Ray and Dave's exclusive interview with Mick Green
- recorded in Leavesden, England on 30th August 2004
© Bigbloke Productions
The interview had been arranged in advance but Mick had no prior idea of the intended content. After a short personal conversation and pleasantries we launched into the interview itself, which was to last 28 minutes. We started the conversation by assuring Mick that if at any time he said something off the record he should stop the interview and we'd scrub that bit. He didn't - so what you read here is exactly how it happened . . . . . . . .
Dave. I was thinking about the sort of lean years in the 80’s after the band split up for the second time. What did you do through the 80’s – was there enough demand to keep you working ?
Mick. Yeah, I still did some stuff……sessions…….I was actually working with Freddie Starr for about 3 years which actually drove me completely round the bend ! He was doing his Elvis Presley bit y’know and he does it very well….I can’t detract from him as a performer but y’know………..otherwise just odds and sods really. You know, a typical musician’s life – famine and feast really.
Ray. You mentioned Elvis just now – I heard a rumour that you once met him – is there any truth in that ?
Mick. There’s loads of truth in that ! It was in Vegas with Engelbert Humperdinck. I was working with Enge..I’d been married about 3 or 4 months and my wife was out there with me in Vegas ‘cos we were doing it a month at a time and she’d come to every gig – ‘cos you do like seven nights a week y’know and there’s no days off ! Every night someone else would come backstage, like we had Barbara Streisand one night and Liberace, people like that. And this one night in particular my wife didn’t come ‘cos she was jet-lagged and pregnant with Lloyd and that was the night Elvis turned up. He was in Enge’s dressing room for about………….I dunno………45 minutes and we were all standing around with not a lot of talking going on (laughs) and we were all just sort of staring at him, really. We were playing cards and Enge and Elvis were just standing at the bar – ‘cos a dressing room in Vegas is like a club, y’know it’s massive – and they were just leaning on the bar talking. Well, I say talking…Enge would say ‘It’s real hot in here’ and Elvis would point at his cape and say ‘yeah and this is real velvet’ (laughs) and then they’d go quiet again and about 20 minutes later Enge would say ‘it’s real hot in here’ and Elvis would go ‘yeah and this is real velvet’ and they carried on like that ! But it was a good gig, really – y’know we went everywhere first class and anyway there was stuff going on over here when I first joined Enge that I couldn’t f*ckin’ understand anyway – all the flower power gear and all that rubbish. Y’know, rock and roll was just…..nobody was having it anywhere so there was no work.
Ray. Any plans to go back to Vegas ?
Mick. Well, I’ve been back twice. Yeah, I’ve been back with Van Morrison – we did some gigs there and also with Bryan Ferry last year
Dave. What’s the link with Ferry, Mick. Did you work with him like early on in the 70’s or are you a name he was told to get hold of and get in his band if he could ?
Mick. No, I’ll tell you exactly how it happened, ‘cos I’d never worked with him at all. I was doing the….erm….Jools Holland Hootenanny, the new year one – it was actually the millennium hootenanny – and Van was on it and so was Bryan Ferry. And I did a track with Van and sitting in the audience was like the stars of the show, you know how they do it. And Bryan was sitting right in front of me and of course it’s a show that’s recorded live so we did this one song with like a real elongated guitar solo, but with Van you never know what you’re gonna do anyway ! Normally this solo was like one roll round the chorus with the solo but on this night Van made me go round three times and I’m thinking ‘what the f*cks going on here?’ – and this is live television y’know ? He just makes you do it and do it and do it ! So I went round three times and it was sort of alright actually and then when we finished and I was walking off the set Bryan just said ‘Aah, that was really good, I really enjoyed that’ and the next thing I know is I get a call from his manager saying did I want to do an album with him ! And that was the frantic album so basically if he hadn’t been there and seen me with Van then I wouldn’t have got the gig.
Dave. So that was round the millennium – ‘cos you were doing the McCartney stuff as well then, yeah ?
Mick. Yeah (laughs) that wasn’t a bad year ! Two gold albums that year …1999…I’ll never forget it !
Ray. Still paying the taxman ?
Mick. (LAUGHS) Still got the scars !
Ray. So have you checked out the web-site lately, Mick ?
Mick. I’ve had a look, yeah
Ray. You can see the amount of stuff that people are sending in, I mean there is so much support out there for the band……
Mick. It is nice to know after all these years…it either means that they’re really nostalgic or the stuff that’s about is f*ckin’ rubbish !
Dave. Second one, I think !
Ray. But at the shows, there is so much enthusiasm and everyone is absolutely up for it.
Mick. It’s a shame this wasn’t like in the 80’s or something, y’know ?
Ray. But there’s a lot of support out there now.
Mick. Yeah. Y’know I noticed it when I was in hospital in New Zealand and I used to creep off into the e-mail place at like 3 o’clock in the morning and sit on the computer and it was just absolutely amazing. I’d go through them all and like clear it down and the next day there’d be the same amount up again.
[ Note: we forwarded nearly 200 of your emails to Mick during his hospital stay - he thanks you all ]
Dave. Mick, I’ve just finished reading Noddy Holder’s autobiography and he reckons that in the early 60’s there were only two credible British guitarists and that was Joe Brown, surprisingly and yourself. So if you were influencing the Noddy Holders at that time then who were you listening to and who influenced you ?
Mick. Erm……….well you have to look back before the early 60’s really to find the inspiration for a lot of the stuff that I got into. The people that inspired me originally into guitar playing – I mean the first thing I really liked – was Lonnie Donegan, that’s what kicked it off. Just the skiffle, y’know. And then what happened was that we started looking at these records and looking at who wrote the songs and all the rest of it and you’d see that the song was written by a guy called Leadbelly, so you’d check that out. There weren’t that many places that sold these records – you’d have to come up the Charing Cross Road to Dobell’s – and you’d go in and look under blues guitarists and there’d be a Leadbelly album and a Big Bill Broonzy album and you’d think ‘I wonder what he’s like?’ And then you’d say ‘f*ckin’ hell, he’s great’ and then you’d listen to Muddy Waters and there was just so many of them.…
Dave. ‘Cos that stuff just took off in the early 60’s didn’t it ?
Mick. Well, yeah it did – but I would never consider myself a blues guitarist. The guy that really kicked it off for me …well in fact there were a few of them …like Chet Atkins, he was f*ckin’ great. Paul Burlinson from Johnny Burnett….Ricky Nelson’s guitarist James Burton was always the one that did it for me, I mean I thought he was just tremendous. He had a different feel about everything and like, all his solos just sounded like they were spur of the moment. Whereas like Hank’s a good guitarist, it was all too worked out and contrived. His stuff was all a nice sound and note perfect an’ all that, but not a lot of feel, really. But Burton was the complete opposite really – although he had a great sound – you could hear his Brain working, it was just great.
Ray. Talking of styles, we all know you for belting out the rock and roll but do you play other styles like classical, or even just acoustic ?
Mick. Yeah, I did study classical guitar for about………….about 18 months. I mean that’s like every day just doing a little bit y’know? And then at the end of it I suddenly just thought well it’s not really helping me. Like where can I use it ? And I thought there’s so many classical guys out there who are just brilliant, I ain’t never gonna get to that standard and it’s the sort of thing you can’t become an individual at – you’ve always got to play what’s written……….it wasn’t any use to me. I couldn’t nick any of it for rock and roll ! (laughs) when I practise anything I just look to see if I can nick it for rock and roll !
Dave. So you do practise, then ?
Mick. Well………………erm…………….not a lot (laughs)
Ray. Some would say you don’t need to, Mick
Mick. Well, no, you do need to practise.
Dave. We’ve got a bit of a nuts and bolts question, Mick. We know you’re not too interested in guitars – we’ve heard you say it often enough – but could you tell us what’s in your collection at the minute ? Obviously the tele………
Mick. Yeah, it’s a custom tele - 1970 I think – it’s quite a good one, I must say that. I’ve had the pick-up adapted with a few thou wound round it to give it a bit of extra oomph but other than that it’s bog standard apart from the scratches and bumps and cracks ! What else ?……………..oh yeah, Peavey gave me a Cropper – it’s actually quite a bloody good guitar.
Dave. So do you get manufacturers coming to you regularly wanting you to play their guitars ?
Mick. Well, Peavey did. And if anyone else wants to they’re very welcome ! But that’s quite a good guitar, it records really well and it’s got some good sounds on it. It’s the blue one. I know Pirates fans are so f*ckin’ stupid (laughs) that if you use anything other than the telecaster they reckon you’re cheating ! To a certain extent I can understand it, but no-one has a go at Eric Clapton , I mean he was using the Les Paul for a long time – the 335 – and he just swapped to …..erm…..a strat and nobody says anything. But I can understand it from a fan’s point of view to a certain extent. I mean if you went to see Bo Diddley and he didn’t come out with some odd looking square thing, you’d feel cheated.
Ray. Have you spoken to Johnny and Frank lately – are they alright ?
Mick. Yeah. Well, I haven’t spoken to Frank for a while but I’ve spoken to John. We were going to play golf but the weather’s been so f*ckin’ horrible that we ain’t bothered !
Dave. Why don’t you play music instead ? Go on…you know you want to !
Mick. Yeah, but the thing is, like I said, I’ve not really sorted out what I’m doing for like the rest of this year and next year. And I don’t wanna let people down, basically. If I put some Pirate gigs in for November or December and then get called out to do something else then I’m gonna let the band down and the people down who want to come and see us. And anyway, certainly until a couple of months ago I’d have felt a bit iffy about playing a Pirates set anyway – in a hot, sweaty club – I might not feel too clever. The thing is there’s ten geezers in the Bryan Ferry band d’you know what I mean?
Ray. So do you find it more stressful doing a Pirates gig than you would doing, say, a Ferry gig ?
Mick. It’s a different sort of stress – with the Pirates it’s an actual physical stress. Because it’s hard work – and you know we don’t do any slow ones ! You’ve got to play at full tilt all the time, whereas if I’m playing in the Ferry band you can take a backseat in some songs….
Dave. Or go and hide behind Chris Spedding for a while !
Mick (laughs) That’s right.
Ray. But you always look like you’re enjoying a Pirates gig…..
Mick. Yeah, I enjoy all gigs. If I didn’t really enjoy the playing, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’ve enjoyed Ferry, McCartney and Van. Van was a bit difficult to enjoy sometimes ‘cos you never know what head he’s got on – he’s like Worzel Gummidge, him. Mind you he’s one of the most talented geezers I’ve met in me f*ckin’ life !
Dave. So, did any incarnation of the Pirates that you’ve been in ever share a stage with the Beatles ?
Mick. Well, put it this way – the Beatles shared a stage with us ! because we did the riverboat shuffle in …the Mersey shuffle in Liverpool before the Beatles cracked it and it was Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, and then the band that was underneath us – I wish I’d have kept the poster – and like a load of the others, Swinging blue jeans and all that lot.
Dave. In the 70’s, Mick, was there any pressure by the record company to sort of punk-up the image ‘cos you were like competing with that sort of band weren’t you ?
Mick. Nah – I mean we just did what we did. Actually Warner Brothers didn’t give us a lot of counselling on repertoire at all. Perhaps they should have done ! (laughs) There was no pressure at all – they thought what we were doing was alright.
Ray. One last one, Mick. What’s your favourite Pirates number ? what do you really enjoy playing more than anything ?
Mick. (long pause) well it’s difficult to say ……………………it’s gonna be……. well I suppose ….erm…it’s got to be shakin’ all over probably. Cos I know that’s the one – although I wasn’t on the original record – that I’m most famous for playing, which is a bit odd ! But I’ve played it more than anyone else in the world….I was still at school when it came out. But I like playing that ‘cos I know everyone in the audience will know it. We could go and play a place where they’ve not heard of us but the minute we play that they’ll know who we are. You go to like Japan and play it and as soon as that riff kicks in you’ve got hundreds of them jumping up and down and screaming and these kids can’t be much more than about eighteen years old and they weren’t even born when we were around in the 70’s – I don’t understand it ! I guess it goes right back to the start of this to when I used to go to Dobell’s to listen to Big Bill Broonzy. But other than that there’s so many of them…I mean I don’t mind Munchen it…….
Ray. Mick, you’ve been an absolute diamond. Thanks a lot and we all look forward to seeing you on stage soon.
Mick. Thanks, lads.