Dick Heckstall-Smith Interviews

Dick Heckstall Smith Interview by Ivan Beavis
Dick Heckstall Smith Interview by Paul Gallan
Dick Heckstall Smith Interview by Martin "Jet" Celmins

Dick Heckstall Smith Interview by Ivan Beavis
IB: In your book, The Safest Place In The World, you describe your very first awareness of Graham as, "a silent humble figure with a plastic alto who was always on the outskirts of the Nucleus scene, never ever part of it". What did you notice about him that set him apart from the rest of the scene at the club?
DH-S: Well, the thing about him was that you didn't notice him. He made like he had seen me before but I couldn't remember it. I was sorting out where had I seen him and what was he talking about when he was going on about how I was playing better and even better and inspiring him etc. Later it sort of crawled back into my mind that I had seen him and that he had been one of these sort of slightly "out-of-it" kind of people.
IB: "Out-of-it"? Would you care to elaborate?
DH-S: At these blowing scenes, there's always people around that nobody knows who they are. They don't play the greatest, they don't come on and really do the thing. Everybody just turns their backs on them and sort of assumes them out of existence. There's always a few sad characters on the outskirts who basically can't make it and in those days Graham was one of them. It's hard to imagine but true.
IB: Did you ever see the Don Rendell Quintet perform when Graham was a member?
DH-S: As a matter of fact I did, yes - but I don't remember it! What happened was I went around to Willie Garnett some time ago to get my saxophone fixed. I walk in the door and Willie says, "Come in here and have a listen to this" and he puts on a tape. And there's a tenor solo coming up and it's very good but I don't know who it is - I just don't have a clue. Willie is grinning and sparkling away in the corner so it eventually dawned on me that given the amount of joking about going on, there's only one person that it could be. It turns out that it's me in 1962 doing a broadcast with the Don Rendell Quintet - the Roarin' quintet. Don Graham, me, Johnny Burch - I don't know who else. Don had a series of air shots and got the bread to employ odd chosen guests - and I'm the odd chosen guest this night.
IB: After leaving Don Rendell's quintet, Bond joined Blues Incorporated. Why wasn't he allowed to play the organ with this group?
DH-S: Alexis wanted a horn section with Graham playing the alto. That was why he suggested that Graham should play organ in a separate part of the gig. That suited Graham alright.
IB: What about this never-released recording that you mentioned in your book?
DH-S: It was a recording of Blues Incorporated in its absolutely perfect form. That was with Ginger, Jack, Cyril, Alexis, Johnny Parker and me. I think it had four tracks and I think it was a demo done for Decca. To my mind, the best ever recording of Blues Incorporated.
IB: So do you think that this demo still exists somewhere in Decca´s vaults?
DH-S: I´ve tried to get Decca to find it but they says, "Oh no - number one, we've destroyed the acetates and number two, we've probably wiped the tapes". But nobody is absolutely certain about it.
IB: Ginger, Jack and Graham as well as yourself also played in the Johnny Burch Octet which co-existed with the Blues Incorporated. How would you describe the music produced by the octet?
DH-S: Well, it was jazz. Stylistically it was, what you might call, grounded in bebop approach changes. It was very driving music. I suppose you can call it hard bop in a way but I mean, it wasn't like anything that we know of as hard bop.

IB: After John McLaughlin left the Graham Bond Quartet and you joined, the name of the band changed. Who's idea was it to call it the Graham Bond Organisation?
DH-S: I think it was mine, as far as I know - but it might have been the result of a mutual brainstorming session.
IB: Did the Graham Bond Organisation appear on Ready Steady Go! ?
DH-S: I think so yeah. I don't have the tape but I have a definite recollection that there is indeed a tape of Ready Steady Go! with the Graham Bond Organisation on it. One of the featured highlights of the tape is myself walking in front of the camera unaware that I am in front of the camera! Also I'm told that there's a horrible, film called Gonks Go Beat that features the band. Apparently I do an impressive debut as an actor!

IB: Do you recall anything about Ernest Ranglin?
DH-S: I remember him coming along and blowing. He was terrific He was a wonderful guitar player, a real nice sweetie too. There was talk of asking him to join. But then it was decided it would change the sound too much.
IB: Do you know whatever happened to Ernest?
DH-S: No, I don´t but it would be a good idea if could be found again. I think his playing would find some niches right now.
IB: Do you know who wrote "Waltz For A Pig"?
DH-S: Ginger
IB: Do you remember anything else about it?
DH-S: I've got a feeling that Ginger came into a deal with Robert Stigwood. I think that was one way that Ginger got enough bread to leave and start setting up something or other.
IB: What did you think of Graham's singing?
DH-S: Well, his actual voice quality wasn't particularly good but I loved the way he used it, I always did. You could say the same thing about Sonny Boy Wiliamson.
IB: Who came up with the repetitive riff that is a feature of both John Mayall's "Open Up A New Door" and "Debut" by Colosseum?
DH-S: "Da-da-da-da-da/da/dat/da/da/da". Me!
IB: Chris Farlowe eventually joined to become lead vocalist of Colosseum but Paul Williams was also suggested for the job.
DH-S: There was talk of that at one time. I would have liked that, from the soul point of view. But I think it was felt that he might not be able to physically stand the pace of touring. It is a pretty rigorous business, touring.
IB: Were there other candidates?
DH-S: Yes, there was a guy who who did actually sing pretty good. I can't remember his name, but we took him on a short Danish tour.
IB: You once said in an article that Farlowe was controversial. What did you mean by that?
DH-S: What I meant was that..... Chris´ public image had always been not so much that of a blues singer or a jazz singer but that of a soul singer. For a time, it surprised quite a lot of the audience that we should have, to be frank, a soul singer fronting a sort of progressive jazz-rock unit. The thing was that Farlowe's vocal proficiency is unique in the world. I don't think that there is anybody who can do what he can do. It's astounding! And it'll be like that until the day he dies and after that , there won't be anymore.
IB: Were the Dick Heckstall-Smith Band and Manchild one and the same group?
DH-S: Yes, affirmative.
IB: And now for the inevitable reunion questions. What do you think about Colosseum reuniting?
DH-S: It´s a remote possibility. It depends on the band as a group of people, accepting enough new material to make it a going proposition. I think that in principle, everybody would like to do it if the material was something that we really, really wanted to do.

Dick Heckstall Smith Interview by Paul Gallan
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PG: How did you choose the musicians that you would work with on "A Story Ended"?
DH-S: Well, (emphasis) it was a pretty long time ago! I had a lot of numbers left over from the Colosseum days that hadn't quite fitted the band so we set about organizing them. I used Pete Brown on the lyrics almost exclusively save for two Jon Hiseman lyrics. Graham at the time was a bit battered. This goes back to the last breaths of the GBO when we were musically living from hand to mouth. So many musicians passed through the ranks after I left and that must imply that he was having difficulties. I cut myself of from this and joined John Mayall. I could see that Graham was unhappy, trying to stay alive and feed the various monkeys on his back. Back to the LP though, he was very co-operative and enjoyed doing it. We recorded at the Manor, Oxfordshire. At this time Graham had been to the States and back. There was a period of writing and deciding on musicians.
PG: There is a remarkable roster of musicians on the record, Paul Williams, Rob Tait, Caleb Quaye, Gordon Beck to name a few, did you choose these people for their own distinctive qualities?
DH-S: Yes. What I intended to do was make an LP of my own compositions with a single group. To that end I asked the drummer Rob Tait if he'd like to come in. It would start off as just a recording group. I was a bit innocent back then and didn't realize just what taking Rob on board would mean! He was extremely shy and gentle, perhaps introverted. A fine drummer though, outstanding. It was hard to reconcile his shyness with such ability. His drum style had an open rock feel that he combined with jazz. His personality however was that he believed himself incapable of playing on "A Pirates Dream". If you believe that you can't from the outset then by God you will not do it! So, we dragged Hiseman out of the recording box to do it. He protested but it was obvious Rob wasn't up for it. I played with vocalist Paul Williams in the Mayall band. He was the only one who could sing in such a natural way. He was similar in delivery to Ronnie Jones who sang with Alexis. Paul had an excellent voice quality and feel. I've always gravitated naturally to people who sang or play black. That's a musical description rather than an ethnic one! Caleb Quaye, God knows whatever happened to him, when it came to putting a group together he wasn't around.
PG: How did you work with Pete Brown in shaping the material?
DH-S: I took the music to him and he suggested how to organize it. Put this bit here, maybe do this bit twice to fit the words or something. We ended up with a song on the first side, "Future Song", that I think must have been a bit weird to sing! The words were very good. Also "Moses In The Bullrushours" which I think is one of the best ever. At the time I wasn't so sure about it. I never sat down to ask questions. I just did what I liked doing. I believe that, it's an all time classic now! I never thought about the politics of who's doing what in what, I just asked people for the things that I wanted to hear and they said yes or no.
PG: The records showcase must be "The Pirates Dream", a remarkable demonstration of instrumental prowess by anybodies standards. How difficult was this to construct and achieve?
DH-S: Me and Clem Clempson had the musical ideas but we had to low horizons when compared to Jon Hiseman. He would listen to our work, say I had produced the riff and Clempson would embellish it, we'd extend this and honestly felt that we had ground breaking ideas about what to do in the different sections and how to create new sections, new moods etc. but we were much more prone to be satisfied with a piece of work that we thought good, than Hiseman. He wouldn't actually reject anything, he'd just say it's not enough, we need to do more. I'd say for Gods sake how can we? Don't you think that it's going to be too long and top heavy? He would just say, "We have to make sure that it isn't". So it was very much Jon's perseverance that pushed it into such a mammoth shape. It was an enormous vision that has to be given credit. It wouldn't have happened without cooperation from everybody and it's probably the mix of musicians that created something so distinctive.
PG: What was Graham´s input on this one?
DH-S: He played most of the complicated bits that sound like a guitar but are in fact synth and Moog. The way he achieved this, and it was a complicated process, was by slowing the tape down to half speed and running through it bar by bar, an octave down. Then we would put it back to the original speed to see if it worked. It wasn't exactly what I wanted but all of the notes were there at least.
PG: I had noticed that some passages it does fluctuate in speed but this just seemed an incidental to me in the way it was played.
DH-S: It is exactly because of slowing it down to work on.
PG: Surely this must have made it a difficult piece to bring off live. How many times did Colosseum perform this?
DH-S: A few times with Colosseum but never as good as with my own band, Manchild. You should hear one of the live performances with that one. The playing is just incredible, it just goes on and on. We did it exact, live for 13 minutes. No changing or re-arranging!
PG: Did you make any money out of the LP?
DH-S: No. We probably got paid for doing the sessions. That was about it!
PG: When did you start playing two horns at once?
DH-S: I think between summer of ´63 and summer ´65. Now I think that I was challenged to do it as a gimmick for Ginger Baker. Ginger was keen on us having gimmicks. Undoubtedly Roland Kirk was beginning to get a reputation at around the same time. I dismissed the idea at first but then had a go, it was rather interesting!
PG: How difficult is this technically?
DH-S: It's just natural. You don't work towards it. The only thing that you have to work at is getting them in tune. Depending on which two you use. In the case of the tenor and soprano they are an octave apart. You are obviously restricted by having one hand for each. This can take a little of getting used to but it's not insurmountable. Once you can handle one then why not try two. I'm surprised that more people don't do it. Seems an obvious extension to me! You get a nice noise, very interesting.
PG: You actually played alongside Roland Kirk. What are your recollection of this?
DH-S: You want to see it? I have it on video. He was very pissed off that there was somebody else on the stage who could play more than one horn at once. I think that he had heard about me because by the time that I came on he was bristling! We were standing next to each other swapping fours or something and he lent over saying "You're out of tune man!" I didn't answer him because of course I was out of tune but then so was he! (laughs).
PG: There is no description of the bonus tracks found on the CD issue of "A Story Ended"? Can you tell us the line up of the band relating to these?
DH-S: The drummer was an 18 year old - Theodore Thunder, now based in the States. The keyboard player was Dave Rose who now lives in Kingston. On bass was Billy Smith and on guitar, James Litherland.

Dick Heckstall Smith Interview by Martin "Jet" Celmins
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MC: Can you please tell us a bit about your upcoming CD? I hear Jack and Ginger are both involved.
DH-S: I wish Ginger was but he can't do it because he had an accident a few months ago with a number of horses owned by him and the result is that he can't play for more than five or ten minutes at the moment. I hope he will be well later but that's the reason he's not on the album.
MC: But Jack?
DH-S: Jack certainly is, oh yeah he was the first thing we did.
MC: And what's the working title?
DH-S: It's working title is, I don't think that's gonna be changed, I think it will stay; "Blues & Beyond". And there's a lot of suggestions for the subtitle. The American market would probably fall for something like "The Godfather Of British Blues" (laughing). The concept with godfather is so American but.....ok .....alright.
MC: There you go. And the background to how it came together. Wha'´s the record company?
DH-S: Blue Stone. A vigorous, pushing, independent company in America which Pete has done all the dealings with through the years. And I think they're great. Terrific. They're a medium sized company with lot of energy. And a good access to distribution. We're very optimistic so we're hoping to not get lost.
MC: And other stellar names are Mick Taylor for sure, Peter Green obviously and John Mayall.
DH-S: Oh and Paul Jones. Clem Clempson is present on almost every track cos he's my mate from Colosseum from way back. And we've got the most astounding new singer and guitar player - Rab McCullough from Northern Ireland. He's so ridiculously good, so good you die. I promise you a whole routine of heart attacks when you hear him! He's something else.
MC: And the release date?
DH-S: Well, we were aiming for end of April/early May, but I think due to the politics of touring and promoting the album it's not be that quick. It'll be probably out in June.
MC: An European tour basically?
DH-S: There will be an European tour and I'm desperate to do some stuff in America. Really want to do that. That band is gonna be fantastic.
MC: The name of the band members.....
DH-S: OK. Well, I´ll start from the bottom. The bass is David Hadley. The drummer is on all but one track, Gary Husband. On one track it's Jon Hiseman. Keyboards is, (when there are keyboards, mostly the album is designed not to use keyboards) Dave Moore. The ideal thing for me is to have two guitar players playing. And Rab being the singer and also guitar player - wild, wild guitar player. His voice and guitar playing is so..... dirty is the word. If and when I go on tour it will be those. It'll be David and Gary and the two guitar players, Clem and Rab.
MC: Both of them?
DH-S: Oh yeah, absolutely. And me. That's the size about it really.
MC: What do you think about "The Kettle" sample featured on Fat Boy Slim's recent CD?
DH-S: Well, I love to hear it (laugh). What's the CD called? If I knew the name of the album I go out and buy it. But I'm more than delighted of course. That sort of the previous millennium. You know that one was done in 1969 for Christ sake.
MC: So you're flattered?
DH-S: Yeah, I'm well pleased. Because I mean, I have to say the thing about it is that it does not have a saxophone. I did not write it for a saxophone. You couldn't use a saxophone on it. I wrote that number entirely for drums, bass, and guitar and a singer - a singing guitar player. That was what I wrote it for. I did not want to play the saxophone. I was a writer. And that was my first sort of serious attempt, my first entry into composition. Cos I do that quite a lot. I like to compose music that I'm not gonna play on. Cos I can hear things in my head that I can't do on my saxophone.
MC: Did Graham ever play the organ when in the Blues Incorporated or the Johnny Burch Octet?
DH-S: Yes, whenever he played. Well, that's not quite true. Graham was a multi instrumentalist and some of the gigs we did, especially the Johnny Burch Octet, Graham had no opportunity to play the organ because John Burch was the only keyboard player. And the Octet was definitely a jazz set up. Graham played organ with Blues Incorporated, and as I think it says in my book, in the end of 1962, the early part of 1963 the Blues Incorporated gigs always featured a short, between 15-25 minutes, organ trio set. Graham playing organ and singing with Jack and Ginger. That was part of the set up in the gigs whole the way through. I have a great visual memory of that little group on stage downstairs at the Flamingo 2 o'clock in the morning.
MC: When did you become aware of John McLaughlin?
DH-S: The very first time I heard him was when I started doing gigs at the Flamingo in Wardour Street. He was with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
MC: And your impression of him at the time?
DH-S: Well I mean, the kid was 18. And I'm coming down the stairs into this venue which was absolutely packed with black American servicemen. You wouldn't find a white there. They were there because of what the music was - Georgie and the Blue Flames. And one of the part of the Blue Flames was the guitar player and the guitar player was - I mean it astounds me how people those days didn't know how good John was. It was as somebody had to tell him - it was absurd. First time I walked down the stairs there and I heard this going on - this guitar stuff John was playing those days when he 18 - was absolutely lifted by the boots and it would turn you into some another creature straight away. For me that happened every time from that second. First time I heard him onwards I new John was the best guitar player in the world. I knew that from the first time I heard him. It was something about John that was utterly unique. I knew that first time I heard him and I was amazed people didn't know.
MC: Am I right in saying that although McLaughlin was not a member of the Johnny Burch Octet, he occasionally sat in with the group when they were on the same bill as the Graham Bond Quartet?
DH-S: Am not aware of that. I don't think there were any guitar players that did that. If they were, they was on Octet gigs that I didn't make because I was doing something else.
MC: At the time McLauglin played at the Flamingo did he sit in with either Alexis´ band or Bond's trio?
DH-S: To my recollection no. I think he only ever played with the Blue Flames until Jack and Ginger asked him to join them in the Graham Bond Trio.
MC: The Graham Bond Quartet with John McLaughlin on board regularly backed Duffy Power. Were the Quartet still involved with Power at the time you joined?
DH-S: I'm vague about that. I really don't know. I certainly remember Duffy Power in the Flamingo, but there's a memory of Duffy Power and not a memory of the make up of the band.
MC: In January 1965 the GBO went on a package tour with Chuck Berry. Any memories about that?
DH-S: I certainly remember the Chuck Berry tour. I do have a memory of a gig in Glasgow where I found myself on stage announcing myself, don't know how that came about because I never used to talk, but I remember announcing to the audience in this big auditorium that I was gonna play two saxophones simultaneously. Or it could be announcing Graham playing alto and organ simultaneously. But I can remember saying "simultaneously" to the audience. thinking this was a bit revolutionary thing to do.
MC: Did The GBO bring the mighty Mellotron on the road, or was it only used in a recording context?
DH-S: Only used in a studio context because it went out of tune whole bloody time. It was also very big.
MC: I've heard Phil Seaman and Red Reece helped out just after Ginger Baker left the Graham Bond Organisation. Were there others as well?
DH-S: I´m not convinced that Phil did. Red Reece did once or twice. I think it's unlikely that there were any performance given by the Graham Bond Organisation after Ginger left that did not have Hiseman on drums.
MC: As a lot of sax players also doubled with flute I wonder if you ever have given it a try?
DH-S: No, don't like flute. Doesn't work, the flute doesn't like me. I've used it if I could, but I can't.

By Borge Skilbrigt
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