A R T I C L E S
a n d I N T E R V I E W S
Danny Willson Interview, 2008
At what age did you begin playing guitar?
"I must have been around six or seven years old, I think. My parents gave my brother Rick and I plastic guitars with the Fab Four’s faces etched on the front. They had 4 nylon strings and would probably be worth a fortune now. I wonder where they are? Anyway, we kind of taught ourselves to play a few simple chords & tunes, mainly by listening to Pick of the Pops (remember Alan Freeman?) which we’d tape every Sunday on my Dad’s reel-to-reel. There was also Cliff’s Summer Holiday album and some Shadows stuff to point us in the right direction. Sometimes Rick, who was and still is, a little younger than me, would be relegated to playing drums on our Mum’s shopping bags with my Dad’s Watney’s Party Seven beer can as a floor tom and a metal tray as a cymbal! Inevitably this would mean my little toy guitar was barely audible above the clattering and clanging of the bags and cans so I soon received an upgrade…..a 6-string acoustic made of wood! Hurrah!"
What musical training did you have?
"The radio....and brotherly and parental encouragement!"
"Cliff and the Shadows, the Beatles, and other 60’s pop and early 70’s chart stuff. Then one morning in my early teens I woke up with long hair and found I was suddenly into Black Sabbath, Led Zep, Deep Purple, Jeff Beck, Budgie, Genesis, Free, Yes and....Wishbone Ash! Later on I got into Steely Dan, 10cc, It Bites, Jellyfish, XTC (especially the more recent stuff), Crosby, Stills, etc. Of all these though, the biggest influences on my playing style would probably be the Wishbone boys along with Page, Beck & the various Steely Dan guitarists."
Can you give a rundown of your career to date, from your early playing days through to more recent activities.
"Phew! Ok here goes.... After acquiring my first real guitar it was only a matter of time before my bro’ Rick and I started to perform outside the living room. These first gigs would be at family gatherings, with Rick playing the real drumkit he’d had for Christmas. This was a major breakthrough as previously our rehearsals often had to be abandoned due to our Dad pouring a drink from the 'floor tom', or Mum grabbing her shopping bag to nip to the Co-op, leaving Rick snaredrum-less! Then came another milestone. Like Dylan before me I 'turned electric' after being bought my first electric guitar, a Zenta! And a little WEM amp. Soon after, Rick decided he didn’t wanna sit at the back any more, so our parents got him an electric guitar too. So now we needed a drummer……and as luck would have it we had a mate, Glenn, who lived next door. He couldn’t play the drums yet but he was local and his Dad said he would manage us and drive the van! Presto!! The Mycrons were born. Leicester’s youngest pop group, aged 12, 13, and 14 according to our local paper, which printed a picture of us in matching tank-tops! For the next couple of years we played countless gigs, even adding a bass player later on. Then, following a name change to Mirage, we added a bona-fide lead singer, Big Al, and duly applied to go on New Faces. Alas we were cruelly rejected otherwise I would probably be typing this in a cliff-top mansion in Hawaii or some other celeb-infested idyll. Winning the £500 first prize in a local talent contest was Mirage’s finest hour, and this was achieved despite some hideous stage clothes made by Showaddywaddy’s tailor and Rick falling from a scaffold earlier that day! The music was good though, all twin guitars and 4-part harmonies…….."
"It was during the Mirage years that I left school armed with a few O-Levels and landed a nice cushy job in an office. However, eighteen months later came the opportunity I’d been waiting for - the chance to turn 'pro'. Rick, Big Al and I were approached by a well-known Leicester band called Kipper with a view to forming a six-piece. Kipper had been pro for many years with a full diary and gigs all over the country. And a great bunch of lads too! Bye bye office, hello Bedford van! And straight off to Guernsey for a month where Kipper were almost superstars! We were playing a real mix of stuff, ranging from Yes to Boston to 10cc to originals. And we carried a real Hammond organ without any roadies! Bands were populated by real men in those days! Following the departure of keyboardist Little Al and later Big Al, we changed our name to Brooklyn and promptly landed a small record deal. Now a four-piece we toured constantly in our own converted 52-seater coach and amassed a pretty sizeable following, releasing an album and two singles in 1980 which sunk without trace. Never mind, they were fun times indeed. And we sometimes played Jailbait as an encore! And a young man named Keith Buck used to come and watch us!"
"Then came marriage, kids, mortgage, proper job, etc. Rick meanwhile formed Diesel Park West with some other Leicester natives. Great band. Check them out, they should have been HUGE. I, on the other hand, after doing a few summer season gigs, settled into a semi-pro lifestyle, playing the local pubs with my mates Rob and Norris as The Chase. There were some unbelievably crazy people turning up to our gigs in those days and we never knew what would happen next. One memorable night we found our gear covered with raw meat, complete with butcher’s price tags attached! We had a good ten years of this tomfoolery and we still occasionally get together for the odd gig."
"Fast forward to 1995 and, out of the blue, I get the chance to turn pro again. This time its an offer to join Leicester’s most successful pop-rockers Showaddywaddy! And here we are thirteen years later, still doing it. Surely one of the longest-running bands ever, the first of 23 hits was in 1974 and the band has worked non-stop ever since! Still five original members too. Not bad eh? Being in Showaddywaddy has been fab, many incredible gigs ranging from an audience of 25 soldiers at a radar station canteen in the Falklands (we stormed ‘em and had a real session afterwards!) to 35,000 people at Hamburg FC stadium. The icing on the cake though has to be this year’s Sun Album project, where we got to record a bunch of songs from the early days of the Sun Records label, and visited the famous studio in Memphis, along with Graceland. We stayed at the Heartbreak Hotel. On Lonely Street. Really!!! The CD is now in the shops (plug, plug), so go buy it. There’s some not-too-bad guitar playing on there y’know! And blow me, if all that wasn’t exciting enough, I’m now playing all those Ash songs I’ve loved since I had long hair!! Now then, where did I put me Flying V?!"
How aware were you of Wishbone's music prior to joining MTWA?
"Well……..I scrawled the name on my school exercise books, hung theWishbone Four poster on my bedroom wall, learnt loads of the songs, copied all the solos as best I could, went to a gig at De Montfort Hall, played Jailbait live for a couple of years, bought a cap, bought an Ibanez Flying V (still got it!), and an Orange amp (wish I still had it!). Then, after moving to the USA, I waded through a swamp with my shirt off and made a spear out of a branch....pretty aware I would say!!"
You already have several shows with MTWA under your belt. Any thoughts on those shows?
"Yeah, its ALL been great! Material….great! Audience reaction….great! Shows….great! Martin, Ray, Rob…..great! Locking myself away for a week prior to the first show…..erm....grrrrrrreat!!!! First night nerves…..not too bad actually as the audience were great, the lads were great, the material was great etc... Fave show so far? Cambridge Rock Fest. It was great! Ok, no more greats! Seriously, the lads are very easy to play with, superb musicians and easy-going chaps. And, importantly, we have a good laff! Ha! And the audiences and venues are extremely warm and friendly to us which makes it an all-round pleasure. And Mick the soundman is great (oops) too!"
We understand you have added some guitar/vocal parts to the Argus re-recording. How does it feel to be asked to contribute to a new version of one of the all time classic rock albums?
"It’s a fantastic feeling and a real honour to be asked to play and sing on those songs. Who would have thought, when I was learning this stuff all those years ago, that I would be given the opportunity many years later to actually record these classic songs? And with the main man MT to boot! It’s a bit mind blowing really. What did I contribute?"
Can you tell us what you have contributed to the album?
"Hmmm, well I had one whirlwind day in the studio and recorded all sorts of bits and pieces, harmonies etc. It all went by so fast it’s a bit of a blur. Generally, I think my bits will go into the pot along with Keith’s previously recorded bits, leaving Martin with the task of sorting out which bits to use."
Do you have any other current musical projects?
"I don’t know if you’d call them projects but lately I’ve been getting quite a few calls to dep with other bands. Usually a guitarist or keyboard player has to go off and get married or needs to work late or something. That type of thing. I enjoy it too cos its always good to be thrown in at the deep end with new musos, and songs you may have to busk along to. Keeps one on one’s toes! I also still play fairly regularly with my mates in a trio at the local pubs doing our fave covers. Much fun to be had there too! When time allows I like to fire up the PC and do some recording. Got a lot of riffs in storage and a few songs, though I’m definitely no Macca!"
What guitars/amplification/effects will you be using with MTWA?
"My main guitar for the past twenty-odd years has been my 1978 Strat, and although I’ve dabbled with a good few others I always seem to come back to it. It just seems to fit my curves (!) better than anything else, and the Strat’s controls are so perfectly placed, especially the volume knob which falls right under the pinky for violining & swells. Good work, Leo. Having said that, about five years ago I fell in love with the Telecaster and earlier this year I started having an affair with a Gibson ES335. So now I’m really confused. It must be a mid-life-guitar-crisis! So to answer the question….Strat mainly. 335 occasionally (maybe)…….Tele…….I dunno! As for amps, I’m currently using my Fender DeVille. Still searching for the 'perfect amp' though. My old Marshall combo is currently back at the factory being repaired so I’m looking forward to giving it a blast at a gig sometime. It used to sound great. Effects……Crybaby, Blackstar HT Dual (same as Ray), Boss Blues Driver, Boss analogue delay, Boss Digital delay. Might stick a chorus in there, and different overdrive pedals at some point. And I’m trying to pluck up the courage to ask Ray if I can borrow his 'Fabulously Talented Guitarist' pedal. I need it more than him!"