This month we’re talking with Gilbert Gabriel. A songwriter, film composer, producer and lecturer. He studied piano and clarinet at Dartington College of Arts and Goldsmiths before forming the British folk rock trio with Nick Laird-Clowes, The Dream Academy, whose 1985 single “Life in a Northern Town” was a global hit, peaking within the top ten of the charts in Australia and the United States.
Peter Shearn: Hi Gilbert, great to have you here. Let’s start by exploring the diverse tapestry of your musical influences. In the realms of rock, pop, jazz, and metal, where do you feel your music fits in?
Gilbert Gabriel: Hey there! My musical tastes are quite eclectic. Growing up on a diet of 60s music, especially a love for the Beatles, set the stage for my passion. Other influences were classical music, the array of wonderful songwriters and bands of that golden age of the1970s which included Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Weather, Kate Bush, Neil Young etc. Then there was the infusion of punk, electronic music like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Kraftwerk, Magazine and so on.
While studying piano as first study at Dartington College I became aware of the enormous benefit of not just going to a conventional Music College. Dartington College of Arts had an array of Bohemian fellow artists and dreamers that danced, acted, painted, and experimented with multi-media arts before it became fashionable. The tutors and other students seemed to have no creative limitations and a common wish to ‘learn by doing‘ in a community context and explore their authentic selves. I discovered John Cage, Stockhausen, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Merce Cunningham, Laurie Anderson as well as Folk music, World music and so on.
So. The Dream Academy. How did the three of you come together?
I answered an ad in the back of the Melody Maker that Nick had placed. After making demos with David Gilmour at his studio we played out live as a duo called Politics of Paradise at an underground night club called the Titanic. We would appear on stage at midnight just after a classical violinist and naked strippers left the stage. Tom Dixon (Creative Director of Ikea) also used to weld! Nick found Kate. Her elegiac Cor Anglais playing and 60s sense of fashion at the time, sold us!
David Gilmour eh? – was he an inspirational mentor, or do you have any juicy stories to share?
David was a wonderful empathic enabler. He helped us amplify our visions and let us use his Thames studio called Astoria, a truly memorable time. One of the high moments was rowing my fellow dreamers out onto the river there.
“Life in a Northern Town” became a massive hit. Were you prepared for its success, and did everything change suddenly?
Somehow, our love for 60s culture and our eclectic sound palette manifested into a wistful and nostalgic audio journey that had a perfect resonance that engaged people and still does!
About that epic performance of the song – how did it feel when you first saw it?
Nick showed me the video of the community choir. It sounds like magic. Lovely
Your retrospective 7CD BOXSET : ‘The Dream Academy: Religion, Railways and Revolution’, is coming out soon. But I thought you made three albums.
As you probably know, there are always demos, remixes, and finished tracks that are part of the journey, some of which are shelved because a running order and narrative has to be created to make an album flow. I look forward to tracing the complete journey of what we created.
Having studied at Dartington, are you invested in what is happening there now?
Absolutely! Last Year I made a film about Dartington, celebrating its legacy and working on another one for 2025. I have so far, with the help of Peter Marsh and Chris Booth at Soundart interviewed Anna Neima , Satish Kumar and will meet with Sophie Young (Michael Young’s daughter) soon.
Your involvement in film soundtracks, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, caught our attention. How was that experience?
Watching Ferris Bueller’s clip recently made me realize its cult status. It’s a reminder of the culture of 1980s America. It features our interpretation of the Smith’s “Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” A high point was Nick showing me Morrissey’s postcard confirming he found our version “Beautiful “. High praise indeed when Nick and I loved The Smiths
Tell us more about your lecturing. Is it focused on the mechanics of music, writing, or performing?
My specialism is Film Sound Semiotics, I have taught at the London Film School and lectured at Universities around the UK and Norway. I am now writing a book about music improvisation and doing a first workshop on the subject with Lea Lazelle who is a singer and vocal coach. I also did an immersive workshop a couple of years ago with my good friend Aidan Hoyle. We are not only reinvestigating that project but working on another one called Audio Theatre.
Also Gilbert what current music are you listening to?
There is a wildly experimental post-punk band called Crack Cloud I heard in the Rough Trade Shop while I was in London.The Dinner ladies are interesting and I really like the Dreampop vibes of Cigarettes after Sex. Oh and lastly Andy Snauf who has several songs featured in the hilarious Netflix series, Loudermilk…
What are your thoughts on the modern world of music and the business?
It’s essential to be authentic, master your skills, and being passionate about improving your skills as a writer and music producer. Building strong relationships and maintaining an awareness of the new technological changes and means of promotion, distribution and who the new gatekeepers are is crucial.
What Have the Dream Academy Members been up to recently and will you do some more recording together.
Nick has been working on film soundtracks which include Marianne and Leonard, a documentary about Leonard Cohen. Kate has been busy with orchestra arrangements for various artists that recently include the wonderful Blue Nile. Last year I directed a film and wrote a soundtrack for it called “Memories of Dartington”. In November 2023 I released the EP by under the name “Dreamadelica”. Both CDs are in Rough Trade shops In New York, London and Bristol as well as locally at Drift , Eastgate Bookshop and with Christian Murison who promotes lots of gigs at the Barrelhouse etc .
It seems you will appear at the follow up Gaza gig in the Civic Hall early March.
Yes, all very exciting. Dreamadelica’s line-up will be Lea Lazelle on vocals, Clare Kenny Bass- (Sinead O’ Connor), Carolina Minton- Backing Vocals. You can hear our music on www.everdreamrecords.com. We are also, recording an ambient record with your “good self “ under the moniker “The Heavenly Post” in the spring. Don’t forget that, Ha Ha!