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By: Gaz Cloud
Pictures by: Charlie Gardner
‘We’re Gaz and Chas, from Echoes and Dust,’ I inform the shivering security guards, as we wait outside the stage doors on a cold night in North Wales, only to be met with blank stares and frowning faces. Things weren’t going well: Knifeworld has just performed at the HRH Prog festival, held in a giant holiday camp near Pwllheli, and now the venue security did not seem keen to let us pass. Following some dialogue behind closed doors, Kavus Torabi’s buoyant hair emerges around the corner to peak at who’s waiting outside. Suddenly, the door bursts open, the band’s charismatic frontman literally greeting us with open arms. We’re in, and ushered to the ‘green room’ – in reality, a bare shell with a handful of cheap plastic seats and a fridge boasting a single, half-drunk pint of beer.
Thankfully the lack of amenities doesn’t seem to bother the 3/8ths of the ensemble gathered to talk with us. Kavus is joined by bassist Charlie Cawood and multi-instrumentalist, Josh Perl (saxophone, acoustic guitar and vocals on most songs contained in the live set). We are also in real danger of being drowned out by The Skys’ headline slot mere meters from where we’re sat – ‘It’s lucky I’m so loud, otherwise the interview would just be white noise!’ jokes Kavus. It’s true that he’s a commanding, confident presence, and the others in the ensemble defer to him throughout the interview.
The band opened the evening’s show with a new song, and as such I begin by asking if work on the band’s third album was already underway. ‘Oh, absolutely. We want to record this album in the way bands used to record albums,’ Kavus asserts. ‘I’ve produced the previous two and it’s so liberating to be handing this over. We’ve brought in Bob Drake to work on this one and we’re very excited about it.’ I ask when we may get to hear more of this material. ‘We’ll be playing the new songs on the May tour. I’m particularly excited about the line up on the 29th (at London’s Boston Music Room) as that’ll be all the bands I’m pushing.’
Kavus dedicated the single new song on offer this evening to Daevid Allen, the founder of Gong, who passed on just six days before the interview and gig took place. Kavus was a member of the ensemble at the time and, as someone whose life has also been massively affected by the legendary front-man, I’m careful to broach the subject matter with sensitivity, suggesting his passing was sad. ‘It is and it isn’t,’ comes the honest reply. ‘I mean we were in touch with his family towards the end, and getting regular e-mails from Australia… Daevid was in a great deal of pain, and towards the end really wanted to die. All of his lyrics were obsessed by death. I mean listen to “You Never Blow Your Trip Forever”. Look, Daevid’s been here a thousand times before and I’m just looking forward to seeing him the next time.’
In spite of his loss, Kavus and his partner in crime Steve Davis (yes, that Steve Davis) were able to present a special tribute to Daevid on his Interesting Alternative radio show, just three days after he died. For those assembled in the chat room and listening around the world, the show was a moving and joyous celebration; and it seemed only fitting that the run-time was extended by 11 minutes to synchronise with Daevid’s cremation. The duo closed their broadcast with ‘Thank You’, the penultimate track from last year’s triumphant I See You LP. ‘We knew once we heard it (that this was his swansong). Even though it was written before the cancer, we all knew.’ Daevid talked at length about Gong surviving after he’d gone, and Kavus assumed the role of front-man at the autumn shows, when Daevid had been too ill to participate. Did Kavus think the band would continue? ‘Oh, for sure.’ And would he be keen to lead such an ensemble? ‘I knew he wanted me to pilot it. It’s an honour to do this, if I can… I really want to make this work!’ Whilst he’s keen to point out that there are no firm plans in place yet, this news is as exciting as anything we discuss; and we sense Kavus’ pride at being given the nod from one of his childhood heroes.
Knifeworld’s second LP was a love letter of sorts to another idol and former band-mate, Tim Smith of Cardiacs. Tim suffered a heart attack and series of strokes in 2008 and The Unravelling was a deeply personal homage to his friend and ex-colleague. Enquiring as to whether the third LP would follow suit as a tribute to Daevid, Kavus had little hesitation when answering. ‘I don’t want to go through that again. It (the second album) was trying, but we got it out there. This one’s going to be about us,’ he says, gesturing to his bandmates.
At this point the band are supplied with polystyrene containers and as Kavus tucks into his falafel burger, I take the opportunity to quiz him about the return of yet another project – Guapo. ‘We’ve live dates and a new album forthcoming. The album’s called Obscure Knowledge.’ Both Kavus and keyboardist Emmet Elvin appear in both projects, and there’s more than one Knifeworld member in Chrome Hoof, too. The overlapping commitments, and resultant intense schedules, could make such topics of conversation weighty, but the band’s enthusiasm shines through. Charlie is keen to point out that the songs develop their personality when played live – adding ‘we love performing’.
I ask about the technical nature of Knifeworld’s repertoire. Josh smiles as he says ‘We’re technical, but there’s a degree of freedom. Having said that, there are wrong notes!’ Which are they? ‘Anything that’s too “music school” – they’re the wrong notes!’ Charlie chips in. Kavus expands on the theme: ‘I write to the strength of the characters and everyone is moving in the same direction. I mean the first album was done on my own, by and large. Now, everybody gets it. We don’t over analyse: “this is in 13/8 and you’re playing a seven over it…” we’re Prog, after all!’ The trio all laugh. ‘If you’re not into time signatures, this isn’t the band for you’, Kavus adds as a concession. I ask how democratic the band is. ‘We’re a balanced eight-piece. Any band bigger than five is not economical.’ Maybe it’s a front, but there is a genuine feeling from the band that musical integrity is more important than making money.
It’s Charlie’s birthday and when prompted we congratulate the mild mannered bassist. His response is understated much like his contribution to the band – he’s stoic, solid and seems to hold the flamboyant characters together. Emmett Elvin joins the conversation shortly before we leave the band to their limited rider. He is keen to highlight the role of their recent European tour in cementing the band’s live prowess. Before we depart Kavus is keen to praise Echoes and Dust – it’s clear he’s a fan of the site. On stage, Kavus had cheekily enquired as to whether anyone in the audience was on LSD, before adding ‘Oops, wrong festival!’ As we go to say our goodbyes, there’s more humour as I tell the band I look forward to Kozfest, the event he was surely referring to. There’s a buzz surrounding Knifeworld this evening: they know they delivered the goods on stage and the relaxed atmosphere reflects this. What’s it like being on the road, we ask? Kavus winks knowingly in response. ‘Many good hands… Not enough hand jobs!’