Sunday, 6 February 2011
THE ACTION AND MIGHTY BABY: MIKE EVANS INTERVIEW (2000)
The following interview with Michael Evans, bass player of The Action and Mighty Baby, was conducted circa 2000 and has not been published until now.
My intention, after in-depth chats with Reggie King and Pete Watson about the core years of The Action, was to cover for Shindig! fanzine the lesser documented period after the final Action single through to their metamorphosis into Mighty Baby. My preference would have been for a chinwag over a pint or a cup of tea but Mike wanted to do the interview via email. Unfortunately, in my view, I only received brief answers which then needed following up and expanding upon, so we went back and forth until I pieced together what you read now. However, I was never satisfied with the result and therefore did not submit it.
Understandably Mike wasn’t best pleased and looking back now maybe I should have persevered a little longer. Sadly, with his passing last year, it’ll never be finished but I hope this serves as a small belated tribute.
I want to start from the last Action single, “Shadows and Reflections”. Reg King said George Martin made it clear that if that wasn’t a hit, he’d have to let the band go. Is that how you recall it?
I remember meeting with George sometime after the release. He had heard our demos and we tired one or two out with him in the studio. It was then that he decided to call it a day.
Did he give you any actual reasons for calling it a day?
As I remember, it was simply an economic reason. His company Air had financed all our recordings up to then and we weren’t having any hits.
When the single didn’t do as well as hoped, and your time with George ended, what was the spirit and attitude of the band like? Was there a temptation to call it a day?
No, we were not tempted to quit. The pressure to make it commercially was from the record companies. The spirit and attitude of the band was (although disappointed to have to break from George) great because we were developing our playing and writing.
Can you tell me how Ian Whiteman and Martin Stone came to join the Action? I presume this was post-“Shadows and Reflections”. Was a decision made to recruit some fresh ideas into the band, or did it happen more by chance?
We felt we were a good rhythm section with voices but we wanted to have a lead instrument. We placed an advert in Melody Maker for a Hammond organist, and found Ian who was a multi-instrumentalist; which was a bonus. We had previously played a gig with Savoy Blues Band and had been impressed by Martin. At around the time Ian left temporarily we bumped into Martin and asked him if he would like to play.
Why did Ian leave temporarily?
To be totally accurate you would have to ask him.
What did Ian and Martin bring to the band: both musically and personally?
Apart from their brilliant talent, they were remarkable people. They helped to reshape the band musically and to take it into a new direction. They were both great musicians, you can hear that for yourself, and both jolly nice chaps to boot.
How did Georgio Gomelsky, at Marmalade records, become involved? I understand that the recordings that have subsequently been released as both Brain: The Lost Recordings and Rolled Gold were made for Marmalade.
When we broke from our previous management, Georgio provided a base for our activities. Rolled Gold was made for George Martin in the first instance but no one was very interested at the time.
Those Rolled Gold songs were markedly different from the soul covers period Action. What new things were influencing you?
We had always listened to a lot of varied music: from mod jazz, R&B, blues, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and later Grateful Dead, The Band etc.
All those songs were recorded in, what is now seen as a fairly short period of time. “Shadows and Reflections” being released in July 1967, and by early 1968 you had an album’s worth of demos. Were these songs written in the studio or did people come in with the bulk of the song written?
We were living together at the time and playing every day and recording at demo studios a lot. It was a very intense time, so ideas, riffs, were given time to develop into the stage of the demo. We never considered them complete and Rolled Gold would never have been released by us. The issue was forced by the issue of Brain which was so sub standard that we felt obliged to release what we had. Some of the songs are very Reg, for example “Little Boy”, “Come Around” and “Climbing Up The Wall”, but the band defined them. The rest are collaborations.
Where was the place you were all living? How long were you there for?
We lived in a house in Chelsea. I think we were there for most of 1968.
Can you describe a typical day during this time?
Midday: Wake up. Answer door. Rick Gretsh from Family returns my bass which he’d borrowed for a gig the night before.
1pm: Ronnie Lane arrives to listen to our Rolled Gold demos.
2pm: After Ronnie leaves pop around to Family house for tea and biscuits and a smoke.
4pm: Run through some songs with Reg and Bam.
5pm: Fortnum and Mason deliver a food hamper courtesy of Ronnie. What a gent.
7pm: Pete Brown turns up to borrow my bass for a session.
8pm: Still running through ideas with Reg and Bam.
9pm: Location caterers are parked outside for a film unit shooting up the street, so we pretend to be extras and eat for free.
11pm: Some Swedish girls turn up who we had met at a gig previously. Good night all.
“In My Dreams” was mooted as a single but never appeared. It’s been said Gomelsky ultimately turned that down, and the album worth of demos, because he couldn’t hear a hit single there. Looking back, do you think that’s fair comment?
There may have been some potential there, I really do not know. If we had been able to do more work on them, maybe, but times were changing rapidly.
The press reported that the Action had changed their name to Azoth. Who came up with that name, what does it mean and how did you then become known as Mighty Baby?
Martin came up with the name. It is an arcane name for the One Thing. The “A” and “Z” relate to the Greek Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. When Reg left, the Action was really finished. The band had changed from a rhythm section with voices to a playing band; experimental and rooted in R&B and blues, fusing mod jazz ideas. The alchemy was complete and Mighty Baby was born.
What reasons did Reg give you for leaving? What effect did his leaving have?
Reg left to develop his own ideas in song writing and producing. The effect was to accelerate the growth of Mighty Baby.
Can you explain how Mighty Baby got their recording deal. Did you have to record more demos to sell yourself or were you offered a deal straight out?
John Curd who ran Head Records was an ex-roadie of the Action. After Gomelsky we were based at Blackhill who ran the Hyde Park concerts. They also had Marc Bolan on their books at the time. This proved rather short lived and we joined with Head Records because we knew John. There was nothing to prove.
What was the reaction to the debut Mighty Baby album? Its fluid, almost jazzy feel, seems slightly at odds with the blues-rock sound that was happening then.
The album for Head was produced over a few months, in part by Guy Stevens, and by the band. It was a mixture of our influences at the time. It was received very well: mostly by the student audience. The lyrics were mostly surreal and occult derived as a result of our massive reading intake at the time. We were almost a mobile study group as well as a band.
Can you give some examples of the books you were reading as part of this “study group”?
Everything you can imagine. From Bhavagad Gita to Gurdjef to Ouspensky etc.
How much touring and live shows did you do? Both albums sound like they lent themselves to some elongated jamming.
Colleges and Universities were where most of our gigs came from. We also worked on the continent, Holland, Germany etc. We did love to jam and we tried to develop this side of playing at gigs. It could be hit or miss. It demanded a lot of the audience but we were up for it if they were.
The photograph of Martin Stone on the first LP has him dressed in what looks like a wizard’s cape. Reg King said when he left things were getting weird: people having to face East in the recording studio for example. I think he was joking but how much were you and the other band members interested in magick, Aleister Crowley etc?
Martin is a bit of wizard on the guitar as well. We revelled in eccentricity at the time and being normal was weird to us. Crowley and the occult were stops along the way. I always think it better to try and understand a little about something than remain totally ignorant. Too many belief systems are demonised by society.
Crowley hardly seems the “wickedest man” he was painted. Any particular thoughts about him?
A human being, just like us.
You said about revelling in eccentricity. What form did this eccentricity take?
It was more inward than outward.
Your second album A Jug of Love was releases on Blue Horizon in October 1971. How would you compare this album to the first?
For me, it is a culmination of all the work that went before it. It is calmer but has an underlying intensity in the playing that comes from the experience of improvising and playing together for so long. The lyrics are real life autobiographical. In comparison to the first album it is more refined musically and has more time space. The first Head album really is in your head.
How and why did Mighty Baby disband?
Because it was not perceived that the band could continue at the same time as other personal and spiritual goals were being achieved. Possibly this was regrettable. Misguided even.
Which period do you look back on with most fondness?
I enjoyed all of it but the Mighty Baby period was a bit special.
Which of your records are you most proud of and why?
The Mighty Baby recordings because of the development and the bravery.
For Reggie King interview see here.
For Pete Watson interview see here.