20 minutes with Brian Eno

The ambient grand master on playing live - just don't call it a tour!

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Brian Eno is nothing if not busy. With his soundtrack to the latest – and final – season of Top Boy on sale imminently, he has just announced that a remastered edition of The Ship album will be released ahead of his live shows in October.

Here, from Uncut’s September 2023 issue, Eno tells us about why he’s decided to play live again. Just don’t call it a tour…

Hi Brian. You recently said you’d rather hammer nails into your own scrotum than go on tour. What changed?
I wish it wasn’t being presented as my first solo tour because it’s kind of misleading. In fact, I’ve made a decision in the last few days that if I ever play live again, I won’t announce it until about an hour before the concert. People are already asking me four months in advance exactly what I’m going to be doing, and I haven’t really worked it all out yet. So it’s a process; it’s a project in the process of being formed. It started out with the idea of doing as an orchestral piece. And then I woke up last Tuesday to find about a thousand emails and texts from people saying, ‘Oh, you’re going on tour’ and I thought, ‘No, I’m fucking not going on tour!’


But there’s a list of European dates here…
There’s a performance of some of my music. And hopefully a new piece as well. And I will be on stage some of the time. But if people think that it’s going to be like a concert with me standing at the microphone with my hair flowing in the wind, they’re wrong. Because I haven’t got any hair for a start!

Tell us about the orchestra.
I’m working with the amazing Baltic Sea Philharmonic. They’re distinguished by the fact that the musicians aren’t sitting down the whole time, so it’s an orchestra of people who are actually alive. This is already quite rare. They live and they eat and drink and shit and have sex like the rest of us. Not like people in other orchestras who don’t seem to do any of those things.

You performed with your brother and your niece in Greece last year. Did you enjoy it so much that you wanted to do more?
I did enjoy that, yeah. But touring to me, or any kind of live performance, it’s quite inefficient. That concert in Athens took about a month to prepare and then we did one show. The thing is, a lot of my music has never been played live. We normally think of music being played by a group of people sitting down and doing something together. Most of it isn’t constructed like that, it was made in a studio bit by bit, like a painting. In Athens we did five pieces that had never been played. It was actually very nice to know that it could be done and it worked. You see, I don’t go to concerts very much myself. And if I do I generally go to small ones. I’m not really interested in big live music. The size that we’re working at in these shows is about the limit for me – 2000 people, not 10,000 or 80,000.


Is there something conceptually interesting about the chance and randomness of a live event?
I think as everything else becomes easier and more reproducible, that which isn’t reproducible becomes more valuable. You pay more attention. Like everybody else, I have all the distractions of everyday life. This is an amazing era of human existence because there are more brains alive than there ever have been. And there are more connections between them than there ever have been. It’s got to be the formula for a kind of incredible explosion of knowledge! But there are far more distractions as well. I think the increase in distractions overwhelms the increase in connectivity.

You famously realised your time was up in Roxy Music when you found yourself onstage contemplating your laundry. Is that a risk during the upcoming shows?
No, I’ve got a washing machine now.

Brian Eno performs Ships together with Baltic Sea Philharmonic conducted by Kristjan Järvi – plus Leo Abrahams, Peter Chilvers and a cameo appearance by Peter Serafinowicz – at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on October 30


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