You get the smoke sitting in the middle of this area down here, and you look at it from the other side and it’s the most unbelievable thing.

Fryars: Almost like a Carry On film. But your main thing is The Cane, I guess. 

Simon Drake: Well, I’ve been doing The Cane since I was eight or nine so I should be all right with that. It’s a dance really, between a bloke and a stick. In its various phases it goes through disharmony, harmony, and a thing at the end that I call a visual orgasmia. Is that a word? But let me explain one thing. What I wrote after you sent me the music was an attempt by me to make the band totally different. 

Fryars: You really made me think about putting on a show with that theory you have: the ascending, wavy line.

Simon Drake: When you’re plotting any theatrical performance it’s the ascending, wavy line. It starts off strong, goes up and finishes stronger, and the bits in between go up and down too. It’s a very old rule that I was taught when I was 16 or something. 

Fryars: I’m really interested in narrative. The new record is a bit of a concept album – I wrote a script beforehand. I’m bored of going to live shows that don’t go anywhere, a series of songs with maybe a big one at the end. If you’re expecting to see pyrotechnics in my shows, then you might be underwhelmed. But there are lots of  subtle things that turn it into more of a narrative performance.

Simon Drake: Yes. I don’t know what your shows used to be like or even what the old music is like. I’ve only heard the six or seven new tracks that you’ve sent to me.

Fryars: People say the music’s changed a lot since my first record. But it’s not about making one thing that’s the same, even across an album. It’s great that there are bands like The xx (who do that), but for me it’s just about doing new stuff, because I’ll get bored otherwise. The singles from my records probably don’t tell you a whole load about the album as a whole.

Simon Drake: Kate Bush was similar in that way.

Fryars: What was she like to work with?

Simon Drake: Well, I’ll start from the end: Keith MacMillan did a 50-minute video of the Hammersmith Odeon shows and I hit the cutting-room floor on every performance apart from my work as the mad violinist, which is in that video...

Fryars: I think I’ve seen that on YouTube.

Simon Drake: The violin’s down in the cellar, floating on a bit of string – it’s Kate’s violin from when she was a kid. I put this thing in it with a button to activate a smoke bomb inside. I’m playing it really frantically with these funny, false teeth next to a strange dancing person in a leotard. It was a sort of mad Paganini idea. But the one time he filmed was the one time on the tour that the smoke machine didn’t work.

Fryars: Oh.

Simon Drake: Yeah, so bollocks. There were also some terrible accidents. A man called Bill Duffield – a really wonderful lighting director – fell through a trap door and died. It was awful. But Kate was great to work with, a really sweet, smart woman. At one point there were more young boys in love with her than anyone else.

Fryars: Young guys? I’d have said young girls. Every female artist talks about Kate Bush when they’re interviewed. Is she an interesting person?

Simon Drake: Oh yes. But that’s sort of irrelevant. It’s difficult with you musical geniuses, isn’t it? Because sitting here, talking to you, I wouldn’t know you had it in you. Neither of you want to be famous, which let me tell you, is the real horror-show: when you want everything and do whatever you can to get it. Thankfully your record isn’t made for those reasons, and that’s why I reckon it will do really well. 

Fryars: Thanks.

Simon Drake: Unless, of course, you do something to really fuck it up.