|The Bevis Frond
With a back catalogue numbering well over thirty odd albums, a record label (Woronzow), a magazine (Ptolemaic Terrascope), a radio show (The Scene on WMBR, 88.1 FM), and most recently a record shop (Platform One Records) on his CV, which let's be honest is a work rate that ranks right up there with Prince and Frank Zappa, you might imagine The Bevis Frond's Nick Saloman would be riding around Beverly Hills in his Lamborghini Veneno rather than scooting up the M25 for a weekly five-a-side knockabout or popping along to Bexhill-On-Sea to open the record shop every weekend, but such is the life of a psychedelic pioneer who is far more likely to be found as a contestant on Countdown (he was a finalist in 1991) than as a, more than worthy, recipient of a place in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and with last years tremendous Example 22 being followed by a well overdue back catalogue re-release campaign TM-O editor Andy Basire, another ex Walthamstow lad, takes the opportunity to dig a little deeper into Bevis history, kicking proceedings off by asking whether Nick's tenure in the London Borough of E17 began at an early age?
Nick Saloman: "No, we moved to Walthamstow in about 1979 because my wife Jan got a teaching job there, and property was cheap enough to get a foot on the ladder. I grew up in St John's Wood (back in the days when normal people could afford to live there!). I lived with my Mum (Dad left when I was 5) and she was very musical. She was a great pianist, a sight reader [and] always encouraged my musical endeavours."
Total Music: Might seem an obvious question but who influenced you to pick up the guitar?
Nick Saloman: "I don't think it was one person. I loved pop music. I was born in '53, so Rock & Roll was probably the first thing that really got to me. I became a big Shadows fan. So I guess it was a combination of Rock & Roll and Hank Marvin. My Mum tried to teach me piano, but I was in love with the guitar. I started messing about on a neighbour's ukele, and then when I was about 7, my Dad was visiting and he brought me back an old acoustic guitar."
Total Music: How did the The Bevis Frond Museum and The Von Trap Family come about?
Nick Saloman: "I formed a band with some schoolmates as you do. I was playing guitar, Ray Flores was on bass (I still play five-a-side every Thursday with Ray), Bill O'Brien was on drums, and briefly Charlie Webber was on vocals. This was about 1968, we were all 15, and we did covers of Cream, Blue Cheer, Hendrix etc. Charlie looked good, but he wasn't really a singer. In all honesty, he was really in the band because his elder brother Steve was in a local psych band called The Geranium Pond, and we could sometimes borrow their equipment. The band was originally just called The Museum, but I remember Julien Temple (who was a good mate back then, now a famous film maker) said we ought to call it The Bevis Frond. So, not to be outdone, I called it The Bevis Frond Museum. The Von Trap Family happened about 10 years later. I [had] asked another old mate Stuart Goddard if he fancied teaming up, but he had other plans which involved him becoming Adam Ant. He definitely made the right call turning my advances down! So in the end, I put the Von Trap Family together with my old primary school mates, Mark Friedlander and Kev Rogers. Later Chris Whitaker joined on second guitar. We gigged round London with reasonable success [and] got played on John Peel, saw quite a few record labels, but in the end it just kind of petered out. Mark, Kev and I continued as Room 13 with a fantastic drummer called Greg Aspinall [and then later with a] 17 year old punk from Camden, Martin Crowley, who actually played on several of the early Bevis albums. He died about 18 months ago, aged just 49."
Total Music: Robert Wyatt said that his accident, whilst horrific, actually helped him move in another, altogether more interesting to him, direction and I'm wondering if the same could be said of your, damn near career ruining, motorcycle accident?
Nick Saloman: "Oh yes, certainly. However, probably mostly in financial terms, because when I finally got my compensation (it took three years), it gave me enough money to buy some equipment and do Maisma, which I guess was basically a vanity project. I had no idea it was going to take off in a minor way. I'd just done it to get what I was really about musically down on vinyl. So yes, in a sort of circuitous way, if I hadn't smashed my arm to bits I probably would never have had a musical career."
Total Music: You are clearly incredibly prolific, did you ever get frustrated by positive critical reaction but less than huge sales?
Nick Saloman: "No, never. That's not why I do it. I can only use a tried and tested analogy. I play five-a-side every week, it costs me petrol money from Hastings to Loughton plus £5.00 in the kitty, and I see my music as almost exactly the same thing. I do them both because I love doing them. That's it. It just happens that I'm a lot better at music than football. Of course, it would be nice if my records sold huge quantities, but I'm just grateful they sell at all. I'd still play guitar and write songs if no one bought my stuff. Until I was 33 that's exactly how it was anyway."
Total Music: Releasing things on your own label (long before it became commonplace, and was a bloody sight harder to negotiate all the pitfalls), must have been great for releasing exactly what you wanted musically but perhaps not so much when dealing with licensing, distribution etc.?
Nick Saloman: "Well, it was more of a necessity, because nobody ever wanted to sign me. I mean if I didn't put my own stuff out, no one else was going to. Licensing didn't enter into it at first because nobody wanted to licence my stuff. Distribution was surprisingly easy. I got offered a distribution deal from Backs of Norwich, and I'm still with them now."
Total Music: : Tell us about working with Twink (bit of a hero to some here), and Country Joe McDonald
Nick Saloman: "I met Twink through my long-time bassist and musical collaborator, Adrian Shaw because he had been playing in Ade's band Magic Muscle. Twink was a kind of psych hero to me, so I was incredibly chuffed that he fancied playing with me. We got together and did Magic Eye, and I have to say, it couldn't have been easier, he was great company, and a brilliant musician. We got on really well, and the music just flowed. However, once the album came out things got a bit fraught. I think he had been turned over by labels and management in the past, and he was very keen not to let it happen again, to the extent that things got quite unnecessary. He seemed convinced I was up to no good, and sadly we never worked together again. In recent years we've been in touch and things seem okay, which is nice.
"We met Country Joe while we were touring in the USA in the late 90s. I was a massive Country Joe & The Fish fan, still am. We were playing in San Francisco, and I ended up doing a radio broadcast at Berkeley University, and lo and behold Joe was sitting there! Again we got on really well, and Joe asked us to back him in the UK, as he was coming over for some shows. Basically, we were The Fish for a couple of nights at The Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen. The QEH gig was one of the highlights of my life! Joe and I kind of drifted apart after that, but we still contact each other once in a while."
Total Music: Tell us about how the Fire Records re-release link up came about, and will there be any more after Any Gas..., London Stone and New River...?
Nick Saloman: "I signed a reissue deal in about 2012 I think with Cherry Red, who planned to reissue all the Bevis albums, but sadly after about 5 or 6, they decided they didn't want to continue. Fortunately Fire wanted to take the project over, so they did some kind of deal with Cherry Red, and now they're continuing with the reissue programme. I have to say that they seem really keen, and so far everything looks very good. Hopefully, I might have landed with a label who actually give a shit. I guess time will tell, but I'm more hopeful than usual."
Total Music: There was a constant flow of new material up until Hit Squad in 2004 and then nothing for years, what was the reason for the seven year break?
Nick Saloman: "I felt I was a bit stagnant musically, and I wasn't really enjoying myself. Remember, I'd been going without a break for 20 years. Also my Mum was slowly dying of cancer. Things like that give you a keener sense of priority. Then shortly after she died, Jan retired from teaching and we decided to move out of London [and] I felt it might be time to do some recording. I didn't plan on a seven year hiatus, it just lasted longer than I expected."
Total Music: You seem to be avowedly luddite concerning the web, generally a quick search of the web will throw up loads of stuff about bands but you really have to search for what little there is about you, so given that we think it's pretty criminal so many people have not heard of you, do you not think you could reach more people if you had a decent web presence?
Nick Saloman: "I suppose so. I don't think I'm very hard to find online. You just type 'Bevis Frond' in and lots of stuff appears. But yes, maybe if I was more bothered about self-promotion I may well have a higher online profile. I have to say though, I really couldn't care less."
Total Music: Tell us about your record shop
Nick Saloman: "I started a second hand vinyl shop about two years ago. It's called Platform One because it's in what used to be Bexhill West Railway Station [and] is now a large antique centre called Eras Of Style. I've got a lock-up unit in there, and I open Thursday, Friday and Saturdays 11am - 4pm. My plan was to have only interesting vinyl (no Abba or Phil Collins etc.) at decent prices, and I think it's working. I've got a lot of regulars now, plus people who make the occasional visit from further flung places. Shindig magazine voted it best record shop in their 2015 awards, so I must be doing something right. I've managed to overcome my Ludditeness to set up a facebook page, which admittedly I rarely use, but it is there."
New River Head, Any Gas Faster and London Stone are all out now on Fire Records with Sprawl, Superseeder and It Just Is to follow at the end of September. For more information go to www.firerecords.com
the PDF version to read this interview in full