Sunday, September 18, 2011

BD Interview with the Legendary Nick Saloman

Nick Saloman is a giant in the world of music. I suspect he may be the first person to tell you he's not, brushing the notion off with a wave of his hand and then moving on again about his business. The evidence is out there, however, and all one has to do is open the ears to find out. Nick is the driving force behind The Bevis Frond. Sometimes the band is comprised of just him, sometimes a few other guys coming in to lay down some drums or guitar, and other times it is a full band.

The music of The Bevis Frond is an incredible experience to listen to. You get everything from mind melting, psychedelic excursions down the rabbit hole to brilliant guitar driven pop and ballads that will stay in your head long after the album has quit playing. Nick has worked and collaborated with an astounding number of legends and luminaries in the pantheon of psychedelic music. This goes to prove that he has a place among them. As a guitar player he is one of the best. You can name any 5 people you want as to who you think are the greatest guitarists ever, and Nick Saloman can walk among them. I could wax hyperbolic all night about Nick and The Bevis Frond but there's an interview to get to. Nick was kind and gracious enough to talk with us here at the BFD, about whatever we asked him. We greatly appreciate the effort and time that he took out of his days to answer the emails, so without any further ado, Ladies and gentlemen.....Nick Saloman.

Nick Saloman
Nick, you've made a lot of music over the years. Were you brought up in a musical environment?

Yes. My Mum was a really great pianist, as were both my aunts. My maternal granddad also played piano and apparently had his own little jazz band in the 20's and 30's. Sadly I never really got on with him. I always found him to be a very dour and miserable guy...that's what jazz will do for you. Anyway, my Mum taught me to play piano when I was about 5, but I was already into The Shadows and Johnny and the Hurricanes, etc., and just longed for a guitar. My Dad split with my Mum when I was 5 and he moved abroad, but one visit when I was 7, he brought me an acoustic guitar from Germany and that was that. The piano was history. Mum booked me some basic guitar lessons, and by the time I was 10, I was pretty good (for a kid). She was also quite a cool Mum, and she took me to see The Beatles for my 10th Christmas present. So, yes, I had a very musical upbringing.

What was your first band?

I played some shows at my Primary School and entered a Mime to The Beatles contest at The Swiss Cottage Odeon with some mates when I was 11. But I'd say the first proper band was a 3 piece with a couple of schoolmates when I was about 15. I was on guitar, Ray Flores was on bass, and Bill O'Brien played drums. Initially we had a guy called Charlie Webber on vocals, basically because his elder brother played organ in a real psychedelic band called The Geranium Pond, and if we were lucky we could borrow some of their equipment. Unfortunately, despite looking like a cross between Brian Jones and Davy Jones (aged about 15), Charlie couldn't sing, and I ended up being singer. we played at local youth clubs and the occasional party. Our set comprised covers of Hendrix, Blue Cheer, The Doors, Cream, more or less all the stuff we liked. Initially, the band was called The Museum, but my schoolfriend Julien Temple (now a famous film maker) said he thought that The Bevis Frond was a much better name. I don't know where he got the name from, but we became The Bevis Frond Museum. It didn't last very long because Bill O'Brien, who was much too good for the likes of us, got an offer to join a local band with his cousin Gary Grainger called The Confusion. Gary ended up in Strider, and eventually played guitar in Rod Stewart's band.

There are lots of stories out there about what it was like to be young, playing rock 'n' roll in the mid to late 60's in England. Guys like Mick Farren and Keith Richards, just to name a few, have told and written about their adventures in that environment. What was your experience?

Well, those guys are a bit older than me, and were experiencing real life, real gigs, making records, etc. I was 15 in 1968 and playing in schoolboy bands, so it was a bit different. However, I lived right in Central London, so I could walk to places like The Marquee or The Roundhouse, and I was really into the music scene, so I just about caught the end of the 60's I guess. My mates and I used to go and see bands all the time, but we were a bit naive. A couple of the lads got into hallucinogenics, but I never did, pretty much because I wanted to take note of what all the guitarists were doing. I suppose I was a bit of a nerd like that. I spent all my money on going to gigs and buying records. I was in 'Swinging London' aged about 16, seeing bands, getting off with girls, playing football, etc., etc., and I have to say that it was a really fantastic few years, but by about 71-72 the music had more or less faded away into glam rock prog.

Freakouts, and all points in between. Who are some of the influences on your sound, and in particular your guitar playing?

Phew, that's pretty hard to answer because there are so many influences. I was first influenced by rock 'n' roll, and I'd have to cite Hank Marvin of the Shadows as my first guitar hero. Then The Beatles came along, and then The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Small Faces, and all that raucous British Beat stuff. But then I saw Hendrix on Ready Steady Go and he just left everyone else standing. I loved Eric Clapton, Peter Green, but I didn't think they were in Hendrix's league. It was around then that Steve Webber (of The Geranium Pond) started playing me things like The Grateful Dead, Blue Cheer, Jefferson Airplane, and I really got into the West Coast bands. I guess my favorite was Country Joe and The Fish, Savage Resurrection, Mad River, Clear Light, The Steve Miller Band, SRC, HP Lovecraft, Spirit, but mainly Country Joe. Barry Melton was a big influence. Ollie Halsall of Patto was one of my all time favorite guitarists. I think I saw Patto about 30 times! Latterly, I'd have to say Greg Sage of the Wipers re-opened my eyes to the possibilities of feedback and long solos. I was also really impressed by The Damned's 'Machine Gun Ettiqette' album. As far as songwriting goes, you can't beat The Beatles now can you? Lyrically, I was very influenced by the late David Ackles, who demonstrated how you could be really brutal and poetic at the same time. I loved Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, early Richard Thompson. I thought Country Joe was a great songwriter too.

How did The Bevis Frond come to be?

I'd been playing in bands and doing solo stuff throughout the 70's into the 80's without any success, and I was nearly 30. I figured that I was never going to get anywhere with my music. In 1982 I had a bad motorbike accident. The council had dug the road up and hadn't properly filled it in properly, and I was riding home from playing football one night. I just went straight into this unfilled hole in the road and broke my ulna, radius, elbow, and a couple of toes. I had multiple cuts and bruises and I ended up in hospital for 3 months. I had several pins put in my left arm, lots of stitches, and to this day my arm has very restricted movement. For a while it looked like I'd have to give up playing guitar, but after a year or two I managed to adapt my playing style to the limitations. I got some compensation for the accident, bought some recording equipment and recorded a load of tracks with me playing all the instruments.

Eventually I had enough stuff for an album, which I released basically as a vanity project. This was 'Miasma. Well, much to my amazement a few people liked it and it sort of became a bit of a minor underground success. Then I started being asked when my next album was coming out, and I remember realising I was on to something, so I did another record, and another, and another....I then started being asked if I wanted to do some gigs, which really took me by surprise. I put a band together with Ade Shaw on bass, Rod Goodway on guitar and vocals, and Martin Crowley on drums.

I'd played in bands with Martin before, and I'd met Rod and Ade through a mate called Phil McMullen. Rod and Ade had both been in a band called Magic Muscle, and Rod had fronted a 60's beat group called The Pack, while Ade had gone on to play bass for plenty of 70's bands, most notably Hawkwind for whom he replaced Lemmy. We did our first show as The Magic Bevis Muscle Frond supporting Hawkwind at The Brixton Academy. Soon I was being offered European dates, so we just became The Bevis Frond and set off on a Euro Tour in 1990 I think. And I guess that's pretty much how it all started.

You've written a vast amount of songs over the years. How do you go about writing songs?

Well, I’m very lucky in that it just comes naturally. I really don’t have to think about it or make any kind of effort at all. I started writing songs and music when I was about 9, and it just developed from there. I sit around twiddling about on the guitar a lot, rather like someone idly having a cigarette, and before I know it there’s a tune coming out. Then I sing along to it, usually complete gibberish, till I hit on a line or two that sound interesting, and I build the lyrics that way. I rarely have any idea what the lyrics are about till I’m halfway through them, then it kind of falls into place. It doesn’t take very long, maybe an hour or so. When it’s finished I’ll play it through a few times to see if I like it. Usually it’ll end up in the bin, but if it’s a good one, I’ll record a basic acoustic demo. If I still like it after a few days, then I’ll record a proper demo, and that’s about it really.

How did working with Twink on the Magic Eye album come about?

I met Twink through Ade. In the late 80s Ade, Rod Goodway reformed Magic Muscle, and Twink ended up drumming for them. I always loved the Pretty Things, Tomorrow etc, and Twink was a legendary figure to me. So Ade introduced us to each other and we got on really well. We did a few loose gigs together up in Colchester where he lived then, and decided it would be fun to do an album together. I have to say recording and playing with Twink was extremely easy and quick. He’s a great drummer and musician. After the album came out there were a few problems with the finances, but eventually that was all sorted out amicably. The last I heard he’d become a Muslim and changed his lifestyle drastically.

The list of amazing musicians and bands that you've played with is pretty impressive. What was it like to work with legends like Country Joe and Arthur Lee?

Unbelievable! Remember these are guys whose records I listened to when I was a 14 year old kid. I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d actually end up playing with them. Country Joe is a really nice bloke, very down to earth and funny, and of course one of the greats. Over the years since we met in the late 90s we’ve kind of drifted apart. Not sure why. There wasn’t anything to put my finger on. He just sort of stopped getting in touch, and so did I. Quite a shame, but that’s the way things go sometimes. I’d be only too pleased to hook up with him again, but who knows? Working with Arthur Lee was somewhat different, as he was a lot more out to lunch than Joe. He was very nice, and performed amazingly well. He got on stage, and it was all there, but on a personal level he was a bit removed. Like I say, a really nice guy, but I played with him for two consecutive days, and on the third day he’d forgotten we’d ever met!

It's been some time since the last Bevis Frond record. Have we seen the last of Bevis Frond?

Yup, my new album (the first for 7 years) is due out on October 10th. It’s called The Leaving Of London, and it’ll be available as a CD, double vinyl, download via i-tunes. Then we’ve got some shows planned, but alas, nothing in the USA. I don’t have a label out there, and without some kind of tour support, a tour isn’t viable. I suppose I could do some solo stuff maybe, but nobody’s asked me, and besides, I always feel it’s not quite as good as doing the full band experience.

Is there any unreleased Bevis Frond stuff in the vaults?

Yeah, loads. I tried working out just how much recently, and I reckon there’s enough decent stuff for about 5 or 6 albums. Plus a whole lot more stuff that I don’t think is very good.

Talk about the band that you are in along with your daughter, Debbie Duveen and the Millbanks. It's different from what you've done in the past, but great stuff. Very soulful vocals. Will there be more from this band?

Deb is a brilliant singer. She came up through musical theatre. She starred in her own one-woman show about Judy Garland. She even had the title role in a major tour of ‘Little Voice’. I always hoped she’s want to do some rocking stuff, so when she felt she’d like to have a go, I was delighted and wrote a load of songs specifically to suit her voice. I was kind of like the Jewish mother who wants her son to be a doctor. A bit tragic really. Well, the album came out really well and we’ve been gigging round small clubs in London over the last year or so. At the moment that’s slowed down a bit. I’ve got my own album coming out shortly, and the subsequent gigs as well. All the other members of the Millbanks play in other bands, and it’s been really difficult to pin down dates when everyone’s available at the same time. She really needs her own dedicated band, but she’s got a demanding day job, and a new man in her life, so her time is pretty full at present. That’s not to say there won’t be more. In fact, I hope there will. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Bevis Frond December 1989

You seem to have had a pretty interesting life. Will you ever write a book about it?

No, not really. I do get this question asked a bit, and I always feel that I’m not well known enough to justify a commercial project. At best, The Bevis Frond/Nick Saloman is a little-known cult figure, at worst nobody’s heard of me, and wouldn’t give a fuck. My mum was a successful novelist, and I reckon I’m quite a good writer, but I don’t think I’d really want to spend too much time writing a book all about myself and how important I am. That’s really for someone else to do isn’t it, but then again, who’d publish it? You have to be a bit of a celeb to be worthy of a publishing deal, and I just don’t think anyone in publishing would be interested. I might be wrong I suppose, and the publishing world might be experiencing an upsurge in demand for books about unknown 58 year old psychedelic musicians (if that’s indeed what I am), but I somehow doubt it.

I would again like to thank Nick for his time and kindness. Be sure to do yourself a favor and pick up the new Bevis Frond album (cd, mp3, whatever) when it's out. Heck, just pick up anything the guys been associated with musically, Bevis Frond, Scorched Earth, Magic Muscle, whatever. I have yet to be disappointed by a single thing this guy has put out, and considering the amount of stuff, that's saying a lot.

(Interview by Shep)


Mary Lou Lord said...

Great interview! The New Bevvis Frond record is AWESOME!!!

Pete Stevens said...

Thanks for the great interview. The Leaving of London is a brilliant and surprising album.

JohnnyS said...

you lucky people who have heard the new opus - can't wait for the 10 October (or at least a few days later when it will dropping through my letterbox)