FRENCH TV

BAND OF DESTINY

A Brief History of French TV by Steve Roberts (when dinosaurs and A Flock of Seagulls walked the Earth)--

Originally released in a limited, numbered edition of 500 vinyl LPs in May of 1984, the 1st French TV album featured the collaboration of myself and Mike Sary. Before meeting up with Mike in 1980, I had attended the University of Louisville music school and studied voice & percussion . Mike & I soon found that we had a mutual love of progressive rock and fusion when he overheard me playing Van der Graaf Generator's "Pawnhearts" at a record store I managed. We made a decision to work together in some form soon afterwards.

Jeff Jones was a friend of mine from the music school days who played organ & sax and was very much into Zappa, Beefheart, & VdGG. He had played with me in a previous band called Myopia which featured long, spacey instrumental jams combining elements of Gong, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, & Mountain with humorous ditties co-written by Jeff & guitarist Chris Lee. We broke up after 1 concert for various reasons, and I urged Jeff to get together with me and this new bassist I had found. Jeff, Mike, & I formed a trio of organ/sax, bass, & drums called Festung Amerika (Fortress America). This was mainly Jeff's band, as he wrote most of the songs. Festung Amerika played a few small gigs in local bars where we were hated almost unanimously by the audiences, despite a blazing (anyway, that's how I remember it, and there's no pesky live tapes to contradict me!) version of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man". We also did a very Soft Machine-inspired instrumental called Spill-a very different version than what ended up on the 1st FTV LP. Despite these high points, Mike & I found the format of Festung Amerika to be not quite what we really wanted to do and therefore we tried to take the trio more in the direction of tunes like Spill. When Jeff balked at this, we split up the band. Jeff went on to study electronics and eventually moved to Boston. Mike & I carried on writing and preparing for a new group. Our concept would eventually become French TV.

At first we auditioned one guitarist and keyboardist after another to sometimes laughable results. Some of the people who auditioned were great players, but had no clue as to what musical direction we were trying to take-but then they probably thought the same about us!

Beau Castner, the guitarist from The Bridge (a cover band Mike had played with that did songs by Yes, Genesis, Floyd, & Zep) was around one night to play. Although it was obvious that Beau wouldn't work out, he was kind enough to suggest we try his brother Fenner on drums. Mike remembered being impressed with Fenn's drumming with The Bridge and reasoned: If he was good back then when he was only 14, by now he should REALLY be something. This assessment proved correct, to put it mildly. Though just 17 when he joined us, he had a real feel for the music and was a joy to work with.

As for me, I had recently purchased a Roland keyboard to use as a compositional tool with the thought that it would be good to have around for our eventual keyboardist, whoever he might be. So the original plan was for Fenner to help us rehearse the music until we could find a suitable keyboard player. Of course this plan was promptly abandoned.

Fenner had an even younger guitarist friend from high school named Artie Bratton, whom he brought along to play one night, and French TV was born. I don't remember ever saying let's stop looking for a keyboard player-I'll leave the drums to Fenn and play keys. I don't even think we bothered asking Artie and Fenn to join the group. They just did.

After months of writing and rehearsing, we went into the studio and began recording with Howie Gano at the controls. There were never any plans to play live, as the musical climate at the time would not allow live shows to be anything but a disaster. Our sole purpose was to get an album recorded and released. Like many progressive bands of the era, I think we secretly thought it might be possible to get the music industry interested and then to have some sort of career doing this. Alas, it was not to be. When response from even the progressive community was tepid at best, it was time to call it quits. Fenner went to a college 3 hours away which made continuing on any sort of regular basis difficult. I got a job that actually paid something for a change, but it took up much of my time. I eventually decided that my role in progressive music might be better as a seller of recordings than as an artist, so I also spent a lot more time and energy on ZNR Records. That is another story but suffice to say that ZNR became an exclusively progressive music dealer around this time.

Mike carried on writing and recording over the next 4 years to produce a second French TV album appropriately entitled After a Lengthy Silence. This and the following album Virtue in Futility retained Fenner and Artie and featured new keyboardists Bill Fowler (yet ANOTHER classmate of Fenn & Artie's!), Bob Ramsey, and Paul Nevitt. A fourth album was released in 1995 entitled Intestinal Fortitude, but by then Fenn & Artie had left Louisville and French TV for good. However, the three reunited years later to record a pair of covers: Gentle Giant's Mr. Class & Quality? (for Mellow Record's GG tribute Giant for a Life), and Nektar's A Tab in the Ocean (for the cd reissue of After a Lengthy Silence, also on Mellow). Mike has since released 2 more French TV cds: 1997's Live-YOO-HOO!!!, and 1999's The Violence of Amateurs.

--Stephen Roberts -(taken from liner notes to the cd release of French TV#1)