Phil Bates Biog
Started to play guitar at 11 years of age. First band was nameless, and just rehearsed at Wilnecote Youth Club. Played bass guitar ....a red Vox bass. Played Shadows/Beatles etc.
At around 12 years of age I started my first real band was called the Wild Four, but changed name to the Teenbeats because we weren’t wild in any way, and sometimes there were only 3 of us due to a rhythm guitarist who would often not show up for gigs.
In the beginning we started off playing classic 60s songs from the likes of the Beatles, Searchers, Kinks, Stones, but around 1967/8 we got pretty heavily into what was called ‘progressive’ music in those days, i.e. Hendrix, Cream, Canned Heat, early Deep Purple etc. Even gigs in Working Men’s Clubs involved smashing up dummy speaker cabinets and setting fire to drummer’s cymbals. We were a health and safety nightmare ....
I also started aping Hendrix by playing my guitar with my teeth ...idiot that I was ...I ruined my front teeth, and I have a strong suspicion Jimi wasn’t actually making contact with the strings at all with his teeth ...I think he was slyly hammering on with his fretting hand.
The Teenbeats sort of petered out as the other chaps got to working age, and started drinking, and having girlfriends and all that, and so my next band, was (well, what I thought was) one of Tamworth’s best, Source of Power. They were extra impressive to me because they had had the best equipment of any local band.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t really play these wonderful instruments so well. I don’t know, perhaps I had been blinded by the double bass drum Rogers drum kit, the gleaming new cherry red Gibson SG the rhythm guitarist had, the Vox Continental organ, and good sound system, but when I actually got into the band and we started rehearsing and playing ...well, they were bloody terrible musicians. But then, I was only 15/16, and it is easy to be blinded by such things.
Moved on to a weird and experimental Lichfield band, Nigel Parker, playing self-penned bluesy stuff, and we also had teenage pretensions towards jazzy material. It didn’t last long. Years later when I saw ‘Spinal Tap’ do that bass guitar-driven jazz odyssey ...well, it reminded me of Nigel Parker.
At 16, I went to work in a music store in Birmingham, Ringway Music, which meant that I meant I met a lot of bands and musicians. Through this job I joined Wolverhampton-based heavy metal band, Jug, playing bass guitar. I have always had more than a soft spot for bass. We did a lot of gigs in the Black Country, and several notable stints at the infamous Electric Gardens in Glasgow, supporting bands like Slade, Status Quo, Mungo Jerry, early Sensational Alex Harvey Band. This was a WILD place, and we had some great gigs there.
It was the first time I played to a bigger audience. There must have been a thousand people in that room on a Saturday night. But I was living the rock dream with my long hair, 100 watt stack etc etc ...singing ‘Big Black Dog’ and some of ‘Natural Born Boogie’ from Humble Pie. I had my first Indian curry in Glasgow, and a few other memorable firsts.....
Unfortunately, the lifestyle was playing havoc with my health because I was still working 5 days a week and doing gigs on maybe as many nights. After a physical collapse I had to leave Jug, and what followed was a completely unexpected change of musical direction.
So in 1970 I left heavy-metal Jug and joined cabaret/folk band, Enigma, which was loosely based on the idea of the New Seekers ...nice polite family entertainment ...a million miles from the Electric Gardens. Even I was surprised at my decision, but I have to say that I was heavily influenced by the fact that they had a recording contract with Morgan Music in London, and had regular access to Morgan Studios in Willesden High Road ...one of the best studios in London at the time.
This was my first real studio experience, with the added bonus of being able to record some of the songs we were writing. I co-wrote a few tracks with other members of the band, but I also recorded my first two solo compositions, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice’ and ‘Season of Sunshine’ with proper session musicians, string sections etc. Unfortunately, nothing ever came out of this situation, apart from meeting Joy Strachan, who is still a friend over 40 years later.
I was also playing regularly in Birmingham’s first bierkeller in Needless Alley. This was witness to some wild scenes as Brummies, used to drinking large quantities of beer, struggled to cope with litres of much stronger German Lowenbrau beer. I played some German oompah music, but the accordionist was a rebel and he started including jazzier and rockier songs into the repertoire. Again, it was good musical education ...but I left when they wanted us all to dress in lederhosen etc.
During this period, Enigma morphed into Quill who released a ridiculous song called ‘Spent the Rent’ on Parlophone label (I thought this might be an omen because Parlophone was the label of my all-time favourite band, The Beatles). Quill was sort of novelty band featuring a violin player, ukulele, mandolin some times. We were very popular on the ‘live’ circuit, but achieved nothing with our recorded material. One bonus of this period was that I visited East Germany in 1973 when we did a 12 day tour of this communist country as part of an international youth festival. Little did I realise that this would be the beginning of a LONG relationship with Germany, and Berlin in particular. This was a great tour, marred a little by the fact that I got sick very early on after being led astray by several locals, and drinking some of the infamous (and dangerous) local corn liquor ...and this sickness lasted the whole tour, and quite a long way beyond. I had been warned, but what can I say, I was 19 .... and that is what you do at that age.
Quill had the chance to record ‘Billy, don’t be a hero’, which became a big hit for Paper Lace, but the offer was turned down by the band because some members wanted to focus on original material. OK, it was a horrible song, but I just wanted a hit so we could launch the band onto another level. I didn’t feel that the band’s own material was strong enough to succeed so I departed in 1974 to focus on my own songwriting.
One nice thing during 1974 was the chance to play bass for Duane Eddy on a UK tour.
Duane wasn’t exactly flavour of the year during this period, so we played double gigs almost every night, i.e. an early gig in a social club, and a late gig (sometimes 50 miles away) in a night club. We had no roadies, so we had to carry the gear into the club, set it up and then play until ...whatever time. Also, there was no slack in the budget for hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation, so if we were too far from Brum to drive back, we had to sleep in the van, and do the same the next day. Luxury!?!?
Also in 1974, I signed a solo contract with Spark Records and Southern Music. Again, I got to record quite a few of my own sings with session musicians and string sections, but the period yielded just one single, released under the embarrassing name of Billy Bates. This was a Gilbert O’Sullivan soundalike, which did get airplay, called ‘Mr Hand me Down’. I was also commissioned to write, record and release a children’s record called ‘We love Bengy the Bear’. Again, it received quite a bit of airplay, but was perhaps too Womble-like.
The house engineer at Southern Music was a chap called Colin Thurston, who later had great success as a record producer, working with the likes of DuranDuran, Human League, Kajagoogoo ...and many others. We spent a lot of time in that 8-track dungeon studio beneath Southern Music. Whole weekends recreating Beatle tracks, recording original songs etc ...basically just learning our trade. He obviously learned his trade better than I did because he went on to great wealth and fame. But it was a good time, Colin was a strange chap, but a nice guy and extremely talented. I learned a lot from him. We also played all the instruments ourselves, so I got to play drums, Hammond organ, bass and guitar on these tracks.
In 1975 the single ‘Take to the mountains’ was released under the (again embarrassing) name Billy Bates Company, and in 1976 a double A-side single released by BBC Records – two Beatle songs, ‘Come Together’ and ‘Dear Prudence’, under the name Graffiti. Graffiti was, in fact, myself, Colin Thurston, Colin Hewnison (later of Trickster) and Wombles drummer, Morgan Kent. Again, quite a bit of BBC radio airplay on both of these singles, and an absolutely glowing review in the Melody Maker, but no sales. I also came exceedingly close to being part of a BBC television series which would feature me and the band playing songs and being part of other stuff ...but I think the idea fizzled out before it went to air. A life of TV fame snuffed out before it could spark into life.....c’est la vie.
In the 1970s I spent several years doing sessions as guitarist and vocalist on the London recording scene, and also some sound engineering work. Played on a couple of Billy Ocean tracks, ‘Jeans On’ TV ad, plus jingles etc in major London studios. Played sessions in Air London, Advision, Abbey Road, plus many other London studios. Although I have always been a socialist, I was never a big union man, especially the Musicians Union which, at that time especially, did very little to help, protect or promote the interests of rock musicians. On this basis, I did an awful lot of sessions by charging less than union rates ...which made me a fairly attractive proposition.
Trickster was formed around 1976 out of the band that played a 12-month residency at London Picadilly restaurant, the Piazza. Line up was:- Me – guitar/lead vocals, Colin Hewinson – keyboards/vocals, Mike Sheppard – bass, guitar and vocals, Paul Elliot – drums.
First record contract with United Artists – first single ‘To Flyaway’. First album, ‘Find the Lady’ recorded at Rockfield Studio in Monmouth whilst with UA. Produced by legendary producer, the late Martin Rushent. After recording the album we signed with Jet Records, the label of ELO, Roy Wood etc.
The first album ‘Find the Lady’ released in 1978. Trickster’s management was taken over by the infamous Don Arden, self-styled gangster and tough guy.....a legend in his own lunchtime. Various support tours were undertaken including John Miles and Smokie.
Because of the Jet Records/Don Arden connection we were chosen as support for ELO on their ‘Out of the Blue’ Spaceship World Tour of 1978. During the USA leg of this tour, Trickster sort of imploded amid drug taking, ego trips and misplaced love of the whole rock and roll bullshit bandwagon. Superstar behaviour and general excess reigned, mostly by Mike Sheppard, who left the band somewhere towards the end of the tour. ‘If that’s the way the feeling takes you’ was a mini-hit in the USA.
In 1979, we recruited the extremely talented singer/guitarist/songwriter, Mike Groth, and John Fincham as bass player and vocalist.
Second album, self-produced ‘Back to Zero’ released in 1979. ‘I’m Satisfied’ became a minor hit amid much radio airplay, but Jet Records (in their dubious wisdom) chose to promote the seventh single form ELO’s Out of the Blue, rather than I’m Satisfied.
Also in 1979 we were support act on Boston’s European tour. Boston were largely a great bunch of blokes, especially the sadly departed lead vocalist, Brad Delp.
In 1980 Trickster was dropped unceremoniously by Jet Records after recording demos, and six masters for our third album. But rather than just let us go, Don Arden decided to renege on the terms of our contract, which meant that we were faced with the expensive prospect of taking the now USA-based Jet Records to court. We were advised that if we did this, we would undoubtedly win, but that a) it would take much longer than the 2 years left on the contract, and b) it would cost us fortune to sue an American company ...money we didn’t have. So, we had no choice but to bite the bullet, disband, and do our own things. RCA were interested in signing Trickster, but were put off by having to deal with the ridiculous demands and conditions being forced on them by Arden. Several songwriting projects with Colin Hewinson and Mike Groth came to nothing.
During 1980/81 I worked on several projects as assistant engineer to producer, Colin Thurston. I was a part of the first recording sessions at Abbey Road Studio 2 for DuranDuran.
In 1981, my beloved brother, David (Basher) was killed in a road accident, and so I returned to live in the Midlands to be closer to my parents.
I re-joined Quill in late 1981, and it was here that I met my wife, Jo.
Left Quill in 1983 and formed Don’t Panic with Jo, embarking on a songwriting and recording project in our home studio. We met with limited success, but did sign a publishing deal with RCA/Arista in Los Angeles during this time.
In 1987, we got chance to take a band to the Metropolitan Hotel, Dubai to do a two-month residency. Returned to UK May 1987.
Jo and I returned to Dubai in November 1987, to the Plaza Hotel as part of the band, Arena.
After this contract finished in early1988, we decided that we wanted to stay in Dubai, and began a long and very happy residency at the Ramada Hotel as a duo We moved to Le Meridien, Abu Dhabi 1989-1990, first as a duo, then as managers of the Carousel nightclub. We also co-hosted a weekly radio show on Capital Radio, Abu Dhabi.
Don’t Panic returned to Ramada very briefly in 1990, but at the outbreak of the first Gulf War we failed to live up to our name, and we panicked and returned to UK August 1990.
Our wonderful and beloved first daughter, Rosie, was born 1991.
On our return to the UK, we moved to Malvern, and during 1991/93 I worked a great deal as a solo artist in Worcs. I also became involved in radio jingle writing and singing at Old Smithy, Worcester, and for BRMB in Birmingham Whilst at the Old Smithy I became involved in the writing and recording of the album ‘Power’ by the band, Atlantic. This album was extremely well received, if unsuccessful commercially. I was named as one of the UK’s top vocalist by Classic Rock magazine for my performance on this album.
During this period, I work extensively for Worcestershire Education Services running instrumental workshops, educational projects, songwriting workshops, and writing music for various dance projects.
Our second wonderful and beloved daughter, Sarah, was born 1993.
In late 1992, I met old buddy from the ELO/Jet Records days, Kelly Groucott, and he asked me to join ELO Part 2, a project put together by Bev Bevan after Jeff Lynne declined to resume ELO’s career. From 1993 until 1999, we embarked on many tours....VERY many tours ......USA, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru,, Canada, UK, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, the three Baltic States, South Africa, Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Scandinavia...... I may have forgotten others.
We released the album ‘Moment of Truth’ 1994. Album wasn’t a raging success, hopefully not because I was the majority songwriter on the album ...but you never know. The ‘live’ album recorded on our 1995 Australian tour,‘One Night’, was released in 1995. I co-produced and co-mixed the album with Chris Tsangerides in Trinidad ....meaning that I missed watching the 1995 FA Cup Final at home, surrounded by empty beer cans, crisp and peanut packets etc etc ...instead, I was on my own in a strange country (everyone else had gone home by then), feeling a bit pissed off and lonely ...while I finished mixing and compiling the album. Of everyone involved in this album, I worked the hardest and longest by a LONG way ....something which was never appreciated, rewarded or even realised by most of those involved with the band. Chris and I had a tortuous job trying to make the album sound even as good as it did (and to be honest, it doesn’t sound great) ...after Stefan Galfas, who had been supposedly overseeing the recording process in Melbourne, COMPLETELY failed to commit workable sounds to tape ...and then had the gall to claim the title of Executive Producer. I have very many thoughts and opinions about Galfas which I cannot commit to print because of their libellous potential ...so I will keep these to myself ....for now. There will come a point where I don’t care any more ...but by then no-one will be interested.
During my time with ELO Part 2, I also released two solo CDs ‘Naked’ in 1996 and ‘Agony and Ecstasy’ in 1998. I also did quite a few solo tours 1996/7/8 in UK and Germany, occasionally joined by Mik Kaminski.
After 6 years with the band I was becoming sick of constantly being away from my family, and not being paid very well in compensation for missing my girls growing up, so I left ELO Part 2 1999.
I became involved briefly with the Eleanor Rigby Experience, doing two tours in 1999 and 2000, and an album in 1999. It wasn’t the most rewarding experience, but at least I met and worked with Clive Bunker, Jethro Tull’s original drummer. Wonderful drummer and nice guy.
During 1999 I began a BA Honours course in History at University of Wales, Lampeter.
I have to say that the 4 years I was studying History were some of the happiest years of my life. I came out with a decent degree ....a 2:1, which was pretty good for an academic numbskull (or that is what I came out of school thinking). Also not bad for a ‘greasy dago’ ....sorry to cause anyone any offence with this term, but that was my one of my school headmaster’s more endearing names for me.
During this studying period I did quite a few different jobs. I was still doing solo gigs, and the occasional gig with Jo, but I was also a bookseller for a while (even had my own small book stall within a bigger shop), and I worked in a call centre trying (usually unsuccessfully) to sell educational courses for secondary school pupils who needed extra help.
I was also doing quite a few music, song writing and band rehearsal workshops in Herefordshire and Shropshire, along with some guitar teaching (but I am not one of nature’s natural guitar teachers, unfortunately) I finished my degree in 2003, and then immediately started teaching Welsh history to first year students of the course I had just finished....that is, until music called me back again.
I had a call from my friend and German promoter, Ernst Albrecht Scholz, suggesting that we put together a project based around the music of ELO, and so ELB (Electric Light Band) was formed.
Also in 2003, I released ‘Alter Ego’, which was an album based around songs and ideas I had whilst studying for my History degree. I hadn’t really written songs seriously for 5 years, but these songs and the recording process served as a sort of alternative therapy to the rigours of studying and balancing around 3 other jobs simultaneously.
Later that year I had a call from Bev Bevan and so I joined Bev Bevan Band – featuring me – guitar/vocals – Bev Bevan – drums – Neil Lockwood – keys/vocals, and Phil Tree – bass/vocals. After it became clear that the Bev Bevan band would struggle to work, the band turned into Bev Bevan’s Move. This involved a move away from the rock/blues repertoire we started with, and a shift towards more Move songs. We did quite a few local Midland gigs, and a couple of UK tours, but didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
During this period the band became part of a nostalgic look book at the Birmingham music scene of the 1960s, a sort of stage show called, ‘Brum Rocked’. This featured an assortment of Brummy musicians from the past, and even though it seemed to be a hit with audiences, it was pretty shambolic musically.
Released my fourth solo CD,‘One Sky’, in 2005.
In 2007 I rejoined some of my friends from ELO Part2 in the Orchestra. Betyween 2007 and 2011, when I departed, there were tours of UK, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Siberia, Russia, Baltic States, Czech Republic, Scandinavia.....and a few random dates in the USA.
In 2007, I also released a sort of ‘Best of ...’ my 4 solo CDs, and album called ‘Retrospektiv’.
In an effort to stave off ELO-madness, I formed Beatles, Blues and Blue Violin with Mik Kaminski and Tina McBain in 2009. We did 4 Uk tours of varying length and success between 2009 and 2011. Mik Kaminski and I also did two tours of Germany in 2011 and 2012 under the name of ‘Blue Violin’.
The BBBV album was recorded and released in 2010.
Also in 2010, I formed a project called Wheels of Fire, featuring:- Clive Bunker on drums, Mark Stanway on keys and Brian badhams on bass and vocals. This project had the band playing songs from the likes of Clapton, Hendrix, Beck, Led Zep, Free, Gary More, Peter Green etc ....musically it was my favourite project of all, but it didn’t succeed. Maybe this was because we all had schedules and commitments with our other bands and projects and couldn’t really commit to it.
In 2011 I left the Orchestra - 2011 to begin the German-based projects ELO Klassik and Music of ELO – 2011. ELO Klassik is a 10-piece band, including a string quartet, and featuring my wife, Jo, on orchestral keyboards and vocals. The Music of ELO is 6-piece band featuring:- me – Guitar/vocals, Ralf Vornberger – Bass/vocals, Joanna Bates – Keys/ vocals, Eric Herrold – keys, Chris Evans – drums, and Susan Filep, who has been with me since 2006, on violin.
Between 2011 and 2013 we haved toured extensively in Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and Czech Republic.
2014 promises tours in South Africa, Russia ...and gigs in the UK, Holland and Scandinavia.
In 2013 the Phil Bates Trio started work. This is an acoustic project featuring Joanna Bates and Susan Filep, playing acoustic arrangements of ELO songs, alongside classic songs from The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix ..plus Celtic and Hungarian pieces.
Source: Phil Bates