Simon Davies Interview 2.10.2014

Heres yet another exclusive on the site. Simon Davies, bassist from The High, has not been heard from in over 20 plus years. Here we have a exclusive interview from the man himself! I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it!

How are you Simon?

I’m very well thanks, Matt.

Can you tell us about your upbringing?

I was born in Urmston, Manchester and lived in and around that area until I was fourteen years old when the family moved out to Poynton, Cheshire. My upbringing was a mixture of Manchester suburbs and open fields, which I’ve always felt fortunate to have experienced as a kid.

What was the first music you got into?

I did what every musically inclined kid who doesn’t have any older siblings does and gravitated toward my dad’s record collection. The music that I found in there was Santana, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and some weird chanting stuff from Denmark – but that’s another story.

How did you start playing bass?

My dad was a bass player in Manchester bands during the 1960’s. But in the 70’s he started to frequent the Ducie Arms pub where an older Irish guy named Danny (Shovlin, I believe was his surname) led a traditional Irish music session and mentored my dad to learn the violin. Dad soon joined a ceilidh band and would take me along with him to play at all these wild gigs that aside from being great fun for a nine-year-old kid, also proved important to my own musical development.

One evening the band took pity on me hanging around with nothing to do and so they invited me up onstage to “play” percussion (rattle a tambourine basically). It was a proud a moment to become a fully paid up member of the band as I saw it but it also turned out to be the first time that I became aware of the function that bass tones (which incidentally, due to the lineup of the band were actually coming from an accordion) play in cementing an entire band sound together. It was a “bricks and mortar” thing and for some reason I was drawn to it.

Some time later an electric bass guitar appeared at home. I plugged it in and asked my dad what to do and he replied, “Just start by playing some shapes, triangles are best.”

Were you in any other band before The High?

Bits and pieces. The journey went something like a branch line train route: Poynton -> Stockport -> Manchester.

Who did you meet first from the band?

I met Andy first; he’s the elder brother of my best friend, Nigel.

How did you meet the rest of the band?

Chris I knew from nights out at The Hacienda. I didn’t meet John until he joined the band.

What are your memories of the early days of The High?

For me it was all about the writing process that in the beginning was very organic. I had all these chord sequences and bass riffs in my head, and in the very early days would go round to Andy’s house where the two of us would couple our ideas together to build basic song structures. At this point we were working almost exclusively acoustically, which was a nice way of doing it because it was so relaxed. What I found interesting was that we were taking different guitar and bass parts and combining them to make something new, evident in the groove that eventually became PWA for example.

As soon as we had enough parts that resembled a verse/chorus/bridge we’d rush down to the rehearsal room before we forgot them in order to work with Chris on the arrangements. One afternoon John walked in and within a couple of days our musical ideas had words to them and became songs.

After a few rehearsals I arrived home one evening and played my dad the rehearsal cassette, which included a new song. When it had finished he looked at me and asked, “What’s the name of that one?” And I said, “Up and Down.” He’d heard stuff from previous bands but this time his reaction was completely different. I think that was the moment I realised we had something special.

What was it like being signed after your first gig?

I was excited but extremely nervous; we’d only played one gig.

Any stand out moments from the early days?

Anyone who’s ever written a song will tell you that the moment the music begins to flow is a very special one.
These days I do write complete songs but back then I was only interested in the collaborative approach. In that sense The High was a big gamble because we had absolutely no idea whether or not we could write songs together, much less make them flow. The moment that we realised we were capable of doing both was the biggest stand out moment for me.

One afternoon Martin Hannett burst into the rehearsal room and within a few days we were all setting up our instruments in Strawberry Studios Stockport doing the red-eye session with Martin producing and John Pennington (JP) engineering our demos. On the first night in between bass-takes, a kid with a metal tray sauntered into the control room. His presence didn’t seem to phase Martin or JP at all, which I thought was a bit odd. So I asked the kid which band he was with and he very nonchalantly replied, “I’m from The Waterloo pub”, and started going round collecting glasses. I just remember thinking, “Wow, they’ve really got this place set up properly.”

What was life like on the road for you?

Back then I was very restless so life on the road suited me well.

Any stories to tell from your time on the road?

We had our fair share of calamities that’s for sure but it looks like all the printable ones have already been told.

What were The High’s musical influences at the time?

I’d always really loved the early ‘Who songs and compilation albums that Track records put out with The Who on one side and Jimi Hendrix on the other. You could be listening to, “Call Me Lightning” one minute then flip the record over and hear “Remember”. I was heavily into The Small Faces and various vocal artists on the Immediate record label, like Chris Farlowe and PP Arnold. But then in the latter part of the 80’s a heck of a party got going in Manchester. All of a sudden we were listening to electronic dance music in an entirely different way if you get my meaning. Standing in The Hacienda and first hearing Charles B’s Lack Of Love was a turning point because there hadn’t been a time before that when electronic instrumentation had me immediately thinking, “Whooooaaaa! I’ve got to go home and learn how to play this bassline.” To say that it was a privilege to have been knocking around Manchester during that period would be a gross understatement.

How all of this new music went on to influence The High’s is difficult to say because of course we remained essentially a guitar band. Nevertheless, as a bass player I think it would have been impossible to be on a night out and hear tunes by Black Riot or Derrick May and not be influenced by them in some way. But back in the rehearsal room we just always tried to encourage each other to play from the heart.

What happened with Hype? Why the change in musical direction?

The situation was complex. I’ve never felt that the production of Hype had anything to do with the songs that we initially went in with. But just around the time that we started planning the second album, Martin died suddenly.
He’d been with us from the beginning and when he passed away we didn’t just lose our producer, we lost a friend. Without Martin’s influence things seemed to change rapidly and the management/production/record company situation became intricate. I suppose once it transpired that the production process of Hype was overtly shaping the writing process, we should have walked away from it, but whether or not any of us had the stomach at that point (or the energy quite frankly) for breaking contract, is another question. What I can say quite categorically, however, is that the sound of Hype wasn’t pre-planned. There was never a moment when the four of us sat down together and said, “Hey, let’s make a hair-metal album.”

Why did The High split up?

In terms of the actual split, it came at the end of a long sequence of events when all of a sudden there were more reasons to part company than stay together. But in terms of the origins of the split I’ve long held the view that this had its roots in signing a major recording contract after playing only one gig. The pressure was immense and gave us too big a mountain to climb. There’s very little else that I can add.

What did you do after The High split?

This is quite a broad question but if you’re referring to the spell immediately after the split then all I can say is that it wasn’t an easy time. Being in The High was a unique experience and it was tough having to come to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t fulfil what I had felt from the outset was our potential to have recorded at least three really good albums. But circumstances were what they were and so in a practical sense after the band ended
it was just all about accepting what had happened and start looking forward to the future.

Did you form any other bands after The High?

I was in a band briefly with Andy on guitar, Richard Ashforth (who’d been knocking around with The High from the very early days and is still a good friend) on vocals, and Dave Verner who I’d seen around Didsbury and heard through a mutual contact was a solid drummer (incidentally, Dave went on to get the gig with Badly Drawn Boy, which I was really pleased about – he deserved it). We consumed a lot of brandy that summer and put together some good material as well but by the time autumn came around I took the decision to leave the band and Manchester and come to live in London.

Youve been living in London for a while now. How’s life in the big smoke?

London’s been good to me. I used to love visiting this place when I was in The High because the pace of life here always suited my own restlessness. These days the knees are creaking a bit but back then it was absolutely the right choice of city for me to be in. Importantly, on the first night it felt like everything was now going to be ok. After twenty years of living here, I guess it was a good omen.

What music are you into at present?

All of the old stuff still but in order to try and keep at least one foot in the present I’m generally listening to Cafedelmar FM on the Internet for its mix of dance and acoustic music.

Do you get to go to any gigs these days?

Occasionally – local acoustic sets mainly.

Are you still playing bass?

Every day – acoustic bass though, which seems to annoy the neighbours a lot less than the electric one. Viva La Bass.

Thanks for your time!

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