Showing posts with label _Interview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label _Interview. Show all posts

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Universe interview with Steve Finn, Part 1

This is the first part of a special on the Cardiff band, Universe. I downloaded their album some time ago (see vol40)  and was immediately impressed with it, which I have previously compared to the earthy, blue collar rock of other one-album British heavy bluesrock bands, Leaf Hound and Stonehouse (see Stonehouse interview). During the band's life they supported such TDATS heros as Pink Fairies, Raw Material, Patto, Man and Writing on the Wall. Their original album was first released privately in only 300 copies, in Norway in 1971, so it's one of those mythical rarities that you'll probably never find in a lifetime. Luckily the now-defunct Norwegian label Colours re-issued it in a nice package back in 1991, which has now become very collectible itself.

The story of how this transient Welsh band came to release their only album in Norway is an interesting one, about which I was unable uncover anything other than hearsay and scant online comments, until I recently got a copy of the 1991 Colours vinyl. I was extremely happy to see it includes a great little booklet with photos and an interview with Universe guitarist / singer / harmonica player Steve Finn. The original lineup of the band was Steve, Mike Lloyd Jones (lead guitar), John Healan (bass), Mike Blanche (organ) and Rob Reynolds (drums). Steve Keeley replaced Rob Reynolds in 1970. Steve Finn was later in Sassafras, and Steve Keeley had been in Kimla Taz, which ties in nicely with TDATS volume 54 (Wales) as both those bands appear on there.

What I have done here is transcribed the full Colours booklet, and scanned the photos. I think it's important that this information is up on the net for all to see. I have also recently contacted Steve Finn, and he has agreed to answer some new questions about Universe and his own career, bearing in mind that the following interview is now almost 25 years old. In part 2 I will show the results of that, along with some info on the second Universe release from Colours just before it dissolved in 1993, The Wheel. If anyone has specific questions they'd like me to ask Steve, send me an email.

First, some more about Colours

Colours was a record label based in Skien, Norway, which existed between 1989 and 1994 .The first release was the local band Utopian Fields with Bård Tufte Johansen on vocals. The releases were primarily prog rock, but the company also released records from folk rock band Shine Dion and the Deep Purple-inspired Disciples of Love, both being local bands.

Besides releasing new music from both Norway and Sweden, the label archived long-dead and forgotten bands like Universe. In these instances they went to special efforts to include posters, booklets and other historical tidbits. They were in very limited editions and today are coveted as collectibles.

The Colours booklet and interview, written by Jørn Andersen

Welcome on board, Ladies and Gentlemen, to the second journey of Colours Time Machine. My name is Jørn Andersen and I’m the Captain of this journey.  This time we will take you back to the very early, and oh so legendary seventies. Right back to the time when the Universe was founded.

When I finally in 1990, after years and years in search of the Universe, could lay my greedy hands on a rather scratched copy of Universe's sole album, I was no less than happy.  Come days later when I was down to earth again my mind was set up.  If any privately released obscure album from those days deserved a legal reissue, this was it.  The preparation for the journey started with getting in contact with Nils J. Øybakken who was the man behind Experience Records Ltd. (wiki).

In March 1971 he stumbled over Universe, one of the many times their van broke down during their freezy virgin-tour of the north of Norway.  The year before he had set up his own studio in the basement of his father’s shop, and the now extremely rare and legendary first single with Prudence (see Norwegian volume 81) had just been released on his newly founded label: Experience.  So what could suit better than a hungry English band to fill up the studio. 

The original idea was to cut a single but the session was obviously inspiring because a full album was in the can before the tapes stopped.

“A Woman’s Shape” / “Rolling”
The single “A woman’s shape” backed with “Rolling” was issued with a picture sleeve (EXP 3002) in a total edition of less than 1000 copies.  The A-side did not make it to the LP, nor the reissue, but will be included on a possible CD release on Colours later.  The album, simply called “UNIVERSE”, was released in a total amount of 300 copies.  The extremely few copies pressed, together with the fact that it was only on sale in the middle and north part of Norway, makes this one of the absolute rarest albums with any English group from the progressive area.

Colours are proud to present this album for the listeners all over the world, as it is now released for the first time outside of Norway.

To get some facts about the history of Universe I could not trust papers, magazines or books, as little or nothing is written or is saved in the archives.  So after some expensive phone calls to England, with no result, I was quite relieved when a polite voice answered: “Steve Finn talking”.  Even more relieved was I when he was positive to our idea of reissuing their album.  He was willing to supply all information so I sent over a kind of an interview.  He and the other members who are still alive came together and kindly took their time to help us to give Universe, from Cardiff in Wales, a place in the rock history which they highly deserve.  So this is the story of Universe in their own words:

Q:  When was Universe founded and who was in the band at various times?

A:  We formed in 1968 as a blues band called “SPOONFULL”.  The line-up was: Mike Lloyd Jones (lead guitar), John Healan (bass), Mike Blanche (organ), Steve Finn (vocals and harmonica) and Rob Reynolds (drums).  This original line-up changed its name in 1970 to Universe and began writing and performing original songs as a change of direction from American blues music.  Our musical influences at that time were Yes, Jethro Tull, Family, Eyes of Blue and Man (these last two being Welsh bands).  A change of drummer occurred in December 1970, when Steve Keeley replaced Rob Reynolds.

Q:  Apart from playing in Norway, did you play any other countries in Europe?

A:  We played lots of tours in Europe.  We played Copenhagen in Denmark and in Germany we played Kiel, Munich and Hamburg (at the Top Ten Club where the Beatles started out).  We also did a tour of Denmark with Johnny Winter and Iron Butterfly.

Q:  It seems like Universe is rather unknown in England.  Is it because you never played there or what?

A:  One reason might be that we spent most of our time gigging abroad.  In UK we played at the Marquee and other London clubs and did many collage gigs supporting Yes, Fleetwood Mac, Rory Gallagher, Jethro Tull, Chicken Shack, Man, Black Sabbath and many other early 70s bands.

Q:  About the tour in Norway, it seems like a lot of things went wrong.  On the 16th March the newspaper “Adresseavisa” in Trondheim had an article about this English “pop group” who got only 5 kroner (about 50 pence) to live for a day and had to sleep at the railway station where their baggage was stolen.  They wrote that the trouble started when you didn’t get the final message about the tour dates due to a post strike in England.  You left for Norway anyhow, meanwhile the agent had found another English band in Demark, called Strange Fox, engaging them for your gigs under your name.  But they regretted and the agent had to fabricate a story about a car accident as the reason for the delay.  They also wrote that when you arrived it was only to experience that no working permission was arranged for you in Norway, and the police got involved.  Finally they let you go further on after you had promised to report yourselves to the police at every new place you arrived!  Seems like quite a tour!  Did you play in the south as well, and did you play with any Norwegian bands?

A:  We started the tour of Norway in Feb/March of 1971, but only played gigs in the northern part of the country as half way through the tour our agent Ragnar Hagen left us in Mo-I-Rana with no money, no food and no gigs.  He returned to Oslo, and we have never seen or heard from him since.  Then we met some very kind people who helped us to stay alive at that time by giving us food and somewhere to sleep.  We will always be grateful to them even though we can no longer remember who they were.

We once spent 10 days at a club in Mo called Bleak House living and sleeping in the dressing room, but eventually got to Mosjøen and met Nils.  The track on the LP was our way of saying thank you to Anton Solberg and his Bleak House, it was the only way we could (listen to the lyrics).

Nils and his parents were very good to us and gave us food.  We stayed at a youth hostel and did some recordings with Nils for a single, which grew into an LP.  I cannot remember meeting any Norwegian bands or musicians but 20 years is a fair time to go back.  We eventually got enough money to get to Oslo, then Copenhagen where we played for 2 weeks at the Revolution Club and then returned to Hamburg for a month before getting home to Wales.  It was an amazing time when we had a lot of fun and some hard times, and met some wonderful people.

Q:  Nils told me some good stories about the session.  When you were loading the equipment down to his studios the organ player tried to get his heavy L-100 Hammond organ down the stairs.  Suddenly he cried “Look out!” and down the stairs went the organ.  The steps were not good looking afterwards!  You were also changing the speakers from the song-speaker to the guitar-speaker and back again all the time.  You did also lose some equipment, didn’t you?

A:  Mike Blanche remembers the van breaking down and us not having enough money to pay the garage.  They took an amplifier and a speaker cabinet as payment and the police let us leave.  Also recall breaking down late at night on a lonely road and Ragnar Hagen saying we only had 20 minutes to live as it was -20C!  Then a lorry came down the road and gave us a lift to the nearest town.  An old couple had a hotel that was closed for the winter and they gave us beds and food for free.  Another time we slept the night in the waiting room of a railway station and when we woke in the morning the place was full of people waiting for the trains and none of them could sit down because we were sleeping straight out on all the seats.

When we returned to the UK, Nils sent us copies of the single and the LP, but no covers, and we always hoped to go back and meet everyone again, but never did.

Q:  Did you do any other recordings as Universe ?

A:  We recorded some stuff at Rockfield studios in Monmouth, which was used at the time by Dave Edmunds (who is from Cardiff).  An acetate was pressed up with “Shadow of the sun” and “Waiting for summer” on it.  We hoped to bring the Norwegian LP out in the UK, Track and Island were interested but wanted it re-recorded.  Charisma too liked our songs.

Also possibly available may be some other recordings in 71/72 when we changed our style to be a bit more rock, and the songs were shorter and more commercial.  Record companies in the UK always want hit singles.

Q:  If those tapes can be unearthed and all parts can agree there is a possibility for a second Universe LP on Colours later on.  But when did Universe split?

A:  The group finally split in 72 when it was becoming difficult to carry on from a financial point - we were not making enough money to continue.

Q:  What have the members been up to musically after the split?

A:  Mike Lloyd Jones played with Shakin' Stevens from 74 to 78 and made several LP’s.  Since then he has played with local bands in Cardiff and has songwriting connections with publishers in London. He is currently setting up a music production company in Cardiff.

Mike Blanche (known in Universe as Sponge) has produced recording sessions for the Cadillacs (former members of Racing Cars and Lone Star) resulting in 2 singles, also the Boys and Cartoon (Welsh band who toured Scandinavia in the late 80’s).

John Healan moved to Cornwall in South West of England in the mid 70’s and now plays Country & Western music.  We are still great friends and see each other 2 to 3 times a year.

Steve Keeley did not play music after Universe.  He got married and had some kids and sadly died of leukemia (blood cancer) in 1981, aged 31.  It was very sad to lose a great friend.

Steve Finn continued song writing and solo performing in folk clubs and wine bars. Wrote songs for the first Sassafras LP “Expecting company” on Poloydor (2383 245).  Was asked to join the band as bass player in UJune 74 - not my favourite instrument to play.  Wrote most of the songs for the “Wheeling & dealing” LP on Chrysalis (CHR 1076), released April 75.  Did UK tours with Black Oak Arkansas and Stackridge, tour of Holland with Ace and played France, Belgium and Yugoslavia.  Month-long US tour supporting Ten Years After and Peter Frampton.  The band was also featured on Chrysalis LP “End of the Rainbow” where they had two live tracks.  Left at the end of 75 as I hated playing bass guitar.  The band made a third LP “Riding high” before being dropped by Chrysalis (CHR 1100).  I then made one LP with Southern Comfort (Country & Western, not to be confused with the ex-MSC band) in 76/77.  I am still a solo performer and have released two cassettes of my own songs for sale at gigs.  In Nov 89 supported Ralph McTell on UK tour and have a song-writing contract with Acuff-Rose Music Publishers in London and Nashville USA.  I currently have songs with Joe Cocker, Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams Jr. and Bellamy Brothers.


The Universe LP was also released by Swedish label Flawed Gems last year (2014) on CD, with a few extras that were not on the 1991 Colours vinyl, being the single "A Woman's Shape" recorded during the album session mentioned in the above interview, and the 1970 acetate, also mentioned. There's a short write-up on the back of the CD which gives nothing more away, and also omits to mention that the band was British, from Wales: "The music here is great guitar-driven hard-ish rock with some blues and progressive elements - similar to early Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy, Man and Hackensack". This is the description of Flawed Gems over at Discogs (link): "Deemed a bootleg / unofficial label by many, even though many of their releases have an address and barcode (but lack proper matrix or IFPI code). Most seem to be taken from vinyl. Flawed Gems releases should be marked Unofficial on Discogs". Last year saw another release of the album on a mysterious label called Nemo (NEM 1002) (link).

Thanks for reading and watch out for further questions to be answered by Steve. As I said before, if you have any specific questions please let me know by email, Rich.

Credits in the booklet

All songs EVER OPEN EYE MUSIC (except Cocaine)
All arrangements UNIVERSE
Produced by NILS J. ØYBAKKEN
Recorded in a small Lydstudio in Mosjøen 1971.
Originally released in 1971 by EXPERIENCE RECORDS (EXPLP 2001)

Musical archaeologist: JØRN ANDERSEN
Captain of the Time Machine, 2nd journey: JØRN ANDERSEN
Reproduction of the cover: JOAN MENDEZ
Drawing of the Time Machine logo: ROALD FORSETH
Re-released by courtesy of EXPERIENCE / UNIVERSE
Thanks to Steve Finn, Nils J. Øybakken, Morten Jensen.
This release is a limited edition of 1000 copies on LP.


Share via:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lucille DJ's second interview with Rich AfterSabbath

Download from: [mf] or [mg]
Password:  tdats

Rich AfterSabbath interviewed for 'Lucyfer' radio show by Rich Aftersabbath on Mixcloud

Many thanks to Lucille DJ (fb) at (web) for getting in touch again and asking to conduct a second interview, which was broadcast on the 7th of June 2015, on her weekly radio show 'Lucyfer', based in Florence Italy. We discuss volumes 117 & 118, and the interview with Jim Smith of Stonehouse, while Lucille plays many tracks from artists such as Malo, Yaqui, Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union, Quill and Stonehouse.

Lucille DJ aka Lucille Mancini
You can hear 'Lucyfer' by Lucille DJ every Sunday from 9pm to 10.30pm C.E.T. streaming at, where it is also available as a podcast download.

00:00 Lucille - welcome
00:45 Rich - Introduction to volume 118
02:38 Malo - Peace [single version] (1972)
06:13 Rich - Volume 118: Latino Rock
06:54 Yaqui - Mitote (1973)
10:30 Rich - Volume 117: Bosstown Sound
12:37 Beacon Street Union - Sadie Said No (1968)
14:20 Rich - Volume 117: Bosstown Sound contd.
16:31 Quill - Thumbnail Screwdriver (1970)
21:25 Rich - Volume 117: Bosstown Sound contd.
22:38 Ultimate Spinach - Mind Flowers (1968)
25:35 Rich - Jim Smith & Stonehouse
28:40 Stonehouse - Ain't No Game (1971)
32:30 Rich - Stonehouse contd.
34:48 Stonehouse - Cheater (1971)
38:45 Lucille - Thanks & Goodbye!
39:04 Stonehouse - Down Down (1971)

Share via:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Day After The Sabbath 119: Panda comp and interview with Jaap van Eik

Download from [mf] or [mg]
Unzip password:  tdats

TDATS 119: Panda, band profile and interview with Jaap van Eik by Rich Aftersabbath on Mixcloud

Panda was yet another great short-lived Dutch band that made some singles but no album. Even though they existed for a very short time, some notable names passed through the ranks. These included Emile den Tex (Tortilla, Turquoise, Electric Tear, solo), now a famous producer, Herman van Boeyen (Livin' Blues, Supersister, Vitesse), Rob Kruisman (Island v1, Modesty Blaise, Bintangs, Brainbox, Ekseption), Ben de Bruin (Cobra, Bintangs, Turquoise, Rob Hoeke) and Rob ten Bokum (Bintangs, Vitesse). Another was bassist Jaap van Eik, who has kindly agreed to take part in an interview about himself and Panda.

Before going further, two invaluable sources that I must thank for making searches in all things nederbeat easier are Alex Gitlin's Nederpop Enyclopedia and Erik Hessel's

Panda Discography

No Coockies / Swingin' About
Philips 6075 130
Panda's first single, a-side No Coockies is a heavy flute-tinged progressive instrumental with great guitar and a poignant central motif. B-side Swingin' About starts with a lumbering, off-center groove which makes it sound mean and nasty, Rob Kruisman's added flute and sax combines to make this a unique track that's genuinely heavy and doesn't sound quite like anything else I can think of.

Stranger / Medicine Man
Decca 6100013
Stranger begins deceptively, with a heavy Sabbathian tri-tone metal riff, but quickly morphs into a Slade-elic glam stomper with a sing-along chorus and more flashes of flute, great fun.  B-side Medicine Man is built around a similarly heavy, lumpen riff to "Swingin' About", this time with no flute and forays into blues, it's another of their best heavy tracks.

Living for Tomorrow / Blue Boy Blues
Philips 6012182
Living For Tomorrow shows another side of Panda. The lilting melody and affirming lyrics on casting away the past to look to the future makes for a perfect pop song, it would've been a hit for a famous band. B-side Blue Boy Blues returns to the bluesy glam of Stranger, with a hint of country rock. Jaap van Eik's imaginative bass-lines and Rob ten Bokum's catchy licks make for a final addictive track to end their career, albeit far too soon.

Jaap van Eik and Panda

Jaap was born in The Hague, in the western part of The Netherlands. At around the age of three his family moved to Venezuela, so along he went. When he was eleven he suffered appendicitis, for his own sake his parents decided to send him back to the old country to recover, and to get a better educational grounding. He started playing the guitar at fourteen, but switched to bass three years later; "because in those days there were always too many guitarists!". He would however return to the guitar in some bands later on, such as Trace. When asked about early inspirations, he had this to say; "As everybody in the sixties I was hugely influenced by The Ventures and The Shadows. Later it was The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Little Feat and Allman Brothers, to name a few. My personal favourite was Jack Bruce, would you believe it. Also guitar players like Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton."

While studying graphic design in Arnhem, Japp met pianist and fellow student, Herman Brood. Herman is a famous character in Dutch rock, who became an artist later on (wiki). Sadly he committed suicide in 2001, after years of health problems resulting from life-long heavy drug use.  At this point Jaap had already played in a Shadows covers band, with Herman and some other local guys he formed a band and started hanging out in small clubs. They were The Moans, later just "Moan". Soon they were playing further afield; "We mainly played around the city of Arnhem. When a serious fight broke out during a gig and the police had to intervene, we were expelled for a while and started to play in Germany (Arnhem is located close to the border). We played in Germany quite often, where we met loads of English bands and musicians. They were like gods to us!".

From the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, Jaap became an in-demand bass player. In his own words, he had a "tendency to use the bass as a solo instrument", which goes some way in describing his personal style. He spent time in many bands, including Cuby + Blizzards, Blues Dimension, The Motions and Solution. He also played on the Jan Akkerman ‎solo LP, “Profile”. He regards the most defining moment in his career as his time with blues rockers Cuby + Blizzards. Herman Brood had already joined, and recommended Jaap. This is where he and Herman first made names for themselves. Jaap remembers: “This was a whole new step up. They were quite famous then and played many gigs, made a few albums and toured a lot in Germany and other European countries. As a matter of fact we even went to England, where we met people like John Mayall (we did a tour with him and his band in The Netherlands afterwards) and Alexis Korner.” Jaap left Cuby in 1969 and switched around various bands and styles in the ’70s. "Blues Dimension was brief, Solution was great, we toured the UK extensively in the seventies, and I was foolish enough to turn down an offer from Jan Akkerman to join Focus! Trace was the last band I played in. That was a nice period although things became rather complicated then.”

Interview with Jaap

Me: Hi Jaap! How and where did the members of Panda meet, was it in Alkmaar? Why was the name ‘Panda' chosen?

Jaap: No, it wasn’t in Alkmaar. I once saw a young drummer who impressed me. His name was Herman van Boeyen. So when we needed someone for Blues Dimension, I suggested him. We kept in touch after that and at one point we decided to start a new band together. I lived in a place called Zwolle, he was located in Amsterdam. The name Panda was chosen because Panda was a popular figure in a comic strip, about a small panda bear.

Originally a Dutch strip written by Marten Toonder,
it was also published in German translations, 
as seen here.

Me: Is this the correct line-up for all three singles?
 Ben de Bruin (guitar)
 Emile den Tex (vocals)
 Herman van Boeyen (drums)
 Jaap van Eik (bass)
 Rob Kruisman (wind)

Jaap: No, Here's how it was. The original band was started by myself and drummer Herman van Boeyen. Only the first line-up was with Emile den Tex (vocals) and Ben de Bruin (guitar). Emile didn’t stay very long and was replaced by Rob Kruisman (Ekseption, Brainbox and Modesty Blaise etc.) for vocals, saxophone and flute. When Ben de Bruin left, we added Rob ten Bokum (Modesty Blaise) who played guitar and also flute.

So the final stable lineup was myself (bass), Herman van Boeyen (drums), Rob ten Bokum (guitar, flute) and Rob Kruisman on vocals, saxophone and flute.

(l-r) Rob Kruisman,         Jaap van Eik,    Rob ten Bokum,    Herman van Boeijen

Me: Can you describe when and where you recorded the three 45s that Panda released? Do you have any favourite Panda songs? Can you remember anything about recording them?

Jaap: I’m not quite sure who plays on which track. No Cookies was definitely with Rob and Rob, the b-side and Medicine Man were with Emile, Stranger was with Rob Kruisman and Ben de Bruin, Blue Boy Blues again was with the two Robs. I’m not entirely sure, to be honest, so I’d have to listen to the recordings.

As far as I can remember the recordings are from different sessions. Most of them were done in the Phonogram Studio in Hilversum, No Cookies was definitely recorded in The Hague with Jaap Eggermont (ex-drummer of Golden Earring - producer of Cobra seen in Vol111) producing. The other songs were produced by Tony Vos (Cuby + Blizzards, Blues Dimension) or Hans van Hemert (Q65, Inca Bullet Joe). I particularly remember the sessions for No Cookies, which in my opinion is our best track. I was a fan of Chris Squire’s bass sound [Yes], although he played a Rickenbacker and I played a Precision Bass. So Jaap Eggermont suggested I use a small amplifier turned up all the way plus a direct line to the mixing board. The sound was great. 

Me: What was the song-writing process of the band? And who was the creative leader of the band, if there was one? 

Jaap: There wasn’t a real creative leader, which was one of the problems we had. Herman van Boeyen was a strong personality with many ideas, especially when it came down to riffs, I always fiddled with sliding sounds and melodies, but most of the actual writing came from Rob Kruisman and Rob ten Bokum. That is, in the line-up with them. Also there was a lot of improvisation.  

Me: Panda's music is fantastic, all the members’ performances gel brilliantly. It’s generally got an anthemic sing-along melodic style, and heavy rockers like 'Swingin' About' and 'Medicine Man'. Can you explain your thoughts on the band’s versatility and what influenced the sound of Panda? To me, Panda has more of a 'hard rock' sound than bands you and the other members were in previously. Was this a sound that Panda was particularly aiming for?

Jaap: I’m rather surprised that you know the music at all, let alone that you like it so much. It was a great little band that never sounded the same on any gig. Also we were accomplished players, and as I said before, much inclined to improvise. Our sound was obviously influenced by bands that were popular at the time. Led Zeppelin for instance, but also an American band like Moby Grape. We wanted a lot of power, we were loud and aggressive and we played long solos!

Me: There is some great wind instrumentation like flute and clarinet (I think) on the songs 'Swingin' About', 'Living For Tomorrow' and 'No Coockies'. Can you remember who wrote and played these parts? 

Jaap: It’s a flute. The parts were played by Rob Kruisman. I think the melody line in No Cookies was written by Rob ten Bokum.  

Me: What equipment, bass and playing techniques did you use? 

Jaap: I used a Fender Precision Bass with a 100 Watt Marshall Bass stack. I never played with a pick, but sometimes used a technique I learned in the classical guitar lessons I had when I was sixteen: instead of the fingertips of my right hand I would pluck the strings with my fingernails. 

Me: Did Panda ever play live? Do you have any memories of such that you could share? 

Jaap: Oh yeah, we did many gigs in The Netherlands, Germany and even France. I’d have to think about the memories, it’s a long time ago.  

As a rule Dutch bands tend to play a lot in Germany as that country is literally next door. With Panda we mainly played in what is called the 'Ruhr Gebiet': the area between city's like Düsseldorf, Krefeld, Essen and Duisburg. At the time there were many clubs around. About France, I happen to remember we played once or twice in the northern part of the country and traveled to Germany from there. In all the years I've been playing I met quite a few English bands on the road - Pretty Things, Hollies, The (New) Searchers, Renaissance - and also guys from Holland. Golden Earring for instance.

We once performed a gig on a balcony of a beautiful villa in the town of Arnhem [Netherlands]. It's located in a park called Sonsbeek. The particular occasion was a free festival with bands, but also other types or artists. I remember it was a lovely day then and a great surprise that I met my mother! She hated me 'wasting my time with bands', but was nevertheless there.

Sonsbeek Villa roof, free festival in Arnhem
Herman van Boeijen (drums) - 
Rob ten Bokum (guitar)
Jaap van Eik (bass) - Rob Kruisman (flute)

Me: Do you know if any Panda singles had success in the charts or TV shows? 

Jaap: The only recording that was heavily played on the radio was No Cookies. It looked like it was going to be a hit, but unfortunately that never happened. But we did appear in TV-shows. 

Me: Do you remember which TV shows you appeared on?

Jaap: In Holland we had something called the tip parade. So what happened is they selected a single and played it every hour. Usually that particular song became a hit and sold well. In our case that unfortunately did not happen. There were many pop shows on TV in those days, but I can't really remember the exact names. They were all play-back, so rather frustrating [meaning they were mimed to a backing-track]. Also we had a couple of pirate radio stations on ships, that were very popular: Radio Veronica and Radio Noordzee.

[I had not heard of the "tipparade" before, and found it hard to get a good definition, so I asked fellow tdats fb group admin (and Dutchman) Mark, and he explained: "The tipparade back then was a list of singles that had a big chance of entering the charts, the Veronica Top 40. It was broadcast on the famous Radio Veronica. I think the name is still used today though of course with downloading etc. it's very different from how it went back then. they changed it from 20 singles to 30 in 1970, so around the time Panda was active it was 30 singles. The list was printed and you could get it at your local record store. The number one on the Tipparade is called "Alarmschijf" This was the track that was played every hour on Radio Veronica."]

Me: How and why did the band end? 

Jaap: I’m not sure! I think there was no progression anymore, it was hard to survive and also, Herman van Boeyen and I had an offer from Livin’ Blues, a highly popular Dutch band with a busy schedule. So we joined them for a while.   

Me: Was Panda ever intended to be anything more than a singles band? Do you think you had the potential to last longer, be more successful and more well-known? 

Jaap: You know, back then you mostly had to prove yourself. First you made a single. If that was a success, you made another one. If that one was also well received, the record company would start thinking of an album. Of course there were exceptions, but as a rule that was how things went. Had No Cookies been a hit, the band might have stayed together and who knows what would’ve happened then. We certainly had the potential. 

Me: I've been told that it was particularly hard for rock bands to get backing from Dutch labels to record a whole album back then, and they were often encouraged to focus on writing radio-friendly pop singles, in search of a 'hit'. Because of this, many bands with great hard-rock potential like Panda made a string of singles which may have been more commercially-oriented than they would have liked, and unfortunately made no albums. What are your thoughts on the accuracy of this viewpoint? Did any of these issues affect Panda?  

Jaap: I think I just answered this question. What you state is absolutely true. When you went to a record company with a string of songs, the usual reaction was: "quite nice, but I don’t hear a hit". Every Dutch musician from the period has learned to hate that attitude. 

Pierre van der Linden,      Jaap,      Rick van der Linden
Trace c.1974
Me: Can you tell us briefly about your involvement with Trace? How did that happen, and what are your memories? Was Trace's 'symphonic prog' style something you preferred to Panda's hard rock? I'm guessing it was more challenging on a technical level.

Jaap: My involvement with Trace is quite a long story. I didn’t prefer the symphonic style to hard rock, although it was indeed rather challenging to play. Also I thought it was a great opportunity to form a trio with fantastic musicians like Rick van der Linden and Pierre van der Linden (not related by the way). In this case we had full support from the record company and could make an album right away. We had a great time, toured a lot (mainly in Germany, Scandinavia and the UK) and switched drummers just before recording the second album. Pierre went back to Focus, we replaced him with Ian Mosley [later of Marillion], who was a great drummer and also a great guy.   

Me: What else have you done since Panda, in music or otherwise, and what are you doing now? Tell us about your decision to become a journalist, and appointment as editor of Music Maker.

Jaap: Briefly, since Panda I played in many bands: Livin’ Blues, Solution, Trace for instance. Around 1976 I got a strong feeling that I’d reached a dead end and could only repeat what I’d been doing before. Also, the economic circumstances were worrying me. In the Dutch music scene we have a saying: ‘what you primarily need to be a rock musician is a girlfriend with a good job’. I was fortunate enough to have that girl friend with a good job (she was a fashion model) and did enjoy some success, but nevertheless it was getting me nowhere. I’ve always been interested in writing and journalism, so when a publishing company offered me a job as an editor I gladly accepted - with the idea of playing in a band in my free-time. When I became editor of Music Maker Magazine, I didn’t have the time anymore and also discovered that as far as playing was concerned, it was all or nothing for me. So I had to decide between music and journalism. I never regretted choosing journalism. I had a great job until 2001, when I became a freelance-writer.

Jaap van Eik
Jaap in recent times
Me: Do you have any final thoughts or stories that could give readers some more insight into the times and the band? 

Jaap: It was a tight very little band, especially after changing the line-up with Rob Kruisman and Rob Ten Bokum. The latter was a good songwriter and guitarist, the former quite a showman and apart from being the singer, also a good saxophone and flute player. Our repertoire was a mix of original material and covers. I remember we included explosive versions or The Beatles' I Wanna Hold Your Hand' and a few Stones songs. We mainly played small clubs around The Netherlands, were usually quite well received, but for some reason never got very far. Being on stage was always great fun, as we didn't rehearse that much and mainly relied on our improvisational skills. This meant that songs could go on forever if we were on the right track.

We liked to party, which sometimes annoyed our drummer Herman van Boeyen, who at one time tried to enforce a no-alcohol rule during gigs - obviously the others didn't comply. Apart from being a good drummer Herman was a funny guy. He never liked being dependent on other people and one day decided he also wanted to be a singer. The problem was, his voice wasn't that strong. So we said to him: 'Herman, that won't work, your singing is just no good'. 'Oh, I can learn that', he insisted. 'No Herman, no way', we grinned. Then Rob Kruisman said jokingly: 'You know what you should do? Gargle with whiskey, that'll do the trick'. Five minutes later he was gargling whiskey! We laughed our heads off, but a couple of years later, in another band called Vitesse, Herman proved his point: he became the drumming singer and had a couple of hits!

There's a interview with Jaap that goes into much more detail about his life and career here at the DPRP (Dutch Progressive Rock Page) (link). A couple of years ago he wrote a book about Focus called "Focus: Wereldsucces, Ego's en Machtsstrijd".


Thanks very much to Jaap, and I hope you enjoy Panda's brief but brilliant set of tunes as much as I do. If you haven't already seen it, check out a similar interview I did with Rob Vunderink about his old band, Cobra. Till next time, Rich.

© Richard Sheppard / / Panda / Jaap van Eik

Share via:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Stonehouse and Stonehouse Creek. Interview with singer Jim Smith, pt.1

"Stonehouse Creek" is one of the best albums I have come across while looking out for bands in all things TDATS. Recently tracking down an original copy has encouraged me in my attempts at finding out more about this excellent obscure band. To my huge delight I was able to contact Plymouth-born Stonehouse singer James (Jim) Smith, and conduct a telephone interview. This also enabled me to get some great info on later bands of Jim's like Asgaerd.

Jodo, Universe, Stonehouse triumvirate
A 1971 UK blues rock LP  triumvirate of
Jodo, Universe & Stonehouse
Eerily reminiscent of Jodo, of whom I interviewed Rod Alexander almost exactly one year ago (link), Stonehouse also made a single, woefully under-publicised, album of brilliant British heavy blues and hard rock, in 1971. They both have ambiguous, monochrome cover art, they even share some lyrical themes. On top of these coincidences, they both have a track called "Nightmare". Fans of Leaf Hound will also find much to like in Stonehouse's earthy, honest sound, as well as those who know Universe's album, all of these LPs being from 1971, a great year indeed.

The album begins with a plaintive ode to the mysterious "Stonehouse Creek", lamenting the loss of a well-loved local beauty spot, and then kicks off proper with the good-time bluesrock vibes of "Hobo". This fully establishes the band's tight skills; Ian Snow's funky drumming, Peter Spearings's nimble blues licks, Terry Parker's adventurous bass lines and Jim Smith's versatile wide-range vocal abilities. The second track is a real highlight of the album, "Cheater", with Jim's impassioned and brooding performance matching Pete's doom-laden blues riff.

"Nightmare" opens with Terry's quirky, slightly proggy bassline, and this is the first track to include some light piano embellishment, the inclusion of which Jim will voice his minor grievances on later in the interview. Personally speaking, although piano can generally take the edge off hard rock, I like it on this album. It's well played, not over-powering, and it suits an LP which has a good-natured, fun vibe over-all.

Toward the end, "Don't Push Me" introduces some great Sabbathian, progressive riffing. "Topaz" is a compact, groovy instrumental, perfect for those that like Led Zep's "Moby Dick" but tend to reach for fast-forward at a certain point; this one is drum-solo free haha. Along with the earlier track "Ain't No Game", "Four Letter Word" delves into deeper lyrical subject matters, supporting tolerance and anti-war sentiments. The album reprises nicely with Stonehouse Creek pt2, coming back full circle to the homely pleasures of hanging about fishing on a lazy summer afternoon.

Interview with Jim Smith

Parade at British Seaman's Boys Home, Brixham
Parade at British Seaman's Boys Home, Brixham
Acquired from
Me: Hi Jim! Please tell us about your childhood and how you got into music.
Jim: I was brought up in Devonport, in quite a large family, one of ten brothers and sisters. We lived in a very poor part of town. When I was seven, me and three brothers were out playing in the street and this car turned up. We were given all these really lovely clothes to put on, nicer than we'd seen before. We were whipped of to Brixham, in Paignton, Devon.

To my surprise we were taken to an orphanage and just left there. I found out six months or so later that my mum was really ill, dying of cancer. My father was in the Navy at the time, on HMS Ark Royal, so he wasn’t in a position to look after us all. The rest of my siblings were staying with grandparents and other family. It was a naval orphanage and they had bands, so at the age of twelve I joined a naval band, as a side drummer, also playing the bugle. [The British Seaman's Boys Home (link) was open for 125 years between 1863 and 1988]

Me: Drumming was your first love?
Jim: Yes, I seemed to have a natural aptitude and picked things up and played them quite easily in the boy’s marching band.

.Me: How did that develop into playing in rock bands?
Jim: At around fifteen I had the chance to leave the orphanage, and go and live with my sister in Plymouth. I joined a little youth club come boxing club, which used to put on dances. A couple of guys there asked me if I’d like to join in getting a band together. I managed to get a cheap drum-setup, first time having been on a full size drum kit. I started picking things up from there, playing along to things like The Shadows, and it developed from there.

Me: Was one of those people Pete Spearing?
Jim: No, I met him when I was seventeen or eighteen. I played in loads of different little bands, not yet being really good at my trade. I could play a basic 4/4 but that was about it. I was never trained in music, I didn’t learn to read music. My skills developed just by studying other musicians, I used to go home and work it out bit by bit in my own time. When I was about sixteen I was playing in a band at a show, in a cinema in Devonport, Plymouth. We were supporting The Who. When you see old pictures of The Who, Roger Daltrey’s wearing like a double-breasted jacket with stripes on it. That’s what he was wearing that night.

We even went to Germany for stint to play in Hamburg and that circuit, soon after the Beatles. Another time we got a residency in the Butlins holiday camp at Minehead, Somerset. To be allowed to work there, we had to officially become Red Coats, that was a lot of fun as you can imagine!

Pete Spearing, 1971
Pete Spearing, 1971
Me: Oh great, what was the name of that band you were in then?
Jim: Believe it or not, I can't remember! Going back fifty years or so, the memories get murky. At that time it might have been “The Crusaders”, something like that. I was getting quite good on the drums, having been playing regularly in little social clubs and youth clubs. When I was about seventeen Pete Spearing [Stonehouse guitar/song-writer] approached me. By this time I had started to do some singing as well as the drums. He asked If i’d be interested in singing for a good three-piece band (drums, bass, guitar). Terry Parker [Stonehouse bass] was living in a place called Southway at the time. As you can hear on the album, he was a very accomplished bass player for a guy his age.

Me: So Stonehouse was initially Pete Spearing’s idea? Did you know Terry or Ian Snow [Stonehouse drums] before this point?
Jim: Stonehouse was Pete’s vision, it was all his material, he was such a prolific song-writer. I didn’t know Ian or Terry beforehand, no.

Van Dike club poster, 1970
Van Dike club poster, 1970
Me: What were Stonehouse’s influences? Did you model yourselves on any bands?
Jim: We didn’t want to sound like anyone else and I think we managed to achieve that, with my vocal range and how I sounded, and the way we played, I think we were really original. Personally speaking, I idolised Free. I saw them half a dozen times when they came down to Plymouth, at a club called the Van Dike. They were going on stage with 200 watt Marshal PA systems, that’s how new they were to the game as well!

Me: Paul Rogers has one of the best voices of all time. On that record he did with Queen in recent times, his voice was as good as ever.
Jim: Yeah, that was incredible. That’s the good thing about carrying on doing what you do, you should never lose it. He still has such a good vocal range.

Me: Why did you choose the name Stonehouse? Having looked it up, I see there is a place with that name in Plymouth.
Jim: Pete Spearing was born around that area. There’s a place called Stonehouse Creek, they keep boats down there. There’s a ha'penny bridge, where in the old days, seventeenth and eighteenth century, people used to pay a ha'penny to get across. It’s quite a biggish bridge, it takes two lanes of traffic now. So Pete themed one of the songs on Stonehouse bridge, and creek.

Me:  Sure, the intro and outro on the album, containing the lyric, “They’re filling in Stonehouse Creek”.
Jim: And they did fill it in! One side of it is now a car park for a university college.

Me: I guess that was quite an upsetting thing at the time, which is why Pete wrote about it?
Jim: Yes! It was well-loved, lots of people used to go fishing around there and just laze around the edges of the water, having picnics and things like that.

Me:  When Stonehouse started playing live, do you remember playing with, or meeting, any other bands that we may have heard of?
Jim: Not really no, we did a lot of one-off club nights by ourselves. Speaking again of Paul Rogers again, I did measure myself on him, not the way he sang, but the way he stood on stage, the way he used the mic stand, he used it like a crutch. I used to do that and throw it about, it was like a baton to me.

Me: Were you just playing near Plymouth? Did you travel further, to London for instance?
Jim: Yeah we went to London; I forget the names of places we played now, one may have been the The Speakeasy (link). We went down an absolute storm, did really well and got more gigs. Don’t ask me what managers approached us, as Pete dealt with all that. We had a small spot at Glastonbury one time, set up in a tent, and that went down really well too. At one time we were voted one of the top ten bands in England, alas I can’t remember where or what that was in.

Command Studio, London
Command Studio, London
Me: Do you remember much about how you got signed and how the album recording came about?
Jim: Pete arranged that after talking to a label rep at a show, who thought we had a really good sound and liked what we did. An album recording session was arranged, but we only got one day in the studio.

Me: The album cover says it was recorded at Command studios in London (link) [which hosted the likes of King Crimson, Slade, Deep Purple, Atomic Rooster, PFM and Roxy Music]. In a small piece I found on-line (link), that was apparently written by Pete Spearing in recent times, he said that it was recorded at Advision studios. What is correct here?
Jim: It was recorded at Command studios, in 1970. Not Advision.

Me: The engineer, Barry Ainsworth, worked with some excellent bands; ├┤awkVVind , Deep Purple - "Hush", The Strawbs, May Blitz and Sam Gopal to name a few. [There is a 1980s video interview with Barry, here] Producer Mickey Clarke worked on Raw Material's second LP, and showing the bizarrely incongruous nature of the industry at the time, Rolf Harris's "Two Little Boys". He also produced a band called Room, from Dorset, not too far from Plymouth (See Vol60). Their album, “Pre-Flight”, is another of my absolute favourites from the time, they did one album for Vertigo and broke up pretty much straight after as well. Do you know of them?
Jim: Oh really? I can’t say I know of Room, but yes it’s sad. We could have done more, If we’d had more time we could have laid more tracks down. The bass, drums and guitar tracks were laid down first, during which time I sang along in a booth, so I knew when the breaks were coming in, recording what would normally be a first-take of the vocal track. After doing that, Barry Ainsworth decided that all these first takes were good enough and we did not redo any of them.

Command Studios, London
Acquired from
Me: Do you think this was an attempt to save money on studio time?
Jim: Oh absolutely, we were only in the studio for one day. But a day is 24hrs, we were in there for just twelve hours. That was all the time they gave us, so we had to get it done. Even Pete’s guitar work, his lead work, he only did that once. Never went over it again like you’d normally do, you might want put harmony solos on it etc. We were really racing against the clock, what with the time it took to set everything up as well, there was no time at all for the band to have any extra input or say in the recording, no time to develop anything further in the studio.

Me: Who played the piano on tracks like "Hobo", "Nightmare", "Down Down" and "Stonehouse Creek"?
Jim: The piano was put in at a later date, without asking us, so I don’t even know who did it or who’s idea it was. It softened the band a little bit. I would have preferred it if they’d asked Pete to come back in to lay down some more rhythm tracks, and maybe some more harmony tracks.....but nothing.

Plymouth Amateur Rowing Club
Plymouth Amateur Rowing Club
Me: Given all these restrictions, it’s testament to all of your talents that the album sounds as good as it does. You must have been very well-practiced before going in.
Jim: Oh absolutely, we had a place on the embankment in Plymouth, it was in a boat club. They had the rowing boats downstairs in one big room and we had quite a large upstairs room. We rehearsed there four or five times a week, all our gear was left there. The band was really tight, what you hear on the album is what you would have heard if you’d seen us live, although live it would have all been a lot louder and a lot fuller. There were no mistakes at all, we just played straight through the songs.

We’d go to rehearsal and bang out all the songs you know, plus other material as well. We did a thing called the “War Suite”, written by Pete, something along the lines of “War Of The Worlds”, but this was about WWII. That was just a beautiful piece of music. If we’d got anywhere, he’d have become a really good song writer, an arranger of songs, it’s such a shame. Not that he isn’t a good song writer now, but if we’d got somewhere when we had the break back then, you know.

Me: The War Suite sounds like it must have been some kind of prog rock epic. If it was never recorded, that was a tragic loss. I imagine you would not have been able to fit it on the album.
Jim: Yeah absolutely, it was like something Meatloaf would do. We never recorded it, we used to play the whole thing through on stage, it was in seven or eight parts. There were so many ups and downs, peaks and troughs, loud and quiet bits, it was just absolutely lovely to play. Actually, a song that was on the album, “Ain’t No Game” [themed on the anti-war sentiment common at the time] could have been taken from the War Suite. I seem to remember that, but of course some things are hazy after all these years.

Pete Spearing in recent times
Pete Spearing in
more recent times
Me: Pete was the main ideas-guy in the band, but did Stonehouse have any kind of collaborative writing process?
Jim: Pete was the main guy, absolutely. We’d sit around discussing things and he’d accept and listen to any of our input, and we’d maybe add a bit here and a bit there, but basically, he was so good, it was like “if it’s not broken, why try and fix it?”, you know.

Me: How did he get that good, do you know? What was there in his past that might account for it?
Jim: I think intelligence. He’s a very intelligent man, he’s very knowledgeable. He’s read a lot, he’s word-perfect in everything he does and says and plays. He’s just good at it. Some people are good at writing, putting lyrics together, arranging songs, he has it all. He wrote all the lyrics as well.

Me: Do you have any favourite songs on the album?
Jim: I particularly like "Crazy White Folk" [Jim sings the chorus in perfect tune here] and "Ain’t No Game". I loved singing all of them, because my voice was so strong and I could reach all the notes. I still can actually, you wouldn’t believe it but my voice is still as high and as powerful as it ever was. Not bad for 68 is it, haha?

Ian Snow, 1971
Ian Snow, 1971
Me: Could you give us a brief run-down of the gear you were using when you recorded the album?
Jim: Pete had his beloved Gibson, semi-acoustic it was. A couple of years ago he had it stolen, bless him. Terry Parker always used a Fender bass, and Snowy (Ian Snow) was on a Ludwig drum kit. The PA would have been whatever was hired in at the time.

Me: Did you contribute any drums on the album? I presume not, especially with the time constraints.
Jim: No I didn’t. At the time, I was the same type of drummer as Snowy, we were on a par for drums anyway. Though there was always a bit of camaraderie between us, Snowy was very good with a single bass drum and double bass, he could do the lot really.

Me: Do you know why Nighmare has echoey, distant vocals compared to rest of the album?
Jim: Yes that's right, it does. As far as I can remember, it was the producer's idea. He though it would suit the dark nature of the song and lyrics.

Me: I have the RCA Victor press of the album. on the back of the cover is printed a track list that is incorrect, it does not correlate with the record it contains. For instance, it says that Hobo is the first from last track on side B, but in reality Hobo is the second track on side A! The other even weirder thing is that the cover says "Move Away" is track four on side A. But that song is missing from vinyl all together! As it is on all the re-issues, which themselves don't mention Move Away, and print the songs in the correct order. Do you know what happened there? What might have caused that huge typo on the original pressing's cover, and even more importantly, what happened to the song Move Away? The label on the record is correct.

Jim: Unfortunately I can't shed any light on that, sorry! I haven't owned a copy of the original for many years, I lost mine when I was lending it to friends. Also, I have no memory of the song Move Away. Not in practicing or as part of the "War Suite". The only person who might be able to explain that is Pete Spearing, as he was the main song writer. Unfortunately I have dropped out of contact with him, although he did reappear around my way about five years ago which was the last time I saw him. He moves around a lot and has lived in Australia and elsewhere.

Me: Do you remember anything about the album being released? Reading about it or hearing it?
Jim: Nothing, no. They didn’t even let us know when it was being released, to be honest. I think there was something in the Melody Maker at the time.

Terry Parker, 1971
Terry Parker, 1971
Me: Do you know if any singles were released from it? Was anything played on the radio?
Jim: No, not from the Stonehouse album. At that time I don’t think radio played that sort of stuff, as far as I know, it’s not like now when you can hear everything you could want to hear, from any time.

Me: Did you have any involvement with the various re-issues that have appeared from time to time in recent years?
Jim: Nope, none at all. Nobody has ever contacted me, the first I knew about them was from seeing a CD on sale on Amazon, which was made in Germany I think. I often wonder if anyone has made any money from them and if I have any right to royalties. The problem is, back then I did not get involved in any of those details and I have no memory of what contractual rights I had, or might still have. If any of the band members do still have legal rights over the music, it would most likely be Pete. He dealt with the business side, and wrote the songs.

Me: Is it the case, as for some other bands I have spoken to, that by the time the album was actually released, the band was already on the rocks?
Jim: Yes, that’s right. I’d like to say, we didn’t split with any bad feelings. After all these years, I can’t honestly remember why we split, we never had a huge falling out, nobody hated anyone, we all got along really well, which for a rock band is really unusual. I can speculate that the pressures for Pete were strongest, he had recently married, had a baby girl, he would have had to spend a lot of time away from home, going to London etc. We did play a few gigs up north to promote the record, to audiences of about 200-300 people, which were well-received, as were all the shows we ever played.

Me: Was it 1971 when the band split?
Jim: I don’t remember exactly when, but it was 1971. As far as I know, we never got any money at all from the label. They didn’t promote us at all either, we had to go out and find our own promoters, which didn’t happen, for reasons that I don’t quite remember.

Me: Do you have any amusing or shocking Stonehouse stories to share?
Jim: Not really, it was so long ago now. What I mainly remember is spending all our time rehearsing. We looked the part, we all had long hair, we had the right stuff on stage.....we did get chased off out of a farmhouse once, by a guy with a shotgun! We pulled up there late one night, we wanted some water for the big van we had, and he thought we was trying to rob the place, we banged on the door and the next minute this shotgun came peering through the window at us, we thought “shit!” and just ran for it, loudly expressing our apologies as we high-tailed it out of there.

We were a well behaved band, we weren’t smashing things up, we didn’t get into trouble with anybody. We just played our music. Being good musicians was all we ever wanted.


And I think anyone who hears the album will be in no doubt that they certainly achieved that! Soon after Stonehouse, Jim and Ian joined a new band based in London, called Asgaerd (see Vol99), with whom Pete was also briefly involved at one point. More on this, and another band further down in Stonehouse history called Canyon, in part 2 of the interview later.

Thanks to Jim for making these interviews possible, and thanks for reading! Follow Stonehouse at the official Facebook page.

© Richard Sheppard / / Stonehouse

Jim Smith drumming in Canyon, 2012.

Share with:

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Last Song: Roy Rutanen and his short-lived band

If you haven't seen the most recent tdats comp from last week, the heavy 'Bosstown sound', get it here.

Right....getting on for two years ago now I included a song in the second New Zealand special (link) by a guy called Roy Rutanen. At that time I had fallen for what I now know was an incorrect rumour, believing him to have been a mysterious and enigmatic figure from New Zealand.

The album in question may be described by some as loner-folk, with pastoral sounds and mild psychedelia. It's a whimsical and humorous record with some darker fuzz-filled cuts, especially "Sinful Man" and "The Trip Song". It would fit right into the late '60s San Francisco sound. I find his voice is sometimes reminiscent of Jim Morrison, and sometimes Cat Stevens.

About a year and a half ago I was contacted out of the blue by a guy in Australia called Chris Hobrough. He told me that he took the picture on the front of Roy's Album, that Roy was most definitely American, and had never to his knowledge set foot in New Zealand. With Chris's much apreciated help, I have been able to contact Roy and some of his band members. Firstly I'd like to say a huge thanks to Chris Hobrough, Mick Norris, Ian Robins and Roy himself for being such great sports and making this possible. Learning the truth has been a great feeling, so to set the record straight, here it is!

The Beginning

Roy grew up in Southbridge, MA, the oldest of four; one brother and two sisters. His mother was a 'truly good' pianist and his father was a gifted auotobody mechanic, but unfortunately a desperate alcoholic. In Roy's own words: "I had kind of a bad childhood in many ways, but normal in others". He and a friend started playing guitar as teenagers. They became a trio and played in different cities around the area. All that was to end when he was drafted in 1966 by the US army, at which time he was working in a service station.

After a stint in Germany he was sent to Vietnam. Asked for his recollections of the war, he told me "I was in rocket attacks but didn't see much more action. I saw a lot of drug use and very little support from locals. I'll bet that the people there are living the same way today as they did back in the '60s".

During his time in Vietnam, he chose to use two R&R periods to visit Australia. He liked it there so much that he decided to fly straight back on discharge from the army. His early recollections of Australia were of having good times making many good friends: "I smoked a lot of pot and indulged in other highs. I lived right on Manly Beach in Sydney and went to sleep at night with the sound of surf coming in through the open balcony doors".

Making the band

Dee Why beach
Roy started putting his name about in the scene and playing his own songs at some local venues: "I began playing at a theater called P.A.C.T. and played at other places as well". The PACT (Producers, Authors, Composers and Talent) arts company still stands to this day (link). Roy befriended Michael 'Mick' Norris, who played in accoustic band 'Marastique' and a bluesrock band called Amageddon. Then Roy moved into a flat with friends in Pittwater Road, Dee Why, a suburb of northern Sydney which also has a beach. In Mick's words: "We used to meet at this flat, have a jam and smoke pot, supplied mostly by a local bloke who lived only about two hundred metres away in Harbord Road".

Mick would take along his band-mates Ray McKeown, Ian Robins and Graham Hilzinger. Ray played drums, Ian played electric guitar and Graham played flute and sax. Mick himself was playing bass at the time.

Mick recalls that at those sessions, they would set-up and Roy would play through all his songs, almost non-stop, as if doing a mini concert. Then they would all fall into it with him, making-up their own parts as Roy continued playing without stopping to correct anyone. "Occasionally we would all stop for a puff of pot, then get back to it". The guys got together a couple of nights a week, playing for few hours at a time. Roy adds: "They were all great guys and we worked well together. It was a wonderful experience".

Roy at a wedding
I asked Ian Robins to describe his memories of Roy: "Roy was a real pistol!  Very loud and ebullient. He had a great sense of humour and I remember he loved junk food. We all got a little substance crazy in those days. Roy had a favourite expression - 'Has anyone seen my mind - don't step on it!'. He was a very good acoustic picker and song writer, fun to work with too, very focused".

Eventually they all got to know Roy’s songs by ear, Ian remembers that Roy was vey open to the ideas of the other guys and they all developed their own individual parts.

The flat on Pittwater Road
- at mid-level
When they weren't playing, the Dee Why flat was a place for fun and hi-jinks. Mick recalls one party in particular: "There was one occasion at the flat when some friends of Roy’s had arrived from overseas, after back-packing I think. They brought some 8mm film they had shot of their adventures, and they also had some LSD micro-dots which they had gotten from the USA (very clean, pure and precise in dose level). We all had a trip together, as the LSD took effect, the film was played and projected onto a wall of the flat and it was also played back-wards to the great amusement of us all.

As the party progressed, most of us set-out in groups in different cars to go driving around the northern beaches, all in different directions. We had an amazing time laughing and hoo-harring all over the place. At one particular time, a few of the cars arrived at the same intersection all at the same time, all coming from different directions. Not having been in contact since the magical mystery tour had started, that was an amazing coincidence. We all just sat there at the intersection looking at each other, cracking up with laughter".

Before Roy's get-togethers with the nucleus of what was to become his recording band, he had been very enterprising. While recording a demo on his own, a local studio put him in touch with Jack Argent, MD of Leeds Music publishers. Jack liked what he heard and organised a deal for an album with MCA.

Making the album

The album was recorded at United Sounds studio in Sydney (link). Roy played classical acoustic guitar. From the Dee Why jams was Mick Norris on bass, Ian Robins on electric guitar, Graham Hilzinger on flute and Ray McKeown on drums. Some more players were added; John Hayles played second classical guitar, and on tracks "Plastic World", "The Old Man" and "Hitchin" steel guitar player Kenny Kitching can be heard. Kenny has since become one of he most renowned steel and Hawian guitar players in Australia. On this subject Roy said: "Kenny was brought in, I'd never met him before. I didn't know he'd done so well, since. He was very interested in the track(s) he played on and I appreciated his interest!"

Ian Robins had this to say about the recording: "I played all the electric guitar. I had a Gibson ES335 back then, a guitar I always regret parting with. It must be worth a fortune now. One song I recall, 'Plastic Jesus', was about the commercialization of religion".

At the time Roy told Mick that MCA were winding-down their activity in Australia, and so a meagre budget had been allocated for the sound recording and production. MCA was pushing to get it's contracts fulfilled quickly. As most of the players were by now well-practiced and knew their parts well, the album sessions went smoothly. Roy points out that most of the tracks were put down together as a band instead of over dubbing. A few things, like the flute, had to be put down later.

Label, Side 1
The record was released in the latter half of 1971, catalogue number MCA MAP/S 5100. The full track listing is:

A1 Searchin'
A2 Plastic World
A3 The Trip Song
A4 Anti-stink Song
A5 The Old Man
B1 The Country Song
B2 Hitchin'
B3 Sinful Man
B4 The Last Song

Things had moved on by this time, Roy had moved again and was working in a record shop on Pittwater Rd. He had also met his wife-to-be, Margaret Gray, from Narrabeen, NSW. The album cover shows Roy sitting under a tree strumming his guitar, with an attentive blonde-haired girl in audience. This girl is Margaret. The picture was taken by Chris Hobrough, a photographer friend of Roy's. Chris had this to say: "The pictures were taken in the garden of his place at Newport, Sydney. I remember positioning myself right on top of an ant nest to take some of those shots - they didn't appreciate it. 40 years and I still remember that".

The credited engineer is Spenser Lee, who quite amazingly was engineer on the first three Buffalo albums slightly later. The album was produced by Alan A. Freeman, ex-head of A&R at Pye records in England and CEO of MCA Australasia. Older readers may be interested to know Alan was a regular panelist on ATV's Saturday night talent programme, New Faces.

MCA did put out a single from the album, choosing 'Plastic World' with a flip-side of 'The Old Man'. I have just discovered another single that MCA released, which Roy confirms was recorded prior to the album sessions. That single was "Your Day Is Comin" (youtube) with flip-side "Hey You" (youtube). Thanks to Bill Stevens for uploading those two. Bill also got some info out of Roy: "The single 'Your Day Is Comin' was written on Manly Beach in Sydney and reflects my disillusion with the Vietnam War and war in general. 'Hey You' is another single but more of a love song".


Tragically, it would seem that the public had very little chance to even hear the finished album. Chris Hobrough offers his opinion: "The album wasn't a commercial success, mainly because the record company put zero effort into promoting it. It was basically all left up to Roy. That was quite a tall order, back then, for a young musician just starting out. Perhaps it would have been easier now with the Internet. Anyway, it wasn't enough support for Roy to develop his art, and I think that was a big disappointment for him".

Mick Norris has similarly negative things to say about the album's promotion: "As was a usual practice, MCA, or one of their agents, managed to have a review of the album published in the appropriate 'what’s going on' music page of one of Sydney’s main newspapers, giving the album 'record of the week', but it was not as if MCA showed any high hopes for Roy’s success. It seemed that they just wanted to get their contract obligations met at the cheapest possible cost, and I don’t recall how many copies of the album were pressed".

Ian Robins in
recent times
Ian Robins has equally melon collie memories of the time: "It would have been nice if the album had gone somewhere. Who knows how it may have changed one's life, eh? I feel bad for Roy though. He put a lot of energy and effort into the album."

Roy himself says that he made no money at all from the record, aside from the band's basic pay during the recording sessions. This immediate disapointment hit Roy hard. Soon after he was married and had a young daughter on the way, so he made plans to cut his losses and return to the US where he would be in a better position to support his new family. He does not remember any promotional efforts from MCA what so ever: "We should have gone on the road to promote it, but by that time, I was headed back to the states. I never saw it in a store".

Just after the release of the album, Mick Norris went on with Ray, Ian and Graham to form a new incarnation of the band, while Roy was drifting away from the original gang: "The rest of us carried on as a band in the Narrabeen/Mona Vale area, and we recorded a soundtrack for an Australian surfing film producer Bob Evans, the name of his film was 'Family Free'" (link).

Around the same time the band was approached to hurriedly come-up with a soundtrack for another locally-proposed surf film; of which Bruce Usher and Russell Shepherd, from Mona vale Beach, were the producers. Due to the urgency of needing original music finished within this film's strict time frame, Mick made contact with Roy with the hope that he might have some material, or be able to come-up with some fresh material. Roy did come to meet the producers at Mona Vale, and things started to move, with Roy showing keen and coming up with ideas. "Some how the wheels fell off the whole thing, and I don’t recall seeing Roy again, I think that was about the time that he and Margaret got married. It's hard to recall now, but I think that delays with the film’s production didn't help".

Back in the USA

So that was the end of Roy's personal and musical life in Australia: "In total, I lived in Aussie for just over two years. After I got married and had a daughter, I wanted my family in the US to meet them, so we left for Massachusetts in the early '70s. All in all, it was a wonderful experience, and in retrospect, I never should have left".

Back in the US, music just wasn't cutting it any more. With a daughter and wife to support, he decided to go back to school in Boston to study broadcasting. He worked for a while in radio and TV advertising, then: "From Connecticut, where I was living at the time, I got a job in Hyde Park, New York, at a small AM station working for a fat guy who was a little unstable. From there I became a program director for an FM station that was country when I got the job. With me it became a rock station, and a big hit in the Poughkeepsie, NY area".

Roy in 2010
Roy moved to Texas where he got into TV news: "My time in San Antonio working for KENS-TV was a highlight of my career.  From there it was back to radio in San Diego, California before returning to New England. I won several awards along the way and got to see a lot of the country. I went back to Australia in the mid 80's while working as a TV journalist and revisited Sydney - I'd like to go back there again some day. Back in New England I did something I'd always wanted to do and that was driving big rig trucks. I did that for three years and enjoyed seeing the country, but the business was tough. Now I'm retired".

After the impossibility of the public getting the chance to hear Roy and the gang's great album when it should have done, we can thank the power of the internet for allowing many to hear it easily now. Thanks to Roy and his efforts over 40 years ago for bringing us this great music!

© Richard Sheppard / / Roy Rutanen

share via:
Newer Posts Older Posts Home