Bedlam interview with Dave Ball
Hi Dave, its great pleasure talking to you regarding your music. Where did you grow up and what can you tell me about first music involvements?
I was born into a musical family in Birmingham, England. My Father was a singer and Mother a pianist. I have two Brothers both of whom are musicians. Music was always an important part of life at home. We had a piano on which first Brother Pete studied to Grade 7 or 8, then Brother Denny to maybe Grade 3. My lessons never started because we had by now discovered guitars!
Deadbeats outside Sutton Art College 1963
The DeadBeats 1963. Pete Bones Ball Dave Ball Peter Donohoe Denny Ball on stage at the Sutton Guildhall
Peter Donohoe and Pete Bones Ball – 1964 I reckon
Dave Ball and Denny Ball fiddling with his lead.1964
The three Balls in a row. 1964
We started playing at home with Denny on Piano, Pete on Guitar (he had bought one from a friend at school for £2) and me actually playing ‘drums’ on Dad’s old Banjo (skin), with knitting needles for sticks and 2 brass ornaments for cymbals. I actually wanted to be the drummer at that early time.
Well, our Father bought us guitars in the end so even though I continued with some drumming periodically (even with lessons when I was 15 years old) I became the “official” Rhythm Guitarist in our band – which was called The Deadbeats.
Dude in Germany is me from early 1967 in Germany with the Madding Crowd
Some of the early bands you played with are Applejacks and Ace Kefford Stand. With Ace Kefford Stand you released a single on Atlantic titled For Your Love / Gravy Booby Jam. It sounds really fresh and the guitar has a very »big« sound…
Thank you. That guitar was a Les Paul Junior – single pick-up guitar (bought in Turkey from a kid on an American Airbase for $30 by the way).
I played with a number of local bands before Ace Kefford Stand and the way we got together with Ace was that Cozy, Denny and me had been jamming around a 3 piece line-up at home – playing Cream, Hendrix style songs.
Chicago Hush, 1967. Left to right: Paul Willetts, Denny Ball, Mo Willetts, Dave Ball & Kenneth Broad
We did a live radio show on the BBC in which we called ourselves Ideal Milk (which was a nod to a poor man’s Cream since Ideal Milk was the brand name of a condensed Milk product in England).
Cozy Dave is from around 1966 or 67 when Cozy first arrived to live with us.
Because we thought we had the makings of a great band, and knowing that Ace was no longer with the Move, we simply went to visit him and suggested we should team up. He agreed and so we became Ace Kefford Stand (that was another bad pun – from Move to Stand).
Interestingly, we were the first UK band to release a single (For Your Love) on the Atlantic Label in the UK. Prior to us, all Atlantic records went out on their subsidiary label Polydor. The SECOND band to sign direct to Atlantic was Led Zeppelin!
The two major differences between us and Zep were Management and Material. (I won’t get into a debate about how good they were here (compared to us), but I saw their very first gig as the New Yardbirds at the Marquee Club in London, and it took them a while to get their signature sound.
As I said, their management through Peter Grant (with Jimmy Page directing) was first class, whereas ours was crap (with Ace directing). Also, we had no decent material. None of us at the time were writing and this made a huge difference because we were playing covers basically – albeit with a Heavy sound. We had very little studio experience and – well, I cannot even remember who produced that first single – but I do know it could have been so much better. The opportunity really got wasted. Ace was a terrific Front Man – as was Robert (Plant): We had Cozy – albeit in his early days of heavy drumming but we know how that turned out: and Den and I who had all that potential.
Such a shame we weren’t properly managed.
Out of Ace Kefford Stand Big Bertha formed with Pete French on vocals, Denny Ball on bass and Cozy Powell on drums. There was also Pete Ball on keyboards and Dave McTavish on vocals, but I don’t know exactly, so please tell us what the story behind Big Bertha is?
Ace wasn’t coping too well with being thrust back into the music business so the band broke up. We had a contractual obligation to produce another single on Atlantic Records (This Worlds an Apple). Although this was effectively after the band had already split up, it was better produced and much more commercial than our first effort. The B-Side (Gravy Booby Jam) was reused on the basis that nobody would have noticed the first time it came round.
Big Bertha posing for family picture in 1969 ish. Left to right, Our Mum, Dave McTavish in his underwear, Me, Denny at the back, Barbara Etherington (friend), Cozy and Brother Pete.
Cozy Denny and I had already begun to form Big Bertha which is why that single went out as Big Bertha featuring Ace Kefford. Probably a bit of a collector’s item now.
We decided to fatten the sound out for Big Bertha by adding Brother Pete (Ball) on Hammond. I think we envisaged a heavy sound, but slightly more towards Vanilla Fudge than say, Cream or Zep. We brought in Pete French on vocals to begin with, but even though Pete had (still has) all the high end Rock screaming (a-la Plant), it wasn’t quite fitting in the idea for Fudge style harmonies so we traded him in for Dave McTavish – formerly of Tintern Abbey. Dave couldn’t handle the top-end rock screaming but he COULD write songs which was something we desperately needed. So this became the official Big Bertha.
You did some serious touring, but officially never released anything except a single Munich City / Funky Woman on United Artists and a show recorded in Hamburg back in 1970, but that was shelved, why is that so? Was the sound not good enough?
We managed to find ourselves a lousy manager – and a disinterested record company (we clearly weren’t very good on the business side of things) and made a single called Munich City with Funky Woman (misspelt on the record cover as Sunny Woman) on the B-Side. This went out on the Liberty / UA label. We got an advance that bought us a set a few stacks of WEM amplifiers; Cozy got a double Ludwig Kit (in Red) and the Manager bought himself a new lounge suite.
We didn’t do a hell of a lot of live gigs to be honest. The manager was more interested in putting us on to back his Son on club gigs. The UA A&R man was totally useless and with no real prospects we broke up. Pete had found himself another gig with a show band and wanted out, Cozy was head-hunted by Jeff Beck so it just died a death.
The only good thing to come out of it – after Cozy had official left and the band had split, was a quick tour in Germany as a 3 piece. The single had started being played a lot in Germany and UA actually agreed to help get us out there for a couple of weeks of gigs. Really there were only the three of us left to do it (Cozy, Denny and myself) so we threw together a set – actually quickly wrote some songs, and stole some standards from e.g. Cream’s set, and headed off to Hamburg. On one of the dates a couple of guys turned up with an old reel-to reel Revox tape recorder and two mikes which they set up facing the stage and recorded a gig.
Sometime later Denny cleaned up the tape (we had a copy of it) and put together the Big Bertha Live in Hamburg CD. Now – the sound is terrible; the playing – whilst high-voltage and (I think) very exciting is random; the vocals – well Denny and I did our best under the circumstances – was under rehearsed, BUT it was and is a truly exciting show – warts and all. Basically what loud live rock & roll always used to be.
Procol Harum was you next move. How did that happen? You were replacing Robin Trower. We can hear you on the best-selling Procol Harum album »Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra« and you also start recording “Grand Hotel”, but then you left. Please share background story of this events…
I had been playing in one or two bands around London when I saw an advertisement for a Lead Guitarist to join Procol Harum. This was for Robin’s replacement yes. I answered the ad, and even though they had already scheduled 80 guitarists to audition, managed to get myself put on to the bottom of the list. Lucky-Last!
Procol publicity shot round the time of Conquistador – L-to-R Chris Copping, BJ Wilson, Gary Brooker, Keith Reid, Me and Alan Cartwright.
When Number 81 arrived at the Rolling Stones Rehearsal Rooms in London Bridge for the audition, it was quite clear that the band were exhausted from listening to 80 guitar players – probably all trying to sound like Robin, etc. Well, I plugged in and we played through a few warm-up RnB things; played a couple of their tunes, and it was just fizzling out. They were clearly fed up with the whole process, so I said ‘Anybody fancy a beer?’ at which point they all started smiling and agreeing that this was a fine idea, so we went down the road to the local pub. Drank steadily for a while swapping jokes and generally getting on really well, then I just said – thanks, see you later … and walked (or staggered) off to the Tube to go home. I really didn’t expect anything to come of it, but first thing the next morning I had a call from their office saying you’re in!
So it was all about the beer. Here was a true ‘Procol’ Man.
The next 18 months or so were non-stop. We toured – mostly in North America, but also Europe, Japan and just a few UK dates – and recorded the Live album in Edmonton, Canada, AND were playing the material for Grand Hotel prior to going into the studio, so it was absolutely full-on. The Edmonton album became their biggest success ever (apart from the Whiter Shade of Pale single obviously – and what a BUZZ that was to play on stage with Gary singing!)
Shot from the album sleeve of Grand Hotel (before I left the band and Mick Grabham’s head was glued onto the picture
Now I am often asked about why I would leave just when we were in the middle of recording a new album and the band were riding high … well, I had had a bit of a falling out with BJ Wilson the drummer. Without going through all the gory details, I believe that BJ wanted me out, and he had seniority (and let’s be honest, I was always going to be much easier to replace than him) so I was asked to fall on my sword.
I phoned Long John Baldry and said – ‘You want a new guitar player?’ and bless him – he said YES please. We only did a couple of gigs and recorded the Good to be Alive album, but it was fun – and he was such an awesome talent. They don’t make blokes like that anymore I reckon!
Leaving Procol Harum you formed legendary Bedlam with Cozy and Dennis. What can you tell me about formation of Bedlam?
Bedlam USA is from the 1974 tour with Black Sabbath
Well, it happened that Cozy’s run with Jeff (Beck) had come to an end. He was looking at joining Spirit (US Band) but then suggested should we put ‘The Band’ back together. I agreed the timing was right and so we grabbed Denny – who was with Long John Baldry at the time – and worked out a cunning plan. We knew Frank Aiello from some session work we had done together – he sang on a couple of Denny’s projects – and basically said OK – this is the band and we will call ourselves ‘The Beast’. Slight digression here but The Beast was the name of Dave Pegg’s old A38 Van. (Dave has been in Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, etc. And has been a friend since the Birmingham days). So we got management sorted with Jeff Becks manager (another arsehole it turned out later) – bought up a load of Jeff’s old touring gear and got down to rehearsing.
At this point – and having already started generating Posters and an Album Sleeve as The Beast, some smart-arse manager guy in the States claimed to ‘own’ the name The Beast on behalf of his client (a keyboard player apparently) and could we either a) Give them $50,000 for the rights to the name OR b) Give his sad-case-organ-dude a gig in the band. We told him to fuck-off and changed the name to Bedlam. (Not many people know that).
So, we wrote original material (one or two adapted from the Big Bertha stuff) rehearsed a show, got a Tour Manager, Roadies, a Van, a group car and started gigging. We signed with Chrysalis Records (whom I had known from Procol of course) and that’s it. Up and running.
In 1973 you released your legendary LP. What are some of the strongest memories from producing and releasing it?
Strongest Memories? The sheer NOISE in the studio (we did NOT understand restraint in those days); the laughs – we enjoyed this band and were always messing around having fun; the Freedom to play what we wanted – how we wanted with nobody to tell us to be ‘commercial’ – we were designed to be an Albums band basically, oh, and Felix (Pappalardi) falling asleep at the desk whilst we tried to mix the first album in New York.
We recorded most of the album at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, then mixed and did additional (guitar) overdubs at the Record Plant in New York. Felix (and Gail his Wife) came over and we went through the material. Gail added some words here and there (not just to get on the writing credits of course) and they came up with one of their own tunes to do. A nice tune actually, and probably a good contrast to all our thrashing around.
I think we were pretty quick in terms of playing time, though it took ages to get Cozy’s monster drum kit miked and under control. The Engineer was good value. Bob DeOrleans was his name, and he had worked often with Felix on Mountain stuff.
So having got the basic 16 tracks recorded in London, Cozy Felix and I went in to the Record Plant to do the mixing. I did a couple of solo overdubs – most notably on Gail’s tune Looking Through Loves Eyes. I remember this so well because I had been struggling to get it just right when Felix put out a line of some brown ‘stuff’ for me to snort, and I remember walking out of the control room (feeling VERY relaxed and glowing – some of you know what this was) – I threw up in a waste bin outside the main room, went in – picked up the guitar and nailed it in one. Then we sat around being useless for a while before calling it a night!
Unfortunately, Felix was spending more and more time being ‘relaxed and ‘glowing’ and Bob (bless him) tried his best to get the mix right. Cozy & I went home without hearing the masters and when the album finally got pressed we were very disappointed with it. They had chopped out whole solos, the pressing wasn’t really HEAVY … nothing we could do though. Out it went.
It wasn’t that we didn’t like the album – I still think it was a good first shot – just not quite what it could have been. Now – as a footnote to this, Denny managed to recover the original 16 track tapes – everything was there including the edits which Bob had taped onto a separate reel, so Den simply put things back together (after baking the tape!) and he now has the whole thing loaded onto digital. There are better individual parts he has isolated, and so far – this is a work in progress – the mix is just what we wanted in the first place. There is also a complete track that wasn’t originally issued. This will get completed sometime this year ready for release.
What gear did you guys use?
As I said earlier, we had purloined a bunch of Jeff’s old touring gear. The back-line for Denny and me was all Sun-Coliseum gear. I had 4 x 4/12 Cabinets all with JBL-Lansing Metal Cone Speakers, powered by a 750 Watt main stage and 750 watt booster stage amps.
Did I mention that we were LOUD?
Denny had the Bass version of this.
Cozy used a bright red double Ludwig Kit. His monitors were a hoot! 2 x Bass (PA) Bins with horns pointing straight at him from either side of the kit.
PA was a 2000 Watt thing – couldn’t tell you the make.
I used Gibson Les Pauls generally. A 2 pick-up Black Beauty (circa. 1964) and a really special Wine Red 3 pick-up Black Beauty (yes – I know …) which was a one-off built around 1960. Wish I still had that one for sure!
Yes – now ask me about my Tinnitus! WHAT? DID YOU SAY SOMETHING?
What can you tell me about the cover artwork?
Well – lots – actually – everything. I had been working on the theme for The Beast – album cover, ads, etc. and had the idea of the Arm. When we changed to Bedlam we simply changed the plasticine letters and re-shot the pictures – but the design stayed the same.
Bedlam Album sleeve design phases
(Just so you can see I am not making this up I have attached my original drawings as I worked this all out).
I had a good friend called Rowland Scherman who was also a well-known photographer (see the Grammy Award winning photo on the 1968 Dylan Album “Greatest Hits” THAT Rowland Scherman!) He was working out of London and I asked him to do a shoot for us. We talked through the concept and he suggested somebody he knew that made sculptured props for films – and – whose speciality was severed limbs for Horror Films. She (sadly cannot remember her name) was commissioned to do this and did an awesome job. It was life-size and brilliantly constructed – bones and veins popping out of the shattered elbow! Broken fingernails – the lot!
Early one morning armed (sorry!) just with the arm and some blue plasticine Rowland and I headed out into the London streets to find a suitable location. Turns out some demolition work provided the perfect spot. We made the letters up for The Beast (first time round); sprayed some blood; started a fire around the base and presto – one Album cover. We had to do it all again when we changed the name of course but the result was pretty much the same. We also had a lot of fun by putting the arm in the gutter and photographing horrified passers-by … hehe – evil Rock & Roll Dudes!
Where did you tour and do you have any particular memories you would like to share from it? Also you recorded Long John Baldry’s 1973 album “Good to be Alive” around this time.
The Album with John Baldry was a bit of pay-back for leaving so suddenly. It was fun to do – Denny was playing Bass also on this – and (apparently) it was John’s favourite record. Sam Mitchell who is playing Slide Guitar on it was particularly good!
Back to Bedlam – we started touring in the UK. University gigs and clubs. It happened that after the album had been released that Cozy did his Drum Single called Dance With The Devil; well when that took off into the charts we started getting a lot more bookings – and for more money – but in the end it is what killed the band off. I’ll explain how that came about in a minute.
We started touring extensively in Europe – Germany, Nederland, and France mainly. The band was going really well and we thought we would finally make it after all these years. Then we got booked onto a USA tour supporting Black Sabbath on about 30 shows. This was where we really started to find our place, and we were received REALLY well. We were SO powerful that the Sabbath manager started pulling back our stage time as we were becoming too hard to follow! Touring with Ozzy and the Boys was a lot of fun. We had known each other since their beginnings in Birmingham and it was a good mix of lunatic personalities. I can’t tell you all of the stories from on the road for fear of arrest!
When the tour finished, we did a TV show in LA called The Midnight Special (which was quite a coup for us) and headed home.
What happened to Bedlam?
That’s when it all went wrong. Our manager greeted us with the news that a) Chrysalis Records didn’t want to pick up their option for the second album b) There were NO gigs booked (and – apparently nobody wanted us) and c) we were broke (no money). We – well, 3 out of 4 of us – were totally gob-smacked. How could this be?
Well, the manager (I did mention that he was an arsehole didn’t I?) said – well there is Mickey Most – he wants to meet with you to discuss an idea ….
Now Mickey Most was a well-known “Hit Maker” of those days. Bit like Simon Cowell today with his X-Factor cronies. We turned up at the RAK Record offices to see Mickey, and he was all upbeat and enthusiastic – the conversation opener being something like “We’ll follow up Dance with the Devil with another single – call it Cozy Powell & Bedlam – we’ll get Top of the Pops … “and so on.
We were being totally sold-out. I blew my top – abused everybody in earshot – said that Bedlam was – IS an Album Band; a Heavy Band – not some pop band on kiddie TV shows, etc. I walked out. Denny followed me too. Cozy and Frank stayed.
That was it. Just like that – all that work – everything – gone.
Just to show how this had all been manoeuvred by our manager and Mickey, I had a call from Felix’s old Record Company offices in New York. The guy who ran it – Gary Kurfurst – said he had heard that Bedlam had broken up and would I come out to the States and put something together with his company. I said sure – send me a ticket and I’ll come.
I was sitting in Gary’s office in Manhattan being treated like really nicely – sort of Rock Royalty if you like – when he asked me what I would like to do – form a band, join somebody, go Solo – whatever I wanted they would support me. I said, well, all I ever wanted really was to get Bedlam going and that’s all.
Now – here’s the kicker – he replied with “Well, that’s all I wanted too! I asked your manager if I could take over managing you guys in the States, and I was going to put you on a Rod Stewart Tour in 5 weeks’ time across the whole of the Continental USA, playing to 20,000 seater stadiums”. I was flabbergasted! What?
You WANT us? Yes he said and went on to say he had repeatedly asked our manager (the arsehole you remember) about getting us. Well, I said can I get Cozy on the phone – right now – I rang him and excitedly told him the news – – all ok – move to the States – Tour – Album Deal with Windfall Records – everything we had worked for.
You know what the reply was? “I’ve already signed with Mickey.”
So the whole thing had been a set-up between Cozy (who had clearly decided he wanted to be a Pop Star on TV playing crappy singles like his follow up Na Na Na (No No No!) and the arsehole-manager and Mickey looking to make some fast money.
Well, I thought “Stuff This” and I hung up my guitars and became a soldier in the British Regular Army.
On 4th MAY 2012 you launched not only your solo album “Don’t Forget Your Alligator” but also your autobiography “Half Hippie-Half Man. You are still very active these days. What can you tell me about your solo album?
Well, I left the mainstream music business back in 1974 and spent the next few decades in a variety of unusual professions and lived in a few different countries. On the way I had three kids and generally have had a good and exciting life. When I left Music, I was not at all well. I had indulged in all the excesses that the industry had to offer, and by my own reckoning might not have lasted much longer.
Making that change really saved my life. I got fit and healthy (the Army did that for me) and met all kinds of nice people along the way. I didn’t even pick up a guitar for a few years, but when I did it was as exciting for me as the first time, so I would play to amuse myself, and occasionally play with a band here and there. I always liked to play Blues, so I could go and jam without having to get on the music business treadmill (and have to deal with the arseholes again – and trust me – they may be a younger crew now but they are STILL out there!
Now I have always been a compulsive writer and artist (drawing) and have accumulated diaries and drawings and paintings from the 60’s to the present day. I found – in about 2000, that I could write song lyrics quite well, then that I could find a tune to go with them, so slowly I started getting these songs written and basically recorded.
By 2010 I had around a hundred songs written and demoed just to tape with me playing guitar or piano and singing the melody.
I was working in IT (Computers) at this point and on my 60th year, I decided to quit the day-job and try to get my stuff – not just the records, but the art and the writing I had accumulated – out into the world. That was the mission I set for myself, and 2 years later I was ready to put this out into the public domain. I moved back to the Midlands of England where it had all started and formed a company called Worldslump Limited to house all of my ‘stuff’
The Solo album (Don’t Forget Your Alligator) and the Bedlam album (Bedlam in Command 1973) were both released on Angel Air Records in April (UK and Europe) and June (USA and the rest of the World), and the book is out now but only available on Kindle, although I have nearly finished preparing it for general EPublishing standards – so iBooks, Blio, etc. will be coming soon.
I have the playlists already prepared for another 6 albums by the way! I hope they will be commercially successful of course, but the main motivation for me is to actually DO them. It is part of my Bucket List if you like.
I am also selling T-Shirts with my pictures on and Prints of my drawings. The website is having a refit at the moment. The domain is www.worldslump.com but the shop won’t be there until the new site arrives.
How was it to write autobiography? Was it hard to remember everything?
The book sort of evolved from a few short articles for a magazine in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where I was working for a while. Having delivered a few pages to the editor, he suggested that I write a book – in the same anecdotal style as the articles. Well, I thought that might be fun and so started scribbling in notebooks and it just took off from there. It was fun dredging through my memory for stories from childhood through to the present day. It is a very cathartic process also (if you have underlying “issues” or “angst” left over from childhood). You can say what you want to whomever you please; justify actions that you took but never had the time to explain back when they happened, and generally empty all the baggage from the hidden or long forgotten corners of your memory.
The book is funny (I think) not because I tried to write a humorous book – just that that is how I am and, my life has generally been very funny and eventful.
Oh – and I am asked – particularly by people who knew me when I was at my worst in the early 70’s HOW I can actually remember ANYTHING about those days! Well, I cannot explain it exactly, but I find I do have a prodigious memory, and even though I may take licence in the stories I tell – ok – to make them funnier – I haven’t actually made any of it up! Now – THAT’S funny!
Thanks for taking your time! Would you like to send a message to It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
Well Klemen, first let me thank you for giving me the opportunity to rant on for nearly 5000 words (probably FAR too long for your magazine!) and I hope I haven’t bored too many people.
I suppose at 62 years old, I am in that age bracket where you can impart fatherly and wise advice to those younger than you, but to be honest I never listened to the old-guys when they tried to tell me what to do, so I don’t expect your readers will be too bothered by my words either – and you know – that’s just fine and right and proper.
The world and human beings would never innovate if they took all the good advice they were offered. It is important to be yourself, follow your wild and crazy ideas – whether it is in the arts, (music, painting, writing, whatever), or even in business, medicine, trades or scrubbing floors in some rich dudes house – it really doesn’t matter.
If you are not someone who has these kinds of crazy notions then that is also fine, because it is just as important for those crazies to have somebody that will listen to them; maybe take the idea and actually make it work! Remember, the crazy ideas person is not usually the “finisher”. It takes a different sort of person to make it happen.
So that’s it – just live your life – have FUN – don’t expect any big bonus at the end – live for NOW … and – this is important HAVE NO FEAR. Don’t let the politicians, religious people, marketing and media people make you scared – of anything!
Fuck ‘em I say.