ZigZag magazine interview 1975
This interview from ZigZag magazine, number 51 (Volume 6, number 1), April 1975, was transcribed by Paal Jensen and Geir Hasnes. Portions of it appeared in the liner notes of Giant Steps... The First Five Years.
- Written by Paul Weir
Until recently, Gentle Giant were one of the only, perhaps the only band deserving of the title 'Britain's biggest unknown band'. It's quite a treat when you go to see what to you is a new band, for the first time, and find a thoroughly professional outfit with four years on the road and five albums behind them, playing to a crowd that's consistently in the two thousand bracket.
When I was at college, a friend on the same course used to say "I've got a friend who knows a group called Gentle Giant and she says they're terribly good, have you heard of them?" and I could cheerfully say "No." Two years later (January '74) I'm sitting in the bar of the Marquee with folk's fuzziest double bass player, Brillo, comparing superlatives on Capability Brown (they'll make it yet I tell you), and he starts raving about this here Gentle Giant. His conviction is compelling and a mental note is made to go and see them. Meanwhile back at the chateau, by sheer cosmic design, my own dear brother has bought Gentle Giant's In A Glass House album on the recommendation of friends. Yours truly is impressed and is soon heading up to Birmingham to see them.
A more upfront arranged music band you'd be hard put to find and I was bowled over, and amazed that the media have been resolutely ignoring the band since its inception. That was March '74 and subsequently the media have started picking up on Gentle Giant. I've seen them a few more times and acquired all six albums. By the end of '74 the writer finds himself being invited to write a History on Gentle Giant for this august journal and despite an antipathy for vast sums of money he agrees. I suppose he must like the band....
This is the story of how two ordinary, typical average young kids called Ray and Derek (who lived at the seaside) learnt to play their scales, went through all the traumas of turning semi-pro, experienced the even greater traumas of being manipulated, and survived to form the band of their dreams. It is also the story of how drummer John Weathers got ripped off in Wales and invariably ripped every night, whilst in Germany, young and tender Kerry Minnear was starving in a hovel and writing letters to his mum for the fare home. It's also a little bit of a story about Gary Green but he didn't get conned like the others... He just played the blues and lived a life of serenity and contentment with mum and dad.
Episode One: Local Boys Make Good
- The liner notes from Giant Steps... The First Five Years begin here.
Ray and Derek Shulman tend to talk quite a lot when they get going and often at the same time, and I was even tempted to write all their speech down as one person called Derekanray Shulman but unfortunately quotes like "Ray was still at school" could introduce elements of schizophrenia. Our two heroes finally spilled the beans on Giant's pre-history after years of trying to forget they were ever called Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. Amongst other things it gives an interesting insight into the machinations of the pop business of the sixties.
- ZZ = ZIGZAG magazine
- DS = Derek Schulman
- RS = Ray Schulman
ZZ: Where does the saga begin?
RS: Derek and our other brother Phil were born in Glasgow... in the Gorbals. They moved down when Derek was a very small little boy to Portsmouth, 'cos it's much nicer there and it's by the sea and the Gorbals was 'orrible. Daddy got posted there in the war.
ZZ: And what was daddy's occupation?
RS: Musician... he was a jazz trumpeter. I was born in Portsmouth... we were raised in a terraces house in Eastney Road, Southsea. Working class-father out every night doing gigs and working during the day as a sales rep. He gave music lessons as well so the house was always full of musicians and middle-aged drop-outs.
ZZ: Were you influenced by your environment?
RS: I must have been really-house full of musicians and instruments... I started learning trumpet when I was five just because it was there and then took up violin when I was seven. We were made to practice for an hour a day at least, when we really wanted to go out and play. I suppose it was a good thing we were really , and eventually I wanted to do it anyway... I wasn't formally taught at all. I liked music and singing and dad bought me an electric guitar when I was ten... The first group we had was me strumming the violin, Derek on his Vox Shadow Guitar... L320... the radiogram.
DS: Fourth year school friends, a cakestand as a cymbal and pots as drums.... I was sixteen and Ray was thirteen... We went through all the traumas - somebody's got to leave the band - the drummer's not good enough - a school friend - how can I tell him he's out of the band? - all in our front room!... Our first semi-pro band was called The Howling Wolves.
ZZ: What kind of music?
RS: R & B of course. The Stones were IT then. We did about a gig a mount then we started getting gigs at school and things. We just had a couple of amplifiers - no PA. We thought we'd be venturesome and get a manager so we asked our brother Phil... And a van as well - a manager and a van. The first priority was a van but we couldn't afford the L25 so we asked our brother Phil to be our manager. He was at teacher training college at the time and he got us a gig there for L18 which at the time we could not believe... After that we thought he was a great manager and he also bought the van. The band developed into 'The Road Runners' and got more gigs and we decided we needed an organist... and soon we had an amplifier each and Ray Feast had a Fender Strat. That was it - a FENDER GUITAR! . . . I couldn't believe it. We decided that to get an authentic R & B sound we needed a horn in the band so we said to Phil, "Can you blow a sax and play it)" and he said OK and bought a sax... It was an Adolph Sax silver saxophone wasn't it...
DS: He learnt to play it and started doing some numbers with us. We were doing Johnny Rivers and Howlin' Wolf stuff and decided that now that Phil was in the band he couldn't really manage us but we'd heard about a guy that was managing another band in Portsmouth and getting them gigs in Southampton! We figured that he must be good so we asked him to manage us and he said, "Okay, but you've got to change your name to Simon Dupree and The Big Sound".So we said OK, although it sounded a bit duff. He wasn't very good so our brother-in-law, John King, who was a producer at the BBC started managing us. We were getting about five or six gigs a month at twenty or twentyfive quid which wasn't proving very satisfactory. We were still at school but we were really quite big round the south and Portsmouth. John took us down to Bristol to do a demo and said it was to get a recording contract and we thought, "F**k, a recording contract!" We did a number (in mono, I think) called 'I see the light' which we had in the act - It was a number by the Five Americans and we rearranged it for our show. John took the tape to EMI and they asked us to come up and do an audition so we played like an hour's set in front of these three producers. It was ridiculous, really embarrassing. Anyway the outcome was they signed us for five years. In those days a record contract really meant something.
ZZ: Did you get an advance?
DS: There were no such things in those days - to get a record contract was unbelievable. We went to Arthur Howe agency and said we'd got a recording contract with EMI and they took us on. There was this bullshit story in the papers saying we'd signed for a quarter of a million pounds or something. They got us a package tour with the Beach Boys and Helen Shapiro.
RS: That was amazing. The first gig we did on that kind of circuit was the ABC Blackpool and we'd been used to playing clubs with 400 people and suddenly we were thrust into this seemingly enormous place with 2,000 people. We recorded 'I see the light' as a single and it made 45 in the charts. Radio Caroline and Radio London played us a lot.
DS: I'd just finished school and we started playing all around the country - Five or six nights a week. Ray was still at school, and Phil was teaching. Eric, my schoolfriend on keyboards had also just left school and we realised that we were earning thirty quid a week each from gigs alone so we turned pro in 1966-67. And then for two years we did the clubs and ballroom circuits and built up a name for ourselves. We put out 'Resevations' which got to number thirty and 'Daytime nightime' which didn't do quite so well...
RS: We were getting something like L300 a night which was good money in days and we got around in one van, one roadie and very little gear.
DS: We asked John to find us a hit single because writing our own material was almost unheard of then and he went to Ribbins Music and got a song called 'Kites' which we said was utter sh*t. We said "No thanks, we're not gonna record it - we're a rock band. Forget it." He said, "Play it for me," and we just f**ked it up deliberately and he walked out in disgust and said "You've got to record it or else I'm not your manager," so we said OK we'd record it. We recorded it under duress in 2,5 hours, did Top of the Pops and went off to tour Sweden. We came back and a secretary from the office and said that it was straight in the charts at number twenty-one. We couldn't believe that it had made it (a ballad) instead of the others. It got to about number five, we did some more package tours, not though any choice of our own we started getting very pop orientated.
RS: Unfortunately we listened to other peoples opinions and we weren't strongwilled enough at the time to control our own future. We had a glamour image with frilly shirts and suits. The irony of it was that we were doing what we wanted on our own circuit before the hit single and the gig money didn't go up that much after that anyway. We were getting maybe fifty or a hundred more but that's all. We were a sweaty rock band really and suddenly we had this stupid ballad type image.
DS: We started doing cabaret and that was the final crunch. We did a couple of weeks and then said, "Right, that's it, lets break the band up". Stockton Fiesta clinched it and at the next gig at Bath we told the band "We're breaking up tonight" -which was a fair shock.
RS: We just announced it to the band it was the last gig and they said "What are you talking about, we're doing well" and we said we couldn't do it any more. It was utter crap and we had no respect for each other musically - that was the thing.
ZZ: Couldn't you have just left the band?
RS: Not really because we were into it to deeply and Derek was known by then as 'Simon Dupree'!
ZZ: Did you do interviews as Simon Dupree?
RS: Yeah sure, I used to get asked, "What is it like having a famous brother?" and thing like that.
DS: I felt so false doing it, I was so embarrassed. I was told to say things by publicists who I thought know better than me. Eventually I started blowing things out and saying the wrong things 'cos I was so fed up.
RS: We used to have these publicity stunts where like a snake was would be delivered to a theatre where we were playing as a present from some 'Eastern fan' and IT WENT MISSING!
DS: Those sort of things got into the national newspapers and it was so embarrassing. It was even embarrassing at the time. The last year was so frustrating but we had to do it because we were feathering our nest for what turned out to be Gentle Giant. We broke up the band at the end of 1969 and we had enough money to rest for a year and find a new band.
Episode Two: Enter The Giant
ZZ: When did you decide to form Giant? Did you know what form it would take?
RS: Well, we knew we couldn't continue with the musicians we'd had before. We weren't interested in the other musicians in the band - they couldn't contribute anything. We had to teach them what to do. It got rather heavy when we could play drums better than the drummer, and even on record we were doing more and more of it with overdubs. It got stupid having a band like The first thing was to get some musicians of a higher standard. It was a great bit of luck finding Kerry [Minnear] and he was the first person we contacted. He'd just come out of Royal College of Music and then gone straight of to Germany with a band called Rust'. He had a very bad time - he was conned. There was no money, no food and no gigs, and he had to stay there for four months, just to try to save enough to get back. He got his parents to repatriate him. We found him a while after he got back, living in a bedsit in Clapham. We invited him down to Portsmouth for a blow and he brought down this guitarist he knew. We spent a week playing each others compositions and we decided that kerry was just the person we were looking for but the guitarist didn't fir in. We were a bit nervous telling Kerry we didn't want the guitarist but it turned out all right because he was planning to ask us the same thing.
DS: We auditioned guitarist for about four months through ads in the Melody Maker, saying "Wanted-guitarist for band with recording contract, prospects etc".
ZZ: Did you have a recording contract then?
DS: No, but we'd had offers. Anyway we looked around for a guitarist and found Gary [Green] eventually. He was about the forty-fifth guitarist we'd auditioned and about the only one who asked to tune up before playing which encouraged us for a start. We asked him what sort of thing he liked and he said Freddy King, B B King and Soft Machine and we said, "Oh well, can you play this?" and he played it straight away. He wasn't particularly into what we were doing but he wanted to get out of the blues thing and do something experimental. We didn't have any aims ourselves really - we just had a few compositions which we'd written that year. By then we had the whole six-piece band so we went into rehearsal for about six months and then started recording the first album with Tony Visconti. We had a management deal with Gerry Bron and recording with Vertigo. It was 1970 and King Crimson were happening. Yes were just coming up and we were into the same sort of thing. The album didn't do very great shakes but it got our name known. We recorded our next album, Acquiring The Taste, without any idea of what it would be like before we got into the studio. It was a very experimental album and we still didn't have an ultimate direction. It turned out surprisingly well but it was definitely our weirdest. Tony was taking a backseat by then - he was well into it but we'd taken over most of the production. Phil and Martin the drummer weren't getting on too well so Martin left and we got Malcolm Mortimore in on drums. We left Gerry Bron because he wasn't into what we were doing and we agreed to split amicably.
RS: We released the Three Friends album and when we toured Europe with Jethro Tull we established ourselves in our own right. We did very well in Italy, Germany and Switzerland and we followed that up immediately with our own tours in those places. Then we were due to tour Britain with the Groundhogs and Malcolm had a motorcycle accident so we got John Weathers in a week's notice. We knew he was a good drummer 'cos we'd met him before but didn't know what he was into. We took him anyway and he changed the band quite a lot, 'cos he was very laid down, solid offbeat sort of thing, whereas the previous drummers were quite fiddly and it shaped us into a solid unit.
DS: We toured the States and then came back to record the Octopus album which was quite a success especially in the States. Relations between Phil and the rest of the band had been deteriorating for a while and when we went to Italy we decided he must go and to keep it as a five piece.
RS: With Octopus doing well in the States we went out there and did a very good tour and although we were doing well we weren't feeling to good with all the business about Phil and we rushed back and recorded In A Glass House.
DS: We haven't done much this last year because of managerial reorganisation but we did do the tour of Britain in March. We tried to get a more spontaneous feel with the current album, [../albums/the.power.and.the.glory.html Power And The Glory], by doing it all on first or second takes. It's done very well in the States - in the charts, but here twenty thousand copies were leaked before the release date so it hasn't had the same impact.
- The [../albums/giant.steps.html Giant Steps] liner notes end here. For the rest of the interview, read on!
Episode Three: Gary Blue Plays the Greens
Suddenly with the help of modern science, we beam down to the BBC for a chat with the other members of the band-their hopes, their fears and their pre-history as well. First in the chair is Gary Green with a bunged-up nose:
- ZZ = ZIGZAG magazine
- GG = Gary Green
ZZ: Take it from the top.
GG: I was born in Stroud Green, November 20, 1950. It was quite amazing actually 'cos like fourteen years later I formed a band at school and there was another guy in the band called Austin Bigg and he was born on the same day as me. I went home and told my mum about it and she said, "Austin, that's a strange name. The only other little boy I remember called Austin was a boy born in the next bed to you," and sure enough it was this geezer-bedmates almost.
I grew up in Tufnell Park, North London, and went to a mixed primary school. Then we moved, dad got another job, selling jewellery, and we moved out to Essex and I started to work as a messenger boy for a commercial art studio under the guise that they would teach me the tricks of the trade. I was doing like about four hours commuting a day for about a fiver a week so I gave that up and became a messenger for Drake Personnel and other boring jobs. Finally I ended up in the Co-op at Brentwood and I got so down and depressed that I started answering adverts in the Melody Maker. There were millions of auditions and then I went to one at The Pied Bull in Islington-I walked in and it was this team you know, loads of equipment and 'Simon Dupree And The Big Sound' on the bass drum and I thought, "Aargh, what am I doing?" I wasn't into SD&TBS at all, I thought they were a soul band and I was into blues and all that-but it turned out it wasn't them-they'd changed! It wasn't even a box advert-it was just like a normal ad: "Guitarist wanted to play with name musicians" so I went along, got the job. I was surprised.
ZZ: Wasn't it a bit odd playing Giant music after the blues?
GG: No, not really 'cos I'd like played the blues with the kids at school at lunchtimes and developed an interest in it from there. I kept playing the guitar, and didn't break away from the blues, but I started to lean towards jazz 'cos my dad's a jazz freak and my brother's got millions of jazz albums by Duke Ellington and everyone.
ZZ: Did you play with any other bands before Giant?
GG: Yes, semi-pro. I formed a group at school, oh dear, dare I say it, called The In Sect. Then we changed it to The Outcry-same line-up, same tunes.... Then after that, there was a friend of my brother's who was reputedly a friend of John Mayall's and he managed to get a residency at this place called New Merlin's Cave in Mount Pleasant and we called the band Kokomo Phoenix. There was me other brother on drums, this bloke John Hawkins and a bass player called Dan. It was quite a good band really-Peter Green came down to listen to us, Duster Bennett was doing spots with us and then a band called Fish Hook came down to the place to do a couple of weeks and they asked me to join. I joined them and that was like my first proper semi-pro band. Good band that was. Shame nobody ever heard us-real stomping band, Nicky Connell on guitar, Des Fisher-we used to rehearse in his dad's plastic extruding factory up in Loughton. We did a few local gigs round Essex-I think the furthest we went was Bridgend which was like a day out-packed sandwiches-really good.
I left school at fifteen. We had a ludicrous choice at school. We had to choose between woodwork, art, and music-you could only do one of them. I went to the woodwork class and that was full up so I went to the music class and that was full up, so I did art and I failed that....
ZZ: Did it take long to shape up a direction in Giant's music?
GG: Relatively quickly, strangely enough, because most of the material was already written or partly written and we spent quite a few months just rehearsing in Portsmouth. It started off being a very experimental band. I mean we didn't really care too much about whether the audience was going to like us or not. I wanted to get away from blues and to lay down the sort of expression I was putting into blues into another sort of music. That's what I believe Derek and Ray were feeling 'cos they'd just come out of a pop group and they must have been pretty frustrated. Kerry was fresh out of the Academy brimming with ideas and with the new toy of a ready made group at his fingertips-raring to go. After a couple of years we found our pattern-I suppose anyone does really. I couldn't put my finger on it exactly but I suppose it's down to arrangement, that's our trademark really.
Episode Four: Kerry on Playing the Classics
Kerry Minnear comes from the West Country and plays lots of instruments. According to Brillo, he is also the first person in ten years to have come out of the Royal Academy with a degree in composition.
- ZZ = ZIGZAG magazine
- KM = Kerry Minnear
KM: I was born in Salisbury and then moved to Gloucester. I went to two schools-my mother taught at the first and my father taught at the second so I felt very much at home at school, if you see what I mean. It was a bit tough 'cos they had to overact the impartiality bit. When we moved to Bath I had three interviews after the eleven plus to decide if I should go to grammar school or secondary modern 'cos I was right on the borderline. They decided "All right he's keen, he's turned up to all three interviews-he can go the grammar school," which was a pretty bad move really 'cos it was a tough place but I found refuge p!aying tymps in the school orchestra.
I was seven when I started playing the piano. My parents had it all arranged-they said "We've got a teacher for you" so I did my da-da-da, da-da-da and so on and then I did it with the left hand when I was about fourteen and then.... No, really, about five years elapsed and meanwhile I was just singing (I used to sing a bit before my voice broke), my dad was a tenor and we used to sing duets. I think I was sixteen before anything drastic happened. I had to take an extra O level because of this thing of taking and passing so many O levels so you could go on to the sixth form, so I had to take up music to make up the number and I liked it-I really enjoyed it.
I was always interested in music but the O level made me realise that I wanted to listen to classical music, learn it, wrlte it, and then I went on to take the A level. I applied for positions in various universities to read music and I got some offers, but I favoured the Royal Academy of Music above the others just because of the name, I suppose, to be quite honest. I was told that composition should be my first concern so I became a composer at the RA for three years and got my degree and ventured forth on this rugged trail. Kerry Minnear (far right) with The Phantoms. [Picture not included]
When I was at school I had a group-I started as a drummer and then progressed to guitarist because I was the only one who knew the chords to 'She Loves You'. While I was at the Academy I didn't pay much attention to pop although I was aware of it and I only went to see two groups-one was King Crimson in their early days and the other was Yes in their early days and I was impressed by both. I was impressed with the noise for one thing. I was quite interested in jazz-I used to go to Ronnie Scott's about once a year which was pretty good for me 'cos it was rather expensive. I thought I'd probably teach when I left the Academy and write in my spare time but I fancied trying a group first. I joined a group called Rust and ended up stuck in Germany with no money, no food-I've never been so near to starvation-living literally on rice and goulash. I was recovering from that when the boys contacted me through a mutual friend and I joined the band in 1970.
ZZ: Was the group anything like you expected?
KM: Well, anything was an improvement on what I'd just experienced, quite honestly. We do things on a very sound basis. Meagre though it may be we never go without. At the time it was an offer of L20 which was pretty good. My opinion of the band has always been that there aren't many bands I would rather have been in at that stage and definitely no other band now. I hope I keep a grasp on classical music 'cos I'm very fond of it-I wouldn't like to get to the stage where I just enjoyed it and couldn't construct anything vaguely like it, if you see what I mean, but obviously at the moment one can't 'cos I'm in a rock band working with rock instruments and even though you can try and write classically influenced material it's not going to sound great on electric instruments. It's obviously not practical to write classical music in terms of rock instruments but the influence is bound to be there. I don't consciously write in a classical vein any more but I hope that the will to do so remains.
ZZ: Did you find it easy moving from classical composition to writing rock material?
KM: It took about three years to get the idea. It wasn't until Octopus when John [Weathers] arrived that I really woke up to it 'cos he offered a different type of drumming to anything I'd heard before or taken any notice of before and it brought me round to the fact that we really are a rock band and we can rock as much as an out-and-out rock'n'roll band and obviously it was something they never taught at the Academy so I didn't know about it.
ZZ: Did you find the Academy starchy?
KM: It wasn't a great social place-the food was cheap in the canteen but there wasn't any other reason to stay there outside lessons. On the whole they were very friendly people but the competition is rather high in a place like that-especially in the more common instruments like violin and piano you get a lot of cattiness and a lot of drug taking before exams and people collapsing and leaving, and tears in the corridor and stuff like that-quite amusing really.
Episode Five: Weathers Fine
John Weathers is not only a drummer-he is also a piece of living history as important in his own way as the Elgin Marbles or the Petrified Forest. He's played with many a legendary band, lived life to excess and tells a mean story too. I cannot vouch for the height or otherwise of the following dialogue but at least it's colourful. It might even be true....
- ZZ = ZIGZAG magazine
- JW = John Weathers
JW: I was born in Carmarthen, South Wales-main interests, motor cycles and punchin' people up, dances-that's where I got interested in music in fact. I used to go and watch people like Gene Vincent, Duffy Power, The Outlaws and Jerry Lee Lewis. We used to have a big dance hall about fifteen miles away and every Saturday there was a big rock group-they had a lot of American rock acts come over. I also spent a lot of time living in Liverpool with some in-laws just when the Beatles were sort of exploding. In fact the first job I got playing was because all the local groups were very keen on having me 'cos I could play the 'Mersey beat' as it were.
ZZ: But what about your pre-teen history?
JW: I just told you-drinking and fighting. We were well into drinking when we were eleven or twelve. I wasn't very interested in education at all-bit of a rebel. I kept sneaking off from school all the time.
ZZ: And what did you do when you were five years old?
JW: Ah well, when I was five I was taking away and driving other people's lorries. No, I learnt to drive at a very early age, about six, six and a half. There used to be this old wrecked tin works place where I lived and there were loads of old lorries there that were still running but quite sort of delapidated and all the kids used to drive them around and play bumpers. It was very exciting. And looking for rats, fishing-only a bit of fishing, I wasn't too keen on that, it was a bit too quiet for me. Rugby, I was quite keen on that. Nothing much else-Dinky Toys. I was very fortunate-my mother used to clean a pub at the time and the owners were quite well off and the two sons of the pub misbehaved quite a lot and whenever they misbehaved their mother would take their Dinky Toys and give them to my mother in a fit of rage and say, "Take them to your son, he's a much better child," and consequently I had millions of Dinky Toys and never paid anything for them. My mother used to come home with about two or three a week. Anyhow, that's up to sixteen. The first group I was in we turned pro, stupidly, when we were getting about three bookings a week at fourteen guineas a time. We started getting a few gigs in England. That was a major task that was. Torquay was a three day job-took a day just getting up to Cardiff, stopping at every pub on the way. That petered out after about a month of starvation, so I got a job as a timekeeper and then as a labourer when I realised that the guys I was clocking in were getting three times as much as me. Then I was going to be a male nurse, mainly because we were working on a hospital and I could see all the pussy rushing back and forth and I thought: "Christ, there's not many men and the only male nurses we ran up against were all queer," so I thought "It's all there for me. All I've gotta do is become a male nurse and get laid every night. "
The biggest local group at the time was Eyes Of Blue and their drummer quit so they asked me to fill in. It became a permanent thing so I never made the male nurse thing although I passed the exams. I was in Eyes Of Blue from 1965 to 1970. We won the Melody Maker Beat competition in 1966-I've still got the cup-that was the worst thing we ever did, we were a good group and that was the kiss of death. Rick Gunnell was doing agency at the time, dear Mr Gunnell, and that was the first time we ran across being conned. A couple of times we did gigs (billed of course as 'Winner of MM 1966 Beat Competition') and the blokes said "Shall we pay you now or send it to the office?" and we said, "Oh, piss up! We'll take it now," and we thought it was sixty quid and the guy would come up with a hundred quid and say, "There you go, there's the money," and we'd say, "No, it's not a hundred quid, it's sixty quid," and he'd whip out his contract and there it would be, a hundred quid, and we'd whip out ours and there it would be-sixty quid plus we were paying him 10% of the sixty on ours! We just drifted into oblivion eventually and I joined Pete Brown in Piblokto Mark III for a while.
ZZ: What was Eyes Of Blue like?
JW: All kinds. We started off as a soul band playing all-American stuff, which was very progressive at the time. Skinheads with suits and stuff-that was during the mod era. Everybody else was playing R&B at the time. Then we went on to play West Coast stuff and then we started to write our own stuff. We had a terrible rat who was ripping us off, he was quite famous, but I shouldn't mention him. We were the roadies of Britain's collective favourite group. We used to pack the Speakeasy with roadies-it was great it was, We were just a group of piss artists-how we survived I'll never know. It would be really an occasion if we got to the gig. If we got to the gig that was great, set the gear up and go and get pissed just to celebrate the whole thing-we didn't make any money.
I joined Wild Turkey for abit but I left before they made the stage, and joined Graham Bond's Magic. I starved more than ever with Graham-it was weird. We used to go on gigs, get paid twenty quid and come back short. I'd spend the five quid I'd taken for expenses plus the twenty quid I'd got paid and come back penniless. Happy mind but penniless. Graham knew all these old tenor players I'd never heard of. Eventually it used to be me, Graham and his wife travelling in one car and anybody who fancied coming along for a blow in the other.
Then I joined the last six or eight months of The Greaseband. It pulled me together-I was quite a prat before that, I wasn't a very nice person to know, I'm not much better now but it did improve my demeanour a bit because I thought I was playing great when I wasn't you see, and they soon told me I wasn't. We did one tour of Europe with Leon Russell which was quite amazing because Henry [McCulloch] was going through it then. He eventually managed to break his hand. He went out drinking one night and they had all these old English songs on the speaker system like 'Roll Out The Barrel' and stuff, and after five or six litres of this gear we started singing them, you see, and all these Swedes started getting a bit uptight so we told them to piss off and this guy pinched the hat I wearing 'cos I was very conscious about my forthcoming baldness and Henry turned round and smacked him in the mouth and so a great fight ensued with all these Swedes piling in. I just sat down, I couldn't believe it-I'm a bit of a pacifist really. I was holding this guy, mind! He broke a couple of fingers then, but he made a good job of it later when he hit somebody else. We weren't playing well that tour, but the last couple of gigs we did were at the Rainbow in London and they were really great. All it did was cool my head a bit 'cos they were so wild-they were really desperate characters-great musicians to a man, all of them, and I wasn't ready to meet people like that. I wasn't anywhere near good enough to even talk to them and they just cooled my head out completely. Meeting people like that and them being so wild, I went away thinking how fortunate I was to be less wild than them but how unfortunate not to be able to play like them. So I went back to work just to get my head together-carrying carpets. Then I joined this lot. I'd known them in Simon Dupree days and they gave me a ring.
ZZ: How did you find it-joining an 'arranged music' band?
JW: Well you see, towards the end, Eyes Of Blue was a very arranged band so I was used to doing that but also I liked playing rock music-I liked playing both. Four to the bar is great if it can be complemented with arrangements and little fancy bits. I mean you hear some great players about-Bill Bruford and such-but they don't seem to hold it down That's why they got me in 'cos I could hold it down and play arrangements as well.
ZZ: Is this the band you want it to be?
JW: I think so. I think if you're completely happy with what's going on you get into a terrible rut. It's only minor things the same as any other band. You're always improving-it goes on and on but I'm completely happy. They can rock these boys, you know.