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He was the keyboard player with IQ and helped define a symphonic progressive rock sound through the musically barren 80's. And even though he's left the band for uncharted waters he remains a man with a view or two. Always interesting, sometimes controversial and never boring, here is my conversation with Martin Orford.

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Jerry Lucky: When you think back to the early eighties and the formation of The Lens and IQ…what are the thoughts, images and feelings that come to mind?

 

Martin Orford: Well, it was all a very long time ago and time has dimmed the memory somewhat. I wasn't there at the very start of The Lens, but I remember it was a very diverse group of people, and you didn't actually need to play an instrument to be a member. I suppose we were the archetypal bunch of hippies; very idealistic and naive, but sadly not very well organised. With IQ there was a lot more structure there from the start, though we did nearly get sidetracked into being a Talking Heads-style funk band at one point because we had a couple of tracks in that style which were going down well.

 

JL: I had the opportunity to see IQ perform at the Marquee club, the night your first album was released…Fall of 1983 if memory serves…I remember you had the sleeves but the vinyl hadn’t arrived so I went home with an empty jacket and you sent the disc later. It was an interesting evening I remember there being more girls present than I expected and I really loved the home-made-craft approach to music promotion. A lot’s changed since then?

 

MO: Oh it was always home-made, and it still is. Apart from a brief (and rather unsatisfactory) stint with Polygram, we always did it all ourselves, though at least things have moved on a bit from running cassettes off one by one at home. You're right; we did always get a few girls along to IQ gigs, but not in such numbers as Jadis who seemed to be the first choice with the ladies. Probably why I ended up joining them.

 

JL: I get all kinds of emails from bands starting out looking for help and information. Is it any easier now?

 

MO: No, it's virtually impossible now. Sure, the Internet can get your music heard (although there's so much out there, heaven knows how anyone would ever find it), but no-one's buying, so there's no finance to sustain bands. When IQ started out, we sold our own albums at gigs and by mail order and that enabled us to eventually buy a van, lights, gear etc., but that's not possible anymore. I would say that unless your parents are rich and prepared to give you lots of their money, it would not be possible to build up a band and become more or less self-sufficient in the way that we did in the early 80s.

 

JL: You performed with a number of bands and artists besides IQ…Jadis comes to mind…was that something you pursued or did those bands come looking for you?

 

MO: I've known the Jadis guys for almost as long as I can remember, because they came from the Southampton area too. They used to come to see The Lens play, and their original drummer Mark Ridout was in the first incarnation of IQ as well, thereby starting a tradition of cross-pollination between the two bands. I think I played on one of the first ever Jadis demo tapes, so although I wasn't a member at the time, I was there or thereabouts from the start.

 

JL: You’d been with IQ for over two-decades…that’s a long time…so tell me what prompted you to leave?

 

MO: I was getting bored with it all after 26 years; it just seemed like the same old circuit of the same gig venues every year, and the continuous cycle of finishing one album and immediately starting work on another one, whether anyone felt like doing it or not. It didn't seem to be going anywhere, and it seemed to involve an increasing amount of work just to "tread water" and keep the band at the same level. The collective writing thing got me down too, and I grew tired of bringing in perfectly formed songs and then having them pulled apart by the band and re-arranged into something considerably less successful than my original versions. I was brought up with classical music written by individual composers, so the idea of five people writing together just seems completely weird and entirely unsatisfactory to me.

 

But leaving IQ was really just the start of a process to disentangle myself from music and the music business, because once I started to understand what the Internet was capable of, I could see that it would soon be all over for working musicians and touring bands.

 

 

JL: The liner notes of The Old Road contain some rather…shall we say controversial…words. Your comment about the disc not being a “progressive rock” album…I took that to be a shot at your critics who seem to have some difficulty accepting certain modern symphonic prog styles?

 

MO: I absolutely thrive on controversy, and I like to deal in uncomfortable truths and topics and views that are challenging and thought-provoking. I can't see the point in just going through your life rubbing along nondescriptly with everyone and never straying from the consensus view of things.

 

Regarding the labelling of The Old Road as not being "progressive" in the literal sense, I suppose I was anticipating what the critics would say, and getting in first in order to derail their arguments. If you're branded as a "progressive rock" artist (whether you want to be or not), there are always some people who expect you to be pushing back the boundaries of music and being experimental. I wanted to make it plain from the start that I had no intention of doing that on this album, and if anything I wanted it to sound intentionally old-fashioned.

 

JL: I have a friend who took exception to your questioning of multiculturalism…wondering if that was meant as a racist comment? I disagreed with him and we talked at length about Canada’s questionable ‘political policy’ of multiculturalism versus any kind of honest mixing of cultures. Could you shed a little light on that?

 

MO: I'm delighted that your friend "took exception" - it's always good to get people thinking about and discussing "difficult" issues, instead of wrapping them in a blanket of Political Correctness. But unless I'm much mistaken, the Manifesto for Multiculturalism goes something like this:

 

We want cheap labour, so we'll bring in people from all over the place to do all the shitty jobs for very little money. You will be required to unconditionally like and respect them and to celebrate their diverse cultures and religions; otherwise we will introduce strict laws to force you to do so. It is an absolute truth that Multiculturalism is a GOOD THING, and opposition to it, or any arguments or even discussions about its merits will not be tolerated. And if you dare to suggest that the most likely outcome of our little social engineering experiment is that our community of lovely culturally and religiously diverse people will start attacking each other with guns and knives, we will brand you a vile racist.

 

Yeah, whatever....

 

JL: You don’t have much apprehension voicing your disdain for certain technology…websites and such…are you worried about being called a Luddite?

 

MO: I'm most definitely a Luddite, because what's happening to music is most definitely not progress. I truly despise the Internet because it's totally destroyed my career, and the clamour for "free music" has become so great that defending the rights and copyrights of musicians (which I have always tried to do for all the bands on my label) is now seen as a totally outdated concept. I used to get on really well with music fans, but the Internet has turned some of them into something really quite unpleasant, and many now seem to behave like a bunch of wild dogs guarding a piece of meat if you dare to challenge their "right" to free music. I think after about the second or third death threat (all from people hiding behind false names, whose blog or P2P sites I'd reported for infringing my copyright), I reached the conclusion that what music was being forced into was a place that I really do not want to be. The Internet bullies think they run the show now, and they probably do, but I'm certainly not going to submit to being an "entertainment slave" for them. I do think it's a shame because the Internet initially looked like it might be quite a useful tool with which to promote and sell music, but as soon as it offered the possibility to give music away without the artist or record company's permission, it became a crushingly negative influence.

 

Back-catalogue sales on our label have fallen by around 80% in the last three or four years, and the music business is in meltdown with seemingly another major distributor or shop chain going to the wall every week. Legal downloads are not the answer either; we offered the full package through I-Tunes, Napster and all the other big providers via our UK distributors Pinnacle. But Pinnacle too went out of business just before Christmas - digital sales were not enough to save them from oblivion against the tide of illegal downloading exacerbated by the credit crunch. Many of the 350 independent specialist labels they distributed (which were the lifeblood of all the "interesting" music in the UK) face a very uncertain future and some have gone out of business already. If this is progress then I can be very comfortable with being a Luddite.

 

JL: You left IQ on a high-mote with the release of The Old Road. It certainly doesn’t sound like a disc from a man who’d used up all his musical ideas. Will we be hearing more from Martin Orford?

 

MO: No I haven't used up anything like all of my musical ideas, and I'm probably at the peak of my musical abilities and creativity right now. But I won't be making any more albums, because I just can't see the point in it anymore. As soon as you release something, the Internet freeloaders just help themselves and it's impossible to break-even financially on a project now. I've got better things to do with my life than to waste the next three or four years making free music for a bunch of people I don't like.

 

JL: If you could change a few things about the current state of music and perhaps specifically the progressive rock scene, what would you suggest?

 

MO: Short of finding a way to completely f*ck up the Internet, there is nothing I can suggest. We're all screwed.

 

JL: Dare I ask my Desert Island Disc question…if you were stuck on a desert island…what five discs would you like to have with you and why those ones?

 

MO: I think I'd prefer the peace and quiet actually. Can I swap those discs for a case of tinned tomatoes instead?

 

JL: Thanks so much for your time Martin…and I do wish you all the best in your future endeavours.