'...Hi Simon & Susie,
Thank you for an excellent evening.
Everybody loved and enjoyed the music and were really impressed by your super performance.
I got endless compliments for finding such a suitable quality musical act. You both made our Christmas Dinner into a great evening out.
Hope to see you back before too long...'
John Rees - Burghill Valley Golf Club
Most musicians have a plentiful supply of colourful tales from their time on the road - here are a few of ours...
The Most I Could Do Micky
Chris Spedding in his RAK Records days...
During the scorchingly hot summer of 1976 I was working as an actor and musician/singer with the Mayday Theatre Company. We were based at Battersea Arts Centre in London. I was critically aware that the job was only going to last for a few more months. I didn't want to return to Birmingham and was determined to find new artistic opportunities in London.
As an avid reader at the time of Melody Maker (a weekly tabloid-sized round up of the contemporary rock and pop scene in the UK and the USA) I had read that famed UK session guitarist Chris Spedding was putting together a rootsy rock band for Micky Most's RAK label. The idea was to transform Chris from a ubiquitous super-successful session side man into a legitimate pop star in his own right.
In the Melody Maker classifieds section a few weeks later I noticed a large Rak Records ad seeking a guitarist/vocalist for a new recording project. I put two and two together and realised this audition was obviously for Chris Spedding's new band. I called Rak and set up an audition for the following week at a large well-known London rehearsal studio.
For the whole week I desperately tried to learn some basic Chuck Berry style guitar chops. I learnt to sing Johnny B Goode and boned up on a passable version of the guitar parts.
I was pretty nervous when I arrived at the rehearsal studio and saw Spedding's silver Chevrolet Stingray and Micky Most's Rolls Royce parked in the street outside. Once inside they were both very disarming and friendly and I was able to relax. Chris picked up a bass and asked me what song I wanted to do.
At this point I bottled it and abandoned any thoughts of Chuck Berry inspired 'roots rock'. As I was in front of one the the UK's most successful record producers I decided to play and sing one of my own compositions, 'Helping Hand' with Chris Spedding playing along on bass.
We exchanged pleasantries briefly afterward and I left the building to catch a bus back to where I was living in Harlesden.
Fair to say I totally blew that audition !
AWOL Bass Player
In the eighties I worked as a producer for WEA International, based in Bangkok, Thailand. I had arranged through Pete Brigsfish, a drummer I had worked with some years earlier, to use his band to record an album in the UK, with a Thai artist. The band included the brilliant 17 year old Tony Franklin on fretless bass...
In December 1984 I arrived back in the UK, which was experiencing sub-zero weather. We met up at a freezing rehearsal space in the centre of Birmingham. Tony's basses were there, but no Tony. Pete explained, somewhat sheepishly that Tony had recently left them to join another band ! He introduced me to his replacement, a rather tired-looking 40 something blues bassist...
I wasn't happy at this unexpected turn of events. I really loved Tony's playing and thought it would add a lot to the album. So who was Tony now playing with, I demanded to know. Pete told me...
Tony Franklin had just joined Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers in their new band The Firm!
Holiday Inn Blues
When I was twelve my family moved from North Wales to Herefordshire.
I began playing guitar and singing with violinist and fellow young Quaker, James Little. We aspired to lead a cool hipster life-style and called ourselves Helm's Deep after the site of a battle in J R R Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings'.
This was long before I had any formal musical training. James & I had no interest in learning popular tunes by established artists. It was 1967 and in the free-wheeling musical spirit of the times we just wanted to improvise and play our own peculiar brand of what we would later call 'art rock' !
We rehearsed a lot, played occasional gigs and had many musical adventures. We at one point become the North Herefordshire Liberals 'house band', sometimes being ferried to a gig in a white Jaguar with red leather seats - this and the ready supply of cider while we played was the life for us ! We also got our first press exposure being featured on the front page of The Hereford Times while busking in Eign Gate in the centre of Hereford. I think I was fourteen at the time.
We were still playing together in the early to mid-seventies. We had both moved to Birmingham with James beginning a short-lived career as a HMRC tax inspector and me attending drama school. By this time we had changed our band name to Acousta Bros. We'd also added a rhythm section with my brother Guy Tittley playing bass and Jimmy Simpson on drums.
During this period James & I were offered a duo gig at the Holiday Inn restaurant in the centre of Birmingham.
In truth we were a totally unsuitable band for this kind of venue.
I think they were expecting a couple of sets of middle-of-the-road pop covers. What they got was two sets of our anarchic, mostly improvised experimental rock. This mainly consisted of long 12-15 minute jams over repeated chord sequences with lots of extended violin solos.
I can't imagine what the customers in the restaurant that night must have thought - these poor souls had come out for a quiet dinner with their significant others and an reasonable expectation perhaps of some quiet schmultzy background music.
They got whatever we could come up with on the night - with James & I attempting to channel our experimental, improvising jazz rock heroes, which at the time included the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Still we enjoyed ourselves, were given generous drinks in the break and actually got paid for our efforts !
The Diminutive Jim Scott
Secondary school for me was always a bit shit - I never fitted in and was a permanent outsider. The most fun I had was on weekends away with young Quakers. This was where all my seminal teenager moments occurred.
At one of these gatherings, the annual Friends Summer Camp held in Leintwardine in Herefordshire (when I was eleven or twelve) I met another musician, violinist James Little.
We kept in touch and started playing together. We began writing ‘songs’, most of which were extended 8-10 minute jams with occasional vocals over simple repeated chord sequences. We called ourselves ‘Helm’s Deep’ after the site of a famous battle in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.
Through the Quaker youth network we got to know an older singer, guitarist and bass player Dik Cadbury. We were somewhat in awe of him as he had professional standard equipment and did ‘proper’ gigs. At a later gathering in Cleobury Mortimer in I think 1972 James & I had a fun 60 minute jam with Dik on one of his songs, ‘Circle of Love’.
Returning to Hereford I played the song in front of local music entrepreneur Norman J Rose at Buzz Music on Widemarsh Street. He really liked the song and asked who had written it.
Norman asked me to come in a few days later to record a basic demo of the song. A friend of James Little and fellow Hereford guitar player Jim Scott engineered the session. Nothing subsequently happened with the song as Dik sensibly wanted to retain the rights to his work.
Within ten years the diminutive Jim Scott had morphed into James Honeyman Scott of The Pretenders and the rest of the story is part of rock & roll history…
Rest in Power JHS
The Mercurial Guitarist
Some months later I had arranged to master the album at The Townhouse Studios in Goldhawk Road, London. Arriving on time I could see through the plate glass doors that the previous clients were running over time. One of them had his back to me, was dressed in black and had long greying hair.
He turned around and seemed somehow vaguely familiar..?
Suddenly I realised who they were - Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers ! They were putting the finishing touches to the debut single from The Firm album.
Later when Jimmy came out he apologised for keeping me waiting. I replied that he had caused me rather a lot of trouble recently ! That certainly got his attention. I explained that I'd had to record an album without bass player Tony Franklin after he'd accepted the gig with The Firm...
We talked for some time. He came across as very easy going and down to earth, as interested in what I was up to in Bangkok as I was in The Firm.
Certainly not the bad-tempered mercurial guitarist of rock legend...
A Consummate Display
I've been an avid reader of Guitar Player magazine over the years.
During the late eighties I read an article about the American jazz rock guitarist Scott Henderson. Scott mentioned how he and his bass player were writing tunes on their Macs over the internet. At the time I thought this was very pretentious...
In the early nineties I got a gig playing support to Scott's band Tribal Tech in Philadelphia. Arriving to set my gear up I was disarmed by how friendly Scott and his band all were. They jokingly suggested I might play through Scott's state-of-the-art Bob Bradshaw amp and effects rig!
During the gig Scott Henderson played brilliantly, with excellent tone and wonderful technique. After the first set he jumped off the front of the stage into the audience and hung out at the bar with friends. He returned for the second set by the same route.
After a well-deserved encore Scott again jumped off the stage, returning to his friends at the bar. In short one of the most consummate displays of jazz rock guitar playing I have ever experienced.
And certainly the least pretentious performer I've ever met.
Missing A Legend
I was fortunate in the early nineties to work with the excellent rock publicist Ginny Buckley. She had worked with many top rock and pop acts throughout the seventies and eighties, including Van Halen and Michael Jackson. Ginny is married to a leading American tour manager...
Early one evening her husband called and invited us to a show in north-eastern Pennsylvania. He said we could watch the gig backstage, but that we were not to make eye contact with the band or try to talk to them!
I thought frankly that this was somewhat precious and declined the offer of going to the gig. Some time later the troubled Kurt Cobain sadly took his own life.
I realised then I had missed a unique chance to see the legendary Nirvana up close...
The Total Pro
I forget who turned me on to New York bass player Mike Stanzilas, certainly he came highly recommended...
Two days before the gig I spent a couple of hours at Mike's apartment on 105th Street running down the tunes. The gig was in Asbury Park, supporting Bob Dylan's son's band The Wallflowers...
The venue was full and the atmosphere absolutely manic. The promoter wanted us to go on later than we had agreed. This was not possible as Mike had to leave in time to get back for a late gig in NYC.
Finally the promoter relented and told us to be on stage and ready to play in two minutes. Setting up a stereo Marshall set-up with numerous effects and a mess of cables is not easy in the dark!
With the promoter shouting 'Go! Go! Go!', I knelt over my pedals and frantically tuned my strat. Standing up I counted the first tune off. Mike and regular drummer Joe Bellia did not play a wrong note the whole set...
Afterwards I paid Mike before he rushed back to New York for his second gig that night !
A Night in Newark
I'm reminded of a night in Newark, New Jersey in the early nineties. I was with my then manager and we went to this heavy rock venue to check out a band there was a lot of 'buzz' about.
Things hadn't started off well. After parking his car we'd been walking to the venue through a disused industrial area. A cop car came screaming up to the intersection ahead of us with it's siren blaring and lights blazing.
The cop lept out and tried to offer reassurance, 'don't worry buddy, we're just lookin' for someone with a gun.' I felt a lot better for knowing that!
The venue was extraordinary to this Brit, there must have been a thousand New Jersey rockers/rockettes there all dressed in blues jeans, boots and leathers. Everyone behaved impeccably, none of the drunken yobbishness you routinely get here in UK.
After about five support acts and in the early hours we got to the headline act. The already deafening PA was turned up a few more notches and the band kicked off their set with a slow 85 - 90 BPM heavy rock groove. The drums sounded monstrous, the enormous kick simply playing on 1 and 3, while the huge cracking snare just played the unadorned backbeat.
What made this extraordinary to watch was that the drummer was throwing his right hand stick up high in the air above his head and catching it flawlessly each time to continue playing 2 and 4 on the snare. This continued for a number of minutes. He didn't miss it once !!! He seemed to be staring straight ahead and he gave the impression he was unconcerned about catching the stick. The effect was mesmerising !
Sadly the rest of the show was pretty forgettable and we left the venue just as dawn was was breaking. But Newark had a sting in the tail waiting.
Outside the club were several police cars with cops leaning up against them chatting. One of the cops was a woman and she was drop-dead georgeous, a real Italianate beauty. She looked like a beautiful actress in a movie, playing a cop. I fell in love on the spot !
A bizarre end to a surreal night...
Van the Man 1
I was signed to the Swiss indie label Top in the late eighties. Mick Cox, a former Van Morrison sideman was also with Top and we occasionally used to hang out and have a few beers at a pub near the label offices in Camden.
He told me an amusing story about a guitarist who desperately wanted to play with Van Morrison. After several months he was finally offered an audition. He made enquiries and was told that Van's favourite guitarist was BB King.
Buying as many BB King CDs as he could lay his hands on, the guitarist studied BB's style and mastered many of his signature licks. At last the day of the audition came around and he was able to play with BB King-inspired passion...
He didn't get the gig.
Distraught he inquired why and was told that Van Morrison had thought that he sounded too much like BB King !
Van the (nice) Man 2
In addition to having considerable artistic mystique, Van Morrison has always had a fearsome ruputation as a live performer.
The town where I used to live in Herefordshire for many years used to run an arts festival that always booked Van as one of the headline acts. One year my then girlfriend and I decided to buy tickets to see him...
Van was doing two shows that evening and we had tickets for the second show. There was an noticable air of excitement amongst the audience as we finally filed into the large marquee. Aside from seeing a living legend live there was also the possibility we might witness some superstar temper-tantrum pyrotechnics !
The evening in fact turned out quite differently - Van was in a great mood, obviously enjoying his singing and even chatting with the audience between songs.
Finally he came to the front of the stage and asked if anyone had any requests. He then proceeded to sing the tunes we asked to hear!
A Lifeline for Vinnie
Vinnie Colaiuta is in my opinion the greatest living drummer on the planet. I am an enormous fan of his work.
He and I have some 'history'...
I took my son Tim (a drummer) to see Vinnie live at a drum show in Glasgow in the mid nineties...
Vinnie explained he had just spent the past month programming drums on a computer, for Sting's new album - a bit like freakin' asking Van Gogh or Matisse to paint your garden fence IMHO.
He apologised in advance for being 'rusty'.
He then sat down at his beautifully tuned custom black Yamaha kit and proceeded to play an outstanding solo improv for about 30 mins or so, leaving the entire audience spellbound.
When the applause finally died down he came to the front of the stage, lit a cigarette and asked if anyone had any questions...
There was a long pregnant, embarrassing silence, not one of the 500 plus drummers present would dare say a word.
So I (a freakin' guitar player) thought I'd throw the poor guy a lifeline...
'So Vinnie, where do you see drumming going over the next 20 years ?', I asked.
Vinnie drags on his cigarette and thinks for a moment, 'I dunno. Next question...'
At this point 500 plus drummers are all turning in their seats to get a look at the dumb asshole who had asked Vinnie the stupid question...
Never again - last time I try to help a room full of drummers get along
Funny how THEY always get PAID...
Some years ago I was involved in an independent lable. Bringing in several artists I'd previously worked with and my studio/production skills (or the lack of them !) was my side of the deal.
A partner invested around $ 50,000.00 (it was a SMALL indie alright !!!).
After nearly 2 years of effort I was shown a breakdown detailing how around $ 40,000.00 of the original investment had been spent. I was shocked, the only expenditure on the creative aspects of the project was $ 1,600.00 in session fees paid to musicians.
Of course the book keeper/accountant/part-time office coordinators etc. etc. all got paid !
That said being the producer was still the COOLEST job and will always be so...
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