Richard Niles, composer/arranger/leader of BANDZILLA, is interviewed by bassist Garret Wolfe about songs from the album BANDZILLA RISES!!!
Behind the Scenes
Richard Niles, Ed Barker & John Thirkell discuss recording BANDZILLA RISES!!!
A Rare Classic Interview
with Johnny Thirkell
by Richard Niles
Way back in 1997, I was asked to interview my friend John Thirkell, the world famous trumpet player, raconteur and balloonist. My employer was 'Making Music', a free magazine given to music shops to encourage musicians to buy stuff. This article reveals why John is in much demand as an after-dinner speaker and referee. And why I no longer work as a journalist.
Richard Niles risks his precariously perched sanity to interview studio ace trumpet cat
Talking to John Thirkell is to enter a world of goblins and valve oil, black nights and white trumpets, Laurel and Hardy. I asked him to give my readers (if I actually have any) an idea of what it’s like doing studio dates with such superstars as George Michael and Tina Turner:
“I’m sitting at home, putting the finishing touches to the bacon slicer I am making out of used matches when the phone rings. It’s Tina Turner! ‘Johnny’, she says, ‘I’m making a new record and I want you to come and tootle in the gaps.’ Well, I was rather busy at that time so I had to decline, however the tousle-haired temptress was not going to give up easily. ‘Aah, go
on Johnny - I’ll give you a go on Ike’s old Scalextric!’ (Apparently he had bought himself a Pole Position set to keep him amused while Tina was in hospital). The temptation was too much! ‘I’ve just got to pop up to a fishmongers in Milton Keynes and measure up a particularly obtuse haddock - then I’ll be right ‘round’
“Well, I arrived at the Studio later that day and everything was just as you would have imagined; sparklers everywhere, ashtrays full of marzipan, and a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Felicity Kendall on a plinth of empty Um-Bongo cartons.
“‘Tina, will you never learn?’ I said, looking at the ramshackle way in which the faders on the desk where arranged. ‘Those faders should be in a nice straight line, or at least a lovely zig-zag pattern. Remember, A TIDY RECORD IS A HIT RECORD.’
“‘I’m sorry Johnny!’ said the short-skirted songstress. ‘It’s just that I’m getting very worried about my new record.’ ‘That is why you’ve called me in’, I said. ‘Now what seems to be the problem?’
“‘Well, Johnny’ she explained, ‘I was at a particularly late beetle drive last night and I’m afraid I drank too much Five Alive. This has resulted in me needing to go to the loo every ten minutes or so!’ ‘I still don’t see the problem’, I chipped in. ‘Well, I am worried that the record buying public will get bored waiting for me to come back from the lavvy and simply turn off the record - thus resulting in a dip in word-of-mouth generated sales.’
“‘Tina,Tina,Tina,Tina,Tina’ I said, in exasperation. ‘You just don’t understand the modern studio and the multifarious techniques at our disposal, do you? Have you never heard of Pro-Tools? All we have to do is record me playing a few tunes on the trumpet and telling a few jokes and that, and whilst you are relieving yourself we can spin them in to the gaps! Hey, Presto! The unwitting punter’s concentration will not be broken and the record will, once
again, soar to the top of the Hit Parade!’
“‘It’s a good job you’re here!’ she squealed, throwing her arms around me.”
I then asked Johnny to tell us, in his own words, about the now infamous Chocolate Accident with George Michael:
“Well, I’m sitting in the garden, counting the number of times the letter E occurs in the terms and conditions of the Dixons extended 5 year warranty when, off goes the mobile. It’s George Michael!
“‘Johnny’, he says. ‘after the sad, but totally foreseeable break up of mypop superduo Wham! I’m making a new record to launch my solo career. We need it to be dead good so we were wondering if we could avail ourselves of your extemporisational capabilities, probably in a tin muted environment.’
“‘George, I’m a wee bit busy at the moment but as soon as I’ve gone through all the vowels I’ll be in the Cavalier and on my way!’ I said, rather peeved at losing count just as I was reaching the paragraph on ‘never, ever paying you out, whatever the circumstances’.
“Anyway, later that afternoon I arrived at Sarm West to find one hell of a humdinger of a to do! The place was in uproar! Everyone was runningaround with buckets of frogspawn, the engineer was sellotaping sparklers onto a signed photograph of Peter Glaze and George was sitting with his head in his hands, wishing he was at Club Tropicana (where the drinks are free!)
“‘What on earth is the matter, George?’ I said, queasily. ‘Oh, Johnny’ moaned the enigmatic popster, ‘there’s been a terrible confectionery incident involving my next, but as yet unnamed smash hit single. I was eating a chocolate bar whilst listening to the beautiful solo on the introduction, played on the haunting sound of the pan pipes, when an unusually large sliver of chocolate fell onto the tape. The ensuing mess has caused the solo to come out sounding more like a saxophone. Whilst I like the saxophone, I preferred the Zamphir-esque beauty of the original. What am I going to do, Johnny?’
“I had heard of similar situations before and knew only too well that there was nothing to be done. ‘Well, George’ (I gave it to him straight), ‘I’m afraid there is no answer, short of summoning the Andean legend back from his residency at the Cat’s Whiskers, Lima. Saxophone it must be!! Maybe this will teach you that cocoa based products and Studios do not mix. In future, you must learn not to be Careless with your Whispa!’
“‘Brilliant!’ pipes up the obviously cheered superstar. ‘I’ve just thought of the perfect title! Johnny, you’re a genius. I don’t mind the sax intro now that I’ve found such a catchy title. It’s bound to be a smash!’ and off he marched, stroking his travel card.
"Unfortunately, Chocolate Accident didn’t even make it to the album cover. But it just goes to show, it’s a good job I’m here!"