All photography in this article is by Dusan Kilco Matejcek for Rebellion Festivals.
WHEN, WHERE AND WHY DID YOUR DREAM AS A MUSICIAN START?
I always liked music as a lad but didn’t start trying to play it until I was in my teens. We used to visit my family in Birkenhead during the school holidays in the 1970s and one summer when we got there everything had changed… my cousins Steve and Gary suddenly had long hair, leather jackets and girlfriends; all of this was great as it annoyed my dad no end, but somehow even greater was the fact that Gary now owned an acoustic guitar on which he played snippets of songs by the likes of Pink Floyd and Wishbone Ash. I remember being fascinated by it. I still am… I asked my mum and dad for a guitar for Christmas – I then discovered to my horror that you didn’t just pick it up and play it, but that you had to actually put some work in. It went under the bed for quite a considerable period of time although I really liked music by then, buying singles by T.Rex, Slade, The Sweet, David Bowie and more – chart music was really good in those days… anyway it took a viewing of Dr. Feelgood playing live on ‘The Geordie Scene’ to kick me into action, and I began attempting to teach myself some chords with the aid of a Beatles songbook. I didn’t study music at school but as luck would have it a guitar teacher lived on the same estate as us – years later I found out that he went to school with Paul Fox and also knew Malcolm Owen… with punk just around the corner it was time to save up for an electric guitar, which I bought along with a small amplifier from Woolworths. You could do things like that in those days, so I did. It took me ages to get up to any sort of standard but I eventually started playing together with a few school friends – we all liked different music so it was quite hard to find some common ground although I guess that made us a pretty typical school group. I didn’t see myself as having any chance of progressing any further than that, but after getting a job in a factory I realised that I couldn’t spend the next 40-odd years doing that, so it was time to take the guitar a bit more seriously…
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE INSTRUMENT YOU DID? DID THIS EVER CHANGE?
My mum told me that as a very small boy I saw a picture of The Beatles and asked her ‘why is one of them pointing the other way?’ She always said that she was surprised that I’d noticed at such a young age, and that when I asked for a guitar years later she remembered that moment. I didn’t play any other instrument before I got a guitar – since then I’ve messed around with mandolin, harmonica, keyboards and more, but have never really had the chance to get to grips with them. I’ve helped people out on bass guitar but don’t own one! I hope to get a decent acoustic guitar and spend some time playing that as I feel that it’s a very different instrument to the electric guitar and definitely one that I would like to investigate further. Maybe one day!
Loads! Initially The Beatles, then The Who, Stones, Kinks, Hendrix and many more sixties artists; in the ’70s glam rock then as mentioned above Dr. Feelgood – Wilko Johnson remains one of my biggest influences and inspirations. Then of course punk rock both as an attitude and an art form, although I also like much of the often derided rock music that preceded it. Since then all sorts of different types of music – I’ve never thought that you can only like one type of music anymore than you can only like one colour. Guitarist-wise my favourite player is probably Pete Townshend along with the afore-mentioned Wilko Johnson, also George Harrison, John Lennon, Steve Jones, Mick Green, Gypie Mayo, Danny Kustow, Steve Cropper, Keith Richards, Mick Ronson, Paul Fox, Ronnie Wood, Mick Jones, Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix and many many more.
SUCCESSES AND FAILURES ALONG THE WAY?
How long have you got?!? Probably more failures than successes although I consider myself very lucky to be able to play the guitar at all – many people would love to do it but don’t get the chance. There are better players than me that never get out of their bedrooms, and great bands that never get out of the rehearsal room. It’s easy to complain, but most of us shouldn’t!
I’ve learned not to take anything for granted! Music is an extraordinary thing – any show, whether by an unknown band or artist in front of a few people or a big star-studded event in a massive venue can be a life-changing event to somebody watching; I know this because my life has been changed by both. Maybe yours has too?
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THOSE WANTING TO PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT OR GET INTO THE BUSINESS?
Well like many musicians I don’t have much business sense – I’d probably be a lot richer if I had! Or would I? I don’t think anybody that just began playing music or indeed got into any form of art purely for financial gain ever produced anything worthwhile; they might have made a lot of money, but that’s not the point of doing it. Well, I don’t think that it is… I think that if you want to play music then you can – the level you get to with it depends on how hard you work and how well you use and channel your ability. I might be sounding idealistic there – reading it back I certainly sound naive – but that’s where I am!
YOUR FUTURE PLANS
Ruts D.C. have just finished a British tour with Stiff Little Fingers; earlier in the year we played in Japan and Hong Kong as well as touring Australia and New Zealand with The Stranglers – the things I hear myself saying sometimes! We’re looking to get a new album together this year, and there’s plenty of gigs in the diary, so we’ve got work to do!
ABOUT YOUR INSTRUMENT;
GOOD STARTER GUITAR?
These days the quality of budget instruments is higher than it ever was – I realise now that the guitar I bought in Woolworths was all but unplayable compared to affordable instruments now made by the likes of Squier, Epiphone, Vintage, etc. If you’re looking to buy an instrument to start playing on it’s always good to take a friend along to help you choose, whether it’s a new instrument from a shop or a second hand one from someone selling it. And this might sound daft, but buy something that you like the look of – you won’t play it much if you hate the colour…
WHAT DO YOU PLAY NOW?
With Ruts D.C. I use a Gibson Les Paul Custom bought accidentally (!) last year, and a Les Paul Standard that I’ve had for over 20 years. I play them through a Marshall DSL100 with a 1960A 4×12″ cabinet and a few pedals – Boss Tuner, Way Huge Green Rhino overdrive, Boss Chorus, Boss Analog Delay and an MXR Micro Amp to boost the volume for solos. I dread to think how much it all cost!
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM INSTRUMENT/SETUP AND HOW MUCH?
I like what I use, although there’s always room for an old Telecaster!