PT: Let's go back to the
very beginning. The first I heard of Gordon Haskell was with
the Fleur de Lys, but I assume there was life before then?
GH: Well I suppose it's of mild interest that I was at
school with Robert Fripp. This was in Wimbourne (Dorset) -
we were best friends at school, and at the age of 14 he
taught me the rudiments of bass playing. That was the last
time he taught me anything! We were in bands together for
about three years, then I left to go professional and he
stayed on to become an estate agent...
PT: So what prompted the decision to become a
GH: I think it's fair to say that at 14 years old the
realisation dawned that I was psychologically fucked. There
was simply no way I was going to do a straight job. At 16 I
joined the police force in London, because that was what was
expected of me, and I left after one day. From that moment
on I was a musician.
PT: So you joined the Fleur de Lys as a bass player...
GH: Well yes, I took to the bass guitar. I've always been
very rhythmic, and the Fleur de Lys at that time were a
Motown type band. When we went to London we became a session
band for Atlantic (Stax) Records, and we were being coached
by black musicians like Booker T. & The MGs who were in
town. Songwriters like Hayes & Porter would be doing demos
and we were the house band.
Les Fleur de Lys. L-R: Gordon Haskell, Pete
Sears, Chris Andrews, Phil Sawyer, Keith Guster
PT: As far as I
know, The Fleur de Lys were a Southampton-based band,
formed in early 1965. They had already recorded their
debut single, 'Moondreams', when yourself and guitarist
Phil Sawyer joined the band. This line-up recorded the
second single, 'Circles' (a cover of the Who's 'Instant
Party') c/w 'So Come On', followed by a couple of others
with you on I believe, and somewhere along the way you
picked up keyboard player Pete Sears...
GH: That's right - 'Circles' was the first record I was on -
I was nothing to do with the earlier single, 'Moondreams'.
The leader of the band then was Phil Smith - it was his band
really, and gradually everybody stitched him up! Terrible,
isn't it? Pete Sears joined to make it a five-piece band. He
had this Hohner piano that never worked. He was with us for
6 months, we were playing 4 nights a week, and this fucking
piano never, ever worked! Not one gig! He was dead handy
with the van though, loved getting his hands covered in oil
and he was a fabulous bloke of course. An able bass player
and pianist too. The crunch finally came one night when....
see, you always had curtains across the stage front in those
days, you'd get an announcement and the curtains would go
back - 'And now, the Fleur de Lys!' (or 'The Fleur de Leurs'
as they often pronounced it). On this particular night, the
curtains went back on the downbeat, Pete went [brings his
hands down on an imaginary keyboard] and the whole bloody
thing fell to pieces! The legs gave way, keys flew in all
directions and we all pissed ourselves. After that though,
the others decided that Pete had to go so I was deputised to
tell him. It was near Christmas, as well. Pete was well
upset - I was pretty upset about it, too. Pretty soon after
that he went to San Francisco, and the rest is history
PT: I've got a tape somewhere of the Fleur de Lys doing
John Peel's 'Top Gear' show in late 1967 - I think Bryn
Haworth was with the band by then?
GH: It was Bryn, me and Keith Guster who did that show. I
remember doing Albert King's 'Crosscut Saw' [the other songs
were 'Go Go Power', 'Always Something There To Remind Me',
'Our Day Will Come' and 'Hold On']. Traffic were on the same
show, and Procol Harum and the Cream.
PT: What had happened to Phil Sawyer?
GH: The Motown thing had slipped away by then, Phil sounded
very much like Smokey Robinson. He took Stevie Winwood's
place in the Spencer Davis Group, and we found Bryn
literally walking along Wardour Street in London. He was
only a rhythm guitar player at the time, but because he was
thrown in at the deep end and had to become a lead player
with us, he very quickly mastered it - and became really
quite exciting. We had about a year of playing some really
meaty stuff. Our manager
was the head of Atlantic Records, so we were privileged in
that wherever the main acts were going, we would be the
hangers-on. One day the manager told us that the Vanilla
Fudge were in town, they were going into the studios and so
were we, we were all going to play together. A whole day's
worth of the Fudge and the Fleur de Lys was recorded, but
it's never been released. The following morning, we were
called to the manager's office and he told us it was the
biggest load of crap he had ever heard in his life. He was a
commercial man and there had been a lot of dope around that
day so I daresay it was a bit indulgent! But it was
wonderful, and it certainly stretched the Fleur de Lys.
PT: The Fleur de Lys seemed to have been onto a bit of a
winner when you left.... [in fact, they only recorded two
more singles and eventually folded in early 1969]
GH: It was the old problem, just at the time when we should
have been working there were too many people getting out of
it. I left because I'd had enough.
PT: Do you regret leaving?
GH: I do, because nothing much happened after that for a
while. I was a musical tart for a couple of years, playing
bass in pop groups, but it was never as good. Bryn Haworth
was very upset and went to the States, and ended up in a
band with Little Feat's drummer, Richie Hayward. You see,
the Fleur de Lys was a real co-op type of band, nobody told
anyone else what to do, it all just happened naturally. As
soon as you become a 'pop tart', a sidesman, that all goes
out of the window bacause there's always somebody who
insists it's his band. I knew in my heart that this wasn't
for me, so I started getting into guitar playing and writing
PT: Own up then - what group did you prostitute yourself
GH: I was with the Flowerpot Men, and then with Cupid's
Inspiration for about 12 weeks - we were in the Top 10
PT: And it was while you were with them that you started
writing your own material?
GH: That's right, I suddenly had a few songs so I did the
'Sail In My Boat' [first Gordon Haskell solo LP on CBS]
album with their producer and manager. Just as I finished it
King Crimson happened with their first album, and Fripp
called me to ask if I wanted to join them.
PT: Quite a nice opportunity!
GH: I straight away, without any hesitation, said
'absolutely not'. I was totally r&b oriented and it wasn't
my sort of music. I didn't like King Crimson. Anyway, after
a while I said I'd think about it, and my wife got to work
on me because she wanted a regular income so in the end I
joined. I did some vocals on 'In The Wake of Poseidon', and
then we got down to rehearsing 'Lizards' and.... the
drummer, Andy McCulloch, was in tears - Fripp used to bully
him unmercifully. He bullied us all. I don't go for that
though, so where Andy would cry I would just laugh. At the
end of one song, 'Indoor Games', I just burst out laughing.
You can hear it on the album. They thought it was really
freaky, that I'd understood the lyrics and my part - but the
truth of the matter is, it was a lousy song, the lyrics were
ludicrous and my singing was atrocious so I just burst out
laughing. And they thought it was wonderful!
PT: It was an enormously successful album though...
GH: Enormous. Richard Williams wrote that 'if Wagner was
alive today, he'd be sounding like King Crimson'. You
can either swallow that kind of bullshit or.... when I was
younger, I always followed my heart - and I still do. People
might say that the biggest mistake I made was leaving King
Crimson, that I could have gone on like John Wetton did and
made a career out of band hopping, got my pile together and
only then done my own thing. Some people might say I'm
stupid because I'm still poor, but I'm not. I'm very rich
inside. I've done my own thing since Day One, and I still
feel as rebellious now as I did then. So bollocks to all
PT: After King Crimson you recorded your 'It Is And It
GH: I just picked up the threads really from the 'Sail In My
Boat' album. A chap called John Muir was managing John
Wetton in Mogul Thrash, and he suddenly said that Ahmet
Ertegun was staying at the Dorchester in London and why
didn't I go and play him some of my songs? Ahmet was the
President of Atlantic Records, he started the Stlantic label
and had signed people like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.
So I went up there and played him 6 songs and he loved them,
told me I was going to be bigger than Neil Young and that he
wanted to produce me himself. He asked me how much I wanted,
so I told him how much I was in debt and he picked up the
tab. Ahmet was in the middle of a huge corporate shake-up
however (Kinney bought the licence for Warners and Atlantic
eventually) so he called and said he was too tied up to
produce me himself, but I could have any producer in the
world that I wanted. Anyone. It was like a dream!
PT: Who did you choose?
GH: Arif Mardin, because he had done 'Answer My Prayer' by
Aretha Franklin and there was nobody better at the time. I
was kind of slotted in, the way that corporations do, to a
two-week period when Arif was in town. He was supposed to be
doing Vinegar Joe, but they'd split up and he asked if he
could use the time to do me instead. I had one week to put
the thing together, which really wasn't long enough.
PT: What other musicans were used? I mean, I know this
because 'It Is And It Isn't' is one of my favourite albums,
but just for the record...
GH: Dave Kaffinetti was on keyboards - did you know he went
on to appear in 'Spinal Tap'? A suitable candidate he was
too! John Wetton was the bass player, he was unknown at the
time but was about to become famous when he joined Family.
Bill Atkinson was on drums - he was Mogul Thrash's drummer,
an excellent one too. The guitarist was a guy from
Bournemouth called Alan Barry, he's brilliant, he could have
been a world-class player but he missed out somehow. There's
still time for him though. Arif added a few bits of his own,
strings and brass arrangements, and Dave Spinoza from the
Young Rascals added some guitar. The final mixes were done
in New York without me. It was very exciting, but all the
same I wasn't entirely satisfied. It became a victim of
PT: How do you mean?
GH: Well, its release was lumped in with 25 other albums as
a result of the shake-up, 'The New Age Of Atlantic' is was
PT: Did you get to choose the cover yourself? It's kind
of, uh, unique...
GH: God, no! It's awful, isn't it? No, I didn't have any
choice really. The person responsible was a lady called
Janet Martin who ran the 'Up Tight & Outta Sight' club for
Otis Redding amongst her other duties as PR at Atlantic
Records. She was friendly with Johnny Walker, the DJ. I
suggested that I wanted a sleeve showing the Yin and the
Yang, it is and it isn't. There was this tree which was a
sort of V shape in the original shot, that would have been
OK I suppose but in the end they focussed in on the things
stood around the bottom of the tree. It's actually Spike
Milligan's tree in Hyde Park, so they went a long way to get
PT: What happened after the album came out?
GH: I toured as a solo artist to promote it. I opened up for
Mountain, Stackridge (who did a great cover of 'Worms' off
the album, it appears on 'The Best Of The Whistle Test' LP),
Audience, Wishbone Ash - nice tours, they were. It went down
extremely well - everybody must have been stoned.
Materialism got in the way though, there was pressure on me
again to provide a home and a steady income. I gave up my
solo career nine months after the album came out and went
back to tarting it as a bass player.
PT: For pop groups again?
GH: Sort of. I played in a sort of jazzy, lounge trio which
enabled me to work six nights a week. After every gig we
would come out and go to this place called Beechen Place in
London where there's a row of cellar-restaurants, each with
a guitarist or duo. There were two people there I
particularly liked, Pete Sills and Mike Allison, and I
eventually formed a sort of Crosby, Stills and Nash trio
with them. They were songwriters, and good ones. Unbeknownst
to me they'd sent some demos to Bruce Welch (of the
Shadows). I'd done an album with them which was never
released, but virtually every track was given to Cliff
Richard by Bruce - and covered by him. Seven songs in all.
PT: Did you get anything out of the deal? I mean, the
songwriting royalties must have been massive...
GH: I didn't write the songs, I was only their bass player.
I did get an offer to join Cliff Richard's band out of it
though. It was Cliff's 'I'm Nearly Famous' period, 'Devil
Woman' and all that stuff. It started out as a 12 week
gospel tour, but to be honest I was bored out of my brain
after 4 dates. I stuck at it for the 12 weeks, and the
management said after that that I could have a further year
if I took a cut in wages...
PT: What was it like working with Cliff Richard, who is
far from 'nearly famous'?
GH: I thoroughly enjoyed the band, because they were all of
like mind. Graham Jarvis became a great friend - he said
that when I was with them it was the only time the Cliff
Richard band had jammed(!) When it came down to the actual
set though it was all very structured, Cliff of course never
puts a foot wrong. It wasn't really my sort of thing.
PT: I believe you also worked with Alvin Lee, which is a
bit more up your street?
GH: Yeah, we rehearsed for a fortnight - I got the job with
Cliff after two weeks. I also worked with Tim Hardin for
about a year, we recorded some tracks together and it was
the producer of that who put me in touch with Alvin Lee. I
was also in a great little band called Joe, which included
Jim Russell (of Stretch and Human League) and Hiroshi Kato
(of Stretch), who is now my manager. We made a single on GTO
Records and toured Japan for 6 weeks - they were the nearest
thing to the Fleur de Lys.
PT: And after Cliff Richard?
GH: I got a deal with RCA Records with a new batch of songs
I'd written, so I didn't need to be a bass player any more.
They employed me as a songwrite for two years. I did an
album with their A&R man, Bill Kimber, producing.
PT: Did that ever get released? I've got a couple of
singles from the period ('Whisky'/'5-10-15' and 'Castles In
The Sky'/'My Baby', RCA PB5264 and PB 5312 resepctively) but
I can't remember ever seeing an LP.
GH: No, the timing was wrong - the punk thing happened. It
might come out eventually as part of a five album boxed set
in Japan, with 'Sail In My Boat', 'It Is And It Isn't', the
RCA album, 'Hambledon Hill' from last year and a new album
which I'm working on at the moment.
PT: Let's talk about 'Hambledon Hill', which slipped out
unnoticed by all but the eagle-eyed Terrascope staff it
seems last year - although I must confess, we only found it
in the bargain bins in London....
GH: With a 'promotional copy' sticker on? That's all that
seemed to get out - the distributor went bust just as it was
starting to get some airplay on Radio 1. I'd done this one
song, 'Hambledon Hill', which everybody who heard it seemed
to really like. It's a beautiful song, folky and mystical,
and I was convinced that I needed to do an album to put it
out on. I recorded about 6 tracks, plus there's 4 tracks on
the LP that date from earlier on - I couldn't afford to
PT: It's an interesting LP...
GH: I like it, and most people who've heard it seem to like
it. It's a bit of a curio, just a collection of songs.
PT: You're working on a new album at present.
GH: That's right. What the new album's got is that it really
knows where it's going, it's pure straight-ahead rhythm and
blues. 'Hambledon Hill' is quite a nice album at the and of
the day, a sort of late-night-stoned affair, but energy is
where it's at now, and that's what the new album's all
about. Good old R&B.
Written, produced and directed by Phil McMullen -
November 1991. Copyright Ptolemaic Terrascope