Having played keyboards on every single Threshold album, West is certainly well positioned to comment on the group’s history. He gives an engrossing synopsis of the ups and downs of thirty years with the band.
There seems to be something almost hesitant about this book title. Is it because the title Maybe A Writer sounds as if West is wondering whether he’s good enough to write a book? And why the subtitle My Life In Threshold that hints at a concern that the name Richard West isn’t recognisable to enough punters? Followers of the progressive rock scene wouldn’t need any hint to know that West is the keyboardist of prog metal group Threshold, and hardcore fans of the band will for sure recognise the reference to the lyrics of the track Lost In Translation which graced the 2017 album Legends Of The Shires (2017): ‘Now it’s time for you to forget your distant glory. Now it’s time for you to fulfil another story. Maybe a painter, a guide, a clerk, a maker. Or maybe a writer’.
So, does our musician make it as a writer? Well, he certainly writes in an accessible style that lays out his life story in an entertaining way. That subtitle of My Life In Threshold is actually a little misleading. This is not only about Threshold but is a full autobiography covering not only the Threshold story but also West’s childhood, private life and with a tip of the hat to his other musical projects too. One of the reasons that the book is an enjoyable read is that it is laid out in chronological fashion (except for the short Prologue which is concerned with his first rehearsal session with Threshold). He comfortably flicks the story between Threshold and his other early bands, or between a European tour with Threshold and a European home relocation with his wife, and that juggling of career and private life helps build a good, rounded picture of West the man. At around 200 pages, including 40 pages of fascinating photos, the length is just about right too – enough detail for fans to find new titbits but not too much detail that would bore the general reader.
Having played keyboards on every single Threshold album, West is certainly well positioned to comment on the group’s history. He gives an engrossing synopsis of the ups and downs of thirty years with the band. As someone with only a passing knowledge of Threshold’s catalogue, it was useful for me to see the arc of the band’s career clearly laid out – from the early and commercially fallow years where you can almost sense the yearning for recognition as West describes opening up for bigger acts (Whitesnake and Dream Theater, above all) through to the last decade which has been marked with much better sales and recognition as probably the UK’s leading prog metal band. Over that same period, you can also see how West’s own role changed in the band, from keyboardist and occasional contributor to the principal writer alongside Karl Groom.
In terms of his childhood, West nails it on the head by saying ‘I can safely say that I enjoyed a proper Enid Blyton childhood, playing in the woods and messing about on the river with my two sisters, Caroline and Jo.’ He certainly sounds like a member of Blyton’s Famous Five as he describes the idyllic villages he lived in (Abinger Common in Surrey prior to moving to Newton Ferrers in Devon) and the rather childish pranks played on schoolteachers. The Famous Five narrative is punctured though by some darker moments: he details being groped in a record shop and offered money to spend time with the assailant; and he was also diagnosed as hyperactive due to food colouring. That hyperactive condition then disappeared after a group prayer session during a week-long church camp (almost another Enid Blyton moment!). Overall, there is something quintessentially English about his upbringing, and musically that extended to watching Top Of The Pops – West cites Billy Joel’s My Life and Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now as early songs he discovered on that show. West also got his first taste of prog thanks to a friend lending him Genesis’s …And Then There Were Three... Cynics could think that his interest in prog could have ended at that point since that album doesn’t exactly represent a highlight of the Genesis catalogue! We get to hear about his initial fascination with the production side of music which became an important part of his career later: as a teenager, his own version a two-track tape was to record on one cassette player and then playing it back while recording a second ‘track’ onto a second cassette player!
The Enid Blyton boy was hardly likely to turn into a pot-smoking drunkard on tour. Those tours are detailed in a fascinating way but apart from his one and only partaking of illegal substances, West seems to be more of an observer of the shenanigans going on around him. So, for example, in 1995 when they toured and shared the tour bus with Psychotic Waltz, the Californians were constantly smoking dope and watching porn movies. Did West say ‘Hey, can I join you, boys?’. No, he instead states ‘It was a horrible place to be, and I developed a habit of taking long walks to get away from it all’. The rest of the band seemed equally normal and stable although there’s a curious contrast with the behaviour of Mac (singer Andrew McDermott) who was totally inebriated on stage more than once to the point of being incapable of recalling the lyrics. This is perhaps where fans of the band might appreciate a bit more insight into how the band responded to such behaviour. It may be that with Mac’s premature death, West didn’t want to stick the boot in, but there are other events too where he frustratingly skirts around difficult issues. For example, he states at one point: ‘there was a totally unnecessary altercation between two members of the group. Unfortunately, it would affect the atmosphere for the rest of the tour’. One is left wondering: ‘what altercation?’; ‘which members?’; and ‘how did it affect the atmosphere?’. These are minor points but at times you sense that West is just too much of a nice guy to really spill the beans.
Interspersed with the story of Threshold, West continues to recount his own life events: his jobs (Acoustic Consultant; IT Web Designer); meeting the love of his life (Kelly Farrah, who became his musical partner in League Of Lights); and hilariously trying to relocate to the Czech Republic. Intentionally or otherwise, West gives a fascinating portrait of the life of a modern-day musician where it’s more like a glorified hobby and a 9 to 5 job is still needed to make ends meet. West’s is no rags to riches story – he wasn’t born in rags and Threshold hasn’t made him rich either. His is more the story of normal decent guy who through hard work has managed to carve out a successful musical career. So, even if you’re not a fan of Threshold, you’ll find yourself cheering him on to success and you’ll feel like calling him up to go and chat about his life story over a pint. Or, over a cup of tea, as is more likely with West.