All about the bass
You’re from Birkenhead originally I believe - what brought you to Norfolk?
Yes I was born in Birkenhead but I actually grew up in Scotland. I moved to Newcastle for a couple of years then lived in London for a long time then Brighton for a few years. My wife is from Norfolk originally so when we had our son she wanted to move back near her family as I was away on tour a lot of the time. I wasn’t sure about moving here at the time but love it now. It’s a great place to live.
Going to gigs must be a bit of a busman’s holiday for someone like yourself – or is it? Who was the last band you saw live?
I used to go to gigs all the time when I lived in London but don’t really go to them any more. The last gig I went to was Morcheeba in Brighton last year. I used to play with them so they’re my friends and we made the trip down to see them and hang out.
You’ve played gigs with a huge variety of artists – from John Martyn to The Spice Girls via Elvis Costello and, of course, Public image Limited – how on earth do you adapt to playing with such different performers (or do they adapt to you?)
I genuinely like a lot of varied styles of music and I find it fun to play different stuff all the time. Plus it’s sort of my job.
You said you’d played a number of gigs at UEA’s LCR over the years– where was the most enjoyable gig you ever played (we’re not biased, honestly…)
That’s really difficult as I’ve done so many gigs over the years but a few stand outs were playing Madison Square Garden in New York with the Spice Girls and a few PiL gigs - most notably one in Beijing where the audience were going crazy crowd surfing and dancing and also a festival - can’t remember where it was - where it was torrential rain but the audience stayed till the end dancing in the lake of mud.
We’ve noticed a correlation between gig-goers and fans of Norwich City Football Club. Do you partake?
I was never really a football fan but my son loves it and is a huge Canaries fan. So I go to the odd Norwich match with him. I quite like it now.
What made you first pick up a guitar?
My best mate at school played the drums and wanted someone to play with so I got a guitar. When I was 17 I saw Jaco Pastorius on TV with Joni Mitchell and was blown away. I decided I was going to be a bass player then.
What music were you into when you first started to perform?
My very first band where I was the singer and the guitarist was kind of pop/reggae- like a Scottish version of the Police.
Have your tastes in music changed over the years?
Well I got into jazz after that - bands like Weather Report etc. but I really think my tastes have expanded after playing so many different styles of music all the time. I even like country music now – I hated it when I was a kid.
We sent you a copy of The Gig List 1963-2016. Did it jog any memories?
Looking through the book it looks like my first time there could have been with Julia Fordham in 1989 although she changed the band around then so it may or may not have been me. Like I said memories of gigs tend to meld into one another but I definitely remember the PiL show in 2015. Lu’s amp blew up in the sound check and a friend of mine from Norwich fixed it for him.
We’re all offered music in so many different formats these days. What’s your favourite way to listen to music?
I mostly listen to it on my laptop if I’m honest although Mp3’s sound pretty terrible compared to CD’s and vinyl. FLAC is pretty good but I don’t see that many people using it.
I wondered if your family had been musical. Do you have a musical streak running in the family?
My sister is a singer/artist. Her name is Lesley Rankine and she goes under the band name of Ruby. I co-produced her last album Waiting For Light and have done some live stuff with her. I'm going to be working on her new album this year. Look her up - she's fab!
The only other family member was my grandad. He was a painter and decorator by trade but used to run the local choir. I think Lesley and I get it from him.
Also – is there anyone (else) you’d really like to play for/with?
There are lots of people I'd love to work with but that would be telling!
Interview for UEA Gig History by Ruth Selwyn-Crome
Photo: Scott Firth playing live in 2013 - Wikipedia
Public Image Limited play UEA's LCR on 6 June