Sundial

Gary Ramon is a musician who takes his psychedelia seriously. As well as being the guitarist and front-man for Sundial he also finds time to operate the Essex label, an outlet for choice psych re-releases, and his own Acme label which is home based and quality controlled making acid-fuelled music from new and old bands available to the curious and fanatical.


This sinterview with Gary Ramon took place in Camden Town, London last Autumn after a visit to his Kentish Town based studio. The original plan was to continue where the previous Ptolemaic Terrascope interview with him left off, but in the end this scheme was abandoned and we just talked. What emerged, however, revealed much about the man, his music and his psychedelic roots.

PT: Where did your initial interest for psychedelic music come from?

GR: It was about 1982 when I was at school and made friends with my economics teacher who was 10-12 years older. In the 60s he was a big fan of Jefferson Airplane, Love, Grateful Dead etc. and I used to go over to his house and borrow all these old 60s albums. It was music I'd never picked up on before, I never knew bands like The Blues Magoos even existed - I used to listen to Echo & The Bunnymen and The Jesus & Mary Chain.

So your economics teacher also taught you about 60s rock...

Yeah! But having said that, I did know about Pink Floyd. I was a fan of theirs from about the age of 10. A friend of mine bought 'A Nice Pair' in a second-hand shop for a couple of quid. We were both fascinated by it because it sounded old-fashioned and alien to us, it was like nothing we'd ever heard.

The artist that comes through loud and clear from that period who is mirrored in your guitar playing is Hendrix. When did you become interested in him?

Probably in the late 70s, early 80s. There used to be loads of second-hand shops that had cheap albums for sale and you could just go there and experiment, buy these strange looking old albums and if you didn't like them either pass them on or trade them back. As it didn't cost much I used to do that and I picked up Hendrix albums because I was familiar with his name.

Did the elaborate gatefold covers and psychedelic artwork on these old albums you found have an influence as well?

Absolutely! You'd open up these psychedelic poster sleeves and just be amazed at what popped out of them.

But what was the attraction that drew you to this music from another generation? Weren't the bands of the 80s enough for you?

I think the attraction was that here was something different which was nothing like The Police, The Buzzcocks or some New Wave thing. It was also a period when guitars were getting to be a dirty word in the music press because all these New Romantic bands were playing Roland keyboards. But I remember getting hold of a copy of Iggy & The Stooges' 'Raw Power' in the late 70s, it was just after the Sex Pistols made it and everyone was telling me that the Pistols were dangerous and stuff. You heard 'Raw Power' and the other Stooges albums and you'd think, this band were far more dangerous than the Sex Pistols.

So Pink Floyd, Hendrix and the Stooges are really the elements that make Sundial the band it is today?

They are really, but the thing that gets me is the attitude of music journalists today. They're always going on about "retro" sounds and I'm sure they consider Sundial a retro band. I admit we are influenced by that period in music, but it's just a lazy word to use instead of saying something intelligent and descriptive about our music. We celebrate that period and we're not trying to be some kind of tribute band. We've taken aspects from those bands we feel close to and turned it into something that, for me, is wholly our own sound.

And you're improving on that?

Yeah, and what is so fantastic is that we've got our own studio which means we can experiment more with sounds that bands used to use in the 60s. A lot of corporate rock bands couldn't, or wouldn't, do that because of who they are, what label they're signed to or because they haven't got the time to work it out properly.

What about your early Sundial records, what interest did 'Other Way Out' generate when it was released?

That was on Hugo Chavez-Smith's Tangerine label and I think it took a lot of people by surprise. We were only planning to release 2,000 copies because we didn't know if the interest would be there [the very first pressing was in fact only 1,000 copies - ed.]. After it came out we found there definitely was an interest and eventually that's how UFO became interested in the band. It wasn't just the people who bought psychedelic rarities and reissues who were interested either, we also managed to attract indie-rock fans as well which was strange. I think UFO picked up on that and realised we had a crossover appeal. We were really impressed by their support and enthusiasm because Hugo could only have taken it so far on Tangerine. Even towards the end UFO were still interested in Sundial but financially it just wasn't working out and so when they offered us a deal we moved to Beggars Banquet.

But now Sundial records are released on two labels in the UK, Beggars Banquet and your own Acme label. What made you decide to run a label and a band?

I guess it was from that time with UFO that made me think it would be good to have a label which has some interesting bands involved. I knew how to put records out through my Modern Art period and I thought it would be a really exciting thing to do. I also wanted to set up a label so that other bands could release their own music without any interference or influence from the outside. I wanted to give other musicians the chance to do something.

Acme also has a healthy release programme going, and your recent Essex re-release of July' debut has been praised for the care and attention you put into it. Was that an ambition fulfilled for you?

I think the July album is amongst the finest UK psych albums ever recorded and I think that people who like that record were pleased to get something that was manufactured carefully. So many pressings today are crap, like flexi-discs almost with a really nasty sound. We're trying to get hold of the best quality vinyl we can and I think people appreciate that.

What is your working relationship with Beggars banquet like?

They've been quite happy to go along with our ideas because we don't really act like a band to a degree, we don't go out gigging every week and stuff like that. The thing is that everything we've said we were going to do we've done. When we said to them, "can you give us some money to buy a studio to record an album", Beggars knew we weren't going to blow it on drugs or go down the pub forever or something and suddenly say "sorry, we've spent all the money". We did buy a studio with it.

That was the studio where you finished 'Acid Yantra' which Beggars released on CD and Acme put out on vinyl. Are Beggars somewhat amazed that you can still find a market for vinyl?

Beggars have a lot of overheads so it doesn't make economical sense for them to release vinyl records, whereas Acme has got lower overheads and can specialise in putting out a really good product for lower cost. 'Acid Yantra' was born to be a gatefold LP and not a CD. I think the music industry got it wrong when they discontinued the vinyl LP, the interest is still there and there's plenty of room for both LP and CD formats.

What plans have you got for Acme in the future?

There's a band called Chemical that I've been helping to record, they've been using the studios and there's a full album coming out this year. We're also putting together a limited live Sundial LP in the 'Return Journey' kind of vein. We just want it to come out like a semi-official bootleg thing, we don't want to make a big deal out of it. It's going to be called 'Live Drug', but apart from that there's nothing else planned.

I understand that you have recently lost your bass player.

Yeah, our bass player Jake who played on 'Acid Yantra' has now departed and we've been rehearsing and auditioning for a suitable replacement. We're working on it.

What qualifications would the ideal candidate have to have?

[laughs] A healthy disregard for bass guitars!

Written & directed by Edwin Pouncey, produced by Phil McMullen
Ptolemaic Terrascope, 1996