6 Questions with John Jowitt

Martin Hudson asks bass player extraordinaire John Jowitt 6 Questions

John Jowitt is a bass player who was very popular with Classic Rock Society regulars through the first twenty years of its life. He is still proud to have been voted the CRS Best Bass Player of the Year no less than 16 times, 1993 to 1998 and 2002 through to 2011. Incidentally the other three years were won by Dave Meros of Spock’s Beard in 1999 and 2000 and Graeme Murray of Pallas in 2001. His popularity as bass player in CRS circles led to him asking fans to allow him to sponsor the award in 2013 and not to be considered for the award.

John was a regular visitor to the CRS live music environment with IQ, Arena and Jadis besides other bands’ such as Frost* and Blind Ego and was ever the eccentric, not only performing quality bass lines but dressing up for the occasion too. On one occasion I seem to remember him in a tutu with Doc Martin accessories. He first performed for the CRS back in October 1992 at the Montgomery Hall, Wath Upon Dearne near Rotherham where IQ were supported by the excellent Stoke based band Grace.

At this time John even had hair. Since my retirement from leading the CRS in 2009 contact with John has been limited to Christmas cards and texts but on hearing about a brand new band project, that he is part of, it was an excellent time to catch up. Rain is the name of the band and ‘Singularity’ the name of the album. John is naturally the bass player and vocalist and this time he is joined by, son of Kelly, Rob Groucutt (vocals, keys and guitar), Andy Edwards (drums) and Mirron (vocals and guitar). Andy had been with John in IQ and Frost*.

So first question revolved around Rain and I let John explain how the band came about?

Well it had been about ten years since I’d seen Andy Edwards and it all came about by chance. I’d got in touch with Steve Gould (The Progmeister), who you know of who is a DJ in the Midlands. He suggested meeting for a coffee and when I got there Andy Edwards was there sat with him. He said he was playing in a band called Quill that had two drummers, Bev Bevan of ELO fame and Andy. I joined the band and it’s been great, we play some great music but Andy and I spoke and said wouldn’t it be good to do something different and especially a prog album. So the original idea was Bev, Joy Strachan-Brain (vocalist with Quill), Andy and Rob Groucutt, but it never quite happened. The name was going to be Reign but in the end we decided on Rain, simple as that and it became me, Andy, Rob and Mirron.

There are the five songs on the album and it just grew organically. All the parts have been recorded separately and Rob and Andy, in particular, got together to sort out and work things through, but it was all recorded entirely separately. ‘Dandelion is basically all Andy. The track ‘Singularity’ was originally an extension to ‘Magician’, as a more ambient piece. Anyway I heard it and thought we could do something more with it, so I asked them to send me the track so I could have a play with them. So I had a mess with that and sent it back.

Andy’s inspiration for the album was going to be ‘Relayer’ and the inspiration to the start of ‘Singularity’ was ‘Cygnus XI’ by Rush, so there’s a lot of progressive rock influence. There are real classic prog influences but there are other elements.
Rob is a great songwriter. You have to hear some of the stuff he’s done himself. Mirron is a great guitarist and songwriter himself and there are two fantastic voices with Rob and Mirron and me and Andy work so well on a great rhythm section; it’s funky! I like my riffs and so putting the whole thing together and Andy pulling it all together has worked so well.

Mirron’s band Hey Jester they are great. I watched them when they supported Tim’s (Bowness) band and they are fantastic musicians, absolutely stunning musicians. There’s bits of Led Zeppelin and King Crimson in there and they are well worth checking out. Mirron has real stage craft for a guy of such tender years. Rob comes from that classic songwriter background of ELO but everyone in the band loves a wide range of material. You can tell which part is Rob, take the start of ‘Devils Will Reign’ it’s pure Rob.

I’d never actually met Mirron with relation to Rain until after we’d finished the album! We’d never met as a band until after the album because of the lockdown.

It’s all been done remotely and I had to learn the technology; I’ve done a couple of albums with other people using the technology since. I think the Rain bass playing is some of the best I’ve ever done. There’s been times in the past where I’ve really had to fight for bass lines. ‘Subterranea’ was an example, the track itself and that riff wasn’t what people were looking for at all but it really makes that song. With Singularity there was no pressure; I could spend as much time as I wanted to get my parts finished for people to hear the whole thing as I saw it.

John laughed when I referred back to a conversation we had had a couple of years ago and he told me that he was not listening to much prog and was listening to more ambient stuff for instance. I admitted I was expecting something totally different when I first heard Rain. Having said that I have told John that I recognise the ambient sounds and in particular on the outro title track where I can hear likenesses to the Café Del Mar albums.

I think the point is that my musical tastes have always changed and the stuff that I’m in to and what you bring to a song. The stuff that really I’m in to these days is house, techno and dance stuff, things that make you move. The thing with that is it influences how you play and what you bring to a song.

I’ll tell you a story about when I played with Tim Bowness; I really started getting in to that trance thing then. Tim has a song called ‘All The Blue Changes’ which is a song he did with No Man. We first played it together at a rehearsal studio in London and I got this idea then of building the song with the bassline and really interplaying with Andy Booker. Andy of course played with Peter Banks (Yes) and he’s such a great drummer. So I started playing this song and building it, and Andy B worked it too – we really got into it and we were really motoring, you could feel it, the power of it.

So we’re playing and the studio door swings open and this big black guy walks in and shouts, ‘Hey man, that’s really funky’ and he went round and shook everybody’s hands! So he walks out and Tim says, ’Well we’ve never been called funky before!’

So that’s what I love about music, yes I love prog, you know that and because I love that music it doesn’t mean I don’t love other music. All music can feed in to each other and use to the benefit of the music you are playing. That’s what I really like about ‘Singularity’. Some parts of it are really funky and really grew, like the middle section of ‘Magician’. I remember putting my bass down as I was recording, turning it up really loud and having a dance around the room (laughs).

You say you like the title track and on top of Andy’s rough ideas I put a load of samples on and one that you’ve referred to is one that I pulled in. So Rob put his vocal on it and I think it’s so beautiful and it works so well with themes coming through from the other songs.

This album has been like that, everybody added something. There’s one part on one song where I’ve put my bass riff down on a rough track and I can tell that Mirron has picked up on that and then shoots off somewhere else from it. It’s been a great experience and we are all so pleased with it

So away from the new project I had not been in regular contact with John since 2009 and apart from his stint with Uriah Heep I had lost track. I asked him to bring me up to date.

I had a tough time after the crash in 2008 so I needed to sort myself out basically and it took me a few years to do it. When I left IQ I wanted to do other things. I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to get off the treadmill. I loved (and love) IQ to bits but as a member of the band it was time for me to move on.

The opportunity came up to join Arena so I was there for a couple of years and loved it, but then drifted away from it; I just wasn’t in the right place in myself.

Then came Uriah Heep and got the opportunity there to help out at a few shows while Trevor (Bolder) was poorly and that was a fantastic experience. Mick Box! What a gentleman and I’m still in touch; an absolute gent. So that was another lovely vignette. Just before the Heep dates I was contacted by a bloke and was playing with Max Hunt in Fragile. I literally had three weeks before the first Heep gig in Tel Aviv and so I just had to focus on Heep and couldn’t do anything else. But the drummer from those Fragile rehearsals, Nigel Bromley had been doing some theatre shows and he got me in a Neil Diamond tribute show (laughs) all very different!

We went all over the country playing and it was good fun. There were a few spin offs from that – Paul Simon, even Adele! I started playing pub gigs, a great local band called Broken English playing rock covers, and others. It was great, going along to play a local gig and having a good time and playing a load of songs you enjoy. There was also Paul Menel and Tim Bowness too and a local band called River Thieves You know me Martin it was just good to play without any ego’s or any politics.

I have also played once with IQ! What happened was we were already playing Lorelei with Tim Bowness on the Saturday in 2019. The Friday night on the weekend before I had a phone call from Mike Holmes; I’d seen Mike briefly in the February of that year at a Steely Dan show. Anyway Mike calls me out of the blue asking if I’d like to play Lorelei the following Friday(!) with IQ. Tim Esau was ill in hospital and of course I said I’d do it. So I had Tim’s material to get together for the Saturday and IQ’s for the Friday at the same festival. A bit of a mad rush, but great fun. I did everything except three songs from IQ’s latest album. It was great meeting everybody again.

John as a musician had played an integral part of Classic Rock Society history. He even had hair the first time he performed for us. I asked him to sum it up looking back in time.

I was only just saying to Alex (John’s partner) what an important thing the Classic Rock Society was at that time. I also told her the story of when Jadis played Rotherham and Juan and Rosa Araneda came all the way from Chile for the gig. They brought some Pisco Sour with them which was the Chilean national drink and Mark Westwood and me were drinking it and ran out of lime juice. You had to have lime juice with it. So Mark looked round and found some washing up liquid and shouted here this’ll do (laughing). And yes, we drank it..!

The Classic Rock Society was so important to the scene and it was pre-internet days. Lots of prog bands got dropped by major labels towards the end of the 80s. So it was a case of what happens now? Many set up their own labels; IQ and GEP, Pendragon and Toff but they needed an outlet, and things like The Classic Rock Society became a real anchor. It became somewhere where fans could use to find out what was going on, a place where bands could play regularly and we always knew it was going to be a good audience.

So there was a crowd and a regular news supply coming out and I think it became absolutely essential to the scene. You look back now and wonder what it would have been like without that. It’s like in Holland you had Willebrord Elsing, he was the Martin Hudson of Holland (or vice versa!). It was so important to the scene.

The awards nights were special and I’ve still got all my awards and I was always humbled that people liked what you do. Nobody forced people to vote and I didn’t force my mum to send in hundreds of votes (laughing). I know that all the people that got awards enjoyed the pat on the back. It was the one gig of the year where you knew the place would be packed with fans and musicians alike.

Next up was the one common question I’d asked all the musicians that had been part of the 6 Questions to date. How had Covid affected John to date?

Well like everyone else I’ve spent more time at home and it has hit us because my partner Alex’s father died of it. It does annoy me when you get people talk nonsense about it. It is a real danger – but the daft thing is that we couldn’t have recorded the album without it. This album would never have happened in the way it has. I would not have gained these new skills in recording at home. It’s now set me off recording sessions for people and doing some writing and such.

It’s like everything else, whatever comes along, it also has its consolations. It’s brought me and my partner Alex closer together because we’re spending more time together and we haven’t killed each other yet (laughing). We are missing gigs like crazy, who isn’t but all you can do is be grateful for what you have. I have been through bad times over the last few years and am in a much better place now. We’ve just got to look forward to the good things to come. This will pass and we’ll all come out of it and look forward to doing things but maybe in a different way.

If you want try something different as things get better I’d recommend a band called Henge. We saw them at Womad. They come from a different planet (laughing) and have come to earth to play their music. The bass player’s from Venus and they’ve got masks on and everything. The lead singer has this sort of Van Der Graaf Generator on his head (laughing). Henge is one of the bands that me and Andy were listening to when we were talking about starting Rain.

Spending more time at home together I asked if John and Alex were fighting over the CD / turn table?

What we tend to do and we do on Friday nights is push the room table back and turn the music up very loud and get the lights out and other lights bouncing off the ceiling. Then we have lots of techno, rave and lots of dance stuff going. We end up dancing all over (laughing). Alex loves the Rain album and she’s not saying that because she’s my partner! Do you know what, I rarely play an album that I’ve played on because I’m usually sick of it by the time it’s out there. Martin Orford used to say, ‘It’s like having a big dump. The last think I want to do when I’ve done it is look at it!’. I used to feel like that but this album I keep going back to it. The Rain album is an absolute corker.

Finally I asked how far things might go with Rain? And I hadn’t mentioned another band that John and the CRS were about back in the day. Jadis. Would we ever see the classic line-up again?

Rain is a band not a project. Andy has said that it’s one of the easiest things he’s done and a lot of it has been about letting go and saying yes to things rather than being precious. I put down my bass parts and 95% of it is there. There are a couple of bits where it’s been tweaked as do things in the studio but I think what you have to listen to is actually what you’ve got as a result of that. This really is as a whole of the sum of the parts as a consequence I’m really looking forward to the future.

Of course we want to do gigs but it’s when or how. If not it will be a case of doing a video. You’ve just got to find ways of communicating and getting the message across.
I’m writing already for the next one. We’ve played it all separately now we want to play it all together. I’m looking forward to that because when I play with Andy it’s that instinctual thing, like playing with Quill. We know each other so well, it’s easy. Oh and Quill have a new album out in the new year as well!

As for Jadis they are out there still. There is a funny story there too. About three years ago I was talking to Gary (Chandler) and said wouldn’t it be great to get together again and do a weekend of shows in Europe and England. He said no there isn’t really any interest in that (John laughed). It’s fine by me, it’s entirely up to them and sometimes it’s maybe not the best thing to go back. I was so pleased with that show with IQ, I loved it and I hope they were pleased with it too. It was wonderful as a one off.

It was great to catch up with John Jowitt again and hopefully somewhere down the line The Spirit of Progressive Rock can promote a show here in South Yorkshire. In the meantime get a copy of ‘Singularity’ by Rain on the GEP label. If by chance you still have not heard of IQ or Jadis get online and have a listen.

Martin Hudson

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