I was born in 1959 just around the corner from Penny Lane, and grew up beneath Liverpool’s blue suburban skies, with my parents, Brian & Olive, (both school-teachers), and my young sisters, Catherine & Margaret.
In those days, the whole world was gripped by Beatlemania and the Soviet-American space race. The sixties were an optimistic time to grow up; peace, prosperity and the promise of a bright future for us all. England won the World Cup, colour television and stereo sound arrived, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and 19 days later the Beatles set foot on the Abbey Road zebra crossing!
My Dad, (who as a young teacher had taught George Harrison and Paul McCartney at the Liverpool Institute), was also a skilled woodworker, and he made me a wooden model of John Lennon’s Rickenbacker guitar to play with when I was five.
My grandpa used to play his violin to me when I was a baby; he had played it in the trenches during the war, and when he died in the early 1960′s, I inherited his violin. I learnt to play classical violin at school, and joined the Liverpool Schools Symphony Orchestra, but I really wanted to play in a rock band. In 1971, I had a revelation; I saw Jimmy Lea playing electric violin on ‘Top of the Pops’ with Slade; the song was ‘Coz I Luv You’, their first No. 1 single, (released on my twelfth birthday!) and I’ll never forget the impact it had on me – for the first time I realised that violins weren’t just for classical and jazz; you could play rock music on them too!
When I was 16, I lost interest in the violin for a while, and persuaded my Dad to buy me a bass guitar and an amp so that I could join a school rock band; although he preferred Mozart and Bach to the Beatles and the Stones, he always encouraged me to play rock music as long as it didn’t interfere with my school work! He needn’t have worried; I passed all my ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, and was offered a place at Pembroke College Oxford to study Fine Art at the Ruskin.
It was there that I met a number of like-minded musicians, who introduced me to the experimental improvised music of Can, whose guitarist Michael Karoli also played electric violin. I listened to and studied Steve Hillage’s echo guitar-playing on the Gong albums, the medieval strangeness of the Art Bears’ violinist Fred Frith, Curved Air’s Darryl Way, Jean-Luc Ponty’s violin work with Frank Zappa, Steeleye’s ace fiddler Pete Knight, and Jackson Browne’s guitarist and violinist, David Lindley.
One of the student bands I played with introduced me to the WEM Watkins Copicat, a primitive mains-powered echo unit which used a loop of magnetic tape to echo any instrument that you plugged into it. I was fascinated by it, and spent hours playing my violin through it, learning how to create a wall of sound with just one instrument.
While studying art at the Ruskin, I had the good fortune to be taught by one of my heroes, Sir Peter Blake, designer of the iconic Sgt. Pepper album cover, who came up from London as a visiting tutor. He sat and watched me working on a giant 18′ by 6′ photorealist oil painting of six disembodied hands floating in the sky above a beach, and gave me some great technical advice, which inspired me to try designing album covers myself. I re-used the hands image years later on the inner sleeve and discs of my ‘Echoes’ CD.