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18 August 2011|
Interview by James Gaden
“I turned around and I couldn’t believe it, right next to me Jerry Lee Lewis was playing a solo with his foot. Later on, we went into the control room to hear some playbacks and it sounded... like he was playing with his foot! It was dreadful!” (Andy Bown)
Despite being a full time member of Status Quo since 1976, veteran musician Andy Bown has had a varied career. He has played alongside Peter Frampton in The Herd, was a member of Judas Jump who opened the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970, worked as a session musician, written TV themes and released a collection of solo singles and albums. His time in Quo sees him fulfilling keyboard duties as well as additional guitar and harmonica - plus he has co-written some of the bands biggest hits, such as ‘Whatever You Want’ and ‘Burning Bridges’. On top of that, after nearly three decades, Andy has recorded a brand new solo album entitled ‘Unfinished Business’. After receiving a promo copy, an extremely impressed James Gaden got in touch...
I’ve been listening a lot to your solo record and I absolutely love it, I think it’s excellent!
Oh, that’s great, I’m thrilled!
Yes, it’s my most played album of the month. I wasn’t sure what to expect - I’ve not heard one of your solo records before. I’ve heard you with Quo, I know what songs you’ve written with Quo, but I didn’t know what direction a solo record would take. I was quite surprised how guitar driven it was. I thought being a keyboard player in a guitar band like Quo you’d maybe go a different way - did you have a specific direction in mind?
Well, for the last twenty five years, I’ve only ever written on guitar. I do play some guitar with Quo as you know, not a lot but I do play, so that’s probably why the songs are guitar based. It’s how I write and I play all the rhythm guitar. That’s where I get the core part. But I just did exactly what I wanted to with this record - it’s the first time I’ve ever done an album or single that I did for myself. It didn’t have something else behind it, nobody telling me that ‘oh, this has to be for a commercial’ or ‘this might work for Quo’... I just did exactly what I wanted. A lot of it is tongue firmly in cheek and underlined by, I hope, a feel for the blues, which I love and always have done.
The tongue in cheek side definitely came across, some of your lyrics did amuse me...
What have you got James? What did they send you?
Literally just a disk with a photocopied cover and the names of the songs, so I don’t have a clue who wrote what, who played what...
Oh, okay. I hope you’ll get a finished one in a week or so with all the stuff on.
Fingers crossed, but if not, no problem, I’ll happily buy it when it comes out, it’s great.
BUY it? Well I am flattered! (laughs)
Yes, I do still buy CD’s. I’m one of the few!
We’ve got to, haven’t we? Should you have to buy it, I hope you will think you have gotten value for money. The booklet is coming along very nicely and there’s a video with it too.
I’m already sold on the songs, so the booklet and the video just make the deal even better! What’s on it?
I’ve just finished it, it’s got a promo clip of ‘Rubber Gloves’ on it and I’m very pleased with it.
‘Rubber Gloves’ is one of my three favourites on the record.
Let me try and guess the others... ‘When The Lights Went On?’
Very close, but not quite my top three.
Oh, I’ve dropped one, I’ve got one chance left... ‘Built To Last’?
No - although in fairness I like every song on the record, but the three I like best are ‘Ruby And Roy’, ‘Rubber Gloves’ and ‘Tick My Box’.
‘Tick My Box’? You’re a blues man then?
A little bit. I like blues in moderation. I couldn’t listen to album after album of it as I find it tedious, but a good blues song, done well and mixed in with some rock songs, that I like a lot.
No, I agree absolutely. Blues is a joy to play, but it’s a different experience playing it to just hearing it. Anyway, regarding who performs on the album, all the guitar solos on the album are played by Mick Rogers and the drums are done by Henry Spinetti.
Ah, Henry was your old band mate from The Herd, right?
Yep, and we were in Judas Jump together - that terrific seventies failure! (laughs) But he plays a blinder on there I think you’ll agree. Did you think the album had a live feel?
Yes, I did, it’s not an overly produced record by any means.
That’s because a lot of it IS actually live - there’s even some live vocals on there.
Even better! Well the other big thing about it that ticked my box, if you’ll pardon the pun, is your employment of female backing singers, which is something I really gravitate to.
Aren’t they gorgeous, these girls? They gave it absolutely everything. We had such fun and I hope it sounds like that.
It does - I remember discussing this point with Francis a while back, because he used female singers on his solo album and it was tried on some Quo songs way back, but some of the more die hard rockers didn’t much care for it.
Yes, but also we didn’t get the full benefit with Quo because there aren’t a lot of frequencies available. Quo has that certain sound, a certain chemistry and there aren’t many frequencies left for the human voice. If you can slip in one lead vocal and maybe a harmony, that’s just about the limit, really, because the rest is pounding snare drum and howling guitars.
With this being your first solo album in thirty odd years, is this something you’ve been working on for a long time, or did the opportunity just present itself because there was some Quo downtime while Francis worked on his solo stuff?
Ooh no, I started before he started his! It takes such a long time to do. The first recording session for this was back in... I think September 2009, so I probably started work on it in February ‘09. Some of the songs had been in the back of my mind, hanging about. That’s why it’s called ‘Unfinished Business’ - although it’s mostly brand new, it was more about the feel of ‘I have to do something’, I was getting itchy feet. Initially I had an idea to record a basic track, maybe even at home, just for fun. I was going to put it on the internet in some way, I hadn’t really decided. I had a chat with Mike Paxman who produced this record and he does Quo’s website and a thousand other sites, he’s really technical and clever. He said he’d come over and run through some ideas about what I wanted to do. He came and I gave him some of my ideas to listen to. After a couple of hours he said ‘If you don’t make an entire album out of this stuff, you are a complete cunt.’ (laughs) Obviously, I don’t know if you can print that word - ‘complete’! That was the bottom line, write that up how you want. I thought ‘Oh, that’s nice’. (laughs) So I discussed the idea of a record with my wife and she kicked me up the arse and told me to do it. I said ‘You’ve got no idea how much work this is,’ because I’ve been there and done it, it’s not just a case of recording it, but she told me to get on with it. That was about three years ago.
So are all these tracks self penned, or did you collaborate with anybody?
No collaborations, I wrote the lot. Every single word! (laughs)
Some of the lyrics did make me laugh - especially in ‘Ruby And Roy’, when you said that they ‘go together like peaches and stuff’ so it rhymed with ‘enough’! (laughs)
Well I could have actually used the word ‘cream’ and rhymed it with the second line by just swapping them around, but that verse is shorter and I did it simply for the fact I thought people would expect to hear ‘cream’. (laughs) I could’ve just swapped the couplet round but I liked it better this way!
There are lots of little nuances lyrically that I smiled at. Are Ruby and Roy real people then, or is it a work of fiction?
‘Ruby And Roy’ is about a big night out in Aberdeen, when I went for a curry with Roy Wood. ‘Ruby And Roy’...
I thought Roy was maybe a real guy but now you tell me it’s Roy Wood and a curry, it’s put a completely different slant on it now. I thought it was a couple, but now you said that I can read it a totally different way!
That’s the point, I wanted people to think it was some old couple, I’m delighted you thought that!
The other one lyrically that I paid a lot of attention to was ‘When The Lights Went On’. It starts talking about you kicking off Live Aid, the ‘biggest gig we’ll ever play’... but there are other bits that sound like they have interesting stories attached, such as doing a session with Jerry Lee Lewis?
Yes, all of that song is true. That was a record he did called ‘Jerry Lee Lewis Live In London’. It was a big blue double gatefold vinyl album. The world and his mate was guesting on it. All the credits are on the back cover, down the centre and it’s done alphabetically so I think I was first or second. The same thing happened with ‘The Wall’ with Pink Floyd! So there were all sorts of people there and I had to play electric piano. I get there and it’s set up right next to him at his piano. The instruments were touching each other! When I saw that, I was crapping myself. (laughs) Eventually, he walked in and said ‘Hey boy!’ and that was about all he said to me. But that was one of the funniest things - during one song, I turned around and I couldn’t believe it, right next to me he was playing a solo with his foot. Later on, we went into the control room to hear some playbacks and it sounded... like he was playing with his foot! It was dreadful! Just awful! (laughs) But it made for a great sight - this god, playing this crap!
Were any of these new songs ones you thought about giving to Quo?
I did harbour a desire to try ‘Keeping The Wolf Away’ with Quo, I thought that would have worked in a ‘Spirit In The Sky’ vein, but that was about fifteen years ago. That’s the oldest song on the record and to be honest, I’ve not thought about it since then. So the answer, really, is no, none of them were written with Quo in mind. It was actually originally a B-side to a flop single I did called ‘No Fool Like An Old Fool’. Many moons ago - I’m no good at years, but it was before I went grey!
Well, I love the album and I hope it does really well for you.
Thank you very much - I’m thrilled you like it, and I’ll try and make sure you get a finished version.
That would be great, but if not, I have no qualms about buying it.
Yes, you did say that... and I must say, I’m tempted to let you! (laughs)
Read the full double page spread where Andy talks about the his new album, the latest Quo album ‘Quid Pro Quo’, the reissue of ‘Under The Influence’ and meeting Chuck Berry in Fireworks #47. Available from:
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