Interview with ROBIN GEORGE
He has all the makings of a star: the talent, the looks. the circumstances. But who can rely on the latter? British guitarist Robin George will tell you that success is an elusive thing. He knows. Robin was near the top more than once - not only when he scored a hit with "Heartline". Now George seems to be reclaiming his due. Not only he released recently "Lost And Found", the recordings made with the great late David Byron, yet Robert Plant's compilation that's just out, has a 1988 Robin George song on it, "Red For Danger". Is his star on the rise? Will he miss a chance this time? After our conversation that took place in a Wolverhampton's pub, Robin was going to have some rehearsal...
- You say you're going to the session now. What's there on the cards?
I've just finished my new album. Either I will sell it myself over the Net or… I've been offered a couple of deals on it lately. So now I'm deciding what to do. You know about the David Byron project: I started taking orders for that in advance so that people across the world would get the album on the same day. A worldwide playback!
- It was news to me that there's a Robin George fan club.
It's just started up again because I sort of lost interest in the business for a while after being ripped off by record companies, so I went back into recording studios writing and producing. Since the Net started and people have been getting in touch with me, I've realized they still care about what I do and they remember me after all this time. So I started recording again, and put out an album in 2000 with Zoom Club Records, but they didn't really get behind it, no marketing so…
- If you were to describe who is Robin George, what would you say?
I'm mostly a guitar player but also singer, songwriter and a producer. My music these days is bluesy sort of rock, it's not as heavy as it was in the old days, because as you grow old your taste changes. It's still loud guitars, but it's not as hard rock as it was.
- How did you start doing music?
My first major deal - I don't remember how old I was - was with Bronze Records: I had an album called "Dangerous Music" which did quite well all around the world. Unfortunately, just as things were looking really good, Bronze Records went bankrupt, went out of business, which was a great shame. From then on I worked with Robert Plant, Phil Lynott who'd reformed THIN LIZZY just before he died, Glenn Hughes, John Wetton and the guys from ASIA among others.
- What that was with Glenn Hughes?
It was in 1990, we did an album that never got released. It was finished but for some reason the company decided not to put the album out, I don't know why.
- Was it the same album Glenn worked on with Joe Lynn Turner then?
No, it was basically an album that I was producing and playing on. Do you remember TRAPEZE, Glenn's first band? Glenn was putting TRAPEZE back together to go out and promote the album, but it just didn't work out.
- Does the band name CATHEDRAL mean anything to you? You worked with Jon Camp, and I heard he had this band, with Joe Lynn Turner.
(Pause.) Jon Camp, yeah? Jon was in my band when we were touring with the "Dangerous Music" album for a while. I met Jon when I was working with Roy Wood. He’s a really melodic bass player and a good guy, but I don't know what music he was doing with Joe or the name of the band.
- Did you know Camp's work with RENAISSANCE?
I was aware of it, but it wasn't my style of music.
- To Byron now. Did you get in touch with David through Bronze connection?
David used to work with a guy called Pete Green, he was also known as Daniel Boon - he had written several hits that went to number one in the Sixties. I was working with Pete Green, too, he was co-writing with David at the time, and he recommended me as a producer and a guitar player. So I met up with David, we talked and we liked each other, so we eventually formed the band. The first time we met we wrote “Bad Girl” which is on the "Lost And Found" album. The first session with Pino Paladino playing bass and Pete Thompson on drums was a live session, which was great! We did "Bad Girl" which later was on the album "On The Rocks". It was around then that we formed THE BYRON BAND, and the rest is history. While I was re-mastering the tapes I realized, I will never know why on earth the band didn't get signed for the second album, because the songs are really good, there's a real quality to it.
- From my point of view, "On The Rocks" is more guitar-based album, not vocal-based, and quite different from David's
With David Byron
With David Byron
I know, but that's what he wanted to do. And again, you'll see on the writing demos, David was great; he was such a strong performer. They're only demos but they're really powerful, - David's on fine form - and that's the reason why I want people to listen to this stuff: because I'm so sick of hearing that David was washed up and going nowhere at that time. He had a lot of soul, a lot of soul.
- Looking at the set list of the live show that's on "Lost And Found", David didn't sing old material, except for "July Morning". Why there was no Byron's solo material?
"July Morning" and "Sweet Lorraine". He didn't want to do anything else; he preferred what we were writing to what he'd done previously.
- Which means, he was the boss?
I used to arrive at David's house with all the ideas for the chords and riffs. He'd sit down and start singing, writing lyrics as we went along, so it was really a partnership. If David had wanted to do his old songs, he would have done, and if I had wanted him to sing some of my songs, I’m sure he would have sung them as well. We really wanted to do what we were writing there and then.
- Why did the band break up?
I don't know what happened. I made a solo deal with Arista towards the end of THE BYRON BAND, so I concentrated more on making my own music. We could have carried on with both situations, but I suppose, not having a deal, no funding meant no real way forward. David's drinking was seen as a major problem, so I think he gained a reputation within the business of being unreliable. But he wasn't, he was always where and when he should have been when we worked together
- And then you moved on to work with Phil Lynott?
When I was making the "Dangerous Music" album, Phil played on one track. Later, when he heard the final record, he rang me up and asked me to play guitar on a track of his called "Nineteen". I did and we got on really well, so we started writing together, then, when we were promoting the single, I remember we were flying to Newcastle to do a TV show, with Brian Downey, LIZZY’S drummer. On the flight back Phil said, "Right, Robin? Right, Brian? Do you want to reform LIZZY?" And we said, "Yeah, why not? Definitely!" So we started work in Phil’s home studio during December , writing and recording. I remember we shook hands and I went home for Christmas, and then... I got a call from a radio station asking me to comment on Phil’s’ death: that’s how I found out that Phil had died.
- So that was to be THIN LIZZY, not GRAND SLAM?
No, THIN LIZZY. Phil and Brian Downey were obviously in the original band before and Phil wanted me as the guitar player to finalise the line-up. A dream come true!
- Was Mark Stanway involved, who worked with GRAND SLAM and who you worked with?
I’d known Mark for years and I worked with MAGNUM - I toured with them, so I knew Mark well before GRAND SLAM. But no, he wasn't in THIN LIZZY. Anyway Phil, I think, had a reputation of being difficult to work with, but I really liked him as a man and as a good friend, just like David. Oh how many good guys die young!
- Don't you feel that if any of those projects succeed, you'd be on totally different level now, in terms of popularity?
Oh yeah, in a way. I mean, in a way I have to be thankful I didn't make it too big when I was young because... Once you reached the top, where'd you go? There's nowhere left. I've seen it in people who made it very young, especially Phil and David – they climbed so high they fell off the edge! Unfortunately, I lost touch with David when I was touring with my band. So I'm really happy to be here where I am now, making the music I'm making and living my life.
- By the way, what about the project called LIFE?
My first solo project was called "Life", and then I formed the band that we called LIFE in 1991, and we did one album.
- Was that then that you started working with Mark Stanway?
No, I worked with Dave Holland, Pete Wright and Terry Rowley from TRAPEZE. They were connected to Mark through his wife, Mo Birch, so Mark did a couple of gigs with us, just as friends, it wasn't anything serious.
- So it wasn't Phil who got you in touch with Mark?
The first time I met Phil properly was when I auditioned for LIZZY when John Snow [Snowy White or John Sykes. – DME] or somebody got the gig. Phil later told me he wanted me in then, but there was somebody in the band who didn’t - his name wasn't mentioned but I knew who it was anyway. Then, when Mark mentioned to Phil that I was recording my album, Phil said, why not go down and do some tracks with him? So they came down to the studio, and Phil and Mark played on a track called... I've forgotten what it was called, but it's on the album. I often saw Phil at gigs etcetera, and as I said, when he needed a guitar player for “Nineteen”, he called me.
- You mentioned Dave Holland from TRAPEZE. Is it through him that you knew Glenn Hughes?
No, I think, that was through record company connections. I don’t think Dave and Glenn were in touch at the time. It's strange how people leave bands and go their separate ways.
- When you worked with Glenn, was he still an addict?
Glenn was still into it in a big way, yeah, but he's clean now apparently. The first time I met Glenn was when he came to a gig that we were doing in "Dingwalls" club in London. He came backstage after the gig and we got on well, so later, when his record company asked me to produce and write the songs for his album, it happened. We recorded Glenn’s vocals at my house, he sang in the kitchen, and his performances still sound excellent to this day!
- There's a bootleg of you playing with John Wetton. How that came about and who else was in the band?
In the band were Carl Palmer, Don Airey on keyboards, Phil Manzanera who did a couple of numbers, John and me. We did three nights for charity, which were filmed, and I've still got the soundtrack of the film. We played ASIA’s hits, and some of my tracks, which was good. John and Carl asked me to put an act together with them, but it didn’t work out in the end.
- Was it a part of some project?
John and I had been writing together, it just spontaneously happened, as we were preparing for the charity gigs. So, yes, it was a project. As I said we did some of my songs, some of their songs and a couple of covers, which was interesting.
- Could you be called 'one hit wonder'?
Yeah, of course. Having said this, I should add it’s all because the companies let me down... or is it? (Laughs)
- Then there was a project called NOTORIOUS...
...With Sean from DIAMOND HEAD who years ago I produced a single for. I went to see Sean, and said, "OK, we're both good at what we do. Why don't we just get together to do a project and take the piss of the record companies for a change?" It was a very interesting combination for me and Sean, who wanted to be a bit poppier than he was in DIAMOND HEAD. We got paid very handsomely for that project but again, the record company for some reason pulled it. You know, so many people have made absolutely great records that didn't go out. I still think that the original demos were far better than the final product.
- Do you still feel bitter about all those things that went wrong?
Oh no, not anymore. Time's a great healer.
- And what you’re up to now?
The Byron project was totally finished and ready to go on January 1st, but for six months now I've been trying to get a record company interested in releasing it and to approach it from the right direction. Recently, a company director contacted me and said, "Why the hell don't you do it yourself?" I said, "I’m a musician, not a businessman". He sent me an e-mail saying, "Do this and this". So it's thanks to him that it's now available, I had to be the quality control, mastering engineer and producer. I know it sounds as good as it can, and the reaction from David’s fans has been fantastic which makes it worthwhile.
- So that’s how you decided to do everything by yourself?
Until you realize how much record companies can get away with, you go into a deal expecting them to work really hard on your behalf. "Rock Of Ageists" is not my best album, but it's got some very good songs on it and, given a chance, it could have done a lot better. OK, it's not a world-changing album and it wasn't meant to be, it was just me getting old songs out of my system and moving on with life. They are my versions of the songs Glenn and other people had performed. Since then I've written this new album, “Bluesongs”, that I’m very pleased with, I like it and hope everybody else will too. But I'm talking with record companies at the moment. With the David album I've done it myself with a lot of help from my friends. I'd rather pay somebody to post and package, and do the marketing side of things, to make sure that people who want to buy my record are able to for the right price. I don't make music for myself, I make it for people to listen to and enjoy.
- What part of your life does belong to music?
Well, it's big. I mean, I'm a very happily married man at last and I've got four kids, which is more important than anything to me. Music needs to be a hobby or a way of making a living, and for me it's been both. Since the mid-Nineties, when I stopped bothering, as it were, because it was getting me nowhere I didn't really miss it much, but suddenly it came back and the songs are bubbling inside me again. I don't know where the inspiration comes from – but if an idea’s good enough I always remember it. If it’s not – I don’t. If it stays in my mind, it’s good enough for me!
- Are you going to pick up your career now and start anew?
Hopefully so! My most enjoyable job - and I've done a lot of different jobs to make a living - is making music. That's what I do best. I spoke to Robert Plant the other day, and I said to him that I had all the equipment from my studio stolen, which was beautifully set up and absolutely what I worked for all of my life. And he's like, "But you’re too young to stop!" And I said, "Yeah, but the point is, Robert, I'm happy now, I'm really having a good life". And he said, "You mean, you don't need to be a millionaire rock star to be happy?" That's exactly what I mean: you don't need to be that. He’s a prime example of that, he was very successful from a very early age and he’s handled it really well - so good luck to him!
- Do you meet Plant often?
No, that was the first we’ve spoken in years, but I did a lot of work with Robert just before his "Now And Zen" album. We did a lot of demos, and there were some great tracks, but for some reason he decided not to use them. But who knows, he might in the future.
- Is there still a chance to see Robin George a star?
Because of the Internet, I've realized I still have fans worldwide. Where I went wrong was that I thought people had forgotten me and who I am. A friend recently said. “Your fans don’t go away, they get older with you, they remember you and want to hear what your doing now”, which is very gratifying. That’s good to know, if he’s right.
- I presume there must be much more material in your archives besides that on the "Lost And Found" album, and not only by THE BYRON BAND.
I've got stuff from forever; I've got massive archives, because I would always be the guy who brought the tape recorder to a rehearsal or a gig. I had to edit the gig heavily, because it’s one night and of course, there are bits of singing out of tune, guitar going wrong and so on. But David was into a putting on a show, as we all were in those days, there was a lot of energy and power. I could have doubled the length of the Byron album, but I wanted people to hear David and the band at their best.
- Do you plan to release anything else, then?
Not from David. I don't particularly want to live in the past. I felt so strongly about all those snide comments about David supposedly not able to perform, that he couldn't sing anymore, that he was a drunk - yes, he was a drunk but he was still singing and he could still perform. He had an absolutely fabulous voice and a fantastic range. He was a good man and a good friend of mine, and I just wanted to put the record straight. When I managed to get hold of Gaby, David’s wife, and she agreed the project was a good idea, it was fantastic. I'm doing this because people deserve to hear it, that's why he did it. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be doing my music today, I doubt if anybody would listen to my records. (Laughs.) David’s name’s important, and people need to remember he was a good man and a great performer.
- But you should be pushing yourself forward anyway.
Yes, but I think once people hear the Byron album, they're going to want to hear what I do because it's an extension of that. I'm sure, some people will be interested to hear "Bluesongs" just because I worked with David.
- And now you take to the more bluesy direction, why?
No, it's just called "Bluesongs", and it's an interesting album - it's got rock stuff on it and blues as well, but it's not, "di-ding di-ding di-ding". It's got a different sort of groove, I always use the same bass player, Charlie Charlesworth, and he plays almost reggae dub across the blues riffs, and it works a treat. So it's not really a blues album.
- What music do you listen to these days?
I rarely listen to music these days, I spend all day making my own, so I don’t relax that way. If music’s good I like it, but there's more crap around than good stuff, and usually the good stuff is heavily influenced by the past. If I want to hear a great album, it's not generally something new. When I started, everybody listened to THE BEATLES or THE STONES, but for me it was THE BEATLES, because I was more into their songwriting and vocal harmonies. That was my major inspiration as a writer and performer.
As a guitarist, my inspiration wasn't THE BEATLES, although my first guitar - a Christmas present from my parents when I was about eight - had their pictures on it, but blues players like Johnny Winter and Peter Green. I thought “Zeppelin I” was a fantastic album and I still do, but bands with great guitar players like CREAM, THE KINKS and, of course, Hendrix always interested me most. The early FLEETWOOD MAC stuff is fabulous - I was listening to it as a kid, at school, and thought, "Bloody hell! How does this man make a guitar sing like that?" Which is more the style of my playing now: it's more about feeling. There was no particular influence. I somehow developed my own style, and this works against me in lot of ways (laughing), because I don’t sound like anybody else. I could still play a million notes at a million miles per minute, but these days I'd rather play one note that matters.
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