Fairport Convention musician
When I told my school teacher I was going to be a professional musician, he laughed. But I always had my mind set on it.
My earliest memory of music is my father playing the accordion and singing hymns as he and my mother cycled their tandem, with me in a sidecar, from Birmingham to Wales for our summer camping holiday. My parents were very religious. My father was a methodist lay preacher.
I began playing in Yardley Grammar in Birmingham, in the school band. I persuaded my working class parents to splash out on my very own guitar. Then, like most of my peers, I taught myself to play using Bert Weedon’s book ‘Play in a Day’. After the first three weeks I was just about able to tune the guitar.
With my two O Levels, in art and English, I started out working in an insurance office in Birmingham on 28 pounds 12 shillings a month. I used my first paycheque to buy a better guitar. My main job was opening the post, which left me plenty of free time to use their phone to secure gigs for our new band.
The British folkrock music scene was exploding - the pub circuit was huge, every pub had a music night - and I got my big break soon after, joining Fairport Convention in 1969, when I changed from guitar to bass. I also played bass with Jethro Tull. It was a no brainer to leave my insurance job. The irony was that they’d no longer insure me in my new career.
I was 10 years younger than every one else, and very innocent. They taught me how to drink and as we toured the world, that innocence soon left me. After 50 years, the highlights are still the nights in the most amazing concert halls - like Carnegie Hall, The Albert Hall, Festival Hall…
My biggest challenge was going through a divorce with my ex-wife Christine. We’d been together 38 years and ran a local music festival together. I didn’t know how I was going to survive the split and got heavily into drink and drugs along the way. I’d become aggressive when I drank and eventually I had some counselling which helped. It’s all in my book Off The Pegg, along with all the stories I wanted to share about the music scene of the sixties.
My biggest failure is not being able to entertain on my own. I’m not a natural performer.
I only have confidence when I’m playing with other people, either on my bass, guitar or mandolin. There’s strength in numbers. I can’t stand in front of an audience and do it on my own because I still get very nervous.
If I could change one thing in our society I’d change the UK government. Brexit is the most idiotic thing they’ve done. If you look at it just from the industry I work in, every festival is down by 25% at least this year. The feelgood factor has gone.
I’m not sure if there’s an afterlife. I can’t say I believe in one. I no longer go to church but I respect people who do so. I live between Banbury and Brittany with my partner Ellen.
Money is no longer a big issue. I’m doing what I want to do and never have to worry if I haven’t got any gigs lined up. My son Matthew plays bass and my daughter Stephanie worked in the music business for a while.
My idea of misery is working in a factory. In part, I took up music to avoid that ever happening.
I’m 71 now. I’m pretty fit. I had my hip replaced last year. To keep in shape, I go for walks on the beach and I swim a lot. We have a swim spa in the back garden in Brittany.
I try not to drink more than one bottle of red wine a day. So far life has taught me not to take it all too seriously.