Dave Sinclair in Yuge Island.
Dave Sinclair is one of the most important musicians of “Canterbury Scene”.
He was a member of the legendary band in Canterbury bands Caravan, Matching Mole, and Camel.
As you may know, now he lives in Yuge Island in Japan, which is the small island in Seto Inland Sea...in other words, “Setonaikai”.
I am a fan of Canterbury music, and also a big fan of his music in Japan.
I visited him and interviewed him this spring. He is a very nice and kind person and told me about his recent works, his life and songwriting.
I would like other fans to know about this so I wrote this article. Please excuse my English writing if it’s not always clear.
I hope that all of you will enjoy this article and many more people will come to know about Dave’s music!!
The Recent Days In Yuge Island.
Why did you decide to live in Japan ?
When I was young, maybe 19, I was living in London with Pye Hastings in his sister’s flat while she was abroad. We had no money.
One day, her friend came to stay and brought with him a lot of food. It was all Japanese food such as miso...and so on. So we learned to cook Japanese food.
We soon began to realisethat Japanese food was quite delicious and healthy! So that was my introduction and how I came to be interested in Japan, because of the food.
After that, I read more about Japan and its history. Many years later I went to Japan in January 1979 during a world tour with Camel. I was very excited to go to Japan.
My very first view of Japan was rather special, it was the view of Mt. Fuji from the airplane as we flew over it.
I enjoyed my time in Japan and I thought it was a wonderful country, with wonderful people. We stayed in Japan only 10 days, but I was left with a strong desire to return.
But after that, in England, I got married, had a family and worked very hard for many years to support them in my piano restoration business, while still being active in Caravan.
Later a friend of mine in Japan said he would help to bring Caravan to Japan. So Caravan came to Japan in 2002. The memories all returned and it was wonderful to be there again!
I came back to England and left Caravan in the same year. I decided to record my own album ‘Full Circle’. But it costed so much to make and I spent all my money.
I even sold my very special Bechstain and Stainwey Grand pianos, and my business and marriage were both on the rocks.
Before the album was finished, I came back to Japan to check with the record companies and found that there was a lot of support for my music there.
Everything was coming to close in England. So I decided to move to Japan. It was hard time for me, but slowly everything steadily improved.
So it was initially the food that prompted my interest in Japan.
Then, what is your favorite Japanese food ?
Umm...at first, when I came to Japan, I used to like Umeboshi, Brown Rice and vegetables a lot. Now I like most Japanese food, although I can’t eat meat.
Howdo you like living in YugeIsland ?
I came here first in 2015. My initial feeling for this island was similar in a way to the feeling in Makino *).
The difference is that YugeIsland is surrounded by the sea whereas Makino is by the lake.
In England I used to live by the sea too. The most important discovery in the world ever was salt and fire because they change so much for human beings.
We can cook and eat many more things using salt and fire. So the sea offers such a lot in terms of resources and is very appealing to me.
After I visited this island, I was so inspired I went back to Kyoto and wrote the song “Island of Dreams”. Then I decided to move to this island with my wife Mika the following year 2016.
I often join the events of Yuge. For example, I played at summer festival in 2017 at the shrine which is by the beach. I really enjoyed playing on the stage.
We had big candle lanterns all around the shrine, and a lot of people came there. When I was on the stage and playing, the sun was going down behind me and I could see beautiful colors reflected in the sea in front of me.
It was quite a magical experience! After that, I was approached by some important people to join in other various activities associated with Kamijima Islands.
I was also featured in local and national newspapers as well as being on the radio and appearing in several TV programs. I feltvery honored that so many people liked my music.
I also have a lot of friends on this island and we have many things to do here. Yuge is also famous for cycling and fishing, too.
But last year, I was so busy finishing my new album and promoting it, as well as moving to another house on this island.
*)Makino...The city that is near by “Biwa lake”, the biggest lake in Japan. Dave wrote the song for this area “Makino”.(The view of Setonaikaifrom Yuge Island).
You have been reforming your house after you moved ?
Yes. I love working on old buildings.
When I was young, I worked for a demolition company and helped to restore old buildings.
I changed my house in England several times. I enjoy changing or making things beautiful.
It is the same with writing music. For example, I get some good ideas and put them into a song, then in the following days or weeks I get new ideas and introduce them into the song.
Sometimes this process takes a long time, even 6 months! But taking a long time can be useful because I can build on those ideas.
But spontaneous music can be very good because the feeling is very strong at that moment.
Anyway, building and making beautiful things is similar to composing music for me.
I can get the same satisfaction from both of them especially after completion.
You saw the photo of my house just after movingin didn’t you?
This one? (picked up the photo)
Yes, that was terrible.
The tile, the floor, the ceiling, the walls, everything needed renovation. I had to change so much. But after I finished, I felt a great satisfaction.
It was the same working in my piano shop, I never sprayed finished pianos I always did hand polishing, or ‘French polishing’.
And working on the interior piano action for repairs and regulation was demanding but also very satisfying.
So, there are 3 important things for me, repairing and transforming old buildings and pianos etc, composing music, and appreciating the beauty of my natural environment and the friendliness of the people around me.
I also love being by the sea!
On your website, you say that the experience of piano shop in Herne Bay was a very big influence for you ?
Yes I was there for a total of 25 years.
Learning about piano is very important for me. It’s like a racing car such as F1.
Because the true racing driver has to know everything about the car to maintain and improve its performance.
For me, I want to get a good feedback from the piano so the piano has to work correctly for good music.
In short, because I love playing the piano I wanted to find out more about it.
About Song Writing
I want to ask about your musical inspiration. Your new album “Out Of Sinc” gave me a feeling of nature and the warmth of people in Setonaikai. Is your musical inspiration derived from such elements as nature, people, and so on ?
You are correct. Everything around me such as nature gives me inspiration.
For example, when I made the ‘Stream’ album, I went to Yatsugatake (the name of a mountain) in Nagano in 2007.
My sponsor from Tokyo invited me to his log house there. (in fact we started recording the ‘Stream’ album in his house).
One day we walked higher up the mountain and my friend showed me the source of the stream that flowed down near his house.
We drank the water from the spring that flowed out of the rock face into the stream.
That beautiful area was a great inspiration for my ‘Stream’ album.
Actually, I guess that when I get inspired, it subconsciously affects me in a way that opens my mind to composition.
And of course, I get inspiration from people around me. I wrote 6 songs for Mika.
6 songs! Which songs were written for her?
“Blue Eyes” in ‘Out of Sinc’. This title is derived from the name of the live house in Kyoto.
We had our wedding party there and we sung this song at that time of the full moon on that same evening.
But I changed the lyrics slightly when making the album.
At first, the verse of “All of us here” was “Mika and I”. But I wanted the song to be for everyone so I changed it.
“CrazieBlue” in the same album is also for Mika.
And I have also written 3 songs for her which are unreleased.
These are home recordings. In addition, I also wrote a song for her on my ‘The Little Things’ album called “Made For Us”, in fact it was the first one I wrote for her.
Do you have any plans for releasing them ?
I have quite a few songs recorded at home but not released. The song for my mother, which I recently uploaded on my homepage was also unreleased.
I originally wrote it to celebrate her 90th birthday back in 2014 and wished her all the best for 91.
But five years have passed since then so I changed the lyrics accordingly to all the best for 96!
So yes, one of my projects is to make another “Home Recording” album soon to follow on from my previous ‘Treasure Chest’ album.
Do you often write songs for somebody ?
Yes, for example, I was moved to write a song after visiting Hugh Hopper.
He was very unwell at that time and was unable to recover.
When I went to England I visited him. We had been due to play music together in Japan but he had cancelled his trip because of his illness. So I went to see him.
I was very shocked to see him in that condition. When I came back to Japan I wrote the song “Island” which is on my ‘Stream’ album.
I wrote and recorded another song for all the friends who have passed away in recent years including Richard Coughlan, my cousins Nigel (Blow) and Sue, Pip Pyle and Phil Miller and many others.
The song is called “Absent Friends”.
That song is also unreleased. In addition, the song I wrote for my father called “And When The Sun Sets” is on my ‘Full Circle’ album as the final track.
From time to time, any event that has an emotional impact for me, whether it be the beauty or the destruction in nature or the passing of a friend can prompt me to write a song.
Do you often record your song at home ?
Yes, Home recording is something I can do. My technical skill is a little old style, so I have to prepare a lot when I want to record something.
Now you can use a computer and change your mistakes easily without playing. But in my case, I have to try to play it correctly in the first place and not make a mistake.
But home recording is convinientfor me. Of course if I want to mix and master properly I have to finish up in a studio to make good album, but studios can be expensive.
I don’t have so much money for that. If more people can listen to my music, I can sell more albums. And if I can sell more albums, I can continue to make music.
It’s not only a problem for me, but for many other musicians.
Anyway, home recording is good for my singing as well.
Singing is very important and gives me a good feeling. When I joined Caravan, at first I sung some Caravan’s songs.
But Pye and Richard became the main vocalists and I was just playing keyboards. After I left Caravan, I started singing on ‘Full Circle’ and ‘Into the Sun’ but I wasn’t so confident back then.
After I came to Japan, I enjoyed going to Karaoke. Karaoke is a very popular in Japan! In England, we have to sing in front of many people at a bar or somewhere.
But in Japan, we can sing in an individual room with very little people. So I can enjoy singing and try to improve my vocal.
‘The Little Things’ was a very big turning point for me because I started singing more of my own songs on that album. Before that, I had to think “Who can I ask to sing this song?”
But now I can enjoy singing my own songs, which is great for me.
Please tell me about your instruments that you are mainly using now.
Maybe I have 10 keyboards here in my house and I also have other keyboards in my friend’s house in England.
But I mainly use a Roland 700NX now. I bought it in 2011. It's touch is like a piano and has a good piano sound.
You can also make a good solo sound with it too. Now they made a 800NX. Jan Shelhaas bought one. I went to a Caravan concert last year in England with Mika.
We said Hello to everyone again. I was pleased to hear Jan’s new keyboard. It’s probably a slightly upgraded version of mine, but I like my keyboard.
I really love your beautiful melody. How do you come to create such beautiful melody or songs? What do you think is the most important thing when writing the songs?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I think people writing music don’t really know. It’s a difficult thing to analyse.
Writing music is not scientific, it’s some kind of emotional release I think... I can sometimes get an idea and I have to go to the piano.
Even in the night time, the idea is going thorough my head while I’m sleeping. And song is being written in my head.
Next day, I can go back to the piano and put some more into the song. Slowly bit by bit it comes together.
Paul McCartney also said that it’s just something that happens, sometimes very quickly, and sometimes very slowly.
I also think a really heartfelt songcan be triggered by an emotional experience, like witnessing an amazing natural phenomenon or even a tragic event etc...for the musician, writing about it can be an emotional release.
Sometimes funny things inspire me too. My old friend John Murphy is a really funny guy, and I can also latch into that funny feeling. There is sometimes a chemistry between 2 people. His funny character inspires me.
Because of this we always had a good time. On my ‘Moon Over Man’ album there are some comical songs which John and I worked on together.
By the way, I always wanted to known also as a songwriter, not just a keyboard player! Although people say to me “Oh, I like your keyboard!”.
I think “But how about my songwriting?” While mentioning about songs...I really like some of the better pop songs.
A good pop song can be very difficult to write and produce.(Dave, Mika-san, and me)
Dave about his new album ‘OutOfSinc'.
Please let me know about your new album. I’d like to know more about the musicians you collaborate with in ‘Out Of Sinc’.
There are actually 6 guitarists on this album.
I like guitar and the sound of guitar. Too much keyboard sound can be a bit overwhelming.
By the way, talking about a lot of keyboard, I composed the “Nine Feet Underground” track (Caravan album –‘In the Land of Grey and Pink’) from a number of pieces or riffs that I liked playing solo over.
I put them all together into one big long track.I really enjoyed playing that on stage every night with the band, but looking back now I guess it seems a little bit self-indulgent.
About the guitarists... Billie Bottle. I worked with him on the ‘Stream’ album and the ‘The Little Things’ albums. He’s a clever musician.
Andy Latimer he is a good Blues Guitarist. So I thought the section of “Home Again” would be perfect for his guitar.
John Murphyis a very good and versatile songwriter, guitarist, and bass player. Takuya Yadais a metal guitarist from Kyoto.
His solo in “If I Run” is perfect for that track I think. Doug Boyleplays on “Our World”.
He actually recorded the solo for that song at the same time as the ‘Stream’ recordings around 2008.
But we kept it for many years as I had been waiting to find the right singer for that song. When I rerecorded this song, we could put in his guitar solo.
I was very pleased to be able to use that at last! Pye Hastings is a very good rhythm guitarist and he plays on Blue Eyes.
So there are 6 guitarists, 6 styles and 6 feelings. Drummer is Jim Bashford. I had played with him in England.
He is an excellent jazz drummer but he can also play rock, too. I brought him to Japan and we started recording ‘Out Of Sinc’.
Larry Fujimoto, the bass player, owns and runs the Mothership studio in Kyoto, the studio I used for ‘Out Of Sinc’.
He’s a great bass player and a nice guy. He played bass on every track. He has his own band called ‘CHAINS’. Yammyis the only other singer apart from me.
I was looking for a singer to sing my songs on this album. One day she came to Mothership Studio and people said to me “She is a very good singer!”.
So I went to her concert and I was very stuck with her voice! Her singing is really great! So I asked her to sing on my new album.
Larry introduced me to her. She said “OK.”, so we came together.
I think the cover design of ‘Out Of Sinc’ is really beautiful.
On the front cover is a picture drawn by Vincent De Luzan from France. The whole of the booklet design was lovingly put together by a designer in Tokyo Ayachabin-san.
She worked really hard to understand Vincent’s drawings and make them into something very special. Vincent De Luzan, he was a French guy and a big fan of my music.
One day he came to England to visit me. We were talking in a Café across the road from my piano shop, and he was drawing apicture very quickly while talking.
After a while he said “It’s present for you.”. We became friends and kept in contact.
After that, he wrote many post cards and letters to me. Each letter had a beautiful color picture drawing on the envelop.
He was very good at drawing. One time he sent me an envelope with a picture on the back similar to the ‘Out Of Sinc’ front cover.
It was a rough design but I thought it was very interesting, so I asked him to make a bigger drawing of that image.
He said “Yes, I will.”Maybe one year later he wrote to me saying, “Your picture is finished. When I come to England next summer, I will bring it.”.
But, I heard nothing from him after that and wondered what had happened. (In fact he had been suffering from a terrible illness called Hodgkinson’s disease, and was fighting it for many years.)
At last after a long time his mother wrote to me saying that he had died from this illness in 1992.
Later, after I wrote to her, she sent me the picture he had drawn for me. I had always wanted to use this picture by Vincent for one of my album covers, and so I kept it safely for many years.
At last, I could use it for this new album.These are also other pictures of his in booklet of ‘Out Of Sinc’, some he drew while in his hospital bed with a doctor standing close by.
So they are all quite special for me. One of the pictures on this page seems to be of the Caravan members.
And the picture on the motorbike is of himself (looks like he is on his way to see me with some wine from his family vineyard). His bike was a big and powerful machine!
I wrote atribute to Vincent on my ‘Moon Over Man’ album. His family comes from the South of France where they own and run vineyards.
One time he brought me some very special vintage wine from that vineyard. I kept it for many years and opened it for my 50th birthday.
I made a trip to see his mother maybe 9 years ago while I was visiting Kevin Ayers in the South of France.
These pictures tell me how he loved your songs.
Yes, I think so. If you check my Pledge Music site (I don’t know if this site is still available), in 3 videos I’m talking about his envelopes and pictures.
What do you think is the important album in your music career ?
I think ‘In the Land of Grey and Pink’ might be the most important because of my big involvement with that album.
Apart from “Nine Feet Underground” I also helped to arrange Pye’s and Richard’s songs on that album.
But I didn’t realisethe significance of it back then as nothing happened, no big recognition, or offers of US tours etc.
We also had very little response from our management company.
But looking back, I realise that must have been an important album for me.
And ‘Matching Mole’. When I came to Japan, I found that many people liked progressive rock and were very keen about ‘Matching Mole’.
The album is also well known for the track “O Caroline” which has been covered by many other artists.
So I think it’s also important album for me, though I rarely listen to it nowadays.
But, for most musicians like me, I guess their most recent music must be important because it is fresh and an up to date statement.
For me I think I have reached a career landmark with my new album ‘Out Of Sinc’ which took 5 years to complete.
50 years of my musical knowledge has gone into this album, so it’s a very special album for me!
About Future Plans
Lastly, do you have any plans of next album or tour ?
Actually, I’ve been taking a break recently, although I do have some more projects I’m working on.
I’ve also played in some local concerts and played at some voluntary events.
Both my ‘Out Of Sinc’ and ‘Stream’ albums took 5 years to complete, 10 years in all, and unfortunately I don’t have the time or finance to attempt that type of thing again right now.
So, I’m concentrating more on simple individual projects.
For example, what projects ?
These may include a new “Home Recording” album (similar to my ‘Treasure Chest’ release) and a possible vinyl release of my ‘MoonOver Man’ album from 1976.
I’m also thinking about a “Best Of” album and new recordings of older songs like “The Piano Player”.
About “The Piano Player”...(from my ‘Moon Over Man’ album and Caravan’s ‘The Album’), I wasn’t so keen on the Caravan version as it was recorded more like a ‘live’ version.
In addition, the ‘Moon Over Man’ version was recorded with the other tracks at home back in 1976 on reel to reel tape.
I’ve re-recorded it now and I’m very pleased with it!
I want to make a video of this song and I’m hoping to team up with a good artist for some drawings, or a painter or photographer.
“The Piano Player” has a really good story so I think it’s going to benefit from something visual as well as audio.
I’m now looking for someone to work with on this and I want to put it on YouTube and my homepage so anyone can watch and listen to it in a similar way to my “Disassociation”video.
I’ve also written a school song for children and I’m hoping to work with a school in YugeIsland on that project.
Recently I played for a school graduation ceremony here in YugeIsland, and we sung the Japanese version of “Island of Dreams” (this is my new single release and includes another new song too).
About a tour...I would love to do another tour of some kind not only in Japan but outside Japan too.
I’d like to play in Europe somewhere, maybe Italy, where I seem to have many fans.
I hope this will be possible next year.
But just at the moment I’m still busy restoring my old house here in Yuge.
Interview for dsincs-music.com by Kanyo (29.04.2019).