Stage of Fools
All songs Terry Stamp except *Terry Stamp & Jim Avery
Tony Newman - Drums
Alan Spenner - Bass
Ollie Halsall - Lead Guitar
Mike Moran - Piano
Jim Avery - Bass
Herbie Flowers - Bass
Produced by Roger Cook
Engineer at Morgan - Greg Jackson
Engineer at A.I.R. - John Middleton
Recorded at Morgan Studios
except the tracks Dinah Low & Fatsticks recorded at A.I.R. Studios.
Mastering at Trident Studios - Ray Staff
Art Direction - Fabio Nicoli
Design - Nick Marshall
Photography - Gered Mankowitz
THE MAKING OF FATSTICKS
Like with most things of its nature, the “Fatsticks” album was in the works long before it was recorded or released in 1975. Of course, if it was released anytime before or after that date it would probably not have been called “Fatsticks”.
When the Wimbledon Palais closed in 1967, my ‘steady little number’ playing bass with the resident Mike Rabin Band there (1962 thru 1967) had gone out the window. Now, for some strange reason I took to writing songs at that date - just basically writing what I liked. No direction, no reason. A basic trait that I still have today. At that time I lived in Twickenham and found a local ‘studio’ -a guy with two stolen Ferrograph tape recorders in his front room and a closet which served as the ‘control room’, which also held an acetate cutting machine. The first ‘demo’ I recorded there was a piece called ‘Tobacco Ash Sunday’.
Now, this guy also worked for EMI as a recording tape salesman and knew an American publishing company in Berkeley Square, London, called Schroeder Music, to whom he played the acetate of ‘Tobacco Ash Sunday’. On hearing the demo, the manager there, John Fenton, signed me to a five-year publishing contract to Schroeder Music - a move he was to later regret as he was the central figure in conceiving a band called “Third World War” that I was heavily involved in. But that is another story!
The contract with Schroeder kinda kept me amused. Fenton had instigated a songwriters workshop there, the idea being for all the songwriters to bring in their songwriting efforts once a week for review of their peers. The funny thing was, I was the only one bringing in songs. What Schroeder Music was really after were ‘hits’ for the major recording artists of the time. Aaron Schroeder, who owned the company, had written hits for Elvis Presley and I guess he was a ‘tin pan alley’ kind of guy. But things were changing. The singer songwriter thing was getting into full swing. The smart and hip publishers, and there were not too many of them, were on the lookout for the Bolans and Bowies of this world. The song ‘Tobacco Ash Sunday’ was recorded by a band called ‘Harsh Reality’, a kinda heavy organ based band with a good singer. Incidentally, the song ‘Salvation Band’ (on the Fatsticks album) was also written around this time, ‘68-ish, if I recall correctly.
Around 1968, John Fenton quit working for Schroeder Music and was replaced by a younger guy. I cannot remember his name but I recall him telling me he knew Roger Cook (future “Fatsticks” producer and singer in the band “Blue Mink”). I think they both went to the same school together in Bristol, or something along those lines. Anyway, this guy plays a song wrote called ‘All the Best Songs and Marches’ which lit Roger Cook’s fuse. Roger became interested in my Schroeder songs and sometime around 1970 started recording them with a girl singer called Helen Shapell, having secured an album deal with Pye Records. I was invited up to one of the recording sessions and was amazed at how the songs sounded, full orchestra, etc, the whole works. My primitive Twickenham demo’s were now arranged and transformed into symphonic beauty.
At that time I was still driving trucks to make ends meet and was not, of course, the cleanest of individuals. When the musicians in the studio were asked if they wanted to meet the songwriter a few of them came out to see me and were openly shocked at my appearance. One of them asking “How could someone like you, write something like that?” (food for thought on that one). But that recurring theme came up again and I realized that playing an instrument brilliantly was one thing and writing brilliant songs was another. I do not think that Pye Records ever released the Helen Shapell album (a shame because it was just excellent and sung very well), but at that point I think Roger Cook got the idea of he and I doing an album together sometime in the future. For the next few years I was immersed in a band called “Third World War”, a ‘pro’ situation, where Jim Avery and myself were on the payroll to write songs and pull together a live band but, as I said before, that is another story.
The “Third World War” came and went (1970 thru 1972), I went back to driving a truck and Jim and I were split up songwriting-wise. I had kept in touch with Roger Cook and he and I kicked around the possibility of doing an album. The only problem was that I had signed a management contract with John Fenton at the start of the Third World War days. But looking at the contract we realised that unless Fenton renewed it for another five years, an option he had, I would be free of it and as luck would have it, Fenton forgot to renew the contract which expired in 1974, releasing myself and Jim Avery from any contractual obligations to him. Roger Cook needed demos to pitch to record companies and brought me into Morgan Studios, North London at the end of a “Blue Mink” session, the idea being to knock some demos out, but the band split, although we did record ‘Greenwood Blues’ and a few other pieces. A little later on I recorded the song ‘Fatsticks’ on a Phillips cassette recorder I had at home, and that demo landed a two album recording deal with A&M Records in London.
During the summer of 1974, we (wife and son) went to the USA to visit my sister. At that time she lived in Milwaukee and we stayed there until Roger Cook called to say he had set up recording time at Morgan Studios to record the “Fatsticks” album (around October 1974). I picked up a late fifties Gibson Melody Maker guitar and a battery operated Pignose Amplifier from a pawn shop in Milwaukee for $100 (try doing that today) and we flew back to London to start rehearsals on the “Fatsticks” songs. I told Roger Cook that I wanted Jim Avery playing bass and Roger pulled in Tony Newman (drums) who did session work for him. Incidentally, I had watched Newman when he was with the band “Sounds Incorporated” when they played at the Wimbledon Palais during my bass playing residency days there. Tony would take a great drum solo while the rest of the band went for a drink, so I knew he could play drums.
For a guitar player, Roger Cook approached Steve Marriot, but he was busy and Marriot suggested Ollie Halsall, who I think at that time had been working with Kevin Ayers. The four of us (myself, Jim Avery, Ollie and Newman) got together at a hall behind a pub somewhere in West Drayton, London. I think Herbie Flowers lived in that area at that time and maybe he knew of it and used it. When Jim and I walked in Newman was setting up his drums. Ollie had his white Gibson SG on and was looking at us but at the same time kinda zoned out into some progression he was fingering up and down his fretboard - that's the picture of Ollie I have in my head, even to this day.
Ollie kinda reminded me of a grammar school boy and he was about to embark in a new musical direction in his life. I do not think he had really worked with the likes of myself and Jim Avery. Our musical abilities were limited to basic West London ‘Pub Rock’ but as I mentioned earlier our songwriting was another story. Ollie lapped up the songs. There were no verbal formalities it was “Let’s get going!”. My thinking about Ollie was that he could play good and he’d do. Now, one thing here that I would like to make clear is that during the week the four of us spent rehearsing together, Jim Avery and myself were happy about the way we rehearsed the songs, all of them the way we envisioned them. The “Fatsticks” songs that were recorded were not the same ones we rehearsed for the most part.
During those rehearsals the songs were all worked over as straight ahead, tough and raw guitar based rockers, which, for myself and Jim, was an extension of the work we had done together in the “Third World War”. Nothing about Ollie’s guitar playing stood out at me during those rehearsals, in fact I was wishing we had Mick Leiber on guitar (“Third World War” guitarist), but I think at that time Mick was working with Tony Ashton or Rod Stewart. We finished the rehearsal week without any ‘problems’ as I recall. Roger Cook showed up a few times and seemed happy with the direction the “Fatsticks” songs were taking.
The next week the four of us (myself, Jim, Ollie and Newman) with Roger Cook producing, went into Morgan Recording Studios, North London to begin recording. The recording sessions were booked from late afternoon until late evening. I cannot remember being there all night, as recording the basic “Fatsticks” tracks went off without any problem. However, on the Monday during studio setup Ollie was running his usual ‘scales’ on his guitar when Roger Cook’s voice came down the studio intercom telling Ollie about his guitar ‘sound’'. Now that threw a flag up to me and Jim Avery.
Ollie was then told to “come up stairs” and listen to some ‘guitar sound’. I think they (Cook and the engineer) played Ollie some song from a band called “Montrose”, which must have burned Ollie up, but he showed no sign of being upset, thinking about it now. Ollie was so far above us all musically that he had probably run into situations like that before, kinda like “Oh, by the way, please come down into the musical farmyard that the rest of us dare to” grovel in.
Ollie made a few adjustments to his amplifier and all seemed well. Now, at this point, all I can do is hope that I have the following details reasonably correct. Jim Avery, Roger Cook and Tony Newman’s accounts may differ from mine, or I simply would have not been aware of certain things, but to the best of my memory it went like this:
On that Monday we recorded “Motorhead”. We did a few takes, laid the basic track and I overdubbed the vocal. During the recording sessions there were plenty of ‘goods’ to make sure we were ‘feeling no pain’ (always a major mistake during the recording of basic tracks). The next song we got into was “Itchy Feet” and Ollie was ‘lit’. We ran thru the song, but Jim would screw up or Newman (at the beginning to “Itchy Feet” you can hear Newman saying “I blew that”. Then Ollie tore into the intro and we ripped thru the song good, myself playing ‘chopper guitar’ and singing a guide vocal. “Itchy Feet” went onto the “Fatsticks” album that way. If you listen to the vocal you can hear me saying “hook”, “bridge” or whatever.
Jim Avery told me recently that just after we recorded the song he heard someone in the control room say that it was “too heavy for A&M Records”, so I guess there was someone from A&M throwing in some comment that “Itchy Feet” would not go on the “Fatsticks” album and that’s why the guide vocal remained. It was initially viewed as a throwaway, but I guess it was chewed over at a later date and “Itchy Feet” was included on the album as a final track. A friend in New York recently said it should have been the lead-in track, and he is right. Incidentally my ‘chopper guitar’ was removed from the final mix of “Motorhead” and “Itchy Feet”, although you can hear it (barely) on “Itchy Feet” due to leakage thru the guide vocal microphone.
It was when Ollie put his final solo on “Itchy Feet” that it actually hit me how good he was. I had just not heard a guitar solo like the one he played, throwing in some progressive scales between the two end solos. It is Ollie saying “Yeah, yeah, one more” and Roger Cook saying “a tiny bit up” thru the studio intercom. As I said earlier, I think at that point Ollie moved into an arena he had not quite been in before and I feel he knew that as well. I remember driving home stunned about Ollie’s solo that night and thinking ‘all was well’ for once, but for me it was short lived, Tuesday was looming its ugly ‘music biz’ head.
When I arrived at Morgan Studios on Tuesday afternoon I was told by Roger Cook that Jim Avery (bass) was out and Herbie Flowers was coming to replace him. Right there I knew that Roger Cook must have got some kind of pressure to move the remaining “Fatsticks” album songs to somewhere away from how we had rehearsed them. My ‘chopper guitar’ playing was also out (not regarded as musical, you know). Herbie came in and we recorded “Stage of Fools” fairly quickly. I recall being impressed with Herbie, he holds that track together with simple bass playing with excellent timing.
Ollie put the guitar solo on in the control room, plugged directly into the board. If you listen, there is a part where he seems to lose it and then picks it up to finish. Now I watched Ollie’s hands good when he was recording that solo and so did a lot of other people in the control room, and I swear he did lose and pick it up again. But you know what? I think he was screwing with us. He was thinking “let’s have some fun with the farmyard grovellers”.
We moved on. Allan Spenner came in on bass, replacing some of Jim Avery’s bass lines. I remember Roger Cook singing Spenner the bass riff in Honky Honda to overdub on and Ollie getting a buzz out of how the song takes that semi-tone climb back to its root chord. Close by to Morgan Studios I think there must have been a carpet warehouse. Anyway (I think it was the Thursday), Roger Cook came into the studio with one of them cardboard tubes that run down the centre of a roll of new carpet. It must have been about twelve feet long and four or five inches in diameter. Using the Pignose Amp I brought back from the States at one end and placing a microphone at the other, Ollie went to work on the ‘airplane’ opening for “Black Bomber”, with the help of the tremolo bar on his guitar. Ollie should get credit for the riff in that song, also the riff in the song “Kid” - I did not write them, as I mentioned earlier I had originally written most of the “Fatsticks” songs as straight-ahead rockers.
I would like to mention here that the ‘goods’ that I referred to earlier were beginning to take their toll on Ollie and Newman, as the week progressed. It seemed to me that Ollie, in the space of two weeks, had gone from a quiet musician to a full out raving rock and roller. On the last evening at Morgan, Ollie and Newman ripped each other’s clothes off and then into shreds - so maybe he always was, I do not know. But it got on my nerves and I was happy to get away from them all and go back to driving a truck, which I did.
Again I would like to add that Ollie had this great talent, but seemed to put the crazy and being wasted stuff in front of it, that bothered me too. The Indians here have a saying, it goes something like “Me, my own worst enemy”, but then, I am no better, just a lot less talented musician-wise than Ollie.
Sometime later Roger Cook contacted me with regard to a ‘pop single’ to go with the “Fatsticks” album and he set myself and Jim Avery up in a top floor office of what I believe were offices used by Sandie Shaw (a lovely lady) to write a ‘pop hit’. Jim and myself (who, laughing at the ‘going pop’ thing, really did not have a ‘pop’ bone in our fist-fighting bodies) came up with the song “Dinah Low”. Roger Cook liked the song and set up studio time at Air London, at that time located in a top floor building at Oxford Circus.
For that session Ollie and Newman were called, now I cannot remember who played bass, maybe Spenner. The Chanter Sisters showed up for the background ‘gospel’ singing. Ollie was about an hour late for the start of the session. When he did show, I saw his vulnerability: it was in his eyes. Gone was the raving rock and roller at the end of the Morgan sessions and here was the man who wrote that poem (located at his web page) about the ‘drunken moth’. That was Ollie. When I read that a few years back, it tore me up.
I played Ollie the chords to Dinah Low. I showed him the root chords - A to G to D back to A - and those root chords give a different tilt to the song than the ones Ollie came up with. Instantly he played his A-chord at the fifth fret then dropped down a tone for the G-chord, and then to the D-chord, giving the chord sequence a descending feel. Again I looked at his chord fingering and could not figure out exactly what he was playing. It was an A chord, according to Ollie, but thinking about it, I never saw him play a root chord, he always had all them fingers at work. He had a whole fretboard to play with and he was going to use it all. Same when he was playing a song, he never quits, just keeps going, he’s letting you know, “Oh, Ollie played on this one”.
After “Dinah Low” was recorded, I then recorded the album title song, “Fatsticks”. Just me and a cheap acoustic 12 string guitar strung as a six. Roger Cook put a piano piece on the end of the song and with that, it was the end of my ‘career’ in the music business.
A short time later I was on a plane back to the States with my wife and son, this time for good. I never saw Ollie again. A few years back, a friend in Norway sent me copies of the “Fatsticks” songs that the band “Boxer” (that Ollie and Newman were in) covered - “Dinah Low” and “Town Drunk” - great versions too. I also recall reading somewhere that when Boxer folded, their manager held onto Ollie’s guitar to help pay off the band’s debts. Again that tore me up. Ollie without a decent guitar - a guy who would sleep with his guitar! If I had known that at the time, I swear to God I would have got a decent guitar to him. Of course, it’s too late now, the ‘drunken moth’ has flown on.
Terry Stamp, Los Angeles, February, 2004
Roger Cook went on to songwriting success in Nashville and is at www.rogercook.com
Tony Newman is also living and drumming in Nashville (according to RogerCook)
I think the “Fatsticks” album was released around July of 1975, by that time I had been living in Massachusetts for a month or so. I recall having two “Fatsticks” albums - I guess A&M Records mailed them to me - one of which I sent to my sister in St. Louis and the other I gave to a hippy I worked with in the polishing department of a coffin factory that we both ‘toiled’ in (great way to lose weight).By July of 1976 we (myself, wife and son) had drove west and settled in Los Angeles (a few miles from the head office of A&M Records on La Brea).
I found a job in Water and Sanitation (new hires start at the sanitation end - seniority you know!). In 1981 I got a job working for Hughes Space and Communication Company and in 1985 began work on a satellite for the UK called BSB at the time, now I think it is called SKY. Funny old world. Wouldn’t that be a strange one if SKY beamed down “Fatsticks” on the UK someday, with the original four of us banging and howling away on “Motorhead” and “Itchy Feet”.
One thing I did pick up recently while talking with Roger Cook, was that “Fatsticks” was released in limited form (only in the UK, whatever that really means), hence the shortage of “Fatsticks” record albums coming up at eBay or gemm.com. On the other hand, “Third World War” albums have made the transition from vinyl to CD and have seemingly been re-released in one form or the other since they were recorded in 1970 and 1972. Yer just have to wonder where the money goes, it certainly never dribbled down to Jim Avery or myself!
Good Luck to yer!
You can find out more about Ollie Halsall by clicking on this link