Paul Young's Royal Family | Steve Bolton, Pino Palladino
Guitarist Steve Bolton and bass player Pino Palladino explain the importance of being a Swedish Chef.
Tony Bacon gets a royal appointment
As one who spent the glorious Royal Wedding day carefully sealed from the outside world in a recording studio, chosen as much for the opaqueness of its soundproofing as for the normal considerations of tape machines, mixers, and so on, I must say it came as something of a shock to happen upon a group of musicians calling themselves the Royal Family.
Would their leader, some ex-Q-Tips singer called Paul Young, set himself up as some world-prancing ambassador of a way of life that should have sunk without trace hundreds of years ago? Would he tell anyone who'd listen about "My band and I"? And, changing tack a little to float nearer the subject, would the Family's underlings lead useful, creative lives despite their upbringing?
It was with some relief, then, that the underlings chosen to speak with One Two... guitarist Steve Bolton and bassist Pino Palladino... began discussing such topics as giant stuffed corgis on-stage for the Royal Family tour, and readily agreed to the suggestion that jokes appertaining to their name were indeed manifold. So that's that one out of the way.
I had, in fact, gone along to the interview with a couple of half-formed theories (this is what we call preparation).
Theory one concerned Pino. The success of "Wherever I Lay My Hat", it seemed to me, had a lot to do with the interplay of fluid fretless and vivid vocal, a counterpoint of duelling lines guaranteed to cock the ear. And surely bass guitar has always been at it's most subversive when teamed up in this fashion? Early Motown leaps to mind. Pino caps this theory with an insight into early Cardiff life.
"The first time I became aware of bass guitar was when I had a little tape machine and I used to tape things from the radio — I had 'ABC' by the Jackson Five? One day I stuck it to my ear to have a good listen to it — what's all this low stuff underneath? This is brilliant!"
Theory Two was for Steve Bolton, generally referred to as "Bolt". I'd heard about his way with what can only be described as 'noise-guitar', a deft mixture of feedback and abrasion that surely brings Adrian Belew to mind. Naturally he was aware of the similarity, and finds it almost uncanny.
"It could almost be me playing; he seems to think the same way — I could be in his body. It's not that there's any copying, we just came up together. It's strange, so many people have asked me whether I've played on such-and-such a record and I've said no, it's Adrian Belew. And when I saw him play with Discipline in London he had a Roland JC160 — I felt sure he'd have a valve amp. I'd like to meet him."
If Steve is "Bolt" to most everyone, then as the rehearsals for the tour rolled on it became clear that Pino would be "The Swedish Chef". An explanation is required.
"They call me that because of the opening bass line in 'Hat'," he says and sings, "Yew-dee-doo," in true Muppet-chef fashion. "And every time I play that phrase in any shape or form, whether it sounds the same to me or not, somebody says, oh, there it is again. One-lick merchant, you know?" Well, not quite. We persevere to more weighty topics.
Prince of Wales — Until 1980 playing in hometown Cardiff, "local bands, friends, TV". Came to London, joined Jools Holland and the Millionaires (from whence came Paul Young's back-up singers, the Holland-named Wealthy Tarts). After a year of Jools, an LP and a US tour with Gary Numan, returning in November 1982. Joined Paul Young (same band as Royal Family) for short UK tour in December supporting Tom Petty, then LP and two singles ("Whistle Down The Wind", "Take That Situation") with Nick Heyward, and so on to permanent Royalty.
Loudness — Music Man Stingray fretless bass, Rob Green graphite neck added. Effects selection being finalised in rehearsal from MXR Pitch Transposer, Ibanez harmoniser, Boss Octave II, unnamed compressor. Ampeg SVT top and Ampeg 8x10 cabinet.
Buying and Wearing — "I've had that bass about two years. I was in a music shop in the States and a fella walked in with this fretless Music Man and sold it. Soon as I picked it up I knew it was right. I should have caught him earlier. I played it the first night I bought it, too, which is unusual. Really felt good.
"I changed the neck because the fingerboard wore out. Roundwounds are the only strings you get the sound from, and they wore it down. It lasted about 18 months: it was new when I bought it. By the time I'd finished with it, the screws that hold the neck to the body were showing through. I really wore it down.
"So then I got a graphite neck put on which is not supposed to wear down. We'll see. I got that at Soundwave, the place they do the £2000 basses. It's one of Rob Green's, he got a licence from Steinberger. I've had it about three months — I'll let you know in a year."
Doubling — "I bought a little £50 octave divider yesterday, a Boss Octave II. It takes it down two octaves as well as one, but I use it one below to give an almost synthy tone to the bass, like black funk bands where they'll have the synth doubling the bass pattern. I've got to find the right places to use it — when you first get a gadget you use it all the time."
Amplifying — "I'm using an Ampeg setup, and I'd really like another one, ideally, for live use. It's an SVT top with their 8x10 cab. They really come alive, those amps. I also bought a Walter Woods pre-amp in the States which I might hook up with something. Because we have this Simmons kit on stage — and a Linn and an 808 and so on — you need something really big to compete with it. Mark the drummer's got two big cabs, one on each ear, and the Simmons don't sound good unless they're really blasting."
Synthesising — "I've tried the Roland bass synth; what I'd really like is a pitch-to-voltage system, like Bob Eastern's one from the States (360 Systems). With the Roland, the sounds are great, but I just don't like the bass. I think that's the main problem, really, that you have to use their guitar. With your own instrument triggering a synth you'd be 100% better off."
Listening — Jaco Pastorius ("until I saw with him his own band at Hammersmith recently"), Pat O'Hearn ("the first person I heard using all those weird harmonics and stuff"), Percy Jones ("a Welshman, I'm proud to say"), Michael Henderson ("totally unconventional — listen to his 'Going Places' album"), Marcus Miller ("for the slapping stuff"), Jan Hammer ("one of my favourite soloists — you tell me there's no guitar there").
Slapping — I use the fingers of my right hand — I don't think you can use plectrum on a fretless, you don't really get that sliding thing properly. But I've had some funny things on sessions, BBC engineers will come up and say 'use a plectrum, you get a nice clean sound'. We went to a Granada TV studio to do a kid's programme called 'Hold Tight', I was playing a lot of slapping stuff and had a real distorted sound coming out of their monitors. The producer was there, but he couldn't touch a thing. So I finally said 'Can't you hear it's distorting?' And the engineer says yeah, but look what you're doing to the bass!
I started by playing slap bass, this was about the time of Louis Johnson and all that, he's incredible. I think everyone that does it uses the same part of the inside of the thumb to hit the strings, but everyone uses their own sort of syncopation between left and right hands — it's a percussive thing, really.
"Some players don't use the fingers to pull after the slap, it's all thumb — Louis Johnson again, he only uses the thumb, whacks fuck out of it. I can't do that, I have to throw finger pulls in to keep me in time, with the first finger for the D string and the second for the G.
"The only trouble I find with slap bass is that everybody's doing it. People should be aware that there are other ways of playing."
Vampires to Royal Blood — Oldest work he's prepared to admit to is a stint "going around Europe with Richard Strange", and Zaine Griff (1980), closely followed by his own Vampire Bats From Lewisham. Apparently the lacquers from an unreleased album of this infamous group still reside in the CBS cutting room's fridge, just to the left of the fruit yoghurt. Lack of business reaction to the group led Bolt to resolve never to work for a record company again, but by Christmans '82 a call from Paul Young's keyboard player, Rev, was enough to change his mind and find him ensconced among the Royalists.
Hardware — 1960 Fender Stratocaster with five-position switch and DiMarzio Fat Strat pickup added in the treble position. Also, Epiphone Coronet, Gretsch Tennessean. Roland 555 Chorus-Echo, Peavey Vintage (1975) 110 watt 2x12 combo.
Six — "I had an old Strat a while ago, a '67, but it was hopeless, sounded like a banjo. Now I'm mainly using a '60 Strat, a bright yellow monster. I've always meant to change the colour since I bought it, but you're loathe to take the body off when it's set up so well. It's not really like a Strat — it sounds more like a Gibson. I don't know why. The pickups are standard apart from the treble which is a DiMarzio Fat Strat. I found out after I'd changed it that it's in fact a direct replacement for an original Strat pickup, so there's no difference apart from being able to get the pickup nearer the strings — Strat's have got that peculiarity that when you start raising the pickup toward the strings you get double harmonics, the magnets pull on the string.
"I'm fairly heavy on the tremolo arm, with three springs on I can actually dip a full octave, I can go down from E to E again. You can throw my current Strat across the room and it stays in tune, whereas the '67 I had you just looked at the tremolo arm and it was right out.
"I used to play an Epiphone Coronet, a solid, which I've still got. You remember Humble Pie? Steve Marriot always used to use one with them. It's like a Gibson Les Paul Junior, one P90 pickup. It's a brilliant guitar — even though it hasn't got a tremolo arm it's my replacement for the Strat at the moment. You can really bend on it, which makes up for the tremolo — almost. It's not very subtle, it's either extremely loud, or off.
"I've also got a Gretsch Tennessean, but it's only really usable in the studio, compressed. It's all Strat on Paul's album. If I was on a desert island I'd take the Strat, that's the one I use all the time."
Vintage v. Heritage — "I use my Peavey Vintage amp, the brown one copying a Fender Tremolux, which I bought in '75 brand new. I've tried to break it, and it's had constant feedback and all that for nearly ten years. I've done nothing to it — it's amazing. But I'm gonna try a new Peavey, the Heritage, in rehearsals. It's 160 watts, but it's 2 x 12, like my Vintage. I've only really got treble, middle, and bass on the Vintage and that's about the size of it. So the Heritage has parametrics, automix and all the rest of it — I'll see how it goes. John McGeoch's lending me his."
Ear input — Hendrix ("obviously"), John McLaughlin ("people bag him with all the other jazz rock players, but he's out there on his own"), Jeff Beck ("great dynamics on those old melodic tunes"), Chris Gallup ("the original guitarist with Gene Vincent's Bluecaps — I really want to play with Gene Vincent, I really dig him, in fact I might go and dig him up").
Real sound — "I don't think I've yet captured my guitar sound on record. It's getting the sound through the speakers. I tend to get put back in the mix, in echo.
If I want echo I'll do it there in the studio. It's got to be an ambient sound, cos the Peavey's great if you mike it in an ambient way, but if you mike it from the front it tends to sound like a bee. The track "Sex" on the album turned out as a sort of dub — I'd like to hear the multitrack of that because there's guitar all the way through and that sound's great, very much like Adrian Belew on 'Remain In Light'."
Switch buzz — "We've done both the Tube and the Switch sessions, and I think we much preferred the Tube for atmosphere — they've got a good team up there, and also they've got three sound stages at the Tube as opposed to the Switch's one. The Switch studio looks big on TV, but there's only about 10 people there. On the second day that we were doing our run-throughs there, they got a lighting rig in and there was this horrible racket through my amp—hum and buzzing.
"In the end the engineers made me take my Strat apart. I said look, this American amp I have has got a transformer in it that'll show up anything like earth loops and that. They insisted it was my guitar, so we had the socket off and the silver paper out, all that. It wasn't until Big Country set their gear up and got the same problem that they traced the fault to the lighting."
Naturally One Two accepts with humility and deference its role in bringing group members closer together. So it was that Bolt and the Swedish Chef came to the realisation that they both considered Miles Davis' 1972 record 'Live Evil' as pretty damned neat. But that was as nothing compared to one exchange. Bolt was going on about the pros and cons of big and small line-ups.
"What I've always wanted to do is form my own three-piece," he speculated vaguely. "You get no aggravation, you can space out on arrangements, and you can overplay. Do what you want, really."
And Chef Pino piped in, "Yeah, I've always had that ambition too." Could there be a Royal baby in the making?
Interview by Tony Bacon
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