GEORG VOROS
Bach To Me
(Big Drum Records)

 

Not too much was known in the international music world about South Africa-based drummer Georg Voros but that changed when he released Bach To Me in 2014. The album is a very original sounding adaptation of J.S. Bach’s music for a classical / jazz-rock band. Instead of jazzing it up or hard rocking their way through Bach’s music, the accent is on very classical-sounding, straight ahead instrumental near chamber-rock versions. Obviously having a great time drumming his way through his unique solo album, Georg is joined by a range electric guitarists and also appearing is rock keyboard icon Duncan Mackay, who also mixed the Bach To Me album while bringing in his tasty Wakeman / Emerson inspired keyboard parts. Speaking about featuring Duncan Mackay’s prog-rock keyboard sound on Bach To Me, Georg tells mwe3.com, “Duncan Mackay played a major part and is one of my musical heroes from the early days. I used to watch him play his own material before he became famous with acts like 10cc, Kate Bush and The Alan Parsons Project. To get Duncan to play on my album was a major accomplishment and the fact that we’ve now become very good friends and working on a collaborative album is very cool. There is a mutual respect between us, which creates a very healthy foundation for our future work together.” Inspired by giants such as the late great Keith Emerson, Georg Voros and company are accurately bringing Bach into the 21st century. Instro prog-rock fans and jazz fans with an ear out for crossover fusion music will go for Voros and his self-styled CD tribute to the evergreen sounds of J.S. Bach. www.BachTome.com




mwe3.com presents an interview with
GEORG VOROS


mwe3
: Tell us about South Africa. It seems so remote yet there appears to be a thriving music scene going on. Where are you from in South Africa originally? There’s been some very famous musicians coming out of South Africa. Do you know Kongos?

Georg Voros: The music scene in South Africa is quite small relatively speaking and for me is quite one dimensional in what it offers. It certainly doesn’t cater for the market that I’m interested in which is mainly progressive and symphonic rock.

When I was an up and coming musician the only viable way to make money was to be a cover band musician which is what the ‘pro’ circuit at the time mainly consisted of. I did a little bit of that in my formative years but always wanted to do something different. As a result I tended to play with bands pushing the original music envelope. The most prominent band I played with from that era was a unit called eVoid. This band became one of the biggest acts in the country and when I played with them we pushed the boundaries in fusing pop, rock, and prog influences with African traditional music. This was also the first band in which I had to construct my own drum parts
I thrived on this!

My ancestry is Hungarian and I landed up being born in South Africa by coincidence… or destiny. My parents were refugees and fled to Austria when the Russians invaded Hungary in 1956. As a result they landed up in a refugee camp with four countries accepting refugees – America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. We’re talking 1956 when the world was very small and not connected. So my folks knew nothing about the other countries except America because of Hollywood and movies, so they got into the queue for the USA. With one family in front of them in the queue the USA filled its quota and stopped accepting refugees. So my folks got into another queue which happened to be for a country called South Africa and which is how I got to grow up in that part of the world. If they had chosen another queue I might have been Australian or a Kiwi. True story! There have been many famous musicians and producers from South Africa from Mutt Lange, Manfred Mann to Trevor Rabin to name but a few. I know of Johnny Kongos but never met him. He did rather well in the UK.

mwe3: It’s unique in that you’re a drummer and band leader at the same time. There have been drumming bandleaders before. Who were some of your favorite drummers and who were some other musicians who inspired you early on to be a drummer and to move into music?

Georg Voros: I wouldn’t consider myself a bandleader yet. This album is the first project I’ve fronted, so have led it but don’t really have a band as such. This might change later as I do have more material that I’d like to record.

I never really considered that Bach To Me would be performed live as in my mind it was always meant to be a studio project, with the primary aim of creating awareness of myself as a drummer and composer. I’m happy to say that this is happening and is very rewarding. I was recently approached to find out whether I might consider performing Bach To Me live with a youth orchestra. This is a pretty exciting prospect which I will be looking into.

The drummers that influenced me in my formative playing years were quite varied. But for many years I was a total ELP freak. I ate, drank and slept Emerson, Lake and Palmer so obviously Carl Palmer was major influence. A later highlight was meeting Carl when he agreed to endorse my first book Rhythm Of The Head. That was one of the coolest things to happen to me.

There were many other drummers who influenced me from Charlie Watts to Clive Bunker, Bill Bruford to Buddy Rich. Different drummers, from different genres. I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan. But even though I dig Charlie’s original and quite simple drumming style, what hooked me more were the guitar sounds. The Stones’ guitar sounds are unique in the way they blend those detuned guitars. People try and replicate that but don’t quite get it right. I still love and listen to the Stones today, but more so their 1960’s and 70’s era musical output. However, Bridges To Babylon was a very good 90’s album.

As far as other musical influences go, I like anything that offers musical quality and depth from classical, to jazz to country – anything that’s real!

mwe3: Tell us about your drumming school and your book “Rhythm Of The Head”. I read that you also worked with artists such as Vanessa Mae, Level 42 and even guitarist Albert Lee. What were your favorite sessions – both in the studio and live work too?

Georg Voros: I’ve successfully operated a full time private drumming school for the last 18 years. I started this back in London when I was doing a lot of touring and had young kids and wanted to spend more time with my family and be home more. I’ve just moved cities within South Africa and have closed my drum school that has operated very successfully in Johannesburg since 2003. I’m looking at setting up a new venture in Cape Town right now, which may well probably operate on a bigger scale.

My book Rhythm Of The Head was published in 1984. I wrote it because I considered that there were no books like it around at the time. There were many practical method books around but none that focused on the mental side of drumming and music, which is what Rhythm Of The Head is mainly about. I’ve had many people read and reread the book around the world with me getting fantastic feedback in how it has helped their careers and also their lives in general. This is very satisfying and due to the book offering a profoundly motivational underlying message throughout. It’s also endorsed by major drummers, such as Carl Palmer, Virgil Donati and Bill Bruford amongst others.

I’ve worked with many artists, but the artists you mention, I haven’t actually worked directly with. Rather, I’ve worked with musicians, producers and engineers who have worked with those artists. Some of my major accomplishments include working with a UK band that won an industry award for ‘best band’ and another band nominated for a major UK award for ‘best album’. A list of musical credits can be checked out on my website www.georgvoros.com where all this info is freely available.

mwe3: How did you decide on the band to back you up on your Bach To Me album? Seems like Duncan Mackay is the perfect man for the job! How did you meet Duncan and what were the recording sessions for the Bach To Me like? Also how did you come up with the title?

Georg Voros: The process of choosing the right musicians to play on the album happened in a step-by-step manner. I didn’t have an initial set of musicians that I had in mind. As the album developed I contacted certain musicians that I considered might fit the bill. Some of them I’d previously worked with and some I’d never met. I was of course very aware of what all these guys had done and what they offered. They all agreed to play on the album because of the quality of the music. The way I did this was to send them preproduction tracks with their parts present. This was all midi based with live drums, but still gave a very good indication of the direction I wanted the music to go. They then recorded their parts and added the spice in adding their particular brand of magical playing to the album. It was very gratifying to see the whole thing come together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The sessions took place in many studios so there was rarely a time when anyone played together as the musicians are based in both the UK and South Africa. Francis Dunnery, the original guitarist and singer for It Bites and who now lives in the USA, was due to do a track, but unfortunately had to decline as he embarked on a European tour with his new band. Putting this album together was on the whole a very interesting and diverse experience to say the least. Also, when you work with musicians of such high caliber it’s a lot easier to orchestrate the direction of such a musically complex album.

Duncan Mackay played a major part and is one of my musical heroes from the early days. I used to watch him play his own material before he became famous with acts like 10cc, Kate Bush and The Alan Parsons Project. To get Duncan to play on my album was a major accomplishment and the fact that we’ve now become very good friends and working on a collaborative album is very cool. There is a mutual respect between us, which creates a very healthy foundation for our future work together.

Our act will be known as Mackay & Voros and will feature both recorded and live output. This is a very exciting project and the first album is going to have some interesting offerings. Our aim is to perform mainly in the UK and Europe but will spill over into any other territories that show interest.

On how I came up with the album title? I wrote down quite a few possibilities and one by one discarded them until I settled on Bach To Me. The title suggests what Bach’s music means to me and how I interpreted it into a prog-rock format.

mwe3: How big of an influence was Bach to you? Seems like the percussive accentuation in Bach’s music is underrated probably because they didn’t have rock drummers 300 years ago! Also was it challenging to pick and choose among Bach’s huge catalog of music and how did you and Duncan approach the writing of the seven part “For Johann” suite of the album?

Georg Voros: Johann Sebastian Bach is one of my favorite classical composers! I find him to be one of the more interesting composers in approach and of course the musical counterpoint in the majority of his music is astounding. He was a musical genius! I’m also a big fan of organ based music and Bach was probably one of the most important predecessors of prog music, without realizing it of course. Also, a lot of his music is quite easy to ‘prog up’. You couldn’t do this with other composers like Strauss. Try doing a prog version of the “Blue Danube” waltz. It’s not gonna work!

On the music I chose for the album: This was not easy as there was so much to choose from. I undertook a lot of listening in narrowing down what music I wanted to present of the album. I chose “Brandenburg Concerto No. 1” because I like this particular concerto and also considered that there was a lot to work with in transforming it into credible and believable prog arrangements.

“Jesu – Joy Of Man’s Desiring” can be regarded as the ‘pop music’ track on the album. I wanted one track that everyone on the planet has heard. “Jesu” is that piece! No matter who you are, you will be aware of it even though you might not have any idea of who wrote it. It’s that piece of music that people have heard at a wedding, in an elevator, on the radio, anywhere. It was also a bit of a challenge to give it a prog attitude because it has such a pretty melody.

“Trio Sonata’”was a natural choice as the counter point in this piece is beautifully complex and translated so well into my intended genre that you might be fooled at times that you’re listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer.

Whilst in the process of working on this record a lot of people asked if I was making a ‘drummer’s album’? The answer was always a definitive “no”, because I must confess that I personally find a lot of albums recorded by drummers a bit one dimensional where the music, if there is any, plays a supporting role to drumming gymnastics. I appreciate it but like music more. So from the very beginning I knew I wanted an album that showcased great music, with my drumming playing a musically supportive role with some ‘solo’ orientated parts. It also didn’t mean that it had to be boring and that I was just going for the obvious. Not at all, my underlying intention with all the drum parts I created was, “how can I make this interesting and different”? A lot of thought went into the drumming you hear.

Then of course because it is a ‘drummer led’ album the question was often raised … “are you going to play a drum solo”? Believe it or not, this was the furthest thought from my mind when the idea for this album hatched, which is a bit strange considering I grew up in the era of the ‘drum solo’- ala Neil Peart, Carl Palmer and the like. I love drum solos and have played many in the course of my career, but I was hesitant to include one on this album. But then I thought, “why not, but if I do, how can I make it different”.

This is how the original composition “For Johann” came about.

The initial idea for this piece of music was nothing like you hear. However, the primary objective of this piece was for it to be some form of tribute to the great master. So when this track started to become a reality, I approached it in the same spirit that Bach may have composed a piece. This is because as I researched and delved more into his music, what struck me was his mastery of counterpoint melody and how he managed to get something so intrinsically complex to very often sound quite simple. So initially the foundation of “For Johann” was to present a solo drum piece that was going to feature complex four limb patterns which at times might be quite multifaceted, but then also sound quite simple in approach as well in parts.

With that in mind I sketched out ideas so that I had some kind of format to put into place, as you would when writing a song or piece of music. In other words, I wanted the solo to have some kind of flow and to be music. Then a thought struck – what if I played some musical accompaniment to my solo? This idea sparked from a performance I had seen a few years back when the drummer and percussionist from Jamiraqui played a show with a didgeridoo player. Aside from their actual live playing, the three musicians also ran backing tracks that consisted of soundscape pads. For those not familiar with that term think of lush strings and synthesized sounds. The performance was amazing and stuck in my mind because they had taken what would have been a drumming only event and turned it into something more accessible. So I thought if I did something similar and played some simple but tasty parts over my drumming, that it would take the piece to a different place and space. I decided that this was how it was going to be, but then of course that evolved...

Enter Duncan Mackay! As mentioned earlier Duncan was one of my earliest musical heroes. So I thought what if he played on “For Johann”? What if I played my drum parts first and he then laid down his incredible keyboard playing afterward? Wow, what a different approach that might be - almost like reverse engineering! I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be when I asked him, but to my delight he was excited at the prospect of doing it. Collaborating with Duncan on this piece and the rest of the album has been a fantastic experience as we both have a mutual respect and love for the same kind of music.

An interesting analysis of “For Johann” was given by a professional classical musician who after listening to it paused thoughtfully and then said… ‘this is modern classical music’.

mwe3: I enjoyed reading the iO Pages article which compared your Bach To Me album to ELP and also to Trace and Ekseption. Is the Ekseption connection the Dutch roots in your South African ancestry? I guess Duncan has always been compared to bigger names like Rick Wakeman and now the late great Keith Emerson. Losing Emerson was a big shock, what’s your opinion of his larger than life time on earth?

Georg Voros: The iO Pages article is great! I’m so happy that the album has been so well received in Holland as Prog is very popular in that part of the world. Of course the comparisons to ELP and Ekseption are extremely flattering as I love those bands. There is of course no connection to Ekseption in my ancestry as my roots are Hungarian.

In my opinion Duncan is on par with all the great keyboard players we know. Anyone who is aware of his first two solo albums Chimera and Score will agree with me. I also think that Duncan will probably agree with me in saying that the reason why he never achieved the prog status of Emerson or Wakeman is because he went on to play with some more mainstream pop’ acts like Cockney Rebel and 10cc. And as great as they were they were not perceived musically in the same way as ELP or YES.

Our upcoming album is perhaps as important to him now as it is to me as one of the focuses on this album is on virtuosity which appeals to the prog market. However, in the same breath it will also focus greatly on melody and songs. Also, the fact that I’ll be singing on the album will open it up to a wider audience and not just instrumental lovers.

I can reveal that we will also be doing a newer and updated version of a track off the Alan Parsons Project album I Robot. Duncan played keys on this album and we agreed that it seems fitting to feature something on our album from such a world renowned album that he played the original keys parts on.

On Keith Emerson’s passing… Duncan and I were devastated! We both shed tears and were very emotional as Keith played such a huge part in our lives. There was no one else like Keith Emerson and never will be again. When he died a golden era died with him, which is very sad. As a result Duncan and I have decided to compose a track in tribute to Keith and which will be included on our upcoming album. No doubt, it will be musically fitting to the great man.

mwe3: You were saying that you had an album’s worth of original material yet you decided to make the Bach To Me album. Tell us about your original material and will that appear on a forthcoming album? What are your original tracks like?

Georg Voros: A few years ago I had no idea that there had been a resurgence of progressive music. I literally had my head buried in the sand and had resigned myself to the fact that there was never going to be any new good prog music again, and that I would be listening to my old ELP, Genesis, YES, Focus, etc, etc albums till the day I died. This all changed when I saw an issue of the UK magazine ‘prog’ in a local book store. I realized that prog was once again popular and not a dirty word.

Prior to this I had decided that I was going to release my first solo album and because there was an absence of a prog scene, that my album was going to be a World Music release. So I started writing anything that came to mind mixing all genres. Yes there was some prog in there but there was also jazz, rock, fusion, even African melodies and rhythms. As a result I have a full album worth of material and will record this properly if and when I get the time. I may even release one track at a time. Who knows?

mwe3: What other activities are you involved with in South Africa and have you traveled to other African countries? Do you have other interests and hobbies or is it music 24/7? Have you done any soundtrack work and/or other ways to have your music featured?

Georg Voros: Aside from my family, my life is filled mainly with all things musical. I’m a drum teacher, music examiner for a UK contemporary music exam board, conduct music teacher training courses, write music and have written three books. I pretty much keep myself busy with all of this.

I will be honest in that I don’t have much interest in traveling to other African countries, as I don’t see the attraction… not at this point anyway. I have though performed in neighboring Mozambique and Botswana. My interests in general are quite limited to my work though I do have an interest in Tai Chi which I’ve done on and off for the past 30 years. I love good food and good wine and also like cooking… when I’m in the mood.

I’ve written music for TV which has been published and I’ve also played on various projects: a prominent one was the soundtrack to a big economic summit that was attended by the then current president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

mwe3: What plans do you have for Bach To Me and your music overall throughout 2016 and into 2017? I guess being a drummer you’re well aware that time flies, yet time is still of the essence!

Georg Voros: Bach To Me may or may never be performed live in its entirety. If I do work with the youth orchestra then this will be a cool thing to do. One thing for sure is that “For Johann” will not feature on the bill as that would be difficult to perform with the orchestra. I probably wouldn’t play drums either and would rather conduct the orchestra. That would be a big thrill.

The main focus for me in 2016 is the Mackay & Voros album. This will take priority over everything else. The release date is August this year. We then have plans to undertake an eight date South African tour promoting the album. Aside from this album’s music, our live set list will also include music from Duncan’s first two solo albums, including some music from Bach To Me. In 2017 we would like to start touring work in Europe. The wheels will be set in motion for this in what we accomplish in 2016.

I’ve just moved to Cape Town, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and have plans to get a little jazz trio or quartet together to play around town for something a little different.



 

 
   
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