Tramtracks is having a break ….. the members no longer all live in Sydney
Band members, in alphabetical order (written by Graeme “Ticker” James).
Robert Forbes. We know him as the Professor, a man of inspiration and big ideas. Bob plays keys, theremin, percussion, runs the studio, mixes the tracks and makes the cds. There is no Tramtracks without Bob in the Tramshed. Oh and those cool flute sounds are played on the Memotron – which is one of the few in the country, and has been borrowed by Sam McNally for Donovan’s tour and Bluesfest shows in 2012, and by Big Star for their 2014 concert at the Enmore Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival.
Mark Hudson with an H. The man with a permanent smile on his face is never happier that when he is playing his axe. More recently he is playing a beautiful Gibson but also has moments when he reaches for the Strat. Oh to have choice. In years gone by, it was fun growing up and being mates with James Rayne, co-writing an Aussie Crawl song Beautiful People, and being in Max Sharam and a host of other pub bands.
Graeme James. The band knows him as Ticker for his heartfelt but wandering rhythms on the drums. With an ear for prog and a liking of jazz and funk, Ticker has mixed it up a bit, and sometimes mixes it up too much in the same tune, but hey that is Tramtracks. Ticker plays Roland V-Drums. Tramtracks loves having Ticker around, as it is so boring playing to keyboard-generated drum sounds.
Toivo Pilt. Toivo has a musical pedigree in Australian music. One part classically trained musician, one part arranger, one part composer, one part Estonian. Toivo does an amazing job of bringing melodic order out of inspirational chaos of Tramtracks. He thinks in songs and melodies but just plays rhythms, and when he does, he is more Donald Fagan than Rick Wakeman, but doesn’t he know how to craft a beautiful melody over the top once he fires up! And he does have a particular love affair with the Hammond as a real master of the instrument. It couldn’t be prog without a Hammond sound, it couldn’t be prog without a wonderful synth line, and it couldn’t be chill without that gorgeous piano or strings added in. But yes he might have played a few tunes with Sebastian Hardie, had a few platinum selling records with them, or toured and played overseas festivals, opened for Yes, Focus, Lou Read and Santana, but he doesn’t like to talk about that, so we talk about it for him.
Dale York. Any guy that still has a love affair with an old Ford is bound to get nick name like V8. What a wonderful and uncompromising player. Thank goodness the era of pub rock is over so we can have him in our midst. V8 knows a good tune, great bass line, good riff, and good arrangement when he hears one – and he just loves a bit of discipline. It has been one of his roles to show us some discipline too, so some of our more obviously arranged tunes in recent times come with his influence. Hale Dale who plays great bass. We love him.
Tramtracks has been delighted to welcome Jamie Barnes. Jamie is old mates with Bob, Mark and Toivo, and brings a fabulous lyric, and vocal warmth that just gives the music a natural lift. Hear Jamie on on The Keeper, or Leaving Town.
On Life we have mixed it up too. Yes there is a retired Christian brother and Bob’s English teacher from school days, Peter Hancock making a guest appearance, as do friends Sarah and Judith. Back in the 60’s Peter was teaching Bob about some of the best poets in the English literature tradition, in particular Gerard Manley Hopkins and T. S. Eliot, and he illustrated English lessons with the music of Simon and Garfunkel. Little did he know they would be making music together all these years later., co-writing thr lysics to Life with Bob. Have a a listen to his poem on Life Part 2 We See, it is wonderful. How life progresses in ways we would not predict.
And graciously Mr Franky Valentyn has offered his services playing bass on various sections of the Life track.
The Tramtracks of yonder years
Back when we first got going in 2003, Athol Spraggs was an important part of the line up on bass and drum rhythms. That is all his great work on the See album. Following Athol’s departure we have had other guest members. From Yesfanz in Tasmania, the wonderful and talented Steve Davis on bass; and on sax, the haunting Kristen Sevaldsen from Norway. Kristen added gorgeous sax on After the Rain. When we first jammed this tune it sounded more akin to Enya on acid! It was haunting at the time, but is quiet magical with Kristen’s gracious lines on the sax. Have a listen here. And more recently we have Ralph White playing sax on Band of Sheep and some other tunes. Have a listen to Ralph’s smooth lines.
About our name Tramtracks
Our band name is based upon our line up from yonder years – so that would be Toivo, Robert, Athol and Mark making tracks together. It is a bit hard to fit Graeme and Dale into the original name, so this is the name we have and continue to use.
Why Progressive Chill?
We call our music Progressive Chill, and as far as we now, Tramtracks was possibly the first to do that, although like any genre, we now note that other bands around the world have followed. Oh well, we like to think we have inspired something and are glad it is catching on. Certainly back when we got started, the very smart Dr Google could only find Tramtracks when searching for progressive chill!
Now the progressive idea comes from our love of progressive rock, not that we play with as many notes or difficult time signatures, although we have been known to try a few things in the count of 7 just for our own fun. However one of us steadfastly played in 8 and we had to play it 56 times so we could finish together. Does that make it prog? There is a certain chill that runs down the spine once the synths get fired up and the guitar starts blistering. However the chill idea comes from the more laid back and tinkling sounds of the keyboards with a more mellow and rhythmic approach.
Though as our sound has evolved, we are increasingly less likely to be categorised in a straightforward way. Some of our tunes have a country or cruisy R and B feel, but the instrumentation of course is more akin to prog. So we end up with tunes like Leaving Town – a kind of blues, played with prog instruments and a funk and disco drum feel. Huh? But hey it works beautifully! And now that Jimmy Page has taken a back seat, who plays theremin quite like Robert Forbes? He has a knack of weaving in some masterful sounds into our tunes as they are finalised and produced.
Keeping track of how Tramtracks makes music
Tramtracks is a very organic kind of band. We get all fired up and run from moment to moment on inspiration. Did you know that most of our tracks actually grow out of improvisations? On a good night we might play between 6 and 12 tracks and all of them are recorded. That is how we made See, Rain, You and Grow.
Almost all the tunes were recorded in our Tramshed studio here at Glebe in Sydney, Australia, as we played them on the night. So our music generally starts with a desire to have a good time and enjoy ourselves and each others company. This is a pretty important ingredient. Then someone starts an idea and others chime in as they see fit. Now that we have been playing together over all these years, we tend to play in themes that lend themselves well to songs. When we have played one feel we tend to counter it with something quite different. If we have been rocking along, then we go mellow or spacey. Try listening to I’ve Seen Your Beautiful Face. This haunting melody is entirely improvised but for the spoken words added later. And the rhythm changes are very prog with something that is still pretty chill and spacey. Check it out here.
How Tramtracks sound has evolved
Since our inception back in 2003 after the heady days of the Yes tour with Roger Dean’s artwork on display and Sebastian Hardie reformed to support the shows, the Tramtracks sound has evolved. We are a little bit different in that there are two keyboard players, programmed drums and bass has given way to live drums and bass, and we are now fortunate to guest different vocalists.
Some of our tunes have taken on a quality of being slightly arranged. One of the things that makes Tramtracks music interesting is the way we try to contrast or change the mood or feeling. The keyboards change, and so do the bass and drums, and so the feel changes, then we bring the theme back again and evolve it. Slowly Toivo has us all thinking in songs! However Dale also loves a great arrangement too. Listen to how he helped craft the ideas on The Keeper. What a knock out track! Beautifully arranged and produced this tune is a powerful soundscape! It is gentle and lilting melody, lush and evocative vocals, a steady pulsing rhythm, followed by some dramatic guitar! Listen to it here. We love it and really hope you do too!
The vinyl album – Then?
Brilliant mixer David Cafe took a selection of tracks from the CDs and remixed and re-mastered them, also adding some guitar, bass and percussion. David has worked with some of the biggest names in Australian music (The Angels, Flowers, Billy Field, Doug Parkinson, Dragon, Tommy Emanuel, Swanee, Matt Finish among others) and is a long-time friend and colleague of Toivo (Tramtracks, Sebastian Hardie, Windchase). The difference David has made is stunning. He has taken tracks from See, Rain, You and Grow and changed the order of tracks to create two beautifully flowing sides of the album. You can also listen to Then? on Bandcamp.
Robert Forbes: keyboards, theremin, tambourines, lyrics.
Mark Hudson: guitars.
Graeme James: drums.
Toivo Pilt: keyboards, lyrics, vocals.
Dale York: bass.
Plus special gusts and major contribution from David Cafe on Then?