Though Morgan Fisher has enjoyed an eclectic career—from soul music/Top 40 hits and rock ‘n’ roll to art-punk hybrids, ambient projects and spoken word collaborations with the likes of Yoko Ono—he may be best known for his tenure as keyboardist for Mott the Hoople on the studio album The Hoople and as part of Mott’s touring band, and later with Queen. He’s recorded many solo albums and now puts together a semi-regular Morgan Salon, featuring lineups of kindred spirits, at his home studio. For the past several years, he has made Japan his home. Valerie Simadis caught up with Morgan for PKM
In 1966, all of 16 years old, Morgan Fisher was already a solid part of the London music scene as a member of the soul group Love Affair. The group flirted with popularity with a string of singles but Fisher reluctantly left it in order to finish high school. And, while he was earning four A-Levels, the band took off without him. “During that year, my band had that number one [“Everlasting Love”] so I wasn’t in the band when it happened,” recalled Fisher. “They hired somebody else, and overnight they got famous and they were on TV. You could imagine how I felt, right? Pretty sick.”
Shortly after graduating high school, Fisher wrote a letter to the group asking to re-join the band; they re-hired him. While Love Affair would go on to release five Top 10 hits, by the early Seventies, they were lacking new material. So, in 1971, Fisher formed his own group, Morgan, signing a two-album deal with RCA.
“We auditioned for singers, one of whom was a guy called Tim Staffell who was in a band called Smile with Brian May and Roger Taylor,” recalled Fisher. “That’s how I know Queen before they were Queen.” While the band’s music was cutting-edge for the time, the first album (Nova Solis) didn’t sell well, and the subsequent album (The Sleeper Wakes) was deemed ‘too experimental’ and was rejected by the record company.
Disillusioned with the music business (after a brief collaboration with the Third Ear Band), Fisher took a step back from recording albums and got a job driving a liquor store van. It was during this period that he spotted an ad in Melody Maker that would change his life. “[The ad] said ‘big name band seeks keyboard player for American tour’.” he recalled. “I thought ‘Aha! Now that interests me because I’ve never been to America.’ I went to the audition and found out it was Mott the Hoople (and I passed the audition, of course).”
In 1977, Fisher formed the group British Lions with John Fiddler, Ray Major, and Mott the Hoople members Dale “Buffin” Griffin and Pete Overend Watts. Much like the Morgan band, British Lions was short-lived and Morgan made the decision to focus on his own material. “In 1978, I moved to a nice little bedsit flat in Notting Hill Gate and made four albums there. My creativity just exploded,” he said.
From his 1980 album Miniatures, on which he collaborated with more than 50 artists, to his series of art-punk arrangements under the moniker Hybrid Kids, to an ambient album of John Lennon’s love songs, Fisher’s discography is diverse, to say the least.
I sat down with Morgan to discuss his early years with Love Affair, touring with Mott the Hoople and Queen, as well as his “Morgan Salon” events, that are held at his home in Japan.
PKM: Tell me about your early life in London.
Morgan Fisher: Right. You got half an hour? [laughs]. It’s very simple. My parents were teachers and I was born in Middlesex Hospital in London which happens to be in Mayfair, so on my Wiki page they put Mayfair and everybody thinks I’m really posh – which I’m not! We were middle class. For the first two years of my life, I lived just off Baker Street near Sherlock Holmes’s flat. My parents didn’t have much money, and it was a cheap rental house.
When I was two years old, they got a government housing (what we call a ‘council flat’), which is obviously cheap. We moved there and I stayed there until I was eight. Actually, it’s quite a nice apartment. There’s a big block of flats, and my school was right across the road, so I just had to walk across the road to school. The school in question was an awful Victorian school, and it was a nightmare. I got bullied. I’ve always been bullied, and I never fought back. I just thought “Okay, if you need to do that, go ahead!” I always had this sort of Zen-like acceptance of this shit that people threw at me.
When I was eight, we moved to a council flat in St John’s Wood, which is another posh-sounding area of London. That’s where Abbey Road is located, and our flat was about a hundred yards from Paul McCartney’s house (although he moved there in later years). Eventually, we moved to Finchley in the North of London. It was a really nice house with four bedrooms and a big garden. I don’t know how they could afford it. I’m guessing grandpa put some money in or something. I remember it was £3,500. It’s probably worth about a million now. For some reason I remember that figure. I was good with numbers right from the start. I remember when we moved to the house in Finchley, I went shopping with my mum and she met a friend. She said “Oh, let me give you my new phone number”, and she gave it to them wrong and I corrected her. I was eight years old at the time. So, I was a bit of a nerdy schoolkid.
PKM: What were some of your earliest musical influences?
Morgan Fisher: My parents quite liked music and they had a wind-up gramophone with 78 rpm records, mostly of French chanson which were very popular in the Forties and Fifties. They also liked Frank Sinatra and musicals like My Fair Lady, so it’s kind of happy interesting stuff that I was weaned on. Of course, there was BBC radio which was fantastic in those days. You had the classical channel, the live music channel, and the pop channel.
When rock ‘n’ roll came along, I was still living in the council flat. We didn’t own a TV, so every Saturday night I’d go to a friend’s house and watch the rock ‘n’ roll program on TV. It was called Six-Five Special because it was on at 6:05 on a Saturday evening. It was mostly lousy English versions of rock ‘n’ roll…really weedy, I mean awful. Occasionally they’d have a real American rock star come by and do a song which was really exciting. That was my introduction to ‘music that my parents wouldn’t like’ at seven years old. As soon as we moved to Finchley, we got our own TV so then I could watch more.
PKM: You mentioned that your parents were teachers. Where would you say you inherited your musical talent from?
Morgan Fisher: My mum played very basic classical piano. She was almost brought up in an era where nice ladies were taught the piano as a rule, like at finishing school. She could play simple classical music only from a score, so there were a bunch of scores in the piano stool. The first time I touched a piano was at my grandmother’s house when I was six. She moved into a great big house by the sea and they had this really out-of-tune upright piano. I remember reaching up and banging the keys and marveling at this noise. It was so out of tune, it sounded more like a gamelan than a piano, but I managed to pick out a couple of tunes on my own. When we moved to Finchley and we had more room, mum bought a piano, so we had our own piano in the house since I was eight. I didn’t play it much. It wasn’t like some families who get around the piano every weekend and have a singsong. To put it frankly, I think the love had gone out of my parents’ marriage by then. It wasn’t such a joyful family, though it was when I was younger. We used to go on lovely vacations driving across Europe, and because we had no money we’d go camping. There are lovely memories of that, but by the time we moved to Finchley something was wrong and I didn’t know what it was until much later. So there wasn’t much use of the piano. Finally, at age ten I said to my mum, “I want to learn the piano!” and she found me a teacher, a little old lady very close by so I could go there once a week for a half hour lesson. I took to it pretty quickly and learned to read music almost immediately.
PKM: That’s rather impressive.
Morgan Fisher: I guess so. Later, when I was 18, I went to a special piano college just for an exam, and one of the exams was music theory. Three hours were given to this exam. I was sitting in this room and after one hour, I’d finished. I knew I had gotten everything right, so I put my hand up and said, “I’m finished!” and the instructor said “No, you have to stay the full three hours. That’s the rule!” I said, “But Sir, I’m finished, look!” He reluctantly let me go, and I got 99%.
At least when it comes to music theory, having a mathematical mind is useful. When it came to actual playing, once I got into the routine of a weekly piano lesson, I wouldn’t practice until half an hour before the lesson. I’d just leave it during the week, I wouldn’t bother. Then it would be “Oh, shit! I have to do this!” I quickly wrote through the pieces and I pulled it off. In a way, that’s the story of my life. I really don’t like practicing – I never have. I’ve never been like a jazz or especially a classical pianist who practices for hours every day, doing mind-numbing scales and exercises. I figured that I had acquired enough technique for what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be Oscar Peterson or Chick Corea. I didn’t need all that technique, so I haven’t got it, and that’s fine. When I discovered The Beatles, I realized you can just play in your own amateurish way and make amazing music, so hey, that’s for me!
PKM: At what age did you realize that you wanted to become a musician?
Morgan Fisher: I did four years study with my piano teacher, but after two years, I said, “Look, you’ve given me all these Bach pieces for kids. Haven’t you got anything more interesting?” Amazingly, she said “Yes, I can give you another set of books by a guy called Béla Bartók who’s a Hungarian composer.” His mature work is very avant-garde, but even his pieces for children are fascinating because being Hungarian, he used 5/4 or 7/4 rhythms, which are normal over there. They have folk dances in these strange time signatures, and the harmonies were like nothing I’d ever heard before. It wasn’t major or minor, there was something else.
These were the roots of my moving into progressive rock later on. The classical influence came to me directly. By the time I was 14, I quit the lessons, mainly because I’d heard The Beatles on the radio and just thought “Oh my God. This is it! This is what I want to do.” I had no idea how, but I just thought, “This is real music.” I began listening to [Beatles] records for hours every day and just learning them by ear. By 16, I started gigging with this young band called The Soul Survivors. Soul music was where it was at when you were a mod. It was stacks of Motown exclusively.
We were playing that kind of music until we got a message from an American band called Soul Survivors who had a big hit called “Expressway to Your Heart”. They were a big name and they said, “You’ve got to change your name, guys.” We looked around and we found a television drama series, a romantic comedy called The Love Affair, so we picked that name. We made one single, a cover of a Rolling Stones song called “She Smiled Sweetly.” I have no idea who chose it. We actually got a deal with Decca records which is the Rolling Stones’ label and I suppose somebody at the company chose that song.
We went to the studio where the Rolling Stones recorded, Regent Sound. It’s located in Denmark Street, also known as Tin Pan Alley, which was a street full of music shops and publishers. We went to this ropy old studio where the Stones had recorded their first album, and we recorded a single but it didn’t go anywhere. I mean, it was not a commercial song at all. I don’t know why they chose it, frankly, but the singer and I wrote the B-side, so that’s when I began composing.
We left Decca and got another deal with CBS. I said to my mum, “Listen, we’re working now. We’re gigging, and we’ve had radio play. I want to turn professional. I want to leave school and concentrate on music.” Of course, my mum, being a teacher, was against that. She said, “You have to finish high school first.” I had almost another year of high school to go. I hadn’t graduated yet. There are exams that we call A-Levels – that’s what you take at that time in order to graduate. Mum said, “Once you’ve got you’re A-Levels, you’ll always have something to fall back on.” Like if you need to get a job [groans] and I didn’t fight back. Once again, I’m not much of a fighter, so I just kind of sighed and said “Okay, I’ll go to school and I’ll leave the band.” All of my teachers at school were saying things like “He can’t do both! He can’t do music and school.” Nobody trusted me that I could do it. In fact, I could do it fine. I was doing really well in school, and I also had a morning newspaper round and a Saturday supermarket job. When you’re 17, you can do all that. You don’t need sleep! But nobody believed me. They said, “Take the safest route, concentrate on your schooling.”
By then, all the enthusiasm for school had gone out of me. I used to like school, and I used to like science and studying. I still got four A-Levels which is a lot more than most people, and I got accepted at three universities. During that year, my band had that number one, so I wasn’t in the band when it happened. They hired somebody else, and overnight they got famous and they were on TV. You could imagine how I felt, right? Pretty sick. When I left school, I thought, “Well, I could go to university, but why don’t I write a letter to the band?” I was kind of shy, so I wrote a letter to the band saying, “Guys, I’ve graduated, just wanted to let you know.” Then one of the many miracles in my career happened. They wrote back and said, “Actually, we don’t get on very well with the new guy. Why don’t you come back?” So they got rid of the new guy and I joined the band again.
I went from zero to one hundred, and I became a pop star overnight. Once I was on TV, mum was more accepting. She’d tell her friends “My son’s on TV tonight!” and they’d say [grumbles] “Ah, right.” But I missed that excitement of our group reaching the top of the charts. I was watching it from afar, kind of dejectedly. After I re-joined the group, we had about five top-ten hits.
PKM: What was the vibe like at a Love Affair concert?
Morgan Fisher: Before we had a hit song, it was just a regular concert. We were playing at soul clubs mostly, because people who liked soul music enjoyed how we played. Our singer had a great voice. Once the hit happened, it all changed. The hit was not so obviously soul music. “Everlasting Love”, as you may know, is more pop. The concerts were outrageous! It was like Beatlemania! The audience was screaming most of the time, and you could hardly hear yourself play. It was exciting, but it was kind of weird. If you look at a Beatlemania film, it was exactly like that. People were going crazy, crying, trying to get on stage, all that. We had no security in those days, so when we finished the gig and tried to get out of the back door and go to the car, there was a crowd outside there trying to rip your clothes off, literally. There might be one or two security guards trying to hold them back. I remember actually fighting through crowds of girls [laughs] which could be nice, but they were all too young, wondering if I could make it to the car. They’d grab my hair and my clothes, and once you got into the car, they would jump onto it! For the first year or two, it was like that at most gigs.
PKM: So touring was a bit overwhelming, to say the least.
Morgan Fisher: It was a bit mad, yeah. I liked the package tours. They were quite popular in those days, where you get several artists on one tour. We did one with Scott Walker who was very cool. That was his first solo tour (I think he had just left The Walker Brothers), so he was at the top of the bill and we were second. There were three or four other bands including Terry Reid, who I think is incredible.
PKM: Where did you travel on these package tours?
Morgan Fisher: Just the UK. We did a couple of shows in Scotland, and some big festivals, but nearly all of the shows were in England. Germany was actually the hottest place for rock music at that time. They lapped it up, so we went there quite a lot.
PKM: In 1971, you went on to form your own group, ‘Morgan’, having signed a two-album deal with RCA. Can you tell me about the albums that you recorded during that time (Nova Solis and The Sleeper Wakes)?
Morgan Fisher: At that time in the late Sixties, there were great changes and exciting new things happening in music almost every month. New bands were coming up like Led Zeppelin, Emerson Lake and Palmer, progressive rock, and Pink Floyd. It was just a really exciting time, and there were endless new records to buy every month. We were still stuck in this kind of ‘pop mode’, even though we were called a soul band.
I was listening more and more to this progressive new stuff and wanted to do it. It happened to quite a few pop bands who decided to, as they say, ‘go heavy’. In other words, “We’re gonna stop this pop shit. We’re gonna do something deeper, something original, and write our own songs.” I decided to do that because Love Affair’s hits were going down and down. Success wasn’t maintained, and I thought “What’s the point?” Me and the drummer from Love Affair decided to make a new band and we found a bass player friend who was really good. We auditioned for singers, one of whom was a guy called Tim Staffell who was in a band called Smile with Brian May and Roger Taylor. That’s how I know Queen before they were Queen. Tim had just left that band and joined our band. He was a really good singer/songwriter and we used to play the famous Marquee Club a lot. We had a weekly residency there and nearly every week Brian May would come down and watch us. He was a staunch fan, which was nice.
Soon after, we got a record deal in Italy. Progressive rock had become popular in England, but it was always really popular in Italy. For an Italian company to sign an English band was a bit of a feather in their cap. It turned out great because a) I love going to Italy and b) The RCA studio in Rome was one of the best in the world at that time. Most studios were 8-track at that time, but RCA was 16-track which was amazing. We had all this space to overdub and add things, and we made really high-quality recordings. The first album didn’t sell a lot of copies, but we had a contract so we made a second album. RCA said the second album was too experimental, so they turned it down. I think I was stressed out because I wrote nearly all of the music, arranged it, and played all the keyboards. By that time, I was still living with my mother (father had left when I was 16, and while I have a brother and a sister, this was not a particularly happy home to be in), and I decided to take a break. It was funny because at the ripe old age of 22, I was feeling like an old hand in music. I had nearly five years as a professional, and they were intense. No breaks, no vacations, just work, work, work.
I had fantasies about going to work on a farm in Mexico, just to get away from it all. Instead, I got a job driving a liquor store van and delivering booze to people, which is actually a nice job because people are always happy to see you. I did that for a few months, but I always kept my eye on the band adverts in Melody Maker. At the back pages of Melody Maker, bands always advertised for new members, and I just kept an eye on that every week. Finally, I saw one that interested me, and it said “Big name band seeks keyboard player for American tour.” I thought “Aha! Now that interests me because I’ve never been to America.” I went to the audition and I found out it was Mott the Hoople (and I passed the audition, of course).
One reason why I passed it, was because I got there early. It was a nice studio in Chelsea, it was a sunny day, and next to the studio was a liquor store. I thought “I fancy a glass of wine before the audition.” I went in there and in this liquor store, they had these little one glass sachets of wine that they were selling. I thought “Oh, that’s perfect. I’ll get one of these and just knock it back before the audition.” Then I thought, “If I drink it out of this sachet, I’m gonna spill it all down me.” I said to the guy, “Would you mind if I borrowed a glass?” and he said “No problem!”, which was again the law, actually. Liquor stores in England are called off-licenses which means that they don’t have a license. I’d imagine by law, you cannot drink in a liquor store, but I did, and he gave me a glass. I took one sip of it and suddenly, [Pete] Overend Watts the bass player, came from the studio and said, “Oh, would you like to come down for the audition now?” So I walked in with a glass of wine in my hand. Pretty cool, huh? I’ve seen what auditions can be like. Most guys walk into the studio shaking with nerves. I walked in and said, “Oh, hi guys, what do you want?”, and I put the glass on the piano “Okay, what are we doing?” And so, I don’t think it was just the playing that got me the job. Stan the tour manager called me that night and said “Okay, you’ve got the job.” I was like “Yes! I’m going to America!”, which was very exciting for me.
PKM: What was your first trip to America like?
Morgan Fisher: Fantastic. First of all, America was a real eye-opener because I only knew about it from movies and TV. Like a lot of British people, I had this feeling that American rock musicians are not the real thing. The real thing is British! We’re very proud in that way. I always thought that people like Little Richard and Elvis Presley were kind of caricatures or cartoon figures. They’re not real like the Beatles or the Stones. When I got there I suddenly realized “This is what America is like!” It’s more brash, more colorful, more big-scale. I loved it. I took to it like a duck to water. Just going into a diner, I thought “Wow! There’s a diner with a jukebox! We don’t have these in England!” We didn’t even have hamburgers until the Seventies. Seeing all the fast food and big cars, and everything, it was just thrilling. From then, I started to love American rock. I realized, “So that’s why it’s like that! Now I know, it’s not artificial. They’re really like that! Great, the Beach Boys, okay!” I turned around really fast and absorbed things like a sponge. Just being in America was uplifting, and of course the audiences were astonishingly good.
Mott were pretty big in America by then. This was after “All the Young Dudes”, so we played probably 3-5,000-seater theaters most nights, sometimes bigger. The audiences were so much more demonstrative than the English audiences. Of course, I’m not talking about Beatlemania-type demonstrative. I mean they were funky! They would stand up, they would dance, they would clap in time, they would sing along. They were with you! English audiences can be a bit staid, even though you’re playing hard rock. I really liked the audiences a lot, and would always try to meet some of them afterwards and hang out and party. Once again, I was young, ready for it, and didn’t need much sleep. Basically, I drank all day every day and it was okay.
PKM: Was there a particular gig that stood out to you during that time?
Morgan Fisher: There were many! Of course the Broadway gig was amazing. We did a week on Broadway with Queen opening for us. It was very intimate because I think it’s a 1,600-seater, so it was small enough to see the back row, and you could really see people’s faces, which I like. This is why I didn’t enjoy the later concerts when I played with Queen, because we played in stadiums and there is this huge black gap between you and the crowd.
To me, a theater is the best place to play. The people in the front row actually have their elbows on the stage – you can go shake hands with them if you want, but it’s big enough to create some energy as well. The Broadway gig was also great because we didn’t have to set up gear and move and change hotels. We were staying at the legendary Gramercy Park Hotel, and we had this beautiful antique white limousine drive us to the gig every day. All kinds of cool people came backstage including Led Zeppelin. The other thing was the opening act. Apart from Queen, who we’ve already toured with in England, from the very first gig (which I remember was in Chicago), we had Joe Walsh opening for us. He was at the peak of his career, and he was just stunning. The second day, we had the fucking New York Dolls opening for us! We thought “What the fuck is this?!” Amazing! This was three or four years before punk, and they were the innovators. We did eleven gigs with The Dolls and I watched them every night.
I noticed the rest of the guys in the band didn’t do that so much, possibly because they’d done two or three American tours before I’d done mine, so they were used to it. Whereas I was like “Ahh! Joe Walsh!” It was thrilling to have such quality of opening bands, whereas on the tours we did in England, we played with Scott Walker and Terry Reid, but the rest of the bands on the bill were mediocre. It was wonderful to be gigging with bands who have that much musical power, and they’re great people to hang out with as well.
PKM: In 1977, you formed the group British Lions with John Fiddler, Dale Griffin, Ray Major and Pete Overend Watts. Why was the group short-lived?
Morgan Fisher: Same reason as the Morgan band. We recorded two albums, and the second album was refused by the record company. In a way, we were coming out at the wrong time. By 1978, punk was taking over everything and we were still kind of old-style rock. We also didn’t have good enough management. If they had really promoted us in America instead of England, we could have made it. Everyone said the shows were great. We did an American tour, playing with people like Kiss and Blue Öyster Cult. We had an English manager who also managed Status Quo, but he couldn’t figure out what to do. He didn’t look for another deal or try to get the album released elsewhere.
I have very few regrets about anything, but in a way, it opened up a new way of working for me, because after that I decided “Alright, I’m not going to join any other bands.” I had a couple of offers, and I thought, “To get on that same old drag where you’re dependent on a big record company and they can make or break you in a moment, and to do all that touring for no reason…I’m done with that.” I made a home studio, which was pretty early for that kind of thing. There were no computers in those days, but there were tape recorders that you could buy and put in your bedroom that were good enough to make an album on, so that’s what I did. In 1978, I moved to a nice little bedsit flat in Notting Hill Gate and I made four albums there. My creativity just exploded. I was playing everything, singing, and recording. It was a one-man show, and it was wonderful.
PKM: In 1980, you collaborated with more than 50 artists on your album Miniatures. What inspired you to record this album, and why did you decide to take on so many contributors?
Morgan Fisher: Once I left the British Lions, I met a guy who had just started an independent label called Cherry Red Records. We became friends. He was looking for something to release and I said, “Well there’s this Morgan album that never got released, how about that?” and he said “Great, I’ll take it.” That was the first album on his label – the Morgan band’s second album. Then I started doing my own stuff and he put out a couple of albums I made called Hybrid Kids. They were weird art-punk arrangements of well-known songs. Very bizarre, cutting edge. Then he said, “You know, I think you should make your own label within Cherry Red, and have your own identity, and whatever you want to release on that label, I will handle the distribution and do all that for you.” I thought “Well, this is a great deal. It gives me an opportunity to get more material out.” I sat down and I started writing this ‘dream list’ of people that I wanted to collaborate with, mostly people I really admired like Robert Fripp from King Crimson and Robert Wyatt from Soft Machine. Finally, I had this long list and I thought “I can’t choose. Because they’re all great!” Then a kind of lateral thinking took over, and I suddenly thought “Well if you can’t choose, have all of them.” The question is, how do you do that? You can’t get them all in the studio at the same time. That would be chaos.
I invited each of them to make a track for this album. As there are 50 of them, you can just about squeeze them on an LP if you give them one minute each. I thought “Why not? I’ll just ask.” I had no money to offer anybody, just the idea – one-minute pieces. I’d never seen an album like that before, and I’ve always liked albums that had lots of different things on them. Like early Mothers of Invention albums. The first two albums are complete chaos from rock, to jazz, to noise, to talking, to jokes, to farting! I thought, “This could be something like that. Especially if you put the tracks together so there are no gaps. Just a continuous stream of interesting stuff.”
I started by writing to the people I did know and they all said yes. Once I got a few names, on the subsequent invitations, I could say “Well we’ve got these guys on the album, so if you’re interested…” And they’d say “Okay, yeah, I’ll join!” Very quickly, I got 50 people. People liked this communal idea of ‘We’re all in this together.’, and since the tracks were only a minute long, it was a bit of a challenge.
I did send each of the artists a pound. One pound, because in most contracts, at least in England, there has to be some exchange of money in the beginning so you get exclusive rights and you’re committed. Usually, if there’s no possibility of an advance, then they’ll just say, “Well here’s one pound.” The pound never actually changes hands, so it’s just a theoretical thing. I think it would be nice if the guy said, “Well here’s your one pound.” So I thought, “I’m gonna do that!” I sent everybody a pound. Only one guy wrote back and said, “How dare you?!” He called it ‘the king’s shilling’ as if I’m the king giving money to the poor. I said “No, you don’t understand! I’m poor! This is all I can afford, but I want to make that commitment!” Then he was fine with it. So, everybody got a pound and then they got royalties later on because the album did sell quite well.
PKM: You joined Queen in 1982 as the keyboardist for their Hot Space Tour. Did you get on well with the band?
Morgan Fisher: Not as well as I used to. In earlier years on the English tour, we all traveled together in a coach. This was Mott the Hoople at their peak, so I was basically a drunkard, and having a ball, and I think they remembered me like that. This was now eight years later, and I had been through a lot, and I’d matured. I had also been to India and learned how to meditate, which was important to me. I was almost off the booze, and I was vegetarian, and much quieter, basically. So there were all these changes. The other thing, of course, is that they were now massively successful, whereas on those Mott tours they were a new band struggling to make it. Now they were millionaires just doing their thing, and the atmosphere was completely different. There wasn’t the excitement of a new band struggling. Mott the Hoople were always a loose band, more like The Rolling Stones. You didn’t have to be perfect. Whereas the Queen shows were perfect every night. It’s almost like playing a Broadway show. You had a score and you had to get it right and you don’t mess around. That means there’s less of the members jamming with each other, which is kind of boring for me, I’m afraid. There wasn’t the young camaraderie that we had earlier on. There were also lots of wives and kids backstage, whereas in the old days there were groupies, which is obviously more fun. We all mature and things change, but I didn’t get on badly with anyone.
PKM: What is one of the most bizarre experiences that you’ve had on stage?
Morgan Fisher: One thing I remember with fondness was the last night of the tour we did with Queen in England. It was the end of 1973, and we played the Hammersmith Odeon. We also had two special guests, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, who came to watch. They were hanging out backstage. We were all in a good mood, so we played longer than we should have. The audience was fantastic and we were having a great time. Bowie and Jagger were dancing in the wings right behind me the whole time, though they never came on stage. We ran overtime and I could see the hall manager shouting “It’s time time time! Get off!” Of course we ignored him and carried on playing. In desperation, they started bringing down the fire curtain which is this huge rigid steel curtain. It started coming down slowly from the ceiling. We were like “Fuck! They’re just gonna shut us down?!” So, quick thinking – I’m playing the grand piano that belongs to the hall, and I pushed the grand piano under this descending curtain. Of course, it stopped, because they’re not gonna chop their piano in half. That did the job.
Now the curtain is down to about three or four feet off the floor, and the three guys in front, Ian Hunter, Pete Overend Watts, and Ariel Bender ducked under the curtain, went out front and carried on playing. The crowd went berserk! I mean, they tried to rush the stage! There were roadies and security guards pushing the crowd back, and the band was ragging them on. It was a fantastic way to end the night. We played at least 15 minutes more and we went off to huge applause. Then we went backstage for a little party and Queen presented us with a big cake. It said, ‘Thanks, from Queen’, which was nice. Freddie put the cake on the table and I said, “Freddie, there’s no knives and there’s no plates. Somebody messed up. What are we gonna do?” And he said, “I don’t know.” So I said, “Well, we have to share it manually.” I started grabbing pieces of cake and throwing them. Freddie and Roger joined in and we were throwing cake all over the place.
PKM: I can’t believe they tried to bring the fire curtain down on the band! I’d say that’s a bit extreme.
Morgan Fisher: I guess it’s something like union rules in America, if you go past the allotted time. I’ve heard of lots of bands playing Madison Square Garden and they had to stop almost in the middle of a song. The cost of going beyond the deadline is colossal, so they have that power, they have the authority to do that. But we stopped them!
PKM: What inspired you to move from England to Japan?
Morgan Fisher: In the Seventies, I stayed at the Miyako hotel in San Francisco. It was close to Winterland, which is where we played. This was my first time staying in a Japanese style hotel, and I loved it…I’ve always been interested in Japan because it’s so stylish and mysterious. This brief experience at the hotel piqued my interest.
The actual decision to go was almost instant. This was now 1985, and I was living in L.A. I had left England in 1981…It was a combination of things. Margaret Thatcher was one thing. The other was, I felt that I had lived through two golden ages already (the Sixties and the Seventies), which were fantastic. I’d met nearly every rock star in England from the Beatles on down, and the Eighties didn’t have much to offer for me. The last thing I got excited about was punk rock.
I needed to go somewhere. I had been working hard in my home studio, and I was exhausted. I went to India for four months and I learned how to meditate, but then I didn’t feel like going back to England. There was nothing drawing me back there. Through friends I lived in Belgium for a year, and then I moved to America. I was living in West Hollywood and I thought, “Well now it’s time for another change.” I’m like a snake who sheds his skin every few years…My friend had a big atlas, and nothing was calling to me. I turned the page, and there was Japan. It was beaming at me! Within a week, my girlfriend and I had moved to Japan. We didn’t know a word of Japanese, we had 500 bucks between us, no house, no friends, and no job. There couldn’t have been a better place to start from zero. Something in me felt relaxed when I arrived here. So who knows why? Whether it’s a past life as a Zen monk or what, but something fits me here, and I’ve now been here for half my life.
PKM: In 1990, you collaborated with Yoko Ono on your Echoes of Lennon album. What was it like working with Yoko in the studio?
Morgan Fisher: It wasn’t in the studio, that’s the first thing. We recorded her in her hotel bedroom. The album I was making was ambient versions of John Lennon’s love songs, so there was no rock ‘n’ roll on there, and nothing noisy. I liked the idea of inviting Yoko and I put the idea out there, and the recording company said “Our company president is a friend of hers. I’ll have him call her.” Yoko agreed to record something, obviously because it was related to Lennon, she was up for it. She happened to be in Tokyo shortly after, and I didn’t want her to sing because her voice wouldn’t work on an ambient album. I said, “Would you like to read the lyrics of a song?” Eventually, we chose the song “Love” which is one of the simplest and most heartwarming of John’s songs. I recorded all the backing and I took it to her hotel on a digital recorder, very simply with one mic and headphones. Yoko started reading these lyrics and we all melted, because the sound of her voice is very mellow and deep and emotional. She did several takes, and she told us stories about John. It was a lovely heartwarming couple of hours in a not particularly large bedroom in one of the best hotels in Japan.
PKM: In 2019, Mott the Hoople embarked on an eight-date tour of the US, billed as “Mott the Hoople ‘74”. What were some highlights from the tour?
Morgan Fisher: Probably the last gig at The Beacon Theatre, because it’s a legendary theater. You’re on this soft mattress of musical history, and you feel it as you walk onstage, and I’m sure the audience feels it too. Obviously on that tour, there was no ice to be broken. Everyone was long-term fans. Younger people were there too, but most of the audience were die-hard fans who were with us from the first note. We did three shows before that in Europe. The summer of 2018 was the first Mott reunion (for me) because they had done others with the original members. In 2018, we did three gigs. One in Spain, one in England, and one in Sweden. When they planned it, I said, “Well, we’re going to have a warm-up gig, right?” because in 2009, the band did a warm-up gig in an obscure theater in the English countryside. Finally, a week before the tour I said, “So, when is the warm-up gig?” and they said “Oh, the Spain gig will be the warm-up gig.”
This was no warm-up gig. This was a festival gig with 30,000 people! It was really like getting back in the saddle. I think it’s all down to muscle memory, so there was very little rehearsal needed. It was brilliant how it all flowed together, and I think people felt that during those gigs. After the American tour, we did a similar tour in England and Brian May and Joe Elliott got on stage. In the old days, we would tour for three months. I think we’re all a bit old to do that, but eight days is quite short. That was April of 2019. We were booked to do a tour of the West Coast that October and Ian suddenly developed tinnitus. He had to cancel the tour which was very sad. I’m really hoping the tour will be re-booked at some point.
PKM: Pre-pandemic, you hosted music and art events at the “Morgan Salon”. Tell me about the Morgan salon and the events that are hosted there.
Morgan Fisher: Morgan Salon is my home studio and I can accommodate up to about 40 people, a nice number for a small gig. I performed my own concerts on a regular monthly basis, and then I started inviting other people. Not only musicians, but poets and photographers. The idea of Morgan Salon harks back to the salons of Paris which I always loved reading about. Where Gertrude Stein would have Picasso come and talk about his new art and then Debussy would come in and play a piece. I thought “I’d like to do something like that.” The gigs at Morgan Salon will probably resume early next year.
PKM: You have a rather impressive discography. Looking back, which of your productions are you most proud of?
Morgan Fisher: It’s like asking ‘Who is your favorite child?’ That particular era when I had my home studio, I did two Hybrid Kids albums, I did the Miniatures album, and I did my first ambient album, which is slow music. All of those albums are still available 40 years later. Some have had vinyl re-issues and they’re all quite different, so that was a pretty creative high spot. Of course, there are many others.
Playing on The Hoople album by Mott the Hoople was fantastic. My favorite band album experience was that album because they gave me carte blanche. They basically said, “Go ahead, do what you like.” They trusted me. Each song on that album is different, and there’s a lot of variety, so that was a great experience.