Welcome to the second instalment of our interview with Mitt Gamon. In this half, Mitt talks about the London Punk scene and his involvement with the Gang of Four, Ruts DC and Ian Dury. We ask him about the rig he uses, his latest album Harmonica Electronica and get a hint of an exciting new project in that’s in the pipeline.
What precipitated your move into the 1970’s/1980’s punk scene?
In the middle of the 70’s, Jazz Fusion had happened. I used to frequent a pub down at the Oval called The Cricketers. One of the resident bands there was S.F.X. and they used to let me jam one song every week. Alan Murphy (RIP) played guitar with them, as well as Kate Bush and a few others. Anyway, I got fronted enough by a friend to make a single, and so I asked S.F.X. if they’d be my studio band. Lucky old me. Mitt and the Modules was born, and the first single (and last) was called Ha-Money-Ka. It tanked. But not surprisingly, as on the cover, I have short died blonde hair. Yes, that whole ‘punk’ thing was occurring. I followed that single closely with Chairman Youth, a band formed around the Archway area. It tanked too!
[Chairman Youth were formed in London in 1980. They only played a handful of gigs, most notably at Dingwall’s Rock Club in Camden Town. The line up consisted of Mitt Gamon (vocals, guitar), Andy Wilson (guitar vocals) Dom Richards (bass), and Clive (RIP) on drums. They only ever released one single and split up shortly afterwards. Ed]
But that wasn’t the end of it. We’d rehearsed for that single in a studio called Mount Pleasant, and I’d become friendly with the owners. I used to hang out there a lot, acting tape-op, and chief bottle washer. One of the bands that used it was the Gang Of Four. Bless ’em. I became good friends with them, and wound up touring with them as second Bass player/ Percussionist. I was also a drum roadie! And I only played on two numbers, I think! When we got to New York, we played the first ever R’n’R show at The Roseland Ballroom. And I also bumped into Ruts D.C. out there, staying in the same hotel.
So how did the hook up with Ruts DC occur?
This is all documented in the Ruts book, Love In Vain, but basically, when they got home, they called me and asked if I wanted to play on their next project, which was a dub album. I said yes, because I loved their energy, and had already met Paul Fox (RIP) through mutual friends. It took two weeks to make, was recorded at Ariwa Studio, and still sells to this day. But the band had already lost Malcolm Owen, their singer, so the ‘cracks’ were starting to show. We toured a little, but I had my own project happening too, called Co-Op City. When Ruts D.C. folded, I played in a couple of things with Foxy afterwards, but Co-Op City was beginning to really take off. We recorded a whole album at The Church Studio in Crouch End. And we managed a spot on the then popular T.V. show, The Tube. But to no avail. The band split shortly after, the album never got released, and I started doing sessions. Because in those days, there were sessions to be had………..
So with Rhythm Collision, we’re into 1982. Take us back to those two weeks at the Mad Professor’s Ariwa Studio, when Punk and Dub collided.
I’ve said all that in the book Love In Vain. There’s a lot of harp on that album. Foxy really wanted to use it. He played a bit, but I’d given him my singles, so he knew what I did. Suffice to say, I’m still in touch with Segs and Ruffy.
We got back together again last year in Bristol for a jam, about 33 and a third years after the event. The Professor decided to move the studio after the first week of recording. That was an eye opener! And the only other thing I’ve got to say on that, is that The Ruts DC could play. For real. Not pretending, in any way, shape, or form. Even for the short period I was involved, it made a statement with the harmonica that really hadn’t been done before. Dub harp! And I bless them for that. Still love a bit of Reggae.
Am I right that Foxy actually played harp on the Love In Vain track? Where do The Nancy Boys fit in to the chain of events?
And yep, Foxy played the harp on that track. I tried to re-create it in Bristol. It’s on YouTube. Great song. Bloomin’ Ada, where did you get The Nancy Boys from?…….and now I have to rake my brain to remember my connection, if I had one at all?! I know that name…..was that anything to do with Jon Astrop and Phill Saatchi? I toured with Phil in ’86 supporting Joan Armatrading…..now I’m going to be wondering all day. My wife says you know more about my career than I do…..! The Nancy Boys. Still can’t get to it. I was in that band, wasn’t I? I know the name but the door in my head won’t open. I guess that shows age, but it’s worrying. There were The Screamin’ Lobsters……that was after Ruts D.C. You’re going to have to tell me where the name came to you from. I need enlightenment!!
Not much to tell really. A good friend who runs a Ruts DC tribute band says it must have been about 1982. Paul was doing the Screaming Lobsters and Foxes & Rats. Dave Ruffy was playing with Aztec Camera and my mate went to see you at a gig on the Fulham Palace Road where you were playing in The Nancy Boys. The poster outside had ‘ex Ruts DC ‘ on it. Let’s get geeky. What are the workhorses in your harp collection and what rigs do you use for performing and recording?
And now back to the proper questions! I have a Hohner Orgaphon 25wt amp that served me well with Samantha Brown amongst others, and has survived numerous roadie hikes around Europe and the world. It’s in a wooden box. Best amp I ever bought. Cost me £50.00 in the East End……..valve…….but I’ve got a Gallien-Krueger x 2 as well, and a Laney 200wt crate………I use a wonderful cardioid microphone that I’ve been lent for recording, plus an old Bullet mic. For harps, the workhorse collection is Lee Oskar. For recording, I prefer the Ultimo. I have a very precious set of those.
I used one of Brendan Power’s harps on the last album, but I blew it to bits……it died whilst I was recording with it…….I’ve still got the take. He then sold me a ‘Sharpmaster’ which was the same tuning. And a better made harp too! When I jam with my friends, like The Blockheads, I just go through the rig, and use Johnny Turnbull’s microphone, which is usually a Shure. Lofty, the sound engineer supreme, is used to my technique, and never gets the sound wrong. That’s why I love playing for them. It’s a right good knees up no matter what the conditions……..and as far as the rest of my harp collection goes, there are many by different makers, and a few chromatics. But the truth is I would not have had the career I got without Lee Oskar and things like his ‘Natural Minor’ invention……..
Talking of The Blockheads when did you fall in with the Stiff crowd and how did you end up recording with Ian Dury?
When I was very young, and in London, I had a flat in Muswell Hill. My girlfriend at the time got a gig in Nick Lowe‘s band, and went on the road on the first Stiff tour. We discovered one of our nearby neighbours was Johnny Turnbull, and also Chaz Jankell tried to help us out with one of our line ups. From this point on, to this very day, The Blockheads have been my mates, and we all had similar taste in what was going on musically. They all loved the jazz/fusion/funk/rock movement that was happening, and I think we all gleaned from it. Plus I had jobs in the import record shops in town at that time. So I had my finger on a certain pulse. There are some tapes out there called ‘Sockthigh Productions’, but you didn’t see them, right!?…….. Johnny Turnbull became a life long friend. I can’t say I’ve met a nicer bloke, and he plays a mean guitar. And his album Quantum Frolics is one of the bestest moments I’ve had since moving to Cornwall.
Also a neighbour during those days was Nico Ramsden, a true champion of guitar, and someone who I still call on when I need true inspirational guitar playing on a track. He’s on my last album with Martin Walker, some 45 years later. I was always scared of Mr. Ian Dury in those days. I smiled, he clocked me. It wasn’t until Charlie died, and Monti took over the drum stool, well that’s when Ian started to become a real close friend. He loved Jazz. And I tried to turn him on to stuff he may not have heard. In the end, when I got the chance to make Uneasy Listening, it was a no-brainer to ask him to contribute. Largely ’cause I already had some Jazzers involved, and I think he was keen ’cause of that. I miss him dreadfully to this day. He died on my Birthday. I’ll never forget him for that, and the very large heartfelt contribution he made to my somewhat meandering career.
The album is still available at your website www.yewtreemagic.co.uk. There’s a great video of you with the band and Ian there too, playing It’s A Poor Life. A great song with a great message. How about your work with Jennifer Maidman?
Jennifer Maidman is my soul sister, and helped me create Uneasy Listening before I finally quit London. Born Ian Maidman, she is one of only a few musicians I’ve met in my life who can honestly translate what’s going on in my head. I was beyond lucky when creating that album. The friends I’d met in London really were the cream, and everyone mucked in on a project run on a shoestring. But I’d known Jennifer a lot longer than that. We’d been involved in various projects, but the main one was the Conspiracy Of Dreamers. Now this is actually being reborn as I write, and I can’t say too much, but look on YouTube, look up Jennifer, she’s one of the funkiest people I’ve ever met on this planet!
And everyone else in the video for A Poor Life needs no introduction. The drummer is one of my oldest mates and has thumped tubs for more than one or two. Uneasy was a romp into the indie world of releasing C.o.D., and still managed to cost way more than it ever made. But y’know, when you’ve played for loads of others, and you still want to say something yourself, do it. It’s so important. And Ian Dury got on board. What more can I say? I’m a very lucky harp player.
Why did you decide to quit London?
Why did I leave London? Well, I’d flown back and forth between the UK and California many times. After the Godley and Creme album, I started to have a bit of a love affair with San Francisco. Played in a couple of local bands (shh), and met a lot of very good people. I loved exploring the West Coast, and nearly settled there, but the authorities threw me out, after I married my darlin’ American wife. Don’t be a bad boy when you’re young, is the moral to that story. America holds it against you forever!
I quit London in 1996. I’d done one tour with Boy George, and then went on the road with Sam Brown, playing in her brothers band (Bass), and doing some harmonica in the main set. When I got back, I did a couple of sessions with certain groups who put me right off the whole affair. I’d been lucky up until then. Everyone I’d played for had left me with a good feeling, and then it all started to go a bit rotten. I find it really hard to play over something I have no connection with musically. So I moved to Cornwall. Been here nearly 20 years, and I still love it. Oh yes, and the wife came with me, so America lost a top comedienne, and I will probably never return there. It would have to be a very good reason!
And digital technology was taking over at this point. Nobody needed ‘real’ musicians anymore. The end of the session era. But I will state this as fact. When it all started to crumble, I noticed a lot of ‘spinning in’ on tracks, and most instruments were easy to emulate. Not so, the humble harmonica. Of all the vacant reproduced sounds, synthetic harmonica has to be one of the worst. They could never get it right. You need a mouth!! I do still do the odd session, but it’s always for friends now.
I totally agree about synthesised harmonica; it’s lifeless. Which is good news for those who can actually play. So how do you make ends meet in Cornwall? Do you have a studio there? A tin mine, cows , an ice cream maker?
How do I make ends meet? Not very easily!! The truth is, I played for a lot of people during the time I was in London, and a lot of them are still playing. Nasher is a good example. I played on three of his releases up to now, since Frankie Goes To Hollywood. And he became a very good friend. Plus, since I’ve been down here, I met a sound-scape wizard called Martin Walker. Last year we released our first effort together, called Harmonica Electronica. I sent Mark Feltham a copy, and he approved! You can find a taster on YouTube, and we kept it to CD only, as I’m not a fan of this progress toward download. I’m pretty much semi-retired now, but the truth is, I don’t see the artist getting his reward in the market place today. It’s all back to ‘live’, which is all well and good if you’re young and fit. But most of my mates ain’t getting any younger!
I play live when I can. And, once again, I bless them Blockheads for letting me jump up when I see them. It’s a joy to play with such a fantastically tight and funky band. So there’s more than one or two things on the horizon, and I’ll play ’till the day I drop, pretty much like everyone I know! It’s been fun this, and thanks. One day you’ll have to visit the North Cornish coast, and I’ll buy you a pint!………
Otis drained his mug of builder’s tea and gathered up his postbag. ‘A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it, you’re welcome we can spare it, yellow socks’. The Doc gave him an extra hard stare. ‘Have you taken leave of your senses man?’ Otis smiled. ‘Reasons to be cheerful Doc, part 3‘. The Doc picked the silver spoon up from the hearth and sighed. ‘You blockhead! Now sling your hook – people are waiting for their post’. Otis sauntered down the path to finish his round.
‘Now where was I? sighed the Doc, ‘Health service glasses, gigolos and brasses, round or skinny… bottoms. Reasons to be cheerful Otis old boy!’