Tuesday 13 August 2013

Interview with Gary Cole-Wilkin

In another of my occasional “interviews” series, I sit down with Gary Cole-Wilkin, an excellent musician and a horror fan.  We  first started corresponding through the Ramsey Campbell Message Board and got on well, then finally met at a FantasyCon in Nottingham.  His partner, the equally lovely Soozy Marjoram, was organising a curry night, I got invited along and I’ve not looked back since.

In 2010, we decided to exchange projects - he took a copy of my short novel “Conjure” (and was an early and energertic supporter of it, for which I shall forever remain grateful) and in return I got his 2010 solo album “A Parallelogram Of Suitcases”.  I loved the album, though it wasn’t particularly a genre I listened to a lot and I told everyone I could that here was a talent to listen to.

Cut to a couple of years down the line.  When I found out that Spectral Press were going to publish my chapbook “What Gets Left Behind” and that it would need a trailer, I decided not to go with royalty-free music but instead approach my friend.  In return, I made a video for his beautiful song “Bygones” (from the equally beautiful Norfolk Sky Blue album) and he delivered a piece of music to me that perfectly captured the early 80s setting (that most of the story takes place in).

A genuinely nice bloke, softly spoken with a wry sense of humour, Gary was gracious enough to sit down for an interview with me.

MW:  Thanks for agreeing to this, I appreciate it.  To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

GCW: Thank you for asking me – I’m very flattered!  A bit about me…Well, I am 46, describe myself as a Singer/Songwriter, just released my sixth solo album as ‘Gcw’ called ‘Sha La La La Push Push’ - also I am an avid Horror Fan, enjoy Guinness, red wine, a good meal, riding my bike in the countryside and a little bit of social networking…J

MW:   According to the biography on your website, you started playing at the age of 14.  How long was it before you wrote your first song - and can you remember what it was about?

GCW: I remember it well…It was called ‘Fat Lip’ and it was as atrocious as you can imagine a first song by an angst-ridden teenager would be…I’m cringing thinking about it now…I honestly can’t remember what it was about  (he lies…J). As to how long before I wrote a song…Well, the first decent ones came as I put together my first band ‘The Cuban Heels’ – it was a case of we had to have something to play, and I had the guitar so the job was mine. Laziness comes into it too, I’ve always been either too lazy, or had to short an attention span to properly learn other people’s songs ..I have great admiration for people who play in tribute bands, I just don’t have the necessary patience to do that, so that’s a reason why I started writing my own stuff.

MW:   Of the bands that you were in - The Cuban Heels, Downstroke, XXY, The Antenna and Rocket Box - which one do you remember the most fondly?  And - to follow that - do you remember it more fondly for what you produced, or the fun you had whilst in it?

GCW: Easy that one, the best band I was in was The Antenna for sure. Not an EASY band to play in, as we were all very strong personalities and things often went flying… We made one great album called ‘Death To The Antenna’ and gained a reputation as TROUBLE with a capital T – And I loved it, proper Rock n’Roll with all the trappings that goes with it. Tons of tales, which cannot be repeated on a nice website like this. Played some of my best and worst gigs with that band…Good or bad though, it was always memorable and I thank Foil, Dave & Inno (the other members) for memories which will last a lifetime. I think the memories equal what we achieved, definitely.

MW:   What’s your preferred instrument?  You started on the bass but it appears you moved to the lead guitar fairly quickly.

GCW: I started on bass initially as I thought it would be easier to grasp, which it was, I was quite diligent though, and learned where all the notes were, and a fair few scales - stuff which has served me well all through my musical life.  I’ve played with bass players who don’t know where the notes are on the instrument which I was quite shocked by! It was a natural progression after a while to guitar which became my main instrument.

MW:   You’ve played with some great UK bands over the years - the UK Subs, The Godfathers, Captain Sensible, The Heavy Metal Kids - how did you find supporting them was?  Were they helpful or not?  And how did you balance your fanboy-ish glee with the need to get on and get playing?

GCW: Supporting all the names you mention above and others was a huge buzz, they were all bands I admired and I can definitely say they were all very kind and gentlemanly, they were (and still are) proper bands who know how to treat their fans and support acts. Captain Sensible & Charlie Harper from the UK Subs were particularly nice to play with, it means a lot when people you admire treat you well. One of the last ‘name’ bands I supported was Kasabian just before they broke big – Nice guys, but I was in the dressing room when they were playing!

MW:   Your solo career, album wise, began with Homework, which you comment was “a modest and primitive affair”.  Are you being overly critical of yourself there, do you still listen to it?

GCW: I think all artists whether they be musicians or writers worth their salt are critical of their work, if you aren’t then complacency can creep in..I don’t listen to any of my albums for long after they have been released, You have to understand a musician will have been working on the album for maybe two years prior to it’s release, so what is new to a listener is often old stuff to an artist – you will have moved onto other projects & ideas.

MW:   With new equipment, you then recorded The Changes.  Did this capture more of what you considered to be your sound at the time?

GCW: ‘The Changes’ was definitely a step up. I remember a lot of nice comments about that one…I do still play a few songs off that album. ‘New York City’ has recently made a comeback..

MW:   You mention that Monsters From The ID was darker and spikier - without going into too much detail, did you find the writing and playing on that to be cathartic?

GCW: That was a bad time. My mother had died, I was drinking quite a bit and probably grieving through the songs. I recall the songs were very intense. I thought they were good stuff, unfortunately I don’t think many other people did as it simply didn’t sell. A wake up call really, I had to do better next time!

MW:   Which brings us to A Parallelogram of Suitcases, an album I love.  It’s been successful too.  Now I know how it feels when a piece of my writing gets picked up and reviewed favourably, how did it feel for you with having number 1 single on amazingtunes.com and the overall reception?

GCW:  It was really flattering and a vindication that I could write good songs that could be appealing to people, it was a little reward for the hard work, I actually got two number 1’s – Moments & Full Moon. Moments has gone on to be a bit of a signature song for  me, and yes, I do think it’s probably my best song, people seem to like it, and the public knows best!

MW:    So what led to Tallis, the folk rockers you play for, coming so soon after the solo album?

GCW: I wanted to play bass in a band situation again, and Tallis offered me a gig, It was very different from any of the bands I’d previously been in and I enjoyed the ‘sideman’ role.

MW:   In 2011, you released Norfolk Sky Blue which is, to my mind, an almost perfect album that captures you and your style completely.  Can you tell us something about how it came together - the run of songs and the recording process?

GCW:  Ha! It’s funny, you are the second person that has told me that is a favourite album of mine, for me, it was a NIGHTMARE to make, I could write a book on the problems I had with that one, I started it soon after I’d finished ‘A Parallelogram Of Suitcases’ - too soon as it happens, as I soon encountered a severe dose of writers block, which is why there is only ten songs on the album. As I often am, I was over ambitious in what I was trying to do and some of the songs suffer from poor production as a result. That said, I do think ‘Learn To Crawl’ ‘She’s A Mystery To Me’ ‘Bygones’& She’s Not You’ are worthy. I hope I haven’t spoiled your love for that album! Then again, the customer is always right so maybe it is better than I give it credit for.

MW:    I imagine our creative processes are fairly similar - you get an idea that you like and you work it up - but whilst I am the agent of my own destiny, how do you find trying to explain what you need to your collaborators?

GCW: I am lucky to have worked with some very talented people on my last three albums who have contributed a lot to the success of the songs , particularly Jasmine & Beth Philpott & Dorothea Bergmann. Explaining what you want can be difficult as I am not a trained musician, but you usually find a way to what you want, or even stumble across a different idea on the way.

MW:   Switching gears now, let’s talk a little about horror.  You and I met, online, at the Ramsey Campbell board - what is it that draws you to the genre?

GCW: I always loved Horror I think, one of my first memories is watching Doctor Who ‘Spearhead From Space ‘ in utter, delicious terror! I also remember a similar fear from watching the schools’ programme ‘The Boy From Space’. That was terrifying, and I’m still amazed that they showed such an eerie & frankly disturbing show in schools! Real behind the sofa stuff, why did I like it? I really don’t know! – but it set a seed which has stayed with me always.

MW:    Aside from Monsters From The ID, have you considered darker material to record (I don’t think you should, if you want my opinion, but…)?

GCW: I think a lot of my lyrics are often quite dark …that said, my new album ‘Sha La La La Push Push ‘ has a lighter touch in places than some of the previous albums. I recently recorded a semi-instrumental called ‘Drive’ which hopefully evokes the feelings of a nightmare night out which goes horribly wrong…

MW:    What music do you listen to for pleasure?

GCW: I am quite puritan in what I listen to, I take pleasure and influence from the classics – Beatles, The Who, Dylan, John Martyn, The Damned, The  Stooges, Kate Bush, many, many more,.,.I have recently fallen heavily in love with Jazz, particularly John Coltrane much to my partner Soozy’s horror as she hates it! I’d like to explore classical music more but I simply don’t know where to start – any advice would be helpful!

MW:   I ask because sometimes I’ll be working on a story and come up with what I think is a genius plot device and then realise it’s based on something I just read.  Do you find yourself sometimes stopping because you recognise a melody.

GCW: Rock n’Roll is really quite a simple musical form so you often find chord sequences repeating – that’s natural, someone once said ‘There are only six songs in the world, you just pick one and stamp your psychosis on it’ – Very true!

MW:   So what’s next for Gary Cole-Wilkin?

GCW: Well, my new album ‘Sha La La La Push Push’ is out now, it’s a cliché I know, but I do think it’s one of  my best, plus all the proceeds from this project are going to charity – namely The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust.
All proceeds from 'Sha La La La Push Push', Gary's latest album, will go to 
The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust.

As to after that, well, I think I will be taking a little time out from recording for a while, I think I need to recharge my batteries and also work with some new people, but I expect I will return to the musical fray at some point!

The video I made for "Bygones", as payment for his writing my chapbook trailer music.

So where can we find you on the Net?

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