An Interview With Terry Sullivan

David Owen, Opening Out

January 2002

HTML Coding: Russ Elliot
Last Updated: 24 April 2002

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.


I am pleased and happy to say that Terry Sullivan had agreed to do this interview in person rather than by phone, and so it was on a Sunday afternoon in mid-November that I answered my front door to Terry and his wife Christine. In the midst of a very pleasant afternoon, what ensued was a very revealing interview where Terry covered in detail subjects such as the Renaissance reunion, his involvement in soundtrack music and his forthcoming album. I also had the privilege of listening to some of his new songs and have tried to convey some idea of what they are like. At times this interview was more like a friendly chat than the usual process of questions and answers and as a result reveals more about the character of the drummer/composer of Renaissance.

Opening Out: Since we did the last interview a great deal has happened. How do you feel about the events of the past few years?

Terry Sullivan: Well Iím really pleased with the way Renaissance is progressing. Weíve toured Japan and the album is released in England now and weíre looking forward to touring England next spring. Also Europe is on the cards and possibly America. So weíre looking forward to that very much and doing a new album which we hope weíll be able to do next year sometime.

O/O: Will the new album have the same line up as the live line up of the band?

TS: I think so yes, definitely Rave and hopefully Dave Keyes and Mickey Simmonds obviously.

O/O: How much creative input did you have on Tuscany?

TS: Not very much. I was recording my own album with John Tout and Annie and Mike phoned us up and said were we interested in doing a Renaissance album? And we said yes, but the songs were already written and ready. We had two weeks rehearsal before we went into the studio. Basically I was sitting there as a drummer just letting them learn the songs and not putting everything I had into those particular rehearsals. So just bits and pieces maybe stops and starts but nothing really creative. All the songs were written by Mike and Annie.

O/O: Did you have control over the actual drum parts? No one told you what they wanted you to play?

TS: No one told me what to play on any of the songs apart from "The Race." On "The Race," Mike came in with a demo he had made with a drum machine on it which was a really stark 4/4 rhythm. He thought it would sound better to be a relentless beat all the way through without many breaks, and so thatís what I did. I just mimicked the hi-hat part, which is harder than it sounds actually because when you play a drum machine part it hasnít got the human element, the human feel or the human swing and so itís pretty difficult. In fact I did that in two parts, I just played the hi-hat first of all and played the bass and snare afterwards to get a really machine type sound.

O/O: As you did in the 70ís, you are still playing various percussion instruments other than drum kit. What inspires you to search out these different sounds?

TS: Well originally we were trying in our own way to mimic an orchestra. When I joined the band I was only playing drums on "Prologue." Iím not doing very much percussion at all, apart from Latin percussion and tambourines. But later on when we were trying to mimic the orchestral sound I became interested in Timpani and tuned percussion, Glockenspiel and Vibraphones and I guess I see percussion more as a melodic input to music than just a backing type input. I love world music so I listen to all those sort of things. I donít know what inspires me to be honest with you now, but Iím just inspired to do it.

O/O: Which are your favourite songs on Tuscany?

TS: "Lady from Tuscany" and "Evaís Pond."

O/O: But you donít play on that one.

TS: I know, I think Annie sounds fantastic on that one and itís a beautiful song, and I think it fits great on a Renaissance album. I also like "1000 Roses," they are my favourites.

O/O: One of my favourites is "Dear Landseer" which has a great feel to it. Did it take a lot of preparation to put your parts together for that song?

TS: I remember that it was one of the first we rehearsed. Roy Wood came down and we were rehearsing in the studio and I think it took us about a day to put the song together. It wasnít that difficult to put the parts together, Roy Wood just looked at me and said "I think we might have a jazzy feel in this," and I said "I think youíre right" and we just did it and just played the parts.

O/O: The instrumental section has got one of those great Renaissance crescendos, which hasnít been heard since the 70ís. Whose idea was it do that part?

TS: I think it was John Tout who led us through that to the crescendo. I canít be sure, as itís a bit of a haze.

O/O: As there wasnít a lot of time to rehearse and record the album, is there anything you would change in your playing on any of the songs?

TS: Yeah, there was a lack of rehearsal and listening to them now I can see where I should have done things a bit more forceful in places and I think there are things I left off. I was playing and thinking I would put timpani in there, but because of the time constraints. They were very good because they took their time on the drums though not excessively so. Unfortunately we were under such pressure that I left out pieces that I wanted to put on there like timpani hits and maybe a tubular bell here and there. So there are things I would like to change but itís water under the bridge now.

O/O: You really seemed to be enjoying yourself at The Astoria concert last March. What did you feel like during and immediately after the set?

TS: When Iím playing with Renaissance, I look out into the audience and I see peopleís faces and can see that theyíre really enjoying themselves and that it really means something to them. So I felt proud to be playing with Renaissance again and I felt really pleased that the people had made a special effort to come and see us. I felt the love from the audience which just made me really happy, so that was great during the set. After the set I felt exhausted (laughs) because it was our first gig in god knows how many years, and we had a lot to think about as the next day we were going to Japan. So I just felt exhausted and wanted to go back to the hotel and get ready for the next day. I just felt the love from the audience so thatís why I was so happy all the way through the gig.

O/O: That really came across to everyone I think.

TS: Iím really glad, I like to try and give something back and they made a special effort to come and see us on a cold night.

O/O: How different is it playing with the new line up from the old line up?

TS: With the old line up for instance, thereís a part in "Carpet of the Sun" where we used to have eye contact. It was on the build up on the instrumental piece (sings part) which leads into the last chorus. With the new band the timing was all more arranged, so I had to count out time in the middle. On the other hand, playing with David Keyes is like playing with Jon Camp, he is the most fantastic bass player and Rave and Mickey just made everything sound really fantastic so it was a great pleasure to play with the new band. It wasnít that different.

O/O: Do you have any memories of your tour of Japan?

TS: Yes, we travelled everywhere on the Bullet train, which was fantastic. I got lost in Tokyo on the first night and was late for a dinner with the record company. I went out and just got lost downtown. Thereís not that many English people there but I saw a sign on an off-license door which said enter, so I thought, ah they speak English. I went in and spoke to this guy and he was English, from Liverpool and he just directed me back to the hotel. I just got back in time for dinner. That was one memory, the rest of it was the Japanese fans who were fantastic and they had so many copies of the albums going right back to Prologue. Yeah some good memories.

O/O: Mike Dunford mentioned in his interview that you had to do a lot of signing of peopleís albums.

TS: Thatís right, we were signing a hundred albums a night on the three nights we were there, maybe more. We signed all the programmes and the brochure; there was a lot of signing yeah. My arm was aching before I went on to play (laughs).

O/O: What are your hopes for the future of Renaissance?

TS: Well my hopes are that we keep going and that we keep playing the music that we all love and that thereís a market for and we get better and progress through music.

O/O: Has there actually been any preliminary work done on new material yet?

TS: No, not yet. Iíve sent Annie a couple of songs that Iím hoping will maybe go on to the new album and thatís all I know about so far.

O/O: Do you think it will be similar to Tuscany or will there be a shift in direction?

TS: I think it will be a continuation from Tuscany. I think that had elements of the old Renaissance plus some newer ideas, and I think we will just consolidate that a bit more, and maybe take our time a bit more on the next one. But I think it will still be in the Renaissance style.

O/O: You recently became involved with the soundtrack for a TV documentary. How did this come about?

TS: It came about through a friend of mine in New Milton, Mike Battison of Batts studio. He was given the assignment to do by a friend of his from Australia. Itís called Shangri-La and itís a trip across China through the mountains across all the lakes and everything. Mike knew I was a percussionist and got in touch with me. He wanted some Chinese type sounding percussion and we started to work together on the project. Weíve finished it now and it should be out next year in England possibly but itís already been out once or twice in Australia. Mike Battison is also doing a lot of work on the solo album I'm doing. Heís helping me because heís more technically minded than me (laughs).

O/O: Are you going to do any more soundtrack work in the future?

TS: Yeah weíre actually forming a company between the two of us and weíre bringing in other musicians. Weíve got a few things lined up hopefully, that weíre going to be doing later in the year. Itís all a bit waiting to see what happens at the moment but weíre definitely working together, we are a team and weíre looking to writing sound tracks for anything.

O/O: Before we listen to some of your own songs, could you tell us how the album is coming along and when itís hoped to be released?

TS: The album's coming along very well. Weíve got nine songs on the album plus a percussion track on the end that Iím doing as a solo piece. John Toutís been coming down and adding bits and pieces on piano and weíre going to be doing some more over the coming weeks. Weíre hoping to release it, but I donít want it to coincide with anything done by Renaissance, so Iím just waiting until thereís a gap between Renaissance releases and Iíll release it then. Everyone seems to be very positive about it, weíre looking forward to it being released and we hope people like it. Itís similar to the Renaissance style in places because thereís John and myself playing on it anyway.

O/O: Weíre going to listen to some of the songs that youíve written and that are going to be on your new album.

(A beautiful Piano intro starts)

TS: This is a song called "Burning my Bridges."

O/O: This sounds like John Tout playing piano?

TS: Thatís right, John Tout played this piano piece to a song that Iíd written three years ago. It had a different title and different lyrics and we just had the piano piece sitting there. I brought in Alex Caird-still working on the old melody from the old song and he put down the bass part. I couldnít finish these lyrics and I thought if it doesnít work out thereís a reason for it. So I put my hand into a box of lyrics-closed my eyes and after fiddling about-"Burning Bridges" came out and they were written by Betty (ThatcherĖNewsinger). So I just changed the melody around and the lyrics matched perfectly. I called Christine in and said listen to this, eureka!!!! (laughs). She came in and put the vocal down and thatís what youíre hearing now. It was a first take and that was this song born.

(Terryís wife Christine sings this melancholy song in her own style, which is very effective. There are also some nice string sounds on the chorus).

TS: It was sad as we did the vocals to this on September 11th, and I think the vocals we have on the tape at the moment have got so much emotion. Even though they were a first take, I think itís worth keeping them on there because it affected everybody. We were working under those conditions and I just felt that maybe these vocals should stay and Johnís beautiful piano.

O/O: Christine has a very distinctive singing style, very different from Annie in a kind of melancholy way.

TS: Yes I would agree with that. I think Annie is unique and I donít think it would be even worth trying to compare anybody to Annie. Christineís got her own style, which I personally love very much and she does justice to the songs. Sheís able to express both what I feel in the music and Bettyís lyrics and that is the main job of a singer, to express with empathy and emotion. I think she does a great job.

O/O: What are the lyrics actually about?

TS: "Burning Bridges" is about changing your lifestyle I think. Thatís how we felt about it, moving on to something newer. It might be the opening track to the album.

(The next song "If I lied" starts playing)

O/O: I understand your son Lee plays piano on this song.

TS: Thatís right, my son Lee, who plays drums with the band Boa, has played piano since he was 7 or 8 years of age. Heís a great fan of John Tout so he has little inflections of John in there I feel. Yeah Lee played piano, Alex Caird played bass, Christine sang, my other son Kristian played guitar and Iím on drums and percussion.

O/O: So this song is a real family affair.

TS: Yeah, Itís a very musical family. Iíve been really blessed that my sons have both been into music and that Christineís got a nice voice. So itís cheap (laughs).

("If I lied" is a medium slow song with some quite haunting vocals. There is a great instrumental link full of dramatic strings, which lead into the next vocal section. Lee plays a classical style piano piece which is a nice surprise.)

TS: Lee is really sympathetic to the music that weíre doing and without Lee I donít think I would have got this far to be honest with you. Heís always been computer literate which I havenít and heís been a great help working with the computer.

O/O: Thereís a lovely string section on this song.

TS: Yeah, Lee loves putting down the strings and I love the way it descends as opposed to going up, which lots of string lines do. We split the string arrangements between us. I put the string pieces on the breaks into the middle section, but in the chorus he just sits down and says what do you think of this and we just change lines. He was brought up on John Tout so he plays the drums like me and piano like John (laughs) he is the true Renaissance man I think.

O/O: This has a very Russian intro (as the next song "Carry me Home" starts).

TS: Yes, I wouldnít say it was intentional actually. Youíve picked up on it being Russian but we just thought it was an intro to be honest with you.

O/O: Well the Russian feel is very typical of Renaissance.

TS: Now youíve said it does sound very Russian. Well the deep piano note is John Tout obviously and that does give it that great edge and then Lee just added the string section over the top. This was a song we wrote about seven years ago and itís knocked around in various demo forms ever since. When I originally wrote, it was a lot slower with just an organ line behind it and we started off like that on this version but it felt like it needed more life in it so we jazzed it up a bit.

{After the aforementioned Russian intro, "Carry me Home" continues into a mysterious vocal section. Then there is a strong chorus which worms itís way into your head very quickly. This has a clever little instrumental link and also a very orchestral section where John Tout plays in his distinctive style. From listening to this song it is obvious that Terry's wealth of experience from playing with orchestras along with Leeís arranging skills has paid dividends. The string arrangements are superb.)

O/O: Thatís a very powerful strong chorus.

TS: Yeah thanks Dave. Thatís why Iíve stuck with it for seven years. I think good songs stick and others you just forget about and I think Iíve picked nine, which I think in one way are probably my strongest songs.

O/O: That little link piece there is very effective.

TS: I was fortunate enough to be able to play the drums and bass together on this one and we just felt it was right to swing it there, so thatís what we did.

O/O: The strings are very powerful.

TS: Again itís Lee with the strings. Heís mimicking Johnís piano and we built it around his melody for the chorus section here.

O/O: It seems that the Renaissance legacy of orchestral arrangements has really had an effect on your solo work.

TS: Yeah I love orchestral work. Itís been documented many times that when we first walked in to see them playing on "Ashes are Burning" as a band and we saw a real orchestra playing, we were in tears in the control room. I just fell in love with string instruments and brass instruments there and then, it adds the weight, power and atmosphere. John loves orchestras as we all know and Iím just hoping that he enjoys what weíre doing with him (laughs). Kristian's on guitar on this, heís been really helpful although heís a bit tied up at the moment because heís at university.

(The final song Terry played was "South of Winter")

O/O: This sounds like John Toutís lovely delicate piano playing.

TS: Yeah John played piano on the beginning of this. I think his piano on this is fantastic although weíre listening to the demos now and heís noticed a couple of places where I think heís going to tidy it up a bit next time he comes down so that will be interesting for us to hear.

(Johnís piano on "South of Winter" is soon joined by bass and Terryís signature gong heralds the main picked guitar section. Christine sings beautifully over some very melodic bass playing from Alex Caird. Terryís descending drum fill leads to a powerful chorus with more of those wonderful strings. A choir adds to the majesty of the piece, where it leaves the guitar on itís own, to signal the second verse. There is an unusual stop after this where the bass hangs on and a Renaissance-like series of punctuations is overlaid by a wind like gong before another final chorus. This is a beautiful song which Iím sure fans will love.)

TS: This is another old song, it goes back five or six years.

O/O: I just heard your gong in there.

TS: Oh yes the gong, this is the gong song. Well Iím still trying to use the gong as much as I can. Christine sings over Kristians guitar and Alex Caird again on bass.

O/O: Thatís lovely bass playing actually.

TS: Heís a fantastic bass player, I really admire that guy and we worked really easily together. As you know we worked on Tuscany as well, so we had a bit of an understanding and weíve been friends for years. Heís one of my sonís oldest friends and itís great to be playing with him. All the lyrics are by Betty on these tracks we are listening to. The chorus had a different melody previously but weíve changed it to this now. Weíre gonna add backing vocals and I want to put a tubular bell in there. I would love to be able to use a real orchestra but price prohibits. With samplers nowadays you can get fantastic sounds so we use samples for the string sounds and the choir.

O/O: Iím sure Renaissance fans will really be looking forward to hearing the album after reading this interview. Thank you for travelling all this way to do it.


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