The Pa Amb Oli Band was now becoming the North Coast’s house band, playing in the villages around Deià. We had no drummer but many guitarists had been willing to sit in with us on drums, whenever we could borrow a kit. Not only Pedro and Jerry of the Sex Beatles, but for several gigs we could boast Joan Bibiloni on drums, then beginning a successful solo career as one of Spain’s top progressive guitarists and producers.
I had known Joan from the Guitar Centre. He and Pepe Milan – Milan & Bibiloni as they were known professionally – were the Spanish Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. From their base in Deià they had toured the country warming up for Supertramp and for a while ran a live music club overlooking Palma bay called Yesterday (pronounced Jess Too Day). After Pepe had toured Spain with Daevid Allen as part of Euterpe, he and Joan went to Paris to back Daevid for a week-long residency at a jazz club there. Daevid dressed Pepe as Maurice Chevalier with a canary on his shoulder and Joan as a Majorcan peasant. ‘Pepe and I saved Daevid’s life. He had been “clean” for a long time and hadn’t allowed any drugs or alcohol on the Euterpe tour. But the first night in Paris was a special occasion, with many previous members of Gong present, and he allowed himself a toke from the improvised hash-pipe that Pepe had prepared in a glass. Daevid took such a hit that he inhaled not only the burning hash but the thumb-tack it was speared on. He was speechless and turning purple, but we gave him a big thump on the back and he coughed it out.’
On the drum stool Joan appeared to be the same height as when standing up. ‘I willed myself to stop growing when I could reach all the frets on the guitar’, he claimed. Joan and I shared the same sense of musical humour; by then we’d played together in many folkie gatherings and had worked on Ramón’s Mediterranean-salsa-fusion album, Tabaco, with Pepe and one of Daevid’s musicians, the tabla player Sam Gopal. We could communicate a change in rhythm by raising both eyebrows or a syncopated beat with the drop of a jaw. Eye contact is fundamental for the rhythm section of a band, especially if the band never rehearses song endings. Joan’s bubbly enthusiasm, my brother’s Mr Dangerous stance, Dave’s complete possession of and by the microphone, and my born-again rocker zeal combined to give the band a contagious energy. Although in the first two years we only played a proper gig every couple of months and rehearsed half as often, word got around the island that there was ‘a rock and roll goldmine in them thaar hills’. Deià bars were beginning to attract people from all over the island, eager to soak up some of the magic. By the spring of 1982 we were on to guitarist-cum-drummer number four. Ollie Halsall had come to Deià a couple of years earlier to work with Kevin Ayers and over the next four years, between tours and recordings, beat the band into shape.
In 1978, Kevin bought a large house in the Clot, sweet revenge for one who ten years earlier had been run out of town by the Guardia Civil. He arrived with the tall, willowy blonde Kristen Tomassi and their baby daughter Galen: the three of them appeared to have walked out of a celebrity magazine. They had previously bought Daevid’s house in the South of France, but found it too isolated to bring up a child. As Kevin’s family settled down in Deià, Daevid’s was preparing to leave for Australia. Perhaps the town wasn’t big enough for two rock stars. But while Daevid and Gilli had been tapping into Deià’s creative energy and were ready to move on, Kevin was soon to be dragged under by its excesses and wouldn’t escape the village until it nearly destroyed him.
Kristen was still married to Richard Branson. They’d lived and worked together in a damp, cramped houseboat/office on Regent’s Park Canal as the Virgin empire began to take shape. The boat was sold and the Bransons bought a spacious house from Peter Cook not far away. But the house soon became just as crowded, doubling as an office; Kristen would single-handedly organize press parties for three hundred guests there, and craved a little more privacy. When Richard assigned her the job of convincing Kevin Ayers to sign to the new Virgin label, she and Kevin fell in love. Together they bought another houseboat, the purple-painted Duende, and moved in. Kevin never signed with Virgin but he did recommend his guitarist Mike Oldfield to Richard, who was setting up the Manor, Britain’s first live-in recording studio. Kevin also gave Mike his old tape recorder, on which he began the instrumental experiments that later emerged as Tubular Bells, Virgin’s first LP, which ended up selling over five million copies. At this point Kristen and Kevin sold the Duende to Richard and headed south to the Mediterranean.
Kevin had also worked with Nico and John Cale of the Velvet Underground, Brian Eno, Terry Riley, David Bedford, Lol Coxhill, and Elton John. All this gave him Decadent Superstar status without losing him his street credibility and bohemian image. Among Kevin’s former guitarists was Andy Summers, who had toured with Soft Machine and later formed the Police. But his favourite musician and collaborator was Peter ‘Ollie the Owl’ Halsall.
Ollie had been described in the British music press as looking ‘like a seedy stand-up comedian’. Born in Southport, he began thrashing the drums with local bands but then switched to vibraphone, playing jazz in Butlins holiday camps. He finally took up the guitar, which he played left handed. He soon became the 1970s guitar hero’s guitar hero, having played with Timebox, Patto, and John Hiseman’s Tempest. His trademark was a jazz musician’s sense of harmony and dissonance, executed with the blistering speed and pyrotechnics of heavy rock. In the late 1960s he developed a style using a four-finger ‘hammer on’ style, producing those fluid but staccato runs later copied by every rock virtuoso. If he hit a wrong note during a solo it only set him banking off into a whole new improvisation in a dissonant key, to be resolved when least expected with a humorous crash landing back on deck. Neil Innes invited him to join him and Eric Idle in the Rutles, the Beatles parody band, and Ollie became ‘Leppo, the Fifth Rutle’. As Innes declares on the Rutles’ website: ‘he’s got to be the most underrated guitarist that there ever was. He was daring. He was an acrobat musically, you know. He’d try anything and fiddle about. If everything went wrong, he turned it right. It was uncanny . . .’ Ollie also formed part of Grimms, with Innes, Viv Stanshall, Mike McCartney, and the Liverpudlian poets Adrian Henri, Brian Patten, and Roger McGough, combining virtuosity and deadpan humour.
Ollie first accompanied Kevin on the classic June 1st 1974 live album and for the next eighteen years became his guitarist, arranger, drinking companion, and confidant, pulling Kevin – ‘shouting in a bucket’ – out of the well of despair several times until he finally fell into the well himself.
Unlike Daevid, Kevin was no well-organized workaholic. His recording and touring schedule was too irregular to fully occupy such a sought-after session man as Ollie, who had worked with rockers from Joe Cocker to Gary Glitter. I first met Ollie in Ramón’s studio in Barcelona in 1979, where he and Kevin had come to record five new songs with Ramón on drums. The atmosphere reflected Kevin’s return to warm, live musicianship after a string of ‘produced’ albums. The feeling was Afro-Caribbean, from the calypso ‘Fisherman’s Song’ – Kevin’s main passion is underwater fishing – to a momentous Soweto-style number called ‘Africa’ (predating Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ by a few years) in which the three musicians cooked up a storm that didn’t abate until the 16-track tape ran out. The recording never saw the light of day because Ramon’s equipment was repossessed shortly afterwards and the master tape was on the machine at the time. The only evidence of this brilliant session was a cassette copy that had been knock, knock, knockin’ round Kevin’s floor for a year until someone stepped on it.
Kevin didn’t seem to care. While he had been in Barcelona, Kristen, left alone in Deià and fed up with his sudden vanishing acts, was wooed away by the property developer Axel Ball, with whom she later set up, decorated, and managed the Hotel La Residencia, one of the best-known luxury hotels in the Mediterranean. Although Kevin had probably brought it upon himself, he took years to recover from the blow. He once slipped Dave a note: ‘Next time you see Kristen at one of your gigs, please dedicate Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” to her’.
One of the finest guitarists of his generation, Ollie was still a percussionist at heart. When he heard the Pa Amb Oli Band were short of a drummer for the 1982 Deià Carnival party, he offered us his services. He immediately put us through our paces with a couple of intense rehearsals, something completely new to us. ‘Come on, Pambs, you half-arsed pop band, lets ROCK!’ As a guitarist, Juan was the antithesis of Ollie; he played chunky Chuck Berry licks, as primitive as my bass playing, but thick and tasty. Ollie loved it. ‘Go for it, Juan!’ he’d cackle, ‘you absolute bustard!!’ Ollie was overjoyed at being able to play the music he loved the best, on the instrument he most enjoyed thrashing, in the familiar atmosphere of a village bar, so far removed from the big concerts he was used to.
Over the next few years we played whenever Ollie wasn’t touring, which was increasingly often since his money went a lot further here, his main expense being Mahou beer. His interest in painting, poetry, and people was satisfied with just hanging around the village and working when he had to. Like many gifted musicians, he wasn’t particularly ambitious; professionally, he had all the doors open to him in England, but he felt more at home in Spain. While Kevin rested, went fishing, and fell in and out of love between tours, Ollie had found plenty of session work in Madrid. With his Swedish girlfriend Zanna on keyboards, he began writing and performing film music, which developed into a successful commercial adventure called Cinemaspop. This was in the early years of the New Spanish Cinema, when the Oscar-winners Almodovar and Trueba were directing their first features. Ollie and Zanna also toured with the Barcelona gypsy Manzanita and his slick rumba-pop band whose ‘look’ emulated John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever. ‘We got on fine with Manzanita’s band,’ Ollie confessed, ‘but back in the hotel after a gig, they would douse themselves in cheap cologne and lay on some call girls, leaving Zanna and me waiting in the lobby for our room to be free.’
Ollie had just begun to play with us when our Basque friends Juanjo and Carlos got us our first gig in Palma. Los Vascos, who had organized Kevin and John Cale’s ill-fated gig, were the only people willing to run the risk of bringing the new bands of the Madrid movida to the island. On this occasion we were opening for Los Elegantes at the ‘coming out’ of the Gay and Lesbian Front of the Balearics at the famous Barbarella’s Disco, aptly renamed ‘Colapso’.
‘Now lads,’ said Ollie, the voice of experience after playing with headlining Spanish bands like Ramoncín, ‘this is going to be a tough gig. We’re really going to have to be together, so let’s all stay sober. We’ll probably have a lot of stuff thrown at us, so keep your wits about you; duck and make a run for it if things get rough.’ Perhaps he was expecting the Fuerza Nueva thugs to break up the show, but in the event the audience was impeccably civilized. When we came onstage, we were all stone-cold sober but for Ollie, who had downed a dozen Cointreaus and was completely legless, cackling with laughter all the way through the gig, to the consternation of the gay and lesbian couples who were probably dancing in public for the first time in their lives. He managed to keep a straight face however while taking lead vocal for ‘It’s my Party, and I’ll Cry if I Want To’ in falsetto.
Dave was evolving from pop impersonator to rock singer, although his passionate screams would sometimes drive the more sensitive members of the public out of the hall. He’d also change song lyrics around – ‘Now I’ll never dance with my mother’ instead of ‘with another’– which would go by unnoticed by the Majorcan audience but had Juan and I turning our backs to the audience to dissimulate our laughter. Ollie’s experience in the Rutles and Grimms allowed him to keep a straight face while feeding Dave new lines.
Most of the band’s repertoire was drawn from a period I had missed out on but that the rest of the band, all born in the 1940s, had lived to the full. This gave Pa Amb Oli a feeling of authenticity that no other band on the island could deliver. The audiences had to take the good with the bad: the opening riff taken too fast, the disjointed endings, the out of tune solos, Dave singing in a different key to the rest of the band. On one occasion, Juan’s dog Syrup trotted onstage and peed on Dave’s leg while he was singing ‘Bird Dog’. On a couple of gigs, Dave’s ten-year-old son Joe guested on trumpet: he couldn’t play a tune, but managed to produce a wildly effective cascade of notes. This what-next anarchy was an attraction in the glossy, polished, smoke-machine electronic Eighties. When the poetic Ollie and the artistic Dave got together, they reverted to the sort of cheery beer-and-football yobs you’d cross the street to avoid. Both were by now completely at home in Spain; Ollie was only homesick for Newcastle Brown Ale and pickled onions. When he discovered I pickled my own, he devoured my supply. I offered him a deal: he’d peel the onions in exchange for half the next batch. I have an image of him in front of a huge tub of onions, wearing only his swimming trunks and his glasses, sweating in the sun, crying his eyes out while singing ‘It’s my Party . . .’
As a guitarist Ollie was a wild man, his old red Gibson holding up to a tremendous punishment; but behind a drum kit, he became a barbarian. ‘A drum will only give up its soul if you really thrash it. Anything less than that isn’t the true sound of a drum kit.’ During the years Ollie played with us, I would never go to bed after a gig without a ringing in my ears. Juan remembers feeling the breeze generated by the cymbals. Ollie would kick the bass-drum pedal so hard that the drum would walk away from him; he’d have to tie it to his stool with a rope. It was getting impossible to find someone willing to lend the band a set of drums, so we eventually bought a second-hand kit between us. Miraculously, we’re still using it after twenty years.
Ollie was used to having a roadie to see to his equipment, so he expected someone to replace sticks and drumskins for him. That someone was always me. I’m a sucker for offering to solve other people’s problems and then complaining when they get too dependent on me. One Saturday night we arrived for a gig at Can Costa, a roadside farm turned into a restaurant-bar, and Ollie set up the kit with the drumstool in the bay window, the only place it would fit. ‘Oi, you didn’t think to buy some sticks, did you? No worry . . .’ and he began to dismantle a rickety wooden chair. In the middle of the second number, we heard muffled yells and turned round to see that Ollie had drawn the red velvet curtains in front of him, his two arms poking out from behind them, laying into the drums with a couple of varnished chair legs.
We were still on the pub circuit – you needed a record or a management contract to make the grade to the well-paid summer verbenas. For some strange reason we became very popular in the large town of Esporles, the next but one along the mountain range. The shoe factories in this town had been hotbeds of union strikes before the Civil War, and the burned-out shells of these factories stood for years as mute reminders to workers to keep their mouths shut. We played regularly at the Central Park, a seedy bar that serviced the Esporles basketball courts. Ollie usually managed to sweat out most of the beer he consumed, but in the intermission he asked the stout madona where he could go and pee. ‘The loo’s on the other side of the court, next to the woodshed; just look out for the rats.’ Ollie came back with two stout sticks of olive wood.
‘Kill any rats, Ollie?’
‘No, but I found myself a couple of spare drumsticks for the next set.’
If Juan and I usually take things in moderation, Ollie, like Dave, preferred to ‘really steam in there, y’know’. The day Kevin returned from London with an expensive new Anniversary Model Stratocaster guitar and a Fender Twin amplifier to go with it, the amp’s European-standard plug wouldn’t fit the smaller Spanish socket. ‘Gi’s that guitar and lemme have a go,’ said Ollie, grabbing the silver Strat and taking a swing at the stubborn plug, hammering it permanently into the socket. ‘See that? It works.’
Our standard fee of free drinks plus a token wage suited the rest of the band but I felt short-changed because I could never get through more than a small beer. Any cash went into the kitty to buy strings, picks, and cables, but most of it was spent in keeping Ollie supplied with new sticks for every gig and a new drumskin every three or four. Only after he left the band did we discover his attrition rate quadrupled the average drummer’s, and that a bass-drum pedal is not usually considered an expendable item, as he had claimed.
Although Ollie was closest to Dave in temperament, there is always a special complicity between drummer and bass player as the backbone or ‘rhythm section’ of a band. I’ve never bothered to study bass or improve my technique, but I’ve always managed to lock on to the drummer and create a unit stronger than its constituent parts. With due respect for the virtuosos like Jaco Pastorius who have turned it into a solo instrument, I still consider the electric bass as simply one half of the rhythm section, like the front legs of a pantomime horse: only when playing with the percussionist or drummer does it form the complete animal. Whether locked in sync or bucking off each other, bassist and drummer together form the steed upon which the rest of the band can ride. Bass or drum solos are fine within a jazz framework, but their only justification in rock music, as far as I can see, is to give these musicians-in-the-shade a chance to show off.
The treble control on a Spanish amplifier is marked Agudos and the bass control, Graves: this was a presage that at least one of the family was cut out to play bass. I had by now discovered that this wasn’t just a guitar with two strings missing; it has a different role to play, and I realized that very few people are aware of what a bass player actually does in a band. Like air-conditioning, you only notice when he stops playing. So let me briefly digress for once and introduce you to the least understood member of the band.
The first electric basses were played vertically, having been adapted from the stand-up or double bass used in jazz bands. (I have yet to see a single bass.) These big, booming instruments have always been difficult to amplify. I borrowed Toni Morlà’s electric stand-up bass to play with the Deià Jazz Band and on the early Elvis numbers with the Pambs, but it’s a very different instrument from the bass guitar. Sometimes known as a ‘stick bass’, it’s essentially just a vertical fingerboard with a pick-up at the bottom.
In the 1950s, after the success of his first solid-body electric guitar, Leo Fender adapted the four-stringed acoustic guitarrón used by the Mexican mariachi bands: there’s no reason, other than the resonance produced by the double bass’s huge body, to play it vertically. And if the sound box is in a separate amplifier, you can get a nice full sound without having to play an unwieldy contraption. Fender simply adapted his Telecaster to accommodate heavier strings. Unlike a stand-up bass, which has a smooth fingerboard and requires precise fingering to play in tune, Fender’s invention had frets – hence the name Precision Bass – allowing anybody who could play a guitar to become a bass player overnight.
For every vocational bass guitarist who started his career on this instrument there are a hundred musicians like Kevin or myself who ended up playing it by default, simply because they were the last to join the band. Most footballers aim at being forwards or goal keepers; few set their sights on being half-backs. One of the few vocational bass players I’ve met is Daniel Lagarde, a brilliant Uruguayan jazz and salsa musician who played with Bibiloni in the Kevin Ayers Band. Not only are his father and three brothers all bass players, but I’ve met at least four more Uruguayans in the same profession, a statistical improbability.
You can’t do much with an electric or even an acoustic bass except play in a band. Luckily, it’s the instrument on which mistakes are least noticed, especially if you stick to the lowest notes. Take for instance the Sóller dance band with whom we often shared the bill. It was led by a middle-aged trumpet player whose daytime job was driving the butane gas delivery lorry; the band’s name is irrelevant since everyone knows them as los butaneros. The leader was set upon having his son in the band despite the lad’s total lack of musicianship; the obvious solution was to give him a bass so he could learn on the job and contribute his share of the family income. For a couple of years he plonked away on the deepest notes, completely out of key but tolerated by the indulgent local audience, until it was obvious he’d never learn. Eventually unplugged, he continued in the band, miming while the keyboard player filled in his part on the bass pedals of the organ.
Toni Morlà and I witnessed a similar case of bass incompetence in Inca: the tuba player of the municipal brass band that opened for our show. We cracked up as he bluffed the lowest possible notes while pretending to read the sheet music. (I was laughing because I recognized myself in him: when playing the stand-up bass with the Deià jazz band, I’d often find myself lost and I’d back-pedal awhile on the bottom string until I regained my bearings.) As a child, Toni would walk alongside the tuba player during the fiestas, provocatively chewing lemons; it’s almost impossible to play a wind instrument when your salivary glands are in action. ‘And once I was in a band whose bass player was tone deaf and believed that when all four tuning pegs were horizontal, the instrument was in tune.’
Jugbands got their name from the gallon jars that provide the bass notes when blown across the mouth, a technique also used in Northwest India. Then the 1950s skiffle boom produced the washtub bass. This music was a precursor of punk inasmuch as you didn’t need to be a proper musician to play the washboard, kazoo, or washtub. This primitive stand-up bass consists of a string attached to an upturned washtub – the soundbox – and the end of a broom handle. By standing the broom handle on the tub and pulling it away from vertical, the string tightens and the note rises. It’s not exactly a clear note, but you can encompass the complete range from thump to thomp. It’s hard to imagine anybody inventing a more primitive bass than this, but the Cuban peasants did. Here, the string is attached to the broomstick and to the middle of a square wooden board. Wherever the band sets up, the bassist digs a hole in the ground, lays the board over it and stands on it to play, the pit acting as a soundbox.
Cuban musicians have always realized the importance of the bass notes to get people to dance; they also carry a great distance, attracting more dancers. Cubans use another rural bass, the marimbula – a large version of the African mbira or thumb-piano. I was lucky enough to watch Carlos Puebla’s octogenarian marimbula player in action in Managua. He sits on this box and twangs the large steel prongs with his fingers; beside him on the floor is the lid of a tin of shoe polish that he occasionally picks up and hits against the side of the marimbula to underline the rhythm.
There’s always plenty of work for versatile bass players. They tend to be good musical arrangers and composers, perhaps because they are in a privileged position midway between melody and rhythm. Of all the band members, the bass player has greatest dominion over people’s feet. The standard rock and roll bass pattern is called the ‘walking bass line’ or stride. But when the bass deliberately omits the beat that the dancer has been led to expect, his body feels it has been left floating in mid air. By leaving out a few beats and dropping them back in elsewhere, the bassist can turn the song around. The best rhythm section of all time, the Jamaicans Sly and Robbie, can make people move their feet in a different time to the rest of their body, to float, to suddenly hit an air pocket.
The only bass playing tips I ever got were from a huge, square-jawed Glaswegian called Archibald Leggett. Archie was built like a rock and played with total economy, dismissing the slap-bass technique as a passing fad. ‘Any fahkin idiot can play a million notes, but that’s not the point. You have to know which are the important ones an’ then leave the rest out. Jest keep it simple and keep your eyes on the drummer.’ He and his wife Jenny began to spend summers in Deià visiting his old mates – as a lodger in Lady June’s flat, Archie had fallen in with the Canterbury scene, playing with Daevid and Robert Wyatt and forming the duo Kevin Ayers and Archibald.
Dave, Juan, and I would sit open-mouthed when Ollie and Archie began to swap stories, each harder to believe than the last. Some of the more improbable ones were actually true. Archie had accompanied American rock and rollers and soul singers when they were obliged to use English backup musicians to tour the UK. ‘I’ve been on the road with Brenda Lee, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lee Dorsey, Wilson Pickett an’ even Smokey Robinson an’ tha’ fahkin’ Miracles.’ He had backed Tony Sheridan in Hamburg, Charles Aznavour and Françoise Hardy in Paris, and was hired for a while by France’s top rocker, Johnny Halliday. At the time, Hendrix was hanging out in Paris waiting for his British work permit to come through. ‘Jimi came round the Olympia Theatre and we’d be jamming in the dressing room between sets. He asked me to play bass in the new band he was putting together, the Experience, but I was under contract to Johnny fahkin’ Halliday.’ Back in London, during a recording session, ‘Paul McCartney was in the next studio an’ he says “Listen, Archie, I’m having some trouble with this fahkin’ bass riff to Paperback Writer”, so to give him an idea I sat in with the band for one take, and that’s the take they used on the record.’
The last time I saw Archie, he had just returned from a tour with one of my musical heroes, Dr John, whose New Orleans funk depends on a sparse, almost absentee style of bass playing with just enough well-placed notes to hold it together. I’d been hooked on swamp-rock since hearing Lee Dorsey’s funky, laid-back ‘Working in a Coalmine’ as a teenager. This record was the first to wake me up to the chemistry between bass and drums. Although Lee Dorsey’s band was from New Orleans, I’ve been assured that the bass player on the record was none other than Archie Leggett.
As Ollie pointed out, a football team is as good as its goalie and a band is only as good as its drummer, which is probably why drummers tend to have the highest turnover rate in the business and are usually the scapegoats when things go wrong. Many band leaders, from John Mayall or Daevid Allen to Nick Cave, have tried to solve the problem by eliminating the drums altogether, but they usually come round to the fact that it’s a necessary evil. (In my opinion, a drum machine is an unnecessary evil.)
Ollie was now renting Ca Sa Salerosa with his Spanish girlfriend Eva, the same cottage my father and Laura Riding had rented upon their arrival in 1929; it still had no running water or bathroom. Behind the house was the plot of land the Californian folkie John Fisher had tried to buy with his ill-fated drug run; now Ollie set his sights on it, but decided to raise the money legally, working as a producer in Madrid. One Saturday evening we were setting up in Las Palmeras, expecting him back in time for the gig, when he phoned up the bar to say he had been hired to stand in for Radio Futura’s hospitalized guitarist on a big tour starting the next day. Jordi happened to be on the terrace having a beer.
‘Jordi, we need a drummer for tonight . . .’
‘Forget it, I don’t want to know about rock and roll or groups or drums. Anyway, I haven’t played in six years, I’m a fisherman.’
Jordi is a barker, not a biter; of course he was dying for a chance to sit behind a kit again, and although he hadn’t touched one since 1981, he always played along in his imagination with the Ramones, the Clash, or the Stones blasting out of his boom-box on deck. Sitting astride a drumstool after a seven-year sabbatical was like jumping on a bicycle for the first time in decades. That night, Jordi became once again the Pa Amb Oli drummer. Ollie’s Spanish career, meanwhile, was taking off as a producer and session musician in the highly competitive Madrid scene. He’d often come over for a weekend, and once, after singing a few songs with the band, he wistfully said, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to play for larks and get a bit of cash for it. If you want my advice, keep it that way, stay out of the music business. It can kill you.’ We took his advice; unfortunately, the music business did kill him. On the Radio Futura tour, one of the band was on hard drugs; Ollie, having been Kevin’s chaperone and doctor on so many occasions, volunteered to keep the man clean. Ollie, although a drinker, had emerged from a career during the heaviest years of rock unscathed by drugs, so it came as a complete shock to us all when he died of an overdose in 1992, having spent all his considerable earnings on heroin. He had been hooked on it by the very musician he was trying to protect, who had insisted that there was no danger if you smoked instead of injected heroin. It may have been a safer method, but it was much more expensive, leaving Ollie virtually broke. One night, desperate, he tried the cheap way, misjudged the quantity, and was found dead in the flat he shared at 13, Calle de la Amargura (‘Bitterness Street’), Madrid. The Musicians’ Union paid the expenses and his Argentine girlfriend Claudia, a rock singer, brought his ashes back to be buried in the Deià cemetery, where Ronnie Wathen played a farewell Irish air on the bagpipes. The artist Michael Kane used our workshop to engrave Ollie’s name on a tombstone that featured a jack socket, volume and tone controls. When it was finished, he propped it up against the door to get a good look; a gust of wind slammed the door shut and the stone split in half. ‘Typical of Ollie,’ said Michael. ‘There’s no point in trying to hide the crack, let’s make a feature of it. I’ll stick the two halves together with some bright blue resin.’ The tombstone can be seen next to Mati’s in the Deià cemetery.
One of Ollie’s precepts stuck with the band: never mind the spit and polish, go for the feeling. In twenty years we’ve had a lot of cassette recordings of Pa Amb Oli gigs, but there’s not a single song without some mistake in it – a bum note, a harmony vocal out of tune, a bumbled lyric, the drums too loud. How come nobody noticed it at the time? Because everybody was having such a good time.
Reproduced with kind permsiion from:
'Tuning Up at Dawn'
A Memoir of Music and Majorca
The Pambs bass player's book about the Catalan music and culture makes fascinating reading and includes a lengthy chapter on Ollie and his association with The Pa Amb Oli Band.
Available from Amazon here:
Sometime around the summer of 1987 I decided to buy a little portastudio to jot down some musical ideas. Ollie recommended I try out the cheapest Fostex, which I did for a couple of days, before opting for a slightly more complete Tascam Porta-05.
To try out the Fostex at home in Deià, I overdubbed some instruments: first a rhythm track, with my wife Carmen on claves, me on congas, Ollie on maracas (or perhaps the other way around) laying down a guaguancó beat.
Then Ollie (on a very rudimentary marimba I'd brought back from Nicaragua) and me (on a Cuban guitar called the Tres) alternated solos.
We had worked out a simple A-minor to C-major chord change and you can notice how we're not quite sure where the changes from major to minor come; the whole thing was done in about half an hour.
Finally I plugged my bass directly into the Fostex and added a bass line which only muddies up the sound.
Further muddying occurred when I later mixed the four-track cassette on the Tascam, whose DBX was
incompatible with the Dolby on the recording; I'd already given the Fostex back to the shop.
Still, I think it's an interesting glimpse into Ollie's skills with the mallets, even if one of the marimba's notes is a bit off-key. For want of a better title, I've called it Outer Tune.
Quite frankly, Ollie was amazing on the marimba (the buzz on some of the notes is intentional; little bits of paper-thin chicken-gizzard is stretched over a little hole at the base of each resonating-gourd under each note to give a kazoo-effect).
He probably hadn't picked up the mallets in years, but at Deià parties, Kevin would play his calypso songs [Big Bamboo, Suppose Your Mother and Your Wife Were Drowning and Gimme Leg - a song I had brought back from Bluefields] and Ollie would get on the marimba and do some beautiful and complex stuff.
I remember, at a party in Ca Sa Salerosa, seeing him with two beaters in one hand (to play thirds or fifths on the treble notes). In this recording, however, he kept it all very low key and simple.
Tomás Graves February 2006