SOUNDS – October 12, 1974

New Flash With Wonder Ingredient (Sydney) Clean Up With White Soul

Geoff Barton meets Peter and Sydney

“The only similarity between the old Flash and the new Flash is the name.” Got that? Right, now about the new Flash

But what’s that? You haven’t heard of the old Flash, let alone the one? This is getting confusing. It’ll probably be best to start at the beginning.

A couple of weeks ago it was revealed that Peter Banks was re-forming his band Flash with a gal called Sydney Jordan. But news like that merits no more than a few lines – you hardly hold the front page, and it’s true to say the name Flash hardly means anything to the average British music fan. Maybe the name Peter Banks means a little more.

He was the guitarist with the original Yes, and though he split with them long ago, his influence can still be detected, even in the band’s present day musical self-indulgence. In fact, he appears on all but one of the tracks on the coming Yes compilation album, “Yesterdays” (geddit?)

The old Flash was a four piece and was ostensibly Banks’ trip. They recorded three albums and Banks then did a solo album. The band were moderately successful in the States, but they didn’t take off in Britain at all.

They broke up after their fourth tour of the States and Banks, whose solo album had been in the American charts for a while, quietly faded from sight.

But now there’s the new Flash and a new album. It’s ambitious as unusual – as yet untitled, and with an uncertain release date – and has “something on it for everyone.”

There’s a song that’s reminiscent of the old Flash, a blues number (near enough); a ballad; a big production thing; and a folk song (almost). But despite this obvious diversity, I thought I could still detect traces of Yes here and there. Peter sounded confused.

“Yeah, I know what you mean – umm – no, I can’t necessarily agree with you. Well, to be honest I haven’t heard what Yes has been doing for the past few years. I’m surprised you say that.

Sydney: “I can only see it in the guitar playing. Peter did a lot of the original arranging for Yes and Flash’s arrangements are sometimes quite similar. He’s never really going to get away from that.”

The new Flash is a four piece, plus Sydney who handles the vocals. Peter, of course, is on guitar and there’s Preston Ross-Heiman on drums, John Gibling on bass and Icelandic keyboard man Freeman Magnasson.

I asked Peter when the new Flash album was coming out.

“I don’t know yet. Soon I hope. The sooner the better, I think. It’s certainly the best album I’ve ever done. Probably the best album I’ve ever heard! No…it’s the most straight ahead album I’ve ever done and the most satisfying musically. The songs that Sydney wrote are fine. It’s the first time I’ve done an album of songs as such. The old Flash tended to take a song and – well, for want of a better word, crucify it and just pull it to pieces.”

“This album is dead ahead and that was sort of conscious thing. It’s what we wanted.”

Although Sydney was very much into the old Flash, she too criticized certain aspects of their approach and performance. “I think Flash live were quite sensational. They were extremely aggressive and I think that came through on the albums. What was lacking was a human quality in the songs.”

“At a Flash gig the audience were subjected to a surge of music coming at them and they couldn’t grasp any kind of overall feeling, except that they were an aggressive English rock group. That was a tour on in itself. But when I first saw Flash I though, I really want to perform with that group!”

Sydney is America – a fact I should really have mentioned earlier – she was at one time very much involved in the folk scene over there and one of the reasons she came to Britain was to get away from it.

But although Sydney started off as a folkie, her first “real gig” was as an Ivette backing Tina Turner. “I was a walking parody,” she says. “I had to get into Tina’s whole on stage energy thing – yet at the same time I was writing ballads, folk-rock songs.”

She tried to get some sort of act together, but failed. Then she saw Flash play and “Wow! I thought: ‘what I could do with my songs and that kinda of music’.”

Peter: “I met Sydney on the last Flash tour nearly a year ago in Los Angeles. We were doing a TV show called the ‘Midnight Special’ and Sydney was in the next studio doing some acting thing – she used to be an actress, she did ‘Peyton Place’ and all that – and, we just sort of met.”

At the time Flash was on the verge of breaking up and Peter and Sydney decided to get together and write songs. Eventually, along came the new, improved Flash Mk II.

Sydney: “I sort of brain washed Peter. I took him to see a Rod Stewart concert and said, ‘you see, that’s what you need. A guy like Rod Stewart out there, communicating with the audience. You need somebody so you don’t have to carry the whole show’. Flash was Peter Banks – physically, musically and everything else. On stage he would leap around – oh, all the showmanship came from him. But it wasn’t really enough.”

Peter: “And Sydney’s the best female performer around.”

Sydney: “I tend to break down the barrier of the female sort of honey-sweet voice image.”

Peter: “She’s like a female Rod Stewart on stage, if I can make that comparison. Most female singers work with a backing back, and the new Flash aren’t going to be like that at all.”

What about Elkie Brooks, when she was with Vinegar Joe, or…

Sydney: “It’s white soul. Nobody’s going to do it better than Tina Turner or a black chick. If you’re a white chick, all you’re doing is bursting your ass. You’re singing music that a black chick will wipe you away with.”

“Women have two choices. They can either get funky and wear blue jeans and sing really rough songs or they can get classy and go into cabaret and go straight. You haven’t got any real female rock ’n’ roll stars on the level of Jagger or Stewart.”

In retrospect, that’s a bit of a sweeping statement, but I couldn’t but agree at the time of the interview. Perhaps, I thought, the reason why so many female performances eclipse the rest of the band is for the simple reason that – they’re female. Maybe this could happen with Flash.

Sydney: “Oh no, Peter is an incredible live performer and he’s one of the only male performers I could see standing on stage who could compete with me – because I am a female and you are right about that attitude – but with Flash there’s something for everybody. I would say that if I were with any other group that would happen, definitely.”

The new Flash are currently rehearsing and getting a stage act together. They hope to do a few British gigs in late October or early November, and plan to undertake a full scale tour in the new year – and maybe release a single or two along the way.

Peter: “The old Flash were always only half way there. We were missing this, and missing that. This time it’s going to be done a hundred per cent. That’s the only way to do it really.”