Photo Credit: Uncle Nemesis
Seventh Harmonic Interview:
Sandwiched between Rampaging Noiseniks Caroline Jago tells the story of Seventh Harmonic. Uncle Nemesis listens and interrupts.
~by Uncle Nemesis

Part 3: Halfway to madness - the later misadventures of Seventh Harmonic

The story so far. We’re up to 2001. The new, expanded Caroline/Eilish/Kate/Amandine/Paul line-up of Seventh Harmonic was going strong at this point. The Ascent had been very well received, Amandine was making a big impact, lots of gigs were happening - did you have that ‘This it it!’ kind of feeling, that sense that it was all coming together and success was just over the horizon? From a punter’s point of view (and also as a promoter) it did seem as if Seventh Harmonic were definitely coming up to that elusive breakthrough point at this time.

I guess in retrospect then yes, it really did feel like this was it - that things had crystallised, and that we stood on the verge of something really good. But I’m not sure whether it really registered at the time - things were always moving so fast I’m not sure how much time there was to sit back and let the sense of achievement sink in. There was literally only several weeks to bask in the glory before Amandine left thus rendering The Ascent obsolete, and I had to crack on with composing a new album!

Photo Credit: Uncle NemesisAh, yes - Amandine left rather abruptly, towards the end of 2001. If I recall the story correctly, you came home one day to find that she’d had left you a ‘Dear John’ type letter and vanished to France, never to be seen again! How did this unexpected hitch go down with the band? I imagine there was a certain amount of stress and swearing behind the scenes...

It was September 2001 - I remember it very clearly, as the last time I saw her was September 12th, and I was still mesmerised by footage of the twin towers being replayed endlessly on News 24. She came around to pick up her stuff as I was going away for a week (she’d had some personal problems which meant she’d been crashing at my house for some time), looked at the TV, emitted her trademark ‘fuckin’ ‘ell!’, then turned around and immediately started discussing her own problems before bidding adieu. I came home a week later to a letter from France with no forwarding address saying she wasn’t coming back. This was less than two months after the release of The Ascent, and we had four gigs lined up, so it had a wider impact on a lot of people outside the band. In addition, I was left seriously out of pocket with an unpromotable album. So yes, you could say she wasn’t the most popular person on the planet after I’d informed the rest of the band...

And so Kate (and her dulcimer) stepped up to the front and became Seventh Harmonic’s new lead singer.

Photo Credit: Uncle NemesisHats off to Kate big-time for providing that seamless transition. She had started working on backing vocals with Amandine, so it was a suggestion that was put in the arena almost immediately. But yes, it was stressful for her - anyone who saw Amandine knew she was a hard act to follow, and Kate hadn’t sung for quite a while. She bit the bullet, started having weekly singing lessons, and worked extremely hard to ensure that the show could go on!

As it happens, the whole thing turned out very much for the best. The more recent tracks I’d written had moved on from The Ascent, in both a darker and also more Eastern-influenced direction, and I’m not sure those songs would have suited Amandine’s style or tastes; whereas they were perfect for Kate, who had both interest in and knowledge of Eastern vocal styles and languages.

This line-up did actually have an unexpected asset in that the dulcimer was now right under the noses of the audience, and given that most people had probably never seen such a contraption before I think this did scare up a bit of additional interest. But obviously Kate was very different to Amandine, not just in vocal style: the on-stage personality of the band was wrenched in yet another new direction. Did this cause any bother, or did you just shamelessly blag your way through the gigs as if Kate had always been there? Did anyone actually say, ‘Hang on - that’s not the singer on the album and/or at the last gig!’ ?

I think people were actually becoming quite used to our ever-changing vocalists by that stage! We just got on with it, and hoped that people would appreciate that we were giving them a bit of variety!

The next episode in the Seventh Harmonic saga came in early 2002, when you played the Eurorock festival in Belgium. On the face of it, the opportunity to appear at a major European event should be a great boost for any band, but as I recall it all turned out to be a bit of a Spinal Tap-style disaster. The experience of playing a major Euro-fest - at least if you’re a relatively unknown down-the-bill band - isn’t quite the glorious experience it’s sometimes assumed to be. So, what was the full gory story....?

(Takes enormous breath.) OK. We managed to get booked for the second day of the Eurorock festival. Basically all the established acts played on the first day and all the struggling impoverished bands played the second day - the organisers struck on the genius idea of the former being in Photos courtesy of the Seventh Harmonic website.essence paid by the latter, as yes - you guessed it - for us minnows, it was pay to play. Well, we had to bump up our European profile, and as most European festival organisers don’t touch UK acts with a barge pole, we had to like it or lump it.

So off we went on the Eurolines coach. First hurdle was, it being January, the weather was abominable so we were hugely delayed and staggered into Antwerp at an ungodly hour, eventually locating the hostel the organisers were supposed to have booked us into. (Only booked us into you understand - we had to pay for all that ourselves as well.) Hey, guess what? They hadn’t bothered to make the booking, so as the hostel was full, we were forced to sleep in the stinking boiler room, where one room was apocalyptically hot and the other was Arctic temperature - goodbye to any remote chance of sleep. We had to be up early in the morning, so double checked with the hostel owners that they’d be around to supply breakfast and book us a cab to the venue (if we weren’t there by 10am, we’d simply be struck off the bill, no matter what the reason was. No refunds, of course!) Next morning - a Sunday - there was no-one to be found. When it got to 9am I was reduced to a steaming pile of hysterical terror, and simply ran out onto the deserted street imploring any English speakers to please help.

We found someone who told us how to use a Belgian phone box, found a cab number and ordered the cab for us. We made it to the venue with seconds to spare. The band order was decided by picking names out of a hat at 10.30am, and I was praying with all my might that we’d get a decent time. In possibly the only act of fortune for the entire weekend, we got somewhere around 7pm. Unfortunately, that still left us with nine hours to kill - of course there were the other bands to watch, but this venue was in the middle of nowhere next to a motorway, and all we really wanted to do was find somewhere we could have a decent breakfast and relax, rather than hanging around the venue all day.

At that point, there was really only one course of action to take to avoid evaporating with stress, and that was to blot it all out. The bands only got 1 free beer per member but we found a way around that... We befriended another band from Sweden called Severe Illusion (who had managed to bag the final slot at 10.30), established that they could lend me both their bass and Minidisc player, and proceeded to drown our sorrows with them...

Suffice it to say, I remember very little after 3pm, and only came around when finally onstage when the first disaster of the night occurred - I’d forgotten to plug the Minidisc we’d borrowed into the mains with the result that it swiftly ran out of batteries, and we stood there looking very silly as 95% of our musical output vanished into the ether. However, since the huge venue had failed to fill with anyone Photos courtesy of the Seventh Harmonic website.who wasn’t from one of the other bands it wasn’t as if it really mattered; but it was supposed to be a competition and I had been informed by one of the Side-Line magazine crew that we were very hotly tipped to win one of the categories. The prize was the chance to play a bigger festival in summer; but that didn’t matter either as Eilish informed me on the coach up that she couldn’t make that date as she was booked to play a friend’s wedding.

Anyway, another Minidisc player was procured so off we went again, whereupon Kate forgot all the words to ‘Inside’. Hey ho. Off we came, drank some more, and all piled back onstage a couple of hours later to improvise with Severe Illusion - we had no idea what they sounded like, even what sort of genre their music was (a kind of harsh power electronics as it turned out) but who cared anymore? The other two did a fantastic job, and I set about demolishing a drumkit that someone had unwisely left miked up on the stage. The hall emptied. We got a cab back to the hostel, whereupon I passed out.

We spent another nightmarish day travelling back on Eurolines - a delayed ferry journey due to the stormy weather conditions, and lots of vomiting in the coach toilet from yours truly. When we returned, I wrote an outraged rant to a newsgroup about how shocking the whole thing had been - I don’t expect red carpets, but as well as being fleeced alive the bands were treated like cattle. A few people connected with the festival got wind of it and were not impressed, thinking it was just sour grapes on my part that we hadn’t won. I think the evidence outlined above makes it very clear that that prospect had never occurred to us...but anyway - the festival never happened again, and I like to think that this was not a coincidence and that I’d had a hand in no band ever having to go through this experience again.

Towards the end of 2002, Promise Of Sacrifice, Seventh Harmonic’s third album, was released. The album has a confident, upbeat sound, as if the band were having fun with the creative process in the studio. But, knowing the inevitable shenanigans that seem to attend everything Seventh Harmonic do, was that really the case?

I’m glad it sounds like it was a fun album to make, but sadly nothing could be further from the truth - I think it’s safe to say it drove me halfway to madness and still can’t hear the damn thing without emitting an involuntary shudder!

I couldn’t find anyone suitable with enough free time to produce the album (John Interlock was my first choice of course, but he was too busy with his own band). Although I was nowhere near confident of my abilities as a producer, there was no choice but to do the job myself. So, I started spending 12 hours a day in the studio to get myself up to scratch. It all happened thanks to the fact that I’d got myself on a music production course with Community Music - a kind of externally funded collective to Photos courtesy of the Seventh Harmonic mainly urban artists get equipped with the skills to make a career out of their music (Asian Dub Foundation were their most well-known alumni, and put a lot back into it after they got their deal). There were about a dozen of us on the course, and we worked together on a lot of stuff, which as you can imagine made for interesting listening (ethereal drum ‘n’ bass is better than you’d think!) So I could never be accused of neglecting the kitchen sink, I decided to incorporate elements from this incongruous environment in a subliminal way on a couple of Seventh Harmonic tracks, so the drum loops you hear on ‘De Terra Fons Exoritur’ and ‘A Ship, Dreaming’ are actually speed garage loops I un-sped. Booyakasha!

As part of the project I got some free studio time, so despite it coming so soon into the new line-up, we had to grab it with both hands. Yep, you guessed it - this resulted in almost all the vocal parts being written right there in the studio...again! Eilish managed to do all her violin parts for the whole album in an afternoon; whilst Kate constructed her vocals/lyrics whist recording in the odd times she could get off work. My production work took several months. I was experiencing this nightmarish Groundhog Day where I was going back and forth to the studio every day, nudging and tweaking and gradually honing the tracks, thinking everything is sounding great on the studio speakers, but getting home, playing them on various stereos - and the day’s efforts seemed completely wasted. An average night’s sleep started to clock in at around 2-3 hours, which impacted on my mental health to the extent that my girlfriend left me, and my relationship with Kate in response to certain band matters started to rapidly deteriorate...

‘Parisina’ (with our old vocalist Fionna) was the first track to be done, and pretty much set the scene for the rest of the album in every way.  Fionna was visiting London, I’d just dashed off a piece whilst experimenting with the posh consoles in the nice University of Westminster studios we got for two weeks in summer while the paying students were on holiday, and Fionna was still keen to sing with us. Fionna agreed to come into the studio and see what she could come up with. On the way there I thought, ‘Shit! Lyrics!’, grabbed the nearest appropriate book (an anthology of Byron, Keats and Shelley) from my diminutive collection, opened it randomly on the tube and what lay right there on the page sounded great to me. Fionna agreed, and it was laid down from scratch in a couple of hours. I have to laugh when I listen to that song - it is probably my favourite one on the album, but everything about its construction happened even more by pure chance than usual. Normally, at least the main body of the song was painstakingly constructed before the others improvised over it, but this one was made so quickly even the crescendo part happened as a consequence of me jumping when the guy I was supposed to be working with walked in unexpectedly while I was playing it!

In amongst all this, I was approached by the Greek folk group Daemonia Nymphe at one of our gigs who were interested in working with us. I literally only had time to give them a few tracks that didn’t make it onto the album and some lyrics, and I thought little of it - until they came back with what they’d done and I was blown away enough to instantly include two of the tracks - ‘Immortal Selene’ - and ‘To The Mother Of Gods ‘ on the album. We tried to start work on a separate album before they unexpectedly found themselves pregnant and had to return to Greece halfway through.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, eventually the bastard was finished, and I escaped to Russia for a fortnight to try and regain my sanity (a place not recommended for this purpose, by the way.)

After the hassle of creating the Promise Of Scarifice album, all the stress building up between Kate and yourself, and the ordeal of the festival in Belgium, is it fair to say that things were never really the same within the band? Were the cracks starting to show?

The Eurorock experience was enough to put everyone off; especially as Eilish even had to take unpaid leave for the privilege, if I remember rightly. It was very frustrating - my main ambition with Seventh Harmonic was always to play beyond the UK, a country I’d found an inhibition for many years; but Eurorock had proved how utterly impractical it was for the rest of the band. We were subsequently offered a US tour which we had to turn down...

In any case, mainly due mainly to the aforementioned issues between myself and Kate, before the album was even returned from the pressing plant she had already decided to leave, but she stayed on for a few months longer in order to promote the album. We did four gigs after the album release, and called it a day.

One of those gigs was at the Hinouema club - London’s home of left-field industrial, powernoise, and neo-folk. Did you ever envisage Seventh Harmonic making any headway with the neo-folk crowd?

I personally had been getting more interested in the dark ambient/neo-folk scenes - something I tried to explore in some songs on Promise of Sacrifice - and there was a small crossover in the fan bases, which is how we got the gig. But live, those were not the songs we were performing, and I cannot pretend that gig was a success. We played with nice wafty images of lakes and forests as our backdrop, which was swiftly replaced the moment we got off with Nazi porn!

Our gig at the Verge in Camden was advertised as our ‘last London gig’, because whatever the future held I had felt that we had achieved all we could in London; and as a consequence this meant that any future plans I had to go further afield were no use to Eilish, who had started to pick up a lot of extra work as a result of her performances with Seventh Harmonic anyway.

Promise of Sacrifice was not a fantastic success - it didn’t really have the opportunity to be, but in any case that didn’t bother me unduly. After all, I had intended to make a darker album with the full knowledge that it would alienate those who were attracted by ‘Ascent’ tracks like ‘Inside’ and ‘BC’. By the time the final gig came around, I couldn’t wait for it to end, and though I suspected it wouldn’t be the final chapter, I was really grateful to at last have the chance to have a rest. After putting out 3 CDs in as many years and being entirely responsible for every aspect of the band (composing, recording, producing, promoting, financing, managing, and personnel counselling to name just a few!) I really had had enough.

But this was not the end of Seventh Harmonic after all - as we shall see in part 4...

... continue on to Part 4