Jazz and blues piano teacher in London

Keyboard player
  • Since 1967 I have made my living as a keyboard player and composer. This page is only for those of you that may be interested in the keyboards I used over those years and how the technology evolved and intertwined with the musical styles of the time.

Final warning!
  • Unless you are a keyboard player with some interest in equipment, please read no further. There is nothing offensive in what follows. On the contrary, it will be duller than ditchwater!
  • I of course started out with an acoustic piano but in 1967 you needed at least an organ to get into a band.
  • For a penniless keyboard player in the late 60's, there seemed to be a choice of two organs: the Farfisa or the Vox Continental . Both were single manual, had drawbars and sounded absolutely nothing like a Hammond. You always stood up to play them because it looked cooler and they didn't come with a stool. Had I been given the choice, I suppose I would have gone for the Farfisa as it sounded more funky. But when I turned up for my first ever audition with The Hijackers (a name they may not have chosen in this Century), the Vox Continental, with its reverse black and white keys, awaited me. The organ solo on Telstar by the Tornadoes began playing in my brain and I desperately tried to replace it with Alan Price's solo in 'House of the Rising Sun' by the Animals. In the end, I gave them my rendition of Green Onions and got the job.
  • The next choice to be made: which electric piano? Would it be the Wurlitzer or the Fender Rhodes ? The 'Wurly' was considered the more 'Rock and Roll' of the two and was later to be a trademark of Supertramp's sound. It was also hideous to tune. The Rhodes was more sophisticated and 'Jazzy'. I went for 'jazzy'. If the likes of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea were happy with it, who was I to argue.
  • It was time to move on to a more up-market organ, at least one with two manuals. Yet again, there was a straight and obvious choice: a Hammond or a Lowrey .
  • Why did I think twice? All my favourite organ players used a Hammond: Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff and of course Jimmy Smith. But closer to home, in fact in the London clubs, I was closely watching Stevie Winwood, then in the Spencer Davies group and the man I idolised: Graham Bond. You may not have heard of him, but the Graham Bond Organisation had a residency at the 100 club in Oxford Street every Thursday night and I often looked on in awe. Jack Bruce was on bass, Ginger Baker on drums (both later to form Cream with Eric Clapton) and John McGlaughlin later joined on guitar. In the midst of this formidable line up sat a large figure with greasy hair and a pint of beer on his Hammond organ. His raspy voice was perfect for R&B and the organ sound, propelled by Leslie speakers, ripped your ears apart. The man was an inspiration. I once plucked up the courage to sidle up to him and ask, "Who are your musical influences?" "Nobody", he gruffly replied, and I slunk back into the crowd. Graham Bond had no real commercial success, became involved in heroin and black magic and died in tragic circumstances.
  • Then along came psychedelia and overnight all my favourite bands changed their music and their stage clothes. A good example was the Zoot Money Big Roll Band. Zoot was (and still is) another Hammond organist, singer and general nutter, who thought it a good idea to turn the band into Dantalion's Chariot. They came on stage wearing caftans and I left the club. Zoot's (or should I say Dantalion's) guitarist was Andy Summers, who later ditched the caftan, bleached his hair and joined The Police.
  • Let's rewind and consider my choice of manual organ. Remember, it was to be either the Hammond or the Lowrey. No contest? Well, perversely, I chose the much more insipid sounding Lowrey. In my defence, Garth Hudson of The Band managed to make it sound amazing. I expect, though, that Garth would have employed several roadies to lug it in and out of vans and up flights of stairs. All I had was the drummer.
  • I did eventually come to my senses and swap it for an M100 Hammond organ. I still made the token effort to be original by using a wah-wah pedal and fuzz box instead of the conventional Leslie speaker. I thought I could solve the back-breaking aspect of being an organist by purchasing a split Hammond. This meant that you could unplug the top half and carry it separately. Unfortunately the bottom half weighed more than two Lowreys and my back still hasn't fully recovered.
  • I was now being asked to produce string sounds and, as I couldn't afford a synthesiser, I opted for the Solina String Machine. Not only was it made of wood, it also had buttons that said violin, cello, trumpet and horn. The Solina sounded absolutely nothing like any of these instruments, so I wired that up to another fuzz box and succeeded in making it sound like nothing on earth.
  • And so we come to my next choice: which synthesiser? In the early 70's, analogue mono synthesisers were the latest 'must' for any self-respecting keyboard player. The obvious choice was the Minimoog , as used by Kraftwork and Rick Wakeman, and still being dragged out by bands such as The Orb and The Chemical Brothers to this day. But did I conform? I bought an ARP Odyssey , as used by Abba and Gary Numan and wired it up to my Solina String machine.
  • In the late 70's, polyphonic synthesisers were horrendously expensive and more like switchboards than keyboards. This time, I made a great choice. Now this is pretty obscure, but I went for this wooden box with jack-sockets called a Korg PS3200 . Korg had obviously run out of catchy names but I took to my PS3200 immediately. Despite being faced with an array of oscillators and filters that needed to be 'patched' with jack leads I was soon producing whatever sound people required of me. I also had the luxury of 16 memory presets to save my favourites. Five years ago I waved it a fond farewell as it was carted off to a synthesiser museum.
  • Then along came digital synthesisers. Actually, there was the one that every keyboard player would have sold their granny for: the Yamaha DX7 . Apparently it had frequency modulation, whatever that meant. But I didn't need to know because it sounded so wonderful andI couldn't wait to boast to my frequency modulator-less colleagues. The sound lived up to the rumours and the DX7, which emerged in 1983, had a clear and defined quality that was soon being described as 'cold'. Although I missed my switchboard and jack leads, I was immediately entranced by the magical sounds emanating from 32 factory presets. The problems began when I tried programming it myself and before long I was buying more factory presets rather than being creative. What's more, everyone was using exactly the same presets!
  • Manufacturers soon began to realise that it made more sense to start building synth modules, i.e. boxes we could just link together to one master keyboard. So I started buying boxes, and more boxes. I accumulated loads of TX7's (keyboardless DX7s), a Matrix 1000, a Korg 01R, a Roland U220 it goes on and on.

    Just when we thought there was nothing new to buy, we were told to ditch our synthesisers and move over to real sounds. These, apparently, were called samplers and could somehow grab an audio sound and convert it to digital information. Somehow or other, this concert violinist plays a few octaves, the sampler records it, translates it and suddenly I'm playing great violin on my keyboard.
  • Well, actually I'm not. The sound a violinist produces depends on his instrument, the bowing action, the weight with which he plays it and how one note connects with the next. So when I pressed that key it sounded nothing like a violin but of course I went ahead and bought one anyway. I remember my choice then was between a Mirage, a Prophet and an Emax. I went for the Emax and started sampling anything that moved.
  • What do I play now? Well, I have a Kurzweil PC88 master keyboard attached to my Apple Mac IMac. I ditched all the boxes in favour of plug-ins that run from my MOTU Digital Performer. For gigs I take out a Roland FP7.
  • So over the years, although I've played through a truckload of keyboards, the only instrument I really like playing is my acoustic piano... which I had in the first place! There's a moral here somewhere.