|Paul M Bryant - musician
Early Days - I have been playing music since I was about seven years old, when I started to learn the piano. Mum and Dad were great - always playing piano and organ at the church, and they sang in choirs and madrigal groups, I was just surrounded by music...but sadly not music that really made my heart go 'boom'. I suppose I was doing OK - I won a few medals in the mid-Somerset festival in Bath...not just solo piano, but duets (with a girl from my school, Pamela Tasker - where are you now?) and recorder. I have memories of learning 'Three Blind Mice' with a music teacher called Mrs Poyser, and another older lady who's name escapes me, but I remember she lived in Daniel Street in Bathwick.
Once I got to senior school age though, I wasn't very interested in classical piano music, and I convinced mum and dad that they should save the money they had been spending on lessons for me.
Mum had a classical acoustic guitar in the lounge that she never really played - and I found that far more fun than the piano. I remember learning EDCGA chords from Bert Weedon's 'Play in a day' book, and thinking "that'll do...now I'll play bass"....on the wound bottom strings of Mum's guitar. I remember my uncle Roy lending me the Simon and Garfunkel 'Bridge over Troubled Waters' and Led Zeppelin 'Houses of the Holy' LPs...and that was the first bass parts I learned. ...the only living boy in New York', 'the Ocean' etc. I was gonna be a star, except that I didn't know anybody else that played an instrument - and not long after we moved house, from Bath to Exeter - so my network of fellow session musicians never quite got off the ground.
When I was about 13 years old, I think I had a life changing moment. My first 'disco' - at St Thomas Methodist Church youth club in Cowick Street, Exeter. It was about 1970/1971, and me and my mate Rick Cook (Dirty Money, Tumbleweed Connection) were just mesmerised by bubble lights, colour wheels, projectors and strobes. In no more than about three hours, I had been absolutely turned-on by Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Deep Purple, Status Quo, Slade, The Sweet, Hawkwind, Argent, Led Zeppelin, The Nice, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Procol Harum, The Move, T-Rex and Focus. My head was spinning....I just couldn't get enough of it - and boy, IT was LOUD.
Within a few days, we had convinced Rick's dad Brian to let us use his old Trix valve-based cinema amplifier and speakers to start putting our own 'road-show' together - to be known as 'Touchstone'. I had a couple of old Garrard SP25 record decks that I had extracted from broken record players, and we made a chip-board box to put them in. Chip-board was to be the basis of our next creation also - two speaker cabinets, each containing four EMI 13"x8" elliptical speakers - to provide some mid and top, to the 12" infinite-baffle bass enclosures from the old cinema set-up. We spent weeks and weeks saving up for those speaker chassis, which we purchased by mail-order through and advert in Practical Electronics magazine. We only had enough money for six speakers, so we went back later to Thornton Heath (what an expedition!) to buy the last couple in person. I even made my first 'passive mixer - actually 4 potentiometers and a capacitor and some jack sockets - we could accommodate volume control on both of the decks and a cheap (feed-back-y) crystal microphone, as well as a master tone (well actually treble roll-off) control. Level matching between the decks and the microphone was a bit hairy, but this was rocket science - we had even mounted it all in the decks box! How we didn't electrocute ourselves, I will never know.
Our very first disco followed very soon - at the youth club near the viaduct in Exeter. We needed a light show - and we blagged a small Strand theatre spot and made a colour wheel from another old record player motor and turntable, some cardboard and second-hand lighting gels. We also had an old slide-projector and some rather esoteric slides, which also looked cool when used in conjunction with our colour wheel. A piece of old floor-board was grafted to a half a dozen bayonet lamp-holders with coloured 40w incandescent bulbs, some switches - and we were launched. We had hit the big-time for sure! I must acknowledge here the huge part that Brian Cook played in all this - he was a radio 'ham' who also played the 'hawaiian' guitar. He was so cool and supportive....and Rick's younger brother Adrian (aka Arthur) was starting to get involved too. How many times did he come home to find us blaring the sirens on the beginning of War Pigs (and Blockbuster) out of the bedroom window, for the good citizens of Redhills to 'enjoy'?
By that time we even had an electric guitar that we could play with!
Anyway, we didn't last much longer than the first disco...and I had to move with my parents to Biggin Hill in Kent. Rick and I stayed in touch. I still have a photo of his first (home-made, by somebody else) bass guitar - black and purple it was.
First bands - I quickly got in with the wrong (ie right) crowd at school in and around Bromley, Croydon, Orpington area - easily found other aspiring musicians, with similar tastes. In no time at all, I had purchased bass and lead guitars, and amplifeirs and speakers - all of them absolute rubbish copies...until in 1976, I purchased (on HP) an Orange valve amplifier and 'scoop' 2x15" bass bin from a music shop in Lewisham. Soon after I purchased (for cash, this time) my very first real Fender - a light butterscotch-finish Precision bass - yeas a real seventies American-made one - brand-new for £247. I was king of the castle. Glenn Hughes, Geddy Lee, Chris Squire...I was gonna be better than you all. I could make great noises and play real fast. I even had a van to cart it all around in. Trouble was, I had no clue about discipline, and none of us could be bothered to learn words and sing. So we jammed...endlessly.
Me - playing Neil Turner's(?) SG copy...but where?
|I remember having a band with Lee Banham and Neil ???? and we did a gig at a youth club near Bromley. I also remember doing a gig at another Bromley Common with Trevor Dunton (guitar), Cliff Mayes (guitar), Dave Webb (drums) and Allan Emerson (vocals) at another church hall - and I remember we played UFO's Rock Bottom and Doctor Doctor, some Pat Travers and Budgie stuff, Bachman Turner Overdrive ' You ain't seen nothing yet' and the Doobie Brothers 'Long Train Running'. Terrible, I'm sure. I also remember 'gigs' (if they could be called that) at the Stepping Stones club, and William Morris Hall in Bromley too - where my younger brother Dave was providing some sort of 'light show' - probably with the aid of Phil Packer and Mike Townsend. They probably nicked the gear from the stage at Ravensbourne School. I also have a digitised recording of this line-up jamming at my house in Biggin Hill, some cassette recordings of Sunday rehearsals at Wharf (?) studios in Bermondsey.||
With Cliff Mayes, at Stepping Stones youth club, Bromley (probably around 1975)
I also have a couple of demo tracks by Twinn (Peter and Karl Zargon), where we backed them on a session at Forest Studios, augmented by a Maltese guitarist called Jim. Sort of Cat Stevens on helium. Sorry guys, you were lovely, but this music probably explains why you are still doing similar things even in the 21st century.
Then I joined a few pub-rock bands - Old Kent Rd sort of stuff - guitarist called Paul Jolly (?-from Downham), and a singer who used to show that he could drink a pint of vodka, as an encore. Drinking solo...... they even had an old Ford Transit van. The drummer (Richie Parrot?) even had a sister (Shirley?) who I tried it on with. Other memories include playing the Small faces 'All or nothing'...but that's about it.
Then followed a band from Caterham, Warlingham, Woldingham, Purley area - Rachel Carse (vocals and later, girlfriend), Simon Moss (drums - I met him working at Liptons), John ??? (keyboards), Scottish Alex ???? (guitar). Repertoire included the O-Band 'A smile is a diamond', Eagles 'Hotel California', Gary Wright 'My love is alive', Racing Cars ' They shoot horses, don't they?' Played one gig at Rachel's school 6th-form common room and that was that, as I remember.
Another band from the Caterham and Sutton area followed...playing lengthy Yes and Rush type things, in time signatures that made my head spin. Didn't last long either. But they all had nice girlfriends (Laleh, Layla, Lelia, Suki ?) all with rich parents and second houses in exotic locations. Should have stuck that out a bit longer methinks. Ah well....
Jan 2nd 1980...parents move to Glastonbury, with Dad's job. I fancied being a hippy in rural Central Somerset too, so I chuck my job in and off I go with them. Being unemployed lasted no more than the amount of time it took to let my car run out of petrol, only to find I had no money to fill it up again. Got job (Casey's Camping, Bristol - Computer Manager) - whilst meeting up with Simon Gosling (guitar and vocals), who gets me to join Raffia - a function band, playing weddings and social clubs. I get to play all sorts of strict tempo dance 'classics', Beatles medleys and quite a few 'pop' tunes too (Abba and Shaking Stevens, Hi-ho Silver Lining etc.!). The line-up also includes Rob (real Hammond organ and Leslie - how bloody heavy was that thing - even when it was split?), Anne (Rob's Mrs on drums) and Roger 'the crooner' (on vocals)
Through necessity, I re-learnt a little bit of sight reading with Raffia, and Simon and I subsequently join Brent Keefe (drums) in the Strode College 'Saturday Morning Music Club' - a sort-of Jazz-Rock 'orchestra' with 20+ players (mostly teenagers, from the college), run by John Barton (sax) - an incredibly patient, gifted and inspiring guy to have worked with. Should have given that a bit more attention really also. Repertoire was Weather Report 'Birdland', Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, 'Sign of the swinging cymbal' (theme to Alan Freeman's radio show - Not 'arf pop-pickers) - big brassy stuff - marvellous - a unique opportunity wasted (by me).
Other Glastonbury/Central Somerset projects and collaborators were Charlie Miller (drums), Mark Cullen (guitar and vocals), Dave Beech (vocals), Gerry O'Grady (?), Richie Brunton (guitars), Toby Sadler (bass & keyboards), Jem Dumble (guitars), Dave Davies (Trumpet), Graham ???? (sax!), John Thomas (keyboards), Keith Langlois (Wurlitzer piano and Moog synthesiser), John Storey (drums), Kim Dumble (vocals and keyboards), Martin Barnes (guitar), Andy 'Hilly' Hill (guitar).
I also remember doing a few cabaret gigs (including backing the Brothers Lee at the GoldDiggers in Chippenham:-) with Paul Jennings (smoking keyboard player and singer) and Ian Anderson (guitar) and a drummer, who's name I forget - but I do know that the drummer and Paul Jennings then did a world cruise on the Canberra liner with Simon Gosling playing guitar. All went well for them until the Falklands war caused the Canberra to be recalled at short notice to the UK to be fitted out for supporting the troops....and I believe they all lost their gear on the boat as a result.
1982 - and I join my first 'pro' outfit - Cornerstone.
Named after the hit Styx album, featuring Linda Fletcher (vocals and bass guitar) - former New Faces
winner, and subsequent presenter of kids TV-program 'Get it Together'
(Mike Reed? Roy North, Ollie Beak!!!) Yikes. Finished off a
summer season at Holimarine in Burnham, and then off for 5 months in
Germany, Italy, Greece - playing mostly American AOR (Adult oriented
rock) to NATO military staff at army/navy/air-force bases. Just a
four piece with me playing bass and lead guitar, and having to do some
vocals (not very good at this time), Ken Murray (drums) and Mike
Fletcher, Linda's husband (multiple keyboards and vocals - the only guy
I ever played with who had a real Clavinet! Nutbush city
limits.....) Surprisingly, I was pretty home-sick (and behaved
like a twat some of the time), so when we came back to the UK, we all
parted company - haven't seen Ken since. I bump into Mike and
Linda every few years, playing in Nick's Bar on the sea-front at Weston
Super Mare, but despite living relatively close for all these years, I
now seem to have lost contact with them :-( Gear at the time was
exclusively Fender guitars and Peavey amplification.
scan of poster with names spelled wrongly by promoter ------>
<------rare shot of me playing lead guitar (gurning just a little) at that very gig
Anyway, my friend Kim Dumble (who'm I had just recorded some demo tracks with at John Storey's cottage in Compton Dundon) says to me 'my ex-boyfriend is now living in Bristol and wants to start a country-rock band'. I meet up with Larry Newman (guitar), Julian McNicholas (keyboards) and Bill Baines (guitar and vocals) and we form 'Chase the Fade'. For a while on drums, we use Tony Hayes, Charlie Miller (who did our demo in Right Track Studios), Charlie Hart (Four Pennies) and eventually Steve Rose takes the seat. We do loads of gigs around Bristol, mostly covers and a couple of originals. We even buy a van. As I have 'hair like Iron Maiden', I wear bright clothes when gigging, and I don't think the two cover songs are up to much, Bill and Larry sack me, and replace me with (later to become my very good friend and best-man, Peter Windfeld from Denmark). Pete had been working previously with Larry, in Kelvin Henderson's country band. Chase the Fade start to work on more original material. I didn't play with them any more, but continued to hang-out with them - often mixing the sound for them at gigs, following a gig one night at the Marquee club in Wardour Street, Soho, when there was nobody there except me, who could operate the desk. Chase The Fade did quite a lot of bigger gigs subsequently (including a terrible support slot for Hawkwind at Cricket St Thomas country park), whilst Bill then sacked Pete, and a few more other bassists, and started playing the bass himself. It seemed to work for a while, but changing drummers (John ??? on the early Simmonds elctronic kit) and other line-up tensions finally put paid to the whole project.
There is also a very traditional 'country' album from about 1983 by Eddie Blackstone, on which Larry, Julian, Steve Rose, Sian Ellis and myself played.
Left to right - Julian, Larry, Bill, Greg, Paul
The imposter (in the leather jacket standing next to me) is Greg McNicholas - Julian's brother and sort-of manager of the band for a while. He is in this picture, as we weren't sure who the drummer was going to be. 'Publicity' photo taken in the emergency staircase at Terry/Irving House, off Park Row in Bristol - where Julian lived.
This publicity shot makes us (me especially!) look really scary
(photo by Robert Posner)
Meanwhile, Pete Windfeld calls me and says 'I'm playing keyboards now, wanna play with me'? Enter Bilbo (William) Corless-Birks - drummer and (Sting sound-alike) vocalist, with a whole load of original material and a 'management deal in Germany'. We form 'The Works', with Martin Slocombe (guitar), Micky Gavaghan (sax). We rehearse a lot in the basement studio at the Impulse Cafe (Brigstocke Road, St Pauls, where Pete lives with drunken landlord Jim and photographer Robert Posner, in the flat upstairs). We also rehearse a lot in the basement of Ken Pustelnic's (Groundhogs drummer) flat in a rather 'bohemian' part of Stapleton Road, Easton.
I drive out to Germany with Bilbo in my Ford Capri, to meet the 'manager' in Munich and to pick-up Bilbo's drum kit. To my surprise, the Manager is an owner of some of the top music magazines in Germany. He shows us next week's front cover of one of his magazines, and there we are being heavily promoted - The Works - next to Boy George, Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart - I still have the cuttings here to this day. Unbelievable how much hype you can create, if you have the right means at your disposal. The reality was that we had about half a dozen second rate, somewhat tuneless songs recorded on a borrowed Portastudio at my flat in Westbury Park and at Impulse. I have recently revisited these tracks whilst digitising my old audio cassettes, and I'm sorry to report that they have not aged well. It's a shame there were a couple of really good pop tracks, that could have done something...but the rest is just second-rate jazz-funk, and not played very tightly either.
By this time, Pete had revived my interest in high-tech musical instruments - he had purchased one of the first Yamaha DX7 keyboards, and I had purchased a Roland SH09 synth and a Drumatix drum-machine. Remarkable, considering Pete was all-but unemployed, and did a bit of work for Chris Green in the Guitar Workshop on St Michaels Hill in Kingsdown, Bristol. Somehow, money was blagged and DX7 was paid for. The Bilbo thing was not going anywhere, and Pete and I ended up almost coming to blows with him over money. That was the end of The Works.
Late summer 1984 - Pete Windfeld and I then responded to an advert (probably in Venue magazine, or the Bristol Evening Post) saying Nikki & Co is splitting following returning from a European tour, and needs a new band to fulfil a TV program opportunity, known as the Nikki B Showcase. This was to be recorded at the TV Studios on Bath Road, Brislington less than a month after first meeting Nikki and her manager (Noelle Osborne) at the Old Market Tavern (if my memory serves me well). A rapid period of learning and rehearsal follows - much of it in the skittle alley, at the back of the Kings Arms in Blackboy Hill - where a young barmaid called Sue works (she later becomes my wife!) There is a bit of uncertainty about the intended line-up for this show - there is a drummer/singer called Martin Burman, who ends-up staying with the band for quite a while. His mate, bassist Don (?) is also around, but wants to play Level 42-style funk...that doesn't make him happy, and Nikki is uncertain as to whether he is going to commit to it. This is all making me feel a bit insecure, as one minute I'm in, then next minute he's doing the gig. Anyway, he eventually bows-out, and I play bass guitar and bass synth on keyboards for the TV gig. Guitarist Terry Murray also does a bit of rehearsing with us, but never makes it as far as a gig or the TV show - where Paul Collins(1) took over, having recently departed from Shag Connors & The Carrot Crunchers comedy band. Other players in this line up are Pete Windfeld (keyboards), Simon Gosling (guitar and keyboards) and while Martin is singing with Nikki, we have the services of Alan Eden (Soul Searchers, Leo Sayer) on drums.
The TV show also features Steve Tilston and his band as guests, and the production and producer (Kenneth Price)receives a TV-industry award for being the first commercial simulcast link-up between stereo-audio on Radio West FM and pictures on HTV West (this being pre-NICAM and pre-DVB days). It's probably not a good idea to spend too much time watching the rather lengthy and toe-curling interview with Richard Wyatt and Nikki though.
After a couple of gigs and the TV show, Simon Gosling leaves. The band becomes known as the Nikki-B Band, and the line-up stabilises for a while, but eventually Martin Burman departs. We used Alan Eden some more, while the set remained primarily cover versions, but eventually Paul Whittington (Kick City) arrives to take the permanent drum-stool, and we start to write our own material. We did a few recordings for the BBC 'Truckers hour' slot on BBC Radio 2 in the middle of the night, with Stuart Hobday producing, at Christchurch Studios in Clifton. Jez Jackson joins as second keyboard player. Things go from good to better.....the gay-scene seems to idolise Nikki, and in no time at all we have more gigs than we can deal with. Big gigs and summer festivals (including Glastonbury and Monmouth Rock Fair 1985). We are playing big stages and working with quality PA and lights, and we even have our own three(!) stage risers. Back-drops, T-shirts, badges promotional materials, the full works.....and we are repeatedly packing out even the biggest venues around South Wales and the South West. We have all got ridiculous 1980's big hair-cuts and crazy colours and highlights. We spent a fortune on trendy stage-clothes. We record our first coupe of original demo tracks in Cave Studios - samplers, drum machines, Lexicon reverbs - we were the bees knees. We were even starting to make a financial profit.
Listen to some Nikki-B Band tracks by clicking on this link -
Videos from the era show me with Limahl-style 'badger 'and Billy Idol bleached spiky hair do's and big billowy shirts and pointy black and white brogue shoes a-la Spandau Ballet. Gear-wise, I was all Trace Elliott, rack-mounted/flight-cased amps and 8x10" speakers with black Music Man Stingray fretted bass and black Fender Precision 4-strinf fretless bass guitars. My on-stage demeanour was described as being like a man possessed - headless chicken more like - I could not stop running around the stage and jumping off the risers and doing a strange impersonation of Wilko Johnson. Click the YouTube logo, to see some old videos of us.
We part company (sadly not on good terms) with our manager. Local 'music biz mogul' (or so he told us) Dave Massey starts contract negotiations to sign us up take us on properly. We are twats, and manage to piss him off. Nikki starts taking rather too much (from the band's perspective anyway) time doing voice-overs and advertisements, when we should have been rehearsing. I leave. I don't think that they did any more gigs without me, but in no time at all, Nikki and Jez were performing in Viv Stanshall's (ex-Bonzo Dog Doodah Band) musical Stinkfoot on the Thekla Showboat in Bristol docks.
Pete Coggins was also in Stinkfoot. He gets together with Micky Gavaghan, Alan Eden, Nick Symonds and Pete Windfeld, and the Soul Searchers start to take off. I rehearse briefly with a late incarnation of this outfit, with Eddie John playing drums, and a guitarist who's name escapes me completely now, but we never gigged. I think Jez then played with Misdemeanor and Paul Collins with Loose Change?
We did have a reunion for the 'Mind that child' benefit gig in 2003, where I played with Nikki and with Claire Gaynor.
Meanwhile, less than a month after the final Nikki-B Band gig (new years eve 1985 - Cheltenham and Gloucester distric Gay League, at Cheltenham racecourse) I and Paul Whittington start gigging with Julian McNicholas (keyboards), Colin Elswood (vocals) and Vinnie Cannon as 'Dreamscape'. 100% originals, with a very current mid-1980s pop vibe. We managed about half a dozen gigs - Bristol Bridge Inn, Moles, Thekla and a showcase at the Embassy Club in London. This was great stuff - enjoyable and challenging to play, but Vinnie and I fell out, over guitar sound and tuning. It was a 'him or me' situation - he was young and inexperienced, while I was arrogant and impatient, and he didn't seem to think it was important. Against my better judgement I left. A real shame, Colin, Jules and I did a bit more recording and writing, but it was all over. Sadly, I don't have a single photograph of this rather excellent band.
Despite a number of attempts over the years to re-establish contact with Colin, he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.
Some live recordings exist, and I can't find the couple of home studio recordings I subsequently did with Colin and Jules. I do also have about ten tracks in part recorded state, where I took many old Dreamscape originals, created drum-backing, carpet keyboard and bass parts, which Julian did rough keyboard overdubs on. In around 2004, John Peters then added some superb lead vocals (very much like Colin, but with a more mature voice). These tracks have no guitar on, and have never been finished, but the two I have spent some time on sound absolutely amazing. I really should find some sympathetic people to finish this off properly - it was too good to waste. Vinnie, Colin - are you out there?
I also have a few 2005-era, very raw and unfinished Dreamscape tracks featuring Roger Boult on vocals, some of which I have started to spend some time working on.
...are we still on speaking terms? Any takers? Listen to some Dreamscape tracks by clicking on this link
|Then Julian and I joined a South Wales cabaret/function band. Known at different times as Oasis (honest) and Mirage, this line up also featured Ray 'Alice' Ennis on guitar, and Pete Smith on drums and vocals - both of whom had been in various incarnations of Morty's Racing Cars back in the '70s. Previously run by John Peters, the line-up included two (nice to look at, and musically accomplished) girl singers - Lyn Richie and Mitch (?). We then had to use a third singer (Laney?) to complete some gigs in Germany. We did a load of UK gigs, and couple of short tours in Germany - again mainly to military punters. Then John called the guys up and said 'I've got a whole load more work - will you come back to me?'. With John being another (better) singing bass-player, I had to bow-out. Anyway, I had a lucrative IT career that was running concurrently, so couldn't really commit at the level they needed at the time.|
Jules and I (and for a few gigs, Paul Whittington) joined an established pub/pop-covers band called The Influence - all pet Shop Boys and Simple Minds'y sort of stuff. I can only remember that we had a sax player called Gary and I believe a singer called Paul who was the drummer's brother...and that's about it. Sorry guys, Julian and I just couldn't get enthusiastic about playing covers on a Sunday lunch-time in Bristol dockside pubs :-(
Paul Whittington and I also had a short spell of gigs with a bunch of serious dub reggae and soul guys....I think they were called the Black Flamez. This was some serious sh*t....I have a memory of playing the Bierkeller in Bristol with them. The PA was so big, so loud, and so bass-y that I was almost frightened to touch the strings on my bass guitar - every time I even looked at my guitar, I though that the concrete ceiling support pillars would vibrate and crumble. But we were really like fishes out of water.....
Paul Whittington and I teamed up with Tim Fish (guitars) to form Red Sea. We quickly added Paul Merrell (ex Jaguar) on vocals and electric guitar, Gareth Johnson (ex Arena) and Jez Jackson (from the Nikki-B Band and Misdemeanour) on keyboards. This was primarily a big-guitars and keyboards AOR extravaganza. Covers from Cheap Trick, ZZ-Top, Richard Marx, Journey, Brian Adams and Mr Mister were the order of the day. Lots of gigs around the South West and Wales in a short period of time. It was great fun, and we were playing at being stars...but it was all covers. We put a few of PaulM and Gareth's originals into the set, and they were a good fit. Sadly Paul and Gareth wanted to go off and write more, but the view from here was that they quickly re-formed as a covers duo - and gigged their asses off playing pubs, until they had burned themselves out.
<---------Gareth Johnson, Jez Jackson, Tim Fish, Paul Whittington, Paul Bryant, Paul Merrell
Early in 1988, Paul Whittington asked me to join a side-project of his, known as The Dogs. This was an outfit formed around the original line-up of Stretch, featuring Graham 'Kirby' Gregory (guitars and lead vocals - also ex-Curved Air), Steve 'Gonzo' Emery (on keyboards, although he was also one of a few bass players with Stretch) and a sax player called 'Nobby' (?) We did a load of rehearsing, and a few gigs, but there was always a problem - the punters just wanted to hear 'Why did you do it?'. All the newer material that Kirby had written just seemed to be ignored. A shame really as most of it was pretty good songs. I remember one final gig - at a church hall in Southville, Bristol - it was a drug rehabilitation benefit gig, where Elmer Gantry (the original, gruff Stretch singer) turned-up and sang 'the hit' with us. By that time Pete Windfeld was also playing keyboards, and the sax player had left. Not much more to say really....apart from thanks to Kirby, who got me into PC-based MIDI sequencing.
|Meanwhile Jez Jackson and I had formed Quixotic with Harriet Staig-Graham. She was young and pretty, and Jez and I wrote a whole load of new material with her. I think it might even have been her first 'proper' band. It was late 1980's and the dance scene had really gripped Jez and I. The set was a strange mix of original and cover material covering a whole gamut of funky dance and ravey styles. We never did 'like for like' covers though - in a funny sort of way we were quite uniquely ahead of what has happened since - mixing samples and break-beats with re-recorded mash-ups of both our own and other people's material. Unfortunately, the dance and party scene at the time just wasn't that interested in 'live' acts...and we were only partly live anyway, with a lot of DAT-based backing tracks and live-samples and loops et al. We did a lot of gigs at all the usual Bristol venues, including some of the more dance oriented places - Tropic Club, Blue Mountain, Clifton Wine Bar (that was a squeeze, considering we always took my mega bass-binned PA with us wherever we went). We even supported Bap Kennedy's Energy Orchard at the Victoria Rooms.....a bizarre mix of genres! Photos from that era mostly show me and Jez in day-glo tie-dyed clothes wearing sideways baseball caps, huge trainers - and me stomping around with a headless (and almost un-playable) Steinberg stick-type bass guitar. A short spell with Jez's girlfriend Kirsty Williamson on vocals, and it was all over....|
By the early 1990's I had been spending a lot of time holidaying in the USA - and my head was filling-up with modern country-pop - Nashville style. I had long been a fan of more traditional country music (the rougher 'Americana' end of things, as opposed to '....and Western'). I was so excited at the idea of catchy songs, being played by what were essentially well-schooled and disciplined rock musicians. So much of this stuff is just rock music, but embellished and characterised by pedal-steel guitars, mandolins, fiddles and superb vocal harmonies. Fortunately, satellite TV had arrived in the UK by this time and the (Nashville-based) Country Music TV channel was a treasure-trove of new artists, in the style that I had grown to love. Most of my peers though I had lost the plot - they were unable to see beyond the traditional Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson fare that had been so popular amongst MOR audiences in the UK during the late '60s and '70s.
I was able to convince a few mates to form Little America - country rock featuring Paul Swift (guitar and vocals), Geoff Collins (lead guitar), Peter Windfeld (keyboards) and Steve Bennett (drums). We rehearsed out the back of the Titfield Thunderbolt on Dunkerton Hill, near Bath. I did a Soundscape recording of a demo featuring 3 tracks with this line-up, but it was not to last. Listen to a few Little America recordings by clicking on this button
Around that time, my long-time drumming side-kick Paul Whittington had recently married Gaynor Paul, who was at the time singing with top-notch Bristol a'capella girls the Sweet Soul Sisters, who had just returned from gigs in Canada. I had worked a few times with Gaynor - recording and mixing some of her earlier songwriting sessions, but we had never really worked together in a band situation (apart from me mixing the PA for her band at Liquid Assets in Bedminster).
I showed her CMTV - she was hooked. It was absolutely what she wanted to do. Simple songs, multi-part harmonies, and a means by which she could use and improve her acoustic guitar playing. For a while it was just me and Gaynor, then we needed a band. So husband Paul sat-in and played drums, while we learned some new material. He wasn't too sure about this 'softy' country-ish stuff - he wanted to carry on playing 'big' rock and AOR, just like we always had done before. But he started to see the light and we started looking for other musicians, to complete the line-up. At first we gigged as 'The Clintons' but after doing a whole load of publicity material and started gigging under that name, it was decided that we should rename as 'Big River'. Despite my protestations of the blandness of that name, and the fact that there was another UK band laying claim to the name (and John Farham's Little River Band), we compromised and went out as 'Claire Gaynor and Big River' (using Claire's first two real names). Only those people that have never spent time creating an image and publicity material (including all the industry hype that came from my very early Country Music UK web-site) would even think of changing a horse's name, after the race has started. Ah well....
...as Gaynor once said to Jayne - "between you and me and these four Pauls" :-)
Jayne Ballantyne, Paul Swift, Claire Gaynor, Paul Whittington, Paul Merrell, Paul Bryant - Bisley, Summer 2005
It was so difficult, to achieve the sort of sound we were after, we needed to have a big line-up - here are just some of the people we tried...
Martin Hanstead (fiddle) - did a few gigs
Ted Fitzgerald (keyboards) - never gigged
Graham Raffles (guitar) - never gigged
Tim Juckes (guitar) - did some v.early gigs
Simon Gosling (guitar) - never gigged
Pete Thompson (fiddle and mandolin) - never gigged
Paul Shippey (mandolin) - never gigged
Paul Martin (keyboards) - never gigged
Barry Cook (bass guitar and vocals) - one gig at Weston Super Mare sea-front
Peter Windfeld (keyboards) - stood in for Wells, Crown Hotel Christmas gigs while Tim Rylands was ill
Alan Eden (drums) - some Sunday night gigs at Center Parcs, Longleat
...and none of these ever really worked-out. The 'folkies' often found that the straight-jacket of the tightly-defined arrangements went completely against their natural instincts to improvise (aka widdling).
Here are some of the people who stopped a little longer, between 1990 and 2007, when it all started to fizzle out.....
Colin Scott-Mitchell (pedal steel guitar)
Tim Rylands (keyboards and vocals)
Paul Swift (guitar and vocals)
Jayne Ballantyne (fiddle and sax)
Paul Merrell (guitars and vocals)
Jerry Cleaves (CSS PA hire and loyal sound engineer, who also had a thing for 'new country' music)
In 1997, I was getting heavily involved with Soundscape (Sydec BV - now part of Mackie / EAW / Loud group), and their superb range of ground-breaking digital recording hardware and software products. I was a beta-tester, and this fitted well with my previous experience of analogue recording and PC-based computing. I put together a 16-track Soundscape SSHDR1 and Mixtreme set-up, with my Soundcraft Spirit Digital 328 mixing desk. This was pioneering stuff in those days. Many PCs then were still DOS-based, and running real audio on PCs (or Macs, for that matter) wasn't viable, due to performance and capacity constraints. People had got used to MIDI-only set-ups using Atari ST games computers, or if they were lucky (i.e. rich) running sequencers like Voyetra Sequencer+ on early intel 80286 and 80386 PCs.
I recorded the whole of the backing tracks for the Cinderella rebel album in Gaynor & Paul's lounge in Banwell using Soundscape, and then finished the recording and mixed it back home in Kingsweston, Bristol. It doesn't seem to be a great achievement now, with modern computer and audio/visual hardware and software being so powerful and feature rich. But back then, there were hardly any commercially-available CDs that had been created on computers 'in the box'. Listen to some Big River recordings by clicking on this link
For a long time, we were gigging and rehearsing perhaps 3 times a week. It was great - big gigs, and enough of them to keep us match-fit. To this day, me and Paul Whittington play like we are joined at the hip (metaphorically speaking). Even if we don't play together for months on end, a few minutes playing something we know, and we are as tight as the ducks ass again. It's been good playing with him, since he dropped the old Ludwig acoustic (noisy) kit, and moved to the Roland TD5 electronic kit. If only he would stop building sheds during fills in pop songs, I would marry him. (OK - maybe not, he's a bloke)
The only major down-side of playing new-country music, seems to have been the way that Line Dancing was so closely attached to it. Whilst it made the style of music more widely accepted in the UK, it was so often associated with mindless rows of older people 'keeping fit'. At some gigs, it was so soul destroying - people thought we had made a mistake, if our arrangement wasn't 100% as the original version they had bought. People would wince at the (actually very low) volume of the PA...because they were used to practising their moves in the village hall with a ghetto blaster.
On a positive note, we got many gigs because we were a real band - and a big, authentic line-up at that. Sometimes we were a seven-piece - all playing real instruments, and nearly everybody doing backing vocals, or handling lead vocals on a few numbers. It was ironic that would become a freak-show just because we were real people, and not a solo act or duo with backing tapes. I was always proud of that. I remember at one show at a holiday camp Country Festival in Seaton, we were supporting Chas and Dave (honest!) - and the power supply to the PA failed. So we jumped off the stage, stood in the middle of the dance floor, and did the whole set acoustically - that sure surprised some people. (and probably didn't make for good line dancing)
|When Gaynor recorded her first proper album (Devotion) of original songs, she was smart enough to also enlist these guests to contribute...|
On the Devotion CD, I played bass, Paul Swift and Paul Merrell played guitars and Tim Rylands played keyboards and Paul Whittington played drums on all tracks. We all sang a bit of backing vocals too. Paul Whittington engineered and mixed - all of it on a Macintosh, using Cubase VST. Again, this sort of 'all in the box' production was still not common in the year 2,000.
At the Works'nightclub' in Bristol, 2003
Left to right :
Between 2006 and 2008, things quietened down a lot - a slimmed-down version of Big River (just Paul Whittington, myself, Paul Merrell, Gaynor Whittington and sometimes Jayne Ballantyne) continued to perform under the Big River name. We had dropped all the line dance material and cowboy hats, and Jayne's violin was lending things a more acoustic/Americana feel. Paul Merrell was singing lead on more numbers, and the style was much more rootsy Americana, than New Country. We had been starting to record some of PaulMs songs, but the momentum never really got going so it was dropped. Paul Merrell is now performing some of these numbers with Copperhead.
Gear-wise, the entire 'country' period (Little America, Clintons, Big River) has been characterised as MusicMan 5-string bass guitar and Ampeg amplification. Got three stacks now.....4x10 and SVT transistor head for rehearsing, similar for small gigs, and a full rack-mount valve-based SVT2-Pro and flight-cased 8x10 for when I want to look cool and/or be loud. My back however has some tales to tell. The thing that I never regretted was investing in some quality UHF wireless packs for my guitars and head-set microphone. I did similar and went with in-ear monitoring.
In 2007 I chanced upon Robert 'Chad' Brown - a guy with a classic 80's AOR rock voice - sounded just like Steve Perry and Geddy Lee. Rob had spent a few years as Brian Connolly's replacement in The Sweet. I persuaded him to sing Journey's classic 'Don't stop believin' for me to do a 'dance' mix. With my old friend Simon Gosling playing guitar and Paul Swift doing backing vocals. Some might say that it's a hideous sacrilege.....listen for yourself here. ...and no, there are no samples from the original on this at all - it's all Rob's voice (plus a bit of digital helium in a couple of places) and the instrumental and drum parts completely recreated by me from scratch, with Simon Gosling playing guitars and Paul Swift on the backing vocals towards the end.
In early 2008 I met some new players through my friendly flight-case supplier, Keith Judson at Protechnic. (for those that care - at an Asia gig in the Cheese and Grain at Frome)
We started rehearsing some covers - Gennaro Trezza (guitar), Ted Fitzgerald (keyboards, guitar, vocals), Dave Dunster (drums) and Craig Cahan (lead vocals). It was all a bit pub-rock for me, and I wasn't too bothered when people's other commitments meant that even a once a week rehearsal was too much. It was taking too long, and going nowhere...slowly. (and really at this time of life, I didn't want to spend my free time playing Jimi Hendrix, Cream and bad Company classics 'down the pub')
Since then we have formed Kyotie - a much rockier version of Big River. Straddling a fine line between AOR and New Country pop, the line-up is Gennaro Trezza (lead guitar), Jason Grey (rhythm guitar and vocals), Dave Dunster (drums and backing vocals), Claire Gaynor (vocals and acoustic guitar), me on bass guitar and vocals. Not gigged yet, as we are still polishing the turds - and I have recorded around 18 songs, to a standard that we could use as demos. It's all covers for now, and some of it quite beefy stuff (Kim Richey to Foo Fighters, via Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson). I'm hoping that, as soon as we can start gigging this set, we will start to focus on creating some new original material. The process of learning and recording so many relatively complicated arrangements has been a positive and disciplined experience for all of us, but now we need to move on. Gennaro seems to be finding it difficult to balance his home and work life with the degree of rehearsing and recording that we are doing, so it seems that we are going to have to look again elsewhere now for a guitarist - a shame, as we have about an hour and a half of pretty well-presented material almost ready to gig, but hey....now we have replacement Steve Brown (lead and rhythm guitar). He's really an acoustic guitar player, who we're trying to rock it up. Started gigging August 2010 at the Bisley Stirrup Cup music festival, organised by my good friend and neighbour, Mike Waite. About a dozen gigs in 2011, but I need more pace (new numbers, 'performance' rehearsals and recording) to keep my interest.
Listen to some Kyotie recordings here -
...and here is their official web-site
In 2009, an advert on a notice-board in a Stroud gift-shop window, led me to discover a couple of relatively inexperienced, but enthusiastic, local guys, who had started writing some simple acoustic material. They are Graham Wright and Dominic Johnson. Graham sings and writes words (and plays a bit of acoustic guitar), while Dominic plays acoustic guitar. So I've started recording the first of their tracks here in the studio, using my Cubase 5 set-up. My first job is to get them to nail they key, the tempo, and the arrangement of the songs - and to play a rough guide, in time and in tune.
I then wrap a simple drum loop around it, and get them to re-record their parts, with proper instrument and guide vocal separation, and tight enough that future over-dubs and extra instruments can be subsequently added, without messing up the time-base and feel. In other words, we use the guide recording as a base for developing the song organically.
I then add 'carpet' piano, organ and string parts, as necessary to fill-out the sound, and provide a bed for the next layers to go on.
I then turn the drum loop backing into something more like a real drummer would do - with fills, dynamics and some degree of feeling....and then I add a bass part, just to trigger more ideas.
At this point, I present rough-mix versions of the tracks back to Dominic and Graham, and get them to revise any lyrical, arrangement or instrumental tracks that don't sit well any more. We then re-record and add vocal harmonies until they are happy. Recently, we have been using the voice of Caroline (?) to sweeten the backing vocals. She's a German student, living here in Stroud until the summer, so probably not a permanent feature.
Not quite sure where this project will go yet - it's sort of Americana meets English folk....but once drums and keys are added, it takes on a life of it's own. The tracks sound quite good in this unfinished state, and I'm wondering whether we should leave them slightly raw. Finishing these songs off as big production items is probably going to spoil the naivety that they currently exhibit. I'd quite like to gig this stuff locally, but not until be have a bit more than 7 minutes of material :-) Would also quite like a real drummer and keyboards plus some mandolin and fiddle. To me it sounds like Jimmy Webb meets Crowded House meets Paul Carrack meets Enya, Show of Hands and John Bonham! Yikes! Graham's off having babies for a while (well his partner is), so this has ground to crawl for a while...a bit of a pity.
Listen to some Graham Wright & Dominic Johnson recordings here -
May 4th-7th 2010 - After almost 30-years apart. my old school-pal Trevor Dunton (aka Trevor John) has been staying here and has recorded three self-penned songs. Trevor turned up with these tracks well rehearsed live, and ready to roll as acoustic singer-songwriter 'solo' numbers. I have added some VST software-based drums. percussion and double-bass, and Trevor added some hand-played percussion to his extremely competent guitar and vocal parts. For me, these are interestingly 'wacky' tracks - the French-sounding 'Looking for JP Sartre' with it's megaphone-like, almost spoken vocal track and trippy drum loop and echo-ey lead lines - and a really off-the-wall acoustic guitar solo. 'When you lied' is a sort-of Gypsy-folk number - very Eastern European-sounding, but with a vocal style reminiscent of early Sting. The slow country-waltz tinged 'Sweetest revenge' is probably nearer to my own styles, and features some great un-obvious chord changes, and possibly the most sparse middle-eight break-down section I have ever worked on. My poorly-evaluated comparison with James Blunt wasn't well received though :-) Nearly all of Trevor's songs feature very clever and humorous lyrics, and that is well demonstrated on these tracks. Some of this material was quite out of my comfort zone, but somehow it all came together and we had an enjoyable and fruitful few days together. I hope that we will sleep on these versions for a while, and then re-visit these songs for proper mixing and mastering later.
September 2010 - I've just met a couple of local (Nailsworth) guys (through Bandmix.com) - Mark Wilderspin (12-string and vocals) and Pete Griffin (Mandolin and backing vox). Had an initial meet and play with them at my place. Great guys - lots in common musically. Nice soft folksy/country sort of material. No beards or sandals so far, so looking good.
September 2011 - Well, Wilderspin has turned into a real band. Core members seem to be myself (bass and vocals), Mark Wilderspin (vocals and DADGAD 12-string acoustic!!!), Julian McNicholas (keyboards), Charlie Hart (drums, vocals), Tim Fish (pedal steel guitar). Other contributors to date have included David Wykeham-George (guitar and vocals), Pete Griffin (Mandolin), Matt Gryspeerdt (violin). Regular Sunday night rehearsals at Charlie's place in Yate are starting to yield some very encouraging results. So far, we have 13 Wilderspin original songs part-recorded. First gig looks like being November.... What does it sound like? A lot of 70/80's west-coast acts - think Eagles, Bob Seger, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Bruce Hornsby, Jackson Browne, Glenn Campbell, Steve Earle - and some more modern English 'folk' influences - Seth Lakeman, Martin Joseph, Show of Hands....and Dire Straits (!). It's 100% original material, mostly written by Mark - and all the better for it. I'm even getting to play my recently-acquired Aria stand-up electric 'stick' bass.
Have I missed out somebody, or a project? Did I mis-spell a name? Have I misrepresented the truth, as you saw it? Tell me please, and I'll put it right - my contact details are here.
Thanks to all the other 'Pauls' who featured in this story - loads of 'em!