Empire of Two Worlds: Nicky Garratt's Annexation of Prog Rock and Punk

By Molenda, Michael | Guitar Player, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Empire of Two Worlds: Nicky Garratt's Annexation of Prog Rock and Punk


Molenda, Michael, Guitar Player


AT FACE VALUE, THE IDE A OF PUNK ICON NICKY GARRATT doing prog-rock appears laughable, and perhaps even politically incorrect amongst socio-stylistic musos who compartmentalize sounds into scrupulously delineated genres. Meticulous types would place Garratt--who was a member of the U.K. Subs from 1976 until 1983, and founded the punk label New Red Archives in 1987--firmly into the, well, punk category.

But all manner of butt-puckered pigeonholing gives way to chaos as soon as one discovers Garratt has been musical director for prog pioneer Nik Turner of Hawkwind, worked with seminal kraut-rockers Brain ticket, and now leads his own prog-revival band, Hedersleben. What gives? Better get out that old Dymo Labelmaker and rearrange your record bins, folks!

Although it may be a natural progression for you, it's likely a head spinner for fans who only know you from the U.K. Subs that you're quite the prog-rock artist and historian [See Garratt's "Europa Is Dreaming" on p. 18]. Can you detail your musical journey from punk to prog?

When I started playing guitar in 1970, I was doing bluesy stuff--as a lot of British people do--because it's easy to work out the chords. It's not like learning a concerto. By 1973, I became a big Magma and Soft Machine fan, so I was doing more progressive music. Of course, when I got to London a couple of years later, punk was happening. It was very, very exciting, and I was fully stirred by the fire and passion. After a couple of auditions, I joined the U.K. Subs, but I never denied my roots. Today, I'm not young, and it seems a little disingenuous in my 60s to be jumping around the stage as though I'm angry at everything. So I've returned to my love of progressive music.

Did any prog guitarists inform your development as a player?

As far as progressive rock is concerned, I don't single out the guitar as a primary influence, to be quite frank with you. Back in the early '70s, the distinction between progressive rock, hard rock, folk rock, psychedelic rock, and all of those things was a little blurred, because--particularly in rural England--we were supporting all of the bands that were an alternative to disco, or not seeking hit records. So, for me, it was the musical influence of bands such as Soft Machine, Caravan, Magma, Supersister, and Amon Duul II that was important.

But speaking strictly as a guitar player, Ritchie Blackmore is the one who made me want to pick up electric guitar. There is a fire to Ritchie Blackmore, and that is one common element that carried on into punk rock. In fact, for the U.K. Sub's first single, "C.I.D." [1979], I took the intro to "Speed King" by Deep Purple and I glued it onto the front of our song.

What do you hold as essential elements when crafting prog-rock records?

Actually, I think what you don't do is incredibly important--which is also common with punk. You don't try to appease people. You must tread a true path of what your vision is. You can't cover all the bases, because you end up covering no bases, and then you're not interesting to anybody. As soon as you decide you're going to put a shredding heavy-metal solo in there, or you're going to do a reggae section, you've already lost the game. All of the great prog-rock bands had a feel and a vision, and they stuck to that. In addition, technical ability is important in some types of progressive rock, but it's not essential. For example, you have some of the krautrock bands that just go with the feel, and some of the space-rock bands don't know how to solo through complicated chord sequences. What those artists are looking for is a mood.

Could you define what you feel Hedersleben brings to the conversation?

Hedersleben is probably based on my yearning for the old days. Perhaps I want to recreate the feelings I had when I was 17 years old--which is why people often call us a progressive-rock revivalist band. But one of things I've tried to do with the group is to look at what happened around 1973, when progressive rock went downhill. …

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