Chris Spedding, The Sharks and Bryan Ferry guitarist, reflects on the quest for good coffee and life as a Womble…
What was your first ever gig?
“That would probably be with my school group. I had a group called The Vulcans and I think it went surprisingly well. I must have been about 14 years old and I had a Höfner guitar and we played a lot of Shadows and Ventures stuff - instrumentals. We had a couple of singers, one who specialised in Cliff Richard style and the other guy sounded a bit like Eddie Cochran. The significance of The Vulcans in Sheffield was that it was a steel town and Vulcan was the god of fire. There was a statue of him on top of the town hall.”
Describe your current stage rig…
“It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m doing a rock ’n’ roll gig with a regular rock band, I’ll use a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, no pedals, although I might put a Boss tuner in. I turn the amp up to 10 and work off the volume control on the guitar. If I want it quiet and relatively clean I’ll turn it down to three or four and when I want to play a solo I just whack the guitar up to 10.
“For other gigs, like backing up Bryan Ferry, he tends to want more variety in the guitar sounds and so it gets a bit more complicated. So I use a Kemper and we use in-ear monitors, so there’s no noise coming off the stage. It’s not plugged into an amp or a speaker, it goes directly to the front of house or to the monitor guy at the side of the stage and he feeds my sounds back to me.
“I try to get away with an overdriven sound for solos and slightly fewer decibels for rhythm, and there’s a very clean sound… the Kemper pedalboard gives you the option to add into these presets with stompboxes like a fuzz, chorus or tremolo to modulate the sound. So I tend to get away with a loud, or not quite so loud, sound with phasing, chorus or fuzz. My main guitar is a James Trussart [SteelDeville]. I find that to be a very reliable guitar and it will do most of the things that a guitar is required to do these days. I also use a mid-50s Gibson J-200 and a Flying V that was made for me by Dick Knight.”
What’s your best tip for getting a good live sound?
“I would say the way I just described using my Deluxe Reverb amp is perfect for live, especially since nowadays you’ve got stage monitors - when I started there weren’t any. My amp is loud; I had it souped-up by Pete Cornish. I use it on stage and in the studio, it’s been with me all these years and, I’d say, just do what I do: instead of having a switch when you want overdrive on a solo, just turn the guitar’s volume up. And the rest of the time, just have it on three or four, or wherever the sweet spot for playing your rhythm is. It makes life a little easier and means you’re always playing off your volume pot and you’ve got more control over your sound.”
What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?
“I really like it when there’s a good coffee-making machine, like an espresso machine, in my hotel room. On the last tour most of the hotels had espresso machines. I do like a good cup of coffee and I hate it when they give you a sachet of instant coffee. I tend not to take that option.”
The good, the bad and the ugly
What’s the best venue you’ve played?
“I remember one gig where it was one of my own shows and it was in Belgium or Holland. They were all having a barbecue, it was all outside and we went up on stage and they really loved everything I did. I couldn’t believe it - where have all these people come from? And they know all my songs and everything. I was quite elated when I came off stage. Sometimes you are lucky enough to get a gig like that where everything goes right and everybody loves you.”
What’s the worst journey you’ve had either to or from a gig?
“There was a flight where we had to assume the emergency position on landing. They didn’t know if the landing gear had come down and so they flew over the control tower a couple of times and they said,‘Yes, your landing gear is down…’. The pilot was saying, ‘Yes, but the red light on my control panel is saying that the wheels have not locked. So we’ll land and they might buckle and we’ll crash’. Of course, it was fine. It was the Dusty Springfield band and there were a lot of musicians on there. That was my only big emergency - there have been journeys that have been a pain, but nothing like that.”
What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?
“Oh, there must have been many of them! I’ve appeared in a Womble suit… that probably covers that one.”
What’s your favourite live album?
“I’d have to say the Free live album, I think it’s called Free At Last. Because those guys, when they made that album, I think most of them were still teenagers. I think Andy [Fraser] was about 18 years old and yet the maturity of the playing on that and the sensitivity, the power and all that stuff was from kids, y’know? I had the pleasure of playing with Andy later on, doing The Sharks, and more recently just before he died. So that’s got to be my favourite live album, I don’t think you could beat that for sheer good playing.”
The Sharks’ latest album Ready Set Go is available now via 3Ms Music.