SYN in the 21st Century
an interview with STEVE NARDELLI
written and produced for mwe3.com
by Robert Silverstein
can't believe it's been ten years since beat-prog innovators The SYN
released Syndestructible. A pioneering and pivotal rock recording,
reuniting SYN members Steve Nardelli and Chris Squire, Syndestructible
was proclaimed by 20th Century Guitar magazine in December 2005
as being the best prog-rock album released in the 21st century. Much
has happened since late October 2005 when Syndestructible was
released on the SYN label home Umbrello Records. True to his legacy
as being one of the founding architects of progressive rock, Steve
Nardelli has kept the SYN name in the news since Syndestructible
with several brilliant CD and DVD releases including the Armistice
Day album from 2007 and Big Sky from 2009. After a six
year wait, the Big Sky period is fondly remembered with the
2015 CD/DVD release on Umbrello of The Syn Live Rosfest. Featuring
Steve surrounded by a fine band, including Francis Dunnery and Tom
Brislin, The Syn Live Rosfest was recorded live at the Rosfest
music show on May 1st, 2009 and its a great way to revisit the
wondrous songs on Big Sky. The CD is paired with an eye-opening
DVD with two films that provides further insights into the nearly
50 year history of The SYN. In his third mwe3.com interview, from
June 2015, Steve Nardelli looks back at the Big Sky era Syn
lineup while also bringing the SYN story up to date with further insights
about The Syn Live Rosfest as well as the long awaited Syn
album, set to feature a SYN collaboration with the pairing of
Steve Nardelli and Swedish prog-rockers Moon Safari.
Why did you wait six years to get this new Syn live project out on
CD? Is The Syn Live At Rosfest the right time for a Syn retro
moment? Why Rosfest and why now?
Steve Nardelli: Six years ago I started P3 ECO to create a
consortium of partners to acquire one thousand acres of Oxfordshire
and to promote and develop the UKs first eco town as part of
a Government initiative. The Syn were touring the Big Sky album
in America when I was informed that my project had been selected by
government as one of the selected eco towns. As a result, I had to
curtail the tour and return to England immediately and the last show
we played was Rosfest.
When I start a project, I like to finish it and for the last six years
I have been totally committed to my eco town and finally this year
we have started to build it 6000 homes, 4 schools, commercial
centers to create 5000 jobs, hotels, retirement village, medical centers
etc., etc., all built with full eco credentials a massive undertaking...
a Prog town! A defining achievement for me that has been created against
all the odds and crowned by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, granting
it Garden City status and £100M grant.
After six years of all-consuming focus on my eco town, I can now finally
focus on my music and the live CD release, The Syn Live Rosfest
... our last show at Rosfest seemed the logical place to start
as part of the re-launch of The Syn and a prelude to a new studio
album due for release soon.
What did Francis Dunnery think of this live CD coming out after a
pretty long time? I remember that Francis was upset by you canceling
the Syn tour in May 2009.
Steve Nardelli: All the band were upset that I had to cancel
the tour. They are all great musicians and the band was really jelling
as you can hear on the live CD. The shows we did, including student
music workshops and concerts at Gloucester High school in Virginia,
were brilliant and it was a great disappointment not to complete the
tour. The excellent live CD and bonus 2 film DVD marks that period
in The Syns history for all the musicians involved and has been
very well received by The Syn audience.
mwe3: Shame about Chris Squire being diagnosed with that disease
he recently brought to light. Is it safe to say Chris will never record
again as a member of The Syn?
Steve Nardelli: Like many people hearing about his illness,
I am worried about Chris and pray he makes a full recovery. I cant
talk for the future of YES, but I want Chris to get back to health
and come and make a new album with The Syn... that door has always
been wide open for him, he will always be a member of the band. Our
friendship goes back more than 50 years and that is sacred to me.
mwe3: You kick off the new Syn live CD with 14 Hour Technicolor
Dream. Is that track still considered the heyday of Syn lore?
For those who dont know, that song was about the big 1967 be-in
What do you remember most about that milestone event?
Nardelli: I remember a beautiful Austrian girl I met there that
night and sitting on the stairs with her listening to the Pink Floyd
set. The event was at Alexandra Palace in a huge hall with a stage
at either end and bands playing simultaneously... terrible echoing
acoustics and all the hippy happenings going on in the half darkness,
it all made for a very surreal experience. I wrote the song about
the event and it has been one of the defining tracks in the history
of The Syn, and it's considered one of the best psychedelic songs
of the era.
mwe3: Are you happy with the sound of The Syn Live Rosfest
CD ? It came out pretty good and Im glad your vocals are mixed
upfront. Who did the recording and mixing of the live Rosfest show?
What else stands out about that show in your mind?
Steve Nardelli: Im very happy with the sound of the live
album, mixed by Stefan Ingles at Antenna studios in Crystal Palace
and mastered by Jeremy Paul Carroll at Precision Mastering in Cropredy,
introduced to me by Judy Dyble. Stefan and Jeremy are exceptionally
talented young musical gurus who deserve great credit for the exceptional
outcome of the sound quality and balance that makes it such a sonically
good album to showcase some amazing performances from the all the
musicians. Jeremy described it as the best live album I have
ever worked on. I must also credit Michael Comstock at INDRE,
recording in Philadelphia who recorded the show at Rosfest.
mwe3: I remember Gina, selling SYN CDs at Joes Pub and
was she in one of the movies on the DVD. Who else were some of the
behind the scenes people involved in the 2009 SYN shows in the US.
For me, it was surely the most musically rewarding event of 2009.
Nardelli: There were a lot of people behind the scenes who have
given great support and contribution to the daunting task of touring
a band like The Syn. Gina used to run Umbrello records in New York
and oversaw all aspects of The Syn tour, from tour manager to CD sales
lady. She has amazing energy, personality, beauty and talent... the
cornerstone of the success of the Big Sky era.
I will always be grateful for the input of Steve Sykes-Nova on multiple
levels, including setting up the Gloucester High school workshops
and the V-band project; Gary Hill from Music Street Journal, who acted
as agent in arranging a great tour and currently runs The Syn PR;
Brett Kull and the Echolyn road and sound crew for their efforts before
and during the tour; George Roldan for giving The Syn the Rosfest
platform; and of course, you Robert, for your relentless support,
advice, vegan dinners and friendship!
mwe3: Milo is the second track on the Live Rosfest
CD. How is your grandson, if you dont mind me aging you? Toms
incredible mellotron flutes on that track have proven really indelible
too. Milo must be at least 7 by now? You wrote that song with Francis.
How was it writing with Francis compared to Chris? They are two perfectionists.
Did you guys agree most of the time?
Steve Nardelli: Milo is 8 now and of course I am very proud
of him and his sister, 4 year old Skyla. I wrote the song Milo
the night he was born, it was 2 AM when we got the news and I picked
up my guitar and wrote it straight off. It is a sacred song for me
so I wouldnt change it from how I wrote it that night, even
my vocals on the Big Sky album track were taken from the demo,
I wouldnt re-record them because I wanted them to truly reflect
how I felt the night he was born.
Writing songs with Chris and Francis was simple, I am not precious
about my song writing. If you collaborate in creating music with the
right people, there is a natural flow and you know what is right and
wrong, what works and what doesnt. I am a big fan of Chris and
Francis. Quite aside from working with them, they're both ground breaking
musical talents of the highest order.
mwe3: You said you originally wanted Francis Dunnery to play
on the ill- fated More Drama SYN / YES / Steve Howe tour
of Summer 2005, with Gary Husband, Chris and Gerard right? Did anything
survive from that Summer 2005 period besides the pics? Looking back
on it, was that the final straw so to speak for the original SYN with
Chris? I know you dont like to talk politics, but those terror
attacks in London really messed things up...
Nardelli: The terrible terror attacks in London messed up a lot
of things for a lot of people, but that is irrelevant to the loss
of life that it caused.
There is a More Drama CD that was made as part of the tour promotion
that has become a collectors piece. Working with Francis on
Big Sky came out of the More Drama tour, so you could say the
album is also a legacy to it.
mwe3: You said that the other SYN CDs, Original SYN and
Syndestructible are being reissued in 2015 too. Who is handling
the distribution of the SYN in North America and the world?
Steve Nardelli: The albums have been rereleased very successfully
alongside The Syn Live Rosfest, we sold out the first pressings
in the first week! I have to say it caught me by surprise, I was thinking
it would be a soft launch and treated it as a prelude to the new studio
album Trustworks due out later this year. Our headline distribution
channels are Universal/Alliance/Nova, I got a shock and it was such
a pleasure to walk into HMV and see a rack of SYN albums on display
and see to see the reorders pouring in after six years of very little
activity from the band.
mwe3: Running Out Of Time, from Big Sky,
also makes its appearance on the Live Rosfest CD. Its
such a short song, dont you think if you and Chris worked on
it it would have had a different ending? Its got that Armistice
Day rock feel but the middle and ending closes it out a humorous
way of course!
Steve Nardelli: I wrote the riff and the first section, Francis
wrote the end section. His sense of humour does come through in his
music, but I like the track a lot. You are right though, if I had
made the track with Chris we would have come back and built the riff
to end it.
mwe3: I know you are in love with New York. It was good timing
to see you play live with The Syn in the city as I had missed the
January 2006 show. Which 2009 performance do you like better, the
Joes Pub or the Rosfest show?
Nardelli: New York is my second home, it is a magical place for
me; from Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights, from Staten Island to Sag
Harbor. I really like Joes pub theater in the Village and will
play there again next time we tour, but the show at Rosfest was the
pinnacle performance of the tour full of great performances and wonderful
mwe3: Any other news on your P3 Eco town thing in Bicester?
Youve been totally absorbed in this Eco town project since the
SYN tour ended in May 2009.
Steve Nardelli: Ive referenced this in a previous answer
already. The success of my eco town in England has created a lot of
interest from America, including contact from Al Gore, a great advocate
of global warning. Anyone interested, this is my company website:
mwe3: Do you even listen to the news now? The economy got much
worse after those Syn shows in April 2009, the economy got worse as
well as the ecological disasters, climate change, etc. Have people
given up hope that things wont change again? Are things coming
back again? How do you stay positive these days?
Steve Nardelli: My life is incredibly positive because I always
look at the positive, the Big Sky. Everything is possible
if you believe in yourself and the goodness and strength of the human
spirit; there will always be devils and demons, trying to drag
us under, but they are an irrelevant distraction in the bigger
picture. Show me the Lovers, show me the Peace Makers, show
me the Dreamers, the Builders and Creators.
mwe3: New Reality is another highlight on The
Syn Live Rosfest CD. Its a pretty disturbing lyric I always
thought. You cant take this anymore... (to) open your eyes
its just an illusion... Mans duality. Where does New
Reality fall in the Syn canon?
Nardelli: I wrote New Reality at a time when
everyone seemed to turn against me and I was under a lot of pressure,
thats when you find out who your real friends are, a Cathedral
Of Love moment. Life is a roller coaster ride of ups and
downs. When you are down, you have to get up, create a new reality
for yourself. Kings Clowns Cardinals was my answer to
my critics at that time.
mwe3: The Big Sky band with Francis, Tom and Brett was
incredibly tight. Do you think thats because you toured the
album so everybody knew the music inside out? Devils And Demons
sounds very tight, maybe even better than the studio version from
Big Sky. So by track 5 in the Rosfest concert, the bands
sound really comes together. Is Devils And Demons one
of your favorite tracks from Big Sky?
Steve Nardelli: Yes, Devils And Demons was
the first track I wrote for the album and yes, Francis and Tom were
incredibly tight and are incredible musicians. Listening to Big
Sky a lot recently both on the live and studio albums makes me
realize what a great body of work this album is that has stood the
test of time... its music Im very proud of indeed. The
versions on the live album supplement those on the studio album and
vice versa, it has turned out a remarkable success for The Syn.
mwe3: How about the other Syn members? Peter Banks died a couple
years. How about Martyn Adelman? Besides Chris, who else is left from
the 1960s Syn lineup? What is Martyn doing these days? I guess youre
not in contact with Gerard or the Stacey brothers anymore.
Nardelli: The passing of Peter was very sad indeed... he will
be an integral part of the history of The Syn, a brilliant and unique
guitarist. I had lunch at Villandrys in London with Max (Martyn)
Adelman on Friday. He is a great photographer and is in fantastic
shape, he worked with me in putting The Syn Live Rosfest together
and we are planning further Syn projects, one that Ive been
specifically asked to do for Alliance in America. I have been working
with Moon Safari in Sweden intermittently on the new studio album
between building the eco town over the last six years and have lost
contact with Gerard and the Stacey twins. That doesnt mean I
dont have a huge respect and affection for them and their contributions
as members of The Syn in the making of Syndestructible.
mwe3: You always say that you wrote Grounded when
you were 14! Lets see, how many live versions are there of that
song? Speaking of Grounded what was involved in buying
back the rights to your Decca Records releases from the 1960s?
Steve Nardelli: Grounded is a defining song for
me, the start of my musical journey, considered one of the finest
freak-beat tracks of its generation and keeps popping up in films
set in the 1960s. Chris and Gunnar Hakonarson on that track,
what a rhythm section! Peters guitar riff with Andrews
organ and harmonies. It is such a good track, a lot of people have
covered it. When I got the chance to buy back the rights, I jumped
mwe3: Another highlight of The Syn Live Rosfest is a
version of Madonna And Child which is another favorite
from Big Sky. Is that about a specific painting or artwork?
Is that a good example of how you worked with Francis? Did he bring
in that great mid section instrumental part - when the world
is going crazy thing with the mellotrons? The lyrics are very
beat poetry yet the instrumentation is very prog.
Steve Nardelli: I have a beautiful Italian painting my wife
bought at auction in Milan of the Madonna And Child, which is in our
London home. That is what the song is about - the sanctity of your
home in a world thats going crazy. Cherokee Princess
Dancing Over Flowers and Leaves is another painting, black
spiral staircase leading to the stars, everything in that
song is in my house. That brilliant mellotron and Nardellotron part
in the midsection is all Franciss work, I love it.
Theres a funny story regarding Flowerman on the
Live Rosfest CD. Is that BBC panning of Flowerman
the reason the Syn didnt get wildly popular? Im glad Tom
added in toy piano. Is the Rosfest version the best live version of
Flowerman ever recorded?
Steve Nardelli: The Flowerman story I tell at Rosfest
is just a bit of fun, in fact the single was very successful and I
like the lyrics. The radio DJ didnt get the lyrics because he
was all caught up in the hippie flower movement of the day, the lyric
was written as a satire about a gardener, a real Flowerman,
as opposed to someone with flowers in their hair. Its a very
English lyric. I think the Live Rosfest version is great
as is the version of 14 Hour Technicolour Dream, with
a great synth solo from Tom Brislin.
mwe3: I really enjoyed the DVD that comes with the Rosfest
live CD, The Syn In The 21st century but I was surprised
you left Pete Banks off of the album credits but you credit Moon Safari?
When was the SYN In The 21st Century film made and who wrote and directed
the film? Also, was there anything filmed of the original Syndestructible
lineup with the Stacey brothers at the Marquee?
Steve Nardelli: The film was made by Kaz Bielicki, a very fine
young movie maker. The album credits were prepared by him and included
everybody featured on film. Peter is talked about in the film itself
but doesnt appear other than in photographs.
The Marquee Syndestructible show was filmed by George Pasano
and recorded by Yes sound man Nigel Luby. Paul Stacey has all the
tapes so maybe one day it will be mixed, mastered and released, who
knows... it would be ridiculous not to release it. There are bits
of the Marquee show in the film.
mwe3: Also on the The Syn Live Rosfest CD, Kings
Clowns Cardinals is a very Dylan-esque track but its also
a pretty dark song. Its a great showcase for Francis guitar
work. I remember the version at Joes Pub was equally great.
What do you remember most and like best about that song?
Steve Nardelli: Again, I reference this song earlier alongside
New Reality. People coming at me telling me how
to run my life and treating me like Im some
kind of Holy Cow I dont need that crowd around
says it all really. I agree, it is very Dylanesque, it was a real
showstopper when we did it live as you can hear on the album, amazing.
mwe3: Im glad that you chose to end the Rosfest CD with
two of the best songs on Big Sky, the title track and The
Reason. Should The Reason have been a bigger hit?
But you didnt include the Big Sky Reprise instrumental
which ended the Big Sky album!
Nardelli: A version of The Reason was recorded
as a demo with Chris and Gerard for consideration for the follow up
to Syndestructible. I always knew it was a good song.
"Big Sky" was the centerpiece to the album, it had spiritual
significance for me at a time when the world was in trouble, but like
a phoenix rising into the midnight sky, as Pete Seeger said,
We shall overcome. I wont give up if you
dont give up is a great mantra for the challenges
facing the modern world.
mwe3: What ever happened to the Reasons And Rituals
song? Is it now a kind of Syn cult track as its never come out
on CD? That song kind of preceded whole Big Sky era?
Steve Nardelli: Well, its a good track and it was a wonderful
experience working with a great group of musicians from across the
world in the making of it. The V-band movie that features the song
and the story behind it is still available on Amazon video on demand
and went to number one on that chart when it was released. Steve Sikes-Nova
gets all the credit for coordinating the making of that track and
shared vocals with me along with musicians Kevin Still, Cary Clouser,
Steve Nicholas and Kelly Child.
mwe3: Big Sky is still a great song, six years
later. What did Francis Dunnery bring to the albums title track?
I know the concept is yours. Its a cool way to end the Live
Rosfest CD. So do you speak with any of the Big Sky lineup
guys, like Brett anymore? Seems like the band got scattered to the
wind. I guess thats the way you like it. Hit a peak, record
it and move on.
Nardelli: Not just Big Sky, but the whole album is a joint
collaboration between me and Francis, with him also producing with
significant musical input from Tom, Brett Kull and Paul Ramsey. The
impact of Francis on all aspects of the album is huge, in the song
writing, the musicianship and production... he is a great talent.
The band has scattered over the last six years in multiple creative
directions and I have moved on to the new Trustworks album,
working in collaboration with the amazing Moon Safari and now with
Jonas Reingold of Flower Kings producing. As I have said before, every
project is like a race to run from start to finish. Its important
that I finish to know how well it turned out, then I move on to the
mwe3: Who did the narration and who wrote the screenplay for
the Syn In The 21st Century film? When was the 21st century
movie made? Had to be recent as Moon Safari are in it. By the way,
thank you for mentioning my quote about Syndestructible from
my 20th century guitar mag article. I still stand by that quote as
I doubt there will be another progressive rock album that will have
that much impact and influence.
Steve Nardelli: The narration was by a lovely actress whose
name is Sheridan Macdonald and the screenplay was written by Lennie
Varvraides and I commissioned it specially to accompany the CD. I
use that quote of yours all the time Robert, I like Chriss response
when we did that interview in LA but the century is only
6 years old! Wait until you hear Trustworks - its
a new progression for The Syn.
mwe3: Whats the status with Umbrello Records these days?
You had a lot of ideas ten years ago. Has coming out of the 2008 recession
been making it harder to carry forth your ideas in 2015?
Nardelli: I was right about the revolution the internet would
bring to the music industry and the way music was marketed, but I
now see Umbrello as a vehicle for making albums not the delivery of
music, Ill leave that to Apple and itunes and the myriad of
other distribution portals.
mwe3: The Making Of Big Sky film, also included
on the Rosfest set, really shows what a great chemistry you had with
Francis and Tom Brislin. Its a once in a lifetime kind of thing.
What are Francis and Tom doing these days? What you get from the movie
is really how proud they were / are about being part of the Big
Steve Nardelli: Ive contacted all the band recently to
send them copies of the live album/dvd and everyone involved in the
project was very pleased it was being released and looking forward
to receiving it. We are all very proud of Big Sky for good
reason. It was not surprising the band were so disappointed when my
eco town got in the way of continuing the tour.
mwe3: I was just remembering about that Prog-Opera
you wrote and recorded demos of with Chris and Andrew with one of
the tracks being Last One Leaving. How about that project
coming to life in the future?
Steve Nardelli: My concept for Trustworks was to create
something of Italian operatic proportions, thats why I was so
pleased to link up with Moon Safari and their amazing five part harmonies.
The Gangster Opera you reference, the first rock opera ever,
is a piece of The Syn history now... who knows if it will rise again,
maybe in Chicago.
So now with Live Rosfest already released, I guess youre
moving full steam ahead with the Trustworks album? This album
has been a long time in the making! Are you looking ahead to 2016
and beyond? 2020 is slowly coming up on the horizon.
Steve Nardelli: I have a lot of new music in process at the
moment and a lot of approaches to work with some other great artists
as well... its a question of timing and priorities. What I can
say is that I will be making music and touring for as long and as
far as my horizon takes me.
mwe3: What are some of the soon to be highlights from Trustworks
that you can mention? Has flying to those remote locales like
Sweden and Austria hindered the timing of the release? Seems like
youre always on the move.
Steve Nardelli: Its schedules that cause delays more
than locations, but making Trustworks in Sweden and Austria
with wonderful musicians has been inspiring. Trustworks is
a concept album of operatic proportions. As Ive already mentioned,
you need to hear it as a total piece of work. I talk a lot about the
harmonies of Moon Safari, but Pontus Åkesson is as good a guitarist
as I have ever worked with, he has performed brilliantly on Trustworks,
a highlight of the album.
mwe3: Do you ever think that your schedule of hard work is
too much? How do the English deal with these harsh new realities of
life in the 21st century?
Steve Nardelli: I enjoy the work I do, I wouldnt do it
otherwise. Creating an eco town is like creating an album, assembling
many parts to create something unique and special. Everybody has stress
and we all deal with it in different ways I guess. For me, music is
a great stress reliever, a day does not pass when I dont play
a guitar. The English are good at dealing with stress, we are a laid-back
So Trustworks is set for release soon I hope. Whats the
plan on this next Syn album? So 2016 could be another milestone in
Steve Nardelli: Trustworks is destined for big promotion
across the world including shows. The first thing we need to do is
finish it and that is scheduled for July. I am certain it will be
a new milestone for The Syn.
mwe3: Between your job at P3Eco and your keeping the SYN legacy
alive, how do you find the time to relax and enjoy life? Is music
forever in your blood? Is it too late to slow down and stop and smell
Steve Nardelli: I am surrounded by my family, while creating
new concepts every day, whether eco or musical. Im also a keen
tennis player and have always had a close association with racket
sports, Ive owned four racket companies at various times, Donnay
being the best known. I have good friends around the world and try
to live my life to the full. My life is a happy one filled with family,
friends, eco projects and music.... I smell the roses every day without
even having to stop.
Thanks to Steve Nardelli @ www.synmusic.net