Monday, November 5, 2012

Dave Mattacks 2009 interview, part two

Daniel Coston: I do have to ask about one record you did that was also part of the Witch Season family later on which is the Morris On record. I found it in the mountains of North Carolina and somebody was selling it and I‘d always heard about it because it’s listed in the Fairport family tree listing that Pete Frame did and I just loved the record and I didn’t know that much about Morris dancing. And I was curious about how you got involved with that record.

Dave Mattacks: Well, it’s really Ashley [Hutchings’] thing. I mean, Ashley’s the chap behind that and he just asked me to play on it and I was thrilled to play on it. And that was another record that had… that was another, quite a bump in my understanding and perception of music… At the time we were doing… the Fairport thing was wonderful, but it was getting a little bit… um… the “sports factor” was entering into things. In other words, you know, “How fast can we play these jigs and reels?” And it was becoming a bit of a “show” like that, which was one of the things that I was pleased to get away from… Ever since the “light bulb” that I told you about, went on with Fairport, I very much changed how I felt about music. Music for me became less about technique and more about what was being said. And at the time, the Fairport thing was wonderful, but it was getting a bit that way. It was getting (to be) a bit of a sports event. You know, “How fast can we play these jigs and reels?” And the Morris On thing came out like a breath of fresh air and I just loved the melody lines and the tunes and tunes and the songs and that was me being immersed in that kind of music, courtesy of Ashley. And from that, that led on to… around about that time I was discovering Vaughan Williams and people like that and it was just another one of those wonderful learning curves and I think we did it in three or four days or something. You know, did the whole record in three or four days. I mean, maybe a week, tops. You know, like two days of tracks, and a couple of overdubs and then mixed it in the last day. One of those kind of deals.

DC: Wow, that’s great.

DM: Yeah. Still don’t get any money from it, but that’s another story.

DC: (laughs)

DM: Yeah, how many times have you heard musicians say that?

DC: Yeah, sadly true.

DM: Yep.

DC: I do have to ask. My wife would want me to ask about playing with Elton John, and how that was.

DM: Oh, that was great! Well, I knew Elton before… (laughs) I knew Elton before he was “Elton.” I knew him when he was Reg Dwight because he was a session piano player on the scene and we did the odd session together. This’d be early seventies. And then around about the time I joined the Fairports and started to do outside work, his career started to take off and the next thing I knew, he was, um, he was really, really doing well. And from the early days of my session work, not long after joining Fairport, one of the producers who continually called me for 25-plus years when he had a project, and he became a very, very good friend and I probably miss him more than anybody who’s passed away out of my whole coterie of friends over the years, and that was a record producer by the name of Gus Dudgeon.

DC: I actually got to meet him once.

DM: You did? Well, Gus became a very, very good friend. And Gus, as you know, started life as a “tape op” and then became a recording engineer and recorded the famous, the album that Clapton’s on with him reading the Beano on the front.

DC: Oh that’s right! Yes, Blues Breakers! Yeah.

DM: Yes, Blues Breakers. John Mayhall, Blues Breakers. He’s on that record. He recorded that record and he went on to record and produce Elton and then once those Elton albums took off, that was Gus doing very, very well for himself. And Elton had a fixed lineup, um, so that was that. But Gus called me continually for years and years for recording sessions and I probably did more records with Gus than anybody else. I mean, several with George Martin and Glyn Johns and people like that. You know, Joan Armatrading and Andy Fairweather Low and all these people. I was very fortunate. But, um, Gus called me and then one day, long story short, called me up and said, “Elton’s been working with a different producer but he’d like to go back to me and see how it works and I’d really like you to play on some tracks.” I said, “Well, it would just be wonderful.” By this time of course, he’s an international superstar and I said, “I’d absolutely love to,” and, um, got to do it.

So, that’s the story. That’s the story there. So, it was good because I knew him, you know, like I say, I knew him before… really before he became famous and so it was nice to hook up and we had a great time in the studio and, um, (I was) just delighted to be on that single. I mean, there’s a few others I played on but the one that was successful and it was nice to be on was “Nikita.”

DC: I actually had a recording—I don’t know how I got it—but it was like a bunch of Witchseason demos. I think it was, like, “Here’s different people recording Witch Season songs,” and it was like Elton John and Linda Thompson doing, like, String Band stuff and Nick Drake. And the personnel is like Jerry Donahue and, Gerry Conway and I forget who else is playing bass…

DM: Pat Donaldson.

DC: Yeah.

DM: Pat Donaldson on bass and probably Elton on piano.

DC: Yes, and Jerry didn’t have a copy of it, so I gave Jerry my copy.

DM: Aha! Cool! There you go!

DC: (laughs) He said, “Are you sure?” and I’m like, “You played on it. You kind of deserve to have a copy.”

DM: Yeah, that’s great, yeah. Well, you know, there was something. One of the records I played on back around that time was Mike Heron’s solo record.

DC: Yeah.

DM: Smiling Men With Bad Reputations. And The Who… One of my favorite Who performances. It’s actually, not The Who. It’s Keith, Pete, and Ronnie Lane on bass and they’re credited as Tommy and the Bijoux…

DC: Oh my gosh!

DM: …on that track and when they re-released that about, I don’t know, five years ago or maybe even longer, they put some additional tracks that they found on. Somebody sent me the CD and I looked at the lineup on the additional tracks and the lineup was Dave Pegg on bass, myself on drums, Elton on piano, and Jimmy (laughs)… Jimmy Page on guitar! But the songs aren’t that good, which is why they didn’t get on the record, but, uh… it was, um… yeah, I thought, “Well!” And I didn’t even remember. Didn’t even remember.

DC: Well, going back to the reunion that you guys did two years ago at the Cropredy, how was it to do those shows?

DM: It was... it was kind of… it was a little stressful. It was fun, but somebody reminded us—I think it might have been Simon who said, “You realize that we haven’t played this stuff for thirty-nine years? This lineup, this collection of people has not played this material for thirty-nine years,” and I said, “Ah, that’s why I’m felling a little bit more stressed than I normally do in these situations.” But it seemed to go well and people seemed to like it, so, you know, yeah…

DC: You’re living in New Hampshire, now?

DM: New England, just north of Boston, yeah.

DC: This goes back to what we were talking about earlier, from where you are now… um… I’m trying to search for something I can’t say, which is unfortunate. Um, looking back over, what you can over your career and to where you’re living now, does it all feel linear? Does it all feel like it’s… Is it all part of sort of the continuing story?

DM: Absolutely! Yeah, ‘cause I’ve, you know… “Career” can also be interpreted as, you know, “travel rapidly downhill out of control,” you know? So, I’ve never… there’s never really been… I’m often amused by it when musicians say, “Right, I’m gonna be doing this and I’m gonna be playing with this guy by the time I’m that and I will have earned this amount of money and I…” Well, maybe if you’re in banking you can do that, but, um… and even then you can’t rely on anything under the current climate.

DC: Yeah, certainly not anymore.

DM: But to have those kind of plans as a musician, I’ve always thought was a little strange and I’ve really just tried to, certainly thanks to the Fairport and them changing my sensibility, all I’ve tried to do is just kind of play the song and, uh… I’ve pursued some things. I got into some production, which is something I’ve (gotten into) in the last few years. I’ve really enjoyed that. You should try and pick up a copy of the—it’s very folky, but I guess that’s the kind of area that I find myself working with, singer-songwriters—a folk album I produced came out late last year, Debra Cowan. It’s mentioned on my website. Contact Debra and see if you can get a copy of it. Obviously anything like that I’d be very grateful if you could at least mention. And you know, just… I’m always happy to talk about the stuff that went on back then but I also like to… As I said, I don’t spend my life kind of looking over my shoulder and the things that I’m focusing on at the moment… you know, being fortunate enough to work with Rosanne Cash, Debra’s album, and this singer I’m working with who’s absolutely terrific. I did some recording with her down in New Orleans late last year by the name of Judith Owen. And she’s great. That and some other things around here are where my focus is, you know? As I say, I’m happy to talk about and do the reminiscing and nostalgia thing, but it, for me, it really has a place. You know, it’s like, “Yep, that was great and now I’m doing this.” (laughs)

DC: How long have you been playing with Rosanne Cash?

DM: Um, been playing live with Rosanne now, um… must be, couple of years? Yeah… Really one of the nicest, nicest people to work with. Really, really terrific.

DC: I’ve seen her a few times and never had a chance to meet her. I actually did photos of her father. Like, the last performances he did.

DM: Oh, really?

DC: The Carter Family asked me to do it. I’ve always wanted to give her those photos, so that she had them, but it’s a weird thing to approach people with. But it was a pretty amazing experience.

DM: I can believe that, yeah.

DC: But she’s great, I’m really thrilled to hear that…

DM: She is great, yeah.

DC: …that you’re playing with her.

DM: Yeah, it’s been very enjoyable. She doesn’t work that much, which, in some ways kind of suits me ‘cause I like being home these days, but when (I am) fortunate enough to work with her it’s thoroughly enjoyable. (It’s a) small band and she’s just great.

DC: Yeah, I’m originally from upstate New York, so, at some point I have to go back up and visit, but um, some time I have to figure out a way to come up and see you play.

DM: There you go. Yeah, well you can always find out where I’m playing. You know how to do that now. (laughs)

DC: Yeah. Oh, yes. Oh, I do have to ask. You played on one record, or I forget how long, with Steeleye Span, who I just started listening to?

DM: I’ve played on three records by Steeleye Span. I played on the first one and then I played on two ‘round about the 2000/2001 era, one of which I think was called Horkstow Grange, briefly when Maddy Prior left and Gay Woods was the singer. I did one record with them then when they had a change in rhythm section. But Peter Knight was still in the band. So, three records with Steeleye, yeah. I think if you go to the Steeleye site, you’ll see. I’m sure they’ll all be listed and you’ll be able to see them.

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