Glass felt very lucky to secure an exclusive interview with Tymon Dogg, best known for his unforgettable contribution to the Clash’s unforgettable Sandinista! album, Lose This Skin. Proficient on piano, guitar and “pyramid harp” but identifiable by his deft violin-playing on folk, rock and punk records, Tymon has recently been increasingly prolific. The record he made with Joe Strummer in 1983 – Hollowed Out – was produced by Glyn Johns, and is finally seeing a release next year. If the one song we know from it is anything to go by, it’s going to be a hell of an album.

From what I’ve heard of your music – from the best-of and other bits and bobs – your music wouldn’t have any trouble selling on its own merits. A lot of it is damn good, and also happens to be commercial. Why has so little of your music been released? Do you feel the record labels let you down by not distributing it properly?
They weren’t the right sort of record labels, and I was very, very young [17] … some of those songs must’ve been around from a late 16-year-old. As far as I was concerned, I was just writing songs; that’s just what I do.

Tymon Dogg (stairs)Tymon Dogg

I found myself become more independent in my twenties, and I turned my back on the whole music industry, really. I just thought, “It’s not what I need.” I had everything I needed. I had a nice piano at the top of [my] house.

You sound like you were more interested in getting the music out of you than into people’s ears.
It was that, yes – where the music was purely a thing I was just … doing. I think many young people have to worry too much, about security and money. And it’s a pity, because they don’t get enough chance to really make proper decisions.

Why is your latest record split into two discs?
It’s people’s concentration. I just thought I’d do it like Side 1 and Side 2 of an old [vinyl] album. I realised that with a lot of CDs I listen to, I couldn’t get past four or five tracks. With a [vinyl] album, you’d listen to the first side, and then decide [if] you’d want to turn it over. But you’re not force-fed it.

Tymon in the Red Garden

How did Lose This Skin come about?
I was staying in Spanish Harlem, doing a lot of folk gigs …. The Clash were staying in a very nice hotel, and they had the Electric Lady Studio – really, they had the best the rock world could give them. And I think they felt slightly envious that I was living a kind of [freer] life; particularly Joe. So they wanted to get me on their record… It was quite a funny exchange. There was absolutely no contract involved in it. And it was great. They just sort of put it out.

[Martin Scorsese] talked about doing a film one day that [turned out to be] Gangs of New York. [“Lose This Skin”] was actually in the film for a while. But I think there was some problem with Sony… I remember getting a call from Memorex telling me that it was in the film, but then it was taken out. The same week that Joe died.

Was Joe vegan?
He was vegetarian.

When did you become a vegan?
Around 1985. I’d been a vegetarian since ‘74, and a lot of that was influenced by the people around me. They had a vegetarian café, and it just became the norm for everybody [around me]. Of course, Joe was involved in our community, so vegetarianism was the norm. If somebody came in with a piece of meat, we’d go, “Wow, he’s weird!” Mick was, and is, a vegetarian.

What were you doing, and where were you, when you heard the news about Joe’s death?
I was actually making phonecalls to him. I was leaving messages on his answer-phone. A couple of hours later, the phone rang …

But that’s what I was doing that afternoon. We were arranging how we were going to go about the next record. There were various messes and tensions, between us and other people. They wanted to make a much more commercial record, I don’t know. They were worried about my influence. But we were trying to sort that out.

Tymon Dogg (halftache)
Young Tymon

Do you have any favourite movies?
Recently I saw Boyhood. I thought that was a brilliant film.

Are there any young (or older!) musicians that aren’t so prominent, whom you respect and who you think should be better known?
Some of the great Indian violin players, like L. Subramaniam and L. Shankar. [Their talents] always seem to be wasted, you know, when they play two notes on a Peter Gabriel song.

It’s difficult to say. I do listen to a lot of music … I like some of the attitude that Jack White [had]. More recently I’ve been listening to a lot of classics. Debussy, and stuff like that.

Tymon Dogg

What’s the status of release of your unreleased-on-CD LPs: Outlaw One, Battle of Wills, and Relentless?
There’s no work in progress to get them out. It has crossed my mind…. Now and again you come across a vinyl copy.

A vinyl copy of Relentless was going for £60 online today!
Oh dear. I will try to get them released [on] CD. But there’s a long waiting list.

by Arjun Sajip

Made Of Light is out now

One Response