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RareCollections (ABC Australia): The Eastern and Western musical adventures of Brian Godden

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on March 9, 2015

(1:1 re-print: RareCollections)

Sunday 8 March 2015 5:30 AM

Presented by Jordie Kilby and David Kilby


The Eastern and Western musical adventures of Brian Godden



Guitarist Brian Godden has been exploring musical boundaries since he started his career more than fifty years ago. Whether playing rock and roll, folk, jazz or rock he’s always been looking to make things sound different and interesting.

So it didn’t surprise anyone at the beginning of the 1970s when he rented his house in Sydney and travelled to India. He’d already devoted himself to his instrument for more than a decade playing in a series of successful groups, but there was something about the guitar that really frustrated him.

‘I was looking for the pure intervals. I know that you can find them playing slide guitar, pedal steel and violin. But the guitar was really inefficient because of the tempered tuning and the way the frets are, you had to bend the strings to get them to play those in tune intervals. I thought I’ve really got to know what’s going on. Why is our music, the tempered scale, why is it so out of tune when there’s such pure beautiful intervals that we ignore. I decided to go to India and study the twenty-two intervals of the octave, which we don’t deal with in the west at all. We have twelve averaged out intervals that we call the tempered scale. But the true tuning has twenty two intervals in an octave.’

Brian’s eureka moment came almost forty years later, while teaching and studying with Ali Akbar Khan in the U.S, when he applied for a patent for what he calls the Perfect Third system.

‘That’s been my main work through out my life. To get that organised and get that done.’

What Brian achieved basically allows musicians wanting to play with the larger twenty two-interval scale, to get themselves properly in tune. A key that helped unlock the mystery was coming to understand Indian music through a Western music perspective. He hit upon the idea of using the Western concept of tonal centres.

‘Once I worked out where the tonal centres were the whole thing clicked and I had the whole concept of how to construct all the scales based on a simple melody.’

And the simple melody that Brian decided to use.

‘If you can sing Mary Had A Little Lamb from the tonal centre then you’re using the twenty two notes of the scale.’

This epiphany caused a few waves throughout the Indian musical community when Brian presented his findings. It corrected some of the teachings of music schools that had traditions going back hundreds of years.



Brian Godden got his start playing alongside Billy Green and Bix Bryant in Sydney rock and roll band The Raiders. Between 1958 and 1963 they were an in demand band around town but eventually the bar scene that supported them became too much.

‘I just got so sick of the booze and the fights and the bloodbaths of some of the pubs we were playing in that I decided to quit it. Bix said well let’s just do folk music.’

Godden took his electric guitar back to the store and traded it in for an acoustic. Brian’s girlfriend Irene Whitehead joined the two and they became The Liberty Singers. They began performing in a small coffee house and almost straight away were spotted and championed by DJ Ward ‘Pally’ Austin.

‘He was immediately struck by my girlfriend and I could see he had the hots for her. He went on the radio and said, ‘you gotta see these guys’. Within a few weeks the place was packed.’

This led them to share the stage with many popular names on the folk scene at the time including The Green Hill Singers.

‘It was two brothers Alex and John McMillan and this other guy Chris Bonnet. Bonnet was probably way ahead of them musically. They were not great musicians but they were really good singers.’
It was 1964 and the Green Hill Singers had just won the first Hoadley’s Band competition, the pre-cursor to the now famous Hoadley’s Battle Of The Sounds. Bonnet and Godden became fast friends and when renowned folk musician Dave Guard headhunted Bonnet for his own band Godden got the job as their new bass player. He played on their sole LP The Folk Sounds Of (1965) and did a national tour in support of Shirley Bassey.



Late in 1965, Bonnet and Godden had decided that they weren’t being challenged enough in their respective groups. Pulling in jazz drummer Laurie Kennedy and singer/songwriter Norma Stoneman they embarked on a new project they called The Grape Escape.

‘That was a good band. We did, you know, a lot of compound times—7/4 and 5/4. It was a jazz-rock kind of an outfit. It was a really good adventure in trying to do something that was bound to be unpopular with the dance crowds because we were working in 7/4 and 5/4 and playing Lydian scales and really working hard on producing material that was on the edge of jazz.’

The group embraced the musical theories postulated in George Russell’s 1953 book the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation and built their entire catalogue on its principles.

Sadly, the group’s management didn’t understand exactly what the band was trying to do or where they wanted to go. After a disastrous season playing dance venues down in Lorne, they decided they couldn’t do it anymore. The solution was a trip to the Pacific.

IMAGE: The Prodigal Sons (flyer)

IMAGE: The Prodigal Sons (flyer)

In 1967 the members of the Grape Escape, though not using that name, took a job in Noumea playing to the holiday crowds.

‘We played pasadoble and tangos because being a French country they love those sort of tunes. Then we’d play some jazz tunes and then we’d do some rock and roll. We had a good time over there.’

With batteries recharged Brian decided to come back to Australia in 1968 and he quickly found work with folk musician Alex Hood. The two performed as The Prodigal Sons and also did a series of broadcasts for schools. It was lucrative work and before long Godden had enough to buy himself a house. The same house he decided to rent out not long after when he realised he needed to get to the bottom of Indian tuning systems.

Today Brian Godden is still active as a teacher and instrument maker and repairer. His children have an interest in his techniques and teachings too and they are working with him to further develop his insights and knowledge into the future.

This episode of RareCollections is built upon interviews with Brian Godden.

Supporting Information

Playlist Information:

Track: India Blue
Artist: Ali Akbar Khan with Brian Godden
Album: Garden Of Dreams
Label: Triloka
Duration: 4:30
Year: 1990

Track: Derrie Derrie Dream
Artist: The Liberty Singers
Composer: Liberty Singers
Label: RCA
Duration: 2:48
Year: 1963

Track: Long Long Road
Artist: The Green Hill Singers
Album: The Folk Sounds Of…
Label: Festival
Year: 1965

Track: The Easy Life
Artist: The Grape Escape
Composer: Chris Bonnet
Label: RCA
Duration: 2:24
Year: 1966?

Track: Night Plane
Artist: The Grape Escape
Composer: Chris Bonnet
Label: RCA
Duration: 1:24
Year: 1967

Track: Happier The Day
Artist: The Grape Escape
Composer: Brian Godden
Label: RCA
Duration: 1:57
Year: 1966

Track: Is Your Soul Drip Dry
Artist: The Grape Escape
Composer: Chris Bonnet
Label: RCA
Duration: 2:01
Year: 1967

Track: Two Lovers
Artist: Ali Akbar Khan
Album: Garden Of Dreams
Label: Triloka
Duration: 4:56
Year: 1993

Track: Lullaby
Artist: Ali Akbar Khan with Brian Godden
Album: Journey
Label: Triloka
Duration: 4:24
Year: 1990

Track: Anticipation
Artist: Ali Akbar Khan with Brian Godden
Album: Journey
Label: Triloka
Duration: 3:22
Year: 1990

(Source: 03/2015 – ABC (Australia))

P.S.:  Brian gives deeper insights onto his studies and elaborating the Perfect Third system on his personal website.



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