They played some big gigs – with Al Stewart, with the Stones at Hyde Park…
[Blackhill] were quite ruthless – if someone had got a tour, we’d stick one of our other bands on it. And when we were doing the concerts in Hyde Park we’d stick all our bands on. I remember on the morning of the Stones concert, Paul Buckmaster phoned me up and said [poshly], “Andrew, what do you think I should wear? Should I wear a dark suit?”
Ursula Smith was an important part of the second album. What was she like?
She was a pretty good cellist. I think she’s still married to Steve Pank, who was the roadie. He famously once drove 40 miles the wrong way down the M1 with the band in the back. Steve was a legend for getting lost, always. It’s a miracle they ever got to any gigs at all with him driving.
If there was a lead instrument, it was surely Paul Minns’ oboe.
Paul Minns was a pretty extraordinary bloke – I say he’s the John Coltrane of the oboe, I think it’s quite amazing what he plays. There’s nothing to compare it with, his improvisations, I think they’re brilliant, utterly brilliant. Because of the way the reed’s constructed in oboes, you can make incredible noises with it.
What do you remember of their performance on Glastonbury Tor?
That was really funny – straight out of Monty Python. Glen thought it was very good PR for us to be heavily involved in the druids, so for some solstice or another, or an equinox, we went down there and the druids all showed up and we walked up to the top of Glastonbury Tor. Marching up the hill, Glen was probably complaining about his leg… yeah, it was a war wound. He made out it was anyway. The druids did whatever druids do, sort of moved around and shook their robes and what have you, and the Third Ear Band played, and then we went down again and had a roast lamb and two veg lunch with them. I always remember, we went through all that crazy druid stuff, then they all suddenly turned out to be quantity surveyors from Dorking.
Were they serious about alchemy and magick?
They were very good musicians; I don’t think they gave a shit about alchemy one way or another. I think they all thought they’d found a way to make some great music and they were going to have a go at it, and they did. Looking back at it now we can laugh at some of the hippie excesses, as they look to us now, but at the same it was very serious stuff. The music doesn’t sound dated at all, that’s the thing.
How did they come to be involved in Macbeth?
Through one of Polanski’s producers, Hercules Bellvile, he was a nice chap. It was a great experience for everyone, going down to Shepperton in Polanski’s huge Rolls-Royce. It was very exciting. Polanski was just so bright and so smart, he was always 10 paces ahead of anybody. He knew more about everything – he knew every technical thing backwards, he knew exactly what he was trying to do.
It really was the perfect film for them to soundtrack.
There’s something magic about the Third Ear Band. You don’t realise it at the time, then it’s hard to pin down years later, but there was something special there, there really was.
The March 2019 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – with New Order on the cover. Inside, you’ll find Pete Shelley (RIP), our massive 2019 albums preview, Sharon Van Etten, Mark Knopfler, Paul Simonon, John Martyn, Steve Gunn and much more. Our 15-track CD also showcases the best of the month’s new music, including Bruce Springsteen, William Tyler and the Dream Syndicate.