Strings And Shirts!
Ron's guitar class, in 1971, with music teacher Mr Glenn Tommey. Ron is third from the left, in his 'groovy' gear of shirt with a penny round collar, velvet bell-bottomed trousers and Paisley cravat! He was very trendy and a very smart-dresser even back then. Ron learnt a great deal from Glenn and he attended his after-school guitar classes for a year, before having specialized Classical guitar lessons with Martin Jones, a music teacher with an excellent reputation. Remember, there were no videos or DVDs, fifty years ago and 'YouTube' was still thirty years away. In fact, there was no 'daytime' television. Ron was playing in a band, by this time and having to learn and play songs, under pressure, forced him to think quickly and to develop his playing-style. Ron remembers his first lessons with Glenn Tommey with great fondness, though. He says, 'The first chords that Glenn taught us were G/Em/Am/D7. That is a I/vi/iv/V chord sequence that fits a lot of 'pop' songs, from the 'fifties', onwards. I practiced these chords until my fingers bled.' Ron has always maintained that having 'proper' guitar lessons with a qualified guitar teacher is the optimum way to learn a guitar (or you could apply this to any musical instrument) rather than trying to teach yourself from books or television. 'To have a qualified teacher on-hand is invaluable. Should you make a mistake, it will be highlighted, whereas 'going alone' often sees mistakes and bad practice repeated to the point that it becomes embedded in your technique.' Ron taught private guitar, piano and saxophone lessons from 1976 to 2016 as well as group guitar lessons from 1990-1998.
Ron in his parents' garden in April 1974. Behind Ron is the South Staffordshire Railway line and beyond that, the woods, where Ron and his friends used to play. The guitar that Ron is holding was borrowed from school. As he was being taught Classical guitar, Ron needed a Classical guitar, with nylon strings. Not being in possession of one of these and not being able to afford a decent one, Ron was able to borrow this beautiful instrument from school. Mr Tommey was always pleased to encourage his pupils to practice their instruments at home, so he loaned instruments out to students for days, weeks or terms. Ron remembers, 'I borrowed this instrument in February, 1974. I fell down some stairs, whilst carrying it and I damaged it, slightly. Having informed Mr Tommey, I had the guitar repaired at Modern Music, Castle Hill, Dudley - a Music Shop often frequented by Robert Plant, Noddy Holder, Dave Hill and Roy Wood. I played Noddy's 'Gibson SG' once!' Ron kept the guitar, after it had been repaired, until the end of the 1973-74 academic year. Ron didn't take exams for guitar, having taken them for piano, clarinet and saxophone. He says, 'By then, I felt that having a piece of paper to certify that I can play 'XY&Z' was superfluous. I didn't need it. I knew what I was capable of and I didn't need to prove it to anyone.' Even to-day, Ron questions the need for exams. 'We are an over-examined nation. The tail is wagging the dog, in schools, to-day. Learning should be fun. Children do learn a great deal more when they are enjoying themselves. The pressures that exams bring and the whole idea that the pupil is learning a piece of music just to get a grade and a certificate is just wrong. One day, someone in authority will realize that and learning might one day be fun, again.' Ron certainly has fun, now. 'I love my guitars. I generally play for at least a couple of hours, per day. Sometimes this is focused practicing, with a definite goal and sometimes I just play anything with no particular aim. Just 'noodling.' I do urge all children to take up a musical instrument. It's such fun and you never know where it might lead you.' Should you require advice about guitars (types, prices, availability), lessons and/or what type of repertoire suits different styles of guitar, then please write to Ron via his website. He will be glad to help, in any way he can.
Too Close For Comfort - 1973
Memories of my first large, serious performance at a sold-out concert with the Mayor, his wife and various other civic dignitaries in the audience.
‘Cum On, Feel The Noise’ was number one in the BBC pop charts. It was to stay there for four weeks. Slade, along with The Sweet, Donny Osmond, Suzi Quattro, Wizzard and Gary Glitter dominated the pop charts. I was a great enthusiast, but I also preferred more ‘serious’ music. Artists like David Bowie, Lou Reed, Steely Dan and Ten Years After were playing pop music with a ‘serious’ and far more musical element than ‘chart-fodder’. In America, a beautiful song by Roberta Flack, ‘Killing Me Softly’, was number one. I particularly loved that song. They were wonderful days, though. Music had always been important to me, but as I had been playing the guitar, piano and clarinet for a couple of years and my enthusiasm and dedication to them, particularly the guitar, meant that I was progressing at a swifter pace than would normally be expected, it was beginning to dominate my life. This was being noticed at school, unbeknownst to me! I was a student in what we now call Year Eight.
Johnathan Lockyer, Head Of Music, was charged with programming a short concert series, called ‘Easter Follies ‘73’, running for five evenings and one matinee performance, during the Easter holidays. Whilst the programme was mostly musical, there was comedy and dancing, too. Much of the organising was delegated to other Teachers, as befitting their areas of specialisation and they all took to it with great enthusiasm. I was ‘told’ that I would be playing guitar, by Glenn Tommey, my own Music Teacher. I had half-expected this ‘invitation’ and now I was intrigued as to what I would be playing and with whom I would be performing. I wouldn’t have too long to wait. Glenn Tommey, it is worth mentioning, was my actual tutor of guitar and we really liked each other. I always had lots of technical questions for him, which he genuinely loved to answer, being a very ‘hands-on’ technical musician. I could go and find Glenn, during a break, to ask him what he thought of the dynamic qualities of a Standard Telecaster neck pick-up versus a rice pudding. We also discussed bands and artists, particularly guitarists. Glenn, himself, played a beautiful, off-white Fender Telecaster. He was always at odds with Mr Lockyer, as he refused to stick to the Music Syllabus. I can remember fantastic lessons on ‘Tarkus’, ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ and ‘Tommy’ amongst less-weighty topics such as ‘The Syncopations Of Charlie Parker’, ‘Influences of Folk on American Rock in 1964-65’ and always my favourite, the exploits of Ten Years After, whom we both loved. Alvin was always my favourite guitarist, even back then. It came as no surprise that, in 1974, Glenn resigned from his teaching post to work as a recording and mixing engineer at Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wales, near to where he was originally from. Rockfield, the scenario for the creation of so many great records, including ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and all of the Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe/Elvis Costello output in the late 1970s, amongst countless others. Artists that I know Glenn worked with are: Marc Bolan/T Rex, The Corgis, Stackridge, The Lewis Creavan Band, Peter Gabriel and Shock The Monkey, to name a few. But he would be around to supervise and direct me in what was about to become my auspicious beginning on the concert circuit.
Around three weeks before we were due to break-up for the Easter holidays, Glenn gave me the sheet music for ‘Close To You’ by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
‘Learn that so that you can play it, blind, by the time of the concerts.’ Was his instruction to me.
I opened the page and saw some of the chords. Suspensions, added ninths, sixths and sevenths. This was no I-VI-IV-V or I-IV-V stroll. This was going to be a challenge. Where did I fit in, too? Was there another guitarist? What kind of a band was going to play this song? Who was the singer? I was really desperate to find out. At lunch-time, I took myself up to the music department’s practice rooms. Surely this would be were the answers to my questions would be found.
After only a few seconds, a sixth-form student, Steve Pepper, arrived with his alto saxophone and a copy of the sheet music for ‘Close To You’. ‘Two down,’ I thought, ‘Now to find the rest of them.’ Well, after a chat with Steve Pepper, I discovered that we were going to be accompanying the wonderful, dusky-voiced contralto, Carol Crooke, a Year Ten student who had already interested a couple of record companies and sang with a jazz band at weekends. She was good. Years later, she would make a good living as a professional jazz singer. There was a drummer from Year Nine, a double-bass player from the Sixth-Form and Glenn Tommey on piano, himself. This was going to be so ‘professional’. As well as practicing at home, the five of us would schedule practice sessions in one of the larger practice rooms, every lunch-time. I say ‘five’ as Carol was never there. I loved the suspended chords and the added ninths. My steel-strung acoustic guitar rang out and drove the rhythm, softly but definitely. At first, I didn’t dare play with a plectrum, but as my confidence grew, I picked harder and louder. The biggest surprise for our audience was that Herb Alpert’s famous trumpet solo was going to be an alto saxophone solo, instead. We were beginning to sound good. Everything flowed, beautifully. The pauses were all worked upon, along with the beautiful coda. Finally, on the last day of term, Carol joined us and we accompanied her, beautifully.
After a week off school and yet more practice, the day of the first concert was soon upon us. I must admit that I was suffering from stage-fright, even then. Everything was a bit vague and I had no idea exactly what time our little ensemble would be taking to the stage. I was at school for 5.00pm. The concert was due to begin at 7pm. I had my guitar with me, a music stand, a pack of unopened ‘Rotosound’ 11 gauge strings, two plectrums and a duster. I had a wander around the stage, where a four-piece rock band were busy setting their own gear up. I watched them with interest, as they set-up their amplifiers, plugged their guitars and bass in and the drummer built up his drum kit. I was in a band, too. I sang and played lead guitar. We weren’t very good and I was always trying to get the others to practice more. We did the odd paid gig, but I was always less than happy with our sound. I wanted to tell the four lads who, by the name painted on the front skin of the bass drum, was ‘Purple Sugar’. A tap on my shoulder and I turned around. ‘Do you want to help us, pal?’ It was one of the guitarists from Purple Sugar. I nodded. ‘Can you sing backing vocals?’ he enquired of me. ‘Well, Yes, I’m in a band, myself. We’re called......’ ‘Fine. Good. I’ll set you a mike up, behind that curtain.’ ‘Behind the curtain?’ He looked at me. ‘Well, just to the side. Is that OK?’ I nodded. I didn’t fancy hiding behind a curtain to sing. ‘We actually only need you to make a noise like a siren when we sing ‘Blockbuster’ [a recent number one hit single by The Sweet, which prominently featured the sound of a police siren.] I was a bit taken aback. Backing vocals? Wail? Siren? Ah, well, I was a professional. No job too great or too small.
Purple Sugar, with their ‘Top Twenty’ and ‘K’ guitars and bass, amplified with Wem and Selmer ploughed through their set, consisting of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Nile Song’, David Bowie’s ‘The Jean Genie’, ‘Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ and a few other contemporary rockers including, of course ‘Blockbuster’, with a great, moaning, wailing siren announcing it. Of course, I did not merely stand there making a siren noise through the Shure Unidyne ‘B’ that I had been furnished with, I sang back-up to everything they did, knowing all the numbers as I did. I was even joined by a fellow Year Eight student called Julie Herrington, who spat all over my hand as I stopped her from laughing into he mike during a song. She stood next to me and sang along to ‘Blockbuster’ and we must have looked very professional as she was glamorously dressed for a sketch that she was to appear in and I was wearing my purple shirt with paisley cravat, red bell-bottoms and platform-heeled shoes. The band formally asked me to join them as their backing vocalist for the rest of the week. I was beaming with pride and delight. Of course, I accepted.
By now the School Theatre was packed and all participants were present, somewhere or other. Glenn had already seen me and told me we were to be the last ‘act’. That meant 9.00pm. We set up at the back of the stage during the interval, I had a chair, next to the Wurlitzer electric piano, the rest were to stand, bar the drummer. After that, I retired to the ‘Gods’, where I could watch everything. I could see how the lights were being manipulated, making a real difference down on the stage. I could also see into the control room, where the sound was being controlled and the balcony where Glenn played the upright piano, being visible from the stage and carefully watching the action as he played. I loved the atmosphere. This was the kind of life I could get used to.
Now it was our turn. I can honestly say that I have never felt so nervous in my life. Knowing that so many people, including the Mayor and Mayoress were going to be watching and listening to me, terrified me. What if I made a mistake? Should I neglect to use my plectrum? I could play really quietly, couldn’t I? I’d learned the music and I could ostensibly play without reading, but dare I trust myself? No! I had already placed the sheet music on my music stand, just to the left of my chair. Actually, everyone else had, except for Carol, who looked amazing in a blue suit. We grouped on stage. No-one said a word. I was in between Glenn on the electric piano and Steve on sax. I sat down and played the six strings on my guitar. Still in tune. I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t have been. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to hold everyone up to tune my guitar. The soft C major/C major add 9 chords sounded on the piano and we were off. No plectrum, thumb only, look at the chords, don’t take your eyes off the music. Don’t take your eyes off the music! I remember biting my lip. I was listening to my guitar, nothing else. I was shaking, but it was sounding great. When it came to the saxophone solo, I remember playing a bit louder and hearing it. I was playing along with a sax! I didn’t look up, though. It didn’t matter what anyone saw of me, it was the music that had to be right. All of a sudden we were being applauded. It was over. I felt a great sense of relief wash over me. My head thudded and my mouth was dry. Sure, I’d been playing in a band for a couple of years. We played loud. But this had been so different. We had played together, beautifully. I stood up and bowed, with the rest of them. All smiles. Afterwards, Glenn and Carol said they were both happy with the performance. I packed up my gear, grabbed my jacket from the back of the theatre and made my way home in the dusk.
On my long walk home, I reflected on how I had played. I was pleased that I had read the music, all the way through, as I had made no mistakes. That had definitely been the right thing to do. I resolved to use a plectrum, from now on, though, as I would have greater control of both the dynamics and more accuracy with my strumming. The chord-shapes were not the easiest and I privately congratulated myself upon negotiating them. Overall, I was ecstatically happy. I had played in an ensemble with a fantastic jazz singer and I had kept up with musicians who were older and more experienced than me. We played four more evenings and I believe that we played better and better, each performance. My stage-fright diminished, slightly, but I was still very keyed-up right to the second that our performance began. My plectrum certainly featured and I played louder and softer, as per the score. On the last night, when all was over, I was genuinely sad. Our little band did not particularly socialize, but we did have a couple of minutes together, where we all thanked each other and promised to get together, again, no doubt for the Easter Follies 1974. We never did. ‘Close To You’ remains a firm favourite in my heart, mostly because it really was too close for comfort, yet a most wonderful experience. I learned a great lesson from those performances and that is that the music comes first. For the rest of my life, the music came first. The correct notes, the quality of sound, all parts sounding right together and the best performance possible is far preferable to a visually spectacular extravaganza. That’s probably why I prefer listening to watching. Later, I learned to listen better to the other musicians, along with myself, so as to be able to balance, shape and modify my sound to the overall need. But this had been a start. I had been handed a wonderful opportunity with an experienced band and a most beautiful song and I shall never forget that. Whenever I hear the distinctive opening to ‘Close To You’, my mind goes back to that April evening in 1973 when I played it live. The arrangement is an integral part of this song and I negotiated it. My first real concert performance. Too close for comfort, indeed!
A Blast From The Past - 1975
A rare and exclusive opportunity to listen to two live recordings of
Ron Mozart live in concert at Darlaston Progressive Club, Staffordshire on Saturday, 8 November 1975.
Live stereo recordings of Ron and his band -
1. 'Part Of The Union' (Hudson-Ford)
2. 'Wipe Out' (Bob Berryhill, Pat Connolly, Jim Fuller and Ron Wilson)
The 'Progressive' in Darlaston was a regular 'gig' for Ron and his band, between 1974 and 1976. A fairly small club, the atmosphere was electric, and the acoustics were excellent.
Ron's band consisted of Ron, himself, on Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar and Bass Guitar, David Chrimes on Rhythm Guitar and Bass Guitar, Phil Talbot on Hammond Organ, Robin Dewes on Drums and the 'occasional' David Gough on Lead Vocals and Backing Vocals.
'Part Of The Union' had been a huge 1973 hit for The Strawbs. The song was a very popular element of Ron's repertoire and, as you can hear, there was a great deal of audience participation - 'Out, Brothers, Out!' being a common phrase at the time. 'Wipe Out' needs no introduction and this instrumental from 1963 was always a very popular dance tune. Just listen to Robin on the drums. He could really beat them!
Back in the '60s and '70s, clubs like 'The Progressive' were where the work was for local bands. All over the North, Fridays and Saturday evenings were spent watching and listening to the best local bands as they often played for two to three hours, per evening, usually sandwiched between copious games of Bingo! At around that time, Ron and his band had a repertoire of about seventy to eighty songs. New songs had to be learned, regularly, so as to be 'contemporary' so that the repertoire was evolving, all the time. These two songs remained as part of the 'second set' for a long time. Ron always insisted in playing original material, too, but this had to be limited as audiences demanded to hear what was in the 'Charts' as well as all of their old favourites. Any song that had been recorded by Elvis was guaranteed to be popular. The dance-floor would fill up, immediately, as soon as the two chords that open 'Jailhouse Rock' were struck.
They were happy days. We rarely went more than a weekend without a gig and the more we played, the better we became. A four-piece (occasionally five with David) band, like ours, could expect to be paid around £20.00-£25.00 for a gig like this. After expenses, we would usually have about £5.00 each. For that, you could buy a packet of twenty cigarettes for every day of the week, buy an LP record and treat oneself to a bag of fish 'n' chips on Friday.
Enjoy a few minutes of the sensational seventies with Ron and his band.