How prog is Ultravox frontman John Foxx?
He’s worked with Brian Eno, formed and fronted Ultravox and created a body of new wave synth‑pop solo work. So now we ask: How prog is John Foxx?
Electronic music pioneer John Foxx has made a 45-year career out of continually changing his sound, from glam and proto-punk to new wave/synth-pop, quasi-rave, psych, ambient and beyond. “That was always the plan,” he says. “To make every record different from the last.”
Foxx acknowledges, however, the pitfalls of such an approach. “It can be dangerous,” he says from his home in Bath, laughing. “The most treasured thing in rock’n’roll is consistency, and I’m anything but that. It’s a bit of a problem.”
He once recorded a cover of Pink Floyd’s Have A Cigar – which he admits is the most prog thing he’s ever done. “I liked early Floyd a lot,” he says, but adds that he has another problem, with proficiency, that stretches all the way back to the late 60s.
“The Nice and ELP are, for me, where things went too far into being ‘very good musicians’. Very good musicians, like very good singers, don’t interest me. There’s a point where proficiency blocks musicians off from real adventure, because they become so refined they can’t see the value of crudity. The Velvets were always closer to that, I think, than Yes. I groan when I hear really technically proficient stuff. You need expertise, but you need to know when to abandon it.”
Prog to John Foxx would be anything from Stockhausen to The Shadows – he considers the latter to have been a primary influence on Kraftwerk, whom he also loves, along with fellow Krautrock explorers Neu!.
After The Shadows and Joe Meek, his head was turned by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Steve Howe’s Tomorrow, and Syd-era Floyd. Oh, and The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows, which he spent all night playing when he got his copy of Revolver. “It was such a brilliant piece of music, revolutionary in its layout and concept, completely unlike anything else,” he says.
He immediately wanted to replicate that sense of adventure. “Pop music had become a laboratory where you could try anything. It became a vehicle for imagination and experimentation, which is what got me into it.”
In April 1967, Foxx, born Dennis Leigh 30 years earlier, left his home in Chorley, Lancashire, where he lived with his millworker mother and miner/pugilist father, to attend the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream: a fundraising extravaganza on behalf of countercultural bible International Times, held at Alexandra Palace, featuring poets, artists and musicians. Pink Floyd headlined, while Soft Machine, The Move, Tomorrow, The Pretty Things and many more were on the bill, and the likes of Brian Jones and John Lennon were, Foxx marvels, “just casually strolling about”.