INFLUENCES

Naturally most of the influences throughout my life have been musical but the various other arts, and sport have always been important, and to some extent any principled individuals in other areas.

My Dad will always be the biggest influence obviously as he was a source of all knowledge and wisdom, and passed on so much about the subjects that fascinated him, which were many. His musicianship was astounding considering that he never played professionally, but he loved the piano, his main instrument, and also played saxophone and clarinet. And appreciated many styles (except for the growing 60s pop scene that his generation found irritating!). His ability to memorise pieces such as “Finlandia” was inspiring to me as the Sibelius tone poem is one of the most difficult I have seen, and I certainly couldn’t tackle it even now .

In short it was just watching him play and the seriousness that he took his music that I’ll never forget.

The BEATLES were quite simply an influence on everybody and everything and changed the culture for ever and I remember clearly them exploding on the scene and the first TV appearances, the beginning of a career which lasted six years but led the world in a new direction. Of course it began with the way they created the music, the unique art of songwriting and playing , and adding colour to the songs with guitar sounds, harmonies and “the beat”; everything about them was new and different as my world at the age of seven turned from monochrome to colour.

As I became someone who bought records on a regular basis, my trends were towards both singer-songwriter artists – moving towards soft and hard rock, and folk, then later jazz, Latin and country – but as a pianist myself, I took notice mainly of the remarkable artists who were modernising ways of performing with the piano, organ or synth keyboard: (roughly chronologically) GILBERT O’SULLIVAN, ELTON JOHN, RICK WAKEMAN, BOBBY CRUSH, BILLY JOEL, KEITH EMERSON, DUDLEY MOORE, RICHARD CLAYDERMAN, STEVIE WONDER, FLOYD CRAMER, JON LORD, TONY BANKS, JOE SAMPLE, DAVE GRUSIN; Composers/songwriters: CLAUDE DEBUSSY, JIMMY WEBB, RANDY NEWMAN, LEON RUSSELL, ANTONIO JOBIM, SERGEI RACHMANINOV, BRIAN WILSON, MIKE OLDFIELD, DUKE ELLINGTON, GEORGE GERSHWIN;

In literature there are many , mainly poets and playwrights such as JOHN BETJEMAN, ALAN BENNETT, SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, and what great roles figures like TERRY-THOMAS the comedy actor, and radio pioneer KENNY EVERETT played in my memories of growing up. Currently the best example of an influence which links the past to the present for me in the field of musical appreciation is BOB HARRIS , DJ and presenter, who radiates the same enthusiasm for classic rock music as I hope I do, and thankfully there are several more like him.

There are many others, and in my two favourite sports, football and tennis, I rate highly many outstanding personalities, some of whom I have actually seen play – and like everybody else I have the icons and heroes from TV and film, but great as they are it’s music that dominates and the technical brilliance of my favourite artists is what I base everything on.

Roger

CRUISING THE CARIBBEAN
cruise-ship

It sounds like the perfect job for anybody and in many ways it is ; a good opportunity to get away to some beautiful places and have fun, earning decent wages in retail, hairdressing, casino, restaurant and bar work, possibly generous tips if you do your job well.

In my case, joining a showband on board ship was an incredibly attractive idea the more I thought about it, with a nagging thought that I might not be quite up to standard. However I wanted the experience and was willing to try.

I forget exactly how I got the job but it was probably through the usual music paper ads. I didn’t audition but there was a lot of procedure to go through.

For the first time I had to buy a tuxedo and went through all the forms for immigration and visa for America. Three other young guys and myself met at the airport and flew out on Virgin to Montego Bay, Jamaica where we joined the Regent Star. I didn’t feel over confident with my sight-reading and the show material was daunting. The other guys had studied at Leeds music college and had honed their chops as they say! This was my introduction to jazz as it should be played, and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I hadn’t had the grounding for it at that point.

The hardest number was Billy Joel’s “Root Beer Rag” which the production show used but I mastered it eventually.

It was a fun band and despite the high musical standard required things were relaxed on board and you just had to observe certain rules and regulations – dress codes for dinner of course – but musicians in the main showband were highly regarded and included in every party which went on, either in the Captain’s mess or crew mess, and that was most nights after the shows. The formal night was the hardest work, and that began with Captains Cocktail Party in the afternoon followed immediately by two sittings of the meal and production show and a dance set to round off. I had fun on stage with a number called “Midnight in Moscow” and also “Theme from Minder”.

Musicians do drink a bit of course and the six of us got on well with some great humour.

The bars were open on all decks throughout the day and evening and it wasn’t difficult to sign off for rounds of drinks and then must pay a huge bar bill that week, so caution was needed. Days out in port in places like Montego Bay, Ocha Rios (Jamaica), Cartegena (Colombia) and Aruba were paradise.

The second of the two Caribbean cruises on the Cunard Princess was a little bit different. A different style of music and this time a four-piece pop covers band with a girl singer. Our venue was the disco lounge and a half indoor/outdoor room. We docked regularly at the Mexican Riviera ports (Mazatlan, Puerta Vallarta, Cabo san Lucas, Cozumel and Acapulco), Curacao, Grand Cayman as the boat sailed through the Panama Canal from east to west and back, at one end Fort Lauderdale, Florida and at the other San Pedro, California.

Compared to the cruise ships of now (this was 1988) the Princess was about a tenth of the size, but still accommodated 950 passengers.

So three months on each boat enjoying the sunshine and once again after this brilliant experience I was ready to move on to another musical project, which turned out to be a few seasons playing Holiday Centres (for another blog!)

STEVIE AND TOM IN HYDE PARK
mottthehoople

I don’t go to many big concerts these days due to time restrictions and my own work schedule. But rock stars, like all musicians, and indeed all of us are getting older while trying to maintain our creative projects and occasionally a big event comes up which has the feeling that it could be the last chance.

I never saw Mott The Hoople live in the seventies but always loved them and thought they were a great example of a band of their times, particularly frontman Ian Hunter and the autobiographical songs he writes. I knew they had been an incredible live act then, so in 2009 a week long series of concerts at Hammersmith Apollo (previously Odeon) was announced six months ahead and I acted on impulse and I ordered my ticket quickly. This was a reunion of the original line-up and a very sad aspect of this was that Buffin, the drummer/founder member, was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and took just a small part in the gigs.

It was a great show and the sound was brilliant, everything was put together well and I was happy.

I went to see Ian Hunter play at the Barbican later in the year as well, but sadly in 2016 Buffin passed away, and bassist Overend Watts a year later. So the feeling of it being a one off event was obviously very real.

Similarly, with the great Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers who weren’t really one of my favourites in the 70s but there were so many excellent bands at the time, and over the years I realised that if a band stayed more or less a stable line-up and worked solidly they would be dead tight and make great records. Petty and co actually only emerged in the UK around the 1977, the punk era and were popular here before breaking in their native US, but that still made them veterans of 40 years recording and touring. Consistent members were keyboard player Benmont Tench, and Mike Campbell on guitar with Ron Blair (bass) in and out but currently back in the group, so it was four original members augmented by the superb Steve Ferrone on drums.

Petty’s reputation in any case is assured as one of the most respected figures in US rock music.

Stevie Nicks is one of the ultimate goddesses of that same period of US music, as solo and of course with Fleetwood Mac, so it was the perfect package for the Hyde Park concert. It was her name that caught my attention anyway when advertised and I didn’t hesitate. Stevie and Tom duetted several times on recordings and worked closely over the years.

So July 9th 2017 in the London heat – I walked through Kensington Gardens, hundreds of people enjoying walks, running, ball games in the sunshine and entered the main arena just by speakers corner, and after finding a vantage point waited and watched the other acts on the bill (The James Hunter Six, The Shelters and The Lumineers), my neck and face slowly getting sunburned!

Stevie Nicks looks and sounds amazing, as good as she ever did, and songs like “Gypsy”, “Rhiannon”, “Edge of Seventeen” and “Landslide” were faultless, as were the band led by the legendary Waddy Wachtel on guitar. In an hour she performed all the songs I would have expected and I also praise backing singers Sharon Celani and Marilyn Martin for making a great sound even better.

The Heartbreakers set was incredible. Petty looked energetic and healthy, told stories and in ninety minutes did everything we expected; my favourites, “Refugee”, “American Girl”, “Running down a dream”, Freefallin” etc. and a beautiful duet with Stevie Nicks “Stop dragging my heart around”. Campbell, Tench, multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston and the harmonies of the Webb Sisters rounded it perfectly. Sad to think it was possibly the swansong for this classic American band.

So, this was one I’ll never forget, and the memory will always be special. Three months later in October the world lost Tom Petty, one of the very best, suddenly and shockingly. As with Mott the Hoople, sometimes these moments turn out to be the only chance we get.

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME
  • Leisure
Portsmouth_FC

The Beautiful Game they call it, and it can be at times, especially watching the Galacticos. The problem is that at its most beautiful it is the artistry of well-documented overpaid, petulant professionals who dazzle us with their skills. But in 1970 when my friends and I started going to matches it really was at grass-roots level or seemed that way from the hard concrete of Aldershot’s Recreation Ground and behind the white perimeter bar at Hampshire Leagues finest, Alton Town 200 yards from my house.

Even at The Dell, then the home of first division Southampton, where we watched Chelsea, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Spurs it was the feel and atmosphere of what would be League 1 or 2 now. That’s how I think of it in terms of standard of play and the “stadium” experience, as most of these grounds had incomplete or no stands on some sides, certainly not ones that matched.

Attendances nevertheless averaged about 30,000

Now we have the Premier league with all the extravagance that goes with it, and greed, and plenty of bad behaviour. For better or worse most of us are priced out of it so in my case I’ve been watching at the lower half of the pyramid for the last nine years and supporting the Gas – that’s the blue and white quartered Rovers of Bristol; this is partly due to a family connection locally but also my son is a season-ticket holder and loves the club so the Memorial Stadium has been a chance to meet up regularly for a matchday experience with his mates and I drive an hour from Wiltshire. Not only home games but some away games, which can be a great day out

This is not the case of a boyhood affiliation. For years I was a Portsmouth (Pompey) fan and watched them in the mid-seventies. Before that and when the world of pro-footie initially pulled me in as a teenager I nailed my colours to Don Revi’s tough-tackling dream team Leeds United featuring the likes of Bremner, Clarke, Charlton, Gray, Giles and Cooper immediately after seeing them lose to Chelsea in the FA Cup final in 1970 and they became my team. My friends also had their heroes and supported Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and (surprise) Manchester United; I chose well as Leeds went on to a fair amount of success. England were about to play in the Mexico World Cup and we were the holders, it was an exciting time, we were football mad!

In the years since, the changes have been dramatic and there is a huge divide now between cash-rich and poor. In league one and lower down the ladder the match experience is obviously basic and more imperfect with uncomfortable conditions, you freeze, get wet and jostle for position, never getting a brilliant view of the pitch for all kinds of different reasons, but somehow it is an honest way of watching your favourite sport. I also enjoy the big venues like the Madejski stadium, reading but it’s different and you compromise a bit for your comfort.

However, we watch though, whether at the top or at the bottom of the “soccer” pyramid, it’s still the beautiful game

My Time in Greenland
Greenland

A few months after I joined a band in Denmark in 1985 I teamed up with Bjarne, a drummer who had spent the previous year in a trio playing a restaurant in Greenland. Bjarne was offered the same contract again and managed to persuade me, the result being that I waded into the unknown and found myself up in the frozen north in a place called Manitsok, witnessing the Northern Lights, midnight sun, and many much stranger things.

Greenland is the world’s largest island and populated only around the coastal towns, the rest is all ice. The Danish connection is very strong as it is one of their colonies, and the different cultures make an odd mix. Obviously, the Inuit (eskimos) are the 88% while Danes are 12% of the population.

Musically it’s a strange one and of course in a professional band you need to play what the people want. I learned Polkas and old folk songs but mainly it was the young culture of UK pop (80s of course), Euro-pop and old rock standards. I liked a lot of the current Danish bands too, they weren’t bad at all, but I avoided singing lyrics unless they were in English!

Between 1985 and 87 I spent about 16 months in total in three spells, moving on to Jakobshavn (Illullisaat) to be resident at a small but popular hotel for locals and business travellers, which had great views of glaciers outside the window. I played a genuine Hammond organ with Leslie rotary speaker cabinet for the first time and had great fun with that. I didn’t have a piano – as it was the eighties I’d sold my Fender Rhodes and used synthesizers for all the other sounds. Looking back what we did may not have been of a brilliant standard, but we certainly worked hard on material and building a repertoire which I’ve relied on a great deal.

In all honesty there was much else to do, especially in the cold months of darkness when you could enjoy about 2 hours of semi-daylight. The opposite in the summer though, which was when I first arrived. You could have a few beers after work, sitting on the rocks and stay up all night and watch while the sun hardly set at all more than about 2 feet!

Memories are mostly good as I was young and I knew it was a unique thing for a muso from the UK to be doing, but Greenland had its share of social issues at that time and probably still have – the highest suicide rate in the world, and alcoholism, plus other problems. Basically for me it was a huge learning curve with some bizarre stories, and I was making new inroads and doing the thing I love – making music.

And I’m probably one of the few Brits to have plied their trade above the Arctic Circle!

I Joined The Circus.. As a Circus Boy
  • Circus
gerry cotter circus

One year I won’t forget in my varied music career is the one I spent as a circus musician.

I used to get a lot of jobs through the Melody Maker musicians classified, as did many others, and I’m not certain whether this one was MM or “The Stage” as I used to check both. I would mainly focus on ads which required a reading keyboard player, not necessarily the same type of band each time. It could be a showband for a cruise which would be difficult stuff to sight-read or more likely a holiday camp summer season, I wasn’t fussy, any chance to go and play somewhere different.

Soon I had auditioned and got the job with Gerry Cottles Circus in the show about to tour the north of England with a small space in a bunk wagon as my accommodation, and rehearsing the new show which included all the kind of acts I expected: trapeze, clowns, exotic animals etc. We had to play the music as a series of stop-starts with effects such as a cymbal crash for every bounce on the safety net or a clown falling over in the ring or being hit, and in a circus show music is very important so the timing had to be spot on. A number might end at any time with a bow and chord, followed immediately by the count in to the next one.

Our MD was very good and the band – just 4 of us – gelled very well and got on socially, as you always have to try and do – happy hour at the nearest pub in whatever town, and a kebab or curry afterwards!

As I remember, our itinerary was as follows: Chesham, Northampton, Chester, Blackburn, Liverpool, Preston, Lancaster, Barrow, Penrith, Whitehaven, Workington, Dumfries, Glasgow, Paisley, Gosforth, Gateshead, Tynemouth, Whitby, Bridlington, Sunderland, Stockton, Darlington, Rotherham, Leeds, Lincoln, Nottingham, Swindon, Bristol, Wembley – a week in each, two or three in the larger cities, and 2 shows a day. It was a great atmosphere and all the show people treated us well, even if there may have been resentment that the band were on better wage and avoided helping put up the tent.

The crowning event was the Christmas show at Wembley Conference Centre backing some international circus performers (such as Hugo Zamarotti, a contortionist – “The Man in the Bottle”), and we were then invited to appear on the Motormouth 1989 Christmas special live on Saturday morning with Sonia, Fuzz box, Big Fun and others, we rehearsed and performed in a fake Big Top erected at the Maidstone studios and played all the music for the programme
There are many stories and good memories, but a year is long enough, and I moved on again, but 1989 was a different experience musically and I met some amazing characters.

I know many musicians who I have done similar engagements to, but no-one that has actually run away to join the circus – this boy did!