The following interview is presented at Northern Lights with permission from the author and Opening Out publisher. The interview may not be distributed further either in electronic or printed form without permission from the author, publisher or authors of this web site. Fans interested in receiving the quarterly-printed Opening Out newsletter can obtain further details on how to do so in the Links section of this web site.
Although little has been heard of Jon Camp's adventurous bass playing in recent years, he has been busy playing in various bands and running his own business for musicians. Here he reveals insights into some of the bands he has played with, some great memories of Renaissance and his current plans.
Opening Out: Which bands have you played with since the mid-1980s and have you recorded with any of them?
Jon Camp: I've played with Roy Wood in a band called Helicopters and Robin George; he had a major hit in the States called "Heartline." I also toured with Go West. Robin George and I did an album together called Dangerous Music.
I understand that the band Cathedral was very important to you. How did the band form and how would you describe the music?
Well we're going back to the Robin George situation here. We were using my studio over in Whitchurch in Shropshire for rehearsals and the keyboard player we had became rather ill with hepatitis. This guy turned up called John Young and we just hit it off immediately. We had the same ideas and we both liked Yes and It Bites. Before we knew where we were, we had a band going. He knew two people in Birmingham, Brett Wild and Tony Bodene; that's the guitar player and the drummer. We got ourselves a manager called Steve Weltman and we were off and running; it was a serious band. The music was very progressive but also very melodic. The majority of the stuff we did was singles orientated, but thinking mans singles. It was very classy and we got a very big publishing deal with Warner Brothers, but unfortunately we never managed to get a record deal, although we had enough material for two or three albums.
Were you the main composer in Cathedral, or was the writing shared?
The writing was between myself and John Young. John and I always worked together. When we started off we decided that's the way we were going to do it.
Who did the lead vocals?
I did to start off with and then we worked with Max Bacon who used to be in GTR. We had Max for about a year and a half.
Your bass playing has always been melodic and exciting. Who were your influences and how do you think you came to develop this style of playing?
In one word Chris Squire. What happened was that I had just got married and believe it or not on our honeymoon we happened to drop into a pub where Yes were playing. I saw Chris and I thought, "Wow!" I was a guitar player first of all and I think that's probably where the melodic style came from. It was kind of a transitional period; there was a band that I wanted to play with locally when I lived in London and they wanted a bass player. I was playing guitar at the time. I remember going up Shaftsbury Avenue, which is like the London mecca of music stores, in a taxi cab. I bought a Gibson EBO 3 and a gigantic Vox amplifier and put it all in the cab. A little known fact is that Renaissance toured with Return To Forever for nearly a month and what we used to do is split the headlining each night. I spent a lot of time with Stanley Clarke and he can knock spots off me, but once we were sitting on a plane and he said to me, "I might be faster that you, but I could never be as melodic as you." I thought that was really nice and we had a wonderful time together.
Who do you listen to in the 90s for inspiration?
I tend to listen to things nowadays from a production level and I love Celine Dion. She turns out the most wonderful records. I do like Ash and also Bush, obviously from a very radical viewpoint. I just like the way they put their things together.
You were one of the pioneers of the Rickenbacker Bass sound. What drew you to using this particular bass guitar?
Well we go back to Chris Squire. He was the man. I just saw that guitar and heard the sound. For me the Rickenbacker was the best cross until I started playing Vigier, between the sound of a guitar and a bass. It had the depth but it also had a very strong high end which really appealed to me because I wanted to actually cross that line. I wanted a guitar/bass.
In the late 70s and early 80s you started to use other basses. Did you want a different sound or had the Rickenbacker become limiting?
I never found the Rickenbacker limiting although my ones had a tremendous amount of work done on them. I think the reason that I changed basses and went to a company called Vigier was because Nicky Beggs who was in Kajagoogoo and is a good friend of mine said, "You want to try one of these pal." I did an basically when I started using Vigiers they were right for the way Renaissance were moving musically. Vigier have an onboard computer; you can adapt all the sounds as and when you want and while you're playing. I would never go back to playing anything else apart from Vigiers now.
Some of the Renaissance albums, especially A Song For All Seasons had a very dynamic production (much like a classical album). Did you have a lot of involvement with the engineering and production side of things?
Very much so, yes. I think when we got to the A Song For All Seasons period, we were very aware that we had to make a statement. I think we had a very strong idea of how we wanted things to sound before we went in the studio. It was a big album and it cost us a fortune, but I think we felt it was the time that the band had to make a statement. We had built up and made our mark, but I think A Song For All Seasons was something that, to me, was a very special album.
Both Camera Camera and Time-Line had a different, fresher sounding production. Was the intention to sound radically different from the previous albums both in sound and direction?
I think that was really down to me. I felt at that point in time that we should possibly go slightly more commercial. We were always trying to recapture "Northern Lights" and that was maybe our way of going about it because I think the band actually deserved more media exposure than it actually got. Some people think they're great and some people hate them. I mean it was a radical change. I think we all enjoyed those albums; they might not have been us, but maybe it was like our alter-egos coming out.
The backing vocals that you and Mike did were very effective against what Annie was singing and the harmonies on the verses of "Things I Don't Understand" were unusual. How did this approach to vocals come about?
We were all into opera. I still am and my record collection covers a very broad spectrum. I think we always wanted to be operatic in a way. You've got to understand that every aspect of our career, we all sat down and talked about. I was always for radical change. I mean imagine turning round to your manager and saying, "Excuse me, we want an orchestra." But that's what we did. I think we always tried to be very radical in our approach and I think we succeeded. The Americans loved it. I just wish we could have been more successful in Britain.
It is interesting that America took Renaissance to their hearts, more so than England. Why do you think this happened?
When we went to America for the first time, we had no equipment. All we had taken was our guitars. Miles Copeland, who was our manager then, picked us up at the airport. He had $5000 from Warner Bros in his pocket. We went down to Manny's music store and bought the place out. We were on stage in an hour and a half. We basically walked on stage and that was it. It was like here we are, we've arrived and it was a magical night.
Did you play the west coast much? I know you were successful in the east.
Oh yes we played all over. In fact for us there was always little pockets of interest. I think the most difficult place for us was the mid-west, because they're very much into their rock there. I think we might have been a little bit too light. But yes, we did rather well, especially in San Francisco.
To most Renaissance fans little has been heard of you for some time. Could you fill us in on what you have been doing? For example, I understand you have your own studio equipment company.
That's right. I'm very much into studio production. I have my own studio at my house and I've found there's a lot of people out there that want to buy something and are not quite sure what it is. I've got very much into technology and I think I understand the majority of the new equipment that's out at the moment. People come to me for kind of a personalised service. It's very much a case of somebody phones me up and says, "Look, I want one of these, what do you think?" So I ask, "What do you want it to do?" I still go down and do the music fairs and exhibitions for a company called TC Electronics who are from Denmark. Their stuff is just incredible. You've got 64 seconds of sampling and you can upgrade it. So I can be playing one bass part while I've got another one going behind me which was very useful for Go West.
Have you ever felt tempted to make a solo album? I'm sure it would be welcomed by Renaissance fans across the world.
I'm actually in discussions with somebody about this. It's written and hopefully when it comes together, one side is going to be instrumental and the other side vocal. The vocal side will be very much in the mould of "Kindness (At The End)."
What is your favourite Renaissance album and why?
I think I would have to say A Song For All Seasons, purely because of the majesty of it. We had orchestras floating around and Tristan Fry, who was in Sky, was our percussionist and he was actually in the hallway because we couldn't fit him in the studio. I remember sitting in the control room and I was looking at Micky and he looked at me and he said, "What are we doing here?" You just looked down and it was a sea of faces, all of these session musicians. All of a sudden we said, "OK, fire it up" and off they went. We wrote a lot of the parts ourselves.
What do you think about the renewed interest in Renaissance?
I think it's wonderful and I think it's long overdue. I do think it's rather unfortunate that we're not still together as a band. But I do actually believe that the band deserves the renewed interest. I think it's always been very special to all of us and it's nice that people still want to hear your stuff. I mean it is different. It's a very special kind of person that listens to Renaissance. It's not your every day music, is it? I would like to think that we have a very intellectual kind of person that needs our music. I just think it would be interesting to do it again.
Could you tell us your immediate plans for the future?
Well I've actually got a band together and it looks like a major record company are gonna pick us up. We have a female saxophone player and I've got a wonderful new vocalist. We will be going out live, of that there is no doubt. It is classically orientated, but it's also very commercial. The management company I'm with now won't let us do anything unless it's major. It won't be one of those kind of things where we start working around the clubs. They just basically want to launch it in venues like the local Apollo in Manchester.