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Roger EnoRoger Eno
Pastoral symphony

Now re-released after years out of print, Between Tides suggests that Roger Eno’s contribution to instrumental music might be every bit as significant as that of his rather more well-known brother. Not that the home-loving composer would be inclined to shout about it. “I’m no self-publicist,” he tells David Davies

It was, as Roger Eno would be the first to admit, rather a long time ago now. In the interim, there have been further solo albums, numerous collaborations and regular live appearances in local old people’s homes (more of which later). But through the fog of last night’s home-made wine, a shard of memory is emerging about the making of Between Tides.

“All the people on that record were really good friends,” he recalls. “We would have a hard day’s work and then just get legless in the evening! It suits me down to the ground, that sort of arrangement.”

The jovial, alcohol-enhanced atmosphere in which Between Tides was recorded could sound a little at odds with the album itself at first hearing. But while there is no mistaking the pronounced influence of composers including Vaughan Williams on Between Tides’ innately English ambience, this is no po-faced tribute. In fact, it’s a very playful record, as Eno admits: “That amusing element kind of crept in there on Between Tides.”

Despite the contrast between sparse, piano-only compositions with more elaborate, string-enriched pieces, Between Tides – originally released by ambient label All Saints in 1992 – is a strikingly cohesive work. Eno gives much of the credit for this to Canadian producer Michael Brook, best-known on these shores for his work with Mary Margaret O’Hara and the album Black Rock, a sublime collaboration with Armenian duduk maestro Djivan Gasparyan. “He has got such good ears, that fella,” says Eno of Brook. “I trust him greatly. If something was questionable he could bring it up and I wouldn’t take it as a personal criticism.”

Roger EnoThe second album to appear solely under Roger’s own name, Between Tides proved to be a pivotal moment in several ways. Not only did the record crystallise an unashamedly melodic style, it also marked Eno’s retreat from urban life to the Suffolk of his childhood. Resettling close to Woodbridge, where he was born, Eno recalls the period surrounding the album as “a very idyllic time – going for walks and dashing off on bicycles. It was romantic with a capital ‘R’.” No wonder, then, that the invigorating sensation of being out in the open once more should prompt an immersion in the sweeping, expansive music of English pastoralists like Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth.

“I loved the lushness, the simplicity of the lines,” recalls Eno. “They used a lot of folk song – those melodies were very apparent.” In time, the influence would become more discernible still, with Eno’s 1998 album The Flatlands conjuring a vivid spectre of the English countryside past and present. A personal favourite of Eno himself, The Flatlands is something of a lost gem and long overdue for the reissue treatment.

Roger, as it turns out, is rather eager to have the album re-released himself, not least because much of his income depends on pieces from his solo or collaborative albums being picked up by directors for use in films and documentaries. The celebrated Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album – made with brother Brian and Daniel Lanois – is a case -in-point, having been plundered on dozens of occasions since it was released in 1983. Conceived as a soundtrack to a documentary about the Apollo missions, its 12 evocative pieces constitute one of the most exquisite artefacts anywhere in electronic music.

“It is a beauty, isn’t it?” says Eno, who recalls that the album also brought him and Brian – who is eleven years older – closer together. “That record was when I really got to know my brother. It was essentially Danny [Lanois] and his brother, and me and my brother, going ‘round the suburbs of Hamilton in Toronto just laughing our fucking brains out!”

If Apollo marked Roger’s closest brush with the mainstream, he seems happy to maintain a lower profile these days. Having left his day job playing music in a mental hospital – “it was really peculiar because there were people on very heavy tranquillisers like Largactil and Mogadon, and you’d go into the social club at lunchtime and the head psychiatrist would be filling himself up with whisky!” – long ago, he now fills the time with a mixture of solo projects and collaborations. He still does his bit for society, though: “Every month I play in four old people’s homes for an hour each. The best ones are still miserable, but by the nature of the thing you can make the day brighter for people for a while.”

Not that he’s complaining. In fact, he’s one of the most contented people TM-Online has ever spoken to. “I’m no self-publicist,” he says, laughing. “But I have always done exactly what I wanted to do, and somehow I’ve kind of done what normal people do. I’ve got a house, a family, a car – that sort of thing – yet every day I can go down by the seaside and sit there for hours if I want. It’s charmed… if I became cynical, I would kick myself.”

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