I apologize for the fineness of detail, but I had to get it out!!
My father (Bill) worked in the earthmoving trade, and my mother (Chris) took on work at various employers, this coupled with the fact that I have an older brother (David and a younger sister (Liz) ensured we were not the wealthiest of families. But we still had holidays, the trip to Great Yarmouth being well-etched on my mind, since I didn't sleep all the way down the A1 (with it's multi-coloured cat's eyes!!) and spent the journey reading the map and being navigator, Newark.......Kings Lynn....etc. Another favourite holiday destination of my parents was Findhorn bay and this was encouraged by the fact that a great aunt (Ina) and her family stayed in Elgin, so the holiday doubled up with visiting family. On these holidays we made many trips to the perimeter fence of R.A.F. Lossiemouth to watch the planes (both the newer Nimrods and older Shackletons) and on returning to the caravan at Findhorn I used to make the short jaunt to the end of the R.A.F. Kinloss runway to do the same. This was at the time when the Nimrod was superseding the Shackleton as the preferred reconnaissance and maritime support aircraft and I spent many evenings (as a total anorak!!) directly under the end of runway flight-path as the nimrod pilots practiced their 'bumps and starts'. I'm all in-favour of noise abatement, but there's nothing to beat that roar of four non-bypass jet engines at take-off with your whole body physically shaking in unison! (I went to see the last departure of Concorde (Alpha Echo) from Edinburgh in October last year (2003) and it brought the memories flooding back, albeit with a huge feeling of sadness that such a state-of-the-art airframe was being retired on purely financial grounds. I know it is highly unlikely that I would ever have been able to afford a flight in a Concorde, but it still saddens me, almost to the point of tears!
At this time my father was the steward of Burntisland Bowling Club and this was my third home as a child (the second being the swimming pool). The family were all good bowlers, (my grandfather (Davie) having been knocked out in the Scottish finals one year), and therefore associated with the club in various ways. Memories of playing tennis (when the tennis courts at the bowling green existed) still distantly haunt me. My father played the accordion and played at the club every Friday and Saturday night along with Alex Curtis the drummer. There was a regular sing-song and this was my first exposure as a performer as I sang with my siblings such classics as Rockin', Rollin', Ridin' by The Seekers and Distant Drums by Jim Reeves!
At school I did not take music, but did learn the trumpet!! This sounds like a contradiction, but I was more interested in the sciences and because of the curriculum structure I could not do both. Although I could not formally pursue music as a subject it was possible for me to receive tuition on the trumpet which I duly took up. I was taught by a trombone player, whose name I have forgotten (although Armstrong rings a bell), and because I had a 'good ear', would regularly cheat in my application of sight-reading. This I did by asking the tutor how a piece I was supposed to be reading went, and as soon as he had played it or sung it, would parrot what I heard. Far from perfect but my laziness couldn't remain hidden forever and I had to apply myself ever harder to reach the required standard. This I did and is endorsed by my ascension from Second Trumpet to First Trumpet in the Balwearie School Orchestra, followed by a short period as a member of the Fife Youth Orchestra (which I hated with a vengeance since they were all so lah di dah!!). I also helped my father at the bowling club, as the lineup became a trio. I still wonder about the tonality of drums, accordion and TRUMPET!!
Around this time my brother received a guitar for his Christmas. It was an acoustic (from Woolworth's I think!!) and although David played the violin, he made no attempt to apply himself to the guitar and so it lay idly in it's gig bag. Some months later I decided to 'have a go' and started to work my way through the Bert Weedon Play in a day guitar tuition book. With my musical knowledge of trumpet which is a monophonic instrument (only able to play one note at a time), I was at somewhat of a loss when it came to understanding chords (containing multiple notes), and I spent huge amounts of time practicing, but seeming to get nothing more than serious blisters!! The blisters did heal with time, the callouses formed and the book got shelved in favour of a new pursuit. A neighbour from the top of the street (Ian Hunter) brought down a copy of Led Zeppelin 2 and Deep Purple in Rock and this was a serious turning point. I had been weaned on Andy Williams and Glen Miller who I liked immensely (and still do!), but here was this raw, heavy music, in which I could hear (especially with Purple) their classical roots!! This caused me to try and learn all I could from these albums and this became my new all absorbing pastime, which drove my parents to distraction as I attempted the solo to Child in Time, fret buzz and all!!
There must have been improvement because I migrated on to the guitar as my primary instrument as the trumpet faded out of my interests, maybe assisted by the fact that I was leaving school and therefore did not have the provision of an instrument any longer!! I also started to play guitar in the trio with my father. Music became my passion and I started to pursue shared musical interests with another local Burntislander and school-mate Paul Blyth and we started a band called QUASIS (pronounced kwaysis). This was new and exciting and with Paul as the writer and my supporting roll as arranger (in very loose terms) we set about rehearsing our new material, initially at Paul's house and later at the local hostelry The Orcadia Hotel (now The Sands Hotel). You could classify the material as Yes-ish (without the manual dexterity), Dylan-ish (due to Paul's lyrical output) and Lennon-ish (again due to Paul's lyrical output and passion). I can't remember many song titles from that era but I do remember Dreams of Times and Trolls, A Day in the Life of a Whore, She's Waiting for the Day and a song I still do in my set to this day, the brilliant Slot Machine. I also remember all these multi tempo weird changes that Paul insisted we execute!!
The line-up became Paul Blyth - Guitar/Vocals, Myself - guitar/backing vocals, Chas Taverner - Bass guitar and Nick Harthill - drums and we set about playing some local gigs. There were always musical differences and this resulted in a change - out went Chas and in came Jimmy Gregory to 4 string bass guitar duties. We stayed together for some two years until the differences became an overly large divide and we went our separate ways.
Left with no musical means of expression I set about getting my own band together and started the process of advertising and auditioning. I had a friend Charlie Gemmell who was well gifted in the vocal department (fully complemented by his excellent graphic design skills!!) so he was natural inheritor of the vocal slot. We spent many months sifting before we acquired a settled line-up comprising of Charlie Gemmell - vocals, Myself - guitar/vocals, Andy Lee - guitar/vocals, Angus Rutherford - bass guitar and Stuart Nicol - drums and once more set about practicing in preparation for our fortune and fame! We alighted on the name SCARLET LIES at Stuart's suggestion after having seen it on the lyric sheet of an ELO album!! We extensively rehearsed before playing a selection of gigs around the Central Scottish belt. Stuart went to Stirling University, and although we worked around this inconvenience for a while, the pressure finally resulted in him deciding to call it a day, requiring us to advertise for someone else to occupy the drum stool. We auditioned a few people and recruited Steve Torrance to drums. This was the most successful Scarlet lies line-up and saw the band play many gigs, visit the studio to record demos on two occasions, namely BEGIN THE LIE (First Edition) in 1983 and THERE LIES A TALE in 1984. We also received additional coverage in both the local press and local radio (Radio Forth). Musical differences again raised their ugly head and this yet again resulted in the departure of band members. This time it was Andy and Angus and resulted in the recruitment of Ronnie Reid to Bass Guitar and the band becoming a four piece with no replacement for Andy being sought. This line-up trod the boards for a few more years before finally differences again surfaced and the band fragmented.
With no band, I went through a period of not pursuing anything musical, but because musical expression is like hormones and subsequently something over which you have no control, I was overwhelmed with the urge to once more do something. The 'something' turned out to be a studio project designed to re-record some earlier studio works along with some new material. Due to the personnel involved in the project at the time, namely Charlie Gemmell, Steve McAndrew and Steve Torrance, I, in a moment of wisdom, whilst patrolling the poolside of Kirkcaldy Swimming pool where I worked at the time, came up with the project title (and potential band name) of GMT. This project continued over a period of some months resulting in a project album entitled ABOUT TIME. A few weeks into the project Steve decided that he didn't want to be involved and volunteered the use of his bass guitar which resulted in most of the bass parts being played by yours truly! It also meant the drum stool was again vacant, so Nick Harthill was asked if he would like to help, and he thankfully agreed. Ronnie Reid was also re-recruited to do the bass on one of the tracks. Charlie did a great job of the graphic design content and the end product was a cassette album of which we are all proud, featuring 11 tracks . One of the tracks entitled The AERIALIST was featured by TOMMY VANCE on the Friday Rock Show (Radio 1) in the 'Rock Wars' section. I still have the album on DAT and intended one day, to organise it's transfer to CD, along with the associated art-work which would have needed to be transferred from cassette to CD format also. My intention was going to be for it to feature on the web page as a sale item but I have now made it available as archived material on the sounds page!
There then was another period of musical inactivity, after which I replied to an advert (in the fife free Press) for a guitarist in a resident club band. I succeeded at audition and joined them for a brief period, proposing and succeeding in the name being changed to CHARISMA. The income was very helpful and allowed me to once again purchase the necessary 'gear' required to allow me to display my craft. Although we went to the studio to record a selection of club standards, it wasn't really my scene and I subsequently left them after a short time. I needed a more musically fulfilling environment in which to operate, and fortunately, very fortunately, stumbled into the most inspiring period of my musical career to date. This was the result of my association with the absolutely awesome and magical Richard Diplacito - Keyboards and the formulation of our duo THE PLEASUREDOMES
Earlier while Charlie and I had been seeking a keyboards player, we had been introduced to Ricky and I still remember the meeting as if yesterday. Ricky was a musician through and through and I maintain that I will be a very lucky man to ever share a stage with someone with as much musical passion, coupled with such musical ability and raw talent, ever again in my life!! We asked Ricky if he would help make up a band to support the GMT project and he agreed. We set about rehearsals with Stevie Torrance (now on bass!), the extremely talented Tam Annan on drums, Charlie and myself but sadly, due to a lack of drive and commitment, this line-up was soon consigned to the big black hole marked dead duck! At this time I was seriously thinking about going back to the Charisma stable and when telling Ricky this, he suggested that he had been thinking about setting up a duo, and would I be interested! I knew my answer without thinking and we agreed to give it our best. We rehearsed at Ricky's house in Buckhaven, where we spent many, many days and nights (most without any sleep at all) writing the midi files (on Cubase) which we used for accompaniment to our performance. I was in total awe of this guy who had been classically trained over a period of five years, having also received three years of vocal training. He could sing remarkably, and his keys ability and arranging skills were absolutely sublime. This coupled with our total commitment and pretty much identical musical tastes made for a very, very happy and fulfilling musical adventure, seeing us gig within four months of our inception. We gigged extensively around Scotland, a lot of our work being based in the North since we had an Inverness agent, before setting of on two tours of Denmark. I am quite forceful, as is Ricky (having Italian blood in his veins!) and we had our share of blow-outs!, but, these aside, were the best musical days of my life to date. Not long before we set of on the second tour of Denmark, I met my wife Linda. As most people will appreciate, due to the newness of my relationship, the last place I wanted to be was away in Denmark on a seven week tour! This had a drastic effect on the band's functionality, with me feeling a total fraud to our audiences, due to the fact that my heart was somewhere else. Eventually, the pressure cooker lid blew off on the tour, with Ricky threatening to call it a day on two occasions, we somehow managing to do what was necessary to see it to completion. I maintained that I was not calling a halt to the band, but that my future commitment would be decided in consultation with Linda on our return. We returned to Scotland where we parted company at the Barnton (in Edinburgh) in high spirits. We organised the arrangements for the coming week-end's gigs in Tain and Lossiemouth before shaking hands, Ricky returning to Methil and I journeying on to Inverness (where Linda was located). Both Linda and I tried to contact Ricky before the Friday night gig at Tain, but to no avail, before finally setting off for the gig. We arrived at Tain at 20:45.......................Ricky never showed up. Sadly, Ricky and I never spoke for a long time (around five years, before contact was again re-established) and during that period I lived with only the very portent reminders of Ricky sitting playing Main Street and New York Minute in house rehearsals, or his rendition of Piano Man after I broke a string on the live circuit, or indeed our superb rendition of Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond running into Coming Back to Life (with fully supporting light show) to name but a few.
After Ricky's departure, I set about preparation to work solo, before treading the boards under the stage name of THE PLEASUREDOME (it seeming logical to just singularize the old name, on the chance of some of our previous audiences making the link!!) for the next four years. I had moderate success, but the set-list I played was good pop/rock material and I refused to follow the well-beaten (played to death) furrow of so many of my fellow circuit (or should it be circus?) performers. To put it bluntly, I still had passion, heart and musical integrity and was not prepared to go the standard club-land carousel route of Blanket on the Ground etc, standing by my principles and continuing to play such classics as Steely Dan's Reeling in the Year and Joe Satriani's Always With Me, Always With You, amongst others. To show just how fickle the musical entertainment can be, my agent secured me the support slot to Aswad at Paisley Town Hall, in the same month as I lost a monthly residency on the grounds of refusing to play Shang-a-Lang by the Bay City Rollers to a hen party of women!!
Although I was generally well received, I paid the penalty for not giving the public what the public wants and subsequently the return bookings reduced to a trickle. This, coupled with my recommencement in full-time employment (in league with the start of another period of lack of musical motivation) softened the blow, with my last amplified solo gig being performed in the town of Callendar in July of 1991.
This period of musical negativity lasted a full two years, with the guitar never seeing the light of day, but whereas before, when I had had periods of musical non-activity, they had been because I just didn't feel the need to play. On this occasion, I did not feel I could play, in fact questioned my ability to play and really plunged to the musical depths. I had hit a serious period of mental block regards my life's blood music! The thought of playing to people scared me!
I am glad to say that in May/June 2004, again on the magic rock of Symi, the block arose and the pen started to dance across the page again and a fertile stream of lyrical ideas cascaded forth! I intend on completing the writing a conceptual album about the island of Symi to take in many of her facets (including the Rhodes/Symi hydrofoil named Aegli that transports you from Rhodes, the spookiness of the bay of Marathounda at Midnight, through the sadness of Day of Departure.
Then we arrive very quickly at the here and now!
Firstly, I must tell you that I am the happiest I have ever been musically in my life, with my recent explosion of musical output that has occurred. This started when I stumbled across a musical collaboration site called collaborationcentral.com, where I submitted the guitar solo for Led Zeppelin's The Rover and jokingly (but semi-seriously) suggested that I wouldn't mind giving the vocals a go as well. This was met with If you can make it sound anything like Robert Plant then you are welcome to sing it, to which I smiled, because I CAN sing like Percy of the Plant!! This was the catapult to me being requested to do vocals on a myriad of collaborative projects and one thing led to another.
I made many, many varied contributions and was involved in many projects on the site until it sadly folded.
After a few months I was approached by the remarkable Nick Testa (from Chicago US of A) who asked if I would like to try singing one of his songs entitled AintTV, a riff-rock style song with a great hook. I recorded the vocals (with my old SM58 dynamic mic from my gigging days) and sent them to him and he was blown away and requested that we set up an internet band entitled AintTV which we duly did. Nick then wrote and presented more songs, some with lyrics but most without. I started to write lyrics where needed and sung vocals to them and this has resulted in nearly a completed album's worth of material, many ruff mixes of which are available at www.ainttv.com but more here on this site on my AintTV page. I also upgraded to a Studio Electronics SE2200A condenser mic, with the resulting difference being electric (terrible pun, but I couldn't resist it!).
As you've realised, I was never one to cut a long story short!
Stephen also dug my vocals on The Rover and asked if I would be interested in singing for his band Azureth and I submitted my audition for Stephen's wonderful composition Searching. Unfortunately, although my audition vocal was fine, the band were also looking for a bass player at the same time and I was pipped at the post by Rod, a prog rock singer/bass player who covered both bases. I was clearly disappointed to have lost out, as I considered Azureth to be a great outfit and really wanted to be a part of it but you can't win them all!!!!!
Things however move on and we arrive at the here and now!
Stephen and I again crossed paths and our conversation resulted in the foundation and subsequent growth of the golden nugget of a project........COSMIC SINGULARITY!
Stephen and I were absolutely immersed in the creation of this first (of what we hoped would be many!) progressive rock album FIRST STEPS ,that we hoped would take you and us on our journey into the cosmos and beyond. I was and still am absolutely blown away by Stephen's dynamism, as he just creates and creates and creates such remarkably complex and inspiring material. His creations took me on a journey to where I could fully express my inner self but in the unfamiliar progressive rock genre. The counterpoint to that however, was that his chord progressions forced me work my butt off min7+9...what!? Dim 14th on a -17th root second inversion!!!!!!!!!!!!!???? Ha-ha!
The album First Steps is testament to exactly that and available on various outlets including here!
I was not however pursuing this project to the exclusion of the AintTV project, as I remained fully committed to that too! The Aint TV project was a different genre of music that I never proposed any guitar input to, as I sincerely thought it would detract from the feel that the two existing guitarists created! The same self-imposed limitations did not exist with Cosmic however and it gave me a chance to be at one with my axe (that's the axe signed by none other than Mr Joe Satriani back in 1993 at the Edinburgh Playhouse!).
I was very, very active at Nick Testa's collaboration site here and if you register and log on, check out the posts by Symi Rock (ex Pleasuredome) they are still there to this day.
Thanks for reading, I look forward to seeing you around and hope that we meet up again real soon.
Steve (Symi Rock formerly The Pleasuredome)