Robin Simon

John Foxx collaborator and JCRS man Robin Simon faces down the quick-fire question machine

Where are you right now and what can you see?

“In the woods at the back of Skipton Castle in Yorkshire. I can see the river and trees and the cliffs from the bridge that looks up to the back of the castle.” 

If you could have five minutes with the teenage you, what would you say to him?

“I’d be in London – I moved there in 1975 when I was 19. I used to walk past Malcolm McLaren’s shop, Sex, on the King’s Road to rehearse with my band Neo in Fulham. I would tell myself to insist on auditioning when I replied to the ad McLaren ran for a guitarist.” 

You’ve worked with Ultravox, Magazine, Visage and John Foxx And The Maths – do you have a favourite?

“I liked Ultravox best as I had input in the direction. Magazine were maybe the most exciting to play with live.”  

Your distinctive guitar work on Ultravox’s ‘Systems Of Romance’ primed the sound of the 1980s. That’s a decent legacy.

“Well, it was recorded in a very modern way for the time. I used six floor pedals straight to tape. Conny would then add extreme phaser effects or  a touch of ring mod, which made it sound like a synth.”  

Ah, the great Conny Plank. How was it working with him?

“It was great. He was a very nice character, humble compared to some producers. He didn’t try to impose his music tastes or turn it into something  it wasn’t. He would capture the performance then augment the sound.”  

Give us an example?

“‘Dislocation’ was instigated by a random riff he had on a sequencer.  The notes seemed variable so John Foxx just sang over the sequencer.  I think the electronic percussion was down to Conny and John too.”  

You can hear much of what Ultravox went on to become on ‘Systems’, can’t you?

“The lyrics on ‘Just For A Moment’ were inspired by singing to the music the machine made on ‘Dislocation’. To me, it’s the blueprint for ‘Vienna’. Tracks like that and ‘Sleepwalk’ were based on John’s songwriting style, but they seemed to refuse to give him any credit, which I thought was disappointing.” 

So, you and John Crawford – Ultravox meets Berlin. That’s an interesting brew…

“I was keen to try another combination of a Europop/rock-style band. I noticed August Day Records were doing a lot of orchestral albums of 80s bands…when I saw they were working with Berlin I thought I’d ask about them.  Then I was in LA and we had a chance meeting. I thought John would be a perfect collaborator for me, so we tried it.”  

You made the ‘Arclight’ album in a week – that’s good going…

“There wasn’t really a lot of time spent on it – just enough to keep it a spontaneous project.”  

Recording and releasing music is so much easier these days, don’t you think?

“It can have its downsides. I think a lot of hits are too recognisable as just a backing track with a singer over it. They’re lacking the sort of musicianship that was always valued by people like Bowie, or the fire and passion that a band can produce.”

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