JOHN BARHAM: Producer to the stars - and Quintessence
Accomplished composer, arranger-producer, pianist
John Barham has extensive credits in creating the highest quality music for
stage and screen, corporate clients (including IBM), as well as rock and world
In addition to film scores for Otto Preminger, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jonathan Miller and Joe Massot, Barham collaborated on eight projects
with George Harrison (including the ex-Beatleís breakout solo album All Things Must Pass), as well as with John Lennon, Roger Daltrey, Elton John, Andrť Previn and Yehudi Menuhin. He also scored one of the final projects of Katharine Hepburn.
Credited by sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar in his 1997 autobiography Raga Mala as ďa brilliant young pianistĒ responsible for transcribing the Western notation for the historic collaboration between Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin, the GRAMMY award-winning West Meets East.
A pioneer in the increasingly popular genre of world music, Barham studied at the Royal College of Music and tutored Schenkerian Analysis at Trinity College of Music, London.
John Barham's website can be found here: www.inscribemusic.com/team/team_johnbarham.htm
In the course of an email correspondence between
Mr Barham and Rudra, John agreed to an email interview for this website and
answered some questions concerning his work with Quintessence. Our heartfelt
thanks go out to John for his cooperation. Read the interview below.
10 Questions about John Barham's work with Quintessence (2009)
1 - How and when did you come in contact with the band and who decided you should be the producer of the first LP? Were you happy with the results? Any memories from the sessions?
JB: When I first met members of Q, I was introduced to them by their manager Stanley Barr, who I had met thru an American girlfriend art student. Stanley and I had done some work together writing songs. Iím not sure who decided to engage me as record producer and arranger. My impression was that Raja Ram was most active in making policy decisions for the band. I did feel welcomed to work with Q by all of them. My strongest memory from the first recording sessions are from the day when I ate some of Naradaís hash cookie which he regularly offered everybody in the band. I think that on that occasion Narada had forgotten to stir up the ingredients sufficiently evenly and the piece that I ate had an enormous piece of hash in it. I wasnít new to smoking or eating hash but I had never before consumed so much in such a short space of time and consequently I was truly spaced out in the studio. I stopped the session and Raja Ram drove me back to his place and made many cups of coffee for me. After coming back to earth I returned to the studio and continued where I had left off. I also remember that on my way out of the studio Jake, who was making a phone call, suddenly slid to the floor and didnít get up, so I guess he had also bitten off more than he could chew.
2 - Having been involved with the Beatles, what did you initially think of the musicians in Quintessence, their compositions and the way they played? Did you spend time with them, or were you just working together in the studio?
JB: I was initially very impressed by Raja Ramís jazz influenced flute playing and Shivaís powerfull and creative singing. I found Shambuís bass playing very mellow and melodic, and Maha Devís rhythm guitar playing very intense and focused and Jakeís drumming very adaptable and supportive of everybody in the band. I thought Allan was a good guitar soloist and in the short time that I worked with Q I saw him develop at a fast rate. Their compositions were more improvisatory than any of the songs that I had previously worked as an arranger, so this was a new challenge for me. I spent most time with their manager Stanley. We did have frequent rehearsals in the homes of band members before recording and it was on these occasions that I got to know them personally rather than just professionally.
Allan, JB and Stanley Barr (1969)
3 - Without your input as producer the music would have been less attractive. You arranged most of the Indian sounding songs such as 'High on Mt Kailash' or 'Sri Ram Chant'. Was this something that came easy to you and the band?
JB: I felt from the beginning that Q
had their own sound and style and also that improvisation was an essential
element of their style. In live performances they were very in tune with their
audiences and would stretch out on songs when they could feel the audienceís
enthusiasm. As their record producer-arranger I was concerned with compressing
their performances so that the musically strongest elements would be the basis
of the recorded song structure. I think that in general I saw my role as record
producer as needing to be objective in a way that balanced the bandís subjective
approach to live performance.
4 - Why did you not produce the albums after the Island trilogy? Did the band want someone else? Did you notice some problems then?
JB: On the third album there was a decision to use one of their studio recording engineers as a producer. As far as I remember this wasnít very successful and I was asked by Q to come back to work with them again as producer. I think that the band members of Q, like any group of people that have worked very closely with each other for a few years, were beginning to develop their own individual artistic concepts of where they thought the band could or should be going. [The same thing happened to the Beatles and they replaced George Martin with Phil Spector.] I do remember that I had to struggle with almost everybody involved to include one of Alanís outstanding lead guitar solos that was recorded at a live gig in St.Pancras. Finally when I got my way, the solo was edited into a studio performance. The fact that I felt initial resistance to my idea made me feel that the previous rapport between all of us was not there anymore. As George Harrison would have said: ďAll things must passĒ.
JB at the time of 'Dive Deep' (1971)
5 - When Shiva was sacked in 1972, you worked with him on his solo album KALA - any memories of the recording sessions (cello arrangements on 'Meditations'...)?
JB: At the time I donít think that I was aware that he had been sacked, or why. I seem to remember clashing with Shivaís lead guitar player, but I canít remember why.
6 - Were you also involved with the spiritual side of things (Vedanta, Ramakrishna, Hare Krishna) and did you know Swami Ambikananda? Was George Harrison aware of your work with Quintessence?
JB: I didnít attend any spiritual rituals or activities with Q. I did know Swami Ambikananda and I remember him very well as he was a quiet but very strong personality who was often present during rehearsals and recordings. I played George Harrison some Q tracks and he was very complimentary of Raja Ramís flute playing.
Shiva and Swami Ambikananda (1969)
7 - I know and still own your Piano/Indian Music album 'Jugalbandi' with sarod master Ustad Aashish Khan - any chance this is out on CD one day? Have you recorded more music like this that is available?
JB: There arenít any plans as far as I know to release 'Jugalbandi' on CD. I am still in contact with Ustad Aashish Khan who is now an old friend.
I havenít composed any more music like that, although I still do compose regularly, but in a more Western style.
The Jugalbandi album (Elektra 1973)
8 - You are still actively involved in music today. Can you tell us a little bit about your present activities?
JB: Currently I am arranging some songs for Shonu an English born Indian song-writer and singer. The producer is composer and guitarist David Bradnum.
9 - What has changed in the making of music these days, compared to the 70s? Are you looking back with fondness, or is the psychedelic past best forgotten? Quintessence seem to be a forgotten band.
JB: The big changes have been the increasing use of click tracks, drum machines and synths and Digital Recording which makes it very easy to alter out of tune and out of time playing and singing. Recordings in general have become more artificial, which gives more power to producers and engineers.
I do look back with fondness to that period, although the psychedelic part never interested me very much, and I do miss the friends and colleagues who are no longer with us.
10 - Are you still in contact with anyone from the Quintessence days and do you still play their records now and again?
JB; About twenty or so years ago I met Raja Ram frequently for blowing sessions - flute and piano. Apart from that I havenít seen Q members for many years. Recently I bought all of their CDs that I could find. Iím glad that there are more coming out.
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