GRAHAM BONNET

20th June 2015

 

Graham Bonnet (v)

Beth-Ami Heavenstone (b)

Conrado Pesinato (g)

 

Skegness

 

Q: You’re from Skegness in England. I’ve been there a few times as a child on holiday and it’s hard to imagine being much of a Rock and Roll town in the ‘60s. What was it like?

 

GB: It was pretty awful. I was the only guitar player/singer in town so when we put a band together there was almost impossible because not many people had a bass a drum kit or a keyboard. I eventually found a guy who had a drum kit, found one that played bass – sort of – and another who could play keyboard a little bit. Of course they couldn’t play at all but it looked good and I found myself being the only musician in the band. We had a homemade bass cabinet that was made out a sideboard, one microphone which was probably a cheap thing from Woolworths but no P.A. whatsoever. The band had no sound; the drums were loud and I was loud. If I turned my Vox AC30 up to 10 and put my guitar on full bass I could play the bass part as well because you couldn’t actually here the bassist. Eventually we managed to buy some Selmar columns for our P.A., we changed personnel and it got a little better but to have a band in Skeggy…

 

Q: Not much of a scene then.

 

GB: Before that, I was in a dance band – a trio – which taught me a lot about chords and progressions. I’m not a lead guitarist but I do know every chord in the world which is something that has been useful over the years but anyway, I didn’t want to do that. The Beatles were happening and was sitting up there singing ‘I left my heart, in San Francisco…’

 

Q: How did you escape the limitations of Skegness?

 

GB: I was about eighteen when I decided I should leave because my cousin, Trevor Gordon, came from Australia to Skegness. He said ‘We can’t stay here’ and suggested we should get a gig at the Hilton in London because he had played there in a dance band or something when he was younger. I said we didn’t want to do that and that we should do something more Rock and Roll so we tossed that idea around for a while and eventually got a gig at the Revolution Club which was one of those places where all showbiz type people went. There were five of us in the band and we all moved into Wembley Park in London. We were broke and had to steal apples from trees to sustain ourselves. It was pretty bad. Anyway, we were playing the Revolution Club one night doing Ronettes and Beatles covers – stuff like that – and in the audience was The Bee Gees ex manager, Ossie Byrne. He came up to Trevor who was in The Bee Gees band in Australia long before they became the stars they were in England and Ossie gave Trevor their telephone number. Trevor went over to meet Barry, Maurice and Robin at Robert Stigwood’s house. They wanted to sign him as a Cliff Richard type solo singer because they had made records with him in Australia. Trevor explained that I also sang and that there were five people in the band but Robert said they didn’t want to sign five people to RSO. When Trevor came back to the house, he took me aside and said they wanted to meet me. I asked him about the rest of the guys and he said ‘No, just you.’ So I went over with Trevor two days later and we sat around playing Stevie Wonder and Beach Boys songs and Robert comes into the room and says ‘Ok Barry, do you have a song for these boys?’ and Barry said ‘No but I’ll have one tomorrow’ and he wrote a vague melody and we were in the studio within a week. Of course we had to go and tell the other guys that they were not part of the deal which was bloody awful because that meant they had to go back to Skegness which was a death worse than fate. They were in tears but for us it was the opportunity of a lifetime. The drummer, Steve Hardy, stayed because he was a close friend of mine and Trevor and I recorded the song which was Only One Woman.

 

The Marbles

 

Q: Let me give you a quote from Barry Gibb about that first session as The Marbles: In 1968, he said in an interview that ‘Graham Bonnet has the most powerful voice I’ve ever heard. He has to stand six feet from the microphone when we record him.’

 

GB: Yeah that’s right, I did.

 

Q: What else do you recall of those sessions?

 

GB: It was and it was in Portland Place down from the BBC. The first day there were no lyrics so I just recorded a da-da-de-de vocal and that night he wrote the words, the next day we came back for me to sing it. Barry was producing and Robin and Maurice came to watch. When I got to the last verse, my voice croaked, it was gone so I had to do the last verse two or three weeks later.

 

Q: One take?

 

GB: Yes apart from that last verse. (coughs heavily) I have bronchitis now by the way.

 

Q: Will you be ok for the show tonight?

 

GB: Yeah. I’ve had it since I got here. I’m susceptible to a lot of things because my immune system is right down the shitter. Any singer will tell you the same thing: if your resistance is low you’ll catch something.

 

Rainbow

 

Q: 29th February 1979 and the infamous Wembley gig. I’m not going to ask you why there was no encore because that was Ritchie’s decision but I’d like to know if you were aware of what was going on or if you had all left by then.

 

GB: I can’t imagine that happening now…the world has changed but what happened was Ritchie didn’t want to do an encore for some reason – I don’t know why – he had just had enough and a riot broke out. The picture on the front of Finyl Vinyl may have been taken there (actually it was after a show at the Berlin Deutschlandhalle on 9th November 1982) but we were rushed out of there to avoid being killed because we didn’t do an encore. It wasn’t that much of an event at the time but it was made more of in the press. Stuff like this (not doing an encore) would happen all the time and every night was different. It depended on moods and how my booze went down (laughs) and to us that was just another night. Nobody died, I think one girl got hurt but that’s all and I was blown away by the whole bloody thing. ‘All this because we didn’t do one more song?’

 

Q: Your Line-Up album. You covered Chuck Berry’s Anthony Boy which is one of his more obscure singles from 1959 – I just wondered why that one?

 

GB: I was interested in that because it was in 6/8. Great words, Chuck’s poetry is so good. His words are immaculate and beautiful to sing and he tells great stories. I suggested we do it in 4/4 with the guys from Status Quo who played on that track with me.

 

Q: Francis Rossi produced it didn’t he?

 

GB: Yes and Rick Parfitt also played on it: we did that track at Rick’s house in fact. Anyway, it worked out well except for the into where they were saying ‘Shouldn’t it come in here?’ and I said ‘No no no…it’s in 4/4 now’ so the intro is slightly wrong. I had to change the melody line to fit Francis and Rick’s guitar part to give it that extra bar because they played it incorrectly but it worked out fine. Having those guys play with me was like having the ultimate boogie band. We all got very drunk and a wonderful time was had by all.

 

Q: Be My Baby, my all time favourite 45.

 

GB: Mine too. The Ronettes are my favourite girl band. I love her voice. I had all their albums as well as the Shirelles and all those groups. That one was recorded at Mickie Most’s studio in London. That afternoon, Russ Ballard was coming down to listen to me do S.O.S. and he said ‘Hey, you know that song Be My Baby? I think that would be really good to do.’ So I went down into the studio and started playing the piano with him and we recorded it that afternoon. Completed the whole bloody thing in half an hour with Russ playing piano.

 

New Band and EP

 

Q: Let’s bring your new band in now. Beth, how did you get involved with this man?

 

BH: Graham contacted me on Linkdin and said he was looking for a new band. I didn’t know anything about him other than his name and that he had been in Rainbow and Alcatrazz. I was playing in an all-girl band – except for Conrado – called Hardly Dangerous and another called The Alternachicks and we did covers for placement in commercials or anything we could get it in because our singer had a placement agent. We did Saturday Night by the Bay City Rollers, Billy Squire, Kiss…anything to get some money in so when Graham wrote and said he was looking for a new band I thought he was producing. I sent him links to the bands and we exchanged a few emails and in one of them I said it was difficult for me because I was a single mom and said one of my children is autistic. He wrote back and said ‘One of my children is autistic’ and that was it: that galvanized us. We spoke on the phone for a bit, met for a coffee every week or so and then I invited him to come onstage and do a couple of songs with Hardly Dangerous. He did and we did Oh Darling (The Beatles) and Badfinger’s No Matter What and it was magical. I got off stage that night and said ‘I want to be in a band with you.’ A week later he phoned me up and said ‘I just quit Alcatrazz; let’s get started.’

 

Q: Conrado, what’s your story?

 

CP: Very simply, Graham and Beth were initially working with another guitarist but for some reason it didn’t work out and they had a gig at the NAMM show. I was there anyway doing my stuff and they asked me if I wanted to jump in. I said yes and then they asked me if I wanted to do some songs with them. That was it.

 

Q: How about your background?

 

CP: I was born in Brasil and grew up there. I spent a couple of years living Europe, mainly Ireland where I was in a band called ITO which had a single that charted there. I then moved to L.A. about five years ago and got hired by a couple of bands, did sessions and stuff and eventually met up with Beth for Hardly Dangerous. Meeting and playing with Graham was a big please because I was always a big Ritchie Blackmore and Steve Vai fan.

 

Q: What’s the first gig you ever saw?

 

CP: I think it was 1997, Bruce Dickinson solo opening for The Scorpions.

 

Q: Beth? 

 

BH: I was really young; Peter Frampton and Yes. It was amazing. I can still feel the air on my skin that day. It was an outdoor summer concert and I have never been more excited in my life. Golden I think were also on the bill.

 

Q: Graham?

 

GB: Dusty Springfield at the Boston Gliderdrome in Lincolnshire. She was one of my favourite singers and luckily enough in later years I got to meet her and I couldn’t believe she was such a heavy smoker! She had the greatest voice.

 

Q: Yes she did and do you know she used to write the lyrics on her arm in case she forgot them?

 

GB: Yes she did! That’s true! In the show that we did together, at one point she fucked up and she did her famous arm raised in the air move and I looked and I could see the lyrics written on her arm. You’re right. Isn’t that weird…I’d forgotten about that. Do you remember the Boston Gliderdome?

 

Q: No I don’t. I never went there.

 

GB: Terrific place. Everybody played there. Otis Redding, Dusty, The Who, Tom Jones…

 

Q: What’s the story with the EP? Is it out?

 

GB: It’s out now on iTunes.

 

Q: Will there be a physical Japanese version?

 

GB: I’m not sure; ask Giles.

 

(Giles Lavery is Graham’s manager is sitting next to me)

 

Q: Giles?

 

GL: It’ll be part of a full length album. We’re working on a deal right now. We wanted to get something out for this tour just so people understand that this isn’t just Graham with a backing band, it’s a band in total. Credit to Coradro for pulling this off because Graham sang the last line the day before he got on the plane, I got the final master the day that I landed here and I had it up on iTunes the morning of the first gig. Beth has been announcing it in Japanese every night (Beth has been studying Japanese for over two years) and we’ve had a great response in just these first few days.

 

GB: We have nine more songs ready to go of different genres. They are not all the same wailing stuff but there is a Rock edge to them. I can’t get away from that. I’m stamped as a Hard Rock singer when in fact I’m not, I’m a singer, not of any specific genre. However, the songs will have a Rock edge too them even if they are a bit prettier than the normal Rock songs.

 

Present Day

 

Q: You sound as good as ever Graham: how do you keep your voice in shape?

 

GB: I don’t. I don’t practice at all or anything. I just hope for the best on the day. I’m very lucky.

 

CP: There’s one little trick we saw him doing which I think is quite interesting…

 

GB: What?

 

CP: …he does a couple of songs at rehearsals with no mic and you can actually hear him!

 

BH: Oh yes. Actually, he sings all day every day: he just doesn’t know he’s doing it. My daughter says ‘Mom, doesn’t he ever stop?’ and we have to leave the room but he doesn’t know he’s doing it.

 

GB: (laughs) What Conrado said is right. I like to blast like crazy with no mic to get rid of the cobwebs and it helps strengthen the vocal cords. It usually helps but sometimes it damages them if I haven’t done a gig for a while. Pavarotti did the same thing – he never warmed up. Don Airey played a gig with him recently and asked him that same question and Pavarotti just shook his head.

 

Q: What’s your opinion of recording these days?

 

GB: It’s great doing it by mail but the camaraderie of having the band together in a studio is something I miss desperately. There is nothing better than having the feel of the band, getting the feedback when you are making up something new but at the same time, it’s great that you can do all this at home and not think about studio time. Then again, because you are at home, you think ‘Nah…I’ll do it tomorrow’. When you have a place to be and a deadline to meet that is something I think we should go back to. I think we (The Graham Bonnet Band) should stand in a room together and start on the new stuff now.

 

Q: Beth and Conrado, what’s the best story Graham’s told you from the old days?

 

CP: Oh boy…

 

BH: Oh there are so many! Anything from ‘Oh yeah I was at the Albert Hall and John Lennon was there’ to the famous Michael Schenker story.

 

Q: You were backstage at the Albert Hall with John Lennon?

 

GB: Yes at Cream’s Farewell, their last concert at the Albert Hall. Rory Gallagher was playing as well and he was with Quarry Productions. He was a friend of mine through them so I went to the farewell concert.

 

BH: My favourite though is the Michael Schenker story…the one and only gig…

(August 27th 1982 in Sheffield, England. Graham had been drinking all day and was so drunk he couldn’t remember the words to the first song. Then the fly on his trousers split and Graham’s penis was exposed for all the audience to see.)

 

Q: It’s becoming legendary.

 

CP: That was his Dusty Springfield move: that’s where he had the lyrics.

 

All: (laugh)

 

CP: They were very short verses.

 

All: (more laughter)

 

Q: Ok so what are the future plans?

 

GB: Well obviously I’m splitting band up tomorrow…

 

All: (more laughter)

 

Q: Graham, Beth, Conrado, that’s a good one to end on. Thank you all very much.

 

All: Thank you.