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Bill's Jamie Muir Interview -- Part One

This is where writer Bill Murphy posts his interviews with the Crims, and other prog luminaries. It's a book in serial form -- that you become part of!

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Bill's Jamie Muir Interview -- Part One

Postby LTinAspic on Mon Jan 16, 2006 12:11 am

Jamie Muir has always been one of my favorite Crims – possibly because he’s one of the more enigmatic, Robert Fripp notwithstanding. Appearing on only one CrimCD (<i>Larks’ Tongues in Aspic</i>, 1973), Jamie nevertheless imprinted that fan-favorite album with his own, inimitable, absolutely quirky style.

My interview with Jamie took place on July 17, 1993. And it was a long one. I have about 90 minutes of tape featuring Jamie Muir, and our conversation ran the gamut from his contributions to <i>Larks’ Tongues in Aspic</i> to his subsequent years at the Buddhist monastery to life after Crimson.

It was fun to listen to Jamie because as we talked he remembered more and more from his days with Crims. So, in effect, he and I were strolling down memory lane together, at the same time.

This is Part One of what could be two or three parts.

You’re free to quote from this interview as you see fit. All I ask in return is that you give proper credit: <b>(c) Copyright 1993, 2006 Bill Murphy</b>. Thanks. And enjoy!



BM: Hi, is this Jamie Muir?

JM: Mmm-hmm.

BM: Hi, Jamie. This is Bill Murphy. I’m calling from the States.

JM: [muffled] Oh, right. Can you hold one moment,?

BM: Sure can.

[pause]

JM: I’m sorry, Bill. But I just had a huge mouthful of bread and cheese.

BM: [laughs] No problem.

JM: [laughs]

BM: When would be a good time for me to give you a call so that we could chat about things?

JM: Erm, let me think. Erm. Well, any time is all right. Erm. Any time is sort of all right, I think. Early morning is not so good.

BM: Are you free on the weekends? What that be a good time.

JM: Yes. I think so. Yes it is.

BM: Okay. Let me give you a call. How about this Saturday? Would that work for you?

JM: Erm. Yes it is. Let me think if there’s anything I’m supposed to be doing this Saturday. No, I think that would be just fine. Just fine.

BM: What’s a good time for you?

JM: Right. A good time. I should think probably, oh I don’t know. What’s a good time. Probably late, six or seven. Between six and eight.

BM: Ok. Early evening. I’ll give you a call around 6 or 7.

JM: That sounds terrific, Bill

BM: Okay, I’ll talk to you then. Cheers.

JM: See you.


<b>Saturday, July 17, 2004</b>


JM: Hello Bill?

BM: All righty, yes. So how’s your day going there?

JM: Not bad. Not bad. What’s been happening. Oh, I’ve had a bit of work to do and I’ve been sort of lazy about it. [laughs]

BM: [laughs]

JM: I’ve been trying to tell myself, "It’s the weekend. It’s the weekend." But, then it doesn’t make much difference to me if it’s the weekend or the weekday. [laughs]

BM: [laughs] Well, I’m sure Mike Giles has probably told you that I’m putting together a book on King Crimson. I’ve talked to John Wetton, Bruford, Mike, Dik Fraser, Ian McDonald, Pete Sinfield -- a whole lot of people.

JM: Right.

BM: And I’m looking forward to speaking with you tonight because, actually, the album you worked on is one of my favorites of the Crimson line-up.

JM: Oh, ho. Yeah.

BM: So I’m looking forward to this quite a bit. Tell me something, though, about the album <i>Larks’ Tongues in Aspic</i>. You reportedly came up with the name for that album.

JM: Yeah.

BM: Where did you pull that phrase from? DId it just come out of a hat? Or had you read it somewhere or what?

JM: Erm. <i>Larks’ Tongues in Aspic</i>. I’m trying to. Where did I come up with that? I can’t remember. I don’t think it. I mean I didn’t sort of, I didn’t kind of invent it myself. I mean, I think I heard somebody using the phrase someplace and it sounded to me just like a sort of grotesque kind of gastronomic excess, really, somehow.

BM: [laughs]

JM: <i>Lark’s Tongues in Aspic</i> seemed like that to me. And I can’t quite remember where I...I didn’t invent it myself. It was just one of these phrases. I can’t remember. I can’t remember about that.

BM: [laughs] Tell me a little about the bands you were in before King Crimson. Were they similar to the avant-garde, improvisational thing? Or were they completely different?

JM: Well, I started in jazz, really. Playing jazz. And I started off playing in a band in Edinburgh, when I was in art college in Edinburgh. I played trombone. And I switched to drums, and sort of percussion. And, really, got into group improvised music. And so it was all of that. I think the first rock band I got involved with was Pete Browns’ Battered Ornaments. And I never played rock before so I was a bit doubtful about my ability to do that. But, anyway, he seemed quite confident about it. So that was the first one. And then after that -- what was after that? -- erm...the other bands. Oh, Assagai. An Afro rock band. I was the drummer in that. Assagai. There was a band called Boris which I was in. Assagai was a sort of straight forward, kind of conventional rock format where the leader told us what to do and we did it. Boris was a much more loose sort of improvisational thing. We did, really, what we wanted to do and what we enjoyed, mostly. We didn’t have any kind of record contract so we didn’t really have anything to lose.

BM: [laughs]

JM: [laughs] We were fairly reckless. There’s nothing like being unsuccessful to kind of encourage you to be reckless and experimental. [laughs]

BM: [laughs]

JM: After that there were one or two rehearsal bands, one or two other small things. One or two people I worked with a bit various bits and pieces. But I think, as I can recall, those were the main bands before King Crimson.

BM: How did you get the gig with King Crimson? How did that come about?

JM: I got a phone call from Robert.

BM: Really?

JM: I think that was it. And I think, -- and I’m sure I’m probably not going to be much use because it was so long ago that my memory’s not much good -- I think he said that Richard Williams who was a journalist at <i>Melody Maker</i> at the time, had told him about me or suggested me or said something to me. And that’s probably how he came to ring me up. And he sort of said he was putting a band together and so on. And so he came up to my house one day with his guitar and we just played together one evening. And so after that he asked me to join.

BM: What made you say yes? Had you heard Crimson’s music before that? Were you aware of Fripp and his reputation or his abilities?

JM: I was aware of King Crimson, definitely. I’d always been sort of interested in rock music. And I was aware of King Crimson right from the start. And the first band as being a terrific band.

BM: Oh yeah.

JM: Most especially. And Mike Giles’ drumming I thought was especially good. Although, to my perception, anyway, at the time they seemed to kind of come into the limelight and then sort of drift out a bit again, and drift in and out, probably.

BM: [laughs]

JM: But they’d produced some terrific music and they just seemed to be kind of fairly interesting and fairly intelligent about things. They didn’t like a mindless head banging thing. They were terrific. So I was pleased. I was very pleased.

BM: [laughs] You just said that they sort of drifted in and out of the limelight and they came and went with different versions. Did you have a moment where you had to pause and think, “Well, Jeez. This band comes and goes so often. I wonder how long this gig is going to last?” Or did you automatically think this gig was going to be pretty stable?

JM: I didn’t hesitate at all. Not at all. At the time there nothing much going on in my musical thing. I was actually rehearsing at the time with a guitarist...Hmm. Holdsworth. You heard of him? And a base player called Laurie Baker. And a pianist who actually died a few years back whose name I can’t remember. And nothing much was happening. So I jumped at the chance. I was very pleased because it was a good band and I liked playing rock music.

BM: Tell me a little bit about touring with King Crimson. I think you first climbed on board somewhere around October of ‘72. I think it was at the Zoom Club in Frankfort. Was that, to your knowledge, the first time you’d been on stage with the band?

JM: In fact, that was the first time we’d all been on stage together. That was the first gig we all played together.

BM: Really? What was that like?

JM: Well, the intention was, as I recall, to go somewhere small where there was no particular publicity so we could just feel how it was going to be playing together in front of an audience. And I think we actually just improvised the whole thing. I think Robert persuaded everybody that it would be a good idea that we should go an improvise. So we just went on and improvised from the start. And it was interesting. Robert’s somebody who tends to work things out quite a lot first of all. But he dived in and sort of went on. So that’s what we did. It was kind of interesting. It was good. It thought it was all right.

BM: How did the audience receive it? Did they receive it pretty well?

JM: [pause] Hmm. I...erm. Well, I think they were a bit bemused by it, actually. [laughs]

BM: [laughs]

JM: [laughs] If I can remember correctly. That’s my vague recollection of it. One thing I remember about it was after the gig bumping into somebody who’d gone down there, I can’t remember the name of the German musician, a saxophone player who I knew when I played group improvised music. And we were talking a bit. I remember being very pleased to see him because it was a bit like a visit from another world, a previous world in a way. I remember being in mid sentence almost and being dragged away by the road manager saying, “We haven’t got time. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to go.” I remember that and sort of thinking, in a way realizing, in this kind of music you don’t actually have time to do what you want. That you can’t just hang around. It’s a furious work situation. I remember that being sort of strange.

BM: I spoke with Bill Bruford last Saturday, actually for the second time, and he was telling me a lot of detail about things. He said in the early Crimson days the rehearsals were awful and deadly. He said it was like being a member of an encounter group because the band had no way of saying Hello to one another musically. He said there was no common musical vernacular. He said, and this was his quote, “rehearsals usually involved sitting around staring at your feet for an awful long time.” Does that sum up how rehearsals were, in your opinion?

JM: No. No, not at all. No it doesn’t. But I’m not sure that my kind of reactions would be..I mean, I’m not sure how trustworthy they are. But to me it wasn’t, no. I didn’t think like that at all, no. I’m sort of saying this now, but I can’t understand a situation, really, in which a band could find rehearsals easy. I mean, if they’re easy it means everybody is basically playing exactly the same...is borrowing from a common source of clichés. And everybody’s just playing the same clichés and they understand the same clichés, in which case the music would seem to me not to have much of a life ahead of it. If you’re actually going to make anything worthwhile then you’ve got to...confusion is sort of the womb of creativity. It’s got to come out of confusion. Otherwise, you’re not creating anything at all. If it comes easy then you’re simply borrowing other people’s licks. So I didn’t think of it like that. Maybe one or two other people might have found that trying. But I don’t mind struggling. I always found that an inevitable part of the process.

BM: One thing Bill said to me was that he felt quite a lot of gratitude for your contribution to his style. He said that you were older and wiser and able to make himself see himself for what he was: a rather obsessed drum fanatic getting a little too caught up in the mechanics and life on his side of the cymbals, as opposed to listening to how his offerings were being received on the other side of the cymbals. He said a couple of times during rehearsals you reduced him to tears of exasperation --

JM: [laughs]

BM: -- telling him he was too self important and shouldn’t control things. Do you remember that kind of interplay with Bill Bruford?

JM: No, I don’t remember that, either. Maybe I was extremely insensitive. [laughs] But I don’t remember that. I’m very sorry to hear that. But, with Bill, I really enjoyed working with Bill a lot. I thought he was a terrific guy. I thought he was a terrific person. I thought he was a terrific drummer. I remember in the beginning when Robert talked about two drummers. But, certainly, at that time, I was game for anything, really. I would have done anything, really. I was quite game for anything. But it struck me as being a little bit, erm, a slight hint of trepidation about it. But I thought it was terrific working with Bill. We were quite different, in a way. He was a very reliable and solid drummer. And I was sort of rather chaotic and all over the place in a way. So it worked very well. I enjoyed working with him as a musician and as a person terrifically. I never noticed or felt any particular...I didn’t know I was...I didn’t know I was, maybe, upsetting him. I wasn’t aware of it.

BM: Well, he definitely didn’t mind that. He said it was necessary. He said if you criticized his drumming or helped deflate his ego or something he said he’s eternally grateful to you for doing that because he needed it done.

JM: Oh. Uh-huh.

BM: So it’s not as if you offended him in any long-lasting way. He said he really needed what you had to say.

JM: Hmmm. [laughs]

BM: It’s news to you, huh? [laughs]

JM: Yeah. Well, I mean, at the time, I was sort of aware because I think he said this. Because he said this once or twice, or things to this effect, that my approach to things was sort of new to him. And that it wasn’t something that he was used to...[paused]...I’m just remembering this sort of thing now. He did say one or two things along the lines of what you’ve actually been saying that he was interested in this. I actually remember now he said one or two things along the line of from his musical background the kind of music I’d been playing before seemed liked the more interesting kind of stuff. That maybe people from the musical background he came from looked up to and aspired to be playing. Which I -- at the time -- felt rather embarrassed by because I looked up to a lot of rock musicians in the same way and thought they played just great music that was unbeatable, anyway. Inevitably, if you know some particular situation quite well like I knew the experimental music situation fairly well, you get past the sort of superficial gloss of it and see the reality behind it and it never matches up to the image it puts out. So I wasn’t sort of as impressed by all that. [pause] I think he said “real music.” He said it was more like the “real music” which I didn’t...

BM: Well, that sounds like the conversations I’ve had with him. He really idealizes the improvisational or experimental side of the jazz scene. He likes that quite a bit.

JM: Right.

BM: That’s essentially why he said he left Yes. It wasn’t improv enough or experimental enough. He wanted more free form. He figured he could do that within the boundaries of King Crimson. Looking back on his career, he considers himself to be kind of a pain in the butt. He said, “When I was young, I thought I knew it all. Then this guy named Jamie Muir comes along to tell me I didn’t.” It kind of pricked his ego a bit.

JM: Well, I think that’s probably...if he’s saying these things I think it’s probably because he’s a sort of a fairly modest person by nature. I think an egotistical person would never dream of saying something like that. He was never an egotistical person at all.

BM: Really?

JM: No. Not at all. Absolutely not. He was one of the most normal. He was extremely normal. And I was really quite surprised and very delighted to know that I was working with some people who, certainly him, who were so completely normal. He was very kind of modest. He was a well-balanced and normal person. He didn’t pick up all the sort of paraphernalia of a rock musician which some people do. He didn’t sort of decorate himself with all of that stuff at all. I think he might in his immodesty have given them the wrong impression. He’s not at all egotistical.

BM: Another thing he said was that everything he did from a drumming perspective irritated Robert. He said he irritated Robert all the time. He said he got along well with you and John Wetton, of course, pretty good friends. But he said he always irritated Fripp. I asked him, “Well, what did you do that irritated Fripp?” He said , “I just think all drummers irritated Fripp.”

JM: [laughs]

BM: [laughs] Tell me about the band as a whole. You said Bruford was pretty modest. But how about the rest of the people. What was the band chemistry like?

JM: Well...erm...David Cross was the violinist and he was a fairly...I think he was a very modest sort of un-egotistical person. His past musical experience had been in fairly smallish folk groups and folk situations. He wasn’t the least bit egotistical or anything like that. I think Robert spent a bit of time trying to encourage him to feel more confident and maybe to be a bit more demanding. So there was nothing egotistical about him at all. I think, looking back on it, I don’t know...I might have been rather egotistical. It’s quite possible. [pause] I remember being terribly full of ideas and enthusiasm. I was so pleased to be in this situation. I might well have pushed improvisation more to an immodest degree. I was very enthusiastic about it all. I remember during the recording time Robert got a bit fed up with me [laughs] --

BM: [laughs]

JM: -- sort of making all these suggestions and doing things. And I think my enthusiasm might have at times got a bit much. There were no unpleasant people, either. Nothing like that at all. Nothing like that at all. Everybody was sort of the kind of people you would have been very happy to have known as friends, or in any situation. There was no necessity to sort endure anybody.

BM: Do you think, then, that Robert Fripp’s reputation for kind of a taskmaster or a difficult guy to be in a band with was undeserved? Or at least undeserved at the time you were in the band?

JM: When I was in the band he didn't have a reputation. To me, anyway. I didn’t know anything about it, really. I thought he was good. I enjoyed working with him, from my perspective anyway. It was fine. When push comes to shove it was sort of his band. But he never pushed that. In rehearsals we just played around until something seemed to come out. In the final analysis he’d maybe sort of say, “Well, forget that. And forget that.” and “Do this or do that.” But I didn’t find him while we were in the band demanding at all. I don’t know if that’s quite what I meant to say. But I didn’t feel that there was anything I would particularly want to criticize at that time at all.

BM: Tell me about your enthusiasm on stage. I’ve read how it was. I’ve heard how it was from different people. Where did you get all your flamboyance and exuberance on stage? The clothes. The blood capsules. Where did all of that come from?

JM: It might have had something to do with being interested in art and so on. I went to art college for a few years. And I had always been interested in art. And I’d been involved with experimental stuff of various kinds. And that was always very loosely defined. At that time, anyway, in the mid Sixties. Group improvised music, there was so few people doing it that you’d find yourself being asked to play Cage pieces or help in some performance theatre or something. It was all just in its beginnings, in a way, that sort of thing. And I was always game for anything. I mean, I’d have done anything. If somebody had asked me to do something, I’d have just said, “Yes” and I’d think about it later. And my attitude really was, well, if it was awful and I hated it, in six month’s time it was the sort of thing that you could look back on it and have a good laugh about. There are always worse sort of things than saying Yes to everything. [pause] And so maybe I brought slightly nonmusical things into it it was partly because of my very active interest in these other things. But also the performing situation. And the improvisation. Because of my improvisational background, the situation of being on stage was something that I really liked - well, I responded to, anyway. It got me going. Being in the studio didn’t much. And it’s a funny thing being on stage. When people like The Who beat up their guitars and so on. I can understand. A funny thing can happen when you’re on stage. Emotions and feelings get magnified in strange ways. You can just sort of just keep your eyes down and lock yourself into the music and keep your instrument and the music between yourself and the audience in a way and let everything sort of have to go through that. Or you can sort of start actually dealing with that relationship with the audience. I remember in group improvised music that, like all drummers, I sat on a seat behind this little array of drums. I remember over a fair period of time gradually sort of plucking up the courage to get off my seat and actually sort of move around a wee bit and play the cymbals around. Over a few years, actually, it took a while to develop this. Originally, it took courage. Because musicians protect themselves from the audience with their instruments, in many ways. And that developed so that then I decided it was ridiculous actually having this drum kit if you feel all right getting up and moving around, why this little array of drums around a seat. So I used to just unpack the instruments and just scatter them around the floor, the ones that would work on the floor. So then I got into moving about the audience sometimes and playing on the walls and scraping the chairs on the floor and all that sort of thing. It was sometimes quite interesting. And so I suppose I slowly through that background in improvised music and I stopped protecting myself. I mean, I’m saying this thing about protecting oneself with one’s instrument but that’s a rather negative interpretation of playing music. But I got into all that a bit. So I suppose that was just an extension of [pause]

BM: Dik Fraser told me about the episode in which a chain went whirling past Robert Fripp’s head during one particular show. Do you remember that, by any chance?

JM: Well, I don’t. But I think Robert probably does. [laughs]

BM: [laughs]

JM: [laughs] I think I remember somebody saying that. That’s right. I remember somebody telling me. I, of course, was completely oblivious. I was busy flailing about the place and biting blood capsules at the time. It’s strange, in a way, that in the heat of the moment things are just all right. Things work out all right. It’s really sometimes watching films of some other bands that get a bit frenetic on stage that you think, “My God, how can they stand on stage with all going on. I’d have got the hell off.”

BM: [laughs]

JM: But at the time things just work out all right.

BM: So, after that happened Robert never came up to you and said, “Hey, you missed my head by half an inch.”

JM: [laughs]

BM: He never mentioned it to you?

JM: Yeah, he did, actually. Somebody did. I think he probably did. Yeah, he did. He did. I do remember that. I do remember somebody saying he thought I got very close to him. He felt the wind.

BM: [laughs]



End of Part One.

Stay tuned.

Bill
--
"You make my life and times
A book of bluesy Saturdays
And I have to choose..."
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Postby Whiskey Vengeance on Mon Jan 16, 2006 1:02 am

Thanks again for a wonderful interview, Bill. Jamie seems like a nice dude with a good sense of humor. I bet it was a blast interviewing him.
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Postby LTinAspic on Mon Jan 16, 2006 1:07 am

Whiskey Vengeance wrote:Thanks again for a wonderful interview, Bill. Jamie seems like a nice dude with a good sense of humor. I bet it was a blast interviewing him.


Thanks!

You're right. It <i>was</i> a blast. Jamie speaks in a measured, cultured sort of way. Yet, he can burst into infectious laughter. As I listened to the interview again, I found myself chuckling with him quite a few times.

I can't wait to share his <i>Larks' Tongues</i> insights as well as his post-Crimson stories with everyone!

Cheers,

Bill
--
"You make my life and times
A book of bluesy Saturdays
And I have to choose..."
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Postby Gilesfan on Mon Jan 16, 2006 10:45 am

A++++++++!!!!!!!!
Excellent Bill!

Thanks!

Would be very interesting to hear the actual audio of these interviews, as how someone says something means so much. Jamie seems like he is possibly a fast speaker, no?

What I like so much about these interviews is you give the whole thing. Calling him up and calling him back etc. It really adds a lot. In, other words, no editing from what I can tell.


Bravo!
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Postby Hans on Mon Jan 16, 2006 11:36 am

Oh this is something I've been waiting for for a long time! Thanks! And it would be wonderful to hear these. Maybe a series of mp3's? If no, the transcripts are just wonderful and enough to make me crank up those crimson cd's!

Thank's again and keep them coming!
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Postby Dan Anderson on Mon Jan 16, 2006 5:27 pm

Bill,

These interviews are perfect to fill the holes in Sid's book. They will complete the book for me. Thank you so very much. I remember RF's notes to you froom the Epitaph booklet. He doesn't see others interest in the band in the same light that he sees his own interest in whatever he is interested in. It is an odd sort of set of blinders he has on. Anyway, thanks again for posting them up and keep them coming.

Yours,
Dan
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Postby LTinAspic on Mon Jan 16, 2006 7:01 pm

Hans wrote:Oh this is something I've been waiting for for a long time! Thanks! And it would be wonderful to hear these. Maybe a series of mp3's? If no, the transcripts are just wonderful and enough to make me crank up those crimson cd's!

Thank's again and keep them coming!



You're welcome Hans.

Actually, ProjeKction's intrepid head honcho and I have discussed the possibility of making short sound bites available as downloads. Or maybe a "greatest hits" selection from all my interviews available as a large download.

I agree. It's always wonderful to hear what people sound like. And this would give everyone a chance to hear their favorite Crims.

I'm sure Darren and I will continue to discuss the possibilities in the days ahead.

In the meantime, feel free to keep reading and posting.

Cheers,

Bill
--
"You make my life and times
A book of bluesy Saturdays
And I have to choose..."
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Postby LTinAspic on Mon Jan 16, 2006 7:05 pm

danny5 wrote:wondrous! :D

Bill...thanks so much for these!

really, i'm in college myself right now so i have to do a few hours of reading, writing & studying most days..& while i'm happy enough and doing fine i'm bored to tears most of the time! haha...

but reading these, i couldn't be more engaged! it's the highlight of my week!
of course music has it's own voice & speaks for itself, but it's so interesting to know how the musicians thought and felt...
i actually listened along to larks while reading & found myself laughing out loud at times..Jamie seems like a really colorful, good natured, creative & mellow guy!


he actually reminds me a lot of my uncle David who plays drums & percussion for many bands over in helsinki like wabanag & the pukka...same instruments, & similar way of talking & thinking!


thanks for sharing man!
looking forward to more!
cheers,! :wink:



Thanks for the great comments, Danny. You did exactly what I would do when I read an interview: You listened to the music at the same time. That always sort of completes a picture for me.

You're right about Jamie. He seemed to have a very sharp wit and a great sense of humor.

Watch for Part Two coming up soon!

Bill
--
"You make my life and times
A book of bluesy Saturdays
And I have to choose..."
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Postby MarkSullivan on Mon Jan 16, 2006 7:07 pm

LTinAspic wrote:Actually, ProjeKction's intrepid head honcho and I have discussed the possibility of making short sound bites available as downloads. Or maybe a "greatest hits" selection from all my interviews available as a large download.

I agree. It's always wonderful to hear what people sound like. And this would give everyone a chance to hear their favorite Crims.

I like the "greatest hits" idea very much. It was great to see Jamie speak at such length. A bit frustrating that he doesn't really remember much detail! He really was in the moment, apparently, which is probably what appealed so much to Robert.
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