He’ll hardly like the word ‘legend’ – but Clem Clempson isn’t it anyway. Calling him a myth could be much more appropriate, as you often hear the guitarist play without knowing it’s him – if it’s not with COLOSSEUM or HUMBLE PIE, of course. But these are just two projects Clem helped shoot to glory, and there was more.
Meeting him to talk it all had been a long wish which came true thanks to Dick Heckstall-Smith who phoned his friend – and two days later this sprightly man picked DME up, drove around the corner on the way to London’s beautiful Holland Park and pointed to a building saying, “This is the Lansdowne Studios, where my first recording session was”. A great start – hopefully, one day we’ll finish with a well-deserved web site of Mr. Clempson.
– How would you like to be addressed to – David or Clem?
Clem. Everyone calls me Clem, except for my mother, who calls me David. The nickname came from when I started school, in the Fifties. What I hated was when people used to put on record sleeves “Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson”. I don’t like that, I don’t mind being David Clempson, I don’t mind being Clem Clempson, but I don’t like both. And I don’t like ‘Dave’ either.
– Of all the bands you were in and of all the records you played on – where did you come the closest to being yourself?
I don’t know if I ever have. I’ve never come as close as I really want to be on anything, and that’s what keeps me going – a constant struggle to try and achieve some faint ideas in my head. And sometimes I get very depressed about the fact that I’m often disappointed with what I’m doing and what I’ve done. But I read an interview with Ry Cooder recently in which he said the same thing, he said that he’s never liked any of his records, that he hears all these records by other people and they sound fantastic and he just can’t understand why he can’t feel the same way about his own records. I can relate to this, though I don’t know why it is.
I’m reasonably happy with lots of the things. I’m quite pleased with the stuff I did on the BAKERLOO album, which is my first record ever, because that was my first time in a studio – I was totally naive about the recording process and not really knowing what went on at all in a recording studio: we just set up our equipment and played as if we were on-stage, so the record is a very honest reflection of the way I was playing at the time and the way my band was playing. Then, I like some of the stuff that I did with HUMBLE PIE – the “Smokin'” album mainly, as we just had a lot of fun in the studio at the time. I also enjoy some of the stuff I did with Jack Bruce, and what I’m doing with COLOSSEUM now!
– BAKERLOO was one of the first power trios and you weren’t influenced by CREAM. What was it like, when there was only three of you?
Well, at the time my idol was Jimi Hendrix – I thought, probably that was the kind of direction I’d like to be going in, but my imagination wasn’t on the same level as Hendrix’s, so BAKERLOO was just as close as I could come to it.
– Still, Hendrix never played anything like classical music while you did variations on Bach.
I don’t know where that idea come from, but I studied classical piano all through my childhood – I started playing piano when I was four and did it for about ten years – I never enjoyed it very much, though it obviously was a big influence on my whole approach to music, so maybe that’s where the Bach thing came from.
– And where the guitar came from?
When I was a boy, I wanted to be a footballer, but it showed that I had a talent for music, when somebody bought me a toy piano and I just started to play tunes on it. I was then sent away to piano lessons every week, and I had to do my practice every day when I just really wanted to be playing football, so I always resented it. And when I got to about fourteen, I got to the age when everyone gets rebellious and said, “I’m not doing that anymore”. So I just stopped doing it, but then about two years later I decided to buy a guitar, as I’d always loved guitars, even when I was young.
– How would you define the style you play in? Is it blues, or rock – or what?
I suppose, blues is the biggest influence. What turned me on to the guitar was hearing blues players – hearing Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, J. B. Lenoir, Buddy Guy, people like that. It moved something in me and made me want to pick up a guitar and learn to do it. But you know, I’ve listened to a lot of other styles over the years – I’ve listened to jazz players, classical music players, flamenco players – and it all registers.
– Yet even from the very beginning your style has been unique! That was hard to pinpoint your influences.
People actually do say that – that they’ve recognized my style, but I can’t hear it myself! (Laughs.)
– People like it though, which is great. But why did BAKERLOO fail?
The problem is a lot of this happened so long ago, and it’s difficult to remember exactly what happened… We just decided that we’d had enough for one reason or another. We still lived around Birmingham at the time, and I remember the bass player [Terry Poole] desperately wanted to move to London, and I didn’t see that it was possible, because we weren’t making very much money. Initially, I decided to carry on BAKERLOO with Cozy Powell on drums and Dave Pegg, who later joined FAIRPORT CONVENTION, on bass.
– Where did you know Cozy from?
I saw Cozy playing with a band in Birmingham. I was very impressed and introduced myself; we became good friends and he taught me to drive! So we rehearsed for a couple of weeks and did one gig, which had been booked for BAKERLOO and management asked if we would fulfil it. And then I got a call from Jon Hiseman, because a few weeks previous to that BAKERLOO had supported COLOSSEUM at Cambridge University, so Jon asked if I’d be interested in joining the band. I thought that COLOSSEUM were fantastic, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity. It was a shame, because I was enjoying what I had going with Cozy and Dave Pegg and I thought that could’ve been a good band, but COLOSSEUM was an exciting opportunity to me, really.
– What exactly did attract you in them?
All of the bands that I loved and admired at that time had something in common, which was that they were retaining the essential feeling of the blues whilst developing the music in their own particular way. They included CREAM, FAMILY, Jeff Beck and LED ZEPPELIN. COLOSSEUM were certainly up amongst this elite collection of excellent musicians, and it was a very great thrill to be invited to play with them. Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman in particular seemed to me to be extraordinary musicians.
– I guess, all of you are. Which leads to the question: with every one in COLOSSEUM being a soloist, how did you manage to play without getting in the way of the other?
It’s interesting – you say that we’re obviously soloists, but sometimes we’re reluctant soloists. I mean, I’m very happy to play rhythm guitar but I kind of accept that guitarists have to do solos, and I think Dave Greenslade’s the same – he’s happy to play a supportive role but he has to play solos as well. That was just a basis that the band was formed on – it was the band featuring soloists – and that was always popular anyway. At the time that the band was formed, in the late Sixties, that’s pretty much what the bands did then – there was a very strong emphasis on instrumental virtuosity, wasn’t there?
– Well, Dave Greenslade has a band of his own to indulge in his soloing.
I think that Dave is more interested in the composing side of things, while soloing is something that one has to do to embellish the songs, it’s just the style that we’ve always worked on, really – songs always have solos in them.
– If some ten years ago, before COLOSSEUM re-formed, you were asked what was the band you played in, which band you’d name first?
The first band I usually mention when people ask me is HUMBLE PIE, because probably it’s the best known, and then COLOSSEUM because that was the second best known.
– Was there a challenge to play more heavy music with HUMBLE PIE? It was with you that they moved from soft rock to hard rock, wasn’t it?
That’s right, yeah. I think that was what Steve [Marriott] liked about my contribution to the band – it made the band heavier. Joining HUMBLE PIE I felt like going back to BAKERLOO but with the singer that I always wanted BAKERLOO to have. See, another problem that I had with BAKERLOO was that I had to do a lot of vocals and I was never happy, I never liked my voice. I always wished that I had a great voice, I always wanted to be able to sing like Stevie Winwood, and if I could have then I would’ve been happy to sing all night, but I just hated the sound of my voice. That was probably part of the reason why BAKERLOO split up, and that was also part of the reason why this prospective band with Cozy and Dave Pegg never actually happened – because we were hoping to find a singer as well. At the time we, BAKERLOO, were running a blues club in Birmingham called “Henry’s Blues House”, where local musicians used to come down and jam quite regularly, and two of the guys that used to come down and jam were Robert Plant and John Bonham which was always fun. But whenever Robert Plant used to sing with us, that was when I knew what I wanted.
– Why didn’t you ask him to join?
Because he’d already been asked by Jimmy Page – I think that was just around the time that LED ZEPPELIN was being formed.
– Do you remember the night BAKERLOO supported ZEPPELIN when they debuted at the Marquee? Were you surprised to see Plant front them?
No, he turned up at “Henry’s” quite regularly so I knew all about the formation of ZEPPELIN.
– Sometimes BAKERLOO shared the stage with a band called EARTH that would become BLACK SABBATH. What they were like back then?
They were a blues band with a slight leaning towards jazz – a bit like TEN YEARS AFTER. I thought they were really good, especially Tony [Iommi], who was a very accomplished guitarist – I always enjoyed hearing him play. We shared the same manager, and did a lot of gigs together and became very good mates. I have some great memories of those times including playing at a festival in Belgium, which was the first appearance outside the UK for both bands. I also remember, after a gig in the north of England in mid-winter it was snowing heavily, and our van would not start, and EARTH were giving us a push: Ozzy [Osbourne] was wearing just a pair of jeans, trainers and his dad’s pajama jacket, cause he had nothing else to wear!
But I always dreamt that I had a great singer for BAKERLOO and I never did – we did actually had a couple of singers in the band briefly but they never worked out and they never stayed for more than a few days. There was a guy called Gary Butcher who joined us and he may have done a couple of gigs with us but it never worked personality-wise. So I’d always had this hankering to work with a great singer, and that was part of the reason why COLOSSEUM asked Chris Farlowe to join the band: because I was supposed to be the singer in COLOSSEUM, but I never really liked it. We just decided that we’d get a powerful singer, as we thought that the band needed a powerful voice, and we had a couple of people in mind – one was Paul Williams and the other was Chris Farlowe, who ended up being the singer.
– Where did Steve Marriott find that heaviness in your playing which he wanted you to bring into his band? I mean, you didn’t play hard rock with COLOSSEUM, did you?
There was a blues on the “Colosseum Live” album where I did a solo spot, where I was just playing alone, and that’s what he heard. He must have heard something that he liked in that, I guess. When he asked me to come along for an audition with the band, I assumed that I was going for an audition, but when I got there all the music press was there – it had already been announced that I was the new guitarist in HUMBLE PIE, and it was very embarassing because I haven’t even talked to the guys in COLOSSEUM at that stage.
– So was it your leaving that caused the break-up of COLOSSEUM?
Yeah, and I felt terrible, but the thing was that COLOSSEUM had stopped being enjoyable. Jon wasn’t happy with the band, and he’d talked to me on several occasions about maybe changing the line-up, but that didn’t really appeal to me. We did a gig at the Albert Hall that got some bad notices in music press, which I agreed with. And we had a terrible gig in Sicily, when I had a big fight with Jon, and I just decided I’d had enough. I hadn’t actually decided that I was definitely leaving the band, but I knew that I didn’t want to go on much longer. Then the opportunity came up to play with HUMBLE PIE, and I just went along to jam with them, as I said, for what I thought was going to be an audition, but Steve being Steve had already decided that I was their new guitarist.
– Was that an immediate stardom?
(Laughing.) Well, it was quite big news at the time, because HUMBLE PIE were well-known and the press liked the band. And they were just starting to become very big in America, while COLOSSEUM were very popular here, so for me to defect to HUMBLE PIE was a front-page story in all the music press.
– What about the double guitar situation? Steve wasn’t only a singer but a guitarist as well.
That’s right, but at that stage he’d only really been a rhythm guitarist, and that had been a bit of a problem with Steve before, because he always felt that Peter [Frampton] was the lead guitarist and that he was encroaching on Peter’s territory if he played anything other than rhythm guitar. So I was happy for Steve to develop his playing and I tried to encourage him to. And I was happy to learn something about playing rhythm, because that was an area that I didn’t understand much about – you know, the big, heavy, powerful chords that people like Steve and Pete Townshend, and Keith Richards did and got such a fantastic sound – and I learnt from Steve about that. I’d always been just as fascinated about rhythm guitar playing as by lead.
– Was it difficult to learn to solo and then step back to let Steve solo?
Oh no, there was no difference between doing that and playing in COLOSSEUM, where I stepped back while Dick or Dave Greenslade took a solo. So it was just another guy’s voice – it didn’t really matter whether it’s another guitar or saxophone, or bagpipes. (Laughs.) It never seemed to be a problem.
– What do you think about attempts to resurrect HUMBLE PIE without Steve?
It’s a waste of time.
– Could the situation in HUMBLE PIE compared to that in ROUGH DIAMOND? OK, David Byron wasn’t as distinctive a singer as Steve Marriott…
Very few people are – or were! ROUGH DIAMOND was put together by David Byron: he was working with manager called Steve Barnet to put together a band to be David’s next after URIAH HEEP. I can’t remember what had happened to URIAH HEEP, whether they split up or David just left…
– Why do you call ROUGH DIAMOND the Byron’s band? I presumed it was a group of Byron and Clempson.
Oh, it did become that: it’s just that David was already forming the band, he already had Geoff Britton on drums. before he approached me. But he approached me and asked me if I would be interested in joining his band, and the thing was that I’d already been working with Damon Butcher, and we’d been doing some writing together, so when I joined David I recommended Damon to play keyboards.
– Live, the band was really good – judging on bootlegs.
We didn’t actually do that much live work – we did an American tour supporting Peter Frampton on quite a lot of gigs, and we weren’t too happy, as quite a lot of things had gone wrong – it was very disappointing, the whole thing. When we went to America, we were subjected to the most embarassing hype by the record company who decided to play out the ‘supergroup’ aspect, because of David coming from URIAH HEEP, me from HUMBLE PIE and Geoff Britton from WINGS. And the record company made a big deal of this when we went to America, and we found it very embarassing. We were a bit paranoid about it, really. We did some gigs with people like Peter Frampton in big arenas, and they were very good but, as I remember, towards the end of the tour we did some smaller gigs on our own – we did a club in San Francisco for three nights or something and just had a fantastic time: we completely turned our back on all the hype and everything that we were supposed to be doing and played a lot of blues and stuff.
– The studio album, though, sounds quite raw, as if you were pushed to record it before you were ready?
Yeah, there was a lot of pressure on us from the management to get it because – I don’t know how to start explaining this – the manager was desperately trying to create a career for himself on the back of ROUGH DIAMOND, but in order to do that he had to keep money coming in and to keep things moving, so there was a lot of pressure on us to get things done as quickly as we could. Yes, I think, we probably weren’t ready to do it, but maybe we didn’t realised that at the time. After the American tour we were so fed up with it, as it was a big fiasco, and the manager who helped David to set the band up had actually stolen a lot of the money that we’d been paid by the record company, the money that were supposed to pay for the band to exist on tour – so what with that and all the hype, we felt that we couldn’t carry on, we just weren’t enjoying it.
– When ROUGH DIAMOND opened for Frampton, did Peter tell anything as to whether he liked your playing with HUMBLE PIE?
– Is it true that before ROUGH DIAMOND you’d been invited to join DEEP PURPLE?
I spent a couple of weeks staying with Jon Lord at his house in Malibu, and I did jam with DEEP PURPLE a couple of times – they were looking for guitarist at the time but I was not invited to join the band. They were looking for a songwriter more than anything, they wanted somebody like Ritchie Blackmore who, I think, had been the main creative force behind DEEP PURPLE. I knew Jon quite well – I can’t remember where I’d met him, but I’d played with Jon before – but they needed someone with a lot of songs to basically come in and tell them what to do. (Laughs.)
– You mentioned Jon Lord, but there’s another Jon you played with: YES’ Jon Anderson. For me, it’s something completely different.
You know, I always had this kind of very raw taste in music, and I can enjoy applying my style to lots different styles of music. I just do what I do – you said earlier yourself that it’s very difficult to pinpoint any specific style or specific influence in my playing, and I worried about that sometimes during my career. I always admired people like Steve Marriott that were really focused on a particular style and just did what they wanted. They seemed to have the calling to do one particular thing, and I kind of envied it. I’ve always liked to learn different styles, so I’ve never had a problem with switching from playing with something more jazz-influenced to something like Jon Anderson.
– Did you get to play with Anderson through Ian Wallace who drummed for THE WARRIORS, where Jon was a singer, and much later with HUMBLE PIE?
No, my connection with Jon Anderson was Ronnie Leahy, the keyboard player in STONE THE CROWS, who’s been a very dear friend of mine since late Seventies – and that’s how I got to know Jack Bruce as well: Ronnie introduced me to Jack – they’re both from Glasgow and had worked together in the line-up which included Mick Taylor. Ronnie was a good friend of Jon Anderson’s and a godfather to one of Jon’s children.
– Didn’t you know Jack Bruce from COLOSSEUM days?
No, I met him once, maybe twice, in COLOSSEUM days very briefly but I never got to know him. And it was a shame because while I was in HUMBLE PIE I bought a house in Essex, in a place called Braintree, and when HUMBLE PIE stopped I continued to live there for the next two years, and Jack was living just about five miles away from there, so we were both sitting around in the countryside not doing anything, but we hadn’t met at that time. Eventually, I moved back into London and it was just after that that I met Jack through Ronnie – we went out and had some fun jamming with Jack. Then I played on the Cozy Powell record [1979’s “Over The Top”] that Jack was on, so we got off from there.
I loved playing with Jack in a lot of ways: the record that I made with Jack [1980’s “I’ve Always Wanted to Do This”] isn’t really one of my favourite records, but in terms of going out on the road and doing live concerts, playing with Jack Bruce was possibly the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done, because Jack’s material was so much fun to play every night. He had such a vast repertoire of songs anyway – there’s all the CREAM songs that we could play and all the stuff from his solo albums – and a lot of his music is very challenging from the musician’s point of view. He was also one of the most fantastic singers I’ve ever heard – I used to just get goosebumps listening to his voice every night, and it was so inspiring to play with him when he was singing like that.
– Yet that was another supergroup, with Jack, and you, and Billy Cobham, and David Sancious.
Yes, and I felt quite humble a lot of the time, playing with Jack, and Billy, and David. David is such a fantastic musician! He was mainly a keyboard player but he played great guitar as well, and it was the worst thing, you see? (Laughs.) I mean, you asked about Steve, but Steve and me were both playing guitars together and that was OK, but the thing with David was that he played fantastic keyboards for most of the evening and then just for one number he would pick up a guitar and play incredible, and flit back to the keyboards.
– I guess, you should have put down a guitar to take to the keyboards to get your revenge!
Actually, I used to play bass on that song, which was “Theme From An Imaginary Western” – Jack would play piano. That was a fantastic band, and I was so proud to play in it.
– There’s a couple of songs on Jack’s “I’ve Always Wanted to Do This” that you co-wrote with Garry Bell. Were they a leftovers from the abandoned CHAMPION project?
No, they were written especially for that album. I also just remembered something which no one seems to have heard about… Garry and me had a single released in the 1981, and I just found my copy of it. The name of the band was CROSSFIRE, the A-side was “Alias Love”, the B-side “Magic”, and I remember that I was particularly happy with my playing on “Magic”. It also has Jack on bass and Simon Phillips on drums, so I will try to figure out a way to make it available to all those collectors of my stuff out there! I haven’t even thought about this record for at least twenty years! Now I must get my old turntable down from the attic!
– Did you play also in a band called SHOTGUN, a project of Ken Hensley?
SHOTGUN? Was that what it was called? I met up with Ken at some point after he’d disbanded URIAH HEEP. (In fact, Hensley left and the band carried on. – DME) I wasn’t doing much then, and he said that he wanted to do a solo tour of America, because he wanted to establish himself as a solo artist and had decided not to form another band. I was working as a session guitarist at the time, so he asked me if I would be interested in going and touring with him as a side man, and I said, “Yeah, sure!” I went over to Denver where Ken was living, and we rehearsed for a few weeks in the mountains. It was a very good band: an English drummer called Pete Thompson – I guess he’s been playing with Robert Plant recently – and American bass player and keyboard player.
The plan was to rehearse for a few weeks and then go on the road. Ken caught up with an agent, he was organizing a string of gigs, so we rehearsed and then we set up on tour, but as soon as we started arriving at the gigs, we discovered that we were being touted as URIAH HEEP. It wasn’t “Ken Hensley” or “The Ken Hensley Band”, it said “Uriah Heep” on the posters. Ken was appalled, it was terrible! Of course, after the first night Ken called the agent and said, “Look, this is terrible”, and the agent said, “Oh well, there’s a misunderstanding, and I will clear it up”. So on the second night we get to the gig – and it’s just the same! This went on for about four or five gigs, and Ken was getting really upset, and eventually, after a gig in Dallas, he said, “OK, we’re not doing any more gigs, that’s it, until I get a guarantee that we won’t be billed as URIAH HEEP”. And the next morning we woke up in our hotel in Dallas to discover that the truck with all our equipment had disappeared – it turned out that the agent was a crook basically – he was later sent to prison for fraud.
– How did it happen than a guitarist of such class became a session player?
I was tired of being on the road, and I’d already done a few sessions for people like Roger Daltrey and Russ Ballard, who asked me to play as a guest on their albums, so I did that and I enjoyed it. I thought, This is great, to just work in the studio and then go home at night rather than sitting on buses and planes for weeks.
– What did you do later on?
I think it was around 1980 that I started working with Jack, and we did this band with Billy and David that lasted for two years or something, and after that I carried on working with Jack. David and Billy left, then Ronnie Leahy came in on keyboards, and we had several different drummers, one of whom was Bruce Gary, an old friend of Jack’s, and we worked together for some years after that. That was also the Jon Anderson period, wasn’t it? Myself and David Sancious worked with Jon Anderson on two albums and did a short tour of America. Jon had a lot of ideas of his own, so he was very much in cotrol, and we were really just session men working with him. And in 1994 there was the first COLOSSEUM reunion.
– Why don’t you consider yourself a writer when you did write and you still do?
Just because I’ve never been very happy with anything I’ve written, although I have to say that there’s a track that I wrote for the new COLOSSEUM album called “Tomorrow’s Blues” – I’m quite happy with that, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written.
– Back to blues?
Well, it’s back to blues, but it’s just the same as it always was with me – it’s blues-based but there’s always an element of something else in there. I mean, it’s not just the blues, it’s not a straightforward blues – it’s got a kind of Latin rhythm to it. There is actually a little of my flamenco influence coming through, because what it is is two time signatures working at the same time together: one is 6/8 which is the standard blues form, and the other in 3/4. I’ve never really been satisfied to just play straight blues, even though I love the blues and I love to hear the great blues players, and I’ve always wanted to do something a bit more, to just give it a little twist somewhere. So I suppose that’s basically what I’ve been trying to do most of the time.
– Are you ever going to make a solo record?
That’s one of the reasons why I’ve never done a solo record. People say, “Why don’t you just make a blues album?” but I think I’ve never had enough material. I don’t think there’s any point of making a solo record unless I’ve got an album’s worth of good material, and I’ve never had the time to get that much material together. It never seemed to be a big deal to me. It’s something I keep feeling I ought to do but I don’t have any great desire to do it. I may do it one day, the thing is that it takes me a long time to write a song, and normally by the time I’ve written two or three songs, is time to do a COLOSSEUM album, so the songs get used by COLOSSEUM. (Laughs.)
– The other thing could be something like “The Best Of Clem Clempson” – there’s many of such compilations out now.
That is something that I would actually love! That would be great if I could just pick my favorite tracks from BAKERLOO, COLOSSEUM, HUMBLE PIE, Jack Bruce and put out a compilation album. I’d like to do that.
– Could you try to compile it right now, just titles?
(Thinking for a while.) If I could remember the titles… (Laughs.) If I was going to do a compilation, I would obviously look at the albums and decide which cuts I would most like people to hear.
– Will you remember the music, or you’ll have to give all the records another listen?
Oh, I remember most of them. (Ponders a bit.) I think, how would I choose the tracks? Would it just be my favourite tracks or would it be the tracks that I feel I played my best solos on? Because one of my favorite HUMBLE PIE tracks is “30 Days In The Hole”, but there’s no lead guitar on this at all. So maybe I should choose “I Wonder”, which is slow blues with lots of lead guitar on. And there’s quite a lot of stuff with Jack, because there’s a lot of live material that I did and would love to listen to, like a peaceful track called “Ships In The Night” that I played with Jack at his fiftieth birthday concerts in Cologne.
– There’s a live recording of THE JACK BRUCE BAND in my collection with the track called “The Loner” on it, which Gary Moore recorded later. Why there’s no studio version of it on any of Jack’s albums?
I didn’t know it was recorded live! I’ve never heard it, I’ve never seen it! Oh, “The Loner” – this is the track that I would probably put on my compilation album. I’d completely forgotten about that: that was on Cozy Powell’s album “Over The Top”. I think Max Middleton, who was the keyboard player with Jeff Beck, wrote it for Jeff originally, but Jeff never did it. Then when Cozy made his album, Max was playing keyboards with Cozy, and Cozy called me and asked if I could come in and play on that track – and Jack played bass on it.
– Are you familiar with Gary Moore’s version?
No, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. I knew he’d done it but I never heard it.
– His version is very close to the one you played, so could it be you influenced Gary?
We all influence each other in some way, and I’m sure I’ve been influenced by things Gary’s done. We started around the same time, and I remember seeing Gary playing with SKID ROW. I love guitars and I love to hear great guitar sounds, and Gary gets a fantastic sound with his Les Paul: “Parisienne Walkways” is a gorgeous guitar sound. His playing is maybe a little bit intense for my taste, but he sounds good.
– Did you ever have an urge to become a guitar hero, like Gary?
There are certain aspects of it that appeal to me, I can’t deny it. (Laughs.) Jeff Beck used to have some incredibly beautiful women around him, and I quite liked that idea, but some other aspects of the ‘guitar hero’ thing, like the posing, have never appealed to me at all. I love to play, and I love to play live, I love to play to an audience, but I’m not really a performer, if you know what I mean, I’ve never been the showman. And I think there has to be an element of the showman to make a real guitar hero. For me, Jimmy Page was the complete guitar hero, he is a great writer – he wrote some fantastic songs and some of the classic guitar riffs of all time, he could perform – he did all these tricks with his violin bow – he wore his guitar really low and took a lot of drugs. That’s what a guitar hero has to do, and I can’t be like that.
– How did you feel in the most guitar-based band you played with, SNAFU?
– Who would you consider your guitar rivals?
I don’t know, there’s a lot of good guitarists around these days. In the Seventies, when COLOSSEUM was at the height of its popularity, I was often mentioned in the “best guitarists” polls in magazines like “Beat Instrumental” alongside people like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, but I feel that it would be very conceited if I said that they were my rivals. If you asked who I’d most like to play like, it would have to be Robben Ford.
– Did you really play with Bob Dylan, or it was just a session and he overdubbed his voice later?
I spent three days filming concert scenes with Dylan for a movie called “Hearts Of Fire” and we jammed a lot – Ronnie Wood was also in the band, and we had a lot of fun! The soundtrack of the album has tracks with me and Dylan on, plus Eric Clapton, I think.
– How did you get to play in big productions like “Evita” and “Aida”? What tracks are you on there?
I don’t think I had anything to do with “Evita”, but I was involved very heavily in arranging the music for Starlight “Express”, which came about because Jon [Hiseman] and Barbara [Thompson, Jon’s wife ] are very good friends of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and he asked them to recommend a guitarist.
– Is there any musician still that you’d like to work with?
That I haven’t worked with? I wouldn’t mind working with STEELY DAN. I’ve always been a big fan of singers, more than instrumentalists, so I would love to play with Stevie Winwood, for example, Ray Charles or Solomon Burke – he is phenomenal and I’d like to be able just to do one solo in a song that Solomon Burke sang.
– In which of all the bands you had the utmost freedom of expression? I mean, you’ve always been in someone else’s group.
I feel totally free to do whatever I want within COLOSSEUM, even though the band existed before I joined originally.
– Is there any difference between the old days’ COLOSSEUM and today’s band?
Yeah, we can hear ourselves! (Laughs.) We have monitors on stage these days. We still have disagreements, sure, and we always will. Dick’s just as stubborn as he ever was. I think the main difference now is that we appreciate it a lot more, we get a lot more pleasure out of it than we did. Originally, there was always this pressure to keep creating more material and to go on being inventive, and that’s what destroyed the band in the end, because Jon was the leader of the band and he felt that it was his duty to drive us creatively, although Jon wasn’t really a composer himself. He would always be organizing rehearsals and trying to encourage us to come up with new material and stuff, and it became very hard. When you try to force things to happen, that’s when they’re not going to.
But this may be the last album that COLOSSEUM do anyway – we’re all getting a bit old for this kind of thing! It’s just very time-consuming, making COLOSSEUM albums, because we’re such perfectionists – we set out thinking we’ll make an album in two or three weeks and six months later we’re still trying to finish it.
– By the way, if you were to pick up your favourite players to form a band of your own, would it be the COLOSSEUM guys?
That’s an interesting question! The personnel would probably change for different tracks, but if I were supposed to tour with my favourite guys, they wouldn’t get on very well. I would like to have Steve Marriott and Jack Bruce playing in the same band, if Steve was around, but I don’t think they would get on for one day. But I did actually do a gig in my own name with my band a couple of years ago, when a promoter asked me to play a festival, so I put a band together which consisted of Ian Thomas on drums, Dick on saxophone, a bass player called Laurence Cottle, Ronnie Leahy on keyboards, and a wonderful harmonica player called Mark Feltham who used to work with Rory Gallagher; I did some singing myself but I got Chris Farlowe to sing as well. That was pretty close to my idea of the band.
– You said, “Tomorrow’s Blues” is going to be the last COLOSSEUM album. If so, what you’re going to do next?
I don’t have any plans, but I would like to carry on performing, I’d like to carry on being have to go out and play. What I love about the COLOSSEUM situation is that there’s an opportunity to go out and do concerts: COLOSSEUM is well-known enough to be able to do good-size places. And I would hate to have to give up live performances, but I don’t know how long COLOSSEUM will be able to go on doing it.
– What interests do you have in life outside music?
Tennis and football – as a player. Oh well, I’m a watcher of football – I did play, I used to love to play football, but I broke my wrist once, just before ROUGH DIAMOND. I was playing football and I fell over and broke the same bone that David Beckham broke recently. People were phoning up the BBC and asking what was the metatarsal bone that he broke: nobody else in England seemed to know what it was, except for me. So I decided not to play football anymore, but I can play tennis.
– And reading? I’d call COLOSSEUM a band of intellectuals.
Really? That’s one of my most vivid memories from the first days of COLOSSEUM: we’re sitting in the van going to a gig, and all the guys would have “The Times” or “Telegraph” in front of them, these broadsheet newspapers. And I would think, This is rock ‘n’ roll! (Laughs.) But I do like to read, and I read quite a lot, I’ve just been reading a book by Zadie Smith, who is one of the most talented new English authors. She wrote a very good book called “White Teeth” and the new one is called “The Autograph Man”.
– What music do you listen to now?
I listen to RADIOHEAD and Robben Ford, to some opera and a lot of flamenco. Paco De Lucia, Paco Penia, Tomatito – they’re fantastic!
– So what you normal day is like?
I don’t have a normal day. I think, a normal day is when I get up and plan to do some writing and actually end up spending most of it being distracted by other things – either by tennis, or shopping, or being interviewed, or something. (Laughs.) And this is one of the reasons why I’ve never done a solo album.
– Well, at least, all of this makes life not boring.
That’s true! But I’m very grateful for my life, I think I’m very lucky – I travel a lot, I have lots of friends, I have a very varied and enjoyable time.
– What can make you laugh, then?
I would say, “Monty Python”.
– Ah “Monty Python”! So what is your Holy Grail in life?
Getting a decent guitar sound, which is very hard. And I would like to compose something really special, something that I’d believe would be around when I’m gone.