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LIFESIGNS REACHES EVEN HIGHER ALTITUDES

LIFESIGNS REACHES EVEN HIGHER ALTITUDES

(by Brad Kesner) (photos by Martin Reijman, Brett Wilde/Lifesigns)

John Young’s band Lifesigns is a highly acclaimed English Prog Rock band and most certainly is one of those diverse bands that you cannot shoebox into a single category. It is a band loved by many in the Prog World and many agree that their albums definitely belong in every serious Prog Rock lover’s collection. John Young continues to surround himself with superstar talent and is truly a superstar himself. One may well call this band a super-group, especially when you take a closer look at each of the members of the band (present and past), their incredible musical backgrounds, and the bands they have each been a part of. The lineup has changed over the years, but the members remain impeccable. One will find a blend of multiple genre styles coming from each member including jazz, pop, blues, alternative rock, and progressive rock. What a splendid and tasty blend this is because Lifesigns rewards its audience with the best parts of each of these genres in its own unique Progressive Rock style. That being said, expect every album coming from Lifesigns to be unique with a personality all its own.

Altitude is the newest album by the band and it possesses a very different feel than the previous two outstanding albums, Cardington and their self titled debut Lifesigns. My highest compliments to the band, because it is very difficult to create new music with the limitations that have been imposed during the Pandemic along with the distance between each of the musicians as well as their not being in a traditional studio environment. None-the-less, they created a masterpiece against those odds. A lot of credit needs to go to sound engineer Steve Rispin who provided his great skills to help bring this all together. Many have claimed this to be a top album for 2021. I agree. A lot of love has gone into the production of this album and it shows with every note. The album starts with the title song “Altitude” and at a little over 15 minutes it is a true Progressive Rock epic, beautifully mellow, and with nice transitions throughout. John Young is a classically trained vocalist and pianist and his glorious vocals and keyboards throughout the album reflect that. John is a great singer / songwriter with an outstanding resume, having played keyboards with Asia, Bonnie Tyler, The Strawbs, The Scorpions, Qango, and Greenslade. Dave Bainbridge provides incredible guitar work throughout the album and has a powerful resume of his own. “Altitude” is a beautiful melodic prog song and with John’s vocals, I felt the spirit of the best of the Moody Blues or Alan Parsons flowing through the song, particularly about nine minutes or so into the song giving some goose bump moments. John has a rare talent as a story teller and most definitely is an excellent song writer. The song “Altitude” has quite an interesting story to tell. The remaining songs (which run from four minutes to ten minutes) continue seamlessly through the balance of the album. Stand out songs are “Ivory Tower” which is absolutely beautiful, and I love the jazzy feel of “Shoreline”. “Gregarious” has an Alan Parsons and Supertramp feel to it, but is unique in John’s own way. “Last One Home” has the soul of Gilmour flowing through it and would make him proud. Dave Bainbridge is truly a guitar god on this album and his solos are amazing. Bottom line, I love the whole album. This is a complex album and it must be listened to as a whole in order to fully appreciate it. There are a lot of nuances and upon repeated listens, you will find this album growing on you more and more. This album has had a huge amount of rave reviews and very positive feedback, yet there seems to be that one misguided critic that tries to reflect negatively on a song or two out there. I personally feel every song is a masterpiece on Altitude. A lot of love has gone into this album! Every album from Lifesigns is an evolution from the previous album and should be judged accordingly. In the true nature of Progressive Rock, there is a change and “progression” from album to album. The very best Progressive Rock bands such as King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes change and evolve. I would expect no less from a band as excellent as Lifesigns. I highly recommend every single album by Lifesigns without hesitation. Since this band is independent, it may not always be easy to find places to buy their albums. You will find all of their albums and merchandize available at Lifesign’s web address: www.lifesignsmusic.co.uk.

Regarding the evolution of this band, Lifesigns is the brainchild of John Young (keys/vocals) who worked together with sound engineer Steve Rispin to lay the ground for their well received debut album Lifesigns in 2008. The original lineup came together in 2010 with John Young (vocals, keyboards, song writer along with his amazing background), his good friend Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman Stick, background vocals), and Frosty Beedle (drums). It took two years to complete their self-titled debut album and in John’s style, there was a superb lineup of legendary guest stars including Steve Hackett of Genesis, Thijs Van Leer (flute) of Focus, Robin Boult (guitar) from Fish, and Jakko Jakszyk of King Crimson. Their first album was officially released February of 2013. As of 2014, the band’s members were John Young on keyboards and vocals, Nick Beggs had other commitments when the band started to tour and was replaced by Jon Poole on bass and vocals (ex-Cardiacs, Wildhearts, Dowling Poole), Niko Tsonev on guitars and vocals (ex-Steven Wilson Band), Frosty Beedle on drums, percussion, and vocals (ex-Cutting Crew). Dave Bainbridge replaced Niko (who departed the band August 2016) on guitar and Dave also does additional keyboards. Dave Bainbridge had previously been with Strawbs, Celestial Fire, and Iona. Zoltán Csörsz replaced Frosty Beedle when he left in 2020. Steve Rispin (Yes) has been the additional band member as the sound engineer. Lifesigns has had many shows over the years including Night of the Prog at Lorelei in Germany, Cruise to the Edge in the USA, and the Ramblin’ Man and Cropredy festivals in the UK. An excellent show to check out is on DVD, Live in London, recorded at Under The Bridge at Chelsea Football Club. A double audio CD was also released along with the DVD.

When Cardington was released in 2017, even without any mainstream airplay, it reached the top ten in the Amazon national chart and was number 4 in the UK Indie chart. Cardington also had excellent guest artists such as Menno Gootjes (Focus) and Robin Boult (Fish). Dave Bainbridge (Iona) was also a guest on the album playing guitar and second keyboards and then later replaced Niko who went on to pursue a solo career after playing on this album, adding to further evolution of the band.

John Young is the brilliant core of Lifesigns and he has a history that I find astounding. John started his early years classically trained on piano and vocals at the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. He then played into the mid 1980s with semi-pro jazz bands. Great things started to happen in 1985 when John became a part of Uli Jon Roth’s Band (ex-Scorpions) going on to do a world tour. Later, studio and session work followed with artists like Bon Jovi and Steeleye Span. Following that, while he was playing with the MTV band in London, John met John Wetton. Wetton asked him to join Asia and they went on to play for two European tours. Afterwards, he became a part of a short lived band that I also love a lot, called The Law with the superstars Paul Rodgers and Kenney Jones. The Law played with Bryan Adams and ZZ Top at the Bowl in Milton Keynes. During the mid 1990s, John joined Bonnie Tyler and has worked with her ever since.

John was also a member of another short lived band that should be noted called Qango, basically a spinoff of Asia. Qango was a super group with Dave Kilminster (Steven Wilson, Roger Waters) on guitars, John Wetton doing vocals and bass, and Carl Palmer (ELP) on drums. Amazing! In 2001, John did a world tour with The Scorpions featuring their album Acoustica. Also in 2001, John Wesley and John Young team up again co-writing the album Fellini Days for Fish and also were a part of the following live album by Fish. John Young then worked with Greenslade. If this is not mind blowing enough, John has also worked with Jon Anderson of Yes. Wow! Have you caught your breath yet? John created two solo albums that I dearly love, Life Underground and Significance, which remain on my playlists to this very day. In 2002, John formed his own band, The John Young Band. During their November through December tour, John worked as the keyboard player with The Strawbs with Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert, Chas Cronk and Tony Fernandez. John also has music used on various TV productions which came from some of his instrumental albums. There is so much more in John’s history that I have not even touched upon. At this point, I am sure you can better understand why I think John is so incredible. However, I left out one point that I think is very important. John is a truly down to Earth person and one of the nicest people you would ever want to know …. something we need to see more of these days.

Each of the other members of John’s bands has impressive histories of their own as well. John definitely has some of the best in the prog world as a part of Lifesigns creating amazing lineups. Steve Rispin, for example, worked with Alvin Lee for twelve years until his untimely death in March of 2013. Dave Bainbridge has had a multi-faceted career as a solo artist, musician, composer, improviser, producer, arranger, teacher, musical director and sound mixer which has led him into many musical genres. Bainbridge has worked with numerous artists including Jack Bruce, Buddy Guy, Phil Guy, Strawbs, Nick Beggs, Gloria Gaynor, Robert Fripp, Phil Keaggy, Paul Jones, Damian Wilson, Snake Davis, PP Arnold, Mollie Marriott, David Paton, the original Alan Parsons Project Band, Annie Haslam, Eric Bazilian, Neal Morse, and many others plus his own band IONA.

Zoltán Csörsz is a popular jazz drummer and has accompanied Randy Brecker, Quincy Jones, and many more, along with the Prog bands The Tangent, The Flower Kings, and Karmakanic. Niko Tsonev (later replaced by Dave Bainbridge) is a highly respected guitarist with a stylistic blend of progressive rock and jazz fusion. Niko performed with Steven Wilson and many other impressive artists and producers. Nick Beggs has worked with the likes of John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Howard Jones, Cliff Richard, Gary Numan, Kim Wilde, Michael Bolton, Seal, Belinda Carlisle, Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, Go West, and T’Pau, to mention but a few. In 1979, Nick formed the band Art Nouveau. Chris Hamill (Limahl) joined Art Nouveau in 1981 and with Nick’s suggestion, the band was renamed Kajagoogoo. Nick went to work for Phonogram Records in 1992 as an A&R Manager and has been a staff writer for several guitar publications. Nick has also been a part of Steven Wilson’s touring band along with playing on many of Steven Wilson’s albums. Additionally, Nick has contributed to John Mitchell’s solo project Lonely Robot and also has an excellent collaboration with Marco Minneman in the band The Mute Gods. All together these artists are absolutely stellar! Please know the drummer in these photos is Frosty Beedle and not Zoltan, who joined later.

SFL Music: Hi John. It is truly wonderful chatting with you, and it is an honor to discuss your long anticipated new Lifesigns album, Altitude. You have always put your heart and soul into each and every album you have ever released John, whether solo, or with The John Young Band, or with your pride and joy, Lifesigns. However, current times have provided a lot of challenges for production of new music for bands, especially with the Pandemic. The Pandemic and lockdown have been tough on so many artists making it difficult or impossible to record together. I can only imagine how difficult it was putting together Altitude for that very reason. Steve Rispin has long been an essential part of the band. John, please share what you had to go through producing Altitude with the distance between the members of the band and how Steve Rispin’s wonderful contributions have helped to bring this latest album together.

John: Hi Brad. Lovely to hear from you and thanks for having me on this interview. Yes, in regards to the Pandemic, it was kind of strange really. As you know, all of us in Lifesigns have our day jobs. We all work for other people, so for example, Steve (Rispin) works for Yes, I work for Bonnie Tyler, Jon (Poole) works for Dr. Hook, Dave (Bainbridge) works for Strawbs and Zoltán really works for everybody. When the Pandemic hit, we were all coming back in from gigs and we had been talking about making this album, so we were all dependent on who we were working for and what time we had available. Up until then, we hadn’t worked remotely because we had our own studio, which we got rid of when the Pandemic hit. So, we decided to work remotely and because touring had stopped, that meant we had the time to put a decent amount of effort into what we were doing all at once. We decided initially to record the drums and the bass. I sent the songs to everyone so they could get used to them, and everything then came back through me and Steve at Steve’s studio. We all have remote studios. It is not as easy from a point of view as if you walked into a studio and go “Oh well, I don’t think that works”, or “let’s do something differently”, because everyone is sending you finished product which of course, they get quite precious about. Fortunately, we are all old enough to put all of that aside. As such, Steve and I kind of have the scissors and we make decisions as to what goes on and what stays and what doesn’t make the voyage. I think it has been an incredible journey for all of us. Jon Poole was just learning how to use his new studio, so I think he actually did really, really well. Obviously it also meant the people we were working with were working remotely. So we worked remotely with Lynsey (Ward) who did the backing vocals and Peter Knight sent through his part for the violin. The only thing we did do in the studio was to record the Cello with Juliet Wolff because her father Michael Wolff (who is a good friend of mine) has a lovely studio in London so Steve and I went down for that. Really everything was done without seeing each other and without ever meeting Zoltán, which was quite strange. In fact, last week we had a gathering here in the UK and unfortunately, Zoltán could not meet with us. The meeting was me, Jon, Steve, and Dave. It was really great to see each other. It was quite surreal to be honest. So, I think all in all, we learned quite a lot by doing it the way that we did it. However, we went through several mastering processes and even Steve and I remixed completely to get the final masters, which we did with Ronnie Bronnimann. I think overall it has worked and it gives us a great template in case we ever need to do that again, but obviously, we also like the idea of being together and working together.

SFL Music: Lifesigns has always been your brainchild John. Lifesigns has earned a lot of lifetime fans since the first album and the band’s albums have become a part of every serious Prog Rock lover’s collection. Your albums have received lots of critical acclaim over the years. When you first conceived the band, did you ever have the idea it would be as well received and loved as it currently is and what best motivated you to move beyond The John Young band to the creation of Lifesigns?

John: I was very surprised the John Young Band wasn’t successful to an extent. We weren’t really aware that it was so difficult to make people aware of making new music. We did not realize that so many people thought that there wasn’t any new music. They just basically kept listening to their old records and that was it (pauses) …. nothing else had come along. So The John Young Band struggled for many years. It was always such a fabulous line up and quite often, we actually got to the stage that we just enjoyed the fact that we went out for dinner before the gig … and then, we were in danger sometimes of just the four members in our band outnumbering those in the audience. It was a great shame, because the music was quite incredible, and people would come up to us afterwards and ask us why we were playing there and not somewhere better. It was basically because we couldn’t build ourselves any further beyond that. We weren’t enticing audiences. It was really, really difficult. To be honest, I did some solo shows on several occasions where actually no one turned up. It was that people were not interested in original music. They wanted to go watch and see tribute bands. You suddenly realize your place in the scheme of things. When we were youngsters, obviously we used to go out and if you didn’t see original music, it was kind of a disappointment. Whereas, these days people like to go out and listen to what they know. That was a surprise to us with the JYB. In the end, as it kind of ground to a halt, we did a show after about 10 years playing at a festival in Aylesbury. If only we could lock Yes’s audience or Genesis’s audience in a room and say “yes, but listen to this” …. but it doesn’t work like that. People just don’t have that time to spare these days. We have to just make the best of it that we can and Lifesigns will definitely be doing that.

SFL Music: John, you have been a part of a lot of incredible bands over the years. You have a musical history many musicians would be envious of. Which band previous to The John Young Band and Lifesigns, would you consider as the most fun and that had the best memories? Is there a memory you would like to share? Which previous band had the greatest impact on you? You are an incredible musician John … a superb singer / songwriter, vocalist, keyboard player. You have a style totally unique and all your own. That being said, have you carried anything over from any of these previous bands into your current style? What was your greatest inspiration from the beginning of your musical career?

John: As a youngster (I am kind of name dropping here), Robert Fripp said to me some years ago, “you know John, your only problem is that you were born five years too late” and I think that applies to a lot of people. We weren’t around for that moment when the record companies were investing heavily in the kind of music that we love, and now obviously, most people who are making this music do it for the love of the music and not for the money and so, it can be classified as a hobby with some, I guess. I often ask with Cruise to the Edge, how many of the bands are actually professional bands and it seems so crazy that such brilliant music shouldn’t be something you can make a living from. For me as a fan, when I was younger, I was a fan of Asia, and Yes, and Genesis, and UK, and all those bands. So it was quite interesting when I finally joined Asia in 1989 and 1990 and to be a part of that and to be a part of what was left from that time and I learned a lot from John Wetton. We worked together an awful lot over 15 years or so. I was in his band and we co-wrote a lot of music together. I think it helped with my style. I was so, so lucky, because for a while ….. I think this happens with most musicians of my age, you are a sort of go to person. You get to work with a lot of extremely diverse artists. I am very fortunate. I still work with Bonnie Tyler who is a great singer. I worked with Paul Rodgers. When you see these people in action, these real “singer singers”, it’s quite incredible. It is such a gift they have been given. Again, you learn from these things and from that all the way through to working with some of the prog icons. I have loved all of the jazz fusion elements. I think it all conspires to make you what you become. I am really pleased that now people are looking at what we do as something unique rather than something that plagiarizes something else, because everyone will always tend compare you to Yes, Genesis, Gabriel, or whatever. I understand that, but I think that we have done enough now to say that our unique sound is what we do and strangely enough, we have fans in most of those bands. We have fans in Genesis … and Steve Hackett, and Mike Rutherford all like the band. Camel and Pye Hastings of Caravan like the band. So the people in the bands tend to like what we do, but getting to their audiences is always the hardest task for us. I guess that’s what we are still working on. I would love it, if in years to come, hopefully there would be a Lifesigns tribute group of some sort. People will say, “well yes, that was Genesis, and Yes, and Lifesigns, and King Crimson”. That would be the ultimate for me and I would wave happily from wherever I am at that point. (Laughs)

SFL Music: John, I have loved the evolution of Lifesigns from their first self titled album Lifesigns, to Cardington, and to the latest album Altitude. Every member of the band has brought their own mix of backgrounds and talents, various genre influences, and musical styles. Lifesigns manages to bring together all of these styles and influences creating a sound all of its own. The band members have also evolved over the years. I have found each album to bring its own unique feel and mood. That being said, would you categorize Lifesigns as a Progressive Rock band? Or would you prefer not to shoebox the band into that single category? After all, there are some wonderful jazzy overtones in many of your songs, the progressive rock styling, the beautiful mellow ballads, the alternative rock and neo-progressive components, and this all blends together magnificently. How would you best describe the band?

John: That is a very good question Brad and well spotted. We have been very lucky with Lifesigns. Nobody has ever refused working with us in terms of the people in the band or the guests we have asked to join us on the records and I would have to say even there, some of the guests didn’t make it onto the records because of the way that we work. We are very finicky about everything that everyone does and if it doesn’t not fit, well we tried. I am very fortunate from that point of view and very grateful to all of the people who have contributed whether you hear them or not. That said, I do think it is interesting. The way we started out because of that past conversation I had in the pub in regards to the Prog world, we felt there wasn’t anything coming through at that particular time. This was probably late 2008, something like that. We didn’t really feel there was too much around that was ground breaking. Well, I did. Somebody said, “Well, if you can do anything better”. To me, that was like waving a red rag at a bull. So off we went, me and Steve and the guys (Nick Beggs obviously at the time) and it was brilliant we managed to put this thing together …. And it “was” Prog. There was no doubt the first album was a Progressive album, but if you look at Jon Poole’s bass guitar when we play live shows, you’ll see it says “destroy all genres” written on it and we kind of agree with that. The elements of writing I have done and have always done, especially with John Wetton include the Big Pop and Classic Rock ballads and the way you approach things. I love the way that the band UK does things. You know, they made incredible music. I do feel that I love all those kind of areas, so I love the big massive bands, whether they are the Journeys, through to the Asias, through to the UK, Brand X, and Bruford. They’re great song writers. It could be Pop … Supertramp … Wonderful! We kind of incorporate all sorts of different things and become what we are from all that. We become Lifesigns. So, I definitely would not say it is a Progressive Rock band and that confuses people. Everyone likes to stick you in a genre these days. I think we have a little bit of everything for everyone. One of the things we notice are the guys that love Prog (obviously Prog is generally a “guys of a certain age” audience), but people will get in touch with us and say “My wife really likes your music, but I am not really sure why.” (Laughs) I think we can appeal across the board. It is very difficult because the avenues are not open. I can’t just get to the media. You can’t just play on the radio. So we don’t really have an avenue to appeal to all the general people throughout the world who would love this kind of music who would have bought it en masse if you look at the 60s, 70s, and 80s. That door is just not open and not just for us, but also for a lot of very talented bands. Even though, in 2008, there was a bit of tumbleweed blowing around. Now there are some really incredible musicians of all ages and talents coming from diverse directions and everyone is finding the same problem. It is very difficult to get into the main stream.

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SFL Music: Altitude has a sound and a feel completely different from its predecessors. John, how would you best describe Altitude along with the overall theme and sound? Are there any particular songs you specifically love on the album? ….. And what meanings do those songs have for you?

John: Altitude …. Yeah, it is a funny one. It kind of built itself. Again, there are elements of both the first and second album I think, and to be honest, “Last One Home” is an old song and so is “Ivory Tower”. So it is interesting how it just all dovetailed perfectly. We actually just stuck the running order together. It was the first thing I wrote down and everyone thought it was great, so it seems that some things are just meant to be. I think with “Altitude”, the actual title track, it was quite interesting because I had written it about the joy of flying. In that first section (the piano section with just the vocal), it was about the beauty of being in the air. As I used channeling to write this, one time while I was in the studio, I thought I need to go for the next bit. So I started writing what would be the next bit for the song and these lyrics arrived and “lit up like a Christmas tree” … “target destroyed” and I just thought “where did that come from?” I suddenly realized what the song was about. It was about a drone and (if you think about it) then the drone coming out of the water and beginning perhaps from a submarine of some kind then heading off to its target. So you just think, “Wow! What a journey!” Then you wonder, “Why would I do this and fly something remotely to go kill people and maybe go across the road and have a burger?” I mean, how do you feel? I even saw that whole scenario in a film not too long ago (which was something I had already written in my head), and it had been done in a film that I knew nothing about. Obviously, it is a huge question and it is quite a deep track in terms of what it covers. I think there is so much more beauty in humanity than is certainly evident at this moment in time. Another song “Gregarious” is a Pop song, no doubt about that, probably doff our caps to Supertramp on that one. I have always loved their work. Moving through, “Ivory Tower” is a song about a break up I had some years ago and the things you learn from it. That was actually the first song that I wrote through “channeling” which is a completely other subject that would have to be discussed. “Shoreline” and “Fortitude”, brand new, absolutely they just flowed. I think it was also the arrival of Zoltán that helped make those two tracks because he has such a wonderful jazzy feel and he has worked with such incredible people. The beauty of the boys is that basically they all work in the parameters of the song. So what we do, rather than highlighting how brilliant everybody is (and believe me they are), is that we use that genius to make the song stronger so the song wins every time. That is the way Lifesigns works and as such, you are listening to really incredible musicians playing brilliantly, but the thing you will focus on probably is the song, the melody, the lyrics and you might not even notice how good what you just heard really is. (Smiles) At least it does that for me when I listen back, like Zoltán’s drum track and Jon’s bass track. I think “Wow! That is so incredible!” And yet, sometimes the song just flows in a very melodic way and people don’t stop to think that it is almost like a swan gliding along the water but you can’t see what his feet are doing. (Laughs)

SFL Music: John, you have the great talent of bringing stellar musicians into your band. The band has indeed changed over the years from its original lineup to the current lineup. Frosty Beedle, Nick Beggs, Niko Tsonev, for example, have moved on to other things. I cannot begin to express enough praise for each of those musicians. None-the-less, each new member replacing each of those artists brings whole new levels of talent to the band. Dave Bainbridge (who replaced Niko Tsonev) is an excellent example with his amazing guitar work on Altitude. The talent and history of every musician that has been a part of Lifesigns would each deserve their own articles. Wow! Absolutely amazing! Do you see the possibility of any of the previous members coming back as guest musicians on future albums?

John: Another good question Brad. Our music has generally been dictated by the availability of the guys that we work with. Where to start? I mean obviously, we did the first album and Nick Beggs was working with Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett so there was no way Nick could tour and we realized we needed to move on and Jon came in and it has kind of been like that with everybody as we have gone along. If they feel they have done enough with Lifesigns and it is time to move on to a new challenge, then that is fine. A lot of it is about what other work we do as our day jobs and we fit around that. We are extremely fortunate. I cannot express that strongly enough. You know, people make time to do what we do so we can do things like touring, and “Cruise to the Edge”, and all of the things that we really enjoy. I have to say it is an absolute joy to play live with the guys and I just look around the stage and marvel at the talent. I think it is the best band I have ever been in and, as you well know, I have been in quite a few. I think it rings true with even my first jazz band. My first proper jazz band was in Liverpool, called England’s National Sport and all the guys from that, we still talk regularly and they love Lifesigns. To me, that’s great. So when you see the people that really enjoy what we do …. I mean Pye Hastings put in Prog Magazine a while back that his favorite UK Prog band was Lifesigns. This is wonderful stuff. (Smiles) Yes, I would agree that each member of the band deserves an interview of their own. I think it is quite incredible. Somebody did a review of Jon Poole recently saying that he is inner channeling Chris Squire and John Entwistle and everything else and funk and you name it. I mean, everyone has got to want to do this and I think we all get something from it. We all enjoy each other’s company and I will often say at the gigs that I think I am the third best keyboard player in the band and it is a bit like Ringo saying that he is not the best drummer in the Beatles. (Laughs)

SFL Music: There have already been phenomenal guest musicians also on your albums such as Steve Hackett (Genesis), Thijs Van Leer (Focus), Robin Boult (Fish), Jakko Jakszyk (King Crimson) to mention but a few. Along with the amazing talent already a part of the band, the guest artists create a true dream team. I already consider Lifesigns to be a super-group and with these incredible guest musicians, wonderful music happens. Who do you have on your wish list John for future guest artists on upcoming albums?

John: As regards our guests, yes I agree, we have been very lucky. We have had some amazing people. I mean just to work with these guys like Steve Hackett … we asked him to play on one track and he played on two because he said he was enjoying it so much. Thijs has been to loads of our gigs. I love his band and he loves our band. What more could you want? It’s just beautiful. Robin is ever present really. All the guys are outstanding. Lynsey Ward on the new album … incredible backing vocals. These people are all such talents. We have been so fortunate to have so many wonderful people to work with us. I don’t really plan as far as thinking “wouldn’t it be great to have so and so?” I am not really somebody who wants to surround himself with things to pick us up …. It’s not about that at all. It’s if we have a gap, then someone comes in. That is the way that we work. Generally, if the band is stable, and everybody is busy working with Lifesigns, there really isn’t any need to bring anyone in. That is why there really was not much in the regards of guest musicians on this last album. If we’re flying, we’re flying and that’s good enough for me. (Smiles)

SFL Music: It has been mind-blowing how many shows and tours you have done over the years. You have most certainly been a very busy man John. The fact that you have been an active part of Bonnie Tyler’s band on top of all that is spectacular too. There is a very cool story about how you became a part of her band. Which of your past shows and tours have had the fondest memories for you?

John: I have been very lucky and I do believe that luck has an important part to play in it. You mentioned about joining the Bonnie Tyler Band. My first proper gig in terms of a world tour was Uli Jon Roth. I remember turning up at a rehearsal place in London, and seeing all these guys from Berkley and thinking that I don’t stand a chance. I went in and he (Roth) said, “Okay, I want you to follow me and I am going to be playing and changing key all the time and I want you to use the correct chord sequences to arrive in my key and as soon as you are back in my key, I will move to another one and you have to find that, etc. etc.. (Laughs) So I did this for about five minutes and to be honest, it was a nightmare …. an absolute nightmare and I got to the end of it and after five minutes, I put my hands in the air and said that I can’t do this. He looked at me and he said to me, “You lasted longer than anybody else.” I asked where the sustain pedal was for the keyboard and he said “You did it without the sustain?” …. and I said yeah, upon which he said “you got the job.” That was it. That was how I started. Pretty similar, in the Bonnie Taylor story you mentioned Brad, there was a lot of great people come to play for this gig. I did not realize it meant touring all over the world for 27 years, which I have been very fortunate to do with some great friends. When I turned up to do that, there was a piece by Jim Steinman called “Faster than the Speed of Night”, which involved very, very fast playing. Well, up to that time, I think it had been sequenced by the keyboard player, but I found that if I played it with one hand, I was going out of time so I used both hands to keep myself in time. I did that to help me. They thought it was me showing off, so that got me the gig. (Laughs) So yeah, there has been a lot of that over the years …. being at the right place at the right time. Also, there was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. There have been lots of bands I have not managed to do because I have been on tour with other people. As far as the Scorpions, I had just met Mr. Schenker on a plane and then I came from that band some years later. It has been an interesting ride for sure.

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SFL Music: Over the past years, you and John Wetton had teamed up for a lot of different projects. Sadly, we lost John Wetton way too soon. What were your fondest thoughts with him? Were they any favorite tours, songs, or albums together?

John: Regarding my experiences with John Wetton, well, I have always been a massive fan. I absolutely loved everything he did whether it was with King Crimson, definitely with UK which was my favorite, and Asia I enjoyed when they came out. That was the time I was actually working in a band called England. About that same time, 90125 by Yes came out. I remember that was the Summer of all this great music coming out and Genesis was really big. What could possibly go wrong? So, there was that. Again, with Asia, I was asked to be in the MTV Band in London which was short lived, and we backed a whole bunch of people ranging from Van Morrison, Nick (Van Eede) from Cutting Crew, and John turned up with Phil Manzanera, and we did a track with them. I am quite shy naturally, strangely enough, and I didn’t say anything to them. It was my big moment, and I did not say anything to them. (Laughs) He (John Wetton) must have seen what I did. I got called the following Monday and he said, “Have you ever heard of a band called Asia?” and I said “Yeah, of course.” So he said, “Well, you start next Monday”. (Smiles) That was it, so off we went. That was great! I remember writing with him. The first thing we ever wrote was “Crime of Passion” on the Battle Lines album. I had this verse and I thought it was really strong. John just came up with a chorus almost immediately and it was perfect for the song. John asked me to write a few things for the Asia tour that we did which also caught on. We did “The Last One Home” with Qango, with Carl, John, and Dave Kilminster. Quite a few things came from that later, the Arkangel album and I co-wrote half of that with John. There was all of that. Obviously, we have to look back and say there were good days and there were bad days. From the good times, I remember turning up for a gig and he was testing his bass pedals with his foot and playing something completely different on the bass, and holding a conversation with one of the road crew all at the same time. I thought, well, if there isn’t a gift in music, then what’s that? (Laughs) It was outrageous! There’s no way! People talk about patting your head and stroking your stomach and he was doing another thing besides that. I have always been rubbish at those kinds of things. John was just so gifted in that world. I mean, he was a man who struggled with his demons, but what immense talent he was given and great people he worked with, and the incredible music that he made. So, I was very fortunate to have been a part of all that.

SFL Music: I know the Pandemic and lockdown has been totally frustrating for all the great bands out there. Shows have been virtually nonexistent. I can only imagine how anxious you have been to get back out to the crowds. Now that things are opening back up again, what shows do you have ahead of you and Lifesigns at this time?

John: So, as far as the future, obviously the Bonnie Tyler dates have been filling up, as are probably Dr. Hook, and the Strawbs for everybody …. so, we will have to see. Steve works with Yes, so they are going to be busy. We are starting to think about doing another album and obviously we have gigs coming up in November, or planned for November. Then we have plans for early next year with Yes coming to Cruise to the Edge and all of that going ahead … fingers crossed. That would be wonderful. I can’t wait to see Jon and Zoltán playing together. I think I am just going to be speechless and forget what I am doing I think when that happens. So, I’m very much looking forward to that. Obviously, none of us are getting any younger, so we have to keep an eye on how everybody’s health is going and that we are not over doing it. The kind of work that we do touring wise is probably meant for younger people. We have to make sure that we can rest and not be working 24 / 7 which is sometimes a danger because you really have to work that hard in order to make any money in this business and to survive. So, it is very difficult surviving at the moment I think for musicians all over the world. It has been so difficult through the Pandemic and so ignored by governments and generally it’s not something that makes the media. I think it is important for music and the arts in general to receive some help because it is so vital for life. What would we do without music? Anyway, enough of that. I do think it’s great we can move forward. The way we built Lifesigns was through Pledging for the albums that we did. The first album was through a record company and we really didn’t like the way that works. With the second album, we started doing crowd funding and that has been amazing. We did Cardington through a thing called Pledge Music which later went horribly wrong because people were just too greedy from that company. A shame, because it was such a good idea. So then we decided to do it ourselves on our website and crowd fund everything. We look at everything in a unique way. We don’t have albums on Spotify. We have samples available for streaming, and that’s it. We have to put the value back into music. At the moment, when you can buy the album “Baby Shark” for the same price as something by Steven Wilson, I don’t think that is such a really good idea. Like when you go to a car showroom, they are not all the same price. So we need to start looking at music in a different way. Record companies I have spoken to are generally looking for things that appeal to four to six year olds. So if we are to have music that will appeal to an older audience that maybe has a little more depth and substance and if we are to find the new Bob Dylans and David Bowies of this world, then we have to look at the way we make this work. We all can’t just be doing the same thing. I think it is important that with Lifesigns, we have established some boundaries and I hope that all people will agree with us that it is important that we should put value back into music.

SFL Music: John, I cannot begin to thank you enough for your time. It has been a true pleasure chatting with you. Is there any final thing you would like to say to all of your dedicated fans (and soon to be new fans) out there?

John: One other thing I would like to say is a huge thank you to our fans and friends …. and believe me, we are all chums. Thank you to all those who have helped us to get this far and thank you for making a difference. I think without your support, we could not have done it. We are truly, truly grateful for those who are there to help in every way, whether it is financially or whether it is just boots on the ground. We spread the word mouth to mouth and that’s the way that it works. I think my dream is (pauses) …. well, there are a few things I would like in my life. The first is that I would like to get played on the BBC. I actually went to see them once at a conference they were doing and I said, “We are number four on the Indie Charts and you won’t play us on your radio station”. The producer I spoke to said he was terribly busy and he passed me over to a nineteen year old temp who had just joined the company in the previous week. We need to get past this in a world full of “isms”. It is very difficult to get the kind of music that we like in front of lots of people. I think that should be stopped. We should be allowed to provide greater access to the general public. Thank you for your time Brad.

Article by Brad Kesner. Thank you to Martin Reijman and Brett Wilde/Lifesigns for the photos.

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