A R T I C L E S
a n d I N T E R V I E W S
Disc and Music Echo, 9 December 1972 by Peter Erskine
Steve Upton's Pressing Point
“I find that I have to be very restrictive in what I say in this country in the press media, because I’ve been quoted in the past as saying that the press is a load of bull…”
Steve Upton, Wishbone’s drummer, a thoughtful and sincere personality, is leaning on a leather-topped table in one of MCA’s Baker Street offices talking quietly about subjects ranging from the enigmatic relationship between musicians and the press, Wishbone’s next album and their evolution from their formation in 1970.
Talking to anyone from the band is always a nice experience. As people they’re warm, sincere, articulate and, above all, concerned. – not so much with themselves and their own music, but with the whole scene in general. And yet you don’t become a witness to an embittered diatribe. They key word here is “constructive” and it’s fair to say that this attitude has been one of the things instrumental in their self-made success.
He continues: “…but I did qualify what I said by saying more or less what I’m saying now. The British press is just full of bitchy little lines and trivia, as you say. The American press seems to go into it all a lot deeper; they seem , somehow, to be more objective, but on the other hand I can’t get into something like Rolling Stone because its so involved. I find it so deep that reading one article is like getting into a book, almost. As a musician I can’t be bothered with that. I prefer just to glance through and see what everyone’s doing. But the one good thing is that they use a lot of freelance people, who are into their own little things, so there’s none of the competition you get between papers, and between the other guys in the office. I think this allows them to be more objective about the music, without feeling there’s someone breathing down your neck, or ‘our paper doesn’t represent that sort of attitude to pop, so I’d better not write it.’
It’s a personal opinion, but I think it’s a very good way of doing it, but just to give you an actual example of that ‘bitching’ I was referring to earlier, there was a recent review of our Rainbow gig where I got up and introduced a number and happened to say something about T-Rex and Slade in a way that, to be, was humorous. It was just a jibe – the kind of thing that goes on in the States all the time, but the review said something about me getting up and blowing it with snide comments, which showed that we were obviously getting big-headed, and that the band needed love not hate, and for me to do this was not going to help them. The audience took it the right way, but the paper took it very literally. We can take jokes that are directed towards us – in fact we did in the States. It’s all in good humour. People who write with this kind of malice have obviously got problems inside.”
The States has had a great effect on the band, both personally and professionally – the two are inter-woven anyway. Steve Feels that as people they’ve become looser and more able to get things in perspective, and that this has reflected in their music:
“I think it showed in Argus,” he says. “although, on the last tour, I think we gained more experience and loosened up more on that tour than the other three put together. It was a great tour for us and we did very well. It helped to put things in perspective somehow, because it becomes very difficult when you stay in one place, and you work and you’re involved with all the trivialities we were talking about earlier, and you get out of it and the change is like a rest, you know.”
The band start recording for the next album in Januray, after the English tour finishes. I wondered whether it would be hard for them to follow up the universally acclaimed Argus.
“I don’t think so”, he replies. “we never thought that Argus was an album of the year – you know, you don’t think of things like that. We were pleased with it, but we were also pleased with the first album and Pilgrimage.”
“But we did feel that it was different at the time,” he adds. “It was a hard step for the band to take, but I think we had the confidence to do it, and I think that is the most important thing for any band – being able to follow through with the steps you take forward, because you could go one forward one step and back ten. So I think the next album’ll change a bit further in that direction, though it’s hard to be sure when you haven’t actually got anything laid down yet.”
Argus also heralded the beginnings of a change in Steve’s playing, which he relates to a wider change in the style of playing from the basic thump thump rhythms of the late ‘50s rock-n-rollers to the present day “reversed subtlety” of drummers like Alan White, Billy Conham and Bill Bruford.
“In the Eddie Cochran days”, he says, “the drums were just a percussive instrument, used solely for backing, then I think people began to realise the potential of drums and drummers and they started to come out front (e.g. Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum, Cream and Airforce) and the drum became more of an instrument in its own right, but now its not going back, but laid back, and the drums have acquired a certain charisma. They’ve become integrated on an equal level with the other instruments, they’re no longer so flamboyant. I used to play that way. I used to think ‘well, I’ll fill in that break, and I’ll put in just as much as I can, and it’ll sound great’, but with the advent of large amplification and big halls, you found it just wasn’t coming across.”
“Then suddenly people began to look up to Ringo for his simplicity and directness and you suddenly thought ‘brilliant. What else can you put there?’ People like him, Alan White, and the West Coast drummers like Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon helped bring about a new style.”
“I changed on Argus I think. I do a quarter of what I used to do. We’ve realised the potential of gaps…”