The Serendipitous & Surreal
Six-Stringed Life & Times Of Ollie Halsall
by Ralph Heibutzki
Reproduced by kind permission of
|< Part One||
Ugly Things #30
We are delighted to have been given permission to reproduce part two of Ralph Heibutzki's extensive Serendipitous & Surreal Six-Stringed Life & Times Of Ollie Halsall from US magazine Ugly Things #30.
You can read the online version here but, even better, please buy a real analogue copy! Both the back issue and the latest volume are available by mail order. It doesn't cost much more than a UK muso mag - the difference is it's far better than anything you'll get over here!
Also in this issue: a Kinks special featuring an extensive, no holds barred interview with Ray Davies by Kinks biographer Jon Savage; The Masters Apprentices;'60s garage punks; The Hysterics; Girl garage rockers The Bittersweet; Dutch beat icons Q65; 70s Texas punks The Nervebreakers;, Perth County Conspiracy; The New Nadir, and lots more.
Back issue available here
When our story left off, the former Timebox members stood ready to enter the progressive era as Patto, having renamed themselves after their soulful, strutting lead singer, Mike Patto, whose ability to strike an instant rapport with an audience remained unmatched. Mike's creative partner, Peter John “Ollie” Halsall, could cut any guitarist alive—boasting ferocious chops that he'd honed after barely three years of constant live work and late night hotel room practice sessions.
Bassist Clive Griffiths and drummer John “The Admiral” Halsey proved the ideal rhythm conspirators for Mike and Ollie to work their respective magic, as they did, rattling up and down the British countryside—night after never-ending night, showcasing an explosive chemistry that nobody who witnessed it would ever forget. Nobody knew that better than the man who signed and produced them, Mervyn “Muff” Winwood: “There was something about the four of them together. Somehow, it was always totally uncontrollable. It was incredibly interesting, but never perfect. When you split the guys up a little bit, they were a little bit more focused about what they did.”
OUR STORY (TAKE NINE):
OUR STORY SO FAR (TAKE NINE)
A MUSO'S EPIPHANIES IN 1970
Word spread fast about this new combo at venues like the Temple Club, located on Wardour Street, in the heart of central London—where Barry Monks' band shared a bill with Patto in early 1970.
“We were actually above them on the bill, but this was only because it went on till about three o'clock in the morning—and most people wanted to get out of the place as soon as possible,” Monks says, laughing. “Actually, Chris Holmes was still with ‘em. He doesn't remember this, but he was in Patto for a short while, just a few weeks.”
What happened when Patto took the stage, playing to hardy rock ‘n’ roll rats loathe to go home, left Monks transfixed as he watched from the bar. “I was trying to think, and I didn't realize, till even a few days later—that it wasn't any guitarist I've ever heard before, it was a sax player. That's what it sounded like, because of the intervals he was playing, and the runs,” he recalls.
Sixteen-year-old Andy Moore, who became a guitar designer himself, had only been playing for a couple years when he caught Ollie at the Temple Club—not the same night as Monks, necessarily—yet he too came away with his sensibilities rearranged.
Moore's initial inspirations included some of the usual suspects (Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page), and some not so obvious (Tony McPhee, Stan Webb), but nothing prepared him for what he saw that night. “His speed was unsurpassable,” says Moore. “His ability to play a combination of rhythm chord structure with well thought-out lead riffs was extremely rare. Most bands had a chord man and a lead man. Halsall more than competently did both at all live gigs. I felt like his lead runs were more like listening to a saxophone soloing than a guitar.”
Ollie's unnerving speed enabled him to squeeze major and minor runs “into totally irrelevant bars, but (still) get back to the critical notes of the song structure before the human ear/brain had time to work out what he had done,” Moore continued. “Also, at a time of long hair, and hip image, to see a guitarist dressed in a Harris Tweed jacket and shortish hair made me connect to a great individual.”
Before long, the “Pattos”—as they were becoming known—found a cadre of hardcore fans greeting them wherever they played. For Monks, that was relatively easy; one of the band's favorite venues was the Torrington, a north Finchley pub “just around the corner, from where I used to live,” he recalls. Anything and everything could happen. “I mean, they never had any sort of pretensions to have a stage act, or anything,” Monks says. “They'd suddenly just do some old Victorian music hall song, or a cappella stuff—John Halsey would start singing old doo-wop tunes, with the rest of them backing. I suppose a lot of people couldn't understand what was going on.”
Other nights, that might involve everyone kneeling down to sing Disney's “Dwarf Chorus”; belting out “Strangers In The Night” in 5/4 time, with expletives to fill in the missing beat; or even doing excerpts from operas, like The Pirates Of Penzance.
Patto's other favored base lay “oop north,” in Sheffield—at the Black Swan, a pub gig inherited from Timebox's regular date sheet. “They could do no wrong for this audience,” recalls John Taylor, Patto's future road manager. “They almost used to play it once a month. Two [sets] would be, ‘OK, this is a gig,’ but the middle set would be lunacy, like pantomime, almost. It was like improv, not always musical. They'd put the guitars down, and there were whole passages of bullshit. We took costumes, and dressed up for it! ‘OK, now this set, we'll do The Pirates Of Penzance’—it was like, time out from it all.”
The schedule didn't let up, as the “Concert Dates” section of the Patto/Timebox Fansite, www.pattofan.com, illustrates. Pick a week, any week: On November 3, 1970, Patto recorded a BBC session (transmitted the following Tuesday). On Friday (November 6), it was off to the Sisters Club, with Renaissance; Saturday, to La Grotto (Southend-on-Sea); Sunday, the Hotel Horn (Braintree); then back to the Temple Club on November 14. Yet Mike and Ollie, in particular, began finding time for the odd extracurricular venture. On Sunday, November 15, 1970, they both appeared at London's Lyceum with Centipede—the sprawling, 50-piece freeform big band fronted by pianist Keith Tippett.
A grainy photo captures Ollie standing proudly center stage at the show, designed to promote Centipede's Septober Energy double album—just another night out, while waiting for that big break to come. “Chris did go, and then we were away—[doing] the free things, with [Mike] Patto singing,” Halsey says. “We then felt we owned the world. But time proved that we didn't.”
OUR STORY SO FAR (TAKE TEN):
ENTER THE PROPER ROAD MANAGER
Still, all that grueling roadwork had one positive effect, with the introduction of a proper road manager in John Taylor—who would remain in that role until the band's breakup, in 1973. He was well aware of Patto, having caught them at some free festival on the outskirts of London. “Here was this band that could just rock, unbelievably,” he says. “And Ollie was just unbelievable. He had the black beard, and looked like Abraham Lincoln, and that is what really freaked me out that day. I thought, ‘Here is this guy who looks like fuckin’ Abraham Lincoln, and he rocks better than any guitar player I've seen, ever.’”
Taylor's pedigree was equally unassailable. Having played from his 12- or 13-year-old school days around Liverpool, and Manchester, “playing the Cavern and those sorts of places—well after the Beatles,” he recalls.
Eventually, like many aspiring musicians from outlying areas, Taylor felt London calling. He soon became the bassist in the progressive blues band, Ibex, best remembered for its lead singer—a certain Farrokh Bulsara, light-years before he morphed into Freddie Mercury, the leering, peering, strutting face of Queen. Among the first people that Taylor met in London were guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor (no relation), and bassist Tim Staffel—then doing business as Smile.
“We were a trio, they were a trio, and Freddie hung about with them—he was a friend of theirs,” Taylor says. “He could sing, and he wanted to be in a band. I was singing and playing bass, and we felt we could do with a singer, a real frontman.”
Thus reconstituted, Ibex changed its name to Wreckage, in October 1969—just as Timebox's final single was making the rounds. Only a month later, however, Wreckage broke up. Bulsara hooked up with Smile, whose members carried on a tad longer, into 1971. With John Deacon replacing Staffel, the reconstituted Queen marched into rock Valhalla—but Taylor kept busy with other interests, such as selling records from a stall in Piccadilly Circus. As someone who dealt with record buyers, he felt certain why Timebox's street-level vibe never yielded bigger returns.
“It was almost like they had a double life—having minor hit records, playing society balls, pop venues, the things that pop bands did,” Taylor says. “But it wasn't satisfying to guys like that, ‘cause they were three-minute pop songs, basically—didn't stretch anybody. And you had four great players in that band.”
OUR STORY SO FAR (TAKE ELEVEN):
I SAW THE MAN (REALLY)
How proficient became vividly apparent on Patto's self-titled debut album, which appeared as Vertigo's second release in December 1970 (after Jimmy Campbell's Half Baked). Patto landed in record bins with a bright golden gatefold sleeve—an apt accompaniment for Tony Benyon's “exploding head” cover art—and sparse, hard-edged sound, one that owed little to studio processing.
Recording proceeded at Island Studios, under a compromise that Muff Winwood brokered with Chris Blackwell: “He said, ‘Look, I just can't see this at all. But if you're so strong about it, if you record them in our studio—bring the income into the recording studio—I'll happily let you go and get a deal for them.’”
In the studio, necessity definitely proved the mother of invention. “I was paying for the thing myself, so I didn't want to spend hours, and hours, and hours—so there was a sense of keeping things moving,” Winwood says. “And often, you've got to motivate people to keep it moving.”
But that ideal could be difficult to achieve when Patto's key decision-makers—Mike and Ollie—were, “in most parts of the recording process, completely out of it,” Winwood laughs. “I look back on it now with a big smile on my face, and it was great fun. But at the time, of course, I was trying to make a record.”
Eventually, Winwood focused on communicating with the quieter members, Clive and John, “and we could leave Mike and Ollie to get on with what they wanted to get on with,” he says. “At least, that's how I remember it.”
Taylor only wishes that the band had been captured at its concertizing prime. “They weren't a band for lots of overdubs. When you're reacting to an audience, you can just progress to the next level,” he says. “To my mind, they were never really captured in the studio at all, in any form that represented how good they were.”
But live performance and studio recording are two different animals, in Winwood's eyes. “It was nutty to get organization into those recording sessions,” he maintains. “You need organization, even to get the wildest stuff. The rhythm section needs to be right, to get the most power out of it, and stuff like that—and it was very difficult.”
The album's opening salvo, “The Man,” exemplifies what the band did so well—building from a hushed, near-conversational vocal and Ollie's muted vibraphone solo. Suddenly, Halsey's tom-toms enter the fray, after the halfway mark, jolting the ending into a balls-out assault, while Mike screams like a man possessed: “I saw the man, yeah, I saw the man!”
“San Antone” became another peak of the live set, with time signatures pulled apart like mere taffy—offering an ideal launch pad for segueing into unexpected fare, such as Elvis Presley's “Burning Love.”
Not everything relied on a band going bang—such as on “Government Man,” where Ollie lays down a glistening vibes solo, whose laid-back blast against family farm foreclosures makes it one of several key songs cementing the “people's band” vibe that characterized Patto's career.
For many fans, Patto's tour-de-force is “Money Bag,” a sprawling, 10-minute freeform epic where Ollie spars with his rhythm mates, until Mike cuts in with a dreamy, haiku-like vocal—just half a dozen lines, or so—about the price that he's paid to protect that precious green stuff. As Halsey notes, it's the kind of song that separates true believers from also-rans: “Yeah, that’s one of his [Ollie's] little fragmented sort of things. That's the sort of thing we were doing, and playing. It seemed to make sense to us.”
Melody Maker certainly thought so, citing Ollie as the star presence (“It is beyond my comprehension that he has not been heard before, seeing that he has been on the music scene for quite some time.”), with Halsey not far behind, if “a bit too busy and fond of flashy rolls.”
New Musical Express's one-paragraph review praised Ollie's playing, although it rated the album as “a modest group effort.”
In America, the New Haven Rock Press gave a three-and-a-half-star rating—because Jon Tiven felt that Side One didn't match the quality of Side Two. Otherwise, Tiven liked what he heard: “They are a band, not just a bunch of good musicians. And they write diverse and intriguing songs.”
But now the reality check arrived. Patto sold roughly 5,000 copies, a fair showing for a new band introducing itself, but hardly the stuff of confetti blasts, either.
The marketplace could be unforgiving indeed, as Taylor notes: “They were getting 400 or 500 quid a night as Timebox, the pop act. They went back right to nothing to be Patto, the credible act, doing what they wanted to do—which is pretty impressive.”
Since there wasn't money in record sales—let alone per diems, something that Taylor doesn't remember seeing until 1972-73—the boys made do with £40 per week, “which was an OK, hand-to-mouth sort of wage,” Halsey opines.
The odd advance did come through, with farcical results. Shortly after Patto's release, Muff Winwood informed the boys that they had £600 apiece coming—so they trooped down to collect it, at an Indian restaurant somewhere on Kensington High Street. “He [Winwood] gave us these envelopes, with £600 each in them. It was more money than I'd ever seen in my life,” Halsey recalls. “And I'll never forget—Ollie spent his [portion] before we got home.”
First, Ollie snapped up two Italian rugs, “virtually in the shop next door,” Halsey says. Then, on the way home, Ollie—who didn't drive, making his transport one of Taylor's regular assignments—popped into Lasky's, on Tottenham Court Road, and emerged bearing an Akai reel-to-reel tape recorder. Alas, the machine wound up gathering dust, because Ollie's newly-depleted advance didn't stretch far enough to cover the special mics and speakers that his new gadget required. “We dropped him off at home, and he'd spent all his money,” says Halsey. “And there he was, married, with a child. He might even have had two children at that time.”
Such hijinks presumably failed to amuse Ollie's wife (Monica) and children (Allison and Andrea). “Well, no, they're still not,” Halsey retorts. “I mean this is a side of Ollie being outlandish, and unpredictable, and irresponsible. This is a side of him that people don't realize.”
Muff Winwood doesn't dispute the gist of Halsey's story, but suspects that some bits and pieces changed in the retelling. “Absolutely, I could see that [happening], but some of these things get into folklore,” Winwood asserts. “I mean, he couldn't have done [spent his share in a day], ‘cause I paid him by check! So, it's not quite like that, but I bet you it's pretty close to that. He probably spent it within the next couple of days, but certainly not before he got home.”
OUR STORY SO FAR (TAKE TWELVE):
YOU (YOU POINT YOUR FINGER)
As 1970 faded out, Patto began playing more frequently at colleges and universities, “which were good in those days,” Taylor recalls.
For a flavor of the era, ponder the monikers of those who played with Patto, names that mean nothing nowadays (so, take a bow: Angel Dust, Aural Plasma, Bubastis, Capability Brown, Collusion, Fusion, Gnome, Graphite, Home, Nucleus, Sacrilege, Slowdog, Smooth Bitch, Spike, and Uncle Dog).
Another favored activity point came at north London's Roundhouse and its Sunday “Implosion” shows—such as December 20, 1970, where a young Elton John and the Who joined the many newcomers meeting Patto on their way up.
“They'd [the Implosion gigs] begin around 1:30, finish by 9pm, something like that,” Taylor recalls. “Almost as good as it gets. Patto opened up, Elton was in the middle, and [there was] the Who. That was a phenomenal show.”
Whatever happened onstage, Taylor had to be prepared. “A road manager, in those days, did absolutely everything. He drove the van, he had to fix the equipment. When things broke down, he had to keep everything running,” he declares.
There were no lack of technical gremlins to keep Taylor busy, such as the old-fashioned Wurlizter piano—whose keys functioned like tuning forks, outfitted with notches of solder on each one. “When they went out of tune, there was a special tool for getting out these little tuning forks,” Taylor explains. “You'd have to drop some [solder] on, put it back in, see how sharp or flat it was—you'd file it down, or put a bit more on. That was a bit tricky, and very time-consuming.”
Once the calendar included Europe—as it did on March 6, 1971, where Patto filmed its only video clip for French TV, with Bernie Holland subbing on bass—the distances could feel endless. “We came from southern Italy to the north of England once to do a show—took us two and a quarter days without sleep, and we did it,” Taylor says, laughing. “Well, I slept during the shows...[and] we got three hours on the ferry.”
The band found novel ways to pass the time. The second half of Taylor's 1970 diary is filled with scores for “Knock,” a card game “which we played relentlessly on some trips,” he says. “The idea is to get rid of all your cards—aces count as 20, face cards as 15, and you get minus five for winning a hand. So it's one of those games—the guy with the lowest score is the winner.”
In April 1971, Patto supported the Faces on a brief German outing through Dusseldorf (April 14), Hamburg (April 15), Frankfurt (April 16), and Munich (April 17). On this occasion, May Blitz served as the other support band, allowing Newman to renew his friendship with Ollie. “I worked with Rod, and Ronnie, in [Jeff] Beck's group—we'd talk, but not as close as the underlings, you know?” Newman says. “We did theatres, two- or three-thousand seaters, all over Europe. It was a package show.”
Such exercises seemed to cement Patto's reputation as “support band for hire,” a role it never entirely outgrew. “We started to realize, everybody [in the industry] knew us,” Halsey recalls. “They hadn't made us. The general public hadn't made us a top of the bill band—we then started to realize, we never were gonna be.”
Those feelings were hardly new, as Halsey had outlined in a January 23, 1971 Melody Maker interview (“Bitter Patto: Two Years Ahead”): “I'm completely disillusioned with the whole scene. The thing is that you've got go out and play, and if you earn a living you're lucky.”
For evidence, Mike only had to cite Hold Your Fire, which appeared in December 1971, and is generally considered the band's finest hour. A richer, fuller sound had replaced the debut album's in-your-face minimalism, and, certainly—as the 4/4 to 6/4 time shift of “Tell Me Where You've Been” makes clear—the band had grown by leaps and bounds musically.
“That was the album everyone used to carry around with them,” Monks says. “It was a really well-known album—amongst musicians, especially.”
Now playing keyboards, as well as guitar, Ollie carried the main musical load—co-writing five songs with Mike, and taking sole credit for the remainder (“How's Your Father,” “See You At The Dance Tonight,” and “Air-Raid Shelter”).
Muff Winwood doesn't remember any great strategy. “Obviously, we'd learned some lessons from the first album,” he says. “The band were getting better, and playing better. They'd learned more about the recording process, as you do every time you make a record. Whether it was any better in the material, that's open for other people to judge.”
Time has dimmed Halsey's memory of the recording, but he has no trouble citing his favorite tracks. “‘Hold Your Fire’ is pretty good, and Ollie's guitar playing on ‘Give it All Away’ is absolutely breathtaking,” he says. “The guitar solo was just played live as we recorded the track. The solo itself is just awesome.”
“Hold Your Fire” proves an ideal opener—building on a steamroller of a groove, while Mike spits out his sarcastic look at life on the counter-cultural margins (“Don't shoot me, I'm in need of a friend: I'm bored, and taking shelter from the storm”), while Ollie cuts loose with scarily wicked abandon.
For all the talk about Patto, “the people's band,” it's easy to forget how they often sent up the culture associated with them—as they demonstrated on “Give it Away,” a galloping blues-rock rave-up whose acrid observations (“Do you think it really matters all that much/If we drive in style, or we walk the last mile, to the gallows”) might bypass the listener completely (“Do you think it really matters ‘cause you're rich/That you broke the law/While a poor man stayed poor, to feed his children?”)
Ollie proved an equally effective accompanist on slow-burning fare like “You (You Point Your Finger),” whose heartfelt retort could apply to anybody frustrated with a judgmental older generation (“But when you bastards die, we'll still be here/Then we'll take over”). About halfway through, the song really kicks into gear, as Ollie abruptly shifts gears to a sparse, swirling rhythm pattern that effectively complements Mike's observations (“You, you slowly fester, gripped by your disease”).
Ollie's originals showcased a quirkier side—packed with subtle, yet odd phrasing and time signature shifts on “See You At The Dance Tonight,” another bang-‘em-up rock ‘n’ roll shoot-out along the lines of “San Antone.”
And what to make of “Air-Raid Shelter,” exactly? It's basically a showcase for Ollie, the free jazzer, brimming with enough surrealistic lines to earn a thumbs-up from Wings-era Paul McCartney (“...put your clothes on, I've just been taken on by the clothing department...”).
Contrary to some reviewers' observations, the song's hardly a lyrical brain-teaser, especially in how Ollie chooses to round off the lyric—by telling his love interest what he'll do with those material contrivances (“If you want one/I will bring you a sample of the things they have made/Things that they produced/Things that have no use”).
The first album hadn't sold well, yet Vertigo allowed the indulgence of another gatefold sleeve—whose Roger Dean-designed cover featured characters based on the game of “Consequences,” where each player takes turns drawing the next body part (head, body, and so on). The front cover was cut into three sections. The “heads” could lift each flap individually, to reveal parts of the three characters printed on the inner gatefold. Eight different character combinations were possible this way.
Rightly regarded for his Yes-related artwork, Dean worked similar graphic magic with many cult acts of the era, like Patto. He recalls entering the picture after Vertigo deemed the band's original cover art mock-up too costly. “The band had proposed very complex paper cutting that apparently would have been prohibitively expensive—a pity, because their mock-up looked great,” Dean advised the author in a January 2009 email. “I was asked to rework it, so I did, but I always thought the band's version would have worked just as well.”
Hold Your Fire's US version came out with a gatefold sleeve, but ditched Dean's concept altogether. The reworked sleeve featured printed lyrics, larger band photos, and a new character created by John Youssi—evidently inspired by Dean's alien figure, although he's not seen it.
“It was an expensive sleeve to produce, but in those days, record companies were more willing to make the expenses,” Dean says.
However, Hold Your Fire's reissue by the German Repertoire label reproduced the original gatefold sleeve, “and they have taken a lot of care about the quality,” he adds. “I was very impressed—it is fully functioning, check it out.”
For all that effort, Hold Your Fire still fell between two chairs at the box office: too ballsy for progressives, yet too quirky to divert teenagers already investing lots of air guitar time to the burgeoning glam-rock invasion of David Bowie, the Sweet, and T. Rex.
“When you think about some of the stuff they were doing, all those weird time signatures—it wasn't very accessible music to many people,” Monks says. “You know, numbers like ‘Air-Raid Shelter’—completely atonal music. It's hard to think of anyone who actually did anything quite like that.”
Muff Winwood was keenly aware of those issues, “but it was very difficult to change it [the approach],” he says. “Ollie and Mike were very ‘stuck in the mud,’ in the way they wanted to take things. The only way I could deal with this was to make sure that I represented what they wanted, as best as possible, on disc.”
Not for nothing did music press coverage of Patto—such as it was—began focusing on their live act, Winwood believes. “It was complicated, if you were sitting in your room listening to it,” he says. “If you went to a show, and saw it performed, it did make sense.”
As always, the musicians “got it” a bit sooner—including guitarist John “Olly” Alcock, who first encountered Ollie on June 11, 1971, at the Marquee Club, where his band Universe shared a bill with Patto. (Trivia buffs, take note: Universe included future Babys vocalist John Waite, of “Missing You” fame. Olly is still plugging away, too: check www.olly-alcock-band.co.uk).
“My first impression of one Ollie Halsall was a strange one, as we never spoke for almost two hours!” relates Alcock. “In the dressing room he grabbed my old (left-handed) '59 Gibson 330, and I duly grabbed his lovely (left-handed) white Gibson SG! Various roadies and band members came and went, but on we played. He was Ollie and played left-handed, I was Olly and also played left-hand. The music was our only communication and we ended up with a fairly healthy respect for each other at the end of our session. We jammed away like dervishes, and I'm sure we covered all our practice scales and modes during that afternoon. Great stuff!”
OUR STORY (TAKE THIRTEEN):
THE DREAM TURNS PEAR-SHAPED
In February and March 1972, Patto landed yet another prestige assignment—this time, supporting Ten Years After on a tour that focused around 1,500- to 2,000-seat halls in Germany and Scandinavia.
Tales of the headliner's lead guitarist, Alvin Lee, trailing his tourmates with a Revox tape recorder are the stuff of Patto legend. “I don't know that he did [record], but I've also heard that he's got loads of Patto tapes!”
. . . continued]
Taylor says. “I must ask him, he's a good friend of mine.” (Attempts to reach Lee for comment on this issue were unsuccessful.)
Time will tell whether any Patto tapes emerge, but John Halsey isn't bothered: “Oh, he [Lee] was blown away by the whole thing. That was the reaction we always got, but it still didn't put money in your pocket.”
For Halsey, the tour served as a painful confirmation of Patto's nether status in the grand scheme of rock ‘n’ roll. “Nobody took any notice of us all, and Ten Years After went on afterward,” Halsey says. “We all stood in the wings, watched them, and just thought, ‘This is unbelievable.’ There they were, tearing the place up, and we just knew we were so much more capable than they were, you know? That was so frustrating.”
The next day, it was up at 7am with the roadies, “driving however far it took to the next gig—humping all the gear in, setting up and playing, to no response at all,” Halsey says. “They were getting on an airplane, flying down to the next gig—picked up in a limo, tearing the place up to a fantastic audience reaction, earning a load of money—and there we were. It seemed an injustice.”
Mike's comments for Sounds (May 13, 1972) were characteristically more measured: “We found quite a few differences. Obviously, they wouldn't understand the rapping and looning, so we tended to become a bit more of a visual thing. They seemed to dig the music about the same though.”
Adored by fellow musicians, lionized by the press, Patto seemed fated to remain eternal underdogs. “Looking back on it now, the direction was wrong,” Halsey asserts. “We thought it was still gonna work, but it didn't. It didn't appeal to enough people to give us all big houses in the country, like Alvin Lee, and all those other people we knew.”
Asked whether the band ever shared these feelings beyond interview settings, Eddie McHenty responds: “They enjoyed each other's company, they worked really hard at it. They rehearsed most days of the week, when they weren't gigging—possibly frustrated about one or two things, but never any show of temper, or anything like that. They just got on with it, and had a good time—that's my impression.”
Some good-humored grinning ‘n’ bearing would definitely be needed; Vertigo had dropped the band, following the poor sales of Hold Your Fire. But John Halsey's wish was about to materialize, for Chris Blackwell had changed his mind, after all. “Being on Island was an important milestone in an artist's career, and we wanted to make sure that the [next] record sounded like the move that we'd made,” Muff Winwood says. “I think we over-tried, to be honest.”
OUR STORY SO FAR (TAKE FOURTEEN):
MAD DOGS & COCKER'S MEN
Before long, another unlikely lifeline arrived. After a two-year silence, the man regarded as Britain's greatest soul/blues shouter needed an opening act.
On September 1, 1972, Joe Cocker returned to the US, supported by flashy jazz-rockers, Mark-Almond, and Patto—who now shared the same manager in the late Nigel Thomas, with whom UT readers are amply acquainted. The formal introduction essentially came on July 21-22, 1972, as support for Cocker and a band fronted by Chris Stainton, who'd become his full-time keyboardist.
In America, a grander schedule awaited. The tour kicked off at Detroit's Cobo Hall, then zigzagged along the East Coast, South and West, where Patto faced some of their biggest audiences at the San Francisco Civic (September 25), Long Beach Arena (September 27), and Hollywood Bowl (September 28).
Initially, the expanded ensemble included two drummers: Jim Keltner, and Jimmy Karstein, who already knew the Cocker boys through pianist Leon Russell—the force behind Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the 30-piece-plus ensemble that burned across 48 American cities from 1969-70.
“I used to live at Leon's house, and everybody was getting a little bit too high for my comfort zone,” Karstein says. “PCP was comin' in, and DMT, and they were smokin' all this stuff—it was a little bit [hairy], you know.”
Karstein recalls seeing Cocker and his partner, Denny Cordell, hatch the Mad Dogs concept during those crazy bouts—and might have been along for the ride, if Taj Mahal hadn't needed a drummer for his own touring band.
“They all just kind of flipped out,” Karstein says. “I'm not trying to pass myself off as some kind of Presbyterian, but it was a little bit too much for me, and I just took off.”
Not surprisingly, Karstein needed some persuading when the call came from Keltner—another fellow Oklahoman, from Tulsa. “We'd been friends for years, and I said, ‘I'll do it if you'll do it,’” Karstein says. “I didn't really know what I was getting into.”
Indeed: after only a handful of gigs, Keltner left the tour. “We played about three [nights]—I think he had that in mind all the way,” Karstein says, with a rueful laugh. “He thought, ‘Well, I'm gonna break in Karstein, and I'm gonna bail on the deal.’ I've never got him to admit that, but...”
More basic concerns preoccupied John Taylor's mind. “The weirdest thing was having appendicitis on the first gig, limping around America,” he says. “I remember going out in Kansas one night, because we couldn't get any food. I took a cab, and said, ‘Somewhere, I wanna pick up some food.’ This cab dropped me off, and fucked off!”
For those who liked riotous behavior, and substances aplenty, the tour didn't disappoint. Questioned what he saw happening on that front, Taylor quips: “And that was just the wives!”
He pauses to clarify the point: “It did go on, the rampaging down hotel corridors, and wrecking of things, the usual fare. He [Cocker] was having a hard time with his voice—he went on with a bottle of champagne, a bottle of brandy, and he took good swigs out of both!”
Of course, as UT readers already know, Cocker's touring band included a certain Glenn Ross Campbell, former steel guitar player for the Misunderstood (see UT#22)—who doesn't have any particular recollection of Patto. “To be quite honest, I only remember one opening band and that was Stevie Wonder,” says Campbell. “Unfortunately, our sminders would have us arrive literally seconds before we went on, and just as quickly remove us from the premises and back to the hotel. If we didn't run into them at soundcheck we never knew who else was appearing. I hated it, being herded about like sheep, but let's face it, we were a capital investment property, not human beings, so it's not surprising we had no such luxury as freedom of movement.”
With so much attention centered on the headliner and his excesses, it was almost easy to forget that Patto were around. However, although Karstein wasn't familiar with their music, he didn't take long to become a convert: “Ollie was just a monster guitarist. I always thought Patto had as much jazz in them, as they did in rock ‘n’ roll. But they were just a dynamic tour de force, you know? And I'd sit and listen to them every night.”
Legends persist of abbreviated 20-minute Patto sets, although Karstein suspects they averaged half an hour, with 45 to 50 minutes for Mark-Almond, and 75 to 90 minutes for Cocker. “I don't have any down recollections of that,” Karstein asserts. “It seemed like everything was up and buzzing, every night, every gig, you know? Patto and those guys, shoot, they were so strong they couldn't help but get the audience going.”
The band played its final US gigs in Honolulu, Hawaii (September 29-30), where Jon Mark—Mark-Almond's guitar-playing half—lost the ring finger of his left hand in a bizarre drunken accident. “We all sat around, watching the sunset [on] Waikiki Beach, and Jon Mark shimmied up a palm tree, and slipped,” Karstein recalls. “It was his wedding band that got caught. He lost his grip, that ring caught, and it just pulled his finger off.”
However, not even a hospital visit stopped the quips from flying...within one quarter, anyway.
“These English, they've got a sense of humor—Patto starts to say, ‘Well, Django Reinhardt only does it with two fingers,’” Karstein says. “I saw Jon Mark a year or two later, and he was playing. You'd never knew it'd even happened.”
“Here was a jazz guitar player, now suddenly down a finger,” says John Taylor. “He coped!”
Incredible as it seemed, however, the greatest craziness lay just around the corner.
Australia loomed next on the calendar, but Taylor—still struggling with his illness—didn't make it there.
OUR STORY SO FAR (TAKE FIFTEEN):
KEYSTONE KOP BLUNDERS (DOWN UNDER)
How well popularity translates between territories is up to the public—but Harry M. Miller, who'd brought the Rolling Stones (1965) and Eric Burdon & the Animals (1966) Down Under, could feel reasonably confident of betting on Cocker.
Following quick stops in Christchurch (October 3) and Auckland, New Zealand (October 6), multi-night stands loomed in Sydney (October 10-12), Melbourne (October 18-20), Brisbane (October 24-25) and Perth (October 27-28).
At first, the schedule hadn't been so extensive, but public demand forced Miller to add the extra nights—which undoubtedly pleased Halsey, who'd found a way to make £30 extra per week.
“I started going off with Joe, and Ollie sneaked in,” Halsey says, laughing. “I don't think [the management] really wanted him to get up and do it, but he sneaked in, as well. I'd come off, change my shirt, and go back on with Joe.”
The tour routine came unglued on October 14, following the show at Adelaide's Apollo Stadium. “We got to Sydney, and stayed at Kings Cross, which is kind of the Times Square of Sydney,” Karstein says. “One of the roadies found some gal, and everybody bought a couple of ounces, and everybody got a bag, right? Well, the cops were watching the whole thing.”
Nobody thought much more when the Cocker entourage rolled into Adelaide's Holiday Inn, which faced a large open park. “Everybody got their weed, rolled up and went out on these balconies—but, anyway, the cops were across the street with binoculars, watching the whole thing. Everybody was way too high in those days, you know?”
Australia's reputation as a black hole of heavy-handed authorities, hostile attitudes and thick-headed media—which the Who, Small Faces and Paul Jones encountered abundantly back in '68—reared its ugly head anew. “Jimmy and I were sort of splitting it in the room, the cleaners walked in, and then—as they say—the shit hit the fan,” says Halsey, laughing.
The next day, it was off to court, where $300 fines were levied against Cocker and six members of the touring party—who found themselves facing inflammatory headlines and a 48-hour order to leave the country.
Further trouble followed. On October 18, after the first Melbourne concert, police busted Cocker and a girlfriend at the Commodore Chateau Hotel, claiming they'd joined a brawl in the foyer. Once more, Cocker stewed in an Australian lockup—this time, for assault and resisting arrest—until the next morning. The band managed two more dates on October 19-20, at Melbourne's Festival Hall, while Brisbane and Perth were promptly canceled, scotching their brief flirtation with Cocker/Pattomania.
There was nothing else to do, but find a new gig, as Karstein recalls: “My folks in Oklahoma heard about it. By the time the tour was over, and we got back to England, hell, it was front page news.”
The bust disrupted more than mere schedules. “We were meant to go to Japan, I think, after Australia,” Halsey says. “They cut out the Japanese bit, and we just came straight home. That was it: come home with no money.”
Patto never revisited the country, although Cocker returned in 1975—thanks to a deal cut with a new Labour government—and again in 2008. Karstein also made it back, though not without learning a thing or two about the Aussie memory: “You know, I've worked with JJ Cale over the years. We went back down there two or three years later, and I almost didn't get in.”
OUR STORY SO FAR (TAKE SIXTEEN):
ROLL 'EM SMOKE 'EM (AHEM)...
The roadshow rolled home, just in time for that difficult third album, Roll 'Em Smoke 'Em Put Another Line Out, which Island released in October.
As usual with Patto, that small matter of timing reared its little head. “You know, we absolutely went down a storm on that Joe Cocker tour—played almost every night, some of the biggest venues in the States,” Halsey says. “It was released the week after we left—by that time, everybody's seen another two bands!”
Yet the band seemed in a feisty mood, as the opening blast of “Flat-Footed Woman” makes abundantly clear: “OK, two of you lads ‘round the back!” (For a complete explanation, which space doesn't permit, see Lady H's recollection on the Patto/Timebox Fansite.) As Clive and John lay down a rollicking backbeat, Mike pours out his heart to a policewoman—hence, the title—and Ollie races across the 88 keys like a greyhound.
Evidently uneasy with the guitar-freak cult growing around him, Ollie focused on the piano—using it to explosive effect on “Turn Turtle,” among the few rock songs to address the unwilling sex partner (“When I touch you, you scream/ You turn turtle, play dead”).
For “Singin' The Blues On Reds”—whose references to “screwin' on hotel beds” and “keepin’ an eye on the feds” are straight from the Australian headlines—Ollie pulls out some nifty James-Brown-ish licks against a nimble Halsey backbeat. The middle section features a web of densely layered guitars, recorded with the tape slowed down to achieve some classic Les Paul-style runs.
Guitar-freak cultists had to make do with “Loud Green Song,” which Monks has memorably described as sounding like Jimi Hendrix jamming with the Sex Pistols—an apt snapshot for the sole place where Ollie allowed himself to cut loose.
If all this diversity weren't jarring enough, Halsey's “Mummy”—an eerie a capella ode to incest, tucked away on side one—would have done the trick. (The Australian pressing discreetly omitted the track.)
The album closes out on a confusing note with the eight-minute “Cap‘n P & The ‘Attos”—whose uneasy mixture of anarchic noodling and pirate pisstake comes across like a Monty Python skit, without the visuals.
“Even when we did that Joe Cocker tour, we used to do silly songs, and have silly things happening onstage,” Halsey says. “But then, we would sort of intersperse that with the more straight-ahead stuff that we were doing. We always did that, so that’s why we decided to put a bit of it on that album.”
Not surprisingly, given Ollie's decision to downplay guitar, Roll 'Em Smoke 'Em gets short shrift among Patto fans. In Halsey's view, the band wanted to move on, with mixed results.
“The failure of those [first] two albums, where we gave our all, affected the third album,” he says. “We started thinking, ‘We'll try something else.’ That's why there's a lot of piano on it, not much guitar.”
Muff Winwood supported the band's willingness to experiment, but the ingredients to a successful album remained maddeningly elusive. Of Roll 'Em Smoke 'Em, he says, “We were always falling in between the stools—we weren't pop, we weren't rock, we weren't jazz, we weren't indie, or whatever else was going on. And the different styles of music showed that.”
Press reaction varied markedly. Disc & Music Echo praised the album for showing “a much looser, more natural feel than its predecessors” (November 25, 1972), while New Musical Express's December 2 verdict cut right to the chase: “If you're going crazy, and you're looking for some soundtrack music to help you on your way, this is the month's best buy.”
ROCK (December 18) gave Halsey considerable stick for “Mummy,” which it slammed as “a rather flat attempt at comedy,” with “Cap‘n P” amounting to “a pretty pointless track that really seems to be there just to fill space.” John Swenson liked side one, particularly for “Loud Green Song,” but felt less warmly about side two: “Still, the album is worth hearing for the few gems it contains, even though they're not the type you’d choose for a friendship ring.”
Music World's review (January 1973), on the other hand, dished out praise for “Mummy,” which it chalked up to Halsey's alleged fondness for “singing loudly in posh restaurants while accompanying himself by banging his spoons on his water glass. This I believe is a fair excuse.”
Perhaps, although the magazine's praise of “Turn Turtle” raises the old “cloth-eared reviewer” cliche: “Olly's guitar has never sounded better, and the song contains a great smash ‘em up ending.” Fair enough, although there's nary a guitar on the track.
Still, Music World believed that Patto “have finally managed to capture on record much of the insanity that characterizes their stage act,” for which it praised Ollie's instrumental abilities—singling out “Loud Green Song” for “some of the nastiest sounds ever wrenched out of a guitar.”
None of these verdicts surprise Muff Winwood. “To be honest, I was never particularly that happy with the way that any of the albums turned out,” he says. “When we got to the end of the recording process, I was utterly drained—you know, I always felt that we'd missed something. I don't know what we missed, but we'd missed something.”
OUR STORY SO FAR (TAKE SEVENTEEN):
OLLIE (YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED)
The new direction emerged during Bob Harris' “Sounds Of The ‘70s” show, aired January 24, 1973. The band mixed standbys like “Flat-Footed Woman” and “Singing The Blues On Reds” with new efforts that featured a snappier, poppier approach—in this case, “General Custer,” inspired by the Australian tour fallout.
On February 12, 1973, the band taped three numbers for John Peel, including “Loud Green Song”; “San Antone,” featuring John Mayall on harmonica; and the unreleased “Holy Toledo.”
The following day, Patto recorded its final BBC session, which featured another notable new song in “Sausages.” This time, Ollie took the vocal for an arch, sarcastic ode to the grind of eating “grey meat from the aeroplane, don't cry, ‘cause it's all in vein—excuse me, while I go insane.”
Saxophonist Dave Brooks, later of Kokomo, guested on all three sessions. His appearance marked the latest twist in a Patto universe that effortlessly accommodated fellow travelers like Bernie Holland, and Pete Davey, “who could play two saxophones in his mouth at the same time,” Halsey recalls. “He was a great player, and played with us for awhile.”
With Brooks on board, the band started rehearsing and writing poppier songs, “very influenced by the success of Joe Cocker,” Halsey says. “His band, and what they were doing, had a really big influence.”
After all the experimentation, nobody expected Patto to follow a conventional path, but that's where the fourth album sessions were headed during the spring of 1973—an agenda that coincided with Mike's growing interest in singer-songwriter-type material, and playing piano onstage.
Soon, however, the band began to pick up on a distinct lack of interest on Ollie's part—when it came to recording Mike’s songs, anyway. “Instead of playing what he normally played, or what he played at rehearsal, he was just playing on one string,” Halsey recalls. “That's what we were objecting to. In the end, he said, ‘I wanna pack up. I just don't wanna do this anymore.’”
Winwood doesn't recall such dramas, but “it was difficult to see an endgame on this thing,” he declares. “We were almost making an album to make an album. I couldn't see where this was all going.”
In his eyes, the problem came down to the material—and what he says might send Patto fans scurrying for the nearest available cricket bat. “At the end of the day, Patto were a great band, but the songs they wrote weren't as great as all their other attributes as musicians, personalities, entertainers, all those things they were brilliant at,” he declares. “I've said all along, it's a matter of personal suggestion. I liked it. I was just frustrated, because I always could see that it could be better.”
From Winwood's standpoint, the Halsall-Patto relationship lacked the competitive edge that drives classic songwriter partnerships like Lennon-McCartney, or Strummer-Jones. “They had this feeling—if it came from the heart, it should be left untouched,” Winwood says. “And that, in a way, is a very hippie ideal. If Mike had written a song, Ollie would have respected that, and not wanted to change it.”
Taylor also doesn't recall the sessions, but had picked up on a distinct ennui within the ranks. “After the Cocker tour, people were less willing to bend with each other, I suppose, is the best I can say,” he suggests. “It's like a family, isn't it? You have your niggles with each other that are ongoing, that get submerged, and left alone, and forgotten.”
This is the trouble with rock ‘n’ roll dreams. They don't go down easily, but without any resources, they expire all the same, as the band finally realized during the Roll 'Em Smoke 'Em era, Halsey says: “We recognized then, we were always gonna be a band ‘bubbling under,’ and we'd never really break through. We were still living in rented rooms. Nobody owned a car, nobody owned any property, nobody owned anything. We were just working musicians. I hate to sound like a total mercenary berk, but that's what it came down to.”
As Halsey and company soon discovered, Ollie's decision came down to equally basic reasons. “He'd been offered a gig with Tempest, and saw an opportunity to go and do something else, and earn decent money,” Halsey says. “He was being offered proper money, which we never, ever earned in six years.”
Winwood suspects that Patto's freewheeling approach no longer suited Ollie's evolving tastes. “After three albums like that, and traveling around the world, I think Ollie began to realize that the material wasn't moving forward.”
Without a band left to promote it, Monkey's Bum stayed in the can. This hasn't stopped various bootlegs from appearing throughout the years—taken from cassettes, with all the resulting tape flutter and dropout—but a superior-sounding version has appeared on the Ollie Halsall Archive. (For details, see www.olliehalsall.co.uk/.)
Why Monkey's Bum didn't at least earn a posthumous release, Winwood has no idea, but he doesn't see a proper CD reissue happening. For one thing, other than rough mixes that he and John Halsey have kept, he's not sure that any master tapes have survived. “You know, they'd [the band] moved on ,” he says. “And I would think the tapes are probably oxidized now, partially destroyed. There's nothing to be done about them.”
Despite all those headaches, Monkey's Bum is not without its charms—foreshadowing the simpler, straight-ahead blueprint that Mike and Ollie pursued in their next outfit, Boxer. Mike's vocals never had sounded more self-assured on tough rockers like “My Days Are Numbered,” or the haunting ballad, “Good Friend”—two songs that rank among the band's finest hours.
A bit more guitar would naturally have gone a long way, but Mel Collins's horns lent discreet shading to tracks like “Sugar Cube 1967,” “Hedyob,” and “Get Up And Do It,” on which Griffiths' bass—which often fought for air in the mix—rises to the fore.
Halsey remains bullish about Monkey's Bum. “It was all becoming a little more interesting, a little more diverse, and also going a little more in the right direction. That's what I think. I listen to that album, and think, ‘There's some songs on there that probably stand the test of time, if they'd been done properly,’” he says.
As an example, he points to “General Custer,” which Mike wrote on his own. “That is the one track on that album that really irritates me, mainly because of the way I play on it,” Halsey says. “I just listen to it, and think, ‘Oh, God, it's so annoying.’ I'd loved to have re-recorded that, anyway. If we'd gone on to finish the album properly, we'd probably have done another evening on that song.”
But there wouldn't be anymore studio evenings, nor second chances. Fittingly, Ollie's last gig occurred Sunday, April 29, 1973, at the Black Swan. Without him, the boys had one more contracted affair at their other old stronghold, the Torrington (May 6), aided by luminaries like Holland, keyboardist Tim Hinkley, plus the redoubtable Eddie McHenry, and the Islands-era King Crimson lineup (Boz Burrell, Mel Collins, and Ian Wallace).
Equally fitting, the epitaph came from Melody Maker, the one paper where Patto could expect consistently supportive coverage. The night struck reviewer David Rudland as “more than a modest triumph,” because the participants “haven't lost sight of one important criterion for playing publicly—entertaining the public.”
Melody Maker had also run the official epitaph (“Why Patto Had To Split”) only a day before, with Mike getting the last word: “It's bloody stupid, but we just couldn't keep going up the hill. It had to end somewhere.”
As a final payoff, John Taylor received the band's van, and Ollie's prized Fender Twin amplifier. “I think he gave it to me, because he didn't want any of the others to have it,” Taylor says, laughing.
“I actually don't know why, but there was very much that thing to it. And, you know, we'd still see each other rarely, but it would happen.”
© Ugly Things magazine 2011.
Special thanks to all who joined in this installment, including: John “Olly” Alcock, Glenn Ross Campbell, Roger Dean, John Halsey, Eddie McHenry, Barry Monks, Andy Moore, Tony Newman, Lucy Piller, John Taylor and Muff Winwood. The author appreciates their good humor, support and insight.
NEXT TIME: Ollie meets his lifetime collaborator, Kevin Ayers, flirts with heavy rock temptation in Boxer, becomes a jobbing “player for hire,” flees the British punk explosion for the Spanish mainland...where his story comes to an untimely end, leaving those “in the know” to carry the torch.