(Photo : Roger Liptrot)
That very fine songwriter and musician Clive Gregson is about to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of his long and prolific career. A career that started with Any Trouble a band he founded back in the mid seventies with college friends in Crewe.
From there, he teamed up with singer Christine Collister and release five excellent and highly rated albums and the duo also joined Richard Thompson’s band for a time. He also played and recorded with another Fairport legend Iain Matthews in a reformed Plainsong and between all this activity recorded a whole slew of critically acclaimed solo albums.
It’s a consummate body of work and one he should be justly proud of.
What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?
"I have a brother who is seven years older than me. In '62/'63 I was only eight years old, but Glynn was already into The Beatles big time and started bringing their records home. I was soon hooked and a few years later my parents traded in a drum kit that Glynn never played and bought me the guitar that I was continually pestering them for.
By the time I was thirteen, I was getting pretty proficient on the instrument and pretty much everything else went out of the window. I knew then that I was somehow going to make music my life.
At fifteen I had a school band (mangling anything by The Who a speciality) and by the age of sixteen had discovered the local folk clubs, which were a pretty broad church back then. The guitar was king and they were polite enough to give a spotty Herbert, who was mostly into rock and roll, a hearing"
Which music artists first made you sit up and take notice?
"The Beatles... then The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Hollies, Dylan, The Band, Motown, Stax, Dusty Springfield, Randy Newman, urban and country blues."
Talk about your time with Any Trouble.
"Mostly very happy memories. I often think that we were rather doomed from the outset. We naively assumed that if we just concentrated on playing good music as best we could, then the great unwashed would recognise that endeavour and love us to death. How wrong we were, it needs a lot more than that to achieve pop success.
I never looked or acted like a pop star and although Stiff worked very hard on our behalf, we were never a typical Stiff act. We had no visual image or sense of humour! On the whole, we came into our own on stage, but because of the lack of chart success, we never built a big enough audience to sustain the act financially.
At the point where we broke up at the end of 1984, I think the line up was the most stable and happiest it had ever been. But we had no work, no money and no prospects. We released two reunion records in 2007 and 2015 and played some live shows in support of them. They were good fun and well received by our small and dedicated fanbase.
I think we're probably retired now. Martin (the drummer) had a heart attack a couple of years ago and has decided not to play any more. I'm always amazed and very flattered when people tell me how much they love the band and pleased that our music plays a part in their lives. Pretty fantastic."
And then you teamed up with Christine Collister.
"Again mostly happy memories. It ended badly for many reasons, most of them my fault, but it was a pretty amazing journey while it lasted. It started as a very low key, ad hoc thing and became much bigger very quickly.
Yet again, the live shows were always the real deal, but I'm fond of the albums. I listened to "Home & Away" and a bunch of live stuff a little while ago when putting together the Cherry Red "deluxe" reissue. I couldn't begin to imagine any act these days even attempting what we were trying to do!
Chris is a brilliant singer and I feel privileged to have worked with her. Great to see that she's still at it and I'm amazed that she never managed to cross over into the mainstream. But it takes more than talent, right?"
You became part of Richard Thompson’s band.
"Richard was my ultimate guitar hero from the moment that I saw him play at Cambridge Folk Festival in 1975. "Pour Down Like Silver" is still one of my all time favourite albums. He's also arguably the quintessential English songwriter. "Dimming Of The Day" is always my answer when I get asked which song I wish I'd written.
We hired John Wood to produce the first Any Trouble album in 1980, primarily because of his work with Richard and Linda, Fairport, John Martyn, Nick Drake etc. I still work with John often...... wonderful man.
Shortly after we finished that first Any Trouble album, John got married and I met Richard and Linda at the wedding. I stayed in touch and imagine my surprise when I got a call from Richard asking me to join his touring band in 1985. Any Trouble had just folded so it was easy for me to say yes.
Talk about a great gig! I learned so much and have nothing but happy memories of that time... great folks playing great music. It ended rather strangely. I moved to the States and shot my mouth off, rather negatively in print about the album Richard released following my departure.
It came across as sour grapes, which it genuinely wasn't. I was just expressing an opinion that really didn't need to be expressed. I've bumped into Richard a few times since, but it's been a while. Must try and catch up with him... long overdue. He's a world class talent and an absolute gentleman."
Then you became part of the reformed Plainsong.
"Short lived, but great fun and I gained a vast amount from it. In essence I replaced Julian Dawson for a couple of years. I'd met Iain Matthews a few times down the years. He'd guested on the 1984 Any Trouble album "Wrong End Of The Race"... terrific singer and a fine chap.
I played on several UK and European tours with Plainsong. We had a fine old time on the road and the shows were really good. We made one album while I was in the band, which was somewhat problematic. Iain was going through a particularly difficult time in his personal life. It's greatly to his credit that we got through the sessions and made what I think is a really good record.
Another positive outcome for me was bonding with the other guys in the band and to this day I still play with Andy Roberts and Mark Griffiths. We have a guitar trio called 3 Boxes which tours sporadically, but to great appreciation.
Griff played bass for us in the latter days of Any Trouble and played guitar on the Clive and Liz album in 2017. I'm planning a rockabilly record with Andy (or should I say Brad Breath, his alter ego in the Hank Wangford Experience?) as part of my 2020 retirement extravaganza."
You moved to Nashville in '93, quite a bold move.
"Not really... it's the last place on earth where there's a full time recording industry and people still make records with a live band on the studio floor. Right up my street, I learned so much. I'd been a professional musician for thirteen years when I moved to Nashville, but it was still almost like starting from scratch. Great place... I thoroughly enjoyed my time there."
Now you’re based in Texas?
"Just moved to Pennsylvania, actually. My wife took a gig at the liberal arts college she used to attend in the '70s. Small college town in the middle of Trump's steel wasteland… very interesting. Long winters... big change from Texas."
You have been the producer for most of your output….is the creative control this affords you important to you enabling you to see your vision through to conclusion. How much do you enjoy producing?
"I "produce' my own stuff, largely out of economic necessity. In an ideal world I'd almost always prefer to go in a studio with a crack live band and let somebody else direct traffic. But there's almost never a budget for that. So I do what most acts do these days, record at home as best I can!
I think it largely works out OK. I'm lucky in that I've taken the time to learn how to engineer a bit, point the mics roughly in the right direction and play various instruments well enough to sound like a reasonable band. I approach producing other acts in a different way.
I pretty much always try to get artistes into a studio with real players, a good engineer and very well prepped. I'm always looking for great performances. I much prefer acts to be proud of what they actually achieved, rather than what some Pro Tools jockey has cobbled together via cut and paste and autotune."
How does the song writing process work with you? Are you slow or prolific? Do you have times when the songs just pour out and other times when its like getting blood from a stone?
"I write all the time, can't remember ever suffering from writer's block. If I take a break from writing, it's usually because I'm bogged down doing something else, touring, recording, producing. There really isn't much of a process for me.
Sometimes I start with a title, a concept, a few lines of a lyric, a chord sequence, a melody. I get ideas if I'm noodling on the guitar while watching TV, out walking, driving, talking to people or earwiging conversations. You never know when something is going to show up.
The trick is to be receptive, keep the antenna up and try to find time to work things through to completion if they merit it. I don't finish everything and sometimes the golden ones finish themselves by arriving pretty much fully formed. Writing songs is still my favourite part of my musical life and I still think it's largely magic. I don't really understand the journey from empty page to a finished song and I suspect I don't really want to."
What would you say were your biggest influences?
"As a writer? John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Randy Newman, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, John Martyn. I'm prepared to bet that most people would find those influences sadly lacking in my writing!"
Which of all your songs are the ones that always stand out for you?
"I tend not to look back. I'm always more interested in what's next. I've recently been playing shows composed almost entirely of new material and audiences seem to be enjoying it. Guess I'll know if they don't show up next time round!
Funny story... my most commercially successful song in terms of numbers sold is "Honolulu", a song I disliked so much that I had it removed from the American release of the first Any Trouble album. Many years later I started to see royalty statements for sales of large numbers of the song. It turned out there is a ukulele version on a budget Hawaii themed CD available in garages, supermarkets etc all over the world. Huge sales! Moral? What the hell do I know?"
When it came to putting together that best of in 2009 how easy or hard was that?
"Pretty easy, really. I had some help and I didn't want to duplicate any song that was either on the Gregson & Collister "Best Of" or the Any Trouble "Best Of". So it came together pretty easily, really. Although, shortly after the eighteen song collection came out, I had an email from a fan who reckoned I'd picked the wrong eighteen songs. Not just one or two, all of them. Moral? What the hell do I know?"
So the plan for next year is to release an album every month for the whole year?
"Yep... bonkers, eh?! Actually, the big plan is that I intend to retire from touring at the end of 2020. I turn sixty five in January and will have been a pro musician for forty years next February. That feels like enough.
I really don't want to spend Friday afternoons on the M6/M1/M40/M25/M5 anymore. I'll carry on writing, recording, producing etc and I'll probably do the odd gig every now and again. I just think the full on touring days are over.
So I'll play as much as I can through 2020. then drift off into the sunset. I thought it might be fun to make a big statement throughout the year so I'm currently amassing finished tracks in order to release a new CD every month throughout 2020.
It's going well... many of the releases will have something of a theme. The first one will essentially be an almanac, one song about each month of the year. Another will be a group of songs about the North West of England. I'm also looking at a rockabilly album, an album featuring cameos by my personal guitar heroes, an album of instrumentals, lots of variety. So... plenty to do!"
You can find out more about Clive on his website here. He's in the UK for five live shows in October, you can find those dates here. There is also a stand alone site for Any Trouble which can be found here.