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...Page 21......Fan site Interview with Keith Gemmell Audience Sax / Clarinet /
Flute man 5th Nov 2005
Thanks Keith for taking time out of you’re busy schedule to
do this interview for the Fan site.
Hi Peter, Here it is! All the best, Keith
FS.1) What age were you when you first started playing a musical
instrument, was it a wind instrument did learning from scratch come easy to
you, and did you have any formal training, do you play any other musical
instrument and if so to what standard ,do you sight read ?
KG I was about eleven years of age when I first began playing an
instrument - the recorder. Yes, music came easy to me. Acker Bilk had a huge
hit with Stranger On The Shore (I was about 13) and on hearing that, I
persuaded my parents to buy me a clarinet for Christmas. I devoured the Tune
A Day book, learned Stranger On The Shore, by ear (complete with Acker's
famous vibrato) and, after a while, joined school groups and the Hornchurch
Youth Orchestra. I had no formal training, other than from my school music
teacher, to whom I owe an awful lot. He'd been a professional piano player.
He didn't teach me a great deal but supplied plenty of inspiration, which is
what you need at that age. I pretty much taught myself to read and play,
apart from lessons on violin and cello. You ask if I sight read. Yes, I do.
However, although I could read music, back then, I couldn't sight read.
There's 'reading music' and there's 'sight reading music' - two very
different things. I learned how to sight read, at a later age, in order to
survive as a musician.
FS. 2) Who were you’re earliest influences, what bands or acts did you
get to see playing live, who or what impressed you as a youngster /teenager?
KG My earliest musical influences were the traditional jazz bands of the
day, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Chris Barber being the best known names. I
went to see Acker at the Romford Odeon when I was fifteen. But I never
played in any jazz bands. At that time I just played along with the records.
Then I heard Georgie Fame's Yeah, Yeah, immediately paid a visit to Jim Moore's
music shop, in Hornchurch, bought myself a secondhand sax and learned the
tenor solo, note for note. It probably sounds odd, my saying this, but I
don't really remember learning to play the saxophone. If you can play
clarinet, which I could, the saxophone's a piece of cake.
FS. 3) By the past gig list on audienceareback web site, Audience's had
an intense few years of touring and travelling the globe, did you enjoy life
on the road, what “printable” things did you do to relax and occupy
yourselves, is there somewhere in the world you would still like to play
live. And is there someone alive today you would like to play live to, or
KG. Yes, we were busy, I realise that now. Quite honestly though, I don't
remember much about it. Before Trevor compiled that gig list (on our site)
if you had asked me if Audience had played many gigs, I would have answered
- not many. Much of the stuff on that list is a total blank, to me. Trevor
and Howard remember a lot more. Most of the English stuff, which was the
mainstay, were one-nighters and that meant a trip up the M1, a sound check,
a gig and drive home, in the early hours of the next day. Not a lot of time
left for socializing. Things were different when touring abroad because we'd
have the occasional day free. I seem to recall the odd party. No particular
desire to play with anybody in particular - although a spell in John
Mayall's Blues Breakers appeals.
FS. 4) Did the technology and equipment available around the time of
Audience starting in the late 60's + early 70's help to influence the sound
and direction Audience took, with hindsight would you have done anything
different with the band at the time or steered it in any other direction ?
KG. Howard's electric acoustic guitar was technologically
state-of-the-art, at the time. That, mixed with saxophone, was and still is,
very unusual. But technology didn't really influence the music apart from
the echo loop solos. I had no desire to impose a particular musical
direction. What would have been the point? It was musically unique anyway.
Groups strive for years, trying to sound different, usually without success.
Together we were and still are, different, without really trying.
FS. 5) Looking at the sleeve notes of Stackridge Album Mr Mick it lists
groups you joined ( some of the sleeve note writing is in Japanese so might
not be correct ) after Audience states Sammy, Roy Young Band, and then
Stackridge was it easy to fit into these other bands what type of music was
you playing , did you enjoy you’re time with these other band’s, what over
bands / groups did you play in ?
KG. I enjoyed them all. Sammy was comprised of good musicians but it
never really worked as a unit. We realised that and split up, on good terms,
after doing an album with Ian Gillan. The Roy Young Band was great fun.
After all, I was now playing with Eddie Thornton (trumpet), who I'd idolized
years before, when he was with Georgie Fame's Blue Flames. I got on very
well with Eddie and we played a lot of sessions, mainly Reggae stuff, along
with Rico Rodriguez (trombone). It was a good band with people coming and
going all the time - Dennis Elliott (drums) went stateside, to form
Foreigner with his mate Mick Jones. The bass player, George Ford (brother of
Emile) joined Medicine Head. The Roy Young Band was like that, constantly
changing but always good. The tenor player before me was Howie Casey who
went on to play with his old mate, Paul McCartney. Anyway, for what it's
worth, after a call from their management, I left to join Stackridge. Like
Audience, Stackridge were a unique band but for different reasons. Trouble
was, Andy Davis couldn't help breaking the whole thing up every few months
and starting from scratch; not the best recipe for success. Later, after the
band folded, I worked with Andy, as a duo, in London wine bars and pubs. He
was renting a room in our London house at that time. Anyway, I introduced
him to Nick and Tim Heath (sons of the bandleader and publishers of the
Sammy stuff) who ran Rialto Records and subsequently, he and James had a
couple of number one hits, as the Korgis. After the Stackridge debacle I
decided to get serious and left the world of rock bands pretty much behind
me. I studied with Prof. Richard Addison for a year and re-learned the
clarinet. He never charged me a penny and for that I'm eternally grateful.
Now living in London, I joined several big bands (and learned to sight
read), played sessions, played in function bands, on the QE2, taught for
ILEA and enjoyed a pretty successful freelance career. I also did a lot of
copying (music preparation) for film composer, John Altman. That's how I
became interested in arranging - I studied his scores and bought several
books on the subject. I'd work with him sometimes, him scribbling the
scores, me scribbling the parts.
FS. 6) On you’re web site (www.saxmusicplus.com) it shows you had a long
stint with the Pasadena Roof Orchestra what was you’re role in the
Orchestra, what type of music did you play in the orchestra , what type of
places did you play at ?
KG. Quite a long spell, yes. Fourteen years to be precise (1983 - 1997).
My role was 2nd alto, doubling clarinet. I later switched to tenor. I did a
great deal of arranging too, about 80 scores in all. A lot of Audience fans
probably know little about the PRO but the work rate was phenomenal,
especially, in the first ten years I was with them, when 200 gigs a year was
the norm. We wore out several Mercedes buses. Personnel changes were rare -
one a year, on average. The band didn't have holidays. If you wanted time
off, you put in a deputy for a week or two. Frankly, it was an education. We
played music from the 20s, 30s and sometimes, if you twisted our arms, from
the 1940s. One reason for the busy schedule was the huge variety of the
orchestra's library. We played concerts, jazz clubs, dances, corporate
events, ship's maiden voyages, royal parties, expo, sheik's dinner parties -
you name it - we did it. We played world-wide and it was well paid. I
enjoyed the concerts and jazz clubs best because we'd get to play a lot of
Duke Ellington stuff, which I love. My only regret is the time I missed with
my sons, when they were little. But then again, Jackie, my wife and the
boys, came with me on several trips - we even lived in Paris for a while.
FS. 7) What is you’re own favourite Audience album or track, is there any
song that you don’t like playing ( like Trevs dislike of Indian Summer ) is
there a song or songs you would like to include in the live shows ?
KG. House On The Hill has to be my favourite. It's a bit special. I don't
have a favourite track. I'll play just about any of those tunes (as long as
they weren't played by Bobby Keys). Not so sure about Ebony Variations
though. But there again, if somebody offers enough dosh...
FS. 8) What influence did the late great Gus Dudgeon have on the band at
the time , do you think he would have had any dealings with the reformed
band if he was still around ?
KG. The only influence he had was during the recording. He'd attend a
rehearsal, take notes, suggest changes and so on. He was a true
professional. We were lucky because there are lot's of quack producers about
you know. I like to think he would have produced another Audience album -
who knows? Anyway, I'm sure he would have been interested in our reforming.
FS. 9) How much time do you give to practicing daily or weekly is there
any other musical instrument you would like to master or learn, what is
you’re current make of sax/ flute and clarinet you use on stage, is there a
particular sax / flute or clarinet you would like to own ?
KG. I used to practise every day, when I was freelancing. Had to really,
to keep on top of things. I don't bother too much these days, I'm too busy
doing other things. Funny thing is, I'm a better player now than I've ever
been. More relaxed now I'm older, I suppose. Also, I only play what I like.
I've become a cantankerous old git and turn down work I don't fancy. You
can't do that when you're bringing up a family. Now I can. Learn another
instrument? - too late for all that nonsense. I play Selmer Mk 6 saxes,
Yamaha flute and a vintage BH clarinet, circa 1933.
FS. 10) A lot of the books and articles you write are very technical (
Cubase, Music Tech, ect) are you extremely technically minded and computer
literate, do you enjoy working on computers ?
KG. I was in at the beginning, music-tech wise, with a home studio back
in the very early 80s. When the Atari computer and Notator software came
out, I programmed all my Pasadena Roof Orchestra scores and loads of other
early jazz, as MIDI files. I've kept abreast of it all ever since. So yes,
I'm computer literate. Am I technically minded? Only as far as I need to be.
My books are not as technical as most music computer books. I lectured in
music technology at Mid Kent College for a while and it struck me that many
of the people studying there were wasting their time. They were, supposedly,
learning how to use state of the art recording equipment, yet most of them
couldn't play an instrument, let alone write music. I mean, all the studios
closed years ago, precisely because of all the technology now available to
musicians. And there they all were, learning how to become recording
engineers - without a future. So, I wrote a book about recording with
Cubase, firstly from a musician's perspective, secondly, from an engineer's
perspective (which is the correct way round, as far as I'm concerned) and
called it Get Creative with Cubase. It's actually a project book with a CD
and teaches people how to write music as well as how to record and mix it.
I've been writing similar books ever since, the latest being Keep It
Simple With GarageBand, which is close to completion.
FS. 11) How do you think the Audience reformation has gone so far , are
you enjoying playing the gigs, what would you like to achieve with the new
incarnation of the band ?
KG. All gone swimmingly, so far. Yes, I'm enjoying it. I don't have any
particular expectations, other than to enjoy myself playing and earning
FS. 12) Are you a prolific a song writer , how long does it take you to
finish a song, what do you start with first words or music or maybe an idea
KG. I can write very quickly - when there's a reason. I can't write for
the sake of it. So, if you said to me, I need a piece of music, in the style
of something or the other by next week - I'll write something. It's the same
with books and articles - there must be a goal. I don't like writing lyrics
these days. I've no desire to bore the world with my problems or views. And
I haven't fallen in or out of love lately.
FS. 13) Have you done any jobs outside of the music industry that are not
related to music, what other hobbies do you enjoy doing to relax ?
KG. Yes, I was a shipping clerk, when I first left school , aged 15. I
turned pro at 17, for a year. I worked as a clerk again for a while, just
before Audience, when I was 18 or 19. When Stackridge fell apart and Jackie
and I moved to London, we were short of money. I mini-cabbed, I delivered
meals on wheels and drove a council truck about sometimes - it had to be
done. I used to sign on at the local Alfred Marks Bureau every morning and
wait for a driving job. One morning, who should be sitting next to me but
Richard Greene, the very person who, a few years earlier, used to write up
Charisma concerts, in the New Musical Express. Freelance music journalism
was about as secure as playing the saxophone for a living, it seems.
Hobbies: bird watching, walking, motor racing (watching it, not
FS. 14) Was Tony Connor’s decision not rejoin due to Hot Chocolate
commitments a disappointment but now Johns in the seat how well do you feel
he has fitted in ?
KG. Tony not rejoining wasn't a disappointment because I didn't expect
him to anyway. John's great - one of the best drummers I've worked with. A
FS. 15) Is there any progression on a new studio album is there any
expected release date, and can we expect anymore live shows in the near
KG..Yes - no - yes. Keith Gemmell.