|MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.|
Can you begin by explaining how you started playing guitar?
|Initially, in primary school there was a school band run by an Evo Zeluski, a Polish bloke. Half the guys in the band were Polish and they played Shadows stuff, which really inspired me. I was so taken by guitars, but my main love was the drums! My parents wouldn't buy me a drum kit because they obviously realized what a racket they can make! Harlesden (London), the area I lived in was either Welsh, Irish or Indian, and there was this old Welsh lady who worked in a fish and chip shop who gave me a banjo with no strings. So I went home and cut four lengths of string, strung up the banjo and found a book on 4 string chords and learnt from there. They weren't real strings, so I just learnt the shapes.|
Originally, I incorporated the banjo into a drum kit that I had made, after all it was a round thing with a skin on top of it so I used a couple of sieves and put cardboard (or whatever) on top of 'em. I managed to make a foot pedal and it worked quite well! In fact my parents refused to buy me a drum kit and I saw this lovely looking guitar in a catalogue in my local music shop. It looked great! - a cherry-red Rosetti, one cutaway, no pick-up.
|MSJ: How old were you at this time?|
|Twelve...I was about twelve, around that age. The guitar was completely unplayable, though! (laughs)
It also transpired that after putting these 4 strings on a banjo and learning the chords I thought I'd just buy a guitar and play those chords, but I wasn't aware of the tuning factor which is the main worst obstacle of any instrument player. You realize that you've got to be able to tune the blasted thing! I've taught quite a few people over the years and that is a real stumbling block - it puts so many people off. Although these days you have electronic tuners, as far as I'm concerned, you've got to be able to use your ears initially to learn something. It's all very well using an electronic tuner live but if it goes down and your ears aren't trained you've had it!|
|MSJ: Were you part of the same Beck/Clapton/Page school of playing?|
|I'm slightly younger than that! But I'm not that far off. I Don't think so... I'm presumably inspired by much the same sort of people as they were. They inspired me as well during the old British Blues boom along with John Mayall. Any of those bands, I loved 'em all.|
|MSJ: How about Peter Green?|
| I love Pete Green, he's got a marvelous voice, great harp player.|
|MSJ: Did you know that he's worked with Snowy White (Roger Waters, Pink Floyd session player, ex-Thin Lizzy)?|
|Yeah, I've worked with Snowy White at one point. Only once, briefly.|
|MSJ: Was that on Nic Potter's Blue Zone album (Voiceprint, 1990 - Snowy and Huw both play on it)?|
|No, I didn't even meet him on that one. It was long before that. When first I met Snowy he was roadie-ing for a band that I supported - I think it was Slade, or someone like that. Next time I heard of him he was backing Pink Floyd. We ended up recording at the "Beeb" (BBC, UK radio) together backing an American singer who was over here. He (Snowy) said "You do the solo!". It was a pop song so I don't think Snowy wanted to play on it!|
|MSJ: You once told me that you really like Jeff Beck's playing.|
|He's an amazing musician, he's a very inspired player... I mean that is an incredible musician isn't it? One who inspires.|
|MSJ: How did you get involved with Hawkwind founder Dave Brock?|
|I met Dave when I was working in a music shop just off Oxford Street. He was a busker at the time, a professional busker, and he used to come in all the time with a pouch full of pennies to buy strings and harps and stuff. I was a sales boy.
I got a gig with my first band, a guy called Winston G and I think the band was called The Whip or something like that. I was with them for various months kicking about army bases and clubs, and when that folded I returned to London, straight to Denmark Street (ed.-a street famous in the UK for having many music stores) and to a cafe called Giaconda where a lot of musicians hung out. That's where I got the gig for my first band. I was walking down Tottenham Court around the underpass going to the tube and- low and behold- there was Dave Brock. He'd just finished busking a number so I went up and approached him. He said that he was forming a band and did I know of a guitarist that might be available. I said "As it happens, I just got back from Europe where my band folded up so I'm available". So I was invited down for a jam which worked out and that's how my association started off with Hawkwind. |
Funny how things work out!
|MSJ: On the first Hawkwind album some of your playing sounds reminiscent of the Yardbirds, but with Space Rock backing. Did the term "Space Rock" actually exist back then or was it a retrospective label?|
| No, not really. Various people have claimed that they were the inventors of Space Rock. As far as I'm concerned, Hawkwind was. I don't think the term Space Rock was actually used until later on.|
|MSJ: How did you approach the recording of this new style of music - obviously you knew you were onto something new and different?|
|We just played. Half the time on the first album, we were all out of it like flippin' turnips!|
|MSJ: I am now going to mention a song or guitar part from some of your work with Hawkwind. I'd like you to make some comments.|
|MSJ: The solo to Motorway City (Levitation, 1980). Had you already developed it by Live 79 or was it put together while in the studio?|
|It just happened (in the studio). I'm not one of these people... As I suggested: I'm Welsh, I'm lazier than most, so things just sort of come out. I don't sit down and work things out. They either happen or they don't. Simple as that!|
|MSJ: That is a real standout, a favorite amongst fans.|
|I quite like that solo. It's the beauty of things happening where you can just sit back later and listen to it and think "Oh, it's not bad, that".|
|MSJ: Solitary Mindgames (Choose Your Masques, 1982), the theme performed with harmonics.|
|Literally, honestly things just happen. It's just complete inspiration from…from the air. Comes out of the air and into my fingers. Certain people do sit and work songs out by the bar and all the rest of it, but I'm far too lazy to do that.|
|MSJ: That theme does demonstrate an advanced understanding of the harmonic structure of the guitar, though.|
|It's just a fingerpicking pattern which Dave Brock actually inspired. Prior to joining the Hawkwind situation, I didn't fingerpick at all. Dave had this particular pattern that I picked up off him, so to a certain extent, Dave inspired that. It's like a four-finger thing. I tended to mess around with classical things but that was the first thing I ever really got into... Hands up to Dave! It's just harmonics with a few stray notes and a G-diminished thing on the lower strings.|
|MSJ: The acoustic section in World Of Tiers (Levitation, 1980)|
|World Of Tiers...
That was Harvey's (Bainbridge, bassist, vocalist and synth player) inspiration, that one. Unfortunately, it reminds me of something Fleetwood Mac have done. "Oh Well", you know? Both tracks are very similar. The acoustic section though, acoustic sections either happen or they don't. I don't sit and think about it, you know?
|MSJ: Space Chase (Levitation, 1980) sounds more like a prog-rock band a la Rush than Hawkwind. Could you tell me a bit about it?|
|That's another thing that literally just happened. I didn't work it out...As a matter of fact, even today when we play it it's almost like you've got to teach yourself to play it every time. I've got to go over it a few times and then it just happens. It's one of those things and I take no credit for half of these things because they just happen. The only credit I take is for the fact that my fingers work well enough to actually play the things.|
Quite often I get ideas and I think "I'll leave it for a day and if I can remember it tomorrow then it's worth keeping". If I can't remember it then there you go... Rather than get the old tape machines out I think if it's worth keeping I'll remember it.
|MSJ: Okay, Hawkwind fans are going to want to know about the new Hawkwind album: you've written two tracks for it yourself, how is it coming along?|
|The band are enthusiastic about the tracks I've put down but the lyrics have to be sorted out, revised and whatever else. It's at the stage where everybody's putting their ideas down and eventually we'll all have a tape of everyone's ideas and then we'll decide. It's literally the formation of it, but I've got my ideas down there (in Dave's studio in Devon, south of England) and Simon (House, Hawkwind's violin and synth player) was down there, also. Allan (Davey, bass and vocals) lives down the road from Dave so no doubt he's been down there. Richard Chadwick, the drummer - I'm sure he's got ideas, so it's literally a case of getting the ideas that everybody likes onto a cassette or CD and then everybody can work on the lyrical side of things.|
If they like my two ideas then, God willing, between all of us it's got to be hopeful because Dave's always got good ideas....Everybody's got good ideas. Allan's a strong writer, a strong player. His band Bedouin are really good. Most of us have our own solo things going as well, so the material should be strong.
|MSJ: On The Move (Angel Air, 1996) as an album was a change in sound and direction for you as a solo artist. How was it received?|
|It got good reviews. Record Collector gave it a good review, which was nice. Actually, that band was very enjoyable to work with. Calle Mansson (rhythm guitar, vocals) Mats Stahl (bass) and Lars Schill (drums) - they were all Swedish guys.|
|MSJ: There are a few blues tracks on the CD. Is this a call back to what you used to listen to when you were starting out?|
| After the Shadows I was completely inspired by blues music. The youth club I used to go to had a cellar and a particularly good blues band used to play there and that completely inspired me. The drummer from that band played me these jazz and blues albums and that really got me started. In England at that point there wasn't much to listen to in the regions of jazz and blues - it was all this pop music.|
My best friend's dad was a real country and western freak so he found a country and western program on the radio and I heard country style guitar. That sort of vaguely inspired me, but this blues stuff was what really got me!
|MSJ: Are there still plans to come to Australia 2002/2003?|
|I know there are. You'd probably be better off asking Marion. I know they've been talking to various people but it's got to be well orchestrated to get a band over there and it's not cheap. America's bad enough and that's closer, though I have been particularly lucky. During the periods I spent in America we had a particularly good record company behind us and it was all highly financed and well looked after. I would've hated to be there under circumstances most bands are: travelling in Greyhound buses and vans. I would've hated that! |
When I went over with Widowmaker (in the mid-1970's) we had Jet records behind us, supported by EMI, I think. Jet had ELO at the time, at the height of their popularity. We had limos and the like. In the eight months I spent in the US with the band I think we had no more than two drives no longer than 200 miles and the rest of the time it was on planes. Totally spoilt, that band... And then they blew it!
|MSJ: Did your time with any of your bands smell anything like Spinal Tap?|
|I'll tell you, Spinal Tap could've been written around Widowmaker. Hence, upon seeing the film I didn't find it funny: it was all too close to the bone, too real! I think most musicians have been in a situation similar to that. It was Widowmaker on the road, or a cross between Widowmaker and Hawkwind... ...Or my band! It was a great film, though.|