" My only beef with Jac Holzman was his decision not to release my '1917 Revolution'!"
What was the first record you bought? When, where and why? Where was it the last time you saw it?
When I got my first record player in 1960, the folks subsidized me for a few singles to get me underway. There was only one record shop in Leeds worthy of the name, so that’s where I headed. Vallances! Elvis’s “Stuck On You”, Marv Johnson’s “You Got What It Takes” and Cliff’s “Fall In Love With You”were in that first group. But the very first was Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nuthin’s”– a single on the Brunswick label. And that really was how it was spelt back in the day. Nowadays, it’s always shown as “Sweet Nothin’s”. Where was it the last time I saw it? Why here, two minutes ago!
What was the first gig you remember going to?
Awful memory, I’m afraid. A crooner called Lee Lawrence! It was at the Leeds Empire in, I’d guess, 1952 or 53. Totally soul-destroying! Boring beyond belief, both to a seven-year-old then and a seventy-year-old now! I loved music, but it was a couple of years down the track before I really knew why.
What was the first band/solo artist you obsessed about?
Elvis! I first came across Elvis in 1956. I’d heard and was excited by“Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” sung by this guy with the funny name. But I only caught him infrequently – on the BBC, because the family didn’t have a record player and rarely listened to The Light Programme (now Radio 2). At that time I hadn’t discovered Radio Luxembourg.
However, it was Christmas 1957 that really did it for me.
Between Christmas and New Year, the family went to visit some friends – pretty well-off, if I remember right – over in the Moortown area of Leeds. They had two teenage daughters; and in amongst other things, the younger girl’s Christmas sock had contained Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” EP. I wouldn’t let them take it off the turntable! We must have played the title track twenty times that night – no exaggeration! I was absolutely obsessed! It was a couple of years before I got a record player of my own, but ever after that night and whenever I was near a juke box, there was I with a sixpence ready to invest.
What was the first gig you played? what was the name of the band and what kind of stuff did you play?
My first time in front of a paying audience was at St Chads School Hall in Headingley, Leeds. This was in early ’62. It was with The Raiders, and I was on drums(!) and delivering the vocals – a sort of early prototype Ringo! The Shadows were very big at the time, so we mostly concentrated on instros – Duane Eddy, The Ventures and of course The Shads. My first vocals tended to be early Elvis stuff – “Hard Headed Woman” and the like. I suspect they were appalling!
What was the name of the first song you wrote/recorded/released?
The first song I remember writing was a tune for The Raiders called “By My Side”. To be fair, as a Cliff Richard-influenced pop song, it wasn’t all that bad. We did rehearse it but the band booted it into the long grass, so that was it for“By My Side”! As for recording, there is in existence a truly ancient acetate of two very youthful guys called The Texans. The Texans were my not-so-good self on rhythm guitar and vocals, and John Allen, the first lead guitarist with The Raiders. It’s a double-sider with “Apache”, based on the Jørgen Ingmann version that was such a huge hit in the US, and “Tom Dooley”. Never before or since has “…poor boy, you’re gonna die!” sounded more appropriate!
My first official release was in 1969 for John Peel’s Dandelion Records; “1917 Revolution”.
Other than the people you currently play with, describe your dream backing band
Well, seeing as how I’m a solo performer, forgive me if I cheat with this! My dream, my fantasy Jim’ll Fix It wish (before Savile became more unmentionable than Lord Voldemort!) would have been for one glorious gig to stand in for Malcolm Young on rhythm guitar with AC/DC! There! Now you know…
If you were stranded on a desert island with a record-deck, which three albums would you want with you?
“Freewheelin’” (Bob Dylan), The Library Of Congress Recordings(Leadbelly), “In My Life” (Judy Collins).
“Freewheelin’” is probably the greatest contemporary folk album ever written, by a guy at the height of his youthful powers.
The Lead Belly’s a triple, so I hope that’s OK!
And what can I say about Judy’s “In My Life”? Brilliantly recorded in London at Sound Techniques by Joe Boyd, produced and arranged by Joshua Rifkin, and featuring songs by Dylan, Cohen, Brel, Brecht & Weill, Lennon, Richard Peaslee etc. – what more can you ask?
What is your favourite era/genre of music?
My musical awakening was in the mid-to-late ’50s; so that was important. I guess I matured through the mid-60s with The Beatles, The Stones etc.; so that was important. But most significant – and therefore the one that really counts – would have to be the late sixties when I fully discovered and uncovered the magic of acoustic blues and contemporary folk.
Who do you regret never seeing live?
Early Elvis! I did get to meet Scotty Moore, though!
Which artists/labels have you collected over the years, if any?
So far as labels go, I had a slavish allegiance to all things Elektra. They had it all, mostly before everyone else, and with consistently high production values. And that extended through to their Nonesuch classical imprint.
It was Elektra/Nonesuch that first got me into electronic music and the avant-garde. I was with them from the folk recordings of Theodore Bikel, through the Bauls of Bengal and The Doors, all the way up to MC5 and Iggy & The Stooges. Elektra was probably the best and most diverse label of all time. My only beef with Jac Holzman was his decision not to release my “1917 Revolution”! I later heard there’d been political considerations – it was after all the Goldwater era in the States, and the Cold War was still simmering. So, maybe it was understandable. Sad though…
Artists? Well, there’d be Elvis, The Beatles, Dylan, Béla Bartók (I was said at one time to have the largest collection of Bartók in the north of England!), AC/DC, Dame Clara Butt; loads of really hip and groovy people…
Beatles or The Stones or Dylan or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin? why?
Beatles; because of the originality and depth they brought to everything they did. Lyrics, production, imagination, restless progression; to the day of their breakup The Beatles never ever followed.
Dylan. Genius mostly presents itself before the prodigy has anything to lose. Very few geniuses produce significant creative work after the age of 25. After that, it’s simply a matter of polishing and/or defending an established reputation. And as it was with Einstein, so it is with Bob Dylan. He’s produced good, bad and unbelievable work over the last fifty years. But up to the age of 25 he was truly inspired. A genius.
What is the most embarrassing record in your collection? why is it there? My penance is Cliff Richards’ “The Young Ones” LP.
I bought this album because of a couple of decent Cliff songs and the Shadows. I’ve never been so disappointed with an album since that day! I still have it – never since played – and I hang onto it to remind me never to make the mistake of buying on the strength of reputation and what the critics say. It is and was a monstrosity!
There are some good tracks – The Shad’s “Peace Pipe” and “The Savage”,“The Young Ones” itself etc., but most of this awful soundtrack album features The Associated British Studio Orchestra with The Mike Sammes Singers playing set-piece routines from the movie. Truly tooth-grinding stuff. But I must never get rid of it…
As Dylan wrote in “Stuck Inside Of Mobile…”, “You have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice”!
Your favourite movies and/or TV shows?
Over the last few years there have been a bunch of truly memorable movies and TV programmes. “Bridge Of Spies” and “Wolf Hall” spring to mind. However, how many recent offerings will live long in the memory is hard to predict. Standout favourites for me tend to have stood the test of time.
On the big screen, I’d have to include “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, Eminem’s “8 Mile”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”,“Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris” and of course “There’s Something About Mary”!
From TV, I never tire of “Green Wing”. “The Camera & The Song” by Jake Thackray and Philip Bonham-Carter may date from 1973, but it’s still sublime. Even further back, Ken Russell’s brilliant 1962 “Elgar” is still probably the most emotional-ever hour of television.
Peel once said of me, ‘Beau’s not affected by trends. I doubt if he’s ever seen “Woodstock”!’ I think he was being kind! And as it happens, at that time he was quite right…
Which do you prefer - on-stage or in the studio? and why?
Straight answer to a straight question – studio. I do get it that, for many, live performance is what music’s all about. But in the studio, I’m allowed to get across what I need to deliver in an unfiltered way. Live performance inevitably brings with it a whole bunch of other considerations – many of which are good, but all of which tend to distract from what I know is the driving force behind all my songs; the lyrics.
Describe your current/typical recording set-up (where and what)
I’m fortunate, in that I have a studio at home with both the time and space to work. Basically, I use a dedicated Windows 7 computer, Behringer mixer, Sennheiser phones and (for Beau) customized pressure zone mics. For Simfonica, keyboards and various stringed instruments are added in to the mix. Major recording, mastering and processing software includes Audacity (recording at 48KHz), Acoustica and Magix Audio Cleaning.
What are your recording/release/gig plans for the next six months?
Most immediately, there’s a brand new Beau album coming out through Cherry Red this April! With 2016 being such an eventful and inspiring year, it would be criminally irresponsible for any singer-songwriter not to have been constantly scribbling! Everything’s being finalized as we speak, but much more soon.
Then, we have an interesting little co-operative project under way for your good selves at FdM with Icarus Peel and The Honey Pot. That’s in the “watch this space” category.
Also, there should be a follow-up later this year to Simfonica’s Cathedral Transmissions release, “Song Of The Volcanoes”. Another one for “watch this space”!
Why don’t you write more love songs?
I do write love songs! Not the Moon-June sort I’ll grant, but they are in there; occasionally! I was told years ago by a well-known folk singer that “…if you wanna make bread, man, you gotta give ’em love songs!” Turns out he wasn’t wrong…
But let’s face it, there are so many more things to write about in this big old world; and with so many brilliant composers of love songs already, it seems a bit pointless my splashing about in their pool just for the sake of it!
How do you write your songs?
Along with “Why did you first start writing songs?”, this is the most common question I get asked!
I really believe there are as many ways of writing songs as there are song writers. For me, 99% of the time my lyrics come first. Of the hundreds of songs I’ve come up with, I can probably count on the fingers of one hand those where the tune was first to arrive. Normally it’s words; then the melody; then the arrangement; then the performance.
Often, and this is particularly true if I’m telling a story, the lyrics will follow a straightforward “beginning-middle-end” structure. Some of my best-known pieces have developed this way. “The Roses Of Eyam”, recorded years ago by Roy Bailey, and “The Night Before Trafalgar” are good examples.
But there’s a very different kind; the ones that I can best say “scratch an itch”.
These are the songs that I don’t know why I’ve started, but somehow feel I have to. They’re more compulsive, more disturbing. These are the ones that, I now know from experience, mine the subconscious. And invariably, very soon after I’m underway, I recognise what lies behind them. That’s when I go back to square one and begin honing and focussing and developing.
Sometimes, for people listening, these tunes may seem a little obscure. I’m really sorry about that! But that’s because they’re very much of and for me. They tell me – or maybe I should say clarify – what I think.
And when you’re my side of the guitar, that’s quite a nice thing to know!