THE WILF GIBSON INTERVIEW

By Martin Kinch

October 2003

Martin and Wilf - 2003

MK: Wilf, It's good to meet you after all this time, and thanks for doing this interview for my web site

WG: Itís a pleasure Martin

MK: Now I must admit that I only got to know of you when you joined The Electric Light Orchestra, Can you tell us a bit about your life before then?

WG: I Started playing the violin at school at the age of 7, I hated it but my father gave me a lot of encouragement and by the age of 13 I started to like and be obsessed with the violin. I won a scholarship to the RCM in London then played in various orchestras including 2 years in Holland, I then came back to England and gradually broke into session work, I also Played in a jazz-rock group called Centipede

MK: So how did you end up in ELO?

WG: Don Arden rang me - I think theyíd tried out other people before. A player called Robin Williams told me later that he had given them my name

MK: Were you aware of the band before you joined?

WG: Only by name, but up to then I hadnít heard any recordings

MK: Did you know that the band had evolved from The Move?

WG: Yes

MK: What did you think of The Move?

WG: Terrific - I especially liked "Blackberry Way" and "Tonight"

MK: Did you start recording straight away or did you go straight into live work?

WG: We rehearsed in Royís place and in a pub in Birmingham. It wasnít all new material. We added parts to "10538 Overture" and, if I remember rightly, we did it on Top of the Pops before doing any live work.

MK: Can you remember the first gig you did with the band - Where was it, and was it a good gig?

WG: It was at the Greyhound Pub in Croydon and I think everyone was too preoccupied with trying to remember the tunes and the running order to be nervous. Everything was a bit raw, but yes, I would say it was a good gig

MK: Do you know what the first track that you played on was?

WG: The first track we ever rehearsed was "10538 Overture". The first track I played on at a session was "Boogie 2" recorded at a studio just off Marble Arch

MK: It must have been quite a shock when Roy Wood decided to leave, what are your memories about it?

WG: Well, we had just toured Italy and I really enjoyed that tour. We caused a riot in Milan and had to get Don out of jail (literally) When we got back Don called me to come in to see him. What he had to say seemed to point to a fait accompli and I remember him being almost apologetic that things had worked out the way they had. None of the string players, including myself, had any say in the matter so he outlined what had been decided.

It was depressing, and one couldnít help feeling that all we had worked towards in the previous months was being thrown away. I felt sad that Roy was leaving because he had a huge creative influence on the band, but his lack of punctuality could be exasperating. His great talent as a writer and performer more than compensated for this. There was nothing for it but to accept what had been decided and to just get on with it.

MK: It must have seemed quite an uncertain time for the band, was there a bit of an atmosphere at the time?

WG: In my experience, with any group of musicians there are always disagreements. It really depends on how good the friendships are and how positive people feel about the whole venture. Friction is sometimes a stimulant to creativity.

I remember a famous string quartet in which reputedly the 1st violinist hadnít spoken to the cellist for years. It must have been awful to be in a situation like that

MK: ELO went through a few different images and sounds - I wonder how different ELO would have been if Roy had stayed and Jeff had left, what do you think?

WG: Thatís an unanswerable question and one can only speculate. I think Roy and Jeff worked well together at the time and proved later that they could both be successful working apart

MK: Roy was already putting Wizzard together when he left, What did you think of the Wizzard and Roy Wood solo stuff?

WG: I thought Wizzard had a Phil Spector type sound. It could be that "See my Baby Jive" and "I wish it could be Christmas everyday" influenced "Waterloo" by Abba

MK: You played on ELOs second album which has recently been released on CD along with some very nice bonus tracks, Are you pleased to see this album back in the shops, and what do you think about all the unreleased stuff on there, I expect there is stuff on there that you had forgotten about.

WG: Yes it was good when it came out again. The solo violin track was originally the solo on "Hall of the Mountain King" which, as you know, is a track on the third album. I donít know who they got to do it eventually.

MK: You did actually play on the next album "On the third day" didnít you?

WG: Yes, most definitely recognise my own playing although I wasnít credited with it.

MK: Are there any favourite tracks that you like and why?

WG: I would say that I liked the second album most. I like ďKuiamaĒ even though the opening reminds me of the opening of "You Only Live Twice". Also "Roll Over Beethoven" because it was the track which first caught the publicís imagination. "Dreaming of 4000" on the 3rd album I liked as well.

MK: Were you allowed to get involved in the arrangements to any of the songs that you played on?

WG: In the early stages I would say they were band arrangements, most definitely.

In the case of "Roll Over Beethoven" in which everyone had a percentage of input, there is some of my own original composition as well as arrangement. One example is the instrumental break which leads into the violin solo.

The Electric Light Orchestra - Roll Over Beethoven
Live in the USA 1973

MK: You seem quite a shy person to me, did you enjoy the dressing up and doing things like Top of the pops?

WG: I loved it. Although some of my friends and relatives were a bit surprised

MK: Did you ever think that ELO were going to end up being one of the most successful bands of the 70s?

WG: I think they already were by the end of the first USA Tour.

MK: So why did you leave?

WG: I didnít have any option on that score.

MK: After you left, did you keep an eye on what was happening with the band?

WG: Only so far as what was in the press, but was preoccupied with doing other things.

MK: As they got more and more successful, did it make you wish you were still with them?

WG: I realised that no matter how successful the band was to become, the financial and creative status of the majority of the musicians including the string players would either remain the same or get worse as time went on. So, in the back of my mind, I had the instinctive feeling that it was fortunate to be out of it

MK: So did you go straight back into doing session work?

WG: Even when I was with E.L.O. I made a conscious effort to keep my session work going, so it wasn't a case of 'going back'.

MK: It wasn't long before you teamed up with one of your old band mates Mike de Albuquerque to work with Maxine Nightingale, how did that happen?

WG: It's a long story. It was through the record producer and writer Pierre Tubbs. I was on a session with Pierre and asked him if, by any chance, he was related to James Tubbs who was arguably the greatest English violin bow maker of all time. Pierre is a direct descendant and, because I had a consuming interest in violin bows I got to know Pierre well.

He asked me to do some string arranging and one of the tracks was Maxine's. I wasn't aware at the time that the very fine bass part had been played by Mike.

MK: And the single, "Right back where we started from" was a big hit here in the UK and also got to number one in America. That must have been quite exiting for you?

WG: It not only got to number one in the States but also was used on the sound track of 'Slapshot', a film about ice hockey starring Paul Newman. Pierre wanted me to travel to the States to MD Maxine's band but I was tied up with other things.

Wilf did the string arrangments on this hit by Maxine Nightingale

MK: You've played on quite a few hits, can you remember what the first one was?

WG: I think it was 'Delilah' by Tom Jones in '68 or '69 and I can still picture it in my mind at Decca in West Hampstead. In fact I think it could have been the first session I ever played on

MK: I've got albums at home with your name on the credits by artists like Oasis, Seal, Everything But The Girl and The Stranglers, You must have done hundreds of sessions, Can you give us a few more names of the people that you have played with?

WG: Elton John, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Dionne Warwick, James Brown - that's only a few who spring to mind

MK: Have you got any favourites that you'll always remember?

WG: Besides the above, Roger Chapman, Ian Drury. Glen Campbell was also great to tour with and especially with Jimmy Webb songs. It was so enjoyable some of my mates still talk about it even though it was back in the 70's

MK: What can you remember about playing for the Sex Pistols?

WG: It was at Wessex Studios and the air was crackling in the studio. One of the band was insulting everyone in sight, including the elderly tea lady, bless her. I loved 'My Way' both as an idea for a hit and in its execution, and I use the word 'execution' pointedly

MK: One of my favourite bands is Oasis, Do you like them, and what are they like to work with?

WG: I first worked with them at 'Maison Rouge' in Fulham. They liked the first take and that was it. I remember thinking it was such good material and what a great band. But also thinking that it would never take off as it was too against the grain of what was popular at the time-so later I was really happy they took off.

I loved the rawness of the early records, but in my opinion with a lot of these artistes including Maxine, people in the music business try to 'improve the product'. This usually takes the form of over-arranging and over-producing but I was fortunately not involved by that point. I found Noel to be a thoroughly amicable and creative guy to work with- not at all like his media image.

MK: You appeared in one of their videos didn't you?

WG: Yes, it was filmed in a warehouse near Wimbledon Football Ground. I lived in SW20 and used to enjoy taking my son to matches at Plough Lane so I didn't have any trouble finding the gig (I hasten to add that I'm a Geordie by birth and a diehard Newcastle United supporter!)



Oasis video for the track 'Whatever' featuring Wilf on Violin

MK: So do you sometimes end up playing live on stage with some of the artists you work with? ?

WG: Yes, including Oasis at Hammersmith. And also did a gig with James Brown for LWT

MK: What's the biggest live gig you have done? ?

WG: Couldn't be exact about audience sizes. I remember some of the USA stadiums being huge, and doing live TV in LA when one was aware that millions of people were tuned in. Also in Gothenborg when ELO supported Deep Purple on an early Scandinavian tour. There were 35,0000 Deep Purple fans screaming for us to get off the stage. A number of full beer cans whistled past my violin

MK: You also ended up playing a session on an album for ELO Part II, that must have been a bit strange, was that just a coincidence and did you get a chance to chat to Bev who you had worked with in the original band?

WG: It was just a coincidence as there was a lot of work around at the time, and I think Bev was a bit tied up at the sound desk so it didn't amount to more than pleasantries

MK: Are there any artists that you would like to work with in the future?

WG: Well this might seem a bit strange but I would like work with some of the great Hardanger fiddle players of Norway

MK: What is the most recent session that you have worked on?

WG: I've been playing on the 'Lord of the Rings' sequel since summer. I played on some of the American Pop Idol tracks recently and have also been doing some arranging for a friend's project.

MK: This might be a difficult question, but if you could be remembered for playing on one record only, what would it be? ?

WG: Probably 'Beyond the Clouds', a signature tune by George Fenton and also 'Roll Over Beethoven'

MK: Have you ever written any songs and have they been recorded?

WG: Yes, I wrote a lot in the 1980's and recorded it privately - all instrumental. I'd love to re-record some of it because in comparison with now, synths were very primitive at the time, As for writing in general, I always enjoyed it as a form of escapism but was always so busy as a player it was difficult to fit in.

Recently I wrote the music for a documentary about Tai Chi (I've been studying Tai Chi since 1980, made study trips to China and now teach it professionally) There has been a positive feedback about the music

MK: Have you ever thought about releasing an album under your own name?

WG: Some day, although, as everyone knows, one needs time and money

MK: Looking back, how would you describe your time with ELO ?

WG: Overall very enjoyable. Such a change from what I'd been doing up to that time

MK: And we must not forget that this year you met up again with your old band mate Mike de Albuquerque for the first time in about 30 years, what was that like?

WG: Mike always has a cheerful and positive disposition, so its exactly as I remembered him, I've really enjoyed our recent get togethers and swapping stories

MK: Wilf, It's very good of you to do this for my web site, do you do much 'surfing' on the internet yourself, and would you like to have your own web site one day?

WG: I'm quite techno-phobic. When I enter the room the computer backs away like a frightened animal, snarling and baring its fangs. But I'm learning

MK: Well, Good luck in all you do in the future, thanks again for doing this and I look forward to a few more drinks with you in the near future.. Cheers Wilf

WG::It's been a pleasure Martin, and I hope to see you soon.

Wilf performs at the Kingston Amnesty Concert in 2007


This interview is © Martin Kinch and may not be reproduced in whole or part without permission

Wilf - 2003     Photo © Mike de Albuquerque

  Wilf has very kindly 'donated' a piece of his music for visitors of this site to hear.
The excerpt is from a TV recording he played on, of Hungarian Gypsy music


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