With the release of the latest album, ‘The Red Planet’, I recently had the pleasure of chatting to Rick Wakeman about the process and release of the album where we briefly mentioned the cast that helped make it possible. Along with drummer Ash Soan, bassist Lee Pomeroy and guitarist Dave Colquhoun have been essential parts of the band for many years now. Indeed I can go back to 2005 when the band played at my 50th birthday celebration along with Ashley Holt on vocals, so the unit has been complete for more years that we might imagine. Dave Colquhoun is still the new boy after all this time! Having said that Lee and Dave go back a way and were in a band together called Moondigger along with drummer Michael Bowes (now with The Vapours) in the early 90s.
It is not the norm to chat to the band members when a new album is released and more normal to talk to the head honcho but as both Pomeroy and Colquhoun have a Classic Rock Society history I thought I’d give them a call and ask if they wanted to take part here. Both were enthusiastic and agreeable.
Dave Colquhoun has only performed on the CRS stage with Rick Wakeman but Lee Pomeroy has a few more notches on his bass having performed at the old HLC and the Oakwood Centre in Rotherham with Headspace, It Bites and Steve Hackett to name but three. Both have performed with a host of famous names too and Lee is the current bass player with Jeff Lynne’s ELO and Take That. Dave is married to Buck’s Fizz singer Jay Aston.
So we started with ‘The Red Planet’ album and I mentioned to the boys that the album had managed to get to No. 1 in the Independent Music charts. Rick was obviously pleased with it but how had it rated with the band and how had it been recording again with Mr. Wakeman?
Lee; It’s kind of weird because ordinarily when we record we’re all there together. When I did the ‘Out There’ album I went over to Rick’s studio on the Isle Of Man and obviously Rick was there and Stuart Sawney his keyboard technician and producer. But this time it was just at the time of lockdown, I’d done a bit of recording at Dave’s place and we were going to do a lot more and then lockdown happened and it became a kind of solitary thing recording at home, but we were still having a lot of contact sending things back and forth. Ash would send drum recordings to me and then I’d put something down and send it to Erik Jordan (engineer) for mixing and then he would send a rough mix to Dave and we would get our heads together on stuff. When I was with Rick in the studio recording ‘Out There’ he was always cracking gags (he must have a book full of them) and with Red Planet every now and then he’d send a joke via text message. But for most of Red Planet I was recording on my own. It was brilliant fun because when I started hearing the tracks I thought ‘yeah, this is right up my street’. Rick has a great way of writing where a song will start in one key and the he will keep switching key throughout. It’s something he’s done since the days of Yes. I kept thinking that it reminded me of pieces like ‘Close To The Edge’ and you can tell it’s Rick. Red Planet is definitely up there with albums like ‘No Earthly Connection’ etc… I would say ‘Six Wives, ‘Arthur’, ‘Journey’ and ‘No Earthly Connection’, it’s in there with that group. So it’s among his finest work. For me ‘Six Wives’ will always be special because I used to pour over that inside cover with all of Rick’s gear when I was a kid and it gave me a buzz. One strange image for the readers is that while recording the album in solitary I’d often find myself recording in my underpants because it was so hot (he laughed). There would have been more laughs if we’d all been recording together in the same studio but it was still great fun. Technology makes it so easy to record remotely. Luckily, having worked with Ash Soan so much in the past on various projects and knowing each other’s playing so well, it sounds like we were both in a room together tracking. Another bonus was that we recorded early in the year so most of the other work I was going to be doing with Jeff Lynne and Gary Barlow was happening later on, so it came together perfectly.
Dave; Well going to No. 1 in the independent charts is a good thing and it shows the people are liking it. It was great recording with Rick but we were all in our own separate zones. We were on our own and we had to sort of pre-empt what we were going to do but having worked with Rick for so long I knew pretty much what I had to do. As for Lee I’ve known him for such a long time and you can kind of hear already what they are going to do and how it would work. So it was great to be able to work with people that I know and I’d played with before and it was kind of second nature as to what they were going to do. So even though we were on our own it was as if they were there musically. We did have some fun and when Lee has been in the studio too long he gets giddy and starts singing songs about whippets and putting on fake northern accents (laughs). There was a moment where he did that and I think I’ve got it on video somewhere. The thing is, especially with Lee, is to take the music seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. When we’ve been together in the studio before there’s always been a lot of mucking about but there’s some serious playing going on too. In the end I think it’s a good record. I thought ‘Six Wives’ was a good record and that was then and this is now. In a lot of ways it is forty odd years so it’s difficult to compare them directly. If it stands the test of time like ‘Six Wives’ in forty years it will be interesting to see what people say then.
So Covid messed lots of schedules up and for musicians besides recording there would have been touring. That didn’t happen so how have the lads been coping?
Lee; It has been really difficult. It’s destroyed the music industry, the live music industry has been killed off completely. Luckily I do a lot of library music for adverts etc… so I’ve been doing a lot more of that. I’ve recently written some acoustic guitar pieces for one library I work for and also some slide guitar pieces for another. I’ve also just been commissioned to write the opening credits theme music for a documentary series that’s coming on the Smithsonian channel, so I’m working on that at the moment. I’ve done a couple of sessions, one for Justin Hawkins of The Darkness but not for The Darkness but for something else and a couple for Little Mix but apart from that it’s been quiet.
Dave; I think it’s been a challenge for a lot more than just tour musicians. Obviously Lee was on tour a lot more than I was. I’m lucky really because I started doing the on-line teaching and so I have managed to get some income from that. However, my way of coping with all of the Covid thing has been to throw myself in to DIY projects, repairing things and putting decking down, repairing lawn mowers. I really haven’t got a clue about any of it so it’s very frustrating (laughs). It was strange really because after doing ‘The Red Planet’ I was really in match fit playing condition and I was all ready to do those gigs and for the first couple of weeks of lock down I was just playing guitar like a maniac. I would literally go up in to the studio and play for five hours because I was in that mindset. Then once I realised that music was on hold pretty much and there wasn’t any gigs and it wasn’t coming back quickly I just had to switch off and get in to something else. I’m about to start again as the tutoring starts again. The break has been really good and mentally it gives you a good perspective again because if you’re playing a lot you forget about the why and what it is you’re doing. So it’s been a welcome break in that respect and a good reflective period.
So because of the Covid situation musicians that spend a large part of their time on the road are at home. I asked if the Pomeroy and Colquhoun families were pleased about that or can’t they wait for them to get back out there again?
Lee; Yeah both (Lee laughs). It’s great in one way but in another they kind of say, ‘you still here, what you doing?’ It’s been great from that standpoint because it’s the longest I’ve spent at home for about fifteen years. So from a family point of view it’s been brilliant. Being a musician is a strange beast though and, don’t get me wrong, I love being at home but I do start to get itchy feet thinking about getting out on tour again and going out and playing. It’s what I’ve built up to all my life and I’m still doing my apprenticeship because you never stop doing that. You are always learning and always trying to improve. So you practice when a tour is coming up or a recording session but when there’s nothing to practice for it’s almost like you lose your reason for playing, especially having pretty much done it all your life. Psychologically it’s quite difficult to get your head around because you still have to find the motivation to keep playing so you don’t lose your chops. It does bring in to focus that your home time is very precious and when you come back off tour because you think, ‘oh my god I have a lovely house and it’s wonderful to be at home’. When you’re on tour you miss home and when you’re at home you miss touring. I don’t have many other interests really but as a kid growing up I was a tennis player. I had a tennis coach and played for a club and I really loved tennis, but the time came when I had to decide whether to restring my bass or my tennis racket. I had to decide where I was going to be able to earn a living and I did enjoy playing bass more than tennis so the racket went in the cupboard. I am very interested in history though and I’m a big horror film fan. I have a couple of mates I get together with a twice a year and we have a horror film night where we get a curry and some beers and put on a couple of horror films.
Dave; (Laughing) That’s been interesting for lots of people because you are forced together again for a long period of time and it’s an unusual occurrence. It’s a double-whammy for us because Jay was about to go on tour as well so she’s had loads of stuff cancelled. She’s been at home as well and the only frustrating thing is because I’m trying to do all this DIY and renovating it’s always more difficult when people are around. So I’m running up and down stairs with planks of wood and spirit levels in my hand (laughing) and Jay and my daughter Josie are about, so it’s sort of that that is driving me crazy. The original idea was that they’d go away to Jersey for a week and I was going to crack on and get most of this work done but then the wrong stuff was delivered and so it’s been weeks waiting for the new delivery. I’ve got a studio up the other end of the garden so that’s good and it keeps the music bit away from all else, but when you are working from home the family want you to do home stuff and I’m pretty obsessive once I am in work mode. You can get that clash. I learned a long time ago that if you have a home studio you’ve got to have a door on it and know when it’s shut and escape because otherwise it becomes a big soup of life, work, relationships, money and there’s know where to run (laughs). A home should be home and a place to put your feet up and recharge. I built the studio with a couple of mates at a time when recording studios were even more out of fashion than they are now. I spent what I thought was a fortune on it and now I’ve done ‘The Red Planet’ exclusively there and it’s all down to a bit of luck being introduced to Rick. Over the years I’ve been experimenting recording guitars in the studio and so when the album came along I knew what I was going to do and within no time I’m up and recording. There’s no lumping amplifiers around and you’re away.
So the lads are stuck in the house at the moment and away from recording so I asked who wears the trousers for the music on the CD player or turntable?
Lee; It’s Rush. It’s the meeting point between me and my son Luke because he is a mad Rush fan too. For world book day last year he went dressed as Geddy Lee, if you can imagine such a thing!! So he had some shades on and a long brown wig and I think he took his Jazz bass in with him too. Unfortunately, everyone thought he was Ozzy Osbourne (laughing). So Rush is our meeting point. He doesn’t get Gentle Giant but likes Genesis and Yes, so its Rush and Yes for us two. I once put on a live Gentle Giant album and my wife Jill really liked it and asked me who it was. She came from a background of rock music and in fact she worked for Sanctuary Music in the 90’s for Iron Maiden, so if it rocks she loves it. That’s why I married her, Martin! Any woman that doesn’t like Gentle Giant is no good to me, so once we put the live album on we’re good to go (laughs). She appreciated my old Mellotron when I had one too, so what’s not to love (laughing).
Dave; Well in our house we’ve all got our own iTunes. I’ve got a turntable but it isn’t set up. An album I’ve been listening to a lot is a solo album by Chris Shiflett of the Foo Fighters and it’s basically like Lynyrd Skynyrd, real Americana country rock that I love. It’s an album called ‘Hard Lessons’ and I’ve had that on and it’s one of the best things I’ve heard for years. It’s not everybody’s thing and it’s nothing new but it’s nicely played. Our daughter Josie will be playing whatever she plays and I don’t know what it is (laughing) and Jay’s usually playing her songs and learning lyrics and getting things sorted out for shows. So we all have our own little zones. If Josie is playing her stuff I just have to shut the door (laughing). She has got some good tastes for a seventeen year old but the quality of what’s being put out there to listen to is not very good. It doesn’t sound very good, it’s not recorded very well and you can’t hear anyone playing on it. I don’t want to moan about young people’s music but because it’s been knocked up on a computer in a spare room it just sounds like it. It’s not quality product. Don Henley’s been on repeat as well. The song called ‘Heart Of The Matter’ and ‘The Boys Of Summer’ and if that one song was stuck on repeat forever I’d be happy with that. I never get bored of listening to his songs and so Chris Shiflett and Don Henley have been my two choices of Covid.
Most musicians have a collection of their own particular instrument and Lee and Dave are no different although Lee had a few surprises up his sleeve!
Lee; Kind of, obviously I do love to have plenty of bass guitars around, I reckon I’ve got about ten but I’ve recently been selling a few off. What I’ve found is that they just sit around so you may as well move them on. Occasionally, like in 2019, I’ll be on a Take That tour followed immediately by an ELO tour. So, if the tours overlap then I will send the basses I use for ELO over to America for rehearsals while I’m finishing up with the Take That tour in the UK. Which means I can go straight from the last Take That show in the U.K. over to the U.S. to start the ELO tour . That means four basses in the UK and three in America for ELO. Then sometimes, as in 2016 to 2018, I’ll go straight from an ELO tour in to a Yes tour so I’ll need another three basses sent off to Yes while I finish the ELO tour. So at that point having ten bass guitars isn’t extravagant especially when you are sending them all over the world. If I was John Entwistle, yes I’d have them all up the wall (laughs). I’d also have some Mellotrons and a Hammond organs because they are my other loves. I did have a Mellotron that was previously owned by Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream and it even had his name on the tape frames. I sold that about seven years ago. I also had a L100 Hammond organ that I sold to Rick. There’s only so much room in the house at the end of the day and it might come down to divorce time when Jill says, ‘so where we going to sleep then?’ There was an ulterior motive for buying the Mellotron back in 2003 (laughs). I thought I could take all the innards out of the Mellotron and be buried in it once I’d died. So I was thinking ahead and planning for the future and I was only about thirty two (laughs).
Dave; I was talking to Lee the other day and he said to me, ‘well you don’t have loads of guitars’ and I said, ‘well I have’ but I suppose compared to some people I don’t suppose I have. I’ve got probably twelve to fifteen guitars and that includes acoustics and all my electric guitars and I’ve got this upside down guitar I’ve been playing around with and there are bits of it dotted around on ‘Red Planet’ that I kind of kept quiet about. So half of my guitars are old things that I’ve modified. I’ve got two or three good electric guitars and I’ve got a semi acoustic twelve string. So I haven’t got loads of guitars. The price of guitars has gone astronomical and it can be a bit of a distraction sometimes and I think I learned an awful lot from the time I spent with Brian May. One of the most important things I learned is that he built that guitar and he’s obviously got his own sentimental attachment, but that guitar got him to where he is and where he could buy any guitar he wanted or be given any guitar. He’s a smart chap to say the least and I think he understood that without that guitar he wouldn’t have got in to the position to have all this other stuff so why change it. So it narrows it down to this is my guitar, this is my amp and this is my sound and then you start to concentrate more on the intricacies of using that set up and how you play it. On ‘Red Planet I took that philosophy to it and I was really fortunate through a friend of mine, Steve Galler. He had a really old 1995 Telecaster in terrible shape and I pretty much rebuilt it and that’s what I used on 90% of ‘Red Planet’ I was looking for continuity and to make it sound like we were in the room together although we absolutely weren’t. And as with Brian May there’s a continuity so you always know who it is. Brian goes, ‘where’s my guitar?’ picks it up and away he goes. I don’t think I could get it quite as streamlined and I did use the Les Paul on a couple of songs. When it comes to influences it’s the big four; The Edge, Allan Holdsworth, Johnny Marr and Jeff Beck. There are hundreds more that are influential; Van Halen, Brian May but if I pick those four out they pretty much cover everything I’m about.
Bit naughty but with Dave Colquhoun coming from Cumbria I had to ask an extra question about his musical contacts with Francis Dunnery of It Bites. We had already mentioned the coincidental fact that Lee Pomeroy and been in It Bites.
Dave; I didn’t actually know Francis when I was growing up because there was a bit of an age gap there. I met him after It Bites and I ended up playing in his band about 1998/99. He was actually a big influence as well at that time, he was a brilliant player, but he used to Allan Holdsworth as an influence and I didn’t know who Allan Holdsworth was but when I heard him he blew me away. So it was Francis that brought on the Allan Holdsworth side of it.
The sixth and final question for Lee revolved around his love for Yes as a youngster and then finding himself playing for Anderson Rabin and Wakeman. I put it to him that this must have been top of the ladder and awe inspiring.
Lee:; You are right. As a kid I started by listening to Genesis and Yes. Chris Squire and Mike Rutherford were my two favourite bass players and also Paul Gardiner from Gary Numan’s band. I used to play bass to all their records and Steve Hackett records too. So I listened to all their records and Chris Squire was the first bass player I copied which was ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Heart of the Sunrise’. So for me, as you say, it was a dream come true because one minute there I am in my mums council flat in Hackney as a fifteen year old listening to those records and then years later Jon Anderson was in front of me, Rick to the left and Trevor Rabin to the right. Every single night I had that moment of ‘oh my God, I can’t believe where I am’. I had the same feeling every night playing with Steve Hackett on the Genesis Revisited tour. That music and Steve being the loveliest guy in the world and playing Yes and Genesis music, I drank it in every night. Yep, it’s like winning the lottery every night. Being a fan I was trying to approach the big Chris Squire moments in many ways from a fan/boy point of view. I was trying to play the things the fans might like and it was the same with Steve too with some of the bass pedal part on songs like ‘The Musical Box’. I’ll never forget those moments and who knows if it will happen again, it may do, it might not do. I can honestly say that when Jon Anderson was singing ‘Heart On The Sunrise’ and ‘Awaken’ every night it was mind blowing.
On to the future and when this Covid thing gets sorted I’m hoping for just more of the same, that’s all I can hope for really. Provided all family and friends stay safe, fit and healthy and I’m able to earn a living from music, great! I’d like to do It Bites again and also work with all the people I’ve played for from over the years.
Final one for Dave. He had been a guitar coach on the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody along with two other musicians mimicking the Queen style. I let him tell the story of how this came about.
Dave; I think it was through Brian May and it was very much last minute, short notice. That really means that something didn’t work out or somebody dropped out. I got the phone call and didn’t really understand what it was about and they said I was to be a body double. So that was the initial idea and I thought they were just going to film my hands. So when I got there they literally dressed me up as Brian May with a wig. The weirdest moment was when I bumped in to Brian on set dressed as him and felt like some stalker. It was Gwilym Lee that was playing Brian in the film and there was a stand-in double for other shots. At one point I have a picture where we are all there with Brian and we are all dressed in the same clothes as Brian and he’s the only one that doesn’t look like Brian (laughing), but you get used to it quite quickly. The first day though I felt embarrassed I think. I’ve never been that much of a fan of someone to dress up. From there the director wasn’t that interested in doing close up guitar shots and so they ended up using me as guitar coach for Rami Malik for things like ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’. So I spent a lot of time one on one with him and it was great fun. For about nine months there was nothing and then when the movie came out and everyone sees it and goes wow. At the time when you are doing it it’s really hard to explain to people what you’re doing and on top of that I had to keep really quiet because you can’t tell anyone where you’re shooting, so you have to be a bit cagey where you are going. Brian was really helpful. We’d met when he guested with Rick at the Starmus Festival in Tenerife and we just got on like two kids with a guitar. So when he felt confident with someone that could recreate what he does he thought I was the man for the job. So it was an honour and big boots to fill and a lot of pressure. It’s an expensive day out making a movie.
On the future and when this Covid thing gets sorted I don’t think the flood gates will open and everything get back to normal. It’s got to change though and it’s got to be made more profitable. It’s all fine putting stuff on the Internet for free but ultimately we need money to be able to produce this stuff and live. The large events were supporting everything but now that’s gone it leaves a big hole in the music business and I’m not quite sure what the answer is, but there will be an answer, we have to survive. So for me it will include remote recording like we did with ‘Red Planet’ as well as live shows and Internet based stuff and making new records. The lesson is to spread yourself more thinly. I’d like to continue writing and recording and get something going.