“The Italian Inquisition on Mick Talbot, dec.02, 2003”
This interview is © SGR, first appeared in dec 2003 on both sexygroovyrhythms.com and milanomods.itgo.com, some short excerpts were later used, with permission, on Iain Munn’s “Mr Cool Dream” book.
Not so many years ago, during one of my first attempts to learn the art of internet surfing I discovered, amongst the Weller-related fan sites, a cool website dedicated specifically to The Style Council and various Councillors, it was (and still is) “The Whole Point”. Having a look at Mick Talbot’s discography and guest appearences I was astonished to see in how many productions, sessions, collaborations he was involved, and I didnt know about some of those records at all.. Very surprising indeed, cos I’m an old fan of Mick, since the pre-Council days when he was riding scooters (in the pictures at least 🙂 ) and playing with his first band, one of the very few “Mod revivalists” we had the luck to see live here in Italy.
Nowadays “the finest young jazz-soul organist in the country” (© PW) is one of the most eclectic and in-demand keyboard players around, and his clean style graced and enhanced, in the last seasons, the live performances of some of my fave contemporary bands like Ocean Colour Scene, Gene, and now the reformed glorious Dexys
So here we are, almost 25 years after those teenage days of the Parkas, and on my stereo a lovely Des’ree is singing an old song from her “Mind Adventures” album, and the song is called “Sun of ’79”, and the organ player is, spooky, Michael Talbot!
This is our “Conversation with Uncle Michael”, I say “our” because the questions are coming from different members of the SGR staff and from many friends with the same musical background as me, same love for the hammond grooves and same respect for the Merton wonder. Please forgive some …mistakes in English grammar (in the questions, of course) and forget this very silly introduction…you know…Im not the Cappuccino Kid…:o)
CPT.STAX : “Hello Mick, let’s start with the memories of the very first record that introduced you to the world of music. Can you tell us what being a suedehead in the seventies meant to you?”
MICK TALBOT : “Around 1969-70 the whole suedehead thing that evolved from skinheads which kind of links to Mods seemed to me to go hand in hand with fashion, music and football. In the press at the time a lot was made of football/violence etc but the music/fashion side of it was often overlooked….In my area the younger people in this cult were often called –peanuts- as well, but i guess it was all about tribes and clothes and records. If you saw someone else in the right clothes you would probably have a good idea of what music they liked, such reggae and soul. To me the ultimate record of this time was -Band of Gold- by Freda Payne, which went to number 1 in the charts in the summer of 1970.”
CS : “yeah, thats a real soul classic you covered almost 10 years later with the Merton Parkas. So when did you start playing, and when did you realize you could make it as a musician?”
MT : “I started playing when I was 7 or 8. We lived with my grandmother when I was young and she showed me some things on the piano. My dad played a bit too but was better on guitar. After a while my grandmother said she couldnt show me much more as she hadnt learnt formally. So she sent me to lessons, which I was a little scared about, but I stuck with them for about 3 or 4 years and in hindsight I realise how important they were. I had ambitions to be a musician, but the first time I thought I could make it was when I was in a band that got paid to do it and wasnt being put on as a favour like school bands.”
CS : “where are / what are they doing now the ex-members of the Parkas?”
MT : “Danny Talbot (guitar/vocals) is running a corporate events and travel company but still makes music with friends and family. Simon Smith (drums) is a social worker but still plays and records with bands like Small Town Parade and Mood Six. Neil Hurrell (bass) sadly died a few years ago aged 40. He was a very active football coach for various youth teams”
CS : “Im sorry to hear abt Neil, I lost contact with him and the others since the early 80s. Mick, let’s talk about your musical roots then; who are your original organ maestros, the reference points for your playing style and inspiration?”
MT : “I love Ray Charles’ organ playing! He doesnt use it often but I believe he was a big influence on Booker T Jones who’s on so many classic soul tunes, quite apart from his own stuff. Among the jazz organists I like Jack McDuff the most, although undoubtedly all the jazz guys owe a lot to Jimmy Smith. But Sly Stone, Billy Preston, Charles Hodges (the -Hi- rhythm section), Spooner Oldham, Al Kooper and Garth Hudson have also touched me as well. And amongst British guys I like Ian McLagan who was a very important part of the sound and character of the Small Faces and the Faces.”
CS : “talking ’bout the younger generations of Hammond players, who do you dig in the new breed, who do you rate as the most innovative?”
MT : “Adam Scone from the Sugarman 3 because he sounds great and theres a lot of humour in the music.”
CS : “well, coming back here to your homeland, do you feel there’s something new and original in the British music scene? What are you listening, mostly, today?
MT : “I think there are still a lot of creative people in the British music scene. I happen to like mainly live bands, some of the newer ones I like are the Thrills and the Coral.”
CS : “nice bands, well, in your opinion are there many differences between young bands of today, like the ones you said, and yours (e.g. the Merton Parkas and TSC) in terms of the approach to the music biz / music in general?”
MT :”I think bands today seem a bit more aware of the business end now. But most live bands are still driven by the same thing that drove bands way back and thats making a sound together that they enjoy and sharing something new with a hopefully eager audience”
CS : “this feeling makes me think of one of the most energetic, soul driven, live bands you played with, so I would like to ask you this: in the wake of the much awaited CD reissue of the mighty Bureau album, what do you remember of the time you spent with them? Whats your opinion on that album (never issued in Europe) You did with them, an album I rate (and I’m not alone 🙂 ) one of the best of that era? Do you know of any full live concert recorded and good enough for an official release?”
MT : “the Bureau did quite a lot in a short space of time. I really like the Aussie/Canadian album and having heard it recently I think it stands up quite well. From a technical point of view the released version runs slightly too fast but plans are a foot with Warners to put that right when its re-mastered for CD. I think Warners have got quite a few extra tracks plus the -Only for Sheep- video clip which will probably be added to the whole package. There may be some live stuff though I dont have any personally.”
CS : “great! Lets hope they will release it soon, by the way you were still struggling to succeed with them at the time, maybe you were already working on the (now) legendary second album, when you received a “calling-up” to join the Council, how it all began?”
MT : “I got called by Paul Weller towards the end of summer 1982. The Bureau had run its course and lost its contract and I was on the dole pretty much at a loose end. I hadnt seen Paul for some time. I’d done a few live shows with the Jam, and recorded on the Setting Sons LP and he thought I might be right for his new project. In the course of a long lunch meeting we seemed to have a great deal in common and thats pretty much where we started from.”
CS : “wow, I knew Paul was already disillusioned about the Jam sound by then, but didnt realise you had that “council meeting” so early in the year of the split”. He needed a soul brother: I remember reading in an issue of the Style Population magazine, a top five compiled by you that included Love Tko by Teddy Pendergrass. What do you think of the Philly sound, and which Philly artist do you prefer now? Also which is your favourite Motown artist/act?”
MT : “the Philly sound was very important, people like Thom Bell, Gamble and Huff, seemed to take over the more orchestrated soul scene from Motown once they had gone to L.A. My favourite Philly artists are the Delfonics and the Ojays, I’m a sucker for harmonies with a groove! Favourite Motown artist is Marvin Gaye.”
CS : “no doubts about that. During the Council days some of the tunes had heavy left-wing political lyrics and contents, have your political sentiments for the left parties changed/mutated during the years? Why you were not involved much more as writer/composer for the Council?”
MT : “my political sentiments havent changed much, but the party that used to represent them -labour- have changed radically. I wasnt involved in writing that much in the Council because Paul wrote prolifically whilst I wrote sporadically and often not in a song-like form.”
CS : “and now that you’ve just toured with Dexy’s Midnight Runners again after all these years, would you like to work with Weller again? Are you still meeting Paul secretly for some home jam sessions?”
MT : “if the project was right I’m pretty open minded about it. The last time I saw Paul was a few months back at a friends wedding.”
CS : “and when you first met Paul, how you became friends? What you like most of him and what you cant stand?”
MT : “when I first met Paul we became close though our shared experiences of music and fashion and the fact that we were born in the same year which gave us a similar history. The best thing about Paul when I worked with him was his encouragement of other musicians and his own musical bravery. Sometimes he could be a bit impatient if things didnt work out fairly quickly, but in hindsight there were so. Many ideas kicking around that if something didnt happen organically it was probably best that we moved on.”
CS : “from the very first single to the second album TSC had an incredible no-stop string of beautiful songs. In the advertisements for -Our Favourite Shop- you proclaimed the band was <probably the best pop group in the world>. Were you ironical or were you just rightly conscious of your abilities? Other friends say you recorded some of your best songs (Françoise; the whole Confession… Lp) in a period that is regarded by the most as your worse. Why you were not understood and supported both by the media and the fans?”
MT : “a mixture of irony and belief, but we were not above sending ourselves up and the phrase used was similar to a popular beer commercial in England at the time. By the time the Confessions came out we had lost some ground because the previous Lp was our weakest, so the fans and media may have lost faith in us a bit.”
CS : “yes, I confess, as an average old fan myself, I was losing some interest just after -It Didnt Matter- probably. Is just because of the album “Modernism” was rejected by Polydor that you disbanded or you had already lost interest to go on working as the Style Council?”
MT : “Modernism was going to be our last album anyway, but the fact that Polydor didnt release it meant that we stopped as a band a year or so earlier than planned”
CS : “but not before you became already a sort of seminal inspiration for all the growing rare grooves/acidjazz culture. What kind of legacy in pop music will remain from the Acidjazz experience? What do you think of young “British” black artist that have hit the scene in the last few years, Carleen Anderson, Beverley Brown…”
MT : “I guess Jamiroquai is the ultimate cross over artist too have come out of the Acid Jazz scene, but there are still a very large amount of musicians that came from that scene backing many current artists. Carleen I know of old having played with her in the Young Disciples and on some of her solo work. She’s unique and with the right circumstances still may release her ultimate record yet. Beverley Brown is someone who can sing anything. I’ve backed her doing a Sam Cooke song on tv and it felt as good as her own stuff. All black British artists need is exposure and support by the industry because the talent is certainly there.”
CS : “you see yourself more of a soulman or a jazzman?”
MT : “I am probably a soul fan more than jazz”
CS : “have you ever attended to a soul alnighter?”
MT :”I’ve been to a few alnighters in London, mainly the 100 club”
CS : “Soundscape Uk had a groove suiting your style and background, why this project didnt go on? Chris Bangs looked like your perfect partner-in-music to some. I’ve been to Chris’ website in the last weeks, and he’s talking of an august 2003 session he did with you…”
MT : “Soundscape did work well for a while but Chris Bangs got busy on other things as did I and the momentum/demand may have dropped off. Having said that, yes, I’ve worked on a new Chris Bangs project called -Original Soul Boy- which should see the light of day soon.”
CS : “is the abuse of the synth sounds in the eighties one of the reasons for the big comeback of the vintage organ sounds? Which keyboards do you actually like/use? What do you think about modern instruments and especially “Hammond emulators”, if you ever played one? Any new keyboard that could become a good substitute also for the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer?”
MT : “I think people like the emotional quality of classic organs like Hammonds, Lowreys, Farfisas, Vox etc. I like to use all those mentioned plus clavinets and electric pianos. I do use a new -Korg BX3- which I think is a reasonable substitute in terms of sound and practicality of size to emulate a Hammond sound. Wurlitzers and Rhodes are a bit harder but I know a lot of people like the Nord Electra, although I havent tried one myself.”
CS : “being so active into the music scene over the last 20 years, which of the band you played with was the most involving, exciting, amusing and interesting? Why you never published a solo album? As far as I remember the only release with Your name alone on the cover was the ep “Agent 88″, including 4 instrumentals You did with The Style Council.”
MT : “I like being part of a team and dont really consider myself a front man. Im usually the most excited about whatever I am doing at the time. Being the musical director for Dexys was a big challenge and a very rewarding experience to work on such a catalogue of songs and such a talented band. Having only been off the road for a few days my heads still buzzing with the experience. But soon looming on the horizon the Players Uk tour beckons and that is such a buzz because with a small group of instrumentalists that kind of playing is like going down a bar having a great conversation with a bunch of old friends.”
CS : “2004 will be a pretty busy year for the Players, the Uk tour, followed by Japan (and some dates in Italy too). ..We have our friends in Usa who are waiting too. How’s the recording schedule with the band then? Have you something written already, for the second album?
MT : “at the moment the Uk is definate and we are all keen to do more if it fits in with various schedules. There are some demos for the second album and other things written that have not been taped but if its anything like the 1st — the music came together really quickly and reallly well- we should be laughing.”
CS : “ok Mick, the marathon at its end; now,…are you ready for the “difficult final?” ok…let’s go…dark or blonde?”
MT : “whats left of my hair is dark blonde!
CS : “hehe, now, bitter or lager?”
MT : “Newcastle Brown Ale given a choice but Im not bitter if its lager.”
CS : “last one, a classic,…the record you’d bring with you on a desert island???….”
MT : “Lets Get it On, Marvin Gaye”
CS : “there’s no better way to close our interview, classy album. Thank you very much for the time you dedicated to this “italian inquisition” as you called it :o) see you live with the Players next year!
MT : “talk soon, cheers”
Mick Talbot, Steve White, Aziz Ibrahim and Damon Minchella (no matter how you look at it, its a modern supergroup) will be on tour from january 2004. Details for dates and venues are available at the Players Official Site or inside our SGR WebJournal Online. Be there! The debut album “Clear the Decks” is available here at SGR.
Don’t forget the competition to win official Players merchandise and cds, just check it out at the MilanoMods website, but before the end of the year please!
Extra thanks to the following Honorary Talbotians for help, questions and contents, in no particular order: Fabrizio Sciami, Lisa Coffman, Marco Reina, Raffaele Re, Paul Foster, Oscar Flowered, Vivienne and Fabio Conti, Fabrizio Sala, Mick Boeri, Claudio Falcone, Eamonn Cooke, Luca Negri.
In pole position Mr Matt Cook (the Players Manager).
Your inquisitor, Cpt.Stax.