“S for Saga, S for Saxon and it landed on Six By Six. Also, we have six arms, six legs, six eyes and and so on...” Welcome to the world of new prog supergroup Six By Six

Six By Six
(Image credit: Dave Lepori)

What do you get if you add members of Saga, Saxon and 3? Six By Six, of course! Back in 2022 Prog caught up with keyboard player Robert Berry and guitarist Ian Crichton to discuss the new trio’s instant chemistry, and how it led to their unexpected debut album.

When Ian and I talk about this band we get so excited – we dance around the room. It’s quite embarrassing, actually!” Robert Berry’s infectious energy pours down the video link where he can be viewed bopping in his seat in his home studio in San Jose, California. He’s been holding forth about Six By Six, his new three-piece project. 

The Ian in question is none other than Saga guitar veteran extraordinaire Ian Crichton; he breaks into a smile at his musical partner’s enthusiasm. Crichton is dialling in from Germany, where Saga are in the midst of a series of dates topped off with a high-profile festival show alongside Deep Purple and UFO

Six By Six’s eponymous debut album is a widescreen, hooky but hard-edged affair. The warmth and power of Berry’s voice inhabits a space not unlike Marillion’s Steve Hogarth, but occasionally tips into more anxious, desperate tones akin to Roger Waters. Crichton’s spectacular guitar work is deliberately foregrounded – of which more in a moment – and everything is then nailed down by Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler in particularly thunderous form. 

Bassist/keyboardist Berry has a track record that includes being ‘the other one’ alongside Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer in the aptly-named trio 3, who released one album, To The Power Of Three, back in 1988. Berry and Emerson regrouped as 3.2 in 2015 and, despite Emerson’s death the following year, Berry has seen two albums through to completion, which include many pieces that he began with the legendary keyboardist. It seems that, commencing a new project, Emerson’s sad absence pushed him towards a creative partnership based more around a different instrument: the guitar.    

“Working with Keith, he had the most incredible parts, right?” marvels Berry. “He would send me things he’d made up, but they weren’t songs, and my thing was to make the songs. And that was so rewarding. I wouldn’t say it was an easy process with Keith, but it came together because he had a different style and we just seemed to meld it together.”

It’s clear that, moving at least for now beyond 3.2 and any projects unrelated to Emerson, Berry knew he had to push into new territory: “I was talking to my manager and he said, ‘What’s your next move?’ And I said, “Well, I think more guitar. Keith’s the guy, right? I can’t see me doing more keyboard music.’”

Six By Six

(Image credit: InsideOut Music)

Berry viewed the urge to move on as positive, but needed help on where to head next. “I thought, someone like Steve Howe that makes up parts, that doesn’t just play power chords and burning solos, but [still] has the rock edge. But I had no clue. And my manager called me back the next day and said, ‘I should have thought of this guy: what about Ian Crichton?’ I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s got the tone, he’s got the parts!’ Being the Saga fan that I am, my early band Hush played a couple of Saga songs. Now, I’m sure Ian is not happy to hear that, because he never got paid the royalties when I was playing nightclubs!”

Crichton chips in with mock indignation: “Ten bucks is 10 bucks, right?” 

The guitarist is known for being quite choosy about activity outside of five highly creditable decades with Saga. He briefly collaborated with Asia in the late 90s when the supergroup’s line-up was particularly fluid, and has only ever made the occasional solo endeavour. So what was it that made him say yes to working with Berry, and even turning the project into a full-blown band with plans to go on the road? Although Berry caught him in a Covid-inflicted lull, the potential of their first song – which also ended up becoming their debut single – seems to have sealed the deal for the highly-rated Canadian.  

“We seemed to click really good – we just started writing,” he says. “Yearning To Fly was the first thing that Robert arranged with the vocal and everything – and it blew me away! I thought there was really something there, so off we went. We wrote like crazy for the whole year. It just really gelled.” 

Berry agrees. “It was organic too, nothing was forced. It kinda flowed out, which is the magic. Ian sends me parts that are so inspiring that lyrics flow out. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but Ian will title the pieces things like The Jane Bond Movies or Animal Farm; just [from] the title and what he sends me, it’s ‘Boom!’ It explodes. I’ve never had this experience before, where it just happens.” 

As for the bandname, Crichton explains how they got there: “S for Saga, S for Saxon and it landed on Six By Six. Also, we have six arms, six legs, six eyes and…” he pauses meaningfully, “…and so on.” 

Both he and Berry fill the crackly airwaves of the Zoom call with laughter. “Yeah, I could see where this is going,” he continues. “And listening to the album, this band’s got balls for sure. A full complement.”  

The pair seem especially pleased with the stomping, anthemic second single Save The Night. It’s built around a particularly incendiary Crichton riff; they see it as a potential set-closer and also the only opportunity for some guest personnel – as Robert explains: “The plan live is musically to [stick to] the three-piece. I am, right now, putting together a rig of left-hand: bass, right-hand: keyboard. Now, I have this crazy idea, Ian might say, ‘Why’d you bring that up?’” 

Crichton just smiles indulgently, so Berry presses on.

“We had female background singers on Save The Night, at the very end, and it just kicks ass. The sun comes over the mountain! My idea was for every region we play, we find two female background singers. Say if we’re on the West Coast United States, then find a couple on the East Coast, then England. It’s sort of a dream of mine to make it happen, plus it exposes [the backing singers] to whatever press and anything else we can get. I’d like to have a couple of female background singers singing harmonies, but not players. We can play this – the three of us – all by ourselves.”

And that ‘all by ourselves’ ethos spreads to the set as well. No back catalogue glories will be included, according to Crichton. “Personally, I’d like to stick to our music. I don’t want to break off and play a cover song or a Saga song. Robert and I have talked about this. We do have a couple of [extra] songs shelved; also a few parts that can be stretched a little bit. I think we can pull off an hour and 15, an hour and 20 right now, that’s not too bad. And especially if we come up with another couple of songs. I would like to stick to Six By Six.” 

Berry leaps in, tongue firmly in cheek: “Except for that Rammstein cover we’re gonna do!” 

Six By Six

(Image credit: Dave Lepori)

Nigel Glockler isn’t the first drummer that might spring to mind for a prog-flavoured project, but anyone who’s heard him live or on Saxon’s albums will know he’s a technically proficient musician. Already known to both the group’s songwriters separately, it seems he was very much the first choice. 

Berry: “We had a list and Nigel was at the top. As Alan White was when he got into Yes, he was a solid hard-hitter. We wrote most of the songs before we talked to Nigel. I went to see Saxon when they played here in San Jose. He was still playing great. I thought: ‘Wow, if we can get that kind of foundation to this band, everything’s gonna float on top of it.’ Ian needs to be free to do exactly what he does. This album is based on the genius of [Ian’s] guitar playing, the stuff he daubs the songs with. If the drum rolls are all over the place, it’s really difficult, because you need that anchor.” 

Crichton agrees that Glockler’s powerful style is what’s needed. “The three of us complement each other: Nigel anchoring it like that, me playing the way I do with Robert – it’s solid rather than vague! All that flittery-flittery jazz drum type stuff, it doesn’t work with this band. We wanna be a powerful trio.” 

And this trio is set to endure. Future SXS activity will be fitted around other projects, including continued Saga touring. Crichton affirms that there’s plenty of room in the schedule for the project: “With Saga we [recently] toured for two weeks and four days. Three weeks later we’re on the road again for another two weeks and four days, then we’ve got shows in the Fall, so basically the whole year’s open for Six By Six. The days of touring for two years like when [lead single from 1981 Saga album Worlds Apart] On The Loose came out and was a big hit in America, that’s not going to be happening. I’ve got a lot of time on my hands and the promoters are right into this. There’s more than enough time.”

And Berry is fully supportive of his musical partner keeping the Saga flag flying. “When I first sat down with Keith Emerson, he said: ‘If we do this band, would you mind singing a couple of ELP songs?’ I said, ‘I would never expect anyone to leave that kind of history behind.’ In a different way, Ian’s always going to have that history of Saga, some great songs and great players. Saxon is still going strong, they’re huge in Europe, they can never leave that behind. They have responsibility to a fanbase, to entertain them with songs of a lifetime. But we’re hoping that we become the new songs of a lifetime. The meaning of the lyrics… Ian is stepping out, really amazing guitar. Nigel gets to stretch out. You’ve heard the album. I don’t have to sell it, really!”

Prog indicates that indeed he does not and Berry allows himself a satisfied nod before continuing. “I would expect them to have that responsibility to their audiences and it’s what we do as entertainers: thank them and give them what they love.”

Crichton is clearly quietly moved by this outpouring of respect from Berry, and Prog’s affirmation that the Six By Six project speaks for itself. “Thanks, guys,” he says. 

“Even so, I hope you’re practising today!” adds Berry, to much laughter. “It’s the only way I’m paying for of those cover tunes from back in 1981!”