Brinsley (the man, not the band) chatting about life, music and his new album, ‘Tangled’ with Alan Dearling
Alan: Really nice to get a chance to chat with you. Gerry Ranson was very kind enough to send me an advance copy of your new solo album, ‘Tangled’, due to be released by Fretstore Records on 3rd September. I thought we could talk a bit about your recent musical excursions and then do some good old fashioned reminiscing!
So, to kick-off, I believe you’ve been back playing and pre-Covid touring with Graham Parker and the Rumour. How’s that been going? It’s just so hard to plan at the moment. Are there more dates for the future?
Brinsley: Hello Alan, thanks for your interest and nice to meet you… Yes, Graham re-started GP and the Rumour back in 2010. He had written a bunch of songs which he thought would make a great come-back for the band. We all got back together in New York State, with the Catskills as a backdrop and The Big Pink and Woodstock just down the road. We had a couple of days to rehearse and then recorded ‘Three Chords Good’. It all came back to us as if it was yesterday, we laughed a lot and played with nothing to prove, just played the songs. We also had a small film crew with us during that recording and during the subsequent touring, adding to the documentary of the story that started in the ’70’s. That documentary ‘Don’t ask me Questions’ was finally released…as was the movie, ‘This is 40’, in which we had a small part, although Graham had a ‘starring role’. The following album ‘Mystery Glue’ (one of my favourite GP+R albums) and the tours were so good to do and the reaction from the fans made it so worthwhile and, like the whole seven year experience, so unexpected. I finished up on some Duo tours with Graham and it was thanks to all of that, that I began to think I could make a solo album. And my two albums ‘Unexpected’ and ‘Tangled’ are the result. I guess Covid has been the final obstacle to further touring, which always has its financial difficulties as well. Graham is in the States with some solo touring ahead in the Autumn. And I am looking at the possibility of touring myself in some way. But at the moment I guess we’re all back doing as much of what we were doing back in 2010 as we can.
Alan: You have featured Graham Parker’s song, ‘Love Gets You Twisted’ on the new ‘Tangled’ album. How did that come about?
Brinsley: It’s always been one my favourite GP songs. I was playing around with it one day and (unlike the original) quite naturally fell into the two repeated choruses after the guitar solo, not only did that seem to work musically, but the chorus lyrics flow together as one as well. So I dared to try, slowed it down a bit and had the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison in my mind. Graham (in photo, right) said he likes it, so I’m chuffed.
Alan: You are probably best known for your fine range of guitar sounds. There’s quite a lot of reverb and wah-wah on the new album and almost hints of Shadows’ licks and perhaps the ‘feel’ of Traveling Wilburys? Or, even the Notting Hillbillies? Is that a reasonable observation?
Brinsley: Well, wah-wah on ‘He Takes Your Breath Away’, but there is some delayed plate reverb on guitars, and on the vocals too. James and I like delayed plate reverb, the reverb comes after the initial hit of the note, so it doesn’t swamp the music, it’s not like being in a cathedral.
I don’t think I’ve ever not been influenced by Hank Marvin and for a long time I’ve tried to hold the song in the forefront of my solos. It was Graham who wanted wah-wah, on a track from ‘Mystery Glue’, on his demo he got to the solo and said ‘wah-wah, it’ll be fun’ and he was right, it was! Guitar-wise, I still feel that I’m influenced more by The Beatles, and Little Feat and Steely Dan and The Band, and, of course, Larry Carlton and Robben Ford. (I have three Zendrives, Robben Ford’s favourite overdrive pedal, on my pedal board.)
Alan: The second track on the new album, starts with the lines:
“And You, Drive Me to Drink…until, I Just Can’t Think…The Games You Play, Tear Me Apart.”
Have you really been, “turned inside out”? Or, is just a bit of poetic licence?
Brinsley: Having spent most of my life being a guitar player, I think I missed a lot of how songwriters write songs. And when you’re in a band with a songwriter as good as Graham Parker, your own faltering utterances can seem, well let’s just say, you’d rather keep them to yourself. And that’s without the thousands of great songwriters and great songs out there. On tour with GP I used to sound check my guitar and microphone with a song which is on ‘Unexpected’, ‘You Miss Again’, a song that started out being about a well-known footballer, but then it became about anybody who has tried, failed and got up to try again, and about the frailties or strengths that failure can bring. One day I was surprised when our tour manager asked me who that song was by, he really liked it…that was a big step up for me, someone liked one of my songs enough to tell me. But doesn’t poetic licence mean you can take something very general and make it personal, or, take something very personal and make it general or about something completely different, or, all of that. It can be up to the listener to say what it means to them. So, haven’t most of us been turned inside out at some point in our lives?
Alan: I think my favourite track is probably ‘Stranded’. Heartfelt, emotional lyrics and a soaring guitar. It generates a sense of ‘loss’. And feels autobiographical, but not necessarily recent…A really great song and recording…
Brinsley: Thank you, it was one of the two songs written and recorded during Covid lockdowns. I think I’ve become more and more emotional and alternately angry over the past couple of years.
Alan: You are quoted as saying that this album offers, “songs of richness and maturity from decades of experience”… but it also strikes me as quite up-beat, with some rollicking boogie-woogie too and plenty of sentimental songs. Lots of potential catchy, live ‘crowd-pleasers’, methinks.
Brinsley: Ah no, I think that quote is Gerry talking, but yes, there’s a mix of feels on ‘Tangled’ which I think is down to the passage of time. ‘Game On’ was written in the 1980s, ‘Crazy World’ earlier this year, and the songs definitely have changed as the times, sometimes unexpectedly, have.
Alan: ‘Crazy World’ is a very personal postcard to a friend (and the locked-down rest of human-kind). Some tender moments of kindness. In style, it reminds me of Paul McCartney. A song that sounds as if it has resonated in our heads forever and then some.
Brinsley: Yeah, I don’t know, I see a nurse in ICU with tears in her eyes or just plain worn out, or Captain Tom or Greta, or just good people helping out where they can, and I have just wept. But seeing a polar bear looking for ice has the same effect, it seems like climate change and the pandemic along with the countless injustices in this world have all joined up like a cloud of dementors hanging over us. I don’t know, politicians just don’t seem to get it, the time to be one world is now. Well this is the other song written in lockdown, it was a real struggle to record but worth it. (And if it reminds someone of Paul McCartney, then that’s got to be a good thing….)
Alan: Did you have guest musician friends play with you on the album? I gather it was recorded with James Hallawell, who has enjoyed an illustrious career with the Waterboys as keyboard-player and as the producer for the late, lamented Scots’ singer-poet-raconteur, Jackie Leven.
Brinsley: Yes, couldn’t have done this without James, he did the recording and the strings on ‘Crazy World’ and played great keyboards, (although I played a little organ on ‘You Can’t Take It Back’). We mixed and mastered together. Ralph Salmins and Ben Niblett played drums (although I played drums on ‘Storm in the Hills’) and my friend and co-chandler, guitars-repairer, Andy Eales played great rhythm guitar under the guitar solo in ‘You Drive Me To Drink’. (By the way, James played on GP’s album ‘Mona Lisa’s Sister’ and toured with us in the ’80s.)
Alan: So, perhaps we can now get down to doing a bit of that reminiscing? I started going to live gigs in the mid-1960s and then festivals like the ones at Isle of Wight in 1969 and ‘70. I was at the University of Kent 1969-72 and probably saw you perform there, but definitely saw you and bands like the Pink Fairies at Harmony Farm Festival in 1971. What are your memories of those fairly wild, early festies?
Brinsley: Well, all a long time ago, but I think we had a pretty mixed time of festivals… saw the Stones and Blind Faith in Hyde Park, from half a mile away! Brinsley’s played at Bickershaw supporting The Grateful Dead, the Melody Maker’s front page headline ‘the Dead Stop The Rain’ was not quite accurate and despite the ‘Dead’ refusing to move their back line a few feet back so we could be under some sort of cover, the days of persistent rain stopped halfway through our set! GP and R played at Reading when we had the power pulled halfway through our encore, Steve Goulding (our drummer) didn’t stop though and our ‘turn the power on’ chant was taken up by the crowd and forced the power to be turned back on…and Blackbush, where the jack-socket came loose and almost fell into my (semi-hollow Gibson 335) guitar body two minutes before going on stage. It was just rescued in time by our manager, Dave Robinson. Rumour guitarist, Martin, waited just a touch too long to pick up courage to go say hello to Bob Dylan sitting in the food tent, Bob got up and walked out just as Martin picked up the courage and stood up. Still, he got a lot further than me!
Ups and downs at festivals…Glastonbury, we built a great PA system out of ours and all the other bands’ Hi Watt PAs and were halfway through a really good set when we were hassled off stage so the kid guru could speak.
Alan says: Here’s a rather amazing vintage video about the Bickershaw Festi in 1972: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCEPizIV2xc
Alan: I moved to work in London in the early 1970s and as a band, Brinsley Schwarz were frequently labelled a ‘pub rock band’. A band with a mixed pedigree of prog, folk-rock and some psych-influences from Man, Help Yourself and the Frankie Miller Band. I was a big fan of Dr Feelgood’s high energy-fuelled performances, of Mick Green with the Pirates, and Chris Spedding. You were involved in Dr. Feelgood and Ducks Deluxe, weren’t you?
Brinsley: After the New York fiasco we got a big house together, built a rehearsal room and played. We continued to play colleges and town halls but we were enticed by the idea of playing with close-up audiences, New Orleansy and Band, Stones type r’n’b, and when we saw Eggs Over Easy at the Tally Ho pub we thought we’d try that. Dave Robinson and I toured round London pubs, persuaded some landlords that it was a good idea to have us play in their pubs by offering to play for nothing for a month, if it worked, we’d carry on and get paid. It worked (better than we thought it might) and other bands joined in. The press called it pub rock, but it was just bands playing what they played, where they could. And the music had a wide reach, but I’d guess that for a while at least, long guitar solos were not part of pub rock! But I didn’t really have much to do with playing with anybody else until after the Brinsleys broke up. I remember playing sax one time with Dr. Feelgood and I joined The Ducks for a few months before they, too, broke up, after which Ducks guitarist Martin and I were in The Rumour.
Alan: ‘Pub Rock’ was a fairly misleading label, perhaps? Was it apt?
Brinsley: Oh, oops, sorry, I guess I answered this one question earlier.
Alan: Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Ian Gomm, yourself and Graham Parker, Geraint Watkins were some of the stalwarts of the pub scene along with about to be mega-star, Ian Dury, who managed to morph seamlessly into the Rock Against Racism, punk and reggae scene. What are some of your memories of the mid 1970s’ music scene? You seemed to work with a lot of bands and musicians…through the 1970s, ‘80s and beyond.
Brinsley: mmmm, I don’t think Dave Edmunds had much to do with pub rock and Graham has always been ‘surprised’ to be included, GP and R played the Newlands Tavern, and The Rumour have to give thanks to the folks there for letting us rehearse for months for nothing more than a promise to play our first gig there, and we played a couple of out of the way places as a warm-up before our first tour. But GP and R didn’t really play pubs. We did play a lot of support tours during the first 18 months here and in the US. We were playing or recording pretty much flat out, four albums with Graham, two Rumour albums and more. I missed most of the seventies, working.
Alan: Quite a lot of my friends have always loved the ‘Greasy Truckers’ double live album. It’s almost the seminal, UK end-of-the-hippy-era album. Recorded at the Round House in Chalk Farm in 1972. The ‘Brinsleys’ were one of the main performers along with Man and Hawkwind and the loose-cannon, slightly-bonkers, Magic Michael. I guess you must have some amazing memories of that session…
Brinsley: You are pushing my memory here, we played the Round House a few times, once with Dr. John, he was terrific and I remember more about him and his band than I remember about us. Quite likely that the Greasy Truckers was the Round House gig when I got a pretty nasty electric shock…my amp went down, I got hold of a live 240volt bit and couldn’t let go, can’t remember how I did…That’s probably why I don’t remember much about that evening.
Alan: Over your long career, what have been your own favourite musical moments and the albums that you have been involved with?
Brinsley: Blimey, well seeing The Shadows at the Opera House, Tunbridge Wells in 1962 and The Beatles at Hammersmith Odeon. Cream, The Band, Ry Cooder, Van Morrison, all were great nights. Sitting at the PA desk watching Albert King three nights in a row, just terrific… watching The Last Waltz two or three times a day in a cinema in Auckland, NZ, every day for a week while we got over jet lag before touring Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Sometimes, in the afternoons, I was the only person in the cinema…Thrilled to have The Band rehearse at our barn rehearsal room by our house in Beaconsfield and standing round Garth’s Lowry as he played. For me and the albums I’ve played on, nailing the solo in ‘This Town’ (on ‘Max’, the first Rumour album), same with the solo on ‘Coat Hangers’ (on ‘3 Chords Good’). Playing ‘Long Emotional Ride’ on Jools Holland, a few years back, that was really special. I’ve enjoyed playing on the 40 odd albums I’ve played on, of course I have favourites,’ Max’, ‘Mystery Glue’ and ‘Tangled’… we’re pretty damn lucky getting to make albums, they’re all journeys that will remain.
Alan: Being part of The Rumour with Graham Parker has been quite a mainstay. Four decades, I think?
Brinsley: 46 years since we all met up for the first time, I was with Graham for fifteen odd years ‘till ’89, and then seven odd years on and off up to 2017. It has been emotional.
Alan: I think you also worked as guitarist with Kirsty Mac Coll. She always struck me as a loveable and feisty character? What are your memories? Did you work with Shane McGowan as well?
Brinsley: You know I’m pretty sure that I just played a little sax with some of the other Stiff Records artists, just one-off sessions. Those days were very busy. But I do remember playing on and co- producing Carlene Carter’s album, and The Rumour supported and backed her on tour. I toured with her again in the ’80s.
Alan: Any other favourite Brinsley Schwarz tales you’d like to share?
Brinsley: Well there have been so many fun and not so fun times, but since this is my and not the band’s story, I could own up to something… Sometime during GP and R first tours of the US, Graham was having to do a lot of radio appearances. They involved some chat, a plug for the show that night, play the record and do a Station ID. He was often busy with interviews or just needing a day off, so occasionally the band members stepped in for him. I did a few, turned out to be enough, though, to grow really tired of being asked the question, ‘How did the band and Graham meet up?’ Apart from having to answer this same question over and over, the true answer was too long a tale for the short radio chat. So, somewhere, I was sitting across from this radio DJ listening to him ask the question yet again, and suddenly I was telling him about how we’d been driving to a gig, stopped to get petrol, and the pump attendant (an American thing) came out and was washing the windscreen, singing away as he worked. We thought he had a good voice and asked him if he wanted to join the band…he said ‘yes’ and that’s how GP and R got together. The DJ said, ‘Wow, what a great story’, and that was that. It was, of course, a complete fabrication and I never thought anyone would believe it…but next time I did a radio chat, the DJ asked, ‘So the band and Graham met up at a gas station!’ And it carries on. It never happened, folks, I made it up.
Alan: I think that there are a number of Brinsley Schwarz (the band) compilations. What would you recommend?
Brinsley: Oh definitely ‘What IS so funny about peace, love and understanding’. A live set on Hux Records.
But enough of the old stuff, let’s recommend ‘Tangled’, it’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years, I’m hoping people will enjoy it, maybe revisit my first album ‘Unexpected’, and look forward to some gigs and the next album. I am, after all and as it says at the top of the page, ‘the man and Not the band’…’Yes..Tangled.’
Alan: Many thanks for chatting…hopefully now the Covid lockdowns are potentially lifting we’ll meet up in some pub or muddy field, err too long!
Brinsley: Thanks Alan, and yes hopefully that’ll be soon… see you there…
Lots of links to explore, courtesy of Gerry Ranson. Enjoy!
Brinsley – Storm In The Hills: https://youtu.be/xI_tLdy_9hc
Brinsley – You Drive Me To Drink: https://youtu.be/4yP5yHOBAWo
GP&R – Passion Is No Ordinary Word: https://youtu.be/35Pb9xlfND0
GP&R – Hold Back The Night: https://youtu.be/8kQXko2W0sU
Brinsley Schwarz (band): https://youtu.be/R9Env3GEsWg
Brinsley Schwarz: https://youtu.be/X_O0uNTYAoY
‘Tangled’, the new Brinsley Schwarz solo album: https://linktr.ee/tangledalbum