TAKE members of legendary Newbury outfits Ricky and The Gamblers and Tonton Macoute, mix it up with up to 50 years experience in the music industry per member, and reveal the dark secret that they to blame for the 1980s novelty hit Pump Up The Bitter, and you’ve got The Ilsleys - a bunch of West Berkshire 60-somethings recording an album and getting ready for their first full gig at ACE Space on April 20.
CATRIONA REEVES spoke to guitarist COLIN JENNINGS about starting a new musical journey when the band members have all got bus passes.
CATRIONA REEVES: It sounds like The Ilsleys' members have known each other for years - what made you decide to come together as a band at this point in your lives?
COLIN JENNINGS :We played in function bands together, and of course there was our excursion into comedy [as Star Turn on 45 (Pints), the act behind Pump Up The Bitter]. The idea of making an album of totally original material was the motivator, especially at our age. They always say the first album is the most important; it’s just that for us it took a little longer than usual!
Bassist Pete Fry and guitarist Dave Hicks were founder members of Newbury’s very own Ricky and The Gamblers in the swinging sixties. In their heyday, a number of record companies came down to Newbury to try and sign the band, but failed... Dave wasn’t fond of their manner, particularly The Rolling Stones’ producer Jimmy Miller, who thought that Dave should wear satin shorts on stage... it wasn’t a meeting of minds! Pete and Dave have both continued to play with various groups since then.
Drummer Nigel was in pop band Windmill before joining local band Tonton Macoute, who achieved cult status in the 70s throughout Europe. Their albums are so sought after that they are worth more than Nigel’s drumkit!
I started my career in the late 60s with The Greatest Show on Earth, a jazz rock outfit, and earned my crust for many years as a songwriter/performer working for, among many others, The Hollies and Cilla Black.
Last but not least, there’s Dave Stevens on keyboards - another local lad, who has made a major contribution in the arranging of the band’s music. Being a much younger member, he is also responsible for making sure that the rest of us are clean before we go on stage.
CR: What is your resulting musical style like - and who writes the songs?
CJ: The style is developing every time we play. The songs, the reception we get playing them live, and recording in the studio will all help. But it’s inevitable at out age that we’ll be drawing from the greats; which is fine, as long as it has our stamp on it.
I do most of the songwriting at the moment, only because I already had songs, old and new. But the two Daves have written for our live set at ACE Space, and I am sure that we all will have ideas going forward.
CR: You’ve got a provisional name for your album, Licks, Lilts & Lullabies. How is it coming along?
CJ: First recordings have started, and will be finished by midsummer. I was keen to get my old Abbey Road engineer/producer Tony Clark to produce the album. The only problem was, I couldn’t find him, until a chance conversation with someone at a studio who could put me in touch. It turned out that Tony had been following a different path altogether; he had taken a horticulture degree and was looking after a Victorian garden in London.
Luckily, when we met, he said that he was keen to get back into the studio. It’s great to be working with him - his pedigree is exceptional; he’s worked with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Cliff Richard, among others. It will sound great.
CR: You’ve been testing out some of the songs at ACE Space’s Unplugged events. How have they gone down?
CJ: Really well, which is why we decided to do an evening of them. It’s a really nice place with good people and all sorts of talent, so it’s the perfect place for our first gig.
CR: What can people expect from the gig? Is it going to be all sex, drugs and rock & roll?
CJ: Hopefully - as long as it starts before eight and finishes at 11. Dave the guitarist likes to get the cups turned over by 11.30.
CR: And will you treat us to Pump Up The Bitter as an encore?
CJ: The gold lame suit and wig are in for a refit so probably not... but who knows!
- Below are The Ilsleys performing at ACE Space