Posted by Sid Smith on Mar 17, 2023

Today the first Travis & Fripp album, Thread is released on digital platforms for the first time. Originally released in 2008, it marked the beginning of a fruitful partnership between the two players. Theo Travis writes about how the project came into being...

In 2004 my musical orbit and Robert’s seemed to be circumnavigating each other. Robert was performing solo soundscapes in support of Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, the leader of that band, is a friend of mine who I had already played and recorded with in various musical contexts. Then in 2004 I got a call from Steve Jansen to record some sax and flutes on an album he was making with his brother David Sylvian. The album was to become the ‘Snow Bourne Sorrow’ album under the band name ‘Nine Horses’ – a truly wonderful album it has to be said. On the day I was called to record some solos in Eden Studios, London – Robert Fripp had already been there just a few hours earlier recording alternative solos on some of the same tracks. However my solos made it to the final mix of the album, and Robert’s were not – a fact that was rather embarrassing to me when I did make contact with Robert later – and he mentioned it. He even made a funny cartoon about it that he posted on DGM live.

So in late 2005 (I think) I got in touch with Robert through a mutual contact and mailed him about him guesting on my forthcoming solo album Double Talk. Robert said he’d like to hear me play live, and as I had a Soft Machine Legacy gig in London coming up, I invited him along. He knew Hugh Hopper and had produced at least one Keith Tippett album on which John Marshall had played. He came to the gig and I think approved of it and my playing as he subsequently agreed to record some soundscapes for my album. That very same night, shortly after Robert left, and also unnoticed by the audience the elusive Mike Ratledge (legendary former Soft Machine keyboardist) walked into the club to hang out with his old friends John Etheridge and John Marshall and Hugh Hopper. A rare public appearance!

As I said, Robert agreed to contribute some soundscapes for the Double Talk album and I was invited down to his studio in Wiltshire for the recording of them. So on a cold January day in early 2007 (Jan 5th to be precise) I arrived at his studio where Robert was very well prepared. He was set up and all ready to record with David Singleton at the controls. We soon got going and he promptly went into record and quickly had two glorious guitar soundscapes that were perfect for my purposes. They appear on 2 tracks on Double Talk, ‘The Endless Search’ and the ambient middle section of ‘Oblivionville’. I had my alto flute and soprano sax with me and as it was still early, I suggested I set up my electronics and looping gear and we record some joint improvisations – which is exactly what we did. It was probably about 11am ish.

We recorded various ideas, harmonic areas, trading solos and meshing looped textures, and by about 2 pm I asked if Robert fancied a break for tea and cake. Robert was a champion cake eater at that time, so I had brought with me a selection of delicious cream cakes. ‘Ah!’ said Robert ‘when we eat cake that is the end of the day’s recording!’ So I quickly changed tack, suggesting we didn’t break for cake just yet…and record a little more first!

I think we then recorded the final sequence that appears on the album – before stopping for the aforementioned tea and cake. And that was it. There was enough great stuff recorded for the entire Thread album. Everything a first take. It had been the first time we had ever played together. And all done in time for afternoon tea. I subsequently asked Steven Wilson if he would be up for mixing the tracks for an album, which he kindly agreed to do, and he did a fabulous job. I remember being in his studio hearing him seemingly casually mix everything (and very quickly and with the minimum of fuss) and it all sounding lovely and there being a serene air of calm and beauty in the room. It was almost tangible.

And that is how the album happened. To this day I think there are some really beautiful passages on the album, particularly the ‘As Snow Falls’ and ‘The Silence Beneath’ sequences. And that one January day was certainly for me the beginning of a very special musical relationship.