Protos

Home of the Resurgent UK Prog Rock Band Formed in the Late 1970s


Beginnings: As a duo.

This site has arisen thanks to the continued interest - swelled considerably now due to the availability of our studio and live work on CD - in the music of Protos.  It might be a cliche, but we find ourselves with a 25-year-old overnight success on our hands.  Having formed, rehearsed, toured, recorded and disbanded all in the space of 5 years, the band members then went their separate ways and pursued various careers.  The album is 25 years old in 2007!  Time for a party, methinks.  This section of the site attempts to reconstruct the early days of Protos and our music.  Elsewhere you can view images of the band as they were then - and marvel at how we look now (if you can handle the now, that is)

Onward...

Protos was conceived, if that's the right word for it, during an English Literature lesson, at Chichester High School For Boys in 1977.  With Henry V proving to be less interesting than promised, Rory Duff (that's what he was called back then) & Steve Anscombe (that's me by the way, just in case you were wondering), turned their thoughts to mutual interests.

We soon discovered that we had a common taste in music, and from there it was a short step to wondering how easy or otherwise it would be to write and perform music for ourselves.  Rory lived in a large house in West Wittering, near Chichester - and had access to a room for rehearsal purposes - whereas I did not.  My guitar and practice amp were portable while Rory's keyboard was not.  So, the logical course of action was for me to catch a bus to Wittering so we could work on writing and putting pieces together.  We initially worked on ideas that Rory already had winging around in his head.  Lugging things around on buses continued for years until I bought my first car.

Rory was, and remains, the driving force in terms of composition.  Initially, he would teach me specific guitar parts.  The harmonies on Protos, Fugitive and Maiden for example were all pretty prescriptive to start with, though I improvised here and there in live performance, depending upon how I felt on the day!  Later we worked together on some pieces, I wrote a few of my own, and as a four-piece (with Iain and Nigel), we wrote together.  The first true band composition was the The Rally (available only as a live recording) and then A Bit Blue. Iain Carnegie - now an accomplished and extremely succesful composer/arranger - managed, if you like, to teach new tricks to old dogs.  He revitalised The Maiden and Thing Of Beauty in 1984 for live performances at the Chichester Arts Festival.

The name?  Not too difficult really.  We were - and still are - fans of Genesis.  Genesis is the first book in the Bible.  Protos is Greek for first.  So Protos it was!

Early excursions into the world of live music were varied, and useful realistically in terms of being a learning experience. Restaurants (including a rather interesting evening playing background music at an Indian restaurant in Chichester!) birthday parties & other social events for 6th form friends gained us a following, but quickly highlighted the need for two become three or four! We needed a rhythm section. None of these early performances survive to this day; with just the two of us, we had no real need for PA or mixing, therefore no tapes of the gig were possible.

Early Compositions

For those of you familiar with the album tracks, Protos was the first to be written (the short pre-cursor New Horizons came much later) along with a now lost piece called The Gathering.  These two formed the bulk of our first foray into a studio.  This resulted in a cassette tape sampler with just these two tracks.  Naive to the core we recorded both in one day and left the mixing and mastering to a largely apathetic engineer.  Little did he know what he had on his hands!

The results were less than perfect, but nevertheless, should you own one of these cassettes (and they do have the band name on the label) you own the one and only version of The Gathering on this, or any other planet.  It was never performed live either.  If you think that people have paid up to GBP 400.00 for a mint copy of the original album, you might - just might - be sitting on something that could enhance your pension fund! 

(The) Maiden followed.  This was originally conceived as being the first part of a musical verson of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, a project that was never fully realised, but came about while Rory was studying it for A-level English.  It was followed by a piece entitled Maiden No More, but this eventually went to wherever The Gathering wound up - wherever pieces of music go to die!  This too was never performed live.  The Fugitive was formed at around the same time.  This was something of a first.  While the guitar parts were written to some extent, I had free-rein in just how they were played.  Enter a Vox volume pedal, for starters - the beginning of a life-long interest in sounds and variations on my part.  Some were more successful than others, I'll admit!  Meanwhile, my first foray in to writing produced Panamor.  I hereby publicly acknowledge (given that there's a chance that the great man himself might actually visit this site one day) that Panamor was inspired, in no small part, by Gordon Giltrap.  This, together with Thing Of Beauty survive today as my solo contributions to the catalogue.  There was a third, a piece called Outcry.  This ultimately joined Maiden No More and The Gathering though not before being aired live on a few occasions.

Early gigs, and finding musos to play them...

Early excursions into the world of live music were varied but useful in terms of a learning experience.  Restaurants, including a rather interesting evening playing background music at an Indian restaurant in Chichester, birthday parties and other social events for friends, gained us a following but quickly highlighted the need for two become three or four!  We needed a rhythm section.  None of these early performances survive to this day.  With just two of us we had no real need for PA or mixing, therefore no tapes of the gig were possible.

Finding our first drummer was relatively easy.  Neil Goldsmith lived just a short walk from Rory and was learning to play while we were busy writing pieces.  Neil's interpretation of the material, as heard on the album, was his own.  Neither he nor I could read music.  We could count (luckily!) and follow Rory's lead.  It might sound a bit Heath Robinson but we three were trying to remember and arrange pieces of around 9 - 12 minutes.  Neil has a very distinctive style (which you will appreciate if you have heard the album) and this gave us a distinctly rocky edge, particularly playing live.  He remained with us until just after recording One Day a New Horizon and performed live with us several times.  The best recording and performance is "Rock At The Regis", in early 1982 - you can see and hear Neil at work and play in the gallery and music library.

Bass players, for some reason, were harder to find!  In the gallery, there is one image of our first bassist - Nigel Moore.  Totally competent, with a slightly jazzy edge to his playing, we worked well as a four piece in rehearsal for a while.  Nigel, however, was unable to commit enough time to the band so we and he parted company.  Enter Mr Nigel Rippon.  Bass player, wit and yeti.

Getting It Onto Vinyl

One Day A New Horizon does not feature a bass guitar.  Seaside Rock does, but One Day does not.

A little more detail if you please?

OK.

Seaside Rock offered a showcase for unsigned bands in the area.  These projects, together with the "Rock At The Regis" events were sponsored, organised and promoted by some truly wonderful people at Airship Records, based in Argyle Road, Bognor Regis.  The studio, alas, is no more but the house that spawned the albums is still there.  It's called Lyric. Go find it for yourselves.  Richard, Jim and Sam at Airship were the champions of local talent.  At a time when Punk was still caressing the airwaves, and the New Romantics were strutting the stage, Protos - a band playing self-penned pieces that were not considered remotely commercial, were invited to contribute six minutes worth of material to Seaside Rock.

I'll be honest and admit that I cannot remember whether the two pieces we chose (Hunting Extremely Large Animals, which takes almost as long to say as it does to listen to) and the rather catchy second piece (The Flea, unavailable anywhere else until now, by the way) were already written, or were written to suit.  Either way, we entered the studio to record.  We had a day to do so, had to pay for the studio time, but had a promise that we could mix the material later to our satisfaction.  We had to use a guide track.  The keyboard parts went down first and Steve (Yep! Still me writing!) found a bass guitar lying around.  Being of a mildly inquisitive nature, I decided to try it.  It worked.  So "Hunting" on Seaside Rock has a real bass for the bass line.  It has me on drums too as we were still pre-Neil at this time.  Someone turned up a small kit so I tried that too.  I may well be the only drummer in history to ask that the playback level in his headphones be turned down so that I could hear what I was doing with the sticks.  A combination of the quality of kit and player does not explain, to my satisfaction anyway, just why the drums are so low in the mix .  Whatever!  These two pieces, or these versions of them, have a different line up but not one that could be used live.....

When we came to recording One Day a New Horizon, we decided against using a bass guitar.  I had not learned all of the bass lines anyway and there was concern over fret-buzz and squeaks as my delicate fingers battered the fretboard.  So, the bass lines were recorded by Rory on a synth, something that a later review found quite objectionable!

Fortunately, we also had a proper drummer by this time.  The album is far better for it!  Being serious, I do remember the recording to be fun.  It was hard work, lots of takes and one or two arguments. While some reviews make much of the raw unpolished edge the album retained, we also spent a lot of time working on the mixing.  Hours and hours, in fact: many of them those small ones between one day and the next.  There's a lot of music contained on what was essentially an 8-track analogue recording.  Yes - that's right!  No big studio.  No gadgets, compressors.  Sam Small the engineer was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and infinitely patient.  He used a bit of reverb and chorus here and there to good effect.  The result?  250 copies of our album.  Ours to pass on to the general public.  Almost 25 years on, it is mildly amusing that New Horizons Music took orders for more albums in two weeks than we sold in 2 years back in 1982!  I guess Protos music has been like a fine wine - it takes 25 years to mature properly.  Shame about the musicians!

By this time, with Rory entrenched in the Music and Drama departure at Chichester College of Technology, the action switched to a new venue.  A good time to pass the baton....

The Regular Guys

"Hi Guys, I'm from out of town"......no, no, no that comes much, much later!

Hi Guys and Gals!  Steve's right.  From 1982 onwards, the main action regarding the band took place in Chichesters' technical college.  I enrolled on a jazz/popular music course.  This made it much easier to rehearse.  We could bash drums and kick guitar amps without the neighbours complaining.  It also gave me some headaches.  Suddenly I was surrounded by young wannabes desperate to get in on the act.  With an album coming out we must have looked like the next big thing. 

The first dilemma took place when we felt Neil's enthusiasm was waning.  He was working full-time (as was Steve) and this made it harder for him to commit to long rehearsals.  In the music department, we had the seasoned QE2 jazz drummer Andy McBride and the whirlwind Iain Carnegie.  Andy was one of the most accomplished drummers I had (and have) ever met.  Iain, on the other hand, loved both the Protos music as well as the rock bands that Steve and I liked.  It was tough and competitive.  Iain was raw and inexperienced, but we felt he had potential in ways that Andy did not (not least because he could write prog rock as well as play it).  Andy was steeped in the regular rhythms of jazz.  Iain was more familiar with the odd-ball rhythms of prog rock.  The choice became clear when I had a chance to play with them both.

One night, Iain's band Nightflight had a problem.  Their keyboard player could not make a gig.  Rather than cancel, I frantically learned enough of the set to play with them.  This was my first chance to see Iain playing drums close up.  Impressive.  I then watched him at "Rock at the Regis" (Nightflight played the same gig at Protos once).  Also impressive.  And raw.

Andy was in my jazz/popular music class so we played together frequently, including a gig where we played Protos music arranged for clarinet and flute.  We also performed together in a pit band for the drama productions.  Sometimes, when I practiced Protos material, Andy would wander in an just join in.  Justin-Warburton Brown, later a guitarist for Protos was also in that group.  I can remember the moment I thought Andy was the wrong drummer and Iain the right one.  We were playing a composition that Justin had written for his course.  It switched between 5/8 and 7/8 frequently.  Andy, who could play traditional jazz drummers off the park, occasionally dropped a beat and the 7/8 would become 4/4.  In the end it was simple.  In the prog rock band, we needed a prog rock drummer - someone who could live, breathe and sleep non-traditional rhythms.  That someone was Iain.

When Steve and I told Iain he was in the band, he almost wet his pants with excitement..  It was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Local Fame, then Back to Earth

The second "Rock at the Regis" was a night to remember.  We were playing third, before the 'top act' Jump in Your Datsun.  With an army of fans from the college all screaming their head off, we heard that a rep from a music company had come to see Jump.  When we found out we were even more determined to play our socks off.  The recording forms the heart of a live album we will release soon.  Not only did we turn in a good performance, but Benny Lillywhite did a fabulous job of mixing and recording during the live gig.

Iain remembers coming off-stage convinced we would be signed the next day.  We were all on a high.  The big sign up did not take place.  Prog rock was out of fashion.  We played other local venues.  At Bishop Otter College (now Chichester University), we supported The PassionsThey'd had a single in the top 10, so this felt good.  We used their PA and I remember in rehearsal (during the sound check) that we'd never sounded better.  Perhaps for that reason, the Passions roadies made the rest of the night a living hell.  In the live gig, they mixed our music to sound crap.  Stage hands were sent into the audience to throw eggs and full beer can at us.  One bounced off Iain's drum kit, and Steve could feel the breath of wind and one screamed past his left ear.  When we passed their 'dressing room' they cracked jokes "don't give up the day job" and while played a troup stood in the wings lobbing things at us and laughing.  It was a crash course in dealing with hecklers.  When they gave us the tape recording after the gig, it was a pile of s**t in terms of quality.  We always used our own crew after that.

It was - as they say - a learning experience, something we laugh about now but that was scary at the time.  Others did show faith in us.  We got our first manager, Brian Gartside.  He organised gigs in Littlehampton and Brighton.  We did publicity but even with our album featured on BBC Radio Brighton the week before the gig there, we played to an empty hall of only four people.  Outside Chichester we were not known.  Back to earth with a bump. 

Learning that getting into the music industry was a little trickier than we thought, Iain and I continued to have fun playing but made plans to go to London to study.  Iain was the talent and I was the brain box.  He went to the Royal Academy of Music, while I focussed on getting into the university of my choice.  Listening back over those tapes now, I realised that we had transformed ourself from a group who played music well, to performers who interacted and had fun with our audiences.  Into the act came Nigel playing the Mr Men as a bass solo.  Iain jazzed up tracks from time to time and Hunting Extremely Large Animals became a reggae.  We loved to intersperse humour where our audiences least expected it.  In Protos after Iain's drum solo we added the Disney 'Looney Tunes' theme just before one of the 'most dramatic' parts of Protos.  From the ridiculous to the sublime. 

We never wanted people to take us, or our music, too seriously.  We loved writing and playing music.   That was all there was too it.  If a record deal had been offered, we probably would have taken it.  At the same time, learning our trade and improving ourselves as composers and performers mattered more.  In 1983, we gave some splendid performances during our farewell gig at the Chichester High School for Girls - these appear on the albums and in the music libraries we're releasing now.  We also did a thoroughly enjoyable reunion gig during the 1984 Chichester Arts Festival outside the Cathedral Green where we performed 'definitive' versions of The Maiden and Tempest that ended up on my solo album Passing DecadesFor practical purposes, however, we had gone our separate ways.

Iain and I started writing our own material but remained close friends.  Steve gave a reading of Bertrand Russell at my wedding.  Iain was my best man, and cracked side splitting jokes about my dress sense.  Later, the tables were turned when I told stories about Cookie-the-Cat (the chandelier swinging moggy) at Iain's wedding to Marianne.  Steve moved on musically to Stepping Sideways, a more guitar centred outfit.  As for Nigel, he graduated from bass guitar to composer and lead guitarist in his own right.  He fronted up a new band with best mate Stuart Collier.  The result was Stone Cold a band that survives to this day.

The story, we thought, was over.  How wrong could we have been?

From the Early 1990s to Today...

The first sense that "something was going on" occured in the early 1990s.  I was at home helping Caroline bring up our first child when I got a call from a record collector. 

"I can give you GBP 10.00!" he proudly pronounced.  For that money, I would rather keep my only copy of One Day a New Horizon and said I'd have a look to see if I could find any other records.  Actually, I didn't bother to look.  He was persistant, however.  Next call, the asking price went up to GBP 50.00.  Now that was worth a trip to my mothers to see if we had any copies kicking around.  We did, so I took four back with me and told the record collector that I'd found one.  He came around and told me that a Japanese collector was interested.

I was cagey.  So was he.  I learnt that he'd gone to the trouble of tracing me through the musicians union, called my mother who gave him my new phone number and address.  He wrote a cheque and then tried to leave without signing it - I had to chase after him.  Something in his eye made me realise that this was not an accident.  He didn't like paying so much for a record.  When I mentioned this to the other band members, Nigel suggested looking in a record collectors book.  That Christmas, I paid a visit to W.H. Smiths and found it listed at the top of the 'most wanted' independent label records.  The price?  GBP 250.00.  What was going on?

For years we harboured the idea that people were just paying a lot because the album was rare.  This was the free market gone crazy, just as described in the film Wall Street.  It was not until I listed an album on eBay that the truth started to emerge.  The album fetched GBP 320.00 but that was not the main surprise.  When I started corresponding with the people who put in bids I found they were all around the world (US, Japan, UK and Italy).  Many gave me their story of how they learned about the album and the effect it had on them and their friends.

Between 1991-93, Protos articles started to circulate in the Japanese prog rock press.  We are still unravelling exactly what occured but it seems clear that we were being compared to top acts in the UK and US favourably (e.g. Genesis, Yes, ELP and England).  People started seeking out the album and were prepared to pay top dollar for it.  How the album made it to Japan (and then the US, Italy etc.) is something I would like to find out.  Behind every story was someone who loved the music.  It is only by talking to them that we finally realised it was the music (and not just the prospect of a sound financial investment) that was driving up the prices people would pay for the album.  Even amongst collectors who admitted it was not their favourite, they confirmed that One Day a New Horizon became "the album you have to have".  When Marquee Inc. in Japan contacted us recently (they are now our distributor in Japan by the way), my contact asked if I could send a CD to them.  Why?  They had only heard One Day a New Horizon on a tape of a tape of a tape.  Bootleg copies, it seems, have been winging their way around the globe for decades.

To give you an idea of the enthusiasm generated by the music, I recently sold my last LP to a buyer in Japan.  He did not pay immediately, so I enquired about the delay.  It turns out he was also bidding for Passing Decades, the Collectors Edition of One Day a New Horizon on CD and my album of classical compositions A Question of Expression.  It is still baffling to us why people who have heard the music have fallen so much in love with it.  This particular buyer said that a friend of his had let him listen to it once.  Since then, he'd been searching for a copy of the album.  Bless him - it must have felt like Christmas when he saw all those albums appear on eBay.

For Steve and I in particular, this is a dream come true.  Our music has not just been remembered, but admired and sought after continuously for two decades now.  It is heartwarming in a world where marketing seems to dominate everything that a band who played no more than 20 gigs in a small town 60 miles from London (England), and whose LP was launched with no hype, hardly any local coverage in the papers, no video, or radio air play, can find - 25 years later - that it has established a worldwide following.

What's the reason?  One memory may provide a clue.  After I went to university, I met up with members of another rock band.  They were very hip and cocky so we chatted away about our experiences.

"Why did you play in a band, then?" one of them asked.

I looked at him as if he was slightly mad. 

"I like writing and playing music," I replied.

He then looked at me as if I was slightly mad.

"Really," he said sarcastically.  "I do it to get sex."

We both laughed.  Underneath this moment, however, maybe there is something significant.  It never occured to me that I might write rock music 'to get sex'.  Now, of course, I feel a bit stupid.  I could have had a fabulous time!  Fancy writing music for the love of writing music - what a dumb idea .  Then again, perhaps when people listened to One Day a New Horizon, our love of writing music came across.  Perhaps at our gigs, our love of performing came across.  I hope so.

In the last month we've received orders for hundreds of copies of One Day a New Horizon before we have even put it on general release.  We've also received pre-orders for nearly 150 copies of Passing Decades based purely on the reputation established by One Day a New Horizon.  From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank you all for making us happy.  We hope to repay you (with interest!) by writing more music that you'll want to listen to for the next 25 years.

Adieu
Rory and Steve