Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Half a century on the road: the unstoppable Mr Burton

50 years of classy guitar

You know how it is. You wander into a boozer and there's a band on. Old guys, enjoying themselves. Stripped down PA, maybe not even a stage. Seems fun, seems harmless. Nice to have a bit of live stuff while you drink.

Until you pay attention to what's going down. It may not be radical cutting edge stuff, but, hey, sometimes, those old guys catch you unawares. Comfortable as you like, not remotely fashionable, but they can play. And if you're very lucky, after the lessons learned, and the chops polished by years of live work, those old boys can just... knock you out.

Trevor Burton is one of those old boys. Fifty years ago, he went pro, and he's still going. It's how he's made his living, all his life. He's played with a ridiculous range of brilliant musicians, and he doesn't see the day when he's going to stop.

Nowadays, Trevor goes out with a three or four piece band. His own material is a range of self-penned songs and some very choice rock classics. Over the past few years, he's toured a version of the Move with Bev Bevan – both were founding members - and joined Bev's own band for shows with Jasper Carrott. Before then? Danny King, Balls, The Uglys, The Move, the original Steve Gibbons Band, and a host of others.

Now? There's a 50th anniversary gig coming up on March 8th. It's being organised by Maz Matrenko, one of Trevor's long-time conspirators. There'll be a lot of memories, some old pals, and a lot of fun. We talked just as plans were firming up for the gig. 

Early days

I started with Danny King when I was 15. I left school when I was 15, and went to work for a week. Before joining Danny.
Was that your first band?
No! I had Trevor Burton and the Everglades when I was thirteen. We'd go out for maybe £5 a night. When I was with Danny I think we were getting twelve, thirteen pounds a night. The top bands - Carl Wayne and those guys - were getting fifteen pounds a night. I couldn't go to Germany with Danny cos I was too young, but as soon as I turned sixteen, I went. We had two months of four shows a day. It honed me...
What were you playing?
Rock and Roll. Danny had the most amazing collection of 45s you'd ever seen. Hundreds, immaculately listed and sorted. He's come up with incredible songs. You'd go round his house, and he's say 'listen to this', and he'd cover up the label so you couldn't see - so nobody could pinch it. We always had lots of songs nobody else was doing. I think he had a contact in the States who used to send him stuff.
What about you? What was your first guitar?
First electric guitar was a Burns, It was awful. It had a little tiny body, and a long neck. When you let go of the neck, it tipped up, cos the neck was heavier than the body. Sounded horrible. The next guitar was a Fender Stratocaster, and the game was on. They were a hundred and twenty six guineas, if I remember right - a hell of a lot of money. I don't remember where I got it from. I know it wasn't new. I paid about sixty quid for it. Wish I had it now. I still play a Stratocaster. Always have. Gibsons for the odd blues song.

The Move, Balls, Uglies 

I've watched you for an awful long time, and I love the repertoire. But tell me about the bands in between then and now.
I went from Danny King's Mayfair set straight into the Move, when I was just seventeen. After that, there was the Uglys, and then I went in to a band called Balls, with Denny Laine, Alan White...
Why didn't that band work? Hell of a pedigree. There were some very big names involved.
We were all off our faces most of the time. We recorded a couple of tracks, but the only thing we released was a song called 'Fight For My Country' which I wrote and played everything on except for drums and bass. It was released three different times. Never did anything. We got a nice advance, and just partied for eighteen months. Then Denny Laine went off to join Wings; Alan finished up with Yes. I wound up doing a lot of sessions for Island records.
Oooh. Such as?
Paul Kossof's Back Street Crawler. The album's B side is one track, I'm playing bass, Alan White on Drums, and Rabbit Bundrick on keybards, and Paul on guitar. It was a jam, but it was so fantastic, we left it as it was. It just came out of the air. 24 minutes.

Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll - and Staying Alive 

You mention Kossof: one of the many who died far too young. All that's still going on now, of course. But you're a healthy man now, Mr Burton.
I went near the brink a couple of times. There are certain people, you know they're not going to make it. Addicted is not the right word. Compulsive, maybe. Nobody can do anything for them. Ric Grech, Kossof, Chris Wood, from Traffic... they were all my friends. You just knew it would happen, and you weren't going to stop it. Terrible thing.
What about you?
In the early 70s I came close. I was living across from Island records, just off the Portobello Road in London. Playing with the Pink Fairies. We'd go out with Hawkwind, and we'd alternate who would be top of the bill. Big hippie thing. One day,
Tony Secunda, who'd managed the Move and Balls, came to see me and said "Here's a hundred quid. Go home and sort yourself out. You're going to die otherwise."
And I did. Stayed with my mum for six months, cleaned myself up, and started again.
And then?
I started with Raymond Froggatt. Playing bass with Froggy. Until I got the sack, as everybody does. We had quite a hard band. Bit too heavy for him. And then Steve asked me to join the Steve Gibbons Band. 
A fine bunch of upstanding young gunslingers. Trevor's on the right

You know what's nice? From that Gibbons line-up, you're still playing, and at the top of your game; Steve is still gigging, Dave Carroll and Bob Wilson too. 

But I have to ask you this: considering how good you are, that you've played HUGE gigs, with bands who have massive reputations, and you're on some of the best classic rock albums this country has produced, from your days as a session player.... it's a bit strange to see you at the Three Tuns in Sutton or the Grapes in Stafford.
I've just played The Prince of Wales in Ledbury. My house is bigger than that! But I love it, those little places. Keeps your feet on the ground. I love the local scene. It's great. So many young bands. There's a band we work with a lot – Suzi and the Backbeats – she's fantastic. Great little band. The drummer is Bill Jefferson - my drummer's son. My son went to college with Suzi. It goes round and round.

Looking back, looking forward

It's obvious you still love it. Do you think the industry has been good to you?

Long pause...
Financially.... No. Not on the record side of it, anyway. I've always made a living playing live. Still doing that now. I've never got the money I should have, and the people who took it off me are now all dead, so I can't get it off them! I've done very well, though. I've travelled the world, I've had a good life. Played with some fantastic people.
Anybody you didn't get to play with?
I always wanted to play with David Bowie. Loved his early stuff. But there you go. And all those blues guys in the States – Stevie Ray Vaughan...
And with that Trevor went off to get ready for that night's gig. 

I wish there was more of Trevor on record. All the early work is there, of course. All those session albums are around, if you can work out where he played. But I'd have loved to hear some more of him, properly produced, in his own right. But, hey, he's still out there, several nights a week. An outrageously fine, live, seasoned guitarist. And that's pretty damn good. You should catch him if you haven't yet. And soon.

Trevor Burton Band website

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