Camera Obscura Interview (with Peter Oldroyd & Nigel James)

Camera Obscura Interview (with Peter Oldroyd & Nigel James)

In the summer of 2005, Marc Schaffer released the Camera Obscura lp on his label Anna Logue, out of Würzburg, Germany. Recently, he conducted an interview with the band. The following is the result of the interview. For more information on the release look here.

  • In the summer of 2005, Marc Schaffer released the Camera Obscura lp on his label Anna Logue, out of Würzburg, Germany. Recently, he conducted an interview with the band. The following is the result of the interview. For more information on the release look here.

    1. Camera Obscura: could you explain what the band name means and why you chose it as your band name?

    Nigel: Peter actually put the name to me; I thought it sounded relevant.

    Peter: Yes I did, that’s right, It’s the title to a short story from a book I found, I just liked the sound of it at the time, still do actually.

    2. Camera Obscura was formed in the end of 1982 in England. Can you tell us how you guys met and what the social background was back then? Did the atmosphere in your city or country influence you to write music and especially lyrics? What in particular makes you write your lyrics, Nigel?

    Peter: I initially met Nigel in a nightclub after a gig with my previous band Dream House, we decided to meet up again and write some songs together. Actually, some of the first songs we wrote included Destitution and Race in Athens so not a bad start really!

    Nigel: Certainly where we were brought up had some influence on the way I personally viewed things; I tried to reflect this from our own personal perspective at the time. Albeit some songs are topical (idea coming from news articles etc.); other songs the lyrics were inspired by Peter’s tune; an example here would be race in Athens which has that driving/enduring edge to it.

    3. Why were you making electronic music and was the synth-pop-duo a planned thing? Were there any particular bands that influenced you extraordinarily and was there something like a New Wave scene where you lived? Were you in contact with other electronic/wave groups and if yes, was there something like supporting each other in man power or gear or any exchange of ideas? Peter, did you learn to play any instruments or were you educating yourself? What was your favourite gear at that time? When reflecting the early 80’s musical scene, any highlights you did undergo that you wanna share with the interested reader?

    Nigel: I’ll let Peter answer in the main; my additional view is yes we were influenced by certain other artists but only to an extent. Peter tends to have his own format when structuring a song; which to me fuses old time song writing techniques with electronic sounding music. i.e 60’s/70’s pop with new age synth style of the 80’s.

    Peter: well, no, it wasn’t planned at all really, I had a few ideas at the time and this one just stuck, mainly because Nigel and I clicked straight away. I think I was influenced mainly by Fad Gadget, Human League, Kraftwerk and Joy Division.
    There was a scene in my home town but I wasn’t that interested in it, I was friends, and still am for that matter, with Fiat Lux who were signed to Polydor at the time and were on the fringes of being famous, a bit like we were really.
    I’m self-taught. I started playing keyboards after building a synthesizer kit when I was 16, it was called a Transcendent 2000 and was a bit crap really, I quickly graduated to a Roland SH5.
    My favourite equipment at the time of Camera was my Roland JP8, which I acquired after the release of Destitution and the combination of Roland TR808/CSQ100/SH09. In my view, it’s the best gear to compose and be inspired to write electronic music. I’ve currently got all the above minus the CSQ100, I’ve got a 600 which is lots of fun but a bit over egged really, I loved the simplicity of the 100, oh happy days!
    Highlights, hmm, well, getting Destitution released, all the airplay and getting into the Indi charts, everyone telling me Camera were gonna be huge, and I guess meeting Frank Tovey on a few occasions, what a top bloke and sorely missed. Actually, the first time I met Frank was in a nightclub in Brussels, my band at the time were playing the venue the next night and we’d arrived a day early to see him play, he was MAD! Wonderful!

    4. What were your aims and hopes with Camera Obscura? Did you expect to become a successful band such as Depeche Mode, OMD, Soft Cell or the Human League who had international success and obviously could make a living from their music?

    Nigel: Yes! (in a nutshell) that would have been nice!

    Peter: I agree, the main aim of the band was success, recognition and to have a long-term career in the music business but to start with what I really needed was some money!

    5. In 1983, Camera Obscura released a vinyl 7” including the tracks Destitution and Race in Athens on Small Wonder Records. How did you manage to get this released, how many were made and what did you expect from the record?

    Nigel: I sent a tape of about 4 songs (the second batch we wrote) to Small Wonder records. Pete Stennet the owner called us back (whilst we were rehearsing ironically at Peter’s one afternoon). It seemed so easy and simple then! I’ll let Peter answer the latter part of the Question.

    Peter: I’d forgotten about that, yeh, what a great afternoon that was! I think 2000 were pressed and they all sold. I’m not sure what we expected from the record but I was confident we’d make lots more music, so it seemed a fabulous stepping-stone to greater things. How wrong could you be!

    6. Later you did record several demos for the major labels EMI and Arista. Unfortunately, you never got the chance to get an album out on these labels. How did it make you feel personally and about the future of Camera Obscura? Were you making any efforts later to get the material released somewhere else?

    Nigel: yes this was very frustrating at the time; in fact it still stirs up emotive memories as Peter and I have often reflected on this recently (what might have been); why we find it annoying is we know we would have been successful if one of these companies would have taken the plunge. Unfortunately being tied up to the infamous 101 label meant we couldn’t pursue any offers at the time; then later we opted for the mistake of going all guitar and commercial orientated! (Peter will add to this)

    Peter: How did it make me feel? Hmm, absolutely pissed off, yes I think that about sums it up. After ’84 I think we panicked and what followed was not pretty. No I didn’t attempt to get the Camera material released elsewhere, it made me sick just listening to it, we were so good at that time, what a waste.

    7. Out of the blue, in the summer of 2005, you have released a ten track vinyl album including the original 1983 recordings on the newly founded German label Anna Logue Records. What made you do that and what did you expect from that record?

    Nigel: Totally unplanned as far as I was concerned; all started via Mark Shaffer getting in touch with Peter; hence he will do a better job of answering this one!

    Peter: Marc approached me and I said yes pretty much straight away, he seemed a real enthusiast to me and I was right. I think vindication was all I wanted really, I knew the songs were good and that’s probably why I kept the master tapes for 20+ years. What we got, in fact, was lots of fan mail and rave reviews, who could ask for more. Magic.

    8. Anna Logue Records besides its musical aims is committed to animal protection and procurement. What is your point of view on this matter?

    Nigel: Absolutely agree-endorse this view; I’m a big cat lover and have had many cats over the years; people who are cruel to animals have no respect for life and should be locked away for good; all life is valued under God’s laws! As far as I’m concerned cruelty to animals clearly illustrates a vile inner evil within the psyche; maybe that’s the psychologist coming out of me he he!

    Peter: Nigel I think you’re spot on with that. I have a dog, it’s rescued actually, and I don’t understand how anyone could be cruel to him. Pets are so trusting you should never betray that trust, it’s criminal if you do in my view.

    9.Camera Obscura has played a concert in 2005 in Germany after nearly 20 years of stage absence? How did you experience the gig and did it make you want to do further gigs in the future? What does it mean to you to play live? And how do you think about playing electronic music live as a duo in respect of backing tapes or notebook playback respectively?

    Nigel: Although the number of people that came was disappointing; it was a fantastic experience! The response and feel from the crowd was excellent; yes I would love to play again soon; I personally enjoy playing live more than recording.

    Peter: Yes, it was a great deal of fun, I enjoyed it tremendously and would like to do it again, so if anyone has any dates available please get in touch! Playing live, I use a Mac G4 laptop running Cubase SX3, which is very stable and really easy to use. I converted quite a few of the 1983 backing tapes and used them for the 2005 gig, which was interesting. I think if I have time it would be fun to use the Revox B77 again ‘cos it looks so cool, I’ve still got it in the garage somewhere!

    10. How do you view Camera Obscura today? Has it become an important part of your lives again or is it a project that you do not attach great importance to anymore? What does influence you nowadays? Looking back at like 30 years of active music listening what are your top ten groups/albums of all times ?

    Peter: I think Camera Obscura will always be an important part of my life, it’s what got me started in the music business, I think we were pretty good too. I find influences all over the place from Photek to Robbie Williams, whatever gets me going really. I think it’s very difficult to list a top ten as it’s probably changing all the time but Artists/Albums or Singles that have excited, moved me emotionally or just made me sit up and listen over and over again might be: The Undertones “teenage kicks”
    Kraftwerk “The Man Machine”
    The Prodigy “Fat of the Land”
    The Carpenters “Superstar”
    Joy Division “Closer”
    John Foxx “Metamatic”
    Orbital “Middle of Nowhere”
    Fad Gadget “Fireside Favourites”
    Human League “Travelogue”
    Photek “Solaris”

    Hmmm, looking at that, ten seems a small number to me, I’ve probably got hundreds! Over to you Nigel.
    Nigel: Obviously other things now such as careers have overwhelming priority but yes, it is important to me; being able to communicate through the medium of music is a very fulfilling action. The group was everything in the early days; these type of feelings run deep and opportunities and talents should never be taken for granted or wasted. A tough part of the question that one as different eras have a different influence on your musical taste; I for instance tend to be proactive and contemporary in my listen choices! But off the cuff it would be: Sparkle in the rain- Simple minds The red album (1962-66) the Beatles (all those great early tunes started it all off) Heroes- David Bowie Mezzanine- Massive Attack What’s the story morning glory- Oasis Penthouse and pavement- Heaven 17 Wish you were here- Pink Floyd BRMC- Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club Who’s next- The Who And the new Madonna album (confessions on a dance floor) is kicking!

    11. What are the next steps in the history of Camera Obscura? It is known that you are currently re-recording two further old tracks from 1983 (Moving the Mercury and Strange Faces) for an upcoming release. How does the technical evolution affect the sound of the new recordings? Are you planning to record another album with totally new compositions under the name of Camera Obscura? If yes, how do you view the sound of such an album?

    Nigel: Peter and I have to yet evolve our music into a version that remains loyal to the old sound and style etc. yet demonstrates our growth as artists who are now 20 years older; yes this is the aim to write some new material though when times allows. I’m very excited by the prospect.

    Peter: I’m working on the sound right now, it’s not there yet but I’m close! I think we’ll record some new songs later this year when schedules allow, it’d be rude not to!

    12. The final words are yours.

    Nigel: Hm well; the questions were very good and relevant; all I would say is I look forward to having this aspect of my life as a welcome distraction from many other elements! We have and always will be just 2 guys who met but somehow clicked with our musical direction and intentions; I don’t see that changing; after all there is no pressure from outside forces these days; best wishes all and thanks for your interest; anytime!

    Peter: Never give up, ever! I believe in total DIY when it comes to the music industry these days, avoid the major labels until they come to you and always be true to your music. If only I’d known that in 1983, but would I have changed anything? I rather think not. Right that’s the lot then, I’m off to the pub!

    Thanks to Marc Shaffer, Peter Oldroyd and Nigel James for this contribution.

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