Mikey–Is it true you only play in tune on your own recordings……. and a bit out of tune on everyone else’s?
Surely you of all people, Dan Haywood, should know the answer to that one; when did I begin recording ‘New Hawks’ with you? It’s been a long time; it’s been like a 5000 piece jigsaw to me. I’m guessing the total instrument parts on the 3-piece suite amount to more than that though! The most memorable session I recorded on was for ‘How’s My Pop?’. I wasn’t very well at the time Andy ‘The Rav’ Raven sent me the demo files and the scores I made for them I signed with my own snot. When I turned up to Paul Walmsley’s house to record the fiddle parts my face was so swollen (I had an allergic reaction to the flu) that I struggled to read them. It was obvious that I wasn’t well at all and I was in and out as fast as a present-day Cliff Richard chart entry. Sounded okay though, I hope?
You mentioned producer Paul Walmsley, who mastered your Ottersgear album. He sleeps in Williamson Park. But where does Ottersgear lie?
Well firstly there is Ottergear, without the ‘S’, which is a bridge at the foot of Clougha Pike just outside of Lancaster and that’s where the name comes from. Then there’s “Ottersgear”, the name I gave to a kind of imaginary sanctuary I like to retreat to every now and then. If you’ve ever been hypnotised or led into entrancement then you’ll probably have been led to imagine yourself in a place of solitude and peace, it’s the same thing. My place is Ottersgear and that’s where I catch my songs. That’s the climax of a ‘Quest for Rest’; A Red Balloon.
That reminds me of the Soggy Desert, which was a place of One Chip Potato folklore. I’d heard that place-name in the songs and later found it referred to Aldcliffe Marsh! Have you always written around psycho-geographical bases?
No, I haven’t; Soggy Desert was my first real stab at it and I learnt a lot from it. I’ve learnt that landscapes make great teachers. If you go out to these places alone, forget your fears and your worries, they can become powerful allies. It’s not hard to tap into the impressions they make and use them for creative purposes but it’s understanding their personalities that matter most of all. These ‘allies’ have helped me through some tough times. I’m expressing my gratitude, that’s what I’m doing.
You’ve had a lot of human allies too. Par example– In the One Chip Potato and the Transcendental Watermusicians days you always had a partner in crime. You seemed inseparable from Andy Ranallo, then Johnny Swift was your henchman, both on stage and off. Apart from a few mainstays, the OCP band was a revolving door. Not a place to tie one’s laces.
What cemented those evil alliances and set them apart from passing friendships?
Well first of all I’m still very much in frequent contact with all of these guys. Part of the trouble has always been that I recruited OCP members who were members of the University so there’d always be that time when they’d have to pack up and go home. OCP still exists, we’re just waiting for that moment when we can all afford to be in one place again. Usually it’d begin with us being drinking partners and playing together at parties or at the Blades Street basement where we hosted regular do’s. We’d be writing all these daft songs such as ‘Rainbow Ladder’ or ‘Imitatin’ Lou Reed’ and then it’d be happening on stage too. Nobody was ever really officially invited to play in OCP it was always more of a case of ‘up you get’ wherever we were playing at the time. It was more like an institution I reckon. More like being in an institution!!! You’re right though, there was always a strong bond between henchmen. A lot of it due to the fact that we’d created an adventure for ourselves, floating aboard the leviathan Muwonkey over the Sunflower Ocean and having the Sunflower Man give us his blessing y’know?
Drinking pardners….A lot of great OCP shows were kinda alcodelic, blurry…. reeking of grog. In the story of the Ottersgear tunes booze plays a key role.
What are the pros and cons of alcohol in your creative life?
Reeking of grog indeed. For me, music is a very spiritual thing, especially ceilidh music. I’ve always been fascinated by ecstatic dance, by non-electronic trance-inducing music which is exactly what ceilidh music is. I know OCP and Ottersgear aren’t exactly ceilidh bands but they are both massively influenced by it because, as a fiddler, I’ve been playing the Irish dance music as long as I can remember. When in session, alcohol is a trance-inducing tool, it becomes part of the faith. I’m not saying you can’t be a session-player if you’re not drinking, I’ve played many a session sober and floated away into the music, it’s just a part of the tradition. There’s a good reason there’s always booze near the sessions y’know?
Then you have “The Quest for Rest” which is all about steering clear of the booze. The truth is it was more about taming it. With OCP I was going too far, I needed to calm down and so I quit for six months. It was a breath of fresh air being off it, but the sessions became less fun. The deeper undercurrent had run dry. It felt less of a communion. I’m not talking about being drunk, just a pint or two. Before Ottersgear, OCP was all about seeing how much of the drink we could consume before getting up to play. Alcodelic is a good choice of word because yes, it was about having a trip and trip we did. I wouldn’t dare go that far these days. Lessons, lessons, lessons.
Does that mean that the vacuum cleaner won’t reappear in your sets?
Hopefully it won’t but who knows where the future of music might take us?!
Your gigging-rate impresses. You do gig after gig, often in a penniless state. You’ve played many impromptu guerilla gigs, there have been many strange engagements and seemingly hostile settings. Why do you rush in where most musos fear to tread?
The way I see it we are born into trades with our personalities and I was born into music. I’ll play anywhere so long as I have an excuse to be playing. I vowed to myself two years ago never to let my life be used for anything that wasn’t musical. I veered off course for a while but nature has it’s own way of punishing people who break vows, especially the ones they make with themselves. If Charlie Chaplin played the fiddle…
Tell us about your recent trip to the London.
Well Dave Rybka’s girlfriend Eleni is part of a professional dance troupe (or duo rather) and they asked me and Dave if we’d let them use our tracks to dance to at a production they were putting on at the Barbican. They were using ‘Quest for Rest’ and it was all going to be a really special evening so I just had to go down to see it. They were amazing. It was something else seeing top dancers dancing to your music in front of a sold-out audience. They had drapes hanging from the rafters and they were swinging and climbing, twisting and whirling. It was magic. We’d smuggled a few bottles of wine and a bottle of whiskey in too. Charley was going up to the bar and flirting with the barman from S. Africa, asking him for a corkscrew (that’s not an innuendo). It was a cracking do! After the show we staggered ‘round the streets of London searching for my missing wallet and train tickets.
This one’s for the true fans, Mikey– have you got the time on you?
Twenty past ten.
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