Interview Done By Mike Wilkerson
MW: Please introduce yourself?
RB: I’m one of the two original members of Flash. I was the bass player and one of the songwriters in the old band (early 70’s). Now I’m the lead guitarist, taking over Pete Banks role in the original band. The other original member is lead singer, Colin Carter. Colin was the other songwriter.
MW: Tell me about calling the band Flash?
RB: Obviously that was chosen a long time ago. As many people know, Peter Banks was also an original members of Yes and he had a part in naming that band. The idea then was that a short name is easy to remember. Also, less letters on a Marquee can allow your name to be bigger. So that was what we went with too. It was Pete, Colin and British music journalist Chris Welch who came up with the name Flash. They were out and about partying one night and doing what people do when you have a new band. Getting drunk and thinking of silly band names
MW: Tell me about the first time you played live with Flash?
RB: High Wycombe Town Hall in the county of Buckinghamshire, UK. Jan 1972. Of course it was tense being the first gig, and the hall had very bad acoustics. Not a great way to kick things off! I broke a bass string, which I’ve hardly ever done in my whole life. I was playing really hard I suppose that night. We were covered by the UK music press from the start as they were obviously curious about a Yes offshoot and what would probably be an interesting band. I seem to remember that one review I read from that gig said we were very loud and played everything very fast. That sounds about right.
MW: Tell me about the following Flash releases?
Was our first album. Recorded in November 1971. Produced by Derek Lawrence – who also produced Deep Purple, Wishbone Ash, and many others. It was recorded at, what was then, the brand new De Lane Lea Studios in Wembley, London. A very large and impressive facility. I was particularly taken with the great bar and restaurant. The whole experience was a real pleasure. Very exciting. Being in great surroundings with a top pro crew and everything we needed to get on with the job. I felt like that was where I belonged. The tracks took about two weeks and mixing a week. Very fast by today’s standards, but we were very well rehearsed and it went well. I was amazed at how good we sounded. Up to that point we hadn’t really recorded any rehearsals, except a few bits on a small cassette player. We also hadn’t played any gigs yet, just two months of solid rehearsals and really no feedback from anyone much. Only our manager and producer had heard us. A couple of guys in the bakery upstairs from the rehearsal room seemed to like what we were doing, from what they heard coming through the floor. This tiny basement room had little ventilation and sometimes we got a bit silly from lack of oxygen down there. Might account for a lot of what made Flash Flash ! During the album recording sessions, at one point, Derek Lawrence turned to us and said, “How does it feel to know you have a hit album”. That took me by surprise. I didn’t know.
“In The Can”
This, our second album was recorded about a year later, same studio, also with Derek Lawrence, though toward the end of the sessions Derek had a falling out with Peter Banks and left the project before it was finished. I felt at the time that we weren’t quite ready to do the album and that we needed more material. Actually we had enough. It was the other half of our live set plus two new songs, Colin’s “Lifetime” and one of mine, “Monday Morning Eyes”. Mine was written just before the recording sessions and arranged and quickly rehearsed in the studio. I like the way it came out, sounds very fresh and inspired to this day. After we finished the tracks we went on tour in the US and Derek mixed the album without us. We re-mixed it ourselves when we got back to the UK as it just didn’t seem right. Now, I wish we could have kept Derek involved and worked it out the way the first album was done. We were in a bit over our heads with production. Despite a few reservations of mine, I think it’s a decent record. Sounds better to me now than it did then. It certainly represents a chunk of what we were doing live, though live we sounded better. We had a fuller, beefier sound . The record has been remembered well, which is nice. Many old fans even call it a favourite.
“Out Of Our Hands”
This was a concept album with a theme running through most of it. A fairly simple story line. Basically a science fiction type of atmosphere, with a little philosophy thrown in. Our manager had suggested we do a ‘concept album’, which was in vogue at the time. I came up with the idea and wrote it in a rather abstract poetic style, which is what I was into at the time – a youthful idea and a bit hard to handle with music, as we found out. We were only moderately successful with it. I wasn’t very pleased with how little the rest of Flash added to it. I expected it to be expanded on and developed more. But we were very busy and were being rushed along by management and record company to get it done and get on tour again. t think we felt too much pressure to take more time with it.
There were also a couple of songs from Colin on the album, unrelated to the story theme, but they stood very well on their own. We recorded a brand new version of one of them, “Manhattan Morning”, which is on our new album, “Flash – Featuring Ray Bennett & Colin Carter”. Overall, some parts of “Out Of Our Hands” still sound very good. Some excellent playing here and there. But I get an itch to re-do some of it. Good ideas were glossed over. A lot of it was played way too fast and way too busy, even for my taste back then. Peter Banks was also working on a solo album at the same time. Bad idea. He split his attention, and time, between the two. He asked me and Flash’s drummer, Mike Hough to play on his solo album, which we did. I think what was missing on the band recording sessions was that there wasn’t quite a ‘band’ feeling. Pete wasn’t there some of the time and that proved to be counter-productive. For example ; on Manhattan Morning (original version) Colin, Mike and I did a lot of that by ourselves. Mike Hough and I recorded the entire basic track with just bass and drums only. When it came time for Pete to add his guitar parts he surprised us by deciding not to play hardly anything on the verses. He said he couldn’t think of anything to play and didn’t want to play just rhythm guitar. Stuff like that shouldn’t happen. If we had worked together we could have come up with a better solution. Fortunately my bass and the vocals sounded pretty good without guitar, so we left it that way.
MW: Why did Flash only release 3 Flash releases and then break up?
RB: Well we did a lot for two and a half years. Three albums, one solo record from Pete, plus a lot of touring – The USA, UK and Europe. We managed to get to Australia too.
In a nutshell, the band broke up because of Peter Banks. We all felt we couldn’t work with him any more. Pete didn’t take criticism very well, often responding with anger and violence. He caused a lot of trouble for just about everyone involved with the band. Too much to go into here. It was a mistake though to finish with Flash altogether at that point. We should have replaced him and carried on. But it had been a very busy time for those two and a half years and we were exhausted and stressed out. It’s unpleasant for me to have to say all that and point the finger at Peter Banks, but it’s true. Our manager and Derek, our producer, had asked us to get him out of the band some time before that and I agreed with them, but Colin didn’t. He wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. Overall it’s a shame really. Musically, Peter and I did click into place easily. We could jam for hours without a word and our playing ability was well matched. We had a taste for the same kind of music. Quite eclectic, not just rock, anything. That was a large part of the reason the Flash stuff was adventurous. In fact we all had the same mindset. It was a very unified band musically. Peter’s playing at times could be really great. Very tasteful and clever. He was capable of amazing stuff. At the same time he could also could be very reckless on stage doing some odd things. He was a bit out of control judgement-wise. Funny thing is, despite the rotten way Flash, version 1, ended, in the beginning we had lots of fun together, a very creative time. Everything worked beautifully. No question that there was a lot of magic there. We had chemistry together that was undefinable.
MW: Tell me about Empire?
RB: I was only involved very briefly with that. That was Peter Banks and his, then, wife Sydney Jorden’s project This was in the mid 70’s and they had already done one album as Empire before I came along that I think had been shelved by their record company for some reason. Phil Collins had played on that one. Pete and I had decided to put the past Flash unpleasantness behind us and give it another shot. We had met up in London and over a period of about a year I recorded with him and Sydney. Some was all of us together and some just me and Sydney. These were demo sessions for a record company and a management company which ultimately didn’t get us anywhere, but out of that Pete’s second version of Empire came about. Pete and Syd thought I would be a good bass player for the band, I thought I might be too, but it was their baby and I wasn’t really into it. Just a couple of weeks of rehearsals and I left.
MW: What did you do after Flash breaking up other than Empire?
RB: A lot of water under the bridge since then. I’ve had many bands, done sessions, been a producer, a studio owner, and worked as a solo artist. In 2001 I put out two solo CD’s. One was all new stuff called “Whatever Falls”, and the other an archive album of tracks from the 70’s to the 90’s called “Angels & Ghosts”. There were two unreleased Flash tracks on that and a couple of the songs I recorded with Peter Banks and Sydney Jordan. The rest was my own material. About a year or so after finishing those CD’s I got in contact with Colin Carter and eventually our conversations started to turn toward the idea of a musical partnership again. Also, the possibility of reforming Flash with the other original members. An agent friend of mine was encouraging that idea and he wanted to book us. Pete Banks was invited, as was Mike Hough, though neither followed through even though they seemed excited by the idea at first. After Flash was asked to play at The Baja Festival in Mexico in ’05 both Peter and Mike Hough dropped out of the picture, so Colin and I played the show as a duo. Following that we continued to work as a duo and with a band playing a variety of material. We gigged quite a lot. Later, around 2008 or so, someone suggested to me that we should do a new version of Flash with new people and new material. The idea grabbed me right away. But finding the right people to fit in with a band like Flash proved to be quite difficult and it was a more than a year before we got on the current course.
MW: Now we are in 2013 and there is new Flash release called Flash Featuring Ray Bennett & Colin Carter. How did the release come about?
RB: It was inevitable that once Flash became a reality again a new album was the thing to do and it was essential to us to make it new and of today, not a re-hash of our past. That took some time to develop, but Colin and I write a lot and have a ton of ideas, so it wasn’t too hard to get it rolling. Deciding on the flavour was a tougher question. We just had to let it grow and evolve and see what happened. That took three years, with a few breaks in the work along the way. I think the time it took was worth it. It matured into a good and varied album.
MW: What is the first single and video?
RB: “Hurt” the NIN song is the first video. It’s on Youtube and you can also find it on the Flash Facebook page, Flash – Featuring Ray bennett & Colin Carter. It’s around nine minutes long, so not a single, but an edited version of that song is done. That will be out soon. A five minute version.
MW: Will Flash be going on tour?
RB: Plans are in the works for touring.
MW: What music festivals will Flash be playing?
RB: Don’t know yet. Maybe something later this year. But probably for sure in 2014. Unfortunately we didn’t have an agent when the current summer festivals were being booked. We were still finishing up recording in the spring.
MW: Where do you feel Flash goes down in music history?
RB: Who can say ? History is a long time. Others decide that. Many others. I’m still working on it, so the story isn’t complete. At the very least, in our beginnings, Flash was a co-creator of what is now known as the classic prog rock era. I don’t think anyone can lay claim to being the sole author of this type of adventurous rock music. There were quite a few significant bands, and many individuals, contributing to the effort. The fact is, we’re still around and being listened to and talked about, and still selling forty years on. That says something.
MW: What would you like to say in closing?
RB: When you get a chance to see Flash live, come check us out. It’s great sounding band, so don’t miss it.
Also, please visit our Facebook page, Flash-Featuring Ray Bennett & Colin Carter and hit LIKE. Then you can stay up to date with our progress, see our posts and general goings on. The page is run by Sherry who gets a lot of interesting stuff up there. And, there will be a new video soon.