Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Richard Gillespie - Biography


I started playing bass in the mid-60s and it got to the point where occasionally I would bunk off school to go down to a recording studio on Oxford Street called 'New Breed' to see if I could get some casual recording work with some friends, guitarist Paul 'Golly' Allan (Marion & Huw’s best man at their wedding) and drummer Mick Desmarais. Then I joined a band called 'Pure Wings' with some other friends (including Rick Niles) and we were soon offered a contract with legendary manager, Lionel Conway, and a recording contract with Blue Horizon music, an offshoot of Island Records.  

Lionel, who had recently also just signed Elton John, also had other acts to look after, including Cat Stevens, Spooky Tooth and Curved Air, and as it turned out, subsequently Osibisa (who Golly joined) and who were friends of ours.  It was obviously a golden opportunity I could not turn down, so I left school halfway through my A levels to take it up. 'Pure Wings' was an odd band - we had no lead guitarist in an age of lead guitarists. Instead we had a violinist, who was brilliant, and a multi-instrumentalist, who was also very good, and two singers, girl and boy. Our first gig was a double header with Elton John - who was doing his first gig for Lionel. Naturally the entire audience came to hear Elton and left before we came on (it was a week night) - amazingly Elton John opened for us! But when he left, the audience left with him. But Pure Wings music was quite sweet and jazzy and we always seemed to wind up on tours with heavy metal bands, like Free, Uriah Heap and the Pink Fairies. This didn't work out so well - and anyway as a bassist I wanted to be in a heavy metal band - so I quit, selling my rights to the band's name, as it later turned out, to Paul McCartney (although he made all his arrangements through a shell company, and all I got was £25). Although Lars Juber (wings' led guitarist) started coming round to my house for jam sessions later on, I had no idea it was Paul McCartney that had bought me out till much later.)  

At that stage I started a band and worked briefly with Huw on lead guitar. I had known Huw for some years and spent plenty of time jamming with him over the years, but at that stage Huw had been playing with Hawkwind and that was starting to get serious for him. My band broke up when we failed to get a recording deal. At that point I had spent a year and a half messing around and I decided it wasn't really for me. So I went back to school to finish up my A levels (I only had 9 months to pass them all though). As is typical of me, the first thing I did when I got to my new school was start another band, and who should show up on the second day of auditions but a young Tony Blair, with his guitar in a black plastic bag. By virtue of the fact that he had a van he got a job as singer and he went round telling friends it was his band and called it 'Ugly Rumours'. Neither Jeff Budge, the lead guitarist (himself over from New York but studying in London), nor I were particularly keen on the name, but we liked the young Tony well enough. He was very young and had just failed his Oxford entrance exam. He went back at the end of the year and took it again, this time passing, and that was the end of his music career. But not mine. Ugly Rumours did a few gigs around town, all arranged by Tony who had a real talent for management.  

During and after my college years I formed various bands and gigged around, at one stage doing some demo tracks, and spent a lot of time jamming with Huw at Nigel Frieda's house (by coincidence Huw went to school with Nigel and his two brothers Paul & John) - Nigel Frieda went on to start Matrix Studios, essentially by moving that 'permanent' jam session into the west end and miking it up. But it wasn’t till I got to New York in 1981 that I had any real success. There I got back together with Jeff Budge and we formed a band called 'Transformers' which played around New York in 1981 and 1982 - including CBGB's and RT Firefly's. It was a great band. I have no doubt that had we been in London rather than New York we would have broken through - but at that time in New York, the music scene was going through a strange phase - ironically, they weren't into heavy metal there at all then - the band that probably would have done best there at that time was Pure Wings. Transformers' biggest claim to fame was that Mel Brooks came to see us one time - but only because his daughter was playing in the band that came on after. We put out a single ('Take a Vacation') and things were going quite well until lead singer Eamon Bowles had a huge bust-up with Jeff - and the band just exploded. Jeff was heart-broken. So was I, but my life was taking new directions.  

Scroll forward to London in 2005 and Huw is living round the corner. It really was only a question of time before we got back together. We'd waited so long - or at least I had waited so long! I'm just blown away that I finally got my chance to work with Huw, and very proud of the result, although of course, it is 100% Huw (and Marion). All the same, it was my date with destiny and has been worth the wait.

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