Is it true you were a child prodigy?
I was bright, but I didn’t have pushy parents. Mine were middle-class, semi-landed gentry, and total philistines as far as the arts were concerned. What they cared about was shooting, hunting and shagging each others’ wives.
Were you a good student?
No. I was sent off to one of the most vicious types of boarding schools you could possibly imagine; “bend over” could mean one or two things and often meant both. I rebelled, and at twelve I was made a ward of court.
And then something wonderful happened. My psychiatrist knew of a place called Finchden Manor [in Tenterden, Kent]. That’s where I discovered music. It was there that I set my heart on becoming a concert pianist, which during the early sixties was like wanting to be the Jimi Hendrix. Because there was no formal classroom routine, I could play the piano all day long – and I did. At fifteen I won a place at the Royal College Of Music studying piano. I got on okay with that until discovering The Beatles and LSD.
Your schooldays weren’t happy, then?
At boarding school there were canings, buggery, floggings… What do you think?
What do you think now when you hear on the news about teachers being stabbed?
Corporal punishment has its place, certainly in the home. A child must learn about boundaries and compassion.
So you’re a student of life?
Yes. I’ve become a philosopher in many ways, and I’m quite outspoken on why music is so important to the human race. Its quality and integrity is governed by the motivation of its composer. The most important purpose of art is its ability to reveal profound truths about the world without ever having to resort to facts. It’s a magical process.
Do you still see any of your old schoolmates?
Yes, there are reunions and from time to time people come along to the gigs. We’re becoming old men. All of us will be dead soon. In a hundred years there won’t be a single person left on this planet who’s alive today. A hundred years isn’t very long at all, and I’ve already had seventy of them. That frightens some people, especially those that have pursued material power and treated the members of their family as possessions. I know people like that, and they face the end like somebody being dragged to the guillotine. I definitely won’t go that way.