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Martin Orford is the keyboard player with UK prog rock band IQ and Jadis as well appearing on albums by John Wetton amongst others. He is also the guiding light behind the record label Giant Electric Pea. A prime example of how bands and a label can survive outside of the Big Boys in the Music Industry!

1. What are you currently up to?

At the moment I have to keep my record company hat firmly on as that's basically what I do for a living. We've got a new John Wetton studio album coming out on GEP soon, which is a major release in anyone's terms, and means an awful lot of work for me as the sole full-time member of staff for the label. Most of it's fairly mundane stuff like packing boxes and filling in forms, but someone's got to do it. However I always have some musical work on the go as well, and we did a few gigs in the UK with IQ before Christmas. I'm hoping to get some work done on the new Jadis album later this week as that's a band I've been involved with for many years. After that I want to get some writing done for a new IQ CD and maybe another solo album too. I'm planning to go to Poland for some gigs with John Wetton and Jadis in April, and we hope to get a DVD filmed for both bands while we're there.

2. What has been the highlight(s) and lowpoints(s) of your career to date?

Playing at Parkpop with John's band in front of an estimated 250,000 people in Holland a few years ago was a big thrill, but playing to about 15 people in San Diego with the same band a few months later was not so hot! I really enjoy the IQ shows too as they are normally pretty tight and invariably well attended.

3. Which song(s) are you most proud of and why?

I'm particularly proud of IQ's Subterranea album, but generally I can live happily with most of the things I've committed to vinyl or CD over the years. I'm also very proud of my solo album "Classical Music and Popular Songs", which turned out pretty much as I wanted it to, and had some great musicians on it.

4. How did you go about setting up the label Giant Electric Pea? Was it easy/hard top get distributiion and exposure for the label? Which have been the most successful releases so far? What releases have you got coming in 2003?

GEP was set up in 1991 out of absolute necessity as IQ had recently been dropped by Polygram, and we had no-one else to release our albums. Either we had to do it ourselves or face extinction! You tend to learn pretty fast how to run a label when there's no alternative, but though the label was initially just a vehicle for IQ, we have ended up quite by accident with some other great bands and artists on the label, so we must be doing something right.

Distribution was hard to get at first, but as the label grew, we managed to get our CD's distributed in most major territories. The IQ releases have always sold well (Subterranea in particular), but the Spock's Beard and John Wetton albums have all done well for us too. We've got the new John Wetton album "Rock Of Faith" coming up soon, and later in the year we hope to have a new IQ studio album and another concert DVD from our 20th anniversary tour.

5. The mid-80's saw an explosion of prog like bands - Marillion/IQ/Pallas/Twelfth Night etc and a healthy scene was started. Why do you think it never went on one stage bigger? How did IQ/Jadis manage to carry on with lesser exposure throughout the 90's in the press & radio?

Basically the major labels and the media never really got behind it. I guess we were all quite difficult and opinionated people that didn't want to be shaped by big business, and that's served us well in the long run because we've never lost our cult following. The emergence of the Internet has helped us greatly in recent times as people are now less reliant on record stores and are quite happy to get their CD's direct from us. Like Jazz and Folk music, we've managed to survive in spite of the Music Industry rather than because of it, and there's no reason why we can't continue to do so for many years to come. As for radio airplay, well nothing's changed there - we never got much anyway (apart from dear old Fluff Freeman) even when we did have a major record deal!

6. There are newer bands now like Threshold, Karnataka, Mostly Autumn etc Do you think the rock scene is more healthier in the UK and is it possibly bigger than the 80's scene?

I wouldn't say that Threshold are a new band - we released their first album on GEP in 1993! I think the scene is the same as it's always been - it's an appreciable cult market, but it exists under its own rules and limitations.

There are always a few good bands around, but very few that can make a living from their music. It's certainly not bigger than the 80's scene as at least a few bands had major deals then, but whether that did them any long term good is open to debate!

7. Any tales you care to share from your days on the road? Which bands did you enjoy touring with?

I always enjoy touring, and I don't do enough of it, but someone has to keep the business side of things running, and that job normally falls to me. All the bands I tour with have something different to offer: IQ shows are always grand spectacles with lots of projections and visual effects, whilst Jadis is easier from a keyboard point of view, but I get to do more singing! The John Wetton band is also fun as there is such a great treasury of material from King Crimson and UK there, and I love the whole Asia vocal harmony thing that characterises much of John's music.

Touring was pretty uncomfortable in the early days with IQ as we all had to pile into the back of an old Commer van which regularly broke down, and we would have to live on motorway service stations for several days until we could get it fixed.

These days we generally have a nice shiny tour bus with bunks and a microwave, which takes a lot of the discomfort out of the equation. I've got loads of anecdotes about touring ranging from the downright bizarre(normally involving IQ) to the really quite raunchy (normally involving Jadis), but there isn't room to go into any more detail here!

8. Is there anything else you want to achieve in the music business? Who would you have liked to and/or would like to work with?

I would like to manage someone really badly behaved like Oasis or The Beastie Boys so that I could devise ever more disgusting stunts for them just to keep the tabloid newspapers happy. Nothing to do with music admittedly, but I bet it's fun to play that game!

Musically I would love to have played for Camel when I had the chance. I did the audition and things were looking good, but they had a very long world tour planned and it would have scuppered the IQ Subterranea album and probably the record company too if I'd done it. Andy Latimer and Susan Hoover are still friends of mine though and I have the utmost respect for what they do. I wouldn't have minded the keyboard job in Yes either (though I was never offered that one!) as the songs can't possibly be more difficult than King Crimson - not sure if I could have handled the (allegedly) legendary egos though!

9. What was the last thing you read?

All the Harry Potters in a very short space of time. Everyone I know loves them, the IQ guys in particular.

10. Message for your fans...

I'd like to think I keep in pretty regular contact with a fair percentage of them anyway by e-mail etc, but keep buying those CD's guys, so we can do this for another 20 years!


Interview © 2003 Jason Ritchie/
Format and edit: The Music Index.

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