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Gonzo Latest News: CLEARLIGHT

Date Published: 25th January 1998


Clearlight Symphony is one of those exquisite records that somehow slipped through the gaps of public consciousness at the time. But now its back, and you have the chance to revel in a warm bath of psychedelic weirdness. CYRILLE VERDEAUX, native of France, was born July 31, 1949 in Paris. In 1963 at the age of 14, he entered the prestigious French National Conservatory of Music in Paris studying composition, harmony, and piano. From 1966 to 1968 he won first place in student composition three successive times. During the student uprisings of 1968 he was dismissed from the Conservatory for his revolutionary activities. He then attended the Nice Conservatory earning a Masters diploma, returning to Paris to form the band Babylone with guitarist Christian Boule.

In 1975 Virgin Records released the first album of Cyrille Verdeaux compositions titled CLEARLIGHT SYMPHONY. Clearlight became the first French progressive rock band signed to a major British record label. Gathering accolades for its unique compositions and keyboard stylings, the music spanned from classical romanticism to lush experimentation. Primarily psychedelic, but also serving as a forerunner of new age music, the album's musical style manages to blend seemingly contrary elements: the symphonic rock concept is flexible enough to permit extensive jamming in both rock and jazz fusion styles.Clearlight Symphony does not officially have an artist name, but is now regarded as the first album by Clearlight who adopted the name later that year, after briefly using the name Delired Cameleon Family. Side one features group member Cyrille Verdeaux and three members of Gong; side two features the group that would become Delired Cameleon Family (Clearlight). Neither group is explicitly named as the artist.

The album was recorded for Virgin Records in 1973 (and probably completed in 1974), after the label's first and highly successful release, Tubular Bells (1973) by Mike Oldfield, and was one of several subsequent Virgin albums that attempted to copy Tubular Bells' format of long pieces in a symphonic progressive rock style; in this case, exactly copying its structure of two pieces titled "part one" and "part two". Since the title Tubular Bells was initially better known to the general public than the name of its artist, Virgin Records decided that Clearlight Symphony would be a one-off album project with a title, but no artist name.

Recording was initiated with a session in which Cyrille Verdeaux, alone, played two 20 minute piano solos, which became the basic tracks for the entire album. In later recording sessions at David Vorhaus' Kaleidophon studio (side one) and the Manor (side two), Verdeaux and other musicians overdubbed more instruments onto the piano solo to create a complex arrangement. When recording was completed, one piece was performed by Verdeaux and members of Gong, and the other by members of the group that would become Delired Cameleon Family (and later, Clearlight), although neither group is explicitly credited.

Clearlight's remarkable music is being released again through Gonzo, and therefore to mark this momentous occasion, we emailed Cyrille to ask him about his memories of that first Clearlight recording.
 
1. Can you tell me a bit about your memories of making it..
 
Oh yeah...it is still fresh in my memory in spite of this 40-year-old adventure. The Clearlight Symphony is the first composition I had ever done. It came one night, summer 1973. It was full moon, I was alone in the house and I started to improvise on my piano without any precise idea. I had a revox at this time, so I pushed the record button before to start playing, and that was a good idea because a couple hours later, I had on tape most of what became my first album and the best seller so far. Without the recording, it would have been lost, I never remember my improvisations unless I record it and learn it by heart.

I didn't change my way of doing music since then. To favour the "here and now" moment is the trademark of my Clearlight music (among others, of course).

So I rarely write music down, except when a soloist needs some guidance and some chord charts...But I personally improvise, record and then learn by heart all the notes of the parts.
So with the recording tape of the solo piano part of the C S, I sent it to some French label A & Rs, but the format was basically 2 pieces of 20 minutes non-stop each, as was Tubular Bells a year before, and yet they were not interested because no radios would play this music. After 6 months of failures, a friend, Jean Pierre Lentin (RIP) suggested that I present my work at Virgin, the label having released Tubular Bells and gave me the address of Tim Blake's squat in London, because GONG had just signed a contract with Virgin and JP thought that Tim could introduce me to Branson.

I followed his advice, took the boat with my tape of piano, knocked at Tim's door in London and a few days later, I was in Virgin's office, in Black Lion yard.

They listened to the 10 first minutes of the tape, were not afraid of the length and decided to sign me, with Tim being the sound producer to help me because I was totally ignorant of what was happening in a 16 tracks recording studio!

Fortunately, I am a fast learner  concerning music and with Tim's help I could recreate a bit of what I was hearing in my head; the symphonic parts. Pre-programmed synthesizers didn't really exist at this time; there were some prototypes here and there and Tim was one of the happy few having one, a Synthi with beautiful effects, but I had no idea how it was working, so I decided to take the mellotron option to recreate the symphonic background, and I used all the possible programs that Mellotron was offering at the time.

It is quite tricky to play mellotron, because after 6 seconds exactly, the tape arrives at the end of its length and produces a loud  "CLAC", so I had to remember for each finger playing to release the note before 6 seconds and at first it was quite a disaster, but as I say I am a fast learner, so I ended with what I wanted without any CLAC...
 
2. What are your memories of working at the famous Manor Studio?
 
I did it on two different occasions. The first time, the Manor studio was booked for only one afternoon to record the acoustic piano part and I was putting all the electric instruments at David Vorhaus studio, called "White Noise studio" because I had a little budget for my first musical work.

But the problem was that I was playing alone my acoustic piano first part and as an ignorant beginner, I didn't ask to play with a click track. With the click, it is easy to record the drums, bass and other rhythmic instruments after. But without it, it is way less evident, because my rhythm was fluctuating, as it happens in the classical music. But when Pipe Pyle, (the drummer hired for the occasion along with other GONG members) tried to put drum on it, my tempo was too irregular and changing to be able to have Pipe record anything professional...

So we kept the part with the Manor's piano that didn't need drums and bass; the parts where Hillage, Blake and Malherbe played on. But half of it wasn't really usable. Fortunately, Virgin gave me a second chance.

Back to Paris, I asked to some French friends, Christian Boule (guitar) and Gilbert Artman (drums) to help me to record all the parts that needed drums and we worked together for a few weeks, having understood my first mistake.  When we were ready, we went to the Manor for a couple of days and recorded all the side A; the side B being devoted to Gong's musicians, Steve Hillage, Didier Malherbe amd Tim Blake.

The daily life at the Manor was luxurious, and the breakfasts awesome. I loved every second of it and could have lived there for the rest of my life!

I also came back there to record my 2nd album, Forever Blowing Bubbles, with all my crew. We were 4 musicians this time, Joel Dugrenot, Christian Boule, Jean Claude d'Agostini, all French plus a Greek drummer, Chris Stapinopoulos, and the 3 women of the French musicians were pregnant, approximatively 5 months each...Something must be in the air 5 months before for Clearlight musicians, I don't know...But it gave us a strange reputation for this reason, lol
 
3. What were the 'Revolutionary activities' that got you dismissed from the National Conservatory of Music in 1968?
 
Oh, they were very basic. I was a member of the committee linking all the Universities together and I was delivering speeches of freedom through the megaphone. But this instrument was not part of the classes, so I didn't get my first degree for that but got dismissed instead. No problemo!

I went to Nice, where my uncle Pierre Cochereau was director of the Conservatoire de Musique, to continue my musical studies there for few more years, and I don't regret it a bit. Nice was a wonderful little city to spend my years as student. The campus was gorgeous, the climate perfect, and I was living with my first love. A very happy segment of my life, thanks to May 68's sequelles!
 
4. How much of Clearlight Symphony was written before you went into the studio?
 
Not a single one. I usually don't write music. I only do for other musicians, when I see they are not very inspired by themselves.  It's rare but it can happen. Then I write a part so that I am sure to hear something coherent with the piece.
 
I wrote enough at the conservatoire for years, I guess, and in the written music there are so many magnificent masterpieces, it was difficult for me to even dream of matching these genius, Bach, Liszt, Chopin. Rachmaninoff, etc.
 
From day one, I wanted to do something that didn't exist yet. This is why I didn't become a classic pianist, so to speak. I had the call to explore the opposite side : the HERE and NOW dimension coming from my mind, probably due to my way of life at this time, mostly oriental.

The method I use to get my music is always the same since day 1 : I meditate a bit, load myself with energy through breathing exercises, then I improvise on an acoustic piano mostly and I record it. After, I listen to it (I usually don't remember a note, being in an other time and space when I play) and I begin to put it into its final form and when it is done, I learn it by heart and record it with all the other sounds of instruments that come into my head. This is how my first album CLEARLIGHT SYMPHONY came to life and released by Virgin Records in 1974. My new album, Impressionist Symphony, has been created to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my first album. And I hope to be here to celebrate the 50th also.
 
5. Why did it originally come out with no artist's name? Was that something with which you agreed?
 
In fact, I took the decision to take the name of a band mainly to imitate the others, I guess, likeGenesis, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Gong, Magma... And since I was at the time deep into the buddhist philosophy, I liked the pseudonym of Clearlight to honour Timothy Leary's teachings that were interesting me a great deal.
 
7. How long was the band together before you recorded the album?
 
It was difficult to call it a band...Gong musicians improvised and recorded everything in one day. For the other side, I spent one week with the musicians, but they were not part of my band, having their own bands to take care. With Forever Blowing Bubbles, I got a real band for a while...

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