Assiduous Silent Radio readers will have noticed numerous reviews referencing Ajay Saggar over the past couple of years. In addition to releases under his solo guise, Bhajan Bhoy, there have been collaborations as Chela and Volksempfänger. Prior to his April tour of Scotland and northern England, we asked him about his life in music. In addition to being a member of many bands (Dandelion Adventure, Donkey, The Bent Moustache, King Champion Sounds), he has worked behind the scenes performing unseen but essential roles, including lengthy periods as a sound engineer / tour manager and currently as production manager at the Paradiso, Amsterdam’s longest standing and premier music venue.

You are touring the UK in April. What can people expect from the tour? Your albums have contained some collaborations but will it just be you on stage?
I’m really looking forward to this tour for various reasons. The venues that I am going to be playing in are not what you would call regular pop+rock venues, but rather spaces that cater for a different musical experience. Art spaces, galleries, pubs that welcome weird and wonderful sounds.  The people booking me are promoters with a very open mind and keen listeners / music fans who wish to bring cool stuff to their town. I’ll be performing solo on this trip, but will carry with me an array of instruments to be able to create different sounds….to keep it interesting for myself and also the listener. The setlist will contain the basis of some tracks I have recorded and released, and there will be a level of improvisation involved as well. It keeps me motivated and challenges me each night of I do it like that.
Are there differences between how you put together your albums and how you compile your live sets?

Yes, there is definitely a difference. Writing and composing and recording songs usually happens in a very organic way where I will pull together idea after idea to make a whole. Then in the mixing and editing stage, the songs can take on a totally different dynamic / mood / feel. It’s why I love working in my studio so much…’s a sonic laboratory where the possibilities are endless. The live sets on the other hand have a different dynamic. I will have the sketches of songs that I have recorded already, but how I execute them depends on what I’m feeling on any particular day when I perform them. Recently in my 3-week USA tour, I pretty much improvised for the last 2 weeks, which was an enormous learning curve for me and it also made me find myself as a musician more.

You toured the USA last Autumn. Were there any particular highlights?
The whole USA trip was possibly one of the greatest musical experiences of my life. I booked the whole thing myself, and then to realise it was amazing. I played in incredible places with other outstanding musicians. I made the time to combine the sightseeing aspect of travelling along with the fact I was there to share my music with listeners. An absolute highlight was that I followed the Blues Trail in Mississippi and visited the graves of some of my favourite blues artists, but also sampled the landscape and everyday life in the deep south. An unforgettable experience…one that I will look back fondly on in my old age.
Was there a defining moment in your life where you decided you wanted to make music?
I was in a band at school in the early 80s…playing drums…where we did covers of songs by Killing Joke, Joy Division and Iggy Pop amongst others. At university, I dabbled in a band too. But it was on leaving university that I really found my feet when I started playing in Dandelion Adventure, and the thrill and energy I got from being part of a team that was artistically creating things was the real moment when I knew that this is what I was meant to do.

From the Dandelion Adventure onwards, you played in bands of increasing size up to King Champion Sounds. Was there any catalyst for changing to doing solo stuff or one-off collaborations with individuals (Chela and Volksempfänger)?
I’d already started recording the solo stuff whilst I was in KCS anyway, but there was definitely a point when the last KCS LP got released that I realised that the large group dynamic wasn’t for me anymore. I’d done it for years, and basically did everything from coordinating the songwriting / recording / mixing / arranging the releases / booking tours. Doing the solo stuff has been incredibly liberating. I have collaborated with individuals on some tracks on the Bhajan Bhoy stuff, and it’s all been a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience. The Chela and Volksempfänger projects have been hugely enjoyable, partly because Kohhei (Chela) and Holly (Volksempfänger) are very easy to work with and they are very versatile and flexible musicians, but also because it was great to stretch out into making different styles of music. And arranging shows / tours for one person is easier than for a party of eight haha.
For a long time, you worked as a tour manager and sound engineer. Are there particular highlights from those times that you look back on fondly and are there things you learnt that have helped you with making your own music?
I worked with so many bands over the course of 15-20 years, and was lucky enough to travel over the whole world as a result of that. Highlights include doing a world tour with Icelandic band Mum, and on our trip from Australia back to Europe, we stopped off in Thailand for a week, and sailed on the Andaman Sea on a chartered ship (where we lived for a week…the captain and his wife and kids looked after us and cooked for us and took us around the Andaman Sea) and learnt to dive. At the end of the week we’d all got our PADI certificates and had experienced a whole new world under the water. As for if any of my travels with different groups / musicians helped me in making my own music…. I guess the thing that indirectly made me approach making music differently was being exposed to new records, CDs, mp3s, whatever that different individuals / bands were listening to, that I hadn’t heard before. I shared a lot of music with people, and I was lucky enough to be in the company of some real “heads”. I would possibly take that as a contributing factor to me listening more openly to music and that possibly transpiring in how I approach making my own music.
You now work as a production manager at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. Can you tell us about what that job entails?
The role of a production manager is that of the contact person between the Paradiso and the band directly. I have to accrue information from the tour managers / band members who are in charge, that will ensure that I know what we can expect from them (technical and hospitality riders, how many people are in the party, do they come in a  vehicle, etc) and I have to make sure that I check to see that what the band wants to pull off in Paradiso (and other venues we book in) is possible. In return, I share with them the information that they will need about the venue so that they know exactly what they can expect. As well as dealing with the band directly, I’ll also have dealings with the booker at Paradiso, the booking agent, and other related parties. It’s a pretty intensive job where you have to be in control of all the information that is coming your way. During my production week, I am at the centre of a big wheel from which the spokes reach out to lots of different people / departments. My next production week (starting 2 April) is insane….I have 32 shows in my week….in Paradiso and in different venues around the city. There are more than 70 groups I have to deal with!
You lived in various places in north-west England from the mid-1980s through to your move to the Netherlands in the early 90s. Are there connections and friendships from that time that are still valuable? For example, from local radio stations. I believe there are plans to release the sessions that your first band, The Dandelion Adventure, recorded for John Peel’s Radio One show. Can you tell me how that is progressing?
I have very very warm heart for Lancashire. It made me as a person and it brought me lifelong friendships with people I deeply care for. Manchester is a city I still deeply love and know so well, but I have a ton of friends in Preston and Blackpool and Blackburn. I’m still in touch with all my old Dandelion Adventure bandmates, with folks at Action records, with many many friends in Manchester, and different folks in different places in the county. My friendship with the team at “On The Wire”, the long running show hosted by Steve Barker (which was originally on Radio Lancashire) goes back almost 40 years! I started at Lancaster University in September 1984, the same month that On The Wire started too. In 1985, when I started putting DIY shows on in Lancaster (the Brix Club), Steve would announce my shows on-air. During that year, he dropped me a line to invite me down to the studio to come and hang out. And in 1988, he invited Dandelion Adventure to the BBC studio on King Street, to interview us and play tracks from our cassette demo that we had released. And since then, he has always supported my music…something for which I’m eternally grateful. In the run up to this UK tour in April, Steve is going to broadcast a special Bhajan Bhoy session I recorded for On the Wire…an absolute exclusive just for him. I had the idea to record 3 songs for him, but it turned into 6 songs…all of which I love. It’s an album’s worth of stuff, which will eventually be released under the title “Bhoy On the Wire”. I hope Steve digs them though hahaha. Further to that, I recently managed to secure the Dandelion Adventure session from the BBC that we recorded for the John Peel show in 1990, and I will be looking to release that myself by the summer.

What else is on the agenda for you and are there any further releases from you in the pipeline?
I will have an LP out in August on Cardinal Fuzz (UK) and Feeding Tube Records (USA), which are songs I recorded for the USA radio stations WFMU and WGXC. At the end of June, I will do a short European tour as a package with Bhajan Bhoy and Mind Crush (2 ladies from the USA who make mind-melting drone music). Further, I recorded an album at St Mary’s Church, South Cowton, North Yorkshire. This church was built in 1450 by Sir Richard Conyers. There’s an old pump organ in there, which I played on in the summer of 2022, and the idea came to me to record an album using this fine instrument. Hopefully that will be released at some stage as it’s a beautiful album’s worth of music. And I shall start working on a Chela album with Kohhei very soon.

If you were to be a guest on Desert Island Discs, what 8 discs would you choose? If you want to add a brief reason for each choice that would be great. Of course, you are welcome to choose a book and a luxury item to accompany you.
good grief……that is a tough one. I’m gonna bust this last section out really fast as I need to get to bed and so it’s the first things that come in my head…….

THE FALL – Hex Enduction Hour (the group by which all others will be judged! This album keeps revealing secrets even though I’ve heard it a million times)

VELVET UNDERGROUND – White Light White Heat (this was when I learnt what pure rock’n’roll is, and I wanted it bad)

AUGUSTUS PABLO – King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (my mind was blown by the space created in songs, the bass so deep, and the studio as an instrument)

DON CHERRY – Brown Rice (melody and freedom of improv combined to create a thing of beauty)

TERRY RILEY – A Rainbow In Curved Air (space and repetition and deep listening and yr mind is blown)

BOG-SHED – The Official Bog-Set (music that still sounds so odd and yet so catchy and lyrics that pin down life to its basic elements but observed in such a brilliantly funny way)

COCTEAU TWINS – Garlands (I spent so much time following them around the country when they started and through their career. The voice!!! The guitar! I slept on cold benches on railway stations in the middle of winter after shows, but it was a small price to pay for being blessed with such celestial music)

MISSISSIPPI FRED McDOWELL – I Do Not Play No Rock’n’Roll (I visited Mississippi Fred McDowell’s grave at Hammond Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Senatobia, Mississippi, and it left a lasting impression on me. I could taste the blues and I was close to Fred and his music. I loved him beforehand, but being close to him made me hear his music in a different way)

Book….the collected works of Ryszard Kapuscinski

Luxury item…. a record player with my entire record collection to boot (I suspect Lauren Laverne would intervene to disallow this luxury but it serves to illustrate Ajay’s love of music)

Anything you would like to add?

I don’t know how long I will have the energy and inspiration to keep making music, but whilst I do, there’s gonna be plenty of surprises coming your way (and mine!).

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.