Interview by Jason Gross
PSF: When you were young, what music did you hear that piqued your interest?
BS: I was just 13 to 15 at the right time. And I started off listening to Elvis and Bill Haley and the Comets, early rock and roll Chuck Berry. And then the Beatles and all of that happened. And you couldn't avoid listening to that and being involved in that and what it meant. But that was just as a teenager- I had no desire to be a guitar player at all until I heard a record called "Apache" which is by the Shadows, who were Cliff Richard's backing band. And I heard it once on the radio in a car just before my 14th birthday and from that moment onwards, I wanted to be a guitar player. I fell in love with electric guitars at that point.
PSF: How did that lead you to Kippington Lodge (one of his first bands) and eventually the band Brinsley Schwarz?
BS: Well, I was unfortunate enough to go to a boarding school- they were dreadful places, even in the '50's and '60's. But by the time I had been there for a year, I had an electric guitar and amplifier, which was a rarity in those days. And I took it to school with me and achieved maximum status immediately. (laughs) And Nick Lowe was at the school and (keyboard player) Barry Landerman was at the school and we formed the school band with three others. Well, I left prematurely, having had enough to being beat(en) for running in the corridor and managed to get out and joined a band where I lived in Kent. That slowly developed into Kippington Lodge and Nick and Barry, who played organ, joined that. We had a manager and an agent and Barry got stolen and joined a pop band (Vanity Fair) and they had some hit records. And that's when Bob Andrews (keyboards) joined us and we changed drummers and became 'Brinsley Schwarz,' which was not my idea but was everybody else's. From then on, everybody knows.
PSF: Just to fast forward a bit, why did the band Brinsley Schwarz come to an end?
BS: We spent five years... We worked pretty much constantly. We made six albums, one of which hasn't been released. Towards the end, we were making singles, which were coming out under different names (The Hitters, The Knees, Limelight, The Brinsleys). You get to a point where it seems that you're not going to go any further, either in terms of success and in terms as a musical unit. Everybody comes to the end really- I know the Stones are still going but I can't think of many other bands that last. (laughs) And you know, we lasted five years. We were better at the end than when we started and we still had integrity intact and so... it was bound to be, although I was surprised that it was Nick who decided that we should call it a day and move on. And so we just split up, really. And we all went our different ways. I think really it was really that Nick recognized that enough was enough...
PSF: What do you mean by that?
BS: ...In terms of the five of us being together. In terms of being able to move forward, musically as well as career-wise.
PSF: Do you think that there was a cohesive pub rock scene at the time and if so, did the bands grouped under that name really support each other?
BS: Before that started, there was hardly anywhere to play. There were a few clubs available. Once you managed to play through those, there was no way up. The only way up to get on a larger tour was to support a larger band and then you could play on the college circuit. And you had to pay, and if you didn't pay the money, you didn't get the chance. So, that's why we did the New York trip disaster years ago- that was born out of not having any way to bypass the different levels of what you could do without financial backing. So after that, we were in the position where we could play larger places and we did and we didn't like it much. Nick and Dave went out and saw an American band playing (in a pub), maybe it was Eggs Over Easy, thought it was a good idea and then we talked about it. Dave (Robinson, manager) and I went around to various pubs- it was quite a hard idea to sway some of them that it might be a good idea to have a rock and roll band playing. One guy said 'Well, what would be the point of that?' Dave said 'Well, there'll be 300 people in here and there'll all be thirsty.' And he said 'Oh, well, we'll give it a go then.' So that's what happened.
We started playing in four, five pubs, and within two or three weeks, they were jammed. I can remember doing a gig at the Kensington (Tavern), which held about 150 and there must have been about 300 people outside at the height. So this meant that there were some pubs where bands could play and the landlord said 'Well, this is a good idea. Who else wants to play here? One night a week isn't enough- I want more.' So, other bands who were desperate for somewhere to play got involved and I wouldn't be surprised if some bands actually formed because there was somewhere to play. (laughs) They'd be sitting around and doing nothing and then they'd say 'Yeah, let's be a band and play at the pubs.'
So, all of the bands of course were not the same- they were song-based bands and not lengthy lead guitar solo based bands. It wasn't Led Zeppelin or anybody, it was just bands playing songs. The songs were all from very different backgrounds but because they were played in pubs, it got dubbed 'pub rock' by the music press. Pretty much after that, we were called a 'pub rock band.' I've been called the grandfather of pub rock on more occasions than I'd like.
So, pub rock was music played in pubs. It wasn't a specific music than that there were no other lengthy tedious solos. It was any kind of music that people wanted to go and see, played in pubs. But it wasn't a musical genre. And that was what was happening in America already so it was nothing new or anything. We just happened to think it was a good idea and really and truly, it was Dave Robinson's force of personality to persuade a few pub owners that it might be a good idea and that's how it started really.
PSF: I'm sure the New York trip you mentioned was a low point for the band but could you talk about some time that were high points for the Brinsley Schwarz band?
BS: (laughs) It's strange how you only remember the bad things... Well, there was the summer of '71. After the New York fiasco, that actually had a very positive effect. We played with Van Morrison who was in Astral Weeks mode at the time and who was unbelievably good. We did four shows at the Fillmore East, so we watched Van Morrison four times. And it was also a time when radio stations led the way instead of following meekly what they thought the public liked. Nowadays, they don't lead at all. In those days, they did and I remember when we landed very late, we were driven by limousine to the gig. And I can remember hearing 30 minutes of great music, Hendrix, Van Morrison, all kinds of people, Motown, without (a) break. And after 30 minutes, the DJ said 'Well, you just listened to...' listed them and then played another 30 minutes of great music. So from hearing that and hearing Van Morrison live, watching the band live, we realized that we had a quite a lot of catching up to do with our band. We determined that we would not worry at all about fame and fortunate but concentrate on trying to be good. And that fell in with the fact that we'd just discovered the Band and Crosby, Stills and Nash and kind of song-based stuff that I talked about earlier- non-pretentious proper music.
So we decided to rent a big house and got ourselves a rehearsal place and just played all day or just half of the day and most of the night for weeks. And we were sort of hungry for anything that came out of America. I remember that the Band came over and Robbie Robertson did an interview in Melody Maker. The guy asked him one really good question as far as we were concerned and that was 'What do the Band listen to?' And Robbie Robertson said 'Lee Dorsey.' And Lee Dorsey had two hit singles when I was teenager and they were "Holy Cow" and "Working In A Coalmine." We thought 'Yeah, that's OK." So we phoned up our record company and said 'We want everything that Lee Dorsey's every done and everything to do with everything that Lee Dorsey has done.' At which point we got a load of Allen Toussaint written stuff that he'd written and produced- the Meters, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Clifton Chenier who was a great accordian player, all of that great New Orleans stuff.
We’d do that with anything that anyone (in the band) thought was good- we'd go backwards into their history and find out where they got their thing from. And we would play James Brown backing- no one would sing anything, we would just find the riff and play it for hours. No one would change for hours. We were never going to be James Brown's backing band but we stayed on it until we had it right.
And the same thing happened with reggae. Dave found this guy in a pub and he brought him and he taught us how to play reggae. He stood in front of us making the noise of the instruments. So he'd stand in front of Bob (Andrews) and say 'Play the organ, man- it goes di-da-da-di, da-da-di...' And he'd just make this noise until Bob was playing it and he'd say 'Righteous!' (laughs) So he'd stand in front, 'Chick-a-ku, chick-a-ku...' at me. And he taught us how to play reggae. So that's what we did.
And in the summer of '71, which was a beautiful summer in England, we'd play music and hung out in a really nice big garden and had a really great time. I guess that was the best time we had.
Brinsley Schwarz the band, with Brinsley in the center with guitar and Nick Lowe to his left
PSF: I heard some of the songs that the group did at the Glastonbury Festival and it was really good. Did you regret that the band didn't record more live material?
BS: Um... yeah I guess because we were much better live than when we ever recorded. There is a quite a lot of live stuff. Hux Records released two or three Live at the BBC radio sessions. One of them's got a load of tracks on it. But you really didn't record much live in those days. There really weren't any mobile (studios). Now, you can take a laptop along and record off the desk. But that's not something you did much (then). But I think there's enough out there. The thing is, if we had known we were recording (at shows), it probably wouldn't have been as good as a gig in any case! (laughs)
PSF: How did you hook up with Graham Parker?
BS: OK, as I remember it, and others seem to remember it differently, the Brinsley Schwarz band called it a day sometime in early 1975 and a few months later I got a call from Dave Robinson, who had been our manager, asking me if I would like to play on a couple of tracks written by a singer songwriter he had found. He told me that Bob Andrews (who was in the Brinsleys) and Martin Belmont (with whom I'd played in Ducks Deluxe briefly and with whom I played tennis!) would also be playing along with a bass player and drummer I didn't know. I turned up at Dave's studio at the Hope and Anchor and met Graham, Steve and Andrew.
We played the session and as we packing up afterwards, someone said that the session had been good and how about getting together to play. Martin knew Reg and Sue who ran a pub called Newlands Tavern who very kindly offered to let us rehearse in the afternoons (this was well before 24 hour opening was allowed in England) on the promise that if we ever played a gig we would play our first one at the pub. Some months later we got a call from Dave again to tell us that Graham Parker now had a record deal and asking us if we would play on his first album. We said yes, chose a name and agreed to play one tour of England... And so it began!
PSF: What was the dynamic of the band with Graham?
BS: Continually shifting.
PSF: How so?
BS: Well I could elaborate by saying that the dynamic was continually shifting on multiple layers as relationships and musical styles and objectives developed!
I think the first time I ever even considered this 'dynamic' was when you asked me this question. All bands develop and change over time, it's inevitable.
Consider that at the beginning, Andrew and Steve had known each other for a long time, as had Bob and I and Martin, but we all met Graham on the same day, I think, but then spent several months rehearsing together five days a week, without Graham.
The members of the Rumour had all been in professional bands of some type for a time but this was Graham's first major leap into it all.
So you have a pretty varied mix of situations, attitudes, experiences and experience and this would have created some way in which we could all work together and that would obviously have altered somewhat as we spent more time together, became more professional together, recorded with different producers, had bad days and good days, bad gigs and good gigs etc. etc.
Thinking about it now, it's obvious that from the beginning, it was Graham's record deal, his records, his tours- we were hired musicians that just happened to be a band, that happened to be made up of vaguely respected and experienced musicians. But at the time, being in it, most of the time, to me, It just felt like the whole thing was one band.
I have no idea how Graham felt about this early on, but I think I always felt on level terms with Graham, maybe not on the business side of things (but that never mattered much to me after April 1970!). But on the playing, the musical input and personal side, we were in a band, you did what you could to help make whatever it was, happen. But that didn't mean you couldn't fight corners if you felt you needed to.
The more I think about this now the more I think that now, strangely, it's even more obviously Graham's record etc. but at the same time even more band like. We've all been doing different things for the past 30 odd years and now what's happening is that we're just enjoying playing together and enjoying what we're all playing. I think that's the best I can do on this one.
PSF: Talk about the making of the first album with Graham, Howlin’ Wind.
BS: We recorded it at a very good studio in Chiswick called Eden Studios. Nick Lowe (ex of the Brinsleys) produced it and told the jokes. It was quite quick and we all found our feet together and made, what time has seemed to show, a pretty good record.
PSF: How was Heat Treatment different than Howlin' Wind? What did you think of it in terms of how it was recorded and how it turned out in the end?
BS: Well I guess we had been on the road for a while by then and so we were a bit tighter as a band and this was heightened by producer Mutt Lange, who certainly liked everything to be exactly in time and didn't seem to mind sacrificing feel or vibe to get it.
I did learn a lot more about how to record guitar from him though. And there are some great songs on the album and it sounds good to me.
Around this time, we were pretty much working non-stop and so recording and touring seemed to blur into one and rush by. Add that to the 35 years that have passed and you get sketchy memories in general or very particular single ones!
PSF: What exactly did you learn from Lange about recording the guitar? Which songs on the album did you think worked really well and why?
BS: He showed me that if you wanted to know how your guitar would sound, recorded, you put your ear where the microphone is, obvious really, you then hear exactly what the microphone hears. Conversely, if you want your sound to be like what you hear when you're standing up ten feet away from your amp then put the mike where your ear is. At some point, I started to record guitar loud (makes the speaker move lots and push air at the mike) in a separate room, sometimes out in a stairwell, with several mikes, usually one about three feet from the amp, one near my head and one in the ceiling. And never with one mike jammed up against the speaker (where the sound hasn't properly formed yet, and where no one ever puts their ears!).
"Black Honey" is a great song, the record works really well, very soulful, touching and dramatic. "That's What They All Say," "Turned Up Too Late" and "Pouring It All Out" would be my other favourites.
PSF: Stick to Me seemed much more rock than the first two records. Why did the change occur?
That's how the band developed from playing live a lot. We became more confident individually and collectively. We'd toured America a few times by then and had to battle against the headline act's 'boogie' loving audiences on many occasions. We'd toured a lot with Thin Lizzy and maybe they rubbed off on us some. Graham wrote a bunch of more aggressive rocky songs.
You can take your pick of any of these possible answers, but what definitely did happen was... We recorded the album carefully and with brass and strings added and then went on tour. The oxide coating on the 2 inch tape fell off taking the album with it and so we had to re-record it during a week off between tours and with Nick Lowe producing. We'd been playing the songs live and pretty much recorded our bit almost live and so the album had some of the speed, tightness and aggression of a live record.
PSF: Squeezing Out Sparks- Martin reckons that it's the best GP/Rumor record- would you agree or how would you rate it?
BS: Mmm, difficult question... I think they're all great songs, it's an album full of great songs. Producer Jack Nitzsche definitely introduced some new thinking and dramatically altered how we played some of the songs, Love Gets You Twisted in particular. I played my parts as overdubs and was given time to get satisfied with my sound and then Jack N. asked me if I was ready and when I answered 'yes' he said 'okay, you've got one chance, one take.' So, as I remember, everything I played on the album was one, first take, with the exception of the solo on "Passion is no Ordinary Word," which I messed up slightly towards the end and he liked what I had tried to do and gave me a second shot!
It's not my favourite sounding GP/R record though, Martin is probably right about it being the best album, but Stick To Me and Howlin' Wind are my favourites.
PSF: When you say that Sparks wasn't the best sounding Parker/Rumour record, what did you mean by that?
BS: I think I said that it wasn't my favourite sounding GP and R album. That's what I meant anyway. I think the mix could have been better, definitely more bass guitar, and less middle on my guitar, stuff like that, just down to personal taste, I guess. (I probably always thought the mixes could have been better but how much that matters in the grand scheme of things, I don't know).
But as I said before, great songs, and it has been interesting and good for the soul to revisit some of them on tour recently.
Brinsley Schwarz in the '70's with the Rumour
PSF: For The Up Elevator, Bob Andrews was gone and the group was working with Bruce Springsteen. How did these things change the dynamics of the band? What did you think of the finished album?
Firstly (and once again this is as I remember it!) we weren't working with Bruce Springsteen, Bruce came along to a session as a very special guest and added vocals to one track with Graham. I do remember Mick Jagger came along one day and wondered how we could play rock'n'roll sitting down... I think we were in a working-things-out stage and so sitting, I played a Flying V on most of the record and so I couldn't have been sitting for long and I think I stood for most of the time when it got to the serious recording, as did Martin and Andrew.
Without Bob on the record, I think we just made a slightly more guitar based record with keyboards being added where needed instead of being an integral part of the arrangements. I don't remember much of how I felt about the record because we parted company with Graham shortly afterwards and so the album was forgotten as we struggled to continue our careers without him. "Empty Lives" sticks in the mind as a memorable track.
PSF: You spoke about a number of good experiences you had in the studio with Parker/Rumour. Do you have any memorable live shows that you did with the band also?
BS: Very early on, one of the first gigs we played, somewhere in London, there was a very long shallow stage and we were all just in a very long row and there were just three people in the audience, sat on a similar long narrow bench on the other side of the room! An odd gig which was a bit like a paid rehearsal, but quite good fun as I remember. But who were those three people and where are they now?
I remember we played Cloudlands, now sadly not there anymore, in Brisbane in Australia. That was a pretty wild night, it was a dance hall with a sprung floor, packed with people jumping up and down and the floor got moving so much that the stage moved up and down as well in time with the music... a bit like being at sea. I believe there was some running amok by some of the audience after the show and the authorities may have got a little cross.
There was a gig we played in Phoenix. I think that the gig was Blue Oyster Cult supported by The Bob Seger Band, Bob Seger was ill, something with his throat I think, and I'm sure we just happened to be in Phoenix with a day off and got drafted in as a convenient replacement, but Martin tells me we were booked to open the show. Anyhow the show was very late starting because of an accident with some PA at their previous gig, and that had to be fixed, and so the audience had got a little restless by the time the compere, possibly a young Englishman, announced glibly that Bob Seger couldn't make it but here instead was Graham Parker and the Rumour. We were greeted by howls of abuse and by about 15 minutes into the set I looked across the stage and saw that myself, Andrew and Martin were pinned to our back line by the constant barrage of coke cups (empty of coke but full of crushed ice) that the audience were hurling at us and Graham was a lone figure at the front dodging the missiles. With Bob and Steve tied to their instruments I beckoned to Andrew and Martin that we should go forward. So we saw out the rest of the show giving the audience as much stick as we could from the front of the stage.
Afterwards, some of Blue Oyster Cult, who were very pleasant chaps, came and apologised for the audience's behaviour and one of them said he couldn't understand why we stayed on stage. I think one of us did tell him why. But I don't think the audience meant us any harm, just their way of having fun!
Over the years we had some terrific gigs- Chicago, New York, LA and San Francisco were always great audiences and we had great gigs in the UK and Australia. It's a blur though and you remember the weird ones more than the really good ones.
PSF: Why did the Rumor end its relationship with Graham afterwards?
BS: Graham decided it was time to change things, I think he needed to stop the cycle of record/tour/record/lose money/tour/etc and come up with a new way forward. The break was completely amicable and, considering how long we'd been together and the intensity of the playing and the work load, it was pretty understandable.
PSF: Could you talk about the two Rumor solo records? Was it a satisfying experience working on them? How different was it from working with Graham?
BS: The Rumour made four albums without Graham- Max, Frogs Sprouts Clogs And Krauts and two versions of Purity of Essence, with one being released in the USA, which has just been released on CD for the first time, and one released in the rest of the world. I really enjoyed making these records, especially F S C and K which we produced ourselves as well. And these are naturally my favourite records that I worked on.
It was obviously very different from working with Graham, although that experienced changed a lot over the years as well. A downside would be that we didn't have someone who could come up with an album full of great songs and an upside was that they were our records and we were able to make them as we pleased.
PSF: How did you and Martin work out the guitar parts between the two of you on all of the Rumour albums that you did with Graham?
BS: There were times when we would both automatically play in each other’s holes both time wise and content wise. Sometimes we automatically chose to play either rhythm or lead. I played quite a lot of reggae style and also Chuck Berry rhythm in the Brinsleys so quite often played rhythm in those songs with GP and R. Like "Questions" and "New York Shuffle."
Sometimes we would discuss it and sometimes we would have to sit down and work stuff out. Sometimes one of us would have a definite idea and the other would work from or around that.
There was also often Graham's guitar part to work around as well. Sometimes Graham had a definite idea of a part and one of us would play that, like "Local Girls," sometimes I would hear little tune possibilities in the way that Graham played the chords when he first played a song to us, and I was able to work those into parts and Martin would play his strong rhythm. "Nobody Hurts You" would be an example of that. Most of the time we just started to play what came naturally and that would just magically fit together, like on Empty Lives. Prior to recording Three Chords Good, we'd had Graham's demos for a while and Martin and I got together for a day to go over things and sometimes we would sit and wait for each other to start playing and then play exactly the same thing at exactly the same time and then fall about laughing. But we've always been able to come up with a way to play two guitar parts together without much trouble, like on "Coathangers," and if a song doesn't need much guitar then we just don't play much. You don't have to play all the time and sometimes one or two notes can be much more telling than a whole bunch of them.
PSF: Could you talk about your sax and keyboard playing? I think most people forget that you were versatile with other instruments as well.
BS: Sometime in the seventies, ‘73/’74, the Brinsleys got very into Motown, Soul and the Philly sound. I had always really liked Garth Hudson's sax playing in the Band, the solo on "W S Walcott" is sensational, and then King Curtis and Junior Walker. I got an alto first, I think because that's just what I stumbled into, and played a solo on Speedo on "Please Don't Ever Change" after I'd only had it for a couple of weeks... I played that solo because they were just about the only notes I knew.
But I soon wanted a tenor and eventually got a really nice old Selmer. I struggled on with it for a few months, finding it really hard to get any vaguely high notes, until I met a proper sax player who kindly told me that I was playing with a mouthpiece and reed strength to suit someone who had been playing for years (decades) and suggested that I pay a visit to Lewington's (the major brass store in central London) and get myself sorted with some decent beginner's equipment. So I got down there and after hanging around for a while someone eventually asked me if I needed help. I said yes please, I was a beginner and needed a beginner's mouthpiece and reed. He asked which players I was into and I replied 'Garth Hudson and Junior Walker,' and the bastard just sneered at me, said they weren't sax players and walked off!
I eventually managed to get that together though and started to get a better sound and be able to reach all the notes and played sax at bit more in the band. Bob started to play the alto a bit and so we had a little section going... Like on "Down in the Dive."
After the Brinsleys broke up, I carried on practising and then the Rumour started. There wasn't much call for the sax in the band and I didn't really play sax again until GP and R did a cover of "Chain of Fools."
But eventually we got the brass section and although I carried on playing on "Chain of Fools," it was obvious that the two sax players in the Rumour Brass were a whole lot better than me, so I gave up playing live. Like with all instruments, there's a physical side to playing the sax that if you don't keep up when you're beginning, you lose ground. And that happened to me as I stopped practising on tour.
Then a year or so later, I picked it up and tried to play and almost passed out, so I gave it up. Got a bit of a hankering to try again though and I might see if I can get a note out of one.
I went to see Robben Ford recently giving a sort of informal talk about his career, what got him started, what he's into, that sort of thing. And he reinforced that thing that if you're a guitar player you listen to sax players for solo ideas and piano players for chord and rhythm stuff. So why not just try and play the sax? Might give it another go.
What I always did really enjoy was playing the Hammond organ with a Leslie. And I used to do that a bit more in the Brinsleys when Bob played the piano, and also in the early GP and R days when Graham played guitar more. But we gradually became more of a guitar band and so the organ went by the way as well. I recently had the opportunity to buy a Hammond A3 and a Leslie for a good price, but found that it was so big, I'd have to dismantle half my house to get it upstairs to my music room! So I guess I'm just supposed to play guitar.
PSF: When the punk movement came around in the mid and late 70's, did you and the Rumor feel any kinship with them?
BS: I can't really speak for the others, but no I didn't feel any kinship with the punk movement at all.
PSF: Why was that? What was so different about the punk bands that you found?
BS: Yes I don't know how the rest of the band felt about punk, I don't recall any big, or little, discussions about it? But I didn't know any of the punk bands and I didn't listen to any punk music much. I've probably heard "God Save the Queen" all the way through once! But I was, and still am mostly, into completely different music... Steely Dan, Little Feat and The Band and Bob Dylan, Motown, Soul, The Shadows, The Beatles, 60's pop music, Prince Buster, Bob Marley, Toots, Van Morrison, Albert King, Crosby Stills and Nash, Chuck Berry... What can I say. I don't think there could be anything more alien to me, well except possibly rap and hip hop! Oh and metal.
I wonder if any punk bands felt any kinship with us?
PSF: After Graham decided that he wanted to work with another band, why didn't the Rumuor itself continue on its own?
BS: The Rumour stayed together as a four piece band and made two versions of our third record entitled Purity of Essence. We toured supporting and backing Garland Jeffries in both Europe and the USA and we played gigs in our own right in the UK and the USA, up until sometime, I would guess, in 1981 when we decided to call it a day.
PSF: What were you doing after the Rumour first broke up?
BS: When Graham and the Rumour parted ways in the spring of 1980, Graham took a year and a half off to sort stuff off. And the Rumour carried on. We made another album and did a bit of touring for a year or so. And then that stopped and we split up as well. I kind of thought then that I wasn't going to do much more but then I accidentally had fallen into working in a store in West London, fixing guitars. I had bought some guitar parts at Rudy's, around 48th and 7th (in New York City), which is a much friendlier place then that it is now. I went there a couple of weeks ago and they were rude and arrogant- I had a bit of a run-in with the guitar tuner there who's just a rude, unpleasant person. Always had a really good relationship with them in the '70's and '80's- I was there all the time. I jammed with one of the guys one night who worked there then.
Anyway, I bought these guitar parts with the idea of building a guitar and took it to this guitar store in West London, and they agreed to do all of the work, put in a new spring and put it all together. And I just said 'Can I come in and finish it off- do the last bit of set up work for fun?' And they said 'no problem.' So when it was all ready to do, they called me up and I went down there and it took about an hour. And they gave it to the repair guy Charlie and said 'what do you think?' And he looked at it and took it over to his brother who was the boss and they talked for a few minutes and Charlie came back and said 'do you want a job?' (laughs) So we talked about it and I just started out doing it for a couple of days a week, learning to do different guitar-related things and they were very good. While that was also happening, I got back with Graham- the rest of the band were in America and I rejoined. I played with him all through the '80's and was on all the records and produced a couple of them. And the shop allowed that I could do 5 or 6 months doing an album or touring with Graham and they were very good. And then when I stopped playing, I just did more repair work and since 1982 or 1983, I've been a guitar repairer.
PSF: During that time so, did you ever miss playing live or recording or being in a band?
BS: I don't think. I learned to do other stuff. I've been modifying old guitar amps, I've built guitar amps. A friend of mine and I build overdrive pedals, four of which I've been using on this tour. I've actually got complimented on my sound on this tour. That never happened to me. People have complimented me on my playing but never on my sound. I use one of these pedals and it's on all the time so it must be doing something good. (laughs)
I've done other stuff and it's time consuming. Repairing guitars take a lot of thought and a lot of knowledge as well as a lot of skill. So you get involved and I work in a store where there's other guitar players. I've worked for guitar players and there's hundreds and hundreds of them and you just get involved with that. So no, I don't think I did miss it. I did a playing with people occasionally but... Playing live is not without stress. (laughs) It's not all good fun.
PSF: Were you surprised when the Rumour reunion happened recently?
BS: Yeah, very. In fact, I was just going through my daily stuff (at the time). We had just bought a new house and it needed quite a lot of work. I had just been down to Ikea and bought bed room furniture and wardrobe. So I'd been out for quite a long time and done quite a lot of lifting, just got it all into the house, the boxes and everything. I was tired, thought I'd have a nice cup of tea and a piece of fruit cake as they do in England around 1 o'clock.(laughs). So I just made that and the cake was on its way to my mouth when the phone rang. I thought 'God, not what?' So I walked over to the phone and said 'WHAT?!' quite loudly. And that was Graham (calling). He didn't think I would do it because one of the reasons I stopped (playing) was because I became unable to get on an aeroplane. I had an actual physical thing- I actually couldn't put my foot across the (boarding) line- once for about twenty minutes, I was just sort of frozen. So that's part of why I gave up. I clearly had enough of all of it. So he asked everybody else (in the Rumour) and he was phoning me last. So he said 'I know you're not going to do this... and obviously we'd talked about it before but I have to ask because everybody else is.' And I said 'Oh yeah, what?' And he told me about it (the reunion). And I heard my subsconsious brain, this distant voice saying 'Absolutely, count me in! Sounds great.' But that day, that was the last thing I thought in particular was going to happen. (laughs) So, yeah I was surprised.
PSF: Was it still difficult for you to travel after you made that choice though?
BS: Yeah... I've kind of talked about it with my wife. I'm a musician so I just figured I would just get on with it and do it. I don't mind driving around different countries but I hate, I really HATE flying. But you know, you say 'we'll I'm going to do this and if it goes down, at least I'm doing something that I want to.'
PSF: How have the recent shows with Graham and the Rumour been going?
BS: Really, really well. I don't think we've quite sold out everything but it's been pretty close. There's not a small number of people coming. On the East Coast I think, we saw this one couple that came to every gig. A guy came from Australia and he came to most of the gigs on the East Coast. One from Germany. But the places have been pretty full and we've been going down pretty well. And it's gotten better as well.
PSF: How is playing with the band now compared to the old days?
BS: It's like when you asked me about that with the Ducks and I said 'We play with the same intensity we did but we're more relaxed.' (laughs) It's still Graham Parker and the Rumour. Although we're not young, it doesn't seem to me that we're a bunch of old folks. We're a rock and roll band still. But it seems more solid and slightly slower and for that, I think it swings more and it's better really.
PSF: Could you talk about recording the new album (Three Chord Good)?
BS: Yep. Graham had given us the (demo) tapes for a few weeks and everybody had an idea of what they might try. Most of that seemed to work quite well. There were a few specific instances where we clearly had a different idea come to some of us or all of us but it all went really easily. There's a lot of first takes on it. "Coat Hangers" is a first take. It all seemed really easy to do. When we weren't playing, we seemed to spend more of the time laughing. It was a really, easy experience. The cliche is that it was like yesterday that we were playing together. It clearly wasn't but it felt like that really. Everyone got on well together. It was remarkable really. I think to an extent, it comes out on the album. It seems like everyone is playing freely and how they wanted to and it all works. So yeah, it was quite extraordinary really. (laughs)
PSF: Do you think the present Rumor reunion will last a while?
BS: Very hard to tell, I think we're all still very much up for it and definitely enjoying it, so let's hope that it will carry on for a while longer.
It's hard to know though. Because of this movie, the whole is thing is sort of removed from reality to some extent and we have no idea what is going to happen. The movie's going to start showing shortly. And Judd Apatow's movies aren't ones that quietly go along- he's had some seriously big movies. I can see that's going to be watched by millions of people and Graham Parker and the Rumour's presence in the movie is not small. I was quite surprised at how involved it was in one part of the movie. So I can't see that's not going to create either a demand or opportunity to play more. But I don't know... (laughs) It's impossible to know. I think there's some talk about doing a little bit more next year but we'll see how it goes I guess. It's not easy to see what might happen. But again, nothing might happen or an awful lot might happen and there might be something in between! So something might happen.
I think something will. And I don't pay much attention to the music industry anymore- I find it very confusing. I don't see how anybody could make any money. So I have 25 songs of my own that I've written over the last few years. I don't know what to do with them. If you record them, you spend a lot of time and quite a lot of money making a record and then everybody gets it for nothing. I don't see the point! (laughs) As Graham says when he says on stage 'This is a single and I don't know exactly what that means anymore- I guess it means you don't have to steal the album, you can just steal one song.' That's seems to be how it is.
PSF: You're also participating in the Ducks Deluxe reunion now- how does it feel to be playing the material now, though you weren't in the band back in the day (I think)? Do you think there's a healthy market for 'pub rock' now?
BS: After the Brinsley's broke up in early 1975, I played with Ducks Deluxe for a few months until they too broke up. I knew Martin quite well by that time. Recently, I've been playing with them again, although only Martin and Sean are left from the original band. We have a great bass player and drummer in Kevin Foster and Jim Russell and it's been a lot of fun playing with them. It’s the 40th anniversary, so we’ve got some gigs in England, toured around Sweden. So that’s been really good fun and been well received. That’s been the first serious playing that I’ve done since 1989 when I stopped.
I'm not convinced that there's a healthy market for any kind of music right now, unless you consider being able to get it for free a healthy market! I don't see much evidence that pub rock has any particular advantage.
But pub rock was never a kind of music like country or jazz. It was simply music played in pubs and clubs by bands who couldn't, or didn't want to, get onto the larger gig tours. I suppose we were similar in a way in that we all played songs without long tedious soloing and all the pomp that goes with some other types of music, but we were all also quite different from each other.
Brinsley Schwarz was a pub rock band for a short time, from the beginning up until shortly after the press labeled us and it 'pub rock', when we tried not to play in pubs! But Graham Parker and the Rumour were not.
What was good about the movement was that it opened up a lot of venues for emerging bands where before it was a struggle to play anywhere meaningful or be 'seen' and so advance.
PSF: Were you surprised that the Ducks Deluxe reunion happened?
BS: Well, yeah... It kind of grew out of the fact that the Graham Parker and the Rumor reunion happened. That put me back in touch with Martin and I think getting back together again allowed a better tour and gigs because of the slightly added interest. Any sort of playing (is good)... I had sort of retired from playing.
PSF: How does it feel to do the Ducks Deluxe gigs compared to back in the day?
BS: They have a different rhythm section which is more rock and roll. (Drummer) Jim Russell has a lot more swing to his playing. Ducks Deluxe weren’t a punk band but they were very fast and in your face. (laughs) Everyone’s gotten slightly more relaxed and more swingy and rocky than the straight ahead (music). We still play a number of those songs but it’s a little more relaxed but still quite up front. Ducks Deluxe is now three guitar players in the band so I have a little bit more of roving breathe- I can do a little bit more free form playing. There’s some structured parts but there’s more soloing but yeah, it’s been good fun.
PSF: What kind of music do you like to listen to nowadays?
BS: Certainly not very much that's recent. The last album I bought, by a recent artist, was by Jack Johnson. (the Where'd All The Good People Go album). I barely bought any new music in the nineties until Two Against Nature by Steely Dan came out. I found and still do find this to be a deeply satisfying and inspiring record, which also has the effect on me of making most other music unlistenable, which is probably not a good thing!
I still listen to (Little) Feats Don't Fail Me Now, The Band and Stage Fright, Good Ole Boys (Randy Newman) albums by Ry Cooder, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, The Shadows, early Elvis Presley, Levon Helm, Little Feat, early Motown and Soul, the Beatles, and so on, you get the picture. And just every now and then I'll listen to a few of the hits of the early ‘60's, Hollies, Searchers, Beach Boys etc. and one of my favourite records ever "All Along the Watchtower" by J. Hendrix.
I 'hear' lots of music made in more recent times and either can take it or leave it or just plain hate it.
PSF: What kind of advice would you have for an eager young musician who's just starting out in a band?
BS: Listen to The Beatles, learn how to play in a band and follow your heart, unless of course you want to make lots of money, in which case probably do the opposite!
PSF: Finally, just out of curiosity, I was wondering if, based on your last name, you might be Jewish? (this coming from a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey)
BS: No, I'm not. You're not the first American to ask me that. My father was from Holland. 'Schwarz' means 'black' in Dutch and is a common ordinary name there.
Also see our Martin Belmont interview
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