Ollie Halsall is the most complete antithesis of the average rock 'n' roll guitar hero that you could possibly imagine. It's difficult to think of anyone further away from the whole "Look at me I'm wonderful, fifteen fingers on one hand fantasy flashers routine", or the "too wasted to play, man. Just prop me against the nearest amp, and give me a swift kick in the head when it's time for my solo," school of rock guitarists. Halsall is merely one of the premier guitarists of the moment, that's all. Nothing more.
Should anyone require further proof of the man's devastating ability they are advised to check out his solo on "Didn't Feel Lonely Till I Thought of You," which is, by the way, track three side one of the recent Kevin Ayers album "Confessions Of Dr Dream." And then there's the live album, "June 1, 1974," which was recorded at the Ayers/Cale/Nico/Eno concert at the Rainbow. Ollie is now a fully paid-up member of the current Ayers touring ensemble, The Soporifics.
So, Ollie, how'd you get the gig? "Well, I was doing a session up at Island studios and Kevin came in and said that he wanted a guitar solo for one of his tunes. So I went in and played the solo, and it was love at first sight. And we've continued from there. "But I've known Kevin from many moons ago. From the Roundhouse things. Me and the Patto band did some gigs with him there. I've always liked, and had a nice feeling for the music. It was always changing. I never really know what Kevin was into. I never realised he was into guitar solos."
Before delving too deeply into the present association, perhaps we could just flash back briefly to Ollie's last band, Tempest, in which he played with Jon Hiseman. It must have been quite a change joining Ayers after that band. "Sure, it was. It was very refreshing. I was immediately attracted to this in a very big way. This was very easy, really. But you didn't find yourself doing what came naturally. After all, when you get in a situation where there's a guy out there singing, and you don't have to do any writing or singing, or performing, all you have to do is stand there and take the solos and play. "And that's opened me out a lot more. You would think that with the trio situation we had with Tempest, that it would be a lot freer. But it was so much more restricted." Was his present situation a reaction to the overbearing discipline and precision of the previous band?
"When I joined Tempest I was surprised by the amount of Heavy Metal material that they were doing, I was very surprised because I thought they were going to be into something very different from that. "I tried to steer them away from that, because I was writing the material. I wanted them to do more songs, and that. But I don't think they really wanted to be drawn in that direction. "I was always more interested in singing and songs, and writing, than instrumental things, but Jon Hiseman always wanted an instrumental based band. I'm an instrumentalist. I can cope with that. But I always thought that Jon Hiseman was using me as his passport to some sort of intangible commercial utopia that he'd never reached. And he thought he was going to reach it through me. And I felt this, you know . . . But I don't want to go into all that."
Halsall doesn't sound in any way bitter about his time with Tempest, but the more he talks the more obvious it becomes that he seems to have really found a compatible band. You don't even have to ask any questions. Just point him in the right direction, press the start button, and he'll talk. He's already established a good working relationship with long-time Ayers stalwart Archie Leggatt, who accompanied Ollie to this interview. The two are constantly throwing ideas off each other at the moment and if Kevin decides that he's ready to spilt to the South of France again then the Soporifics could emerge as a more than interesting band in their own right. But for the moment Ollie's enthusiasm is centred around Ayers.
"Kevin's music and Kevin and Archle and all these other people who have been involved . . . it's been beautiful, Kevin really is a central figure. He does the writing; obviously, and he's the singer. But everybody that surrounds him is very strong Much stronger than he is musically. "The whole Kevin Ayers thing isn't entirely new, because I was in Patto, and that was a similar thing really, but on a totally different level. But this is so refreshing. I could really live with this forever."
How had Ollie enjoyed the Rainbow concert, which was the first gig he'd played with the band, as well as with such luminaries as John Cale and 'Nico? " We were all a little uptight. Kevin's set was looser than the first set we did Everybody came off quite depressed because it was so tight. But as it turned out it was good for that reason. "The whole thing was so beautiful because there were all these different people and we could spend a day talking about each individual. They are all so powerful. I've been working with all these people like Nico and Cale, and I've just been taking them on the face of it. "Like 'This is Nico,' 'Hello how do you do?' or This is John Cale' . . . and there's this mad Welshman. You take them as they stand. "But the other night I got the opportunity to catch up on all the Velvet Underground albums that I'd never heard before, and Cales' "Paris 1919." And they're amazlng. And I'll probably have changed by the time the next gig comes around because I've gathered so much respect for them through that music." Ollie wasn't involved with the recording of the recent Cale album, completed about a month ago at Island, but there are some plans for him to take part in the projected Velvet's reunion.
"I'll have to put on my makeup and do a Lou Reed . . . but I can't see the Velvet's getting together again really, because listening to the albums it's Reed that comes over as the central force . . ." And we all know that Lou's none too keen on the idea of reforming the band. Or do we? Since he rewrote his own past with "Rock 'n' Roll Animal," there's always a slight chance. Cale is somebody that Ollie would really like to work with, out of pure. admiration for his work.
"I'm very humble at the moment, but I really hope that John Cale asks me to do some work with him, just because I really dig his music, and I hope he likes mine, and I think we could work together nicely. But whether he, will is another thing." Halsall did include this message, confided to the tape: "John if you're listening to this I sincerely hope that you can get it together and stop f****** about. You know he's talking about doing ,a single of 'Heartbreak Hotel. Isn't that really beautiful?
Besides his tenuous involvement with the various members of the old Velvets, Halsall is also working on his own songs, and an extremely strange story he hopes to develop about .some sort of experience transmitted entirely through. nods and winks. Weirder and weirder. There's so much free time, what with Kevin only working a few times a week, that he can get involved in so many other things. He's working on the soundtrack for the new Monty Python movie. And there might be some gigs with Scaffold coming up. But it's with Archie Leggatt and Rabbit, also with The Soporifics, that his main attention is focussed. "I hope we can keep Rabbit. I think we can. And if he says that he's going, I'll break his legs, man!
"And Archie and I, although we've only known each other about a month, there's definitely something there. ' "This type of thing may never conquer the world. It might never take over, but the vibes that come from what we're doing are very concentrated. And I think we appeal to quite a wide audience, so who knows . . ."
13 July 1974