“Oliver Wakeman scared me to death - he had so much energy coming out of him and I’d had just gone through my first series of cancer operations”: Gordon Giltrap is a loner who loves collaborating

Gordon Giltrap
(Image credit: Getty Images)

During Gordon Giltrap’s long career, the guitarist has released a diverse range of albums spanning acoustic, electric and orchestral styles, establishing himself as a uniquely gifted musician along the way. He has also worked with a wide variety of talented people, including Wakemans Rick and Oliver.

Giltrap kicked off 2018 with the release of Peace Will Fall, essentially a reworking of his 2012 album Echoes Of Heaven. To tie in with the launch he spoke to Prog about his life and times.

What’s the difference between Peace Will Fall and Echoes Of Heaven?

We originally had a vocal version of Heartsong on Peace Will Fall, but that never really worked. Over the years, I’ve realised it is an untouchable jewel. So that was taken off and replaced with The Lord’s Seat.

Is it fair to say that Peace Will Fall has a very spiritual influence behind it?

Definitely. That’s why it was done: a lot of people over the years have told me that my music has a hymn-like quality. So I asked Martin Green, a friend and a minister in the Church Of England, to come up with lyrics and do vocals over the original instrumental recordings. I also got Carol Lee Sampson, who has a strong Christian faith, to do some singing.

Are you a religious person?

Not at all. I don’t even like the word “religion.” I did go through a phase in the 70s when I was a born-again Christian; then I got very disillusioned with some aspects of Christianity. But there’s certainly a side of me that is very spiritual, and that first came out in my music on the Visionary album in 1976.

Like everyone, I’m striving to understand the code of life and its meaning. I should stress, though, that when I say I’m spiritual, it does not mean I’m a good person!

You released your first, self-titled album in 1968. Do you have any plans to mark its half century?

None at all. When I was diagnosed with low-level cancer a couple of years ago, that changed my attitude towards what people perceive as my career. Thankfully, the cancer has been sorted, but it did make me feel that I didn’t want to do something cheap like celebrating the anniversary of an album’s release just to put bums on seats. That type of thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

I don’t think too far ahead, and certainly never look at what might be best to make me money. This was all put into perspective when I was ill: I do what’s artistically right, not what makes commercial sense.

I never felt I had to stick to one style of music… when you’re on your own, nobody else drags you one way or another

Do you have any plans for new studio recordings?

I would love to do an album with Nicholas Hooper. People might know him best for his music in the Harry Potter films, and he’s done a lot more movie and TV work. But he’s a fantastic guitarist as well. We’ve become good friends and we’ve talked about working together.

I’m also keen to do a new album with Paul Ward: we collaborated last year on the album The Last Of England and hopefully we can do something new soon.

Over the years you’ve been a peripatetic musician, performing in many genres. Has that been something you’ve deliberately aimed for?

Well, that’s been more spontaneous than deliberate. I’ve always regarded myself as being something of a loner. I suppose that’s why I was drawn towards the acoustic guitar.

I was hugely influenced by the lone troubadours like Bob Dylan, Donovan, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. What they did appealed to my musical aspirations and that’s why I never felt I had to stick to one style of music, but could go anywhere I wanted. When you’re on your own, nobody else drags you one way or another.

And yet you’ve worked with so many other musicians throughout your career, haven’t you?

I know. What I love about hooking up with people is the interaction and the energy flow. I want to tap into what they have to offer, and also believe they can get something from me: it’s very rewarding.

One real case in point is Oliver Wakeman. We worked on the Ravens & Lullabies album in 2013. Oliver scared me to death, because he had so much energy coming out of him. I had just gone through my first series of operations to deal with the cancer situation, and then I was suddenly working with this incredible character.

But I quickly realised that he was a brilliant songwriter, and to a large extent I let him guide how the album was done. I think he also needed to do it, after having such a bad time with Yes [who’d recently split with him]. That knocked his confidence, so being able to prove himself here was very important to him. But what a livewire... like his dad!

You were involved with the Cliff Richard musical Heathcliff. Does a musical based on your catalogue interest you?

There are two sides to my music. On the one hand, there are the sad, melancholic pieces, and they’re an important part of what I do. But I also have some very uplifting and joyful compositions

That’s something I have never thought about. Could it work? I would love to think of a way to use my songs like that, if it were possible. That’s an outlet other musicians have already used. Maybe I’ll pursue it, if I can find the right storyline for a musical.

You’ve had songs used as the themes for two TV holiday shows. What is it about your music and holidays?

There are two sides to my music. On the one hand, there are the sad, melancholic pieces, and they’re an important part of what I do. But I also have some very uplifting and joyful compositions, the sort that would appeal to a TV holiday series, because they make everyone feel good.

So the BBC used Heartsong for their Holiday programme. And when ITV heard it, they commissioned me to compose a theme for Wish You Were Here...? I never got any free trips though!

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021