I am a musician and composer, I was born and grew up in East London and am, I believe, very English. I was born into a musical and artistic family at home next to the piano and I like to say I have never really moved that far away from one. I studied art and design after leaving school and around the same time I discovered music and the idea of playing in a band. The two inevitably clashed and I was launched without much thought or decision into a world I knew very little about and really had no appetite for. I just knew I loved music, playing it, writing it, performing so there was no other choice…
My father and mother both played the piano and my father had played violin as a child. Seemed everyone in the house could play the piano, it was like a member of the family actually. My oldest brother George actually taught me to play 12 bar blues and I just learnt everything else by ear, a skill which has always been useful throughout my career. From there I just learnt songs that interested me and gradually learnt to play. I only had very few real lessons which I hated!
Our next door neighbour used to say that she knew when my Mum was cleaning the house and when she got to the dining room where the piano was because my Mum would always sit down and play it for half an hour. When I was a child I used to sit under the keyboard and watch the keys go up and down and try and push them back up. There’s a D. H. Lawrence poem that talks about this and apart from the religious stuff sums it up really nicely…
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
My parents always encouraged me in my music, when I wanted my first electric piano which I talk about here, my Father told me if I got a Summer job and earned half he would give me the other half. I don’t think they really understood the world of rock or pop music but then neither did I. It was just about a lot of very strange people on the TV, still is isn’t it? They sadly died before I achieved any major success although I think my Father did see my on TV with the Thompson Twins.
I worked very hard to get into Art school and enjoyed it almost as much as music. I studied Graphic Design at the very prestigious London College of Printing but in those days it was very blinkered and short sighted. They only saw the importance of what the students did within the course work and outside activities such as music were frowned upon if they intruded on the schedule. Inevitably conflicts arose and I was forced to make a choice between music or college and I chose music. It’s a choice that I have made time and time again in my life. It has brought me amazing experiences and fulfillment but has cost me a lot personally but in the end I really had no choice.
So I was 21 and a professional musician living in London in the mid Seventies. My first ever public performance was with Arthur Brown who was a very very eccentric shock rock/ pop musician from the 60s. His big and probably only hit was “Fire” and he used to wear a helmet with flames coming out of it.
By the time I worked with him he had calmed down a lot, no more flaming helmets hahaha.. That was short lived however and I moved on to playing in soul and cabaret bands. It was at this time I met Boris Williams, we became close friends and he was pivotal in almost every move in my career.
We formed our own rhythm section, bass, drums, keys and guitar and would work for anyone that would hire us. We played a lot with a group called The Flirtations, a three piece Supremes type girl singer group from the US. We would tour the country playing in working mens clubs and on the Northern Cabaret circuit. We would play for about an hour at night from 11pm and the rest of the day was free so we formed our own jazz funk fusion band and would rehearse in the clubs during the days. On our rare days off in London we would play gigs in pubs. We were obsessed with feel and technique and ability and would practice like crazy. It was a fun time and we were making a living from playing music which is no mean feat in itself.
We got bored of this way of life though and the circuit began to dry up and less and less gigs for the girls made it hard for us to make a living. We drifted apart.. Boris and I both became motorcycle messengers in London and music became secondary for a while… Then I heard Boris had got a gig playing drums with the Thompson Twins one of the new Synth pop bands that was fast becoming very successful. He toured America with them something that had always been a dream of ours. In a chance meeting Boris told me they were firing one of their keyboard players and he would try and get me the job! I auditioned, an audition which was more about what I looked like than playing ability and I got the job. This was April 1983 and my first show with the TT’s was opening for David Bowie in Scotland. I toured with the TT’s all the way through 1983 and 1984 through the height of their success in the UK and US. It was an amazing time, we had no responsibilities and were just on a wage in the band, we played a pretty short show and made the most of being on tour.
Towards the end of 84 both Boris and I became bored with the TT’s and the politics involved. I decided to leave and try my hand at film music composition in Los Angeles and Boris by chance ended up joining The Cure. My adventure in LA came to an abrupt end in July 1985 when I ran out of money just as offers were starting to come in but sadly I had to leave. This was a pretty tough period for me and it wasn’t until Spring of 1986 that I started working again. Boris takes credit for getting me this job as well but I’m not so sure haha…
I was living in Ottawa, Canada and I got a phone call from the production manager of the Psychedelic Furs who were recording in Woodstock, NY. Their keyboard player had quit and he wanted me to come down and audition, which I happily did. They were living at Bearsville Studios finishing their next record and rehearsing for some shows as well so the whole band was there. I started playing with them and Richard the singer walked in, as soon as he heard my English accent he told me I had the job! I went on to tour with them pretty much non stop until I joined The Cure in June 1987. It was a pretty turbulent time for the Furs and not very happy, they were badly managed and the record company was not behind them at all. It wasn’t until long after I had left the band that I was to appreciate how good they were.
I was on tour in Scandinavia when I received a phone message from Boris, I knew at once that he was asking me to join The Cure, I don’t know why, I just did. I spoke to Boris the next day and he told me they needed an extra keyboard for an upcoming five week US tour. The new album they had just finished had too may keyboard parts on it for one person so they decided to get somebody to help out. It was a difficult decision for me as I had been offered a more permanent position with the Furs, a new album to record on, year of touring. I lived pretty much month to month at this time and to give up this confirmed work for just five weeks of touring was a tough choice. The Cure’s label sent me a cassette of the new album Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and I was at home for a weekend, I put the tape on and within about thirty seconds the choice was made for me, I had to be in this band. Plus the chance to play with Boris again! The music was incredible, like nothing I had heard before, they just didn’t care, they were making this amazing beautiful powerful innovative music… So I said YES!
My fears about the future were soon put to one side when Robert asked me one night sitting on the floor in a hotel room to join the band and play on the next record. It was at first a very strange world that The Cure existed in, most of them had been together since they were at school and had done very little else in life. The band was also on a huge wave of success and it seemed as hard as they tried not to be successful every turn they took made them more and more popular. This album had three hit singles on it yet at the same time the band wasn’t pop it was very strange and had its roots in very dark music.
After the tour ended I returned to my apartment in Toronto where I was living at the time and started writing for the album that would become Disintegration which we recorded in 1988 and toured through 1989. There were a lot of growing pains amongst the group during this era and in May 1990 I decided I didn’t want to be a part of it any more so I left.
I moved back to Toronto and opened a clothing shop in June 1991 and although I no longer own it last year was its twentieth birthday. I continued to play music and record and collect synthesizers but longed to be back performing again. Robert and I stayed in touch during this period and when in 1995 he telephoned me and asked me to come over to England and play on the new album they were recording. Both Paul and Boris had left the band and it was a whole new world. So we finished recording Wild Mood Swings and then toured it in 1996. I moved back to London again and really enjoyed being a part of the band and involved in the newly developing internet and digital music revolution.
In 1998 we started work on Bloodflowers and toured it in 2000. This was probably the best period of this line up and the performances were amazing, in 2002 we captured the band on film in the Trilogy shows released in 2003. Late 2003 and into 2004 we started work on The Cure album and during this period I realised that I needed to move on and find other creative outlets. I left the group for the second time in 2005.
From 2005 and continuing now has been my most productive and creative period. On leaving the group I finished my first real solo record The Truth In Me. During 2004 I had been asked to write a song for a documentary about the visionary electronic instrument designer Bob Moog. I wrote the song using only a Moog Voyager synthesizer and was encouraged by the producer to write an entire album of songs using the same process. I started my own record label and publishing company, signed some amazing bands released some fantastic records. I myself signed to a record label who released and promoted my own music which had always been a dream of mine. I worked with many other amazing musicians and worked hard to be accepted into the world of electronic music that I admired so much. In 2008 I released the second of my electronic albums Songs From the Silver Box which achieved critical acclaim. Sadly the label collapsed and I reverted to self release with my piano album Piano Formations in 2010.
My biggest project of this era is Quieter Trees a suite I wrote and have been performing for Chamber Orchestras. Its based on a painting by David Hockney called Bigger Trees Near Warter. Its debut was in London and it was played by the Centre For Young Musicians a school for children aged 11-18.
In March of 2011 I was in early meetings with the CYM regarding the performance when out of the blue I received an email from Robert asking me, if it did happen, would I be happy to perform with the group on some special concerts in Australia. My immediate response was that this was a hoax as the email was addressed to both myself and Lol. There had been a lot of bad blood between Robert and Lol and I full never believed that they would set foot on the same stage again. I asked the sender of the email to prove they were who they said they were and it was true…
So in May we went to Sydney and performed the first three albums of The Cure’s career and it was amazing to be back, a lot of things have changed, mainly us as people. Later in the year I performed with the band at Bestival and after the show Robert once again asked me to join the band, third time lucky hahaha… In November we again performed the Reflections shows with Lol in London, New York and Los Angeles. So I am now a member of the group again and we approach the 25th anniversary of my first performance, nearly half my life.
I continue to pursue my own career in parallel with my work with The Cure and this Easter will collaborate on a Requiem which I have co written. I will travel to Colombia to perform Quieter Trees and I have written some piano pieces for my friend’s website… So I continue to make music which is what it seems I am meant to do. I am the happiest I have been in my career, there is no pressure any more. I make music whenever and wherever I want and can explore new and different avenues continually on a journey…
EMAIL ME > ROGER@ROGERODONNELL.COM
MAIL ME > PO BOX 19, EX18 7WZ, UK
I reserve the right to publish any emails I receive