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After years of working with, and listening to many fantastic musicians, I am always grateful to discover that there still is more great music to enjoy. For me, such is the case with the British band Heron. Formed in Maidenhead, England in 1967, this collective of singers and songwriters are still making music that fans around the world are continuing to discover.
Heron’s sound coalesced on their 1970 self-titled debut, recorded in a field near the band’s rehearsal barn in Appleford, Berkshire. Released on the Dawn division of Pye Records, he album remains a high water mark of the British folk-rock scene from that era, with memorable melodies and laid-back harmonies. When the combination of a record plant malfunction, and a delivery van strike derailed the momentum for the band’s “Only A Hobo” single in 1971, Heron instead plowed forward with a double album, Twice As Nice And Half The Price. Recorded the following year in a cottage, in the Devon vilage of Black Dog, Heron pushed beyond the notions of a “folk” sound, and moved more into a collective sound that it still hard to define.
After the band broke up in 1972, several members of the band reformed several years later, and played and performed sporadically until the early 1990s. All the while, a growing worldwide audience had begun to discover Heron, with the early albums commanding high prices from collectors. Over the last several years, Heron’s original lineup — vocalist Tony Pook, vocalist and guitarist Roy Apps, vocalist and guitarist Gerald Moore, and keyboardist Steve Jones — have reformed to produce new music, and find new audiences.
Here together, in a rare group interview, is the story of a band that still refuses to be pinned down, and still does things on their own terms.
Talk about the beginnings of Heron.
TONY POOK: Roy and I met up when we were at school, and then we started playing at the Liberal Club. We knew Gerald as Gerald, Gerald T. Moore. We’d had no connection with him before that, until he, Roy and I teamed to do what we were doing.
Heron was originally me, Roy, Gerald, and Martin. And a guy called Mike, who had something to do with King Crimson, and the King Crimson crowd.
What were your influences in putting Heron’s sound together.
POOK: There weren’t any. It just emerged. What came out, was what we did.
STEVEN JONES: I got out of college in 1968, and I met Gerald soon after, and was the link to I meeting you guys. Later, I had been doing duo gigs with Gerald, and I think I came up for a visit, first.
JONES: I remember Roy, Gerald and I rehearsing the songs for the first album in the barn in Appleford, and [manager and producer] Peter [Eden] coming to see us down there, and Gerald said, “We could get Steve to come down and put keyboards on it.”
GERALD MOORE: We had done the recording session at Pye first. And then I sold Peter on going down to Appleford, and then [Peter] had to sell the idea to [the record label].
Peter had been booking me in for sessions, and he had all kinds of things going on. He basically said to me, “Let’s do a session.” And I said, “I don’t want to do my own thing anymore. I want to play with Heron.” And he came down to see us at the barn. He said, “I’d rather do your thing, they’re too folky.” And I said, “Well, they’re my mates.” And he said, Well, all right.” But Pye really liked it.
The legend is that Heron had a bad experience in the studio, and that led you to recording in the field.
POOK: We didn’t have a bad experience. We just didn’t like it. The place had no windows, it was underground.
ROY APPS: I certainly wasn’t happy recording in the studio. I hated it.
Who came up with the idea of recording in a field?
JONES: We all think it was us.
MOORE: I think it was my idea. I said, why don’t we bring the Dawn people down to Appleford. We didn’t say, “Why don’t we do it in a field?” straight away. We said, “Why don’t we bring them to the farm, because Traffic had something at their place. And then when they came down, I think Tony said, “Let’s do it by the river?” Originally, they were going to come down to the farm. Peter came down first, and by the time Peter got to Pye, it was in the field. So it probably was everyone, and Peter.
POOK: I think it was everyone’s idea. We liked being at the barn, and it was only a short walk to the field. You read stuff, and some people think it was a contrived thing. But we were living out there, and it sense to record out there.
Were there any problems in recording outside?
APPS: We just accepted the trains. We would have had problems if the weather had been rubbish, but it was gorgeous weather.
JONES: We wanted the [sound of] the birds, but we couldn’t actually record them. We had to stick a mic out some distance to get the birds.
What happened to the band after Heron’s release? How did you decide to record a double album?
JONES: I recall that there were so many tunes, that we were actually getting clogged up. So that we could get to the new stuff, we had to get down the old stuff. We had to create space for the new tunes.
POOK: My recollection is that we said, “Why not do a double album?” Do two albums for the price of one.
MOORE: I remember that I wanted to amaze everyone with our breadth of [songs]. We could do Motown tunes, folk tunes, our own tunes. We were branching more into playing the bass and drums.
APPS: I was itching to do a bit more rock and roll, although we still had a certain amount of the old style Heron stuff.
MOORE: One, we wanted to break the mold of folk band, rock band, singer-songwriter band. We wanted to cover several genres, and say that we weren’t any type of band. Also, if you look at the back photo, we wanted to show people. Billl Boazman, Terry Gittings was one of your mates. Mike Cooper, Jeff Hawkins. Bill [Boazman] was there, and we said, “Bill, do a tune.” And he felt a bit embarrassed, because he felt it was our album. And we said, “Nah, come on, man, you’re our mate.” Cooper was more than happy to put his slide on things. We had a scene, we had a vision, and we didn’t care about things. We wanted to do our own thing.
APPS: The record label had more problems with that.
What happened to the band after Twice As Nice?
POOK: We needed a break.
APPS: The record company lost interest. To be fair, they put a considerable amount of weight behind the first album, but after Twice As Nice, I remember Peter telling us that that they weren’t going to do another one, because they wanted to hear a “direction,” as they called it. They wanted a bag to put it in, and we didn’t have one. Gerald had a lot of things that he wanted to do.
MOORE: I moved to London, we moved to London.
APPS: We sort of drifted apart, rather than splitting up. Gerald pulled me aside, and said, “Right, that’s it.”
MOORE: I put Heron on whatever gigs I could to keep it going, but in the end, we had different interests.
APPS: You had to leave, Tony had to leave, put in the end, without the record company behind us, there was no way to live by our own devices, so it was harder to stay together.
How did everyone gig back in touch in the late 70s?
JONES: For me, it was getting the mobile studio together, and we met in Cookham.
MOORE: I was hitching a ride.
JONES: And I hadn’t seen you in ages, and said, “Hey, get in,” and you said, “Listen to this.” And we got to the churchyard, and you pulled out a harmonica, and you played….
MOORE: “Working For The Dollar.”
JONES: And it got us talking about stuff, and then, with the studio, we had a place to work out and record. Tony, he was in touch, but he was in Falmouth, which is a long ways away.
What led to the band picking up and recording again in the 1990s?
JONES: Once again, it was the recording thing. I went on holiday with my wife Lyn, and we happened to be at Black Dog. And I said, “Hey, let me show you where we recorded.” We went down to the farm, to see if it was there, and it was. But a woman said, “Oh, I know all about you.” We talked about the cottage where we recorded, and she said, “Oh, Robin and his family would love to see you.” Robin and his family had bought the album, and on the way home, the idea was hatched that it’d be great to get the guys back together to do an album again.
It also came from me not knowing how widespread our stuff has become. I’d felt like our stuff had been forgotten about, and lost. And I thought that it would-be good to do an nostalgic album to cover the stuff we did years ago, and then do the more modern stuff, and have a double album. One album to cover the old stuff, and one album to bring in the new.
When did you discover that a new generation had discovered Heron?
APPS: I sussed it from my own kids. They’re in their twenties now, but they were in school. They loved it, and their friends really loved it, and it made me realize. I got to mix with a younger set of musicians, and they all really respected it.
JONES: My discovery was the internet, getting a website, and all sorts of people contacting us. Young and old, and mainly from Japan. There was a lot of young people from Japan.
What has been the response to the last couple of albums?
JONES: People keep buying them!
How do you put your songs together?
MOORE: We don’t, really. Roy has a song, or whoever has a song, brings it along and we arrange it without saying much, and arranging anything. People just do their thing naturally, and it either works, or it doesn’t.
APPS: Everybody brings their own thing to it, and somehow it works.
Describe the new album.
MOORE: It has a sound that keeps old Heron elements of harmonies, and melody, and pastoral mood, but its not really the same. It’s more grown up rhythmically, and more grown up harmonies.
APPS: We’re much better musicians than we were then.
Would you say that you all work at your own pace?
POOK: I do, yes. Very, very slowly.
APPS: Gerald works on his very, very frantically.
It’s now been forty years since Heron’s debut album. Did you expect to still be doing this, all these years later?
MOORE: As a kid, I always dreamed that I would doing this, when I was older. I saw Chuck Berry play when he was fifty, and fifty seemed like an incredible age to do a gig. But I don’t feel like as I thought it would feel. I would’ve thought way back then that I’d still be full of the idealism I had back then. But I suppose I’m more professional now.
APPS: I envisioned myself as a Hemingway character on the beach, and young musicians coming to me for advice. (laughs)
Finish this sentence. Heron is….
POOK: Fab! (laughs)
JONES: Without regrets.
Check out Heron’s website at www.relaxx.co.uk.
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