Nick Barker Talks Goats Head Soup

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August 31 marks the 40th anniversary of Goats Head Soup, the Rolling Stones’ 11th British studio, recorded in Jamaica in 1972 and completed in Los Angeles and London in January and May of 1973. The album reached No.1 on the UK and US album charts and yielded the No. 1 UK single ‘Angie.’ Critical reaction to the album was mixed with Bud Scoppa (Rolling Stone)calling it ‘one of the year’s richest musical experiences’ and Lester Bangs (Creem) saying, ‘The sadness comes when you measure not just one album, but the whole sense they’re putting across now against what they once meant…’

Nick Barker, who knows all about interpreting other people’s songs, will be celebrating the anniversary of Goat Head Soup with an array of Melbourne musicians on the release date next week.

Some of Barker’s biggest successes have included a rousing version of Cockney Rebel’s ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’ with his band The Reptiles (which reached the top 30 on the Australian Recording Industry Association Singles Chart in November 1989).

In addition to his own recording and touring commitments, Barker has recorded and performed with Mark Seymour (Hunters & Collectors), Paul Kelly, and You Am I frontman Tim Rogers. Barker has also toured internationally with Rogers and Jimmy Barnes.

When did you first discover the album? Does it bring back any particular memories?

Must have been 73’ or whenever it was released in Australia. My oldest sister bought it from Katie’s [store]in Mt Waverly! It was the first time I’d really heard the Stones…The songs floating out of her bedroom….I was a little freaked out by the poster of the Goats Head cover.

How do you think it stacks up against the other Stones albums of the era? A lot of critics have said that marked the end of the Stones golden age. What do you think?

Yeah, it’s not highly rated. But it’s all about your relationship with the Stones…Its certainly a jammy type of record (but so was Exile) and I’ve read it was recorded that way, worked up and written in the studio in Jamaica, But if you look at it from the song point of view it’s got some classics….’100 Years Ago,’ ‘Comin Down Again,’ ‘Heartbreaker,’ ‘Angie’ – and as a 9-year-old hearing ‘Star Star’ for me was like punk rock.

I don’t subscribe to the end of the Golden Age thinking… Certainly it was the last record they made with Jimmy Miller and second last with Mick Taylor but see, I love Black and Blue as much as I love Let it Bleed! Golden era for me ends after Tattoo You.

It had quite an interesting mix of songs and styles. How do you think it sounds now?

Well, I reckon it’s a bit daring. If you look at what was going on in ’73 specially in the US, a lot of middle of the road rock was emerging (The Eagles). I mean, ‘Heartbreaker’ is a pretty strong statement as a single, certainly not ‘radio friendly’ track. And ‘Can You Hear The Music?’ could have been on Satanic Majesties. Still, it all stacks up to me today,

Are there any particular aspects of the album that appeal to you? As a singer? As a guitarist?

Mick’s phrasing is at its kooky best and there is some truly inspiring guitar playing from both Mick T and Keith – lots of Leslie guitar and wah pedal.

Doing this show is a chance to rediscover the album. What a the things you have rediscovered or that you missed earlier.

Well what I thought the lyrics were and what they ACTUALLY where on some things, I was hearing them as a 9 yo still!!! Funny…And listening to and actually knowing what the instruments are like clavinet,leslie guitar etc

What songs will you be performing?

I’m doing the whole lot!!!! I lobbied hard for this and now….” be careful what you wish for”, I’m crapping myself!! It’s amazing how you think you know a record then reality hits you in the face, its not an easy record to sing , in the shower is one thing, the vocal on “Angie” is astounding,and there is all these crazy arrangement things, weird turn arounds and odd double choruses.

The original had quite an amazing cast of players. Can you tell us about the band and guests you will have? It’s pretty much the 5 of us and a horn section for ‘HeartBreaker.’ The people involved all have a special relationship with this album. Shane O’Mara and I have been saying we should do Goats Head Soup ever since this album performance/celebration thing started becoming popular a few years ago, as it’s his favorite as well. Ash Davies too and Justin Garner who’s been playing with me for ages has the Keith thing down pat. Bruce Haymes promises to wear a Billy Preston wig on the night.

What is the feeling onstage when you are onstage performing in these types of projects? Does it sometimes feel a little surreal?

It’s strange, after playing original music for 30 odd years, I guess I looked down my nose at the big concept bands a bit but when an album comes along that you love its very hard to not jump up and shout ‘Me Me Me!’ It’s like a night off from yourself and there’s no denying peoples appetite for this kind of gig.

The other thing is that you are enjoying hearing the songs as much as the audience – like, oh boy, ‘Starfucker’ is up next!!!!!’ I mean, I’m not about to do it on the Fairstar for 8 weeks but boy as a one-off its fun and really the only chance I get to jam with different musicians.

But beware I can’t guarantee not to do my famously shithouse Mick Jagger impersonation at some point in the evening!

The anniversary of the release of Goats Head Soup will be celebrated at Cherry Bar, AC/DC Lane, Melbourne, next Saturday, August 31, 2013.

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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