Updated: Mar 25
With a career spanning more than five decades, Steve Jolliffe has been an influential player in major acts like The Joint, Steamhammer, and Tangerine Dream, while remaining true to his own musical vision and exploration of self-discovery.
Many artists' biggest dream is to work with the types of artists Steve Jolliffe has had the opportunity to work with. In fact, Jolliffe has been instrumental in the formation of some of the most successful bands in musical history. And while Steve is very thankful for those opportunities, he has always put his personal growth and musical vision above all else. This decision has led him to some amazing situations and many struggles.
Steve started experimenting with painting and music around the age of five. As a teen, he purchased a saxophone and flute, which he has continued to play until this day. During art school, he began learning the piano and began a life-long "search for perfection". It was near the end of art school when Steve decided against becoming a painter to pursue music full-time. "I applied for a job as a sax player with a band called the ‘Joint’ with Rick Davies. This led to making music for a film in Switzerland, under the direction of the composer, David Llewelyn", he explains. As the film project was coming to an end, Steve mentioned to David that he didn't know what he should do next. "I felt I needed to be developing a more personal direction. He offered me the keys to his flat in Berlin and said I should study at the Conservatorium", he says. Steve decided to leave the band and go to Berlin. Rick Davies went on to form the English rock band Supertramp.
“The albums are a diary of my progression.
transcribed into color and sound.”
Arriving in Berlin in 1967, Steve was accepted to the school, and he began studying piano and composition. While in Berlin, he heard about a studio that was experimenting with electronic music. Always open to new musical ideas, Steve decided to track it down. "The place had dozens of tape decks lined up on shelves with tape loops which were sped up and slowed down", he describes. "They were all being treated with effects in the style of Music Concrete". As he was leaving, he noticed someone sitting in the corner of the studio who seemed a bit down in the dumps. "He told me that his band had just broken up and he didn't know what he was going to do next. I suggested that we put together a three-piece", he says. "He agreed and we started looking for a drummer right away". The guy in the studio was none other than Edgar Froese and the drummer they decided on was Klaus Schulze. The trio became known as Tangerine Dream and they performed in many clubs around Berlin and Germany, including the famous Zodiac club. As exciting as performing was, Steve soon felt that the band wasn't getting anywhere, and he decided to leave after one last gig. As Steve tells it, "We had one last show booked and I was planning to go back home to England after we were done. We were driving overnight to get there and, on the way, everything we owned fell off the roof of the car and was spread over the highway. By the time we realized it and went back, it had been run over and damaged beyond repair, even our instruments. It was devastating. My saxophone was flattened. Luckily, we had a flute and acoustic guitar with us in the car and we used them at the gig". After a fond farewell, Steve returned to England.
Faced with the possibility of having to find a regular job, Steve placed an ad looking for a band to play with. The band Steamhammer responded and arranged for an audition. Steamhammer was an established band with a record deal on CBS Records. Steve joined and soon departed for a tour. After the tour, they went into the studio to record their second album, MK II in 1969. It consisted of all original songs, many of which Steve helped write and arrange. One of the songs that Steve and Kieran White wrote went straight to number 1 in France! After a while of extensive touring and performing in support of the album, Steve decided he was through. The band was feeling the pressures associated with their popularity and was coming apart. Steve said goodbye and traveled back to England again.
It was in 1977 when Steve decided to write his old friend Edgar and congratulate him on the success of Tangerine Dream. By then, the band was enjoying the limelight with a top 10 album, Rubycon, three Silver records, Rubycon, Stratosfear, and Ricochet, and one Gold record, Phaedra. To his surprise, Edgar phoned him and asked if the two could meet. As it turned out, Peter Baumann was leaving Tangerine Dream and Edgar was interested in Steve returning to work on a new album. After meeting with Edgar and Chris Franke to discuss musical ideas, Steve boarded a plane and headed back to Berlin.
"I moved into a small bedroom in the basement of Edgar's apartment, and we set to work on the album", he remembers. "The studio was state-of-the-art, with a computerized mixing desk and any instrument we thought we needed was just a phone call away". Steve was very excited about experimenting with a new MIDI wind instrument from the States called the Lyricon. In fact, according to Steve, it can be heard throughout the album as violin or trumpet. Besides his real flute, another instrument that Steve used quite a bit was the Clavinet. The studio was booked for a whole month, for 24 hours a day. Everyone experimented with musical ideas and worked all hours of the day and night. There were periods of inaction as well. "At some point, I got so frustrated I decided to create a track completely alone", he says. "Later, the others added a bass sequence and drums, and the track became, Rising Runner". Steve also composed the majority of Bent Cold Sidewalk, including the vocals. As the rest of the album came together, the decision was made to leave Steve's vocals. A decision that was considered a sacrilege to many of Tangerine Dream's fans. However, as time has shown, it was a good decision as Cyclone has become one of Tangerine Dream's top-selling albums and perhaps one of their most controversial. After a long European tour, performing in front of thousands of fans, Steve and Edgar parted ways.
Steve had just finished a major tour and had an album in the top thirty but was looking for a job again. "I was back to square one with no money and no job", he says. "I decided to move to Somerset and began working on a new solo album, inspired by the church in Bruton where I was staying". The Bruton Suite was released in 1979. Steve has also produced two books to accompany the album, with sheet music, transcribed for piano and the orchestral scores. This was the beginning of Steve's long and productive solo career. Soon after, Steve was offered a job composing music for a film entitled Drakes Venture, where he made a cameo appearance, playing a flute aboard a ship. Steve was never one to settle in one place for very long. His constant drive to experience life and create music led him to many corners of the world. Although he was producing new albums at a rate of one or two every year, he was always looking for new opportunities. In the early '80s, he formed a Duo with his brother John named Micro, composing new music and performing gigs. He traveled to the States and spent nearly six years pursuing music and exploring places like Chicago, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Seattle, Maine, and Florida. For a while, he taught a music course at a Florida college called The Art of the Music Workstation.
With Steve, it seems every day is an adventure. Each adventure is an experience that inspires and shapes his musical journey. Through experimentation and collaboration, he continues to produce new music at an impressive pace. Today, he can be found at his Devon-shire home, sight-reading Bach at the piano and experimenting with the latest software and electronic wind instruments. "I have always experimented with the latest synths over the years", explained Steve. "I keep them for a very short time and sell them on so I can buy the next new toy". Steve has also been very interested in a minimalist approach to his gear. "I love the idea of one box and a pair of headphones", he says. "I once created a complete album with a sequencer and a Roland JD800". The computer has taken center stage in Steve's studio these days. "I have been using the new R1 electronic wind instrument with the Swam Audio modeling software and Omnisphere lately", he says. In fact, Steve has used many electronic wind instruments throughout his career. "I am privileged to be supported by the Robkoo company. I was gifted the WX7 and WX5 from Yamaha, as well as the Akai EWI", he says. "I wish I could get my Lyricon back, which I sold to the Moody Blues". Steve has also recently started using the Swam instrument apps on his iPad.
I asked Steve about his future projects, and he said, "I just released the new album entitled Images. I usually spend half of the year experimenting with thoughts and techniques to express them and the other 6 months putting them into practice. The albums are a diary of my progression transcribed into color and sound". That is a great way to describe Steve's career, and his life experiences transcribed into color and sound. "It's been a very indulgent life of self-expression. That is what I intended from the age of 5. That's 70 years of discovery and I would like to do another 70", he says.
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