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String Driven Thing interview

January 22, 2014

String Driven Thing interview

“It’s A Game, so, come on and take me to the Circus!!!”  A String Driven Thing interview with
guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Chris Adams and violinist extraordinaire Grahame
Smith!!!
String Driven Thing is a Scottish band best known for their
second self-titled LP released in 1972 on the Charisma label, and featuring the
single “Circus” which has been a favorite of mine since I first heard it on
WOAI, an AM radio station in San Antonio, TX, USA.  Recently, Chris Adams and Grahame Smith of
String Driven Thing were kind enough to share the band’s saga with It’s
Psychedelic Baby’s Kevin Rathert.  
Chris, where did you grow up?  What role did music play in the Adams
household?
Chris:  I grew up in
Glasgow.  There was a piano in the house
but neither of my parents played and seemingly I never showed any interest in
learning. 
How old were you when you began playing music?  Was the guitar the first instrument you
played?
Chris:  I was about fifteen when I first started
playing music and it was on guitar.
When and how did you meet your wife Pauline?  How long had you known each other before you
began playing music together?
Chris:  I met Pauline
when I was nineteen, at which point I was playing bass with a band called The
Witnesses.  It was a year or so before we
started singing together.
Did you play original songs straight away or did you begin
by playing cover tunes?
Chris:  Almost from
the start, I began writing my own stuff, but we did cover songs by artists like
Dylan, The Byrds and The Loving Spoonful.
What was the first song written by the band and who wrote
it?  What was the first song you recorded
as String Driven Thing?  Was it an
original or a cover?
Chris:  The first demos
were “July Morning,” “That’s My Lady” and “Another Night In This Old City,”
which are all my songs.  We never
recorded any covers.
String Driven Thing became a trio when percussionist John
Mannion joined the band.  How did you
come to know him and when did he join the band? 
The three of you were joined by Les Harvey and Jimmy Dewar (both later
members of Stone The Crows, thus forming a sort of Scottish supergroup).  There were recordings made at this time.  Do you remember the songs you recorded?  Have these recordings ever been released?
Chris:  John played 12
string guitar, not percussion.  (That’s
an internet factoid!!!)  I met him while
doing a summer job, selling vacuum cleaners. 
We only ever did one session with Les and Jimmy, but we never even picked
the tapes up because the studio sound was so bad!  
In 1969, you, Pauline and John went to London with some
acoustic demos.  You signed with Concord
Records to record an album, but only one single was released.  What was the single and how was it received?

Chris:  You have this
wrong.  The single “Another Night In This
Old City” was from that self-titled Concord album, which was recorded in 1969,
and then released in 1970, although I’d say it escaped rather than being
released.
In 1970 your debut, self-titled album was released.  Where was it recorded?  How long did it take to record?  Who produced it?  What label was it on and how many copies were
pressed?  Did the album receive radio
airplay?  How was distribution handled
and how many units were sold?

Chris:  It was
recorded in a studio on Denmark Street in Soho. 
I finished up producing it myself and it only took about a week all
in.  It did get some airplay, and it was
distributed through CBS but the record label was hopeless, so I never even received
statements showing sales figures.

String Driven Thing became a four piece with the addition
of bassist Colin Wilson.  How and when
did he become part of the band?
Chris:  Colin, who
died last year, joined us in 1971.  His
brother, Charlie, was our roadie and he was a really talented player, so I
invited him on board.
Grahame, how and when did you become a member of String
Driven Thing?  Whose idea was it to
change the sound of the band so dramatically with the addition of you on
violin?

Grahame:  As far as I
remember, I joined SDT about 1971 or 1972. 
I was a member of the Scottish National Orchestra under Sir Alexander
Gibson (known in the business as Flash Haggis).   I had a good job there are assistant
leader.  I started moonlighting with a
band of school kids, mostly Glasgow Grammar, a band called Chaconna.  It was highly psychedelic
jazz/rock/prog.  What it wasn’t was
blues, more classical if anything!  Chris
rang me and persuaded me to play a few gigs with SDT.  I liked it a lot, especially because it was
already popular, and I got paid. 
Therefore, I moonlighted from the other band, in which of course I had
been moonlighting from the orchestra.  It
really worked with the violin.  I think
it worked because I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I was certainly not all that blues, so I
brought an unusual element, which contributed to the magic the band already
had.
Chris:  I saw Grahame
playing with another outfit and invited him along to our flat for a jam.  So it just happened, like adding nitro to
glycerine!
In 1972 you went to London to shop a three song demo
tape.  What were the three songs on the
demo?
               
Chris:  The three songs were “Let Met Down” “Easy To
Be Free” and “Regent St. Incident.”
Can you tell our readers the saga of how String Driven
Thing came to sign with Charisma Records? 
What were the terms of the contract?
Grahame:  It was a
fairy tale.  We were offered a contract,
a wage and a record.  I left the Scottish
National Orchestra.  They were glad to
get rid of me because I was an embarrassment with my long hair.  They thought I was crazy.  (They may have had a point.)
Chris:  I went to
London to meet with The Strawbs manager as Dave Cousins and I were
friendly.  With time on my hands, I went
into a phonebox and found “Stratton Smith Enterprises” in the Yellow
Pages.  The guy I spoke to handled
Strat’s music publishing.  He told me to
come round to their office which was above a dirty book shop on Brewer
Street.  When I got there, he listened to
the demos and asked if I could leave the tape. 
I said “No” and explained about The Strawbs meeting but promised to send
a copy.  When I did, Strat came up to
Glasgow to see us play and obviously liked what he saw.
Your second album, also self-titled, released on the
Charisma label in 1972, had all the makings of a breakthrough for the band,
including the single “Circus” which gained much airplay both in the US and
UK.  Where was the album recorded and how
long did the sessions last?

Chris:  As I remember
it, the album only took a week to record at IBC Studios, because Shel Talmy was
old school and didn’t like to hang around. 
In fact the Hipgnosis sleeve cost more than the recording.

How were sales of the single and did it chart
anywhere?  “Circus” was my first exposure
to SDT.  I’ve got to know, who wrote the
song and what inspired it?  When you
recorded this single did you think you had something special going on?
Chris:  I think we
were told it charted in Monte Carlo!!  I
wrote the song after seeing posters for a travelling circus that came through
Glasgow.  Charisma didn’t release it as a
single initially, because it was “too long” (this is years after “Like A
Rolling Stone” should have consigned that sort of thinking to the waste bin.)  The American label, Buddha, just cut the last
verse off and it became a “turntable” hit in parts of the States.
How was it working with producer Shel Talmy?  Would you share some recollections from the
sessions?  Were you pleased with the
finished product?  How were sales for the
album?  What was the mood of the band at
this point?  Did you feel like you were
on the verge of a real breakthrough?
Chris:  On the first
album we worked from late morning and finished early in the evening.  Shel was into six hour sessions, capturing a
performance, which is what he undoubtedly did. 
He was really good at getting fresh energetic takes on tape.  He left the engineer to handle the sound
details and concentrated on catching the essence of the song.  Sounds simple but very few “producers” can do
it.  On the downside, there was a lack of
attention to detail.  At this point we were
very “up,” convinced that we were just about to break through.           
What was the relationship between SDT and the band
Genesis?  You had played New York City
with them and were slated to tour the US and UK with them, but tragically this
was not to be.  Health issues would not
allow SDT to play all the dates.  Chris,
would you describe for our readers the health problems you suffered at this
time?  How much of the tour were you able
to complete and what impact did playing those dates have on your health Chris?

Chris:  It wasn’t easy
to have a relationship with Genesis. 
Apart from Steve Hackett and Phil Collins, they were all Public
Schoolboys, very upper class, remote and unapproachable.  Peter Gabriel was genuinely shy, but nice
with it.  Steve was a great guy and Phil
used to give Pauline all his cracked cymbals for her set up.  As for the other two….  My health problem was a simple collapsed
lung.  We did actually do the UK stage of
the Foxtrot tour with them, but then I did something which upset Strat greatly…I
smuggled a drummer into the band.
Grahame:  We got on
well with Genesis.  Peter Gabriel was one
of the nicest people I met in my rock years.

As of 1972, the four piece lineup included guitar, bass and
violin, but as had been the case since the band’s inception, no drummer.  Was this a conscious decision by the band or
was it more of a case of simply not finding the right person to man the drum
kit?  In 1973 you released the
prophetically titled “The Machine That Cried.” 
Did the title reflect the mood within the band following Chris’
illness?  Where was the album recorded
and would you share some memories of the sessions?  This was SDT’s first album recorded with a
drummer, Billy “The Kid” Fairley.  Why
did the band decide to add a drummer to its ranks?  Was it a case of the band wanting to add a
drummer or did Billy just seem to be a good fit for SDT?
Chris:  The album was
a direct result of my hospitalization, which was freaky to say the least.  It was also recorded at IBC, Shel’s default
studio, but unlike the first, I insisted that we spend time getting the little
details right, so this time we often worked well into the evening.  I also smuggled Billy in because we had come
to the conclusion that we were at a real disadvantage having no drummer.  It had worked in small clubs, but as the
venues got bigger, it got harder to have an impact without one.  Billy came to us through a contact of mine
and hit the ground running.  He did the
audition and got the job.  His two
favorite drummers were Ringo and Charlie Watts. 
Need I say more?

Grahame:  The band did
not fit in to any of the usual rock categories-the record company was
baffled.  What the band did have, and
has, is the X factor-charisma!
The album rocks harder than previous SDT recordings.  Did you play all the guitars, Chris?  Do you have a preference as to whether you
play electric or acoustic guitar?

Chris:  It rocks
because that’s what constant gigging does for you.  If you want to survive on the road, you stop
taking prisoners.  I’m playing an old
Telecaster on this album and it had a lot of bite.  As for acoustic or electric, it’s just forses
for the courses.  I can’t imagine playing
“Heartfeeder” on acoustic!!
That same year the band released what may be its most
memorable song, “It’s A Game.”  Who wrote
the song and what was the inspiration for it? 
Did you think you had a hit on your hands?  Did it chart in the UK?  How many units were sold?

Chris:  I wrote the
song because we were being treated like pawns. 
Shel Talmy was in Greece when we made the demo, so Strat let us go into
IBC with just the studio engineer, Damon Lyon Shaw.  We recorded, mixed and mastered it in six
hours at a cost of 150 pounds sterling, and yes, we thought we had a hit, but
Charisma did not put it out to the shops SOR (Sale or Return), so it never
charted.  I have no idea how many copies
it sold.
Following the release of “The Machine That Cried” it
would be nearly twenty years before you two recorded another SDT album, 1992s
live “Suicide Live In Berlin.”  That’s a
long time.  What brought you back
together?  Who were the other members of
the band that recorded the live album? 
How did it feel to be back on the stage together?
Chris:  It was Chris
Hewitt who organized the reunion gigs. 
Without him it wouldn’t have happened. 
I put a band together from players who had worked with me on a solo
album called “The Damage.”  (Drummer John
Bradley and Guitarist George Tucker still play with me from time to time.)  I haven’t seen or heard from bassist Nick
Clarke for over a decade.  Playing again
with Grahame felt surreal, but it’s a bit like riding a bike, once you’re up
there, it feels natural.
Chris Hewitt’s Ozit/Morpheus label has made the classic
String Driven Thing albums available once again.  How did SDT and Chris become acquainted?  Why did you choose to sign with
Ozit/Morpheus?
Chris:  We met Chris
because we went to the same East German dentist.  We signed with him because he was into the
music, simple as that!

The heyday of SDT live has been documented on two Ozit
releases.  “Live On The Foxtrot Tour”
includes performances from the 1972 tour with Genesis while “Live In
Switzerland ‘73” is included as a bonus disc on the reissue of your 1972
Charisma album.  Are these good
representations of String Driven Thing concerts of that vintage?

Chris:  I’d say the
first of these two is very representative of the four piece SDT.  There was a special unique energy going on
that it captures really well.

Grahame:  The band
went down really well with audiences.  In
my view, the record company had no idea. 
The things that made SDT a bit odd were the very things in its favor.

Have you two recorded any studio material under the String
Driven Thing moniker since “Suicide Live In Berlin?”  Are there plans to record any new material in
the future?

Chris:  We’ve had two
albums out in the noughties.  “Moment of
Truth” and “Songs from Another Country.”  
(Please note:  April
2014, a new String Driven Thing LP “The Steeple Claydon Tapes” featuring sleeve
notes by Pete Frame of “Rock Family Tree” fame, will be released by
Ozit/Morpheus Records, UK.  A link to the
label for further information regarding the release follows this interview)
What are Chris Adams and Grahame Smith up to these days
(2014)?
Chris:  Nowadays, the
band plays mostly around Glasgow, but we do make forays down South now and then
and if the promoters budget will allow then Grahame is added to the band…We’ve
had the same rhythm section for over ten years, Andy Allen on bass and Dick
Drake on drums.  My son, Robin, plays
lead guitar and sings blood harmonies. 
We’re talking about doing another studio album soon, so watch this
space.
Grahame:  I have
retired from a successful teaching career, write novels and still play and
teach music.
Is there anything that was not addressed in this
interview that our readers should know about Chris Adams, Grahame Smith, or
String Driven Thing?  Any final words
from either of you?

Grahame:  It was a
great trip.  We made mistakes.  Given, the time again, I would have stood up
to the record company more, but then, hey, we are still here, and still
performing!  And I must not forget the
high quality songs from Chris without which none of this would have happened!
Chris:  Charisma
didn’t really know what they had with us and if we’d had good independent
management we would have never broken up. 
But then again, Pauline and I would never have had two more sons, Mervyn
and Robin, both of whom we wouldn’t trade the world for!!
Please visit the band’s official website at:  www.stringdriventhing.com
A brand new String Driven Thing LP is due out April, 2014,
“The Steeple Claydon Tapes!”  Featuring
sleeve notes by Pete Frame of “Rock Family Tree” fame!
For information regarding the LP please visit:  www.ozitmorpheusrecords.com
Other wonderful String Driven Thing releases are available
from Ozit/Morpheus Records at the website above.  Many, many thanks to Ozit/Morpheus owner and
String Driven Thing manager, Mr. Chris Hewitt for his kind assistance in conducting
this interview and for caring about “the music.”  Chris truly “Gets It!!!

Interview made by Kevin Rathert/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014
One Comment
  1. Rich AfterSabbath

    Thank you very much for this great interview!
    I have used a track from Heartfeeder on the new Day After The Sabbath at
    http://www.aftersabbath.com/2014/02/the-day-after-sabbath-99-isolation_18.html
    Thanks
    Rich
    aftersabbath.com

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