written by Norman and Mark
At some point in the early 1990's, Norman got the idea that he'd like to put together a full band, playing progressive rock music, so he stuck an advert up in some local music shops. Mark (newly arrived in the North East of England from his native Midlands) answered the advert- leading to a first meeting in late 1992 that culminated in the loss of a £2000 Emax sampler!! Hardly the most auspicious start to a musical partnership, but everybody has to begin somewhere… However, Mark and Norman found that they got on well together, both personally, and creatively, and so the small matter (sic!) of said errant Emax was quickly put to one side in the pursuit of musical excellence (or at least something that didn't sound like the rubbish on the radio).
The next couple of years would prove to be highly frustrating. The attempt to put together a progressive rock band that could, and was prepared to make the time, to play the music that Norman and Mark were writing eventually turned out to be hopeless. Musicians would reveal themselves to be either technically incapable of playing the music, mad, or unable/unwilling to commit to a band. Sometimes they would prove to be a combination of all three, which was not a little unsettling! However, this period was not entirely unfruitful. An complete album's worth of material was written that still sits in the Vietgrove archive as keyboard demos. This music could perhaps be best described as fitting into the heavier end of the 'neo-prog' spectrum. Norman and Mark have often discussed re-visiting this material, though finding the time to do so has proved to be impossible up until the present.
At the end of this period (around about early 1994), Norman asked Mark to help out on a Vietgrove gig he had coming up at the Assembly Rooms in Derby, England. At that time, as has been mentioned previously, Vietgrove was entirely Norman's own affair, with him asking in friends in to help out on an ad hoc basis. However, this gig was so successful (it still remains, to this day, the largest gig Vietgrove have ever done), that it became obvious that bringing Mark in on a full-time basis would bring a new dimension to Vietgrove's music, without diluting its essential flavour. The plans to form a band were abandoned, and Norman and Mark devoted their energies to finishing what would become the 'Orbis Tertius' album- Vietgrove's first cd, released in March 1995.
Most of this album was already recorded by the time of Mark's involvement with it (he only appears on one track, 'On Eniwetok Atoll, playing the guitar solo), but the material was extensively rearranged for live performance by the two of them. There would then follow a two year period of fairly extensive gigging around the UK, trundling up and down the country in a series of dilapidated cars, and (later) hired vans, supporting the likes of Von Daniken, World Turtle, Sphere, Credo, Chris Wright, Paul Ward and David Harvey. The experiences of these gigs (as with any band) oscillated between the magical and the farcical, but they proved invaluable for honing the material on 'Orbis' into great performance pieces, and for developing the new material that Norman and Mark were writing.
By late 1997 it was time to begin work on the new album. In the meantime, Norman had taken the opportunity to purchase a Vestax 8-track digital hard disc recorder. This would prove to be a very wise decision, as it allowed Norman and Mark to massively expand the sound of Vietgrove's music through the addition of lush layers of non-digital/midi instruments to the previously largely electronic sound that Vietgrove had exhibited. As Norman says:
'This on its own made the sound of our record much, much better - previously, we had used a cassette 4-track, with track four dedicated to a synchronisation code, so we only had three tracks to record non-midi parts to. With the 8-track, not only is the basic sound quality much, much better, we'd also find that if we played a really good part, but with one bum note, we could just overdub the bad note, and not record the whole part again, the rerecorded version possibly being note-perfect, but lacking some of the nice "feel" of the not-quite-perfect take. This alone made it worth moving into digital recording. Having 8 tracks instead of three meant that we had the luxury of using various older keyboards and synthesisers more than we had done before, we could work out much more interesting guitar arrangements, not just the lead-and-the-odd-powerchord we'd used before, plus, we could record actual bass guitar parts, rather than use the adequate, but slightly unsatisfactory fake synthesiser bass we'd used before. All much more satisfying to listen to, we think!'
However, the recording of what would eventually be called 'The Little Apocrypha' would prove to take much longer than either Norman or Mark would anticipate. The reasons for this are simple: 'real life' got in the way. Norman and his long-time partner, Jill Robinson, got married and had a son (Little Adam, awwwww….), whilst Mark had decided to re-enter higher education with the intent of pursuing a career in academia (at the time of writing he is in the process of completing his doctoral thesis in International Political Economy for submission in September 2005). This meant that time was at a premium for both of them, coupled with the fact that neither of them are exactly what you might call 'rich'. The album was also completed for a long tome before actually being released in early 2003.
Nevertheless, the results were worth the wait. 'The Little Apocrypha' is a far richer release than its predecessor, in terms of composition, arrangement, and texture. The generous use of analogue keyboards, guitars and real, as opposed to synthesized, bass, create the illusion of a 'real' band at work, as opposed to two blokes sitting in Norman's loft on a Sunday afternoon! The music on 'The Littler Apocrypha' therefore exhibits a real qualitative difference to the Vietgrove music of old. Whilst the synthesizer/electronic aspects of yore remain, they are accompanied by an organic, expressive and 'progressive' element that, whilst one is reluctant to make comparisons, has much in common with the music of Anthony Phillips, Mike Oldfield and Popol Vuh, to name but three.
Since its release 'The little Apocrypha' has made a slow but steady impression on the consciousness of the progressive rock community, and has continued to generate interest and appreciation from progressive rock fans around the world. In particular, the advent of the Internet has proved to be of considerable benefit to Vietgrove, as it has allowed Norman and Mark to establish connections across the globe and, through the medium of Internet radio, expose their music to a much wider audience than would have been possible at the time of the release of 'Orbis Tertius'.
Norman and Mark are now hard at work on the successor to 'The Little Apocrypha'. This will continue to exhibit many of the stylistic conventions established on its predecessor, but will benefit from the fact that both Norman and Mark have considerably expanded and upgraded their arsenal of equipment since 'TLA' was completed . Also, Many of the lessons learnt in terms of production skills from the experience of recording 'TLA' have been taken on board and acted upon. Moreover, both feel that they have improved considerably as players and composers in the ensuing time (both have been involved in outside projects that have been of considerable musical benefit to Vietgrove), and that this can only enhance (and, indeed, has already enhanced), the music currently being recorded.
A sneak preview of what can be expected from the new Vietgrove album (as yet untitled), may be found on a track released as part of the 3-disc compilation 'Awakenings,' entitled 'Saragossa II' in February 2005. The ambient and electronic music collective of the same name, based in Leeds, England, that released this compilation will be hosting Vietgrove's welcome, and long overdue, return to live performance in Leeds in October of 2005. Norman and Mark intend to have their next album completed and released in time for this performance.
Whilst it has by no means always proved an easy journey (when is it for any band that strives to go beyond the ordinary?), both Norman and Mark feel that the difficulties have been more than adequately compensated for by the musical rewards along the way. They continue to develop their music in their own inimitable fashion, ignoring the trends, superficialities and the ever-increasing tendencies towards commodification of mainstream music as 'product' that blight our current epoch. For them, the music is an end in itself, and that represents satisfaction enough. As they are inclined to say when having successfully completed another section of music….'Onwards!'
…and that one word says it all, really…