Q. When did you become a musician and what/who inspired you?
It still feels weird to call myself a musician! I’d say I was more a music enthusiast and part-time practitioner. I have been lucky to be in bands with great musicians. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Andy Fletcher but I’m far from Alan Wilder! I never studied music at school or ever had a lesson; for me it’s all been self taught and learning from others.
I didn’t really get into music until quite late; my teenage years were spent in the mid to late nineties; Britpop and boring indie dominated, and the charts were beginning to fill with manufactured pop like Spice Girls and Take That. There was nothing that struck a chord with me. My parents were into Motown, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and 60s & 70s stuff so that didn’t inspire me either.
You may find it strange, but one of the few bands I really liked at the time was No Doubt. This was partially due to Gwen and my hormones, but I also liked how they used a lot more interesting sounds and influences, with New Wave and Ska mixed in with a quirky pop sound.
No Doubt lead me into becoming a big fan of early 80s New Wave; Blondie, Missing Persons, Berlin, Oingo Boingo and Duran Duran.
I started flirting with being a bit of a goth at this time too, as we all did (some still do..).
I was also beginning to really start appreciating the synthesiser, but during this time I still had no real desire to play in a band and I didn’t often go to any gigs.
My ‘Eureka!’ moment that shaped my musical taste and creative future was in 1999; discovering Ladytron’s first album ‘604’, after reading a review of it on Teletext that I found quite interesting. I was absolutely blown away by it! I was hypnotised by the wonderful swirling, eerie synths and mechanical rhythms. It had a dead-pan charm that was both bleak and captivating. It was danceable and highly melancholic and really struck me as something special. Discotraxx is still one of my all-time favourite songs. I became a true Ladytron fanboy.
This lead me into taking a greater interest into the likes of The Human League, Gary Numan, Ultravox, Modern Electroclash (Miss Kittin & Fischerspooner) and of course Depeche Mode.
I found something in music I could finally really relate to, and quickly became a synthpop collector; my CD collection exploded with both vintage and new synth artists, and I started to attend more and more gigs and festivals.
I saw Ladytron perform about 10 times in the first couple of years and was mesmerised by 4 members all playing synthesisers live, how all of their sounds came together. I think this inspired me to want to have a play with a synth myself and have a go at creating these great sounds.
Q. What was the first synthesizer you bought?
A. It was a Casio CZ-101, bought off eBay for about £70. It came with 3 books with instructions for programming hundreds of patches, so I used to spend a lot of time on the sofa with my headphones in tapping away and squinting at the tiny LCD display. All my time was spent creating kooky sounds rather than actually playing music. (Some might say this is still the case...).
My second was my trusty Novation K-Station, which I still use extensively today! This was my instruction to analog (albeit virtual) modelling, and I found twisting knobs and modulating filters huge fun.
Q. Were you involved in any other projects before joining Berlyn Trilogy?
A. Yes, my first experience of playing in a band was with Chat Noir, a Wakefield-based quintet. Musically very different to Berlyn Trilogy; kind of dream-pop/shoegaze.
It was my little sister Chloe’s band. She is a talented song writer, and was keen to play some live gigs. She formed the band in late-2009 with a couple of mates, but couldn’t find a drummer. She knew I had a cheap drum machine (BOSS DR-660) I messed around with, so she asked me to put some drum tracks together for her songs. There were also some keyboard parts to play, so I joined them on stage with my JP8000 and drum machine.
I started to add more synth sounds and contributing to the songs and sound more over time. We did struggle with the drum machine and eventually we got a ‘real’ drummer, which freed me up to concentrate more on synths.
It was fun times and great experience, but the gigs were often shambolic and babies came along and band relations were strained and we called it a day after 2 years.
It was a good introduction to music making for me and I found being on stage not nearly as nerve-wracking as I expected, so I was keen to keep on playing.
Q. Berlyn Trilogy formed in April 2012, what brought you all together?
A. I first knew of Dorian and Faye in 2011 when I saw their old band ‘The Tracks’ play various gigs in Wakefield. Though having a bit more of an indie/rock sound than I’d normally listen to, I did really like their stuff.
Dorian sent me a message not long after Chat Noir ended asking if I’d be interested in becoming their synth player. Though I was very flattered, I turned them down as I genuinely felt I didn’t have the necessary playing ability.
A few months later I was chatting to them in a pub after one of their gigs, and I mentioned that I’d love to be in a synthesiser-based band. They both showed keen interest.
Later Dor emailed me 3 demo tracks (Runners, Leaving Notes & Skylight, all ended up on the album) and asked me to see what I thought and have a go at doing some drums and additional synths. I loved the songs and came up with my bits which I sent back and forth. It seemed to work, so we booked a practice to see if it could work live, and it did!
We were all hugely excited and eager to get going. We found we complemented each other well, as we all gravitated towards defined roles; not unlike a traditional guitar band, we had Faye concentrating on bass parts (be it Rickenbacker or Moog), myself concentrating on rhythm, with drum tracks, arpeggios and pads, and Dorian taking charge of lead lines and melody.
Q. You are good friends with fellow Yorkshire synth acts like the Jan Doyle Band & The Webb, how would you describe the current Yorkshire synth scene or as Derek Anthony Williams calls it 'The New Wave of Waveform' ?
A. The Webb are actually from The Wirral, but we love them so they can be honorary tykes! Unfortunately Yorkshire doesn’t seem to be overflowing with synth acts at the moment. Which is shame considering the rich history. It appears that down south in the London area is the place to find contemporary synthpop currently.
Derek deserves huge credit for trying to promote synth music and live events up here. It is a very tough battle against venues not understanding/not willing to take a chance on our music, and the apathy of a lot of people have towards getting out and paying to see live bands. Derek’s enthusiasm and perseverance has seen him put on some great DEF events, without getting the audience and respect from the venues he deserves. They have a small but loyal following which I hope grows in the future. Jack Duckworth has started organising the Der Hammer events in Sheffield recently, which have seen live acts and DJ-ing of great music; I hope these nights continue with success. And the AnalogueTrash guys are doing a great job with their label and putting events on, albeit on the wrong side of the Pennines.
Yorkshire can be proud that it hosts the UK’s 2 largest festivals of alternative electronic music, with Infest in Bradford and Resistanz in Sheffield. Both are hugely popular events that I enjoy every year, and attract bands and audience from all over the country and Europe. I do find that I’m one of the few Yorkshire natives at these events. Perhaps the possibility of fringe events that could possibly tap into the popularity of these festivals could be a way of promoting local synth acts? These festivals have a reputation of being focussed on the harder industrial side of synth, harsh industrial, ebm and futurepop (which I know Derek is keen to distance himself from), but I have also seen many varied and quality synthpop acts at these events. I would be more than happy if Berlyn Trilogy were ever on the bill!
My home town of Wakefield and nearby Leeds are still dominated by indie/rock guitar bands; we have often found ourselves on bills sandwiched between these more ‘regular’ bands. Though this proves difficult in getting equipment set-up and sound levels right, we often found that we’d go down really well with the audience, win around doubters and gain new fans. Which show’s that if more venues did try more synth acts, they could be a success. There is the perennial issue that all us synth acts have of being branded 80s throwbacks whenever the untutored see us setting up synthesisers.
I also think it’s hard to get young people to any gigs these days. The socialising culture seems to have changed. The days where you’d start a night out at 8 by going to see some bands before hitting the bars and clubs seem to be going. A lot of northern towns seem dead until about 11pm, possibly due to people drinking at home on the cheap, the 24hr drinking laws, and more youngsters having nights in on social media/watching box sets.
Q. Perfect Stranger! Brilliant album! It was Rob Harvey’s Album of The Year. I heard a lot of blood, sweat and tears went in to the album. Did you realise it had the 'Wow' factor when it was completed?
A. Short answer is no! The album took so long to make, there was lots of little ‘wows’ along the way, but by the time is was complete all the songs were so familiar to us there was no one special moment.
After a few months of existence, we recorded and mixed a 5 track EP by ourselves in Dorian’s parent’s garage. We were very naive and inexperienced and the recordings seemed to badly lack punch and polish. So we decided to record 2 new tracks (Can The Heart Be Saved and Words of a Stranger) with a professional in Steve Whitfield, and have them properly mixed and mastered.
We were so blown away by how much better they sounded that we decided every song on the album must be done properly, in this way. We found having a third party input into the songs was invaluable; to be not too precious with the songs and be open to suggestions and tweaks really improved the songs. In a lot of cases it was stripping things out that weren’t needed. We classed Steve as very much the fourth member of the band during the recording process.
Obviously there was a lot of time and money going into it, and with us all working full-time, to do a 12 track album we had to spread the recording over more than a year. We’d do 2/3 tracks every couple of months or so, meaning we had about 6 little ‘wow’s whenever we got the couple of tracks back from Steve.
We even formed a temporary 80s electro covers band and played birthday parties and pubs to cover some of the cost involved! Sad that we had to do this to get paid gigs!
It was well worth it, I’m very proud of what we achieved and for Rob Harvey, who is such a connoisseur of synthpop, to give us his backing was a great honour. It helped spur me on to continue the band.
I have one big regret that the album wasn’t given the promotion push it should have had. Shortly after the release, the guy that was acting as our band manager to push the band was going through personal issues and found himself with less time for us, and then shortly afterwards Dorian left, so there was never ever great inclination to get the album out there.
Other than Rob’s kind words, only 2 reviews of the album exist; one of them a few words by a local indie fanzine and the other by Intravenous magazine (a great review btw ;)).
It was picked up on in Russia strangely; we have sold quite a few copies to Russia and Eastern Europe, and it’s prevalent on many dodgy Russian streaming sites!
We did only one small run of physical copies, 15 of which I still have at home. So for Rob to discover us it was lucky. I think he first became aware when he saw us support Tenek at Bedsitland on our only trip to London so far.
Q. Sadly, Dorian left Berlyn Trilogy but you now have a new vocalist in Simon Rowe. How did he become part of the line up?
A. Simon has been a good friend of mine for over 10 years (I was best man at his wedding!). We shared some musical tastes, and enjoyed many festivals and gigs together. He liked Berlyn Trilogy and saw us play a few times.
We were out drinking in a pub (sound familiar?) while I was telling him of the woes Berlyn Trilogy were going through; deciding if to advertise for a new singer or pack it in. It then came to me that Simon used to do a bit of singing and production in a band, and was very knowledgeable on music technology and recording, so I asked if he’d be interested in giving BT a go. He was very enthusiastic about it; I put it past Faye; she thought it a good idea; he quickly learnt some of the tracks, we organised a practice it turned out to be a great fit!
Q. I know you were gutted when Dorian left, did you find it difficult realising what might be happening then happened?
A. It came as a complete shock to me, completely out of the blue. As far as I was aware, things were going well. We had started working on new songs for the next EP/album, we had some decent gigs lined up and we’d just spent 2 long evenings shooting our first proper music video.
I then received a message that Dorian had ended all relations with Faye and couldn’t be in the band anymore. I was gutted as there was nothing I could do about it. At first I thought that we could perhaps take a break, let things cool off and then try to work together again. But Dorian made it clear that couldn’t happen.
When he quickly began making music and re-using his demos with his new project, it made me think that perhaps the reasons for him leaving weren’t only personal but perhaps he wasn’t happy with how the band worked creatively/musically as well.
I don’t want to speculate or speak for Faye or Dorian; I tried to stay out of the personal stuff as much as I could. There was an awful lot of mud-slinging, it was a really bad time.
I felt so frustrated that all the effort, time and money we’d put in to get where we were could be wasted, I considered just packing in music all together and doing something else with my free time. I also considered starting a new project with my sister.
After a few months I did begin to miss it, and with encouragement from our fans and family, Faye and I decided to try continue Berlyn Trilogy and look for a replacement singer.
On reflection, the band dynamic of being a 3-piece with 2 of the members in a relationship was not ideal, and a strain for me. I often found myself being in the middle of arguments in practice and I hated feeling the gooseberry and having to side with one or the other. There was always the potential for personal issues to affect the band. It is not a situation I’d like to be in again.
The band dynamic now is very different. We each lead very separate lives, with separate outside interests and relationships. Though this makes it difficult to find the time to get together, when we do the working relationship is more balanced and comfortable.
Q. What attributes does Simon bring to Berlyn Trilogy?
A. I was hugely pleased with how enthusiastic Simon is about the band, and how quickly he has learnt the current songs, which enabled us to be ready to play live again within just a couple of months of him joining us.
He has a smooth, commanding, consistent vocal that fit’s the music really well.
He is very tech savvy, having a background in music technology and recording. He has already rearranged and balanced our live sound and even built bits of kit which enable us to sync with midi-clock once again for live arpeggios. He has got on board with our fetish for using hardware over software as much as possible in our live set-up, and has bought himself a lovely 90’s Roland rack mount synth (the model escapes me..) and programmed sounds that complement the BT sound beautifully.
Outside of the music, his background in IT has enabled him to build us a great new website (berlyntrilogy.com), and he’s also been known to Tweet (something Faye and I have shied away from!). He has also taken on a remix for the forthcoming Manga Bros release.
While Faye and I’s musical tastes are quite similar, Simon brings in some different musical influences which I’m sure we will see creep in to the sound of future releases.
Q. There was a new single with a video to accompany it in the pipeline, Will you still be releasing it?
A. In the period between releasing the album and Dorian leaving, we did record two new songs, Wreckage of Love and Tokyo Rooftops, up to the stage where they were almost ready for mastering and release as a double A-side single/short EP.
We did shoot a music video for Wreckage of Love, with proper acting and car chase scenes and everything. Unfortunately Dorian left before the video was fully edited, so it will never see the light of day. Fortunately it was filmed by a student that did it for free as part of his course experience, so we didn’t lose any money and hopefully he got some worthwhile experience from it.
Q. Will you be releasing a new album with new tracks? will it include some previous unrecorded tracks from the original line up?
A. We will be releasing Wreckage of Love and Tokyo Rooftops later in June as an EP. We loved these two songs and did not want to let them slip. We’ve re-recorded the vocals with Simon, added some new synths and re-mixed. We are putting these songs out as a separate release as they represent a transition between the old BT and the new.
Hopefully there will be brand new material ready later this year. Obviously losing our main song-writer means that we are now quite inexperienced in that department and face a bit of a leap into the unknown initially, so people may have to be patient while we experiment and construct songs we are truly happy with. But we are all relishing the challenge and are confident of success!
Q. What was the highlight of your first 2 years together as Berlyn Trilogy?
A. For me it is probably the gig we played supporting Blancmange in Wakefield in November 2013. It was our first time playing in front of a packed room. The atmosphere was electric! We seemed to thrive off it and played the best set we’d played up to that point.
We were still running a temperamental drum machine/sequencer and multiple midi cables at the time, but everything worked beautifully.
I found the sound desk recording of the gig on my laptop the other day, and it did confirm how well we’d played. I might try and find a way of releasing it via a youtube video or something at some point!
Q. What next for James Beswick?
A. More ribbon stroking and pitch bending! Other than that, I bought my first house last year and it has a spare room that has only been used for storage. My main aim over the next few weeks is to turn it into a music room, where I can have my array of dusty synths all set-up, and buy a new desktop PC and DAW, which will allow me play about a lot easier and start to lay down some tracks of my own.
Using music recording software is something I’ve left to other people in the past (I spend most of my working day at a computer, so try to avoid them in my free time). But it’s something I need to learn now to enable me to play a larger role in the songwriting process. I suppose I should learn a bit more music theory too...
Q. Finally James, thank you and I wish you, Faye and Simon the best of luck on your new journey.
Anything you would like to add?
A.Just a massive thanks to Revival Synth for this opportunity to vent my spleen, and for all the amazing work you do to promote the music and bands that we all love, especially from your beloved Yorkshire! .
Also, it’s thanks to Andy Jay that our next gig is a brilliant one, supporting Empathy Test and Vivien Glass in Manchester on 20th June. We would love to see you there!