It's funny looking back. You get a sort of a pain…just…HERE! That's if your arthritic condition has been aggravated by mammoth sessions of holding guitars the weight of giant redwoods – for four or more usually five hours. That's our jams. The therapeutic and utterly hedonistic opportunity to play hours of absolute bollocks [and, dare I say, experience the odd moment of sheer elation] without feeling even remotely responsible for your actions.
Years of friendship and home brew have removed any barrier whatsoever in this musical free for all. And, thank God, it’s the one opportunity I get to play without giving a toss if I get anything wrong. In all seriousness, when you know each other as well as we do, it's a telepathic blast. And, hey, so if we’re the only people who get it, then... Oh God... are we the only people who get it?
I ran into Tony and John via a mate when I was living in Muswell Hill. A pal with a pair of 'loon' pants from which the crotch had mysteriously vanished. So one evening, when he suggested I meet some pals of his who played music and had 'recording equipment' I quickly strapped on an instrument, as it were, and followed the trail of cotton and flapping denim that shadowed my pal, to the other side of town.
The resulting meeting was a blast. Through my hair and sideburns I could see that these guys were great to play with, funny and they made recordings. Not strict formula stuff but much looser and more fluid. Unlike like the pop I was playing. I had my first deal round the same time, a typical first signing that skilfully gave everyone but the artists the money. So much for the Law studies I was pretending to engage in.
Through Tony, John and Caroline, whose floor I became very familiar with, I met Rod. I knew he was sophisticated, because he had a red Alpha Romeo! Tony was playing with an enviable finger style picking technique which really impressed me. I couldn't get that down then – and still have to cheat now. And he was writing really different and interesting songs. Very folk influenced, which I really wasn't, but really good. John was playing bass and responsible for the recordings, and he already had a fantastic facility with tape and a very distinctive bass style – like Chris Squire on acid. Rod’s keyboards added a surrealistic quality to the music. Jonny, Caroline's brother, was a pal of the guys I was sharing a flat with and used to come along and play harp and sing lower than me and Tony. And he was into dangerously different stuff like Beefheart and The Velvet Underground. Which was great. Add to that the haunting harmonies from Tony’s sister Julie, and Caroline on BVs and there it was.
We recorded – still do - played a few gigs, but always, always got together for jams whenever we could. The line-up varied from time to time with availability but, in essence, we’ve played together now for 40 something years and we don’t intend to stop, age gracefully, or improve.
Losing John to cancer was a blow none of us will ever recover from. It's just that you don't get really close friends like that very often in one life. But we have played on as a disparate, and desperate, unit - It's what he would have wanted, as they say. That's aside from our other musical activities. Me founding and playing with The Blue Bishops for over 20 years, touring and recording with producers like John Leckie and Stu Epps, and Tony and Rod playing in bands while also pitching up for the all too infrequent jams.
And now, Tony and I are writing together and just finishing an album, “The Festival At The End Of The World”. It's very strange that we have known each other a lifetime but only ever contributed bits rather than actually write together. Tony has knuckled down and taken on the recording techniques we relied on John for. So all I have to do is play and take the piss. Now we have an abundance of material and are wondering why we never did it thirty years ago.
It's not instead of the Blue Bishops for me. It's as well as. But the two feed into each other as music always will. Me with a rock and blues background, Tony with a folk history. The combination isn't going to re-invent the history of music, but the nice thing for us is it has our distinctive signature on it. Something Tony has managed for years but I have only achieved on slide guitar but not necessarily in songwriting something that has a distinctly different feel. It's interesting to find a place that really is yours. Tony has done it for years in my opinion. Hence his cult (that is the right spelling isn't it?) status. Geoff Grange has done it with The Blue Bishops too. So now, working with Tony, I am finding a place we're going together that really is nowhere I have been before. I like it, and I hope others will too.
I think about music all the time and have tunes coming in and out of my head. But for me it's the moment of actually playing my instrument or singing that gets me off.
'Nuff said. Time to tune up and play on ...