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Tim Renwick interviews

from 'Making it in Music: The Inside Story'

Extracted by Sam Cameron from the book by John Pidgeon, Knight Books, 1991

The following sections are given with the title of the chapter in which the quotes from Tim appear. It should be borne in mind that he was being asked mainly about music as a career lest you get the impression that he is excessively preoccupied with money matters.

Making A Start In Music
Education: 'removed' from school at 14 - "I started playing the guitar when I was 14 so it sort of merged with my education and I lost interest really and I wanted to play in a band; technical colleges (two O levels and a "half hearted attempt at a Hotel Management Course) - 'In fact it was bloody hard work so I thought 'No this isn't for me' and started in earnest with bands

First job: musician
I started playing the clarinet when I was ten, and I did quite well at that, but everything tends to be loaded with snobbery , and turning up with jeans and long hair wasn't the done thing , so I rejected that and started playing in bands,, a couple of dreadful local bands , and then I joined a fairly established semi-pro band, playing four or five nights a week and earning some money at last.

We rented a house for the band to live in, so you could live fairly cheaply , and I suppose at the time I was ending up with fifteen, twenty quid a week which at the time was quite a wedge. You'ld go through all the general discomforts of being in a budding band, like every time you go to Wales the van breaks down and you spend the night at the side of the road sleeping on the Hammond organ, all that sort of stuff , over and over again. We'ld basically go anywhere. We'ld go to Aberdeen for twenty-five quid. It was: there's a gig. Right, get the van. No questions. Boom. We'ld do it.

Eventually we decided that the only thing to do was to move to London, so we did for a while and that kind of foundered, and I eventually ended up living in Notting Hill Gate by myself and that was when Quiver started up. We did a couple of albums but we always had trouble writing lyrics, so we ran out of material and were looking round for some sort of new blood, and bumped into the Sutherland Brothers, who were a bit fed up with their band and had tons of songs so we decided to join forces.

We did quite a lot of recording after that because they were well established with Island. In fact the first thing we recorded together was You Got Me Anyway, which did very well in America straight out of the box, to use a horrible phrase.

There comes a point when you go, 'Hang on we're supposed to be stars now' and the realization quickly dawns that its the person that writes the song that makes the money, not the band that goes out and plugs it, unless you've got some kind of arrangement to cover that. There's only one guy in the band that's actually making any money. The rest of you are just the same as you ever were, which leads to a lot of bitterness and jealousy and rivalry. So that split us up basically. That's why I left, and the band basically folded up a year later for the same reason. So I decided to freelance after that, I'ld rather just put a price on me and work for whoever's prepared to pay my money and just be free to do my own thing.

From page 28-29

Other Areas Of The Industry
I've never been a party-piece player at all. You get people who can sit down and whip off some fabulous kind of jazz piece or something they've worked on for months, but I've never ever done that, but what I enjoy doing, what I feel I'm good at it, is just kind of blending in with what's going on and trying to find a niche within that, basically backing somebody else, so you're taking the lead from them and doing what they want. Basically you're trying to please someone by providing suitable backing for them.

I think that's a big part of playing sessions. You've got to be a bit of a chameleon. If someone wants you to be Deep Purple one minute and Richard Thompson the next, you've got to be able to do that with some sort of conviction and also enjoy doing it as well, which some people won't do. A lot of people are so into their music, they're focused on one particular style. Me, I'm quite interested in doing anything. If someone comes up and goes, 'Well I've got this sort of avant-garde bit', I'ld be just as interested as if it was some old folk tune or, for that matter, Adrian Belew. I get my enjoyment out of playing lots of things.

I find that the most unrewarding part of session playing is the sort of jingle thing , where you drive for an hour into town, you park the car and you rush up with your gear, and you play through this little pathetic jingle once and it's 'Right, fine, next we've got the singers coming in in five minutes'. And they accept a part where you feel you could probably have played it better. and sure, they probably do as well, but it's like accept the first possible acceptable part, and get the hell out. So then you drive an hour and a half home, and you think, 'Hang on , I've been in the car driving for two and a half hours and spent half an hour carrying the gear in and played for ten minutes,' and you think , 'This is not playing.'

That's a slightly annoying bit, plus nowadays another rather frustrating element is that because of the way people work now with technology and everything, there are less and less set-ups where you turn up and there's a bass player and drummer to play with. They've usually been in and out and they've gone, so it can be a lonely life. The lone guitarist arrives! You can go weeks on end without actually meeting another musician. So that throws the idea about getting ideas and learning off other people out of the window, which takes away a very big element of what makes it interesting. You're just working with a producer and engineer, and possibly not even the artist- certainly with jingles and that sort of stuff you don't meet the singer.

from page 51-52

What You Need To Make It ...
You have to be fairly philosophical otherwise- you do meet people who get so embittered by situations in that they jack it in and say 'Forget it, I'm going to be a plumber.' Most musicians have periods where they question what they're doing and wonder whether they might be happier driving a mini-cab without all this stuff to worry about, because of all the business of changing fortunes. The best musician in the world, one year you can go out and earn a hundred grand or something, have a fantastic year, then the next year, by no fault of your own, the phone may not ring. You miss a few breaks and you struggle by and earn ten grand, and it wouldn't be any reflection on your playing or performance or behaviour or anything. It's just one of those things.

So you have this horrible situation where you're doing very well one year, and a year later you're then required to pay tax on those wonderful earnings, and of course in that interim period you haven't earned very much money, so you find yourself with a whacking great tax bill that you can't actually meet, and you struggle for about three years to pay it back, and that happens to a lot of people.

It's all very well the accountant saying 'Put it away', but it's not as easy as that, as we all know, and the temptation is obviously if you're doing very well one year you kind of assume that this could well go on. And in fact the business people, the accountants and lawyers assume that as well. As far as they're concerned if you're earning this much this year and you've earned that much the previous year , you're going to earn this much the following year, but of course it doesn't follow in music. It's like the freelance thing. You have no guarantee at all you're going to get more work.

from page 75

Do's And Don'ts
Play. At any excuse, play anything and everything, everywhere. Don't ever turn anything down. The most dodgy sounding session, whatever the project happens to be, you're going to turn up and you're going to meet a producer, you're going to meet the studio staff, the engineer, you're going to meet other musicians. You make friendships. It's useful for you. You learn things from other musicians. The actual piece of music you're playing might be a load of rubbish, but you make contacts and you learn things. I've heard people say 'I got offered this but no I wasn't interested' and you see them three months later and they go, 'I haven't got any work'. And you think, ' Well you should have taken that session , and maybe that would have led to ...'. That's what it's about: one thing leading to another. So you really can't afford to be too picky really, you just have to get in there and make the best of what's available and hope it leads on to different things.

An ironic thing about the whole freelance music business is a lot of it's turning up on time. That's the key thing that'll lose you work- if you're late or unreliable or erratic or turn up drunk or whatever. A lot of it is actually being there half an hour before you're supposed to be. It sounds pathetic, but it really is quite an important part of it. You can be a brilliant player, but if they're not sure you're going to show up, then you won't get hired, however good you are. You hear of these odd brilliant players who like a drink, and it's like: book him early in the morning. If you book him after two o'clock, forget it. If the pubs have been open a few hours, the guy's going to be lego. So you book him early in the morning.

But you've got to be a good player to survive that. There's one or two people I know who are fairly unreliable, but will turn up at ten o'clock and they'll be straight and they'll play fantastically and then go off and get drunk down the pub. But basically you have to be very reliable as conscientious as you can be.

Of course everybody gets these odd horrible nightmare things where you turn up half an hour late and there are sixty people looking at you, which is just awful, it's the worst thing. And then you have to sit down and try and relax and play properly after dashing through the West End, covered in equipment, panting into a studio half an hour late, it's just awful. So, anyone thinking about being a session player has got to consider that. That's the bottom line. You have to be there, wherever you're required to be, in a suitable condition to play.

If you're into doing sessions and you enjoy doing them, you can't stop, you can't take a week off. I've made a few mistakes like that. One particular company I was doing a lot of jingles for- I was getting quite a lot of work at the time and I rang them up and said, 'I'm not really interested in doing these jingle sessions any more.' And I soon learned that that's not the wise thing. You have to accept everything. There's this very cut-throat situation. You are struck off the list and, of course, there's eighteen other guys that are all : 'Yes I'ld love to do a jingle. Eight in the morning. Yes I'll be there.'

You have to have an open mind, and a bit of enthusiasm as well. There's nothing worse than being an artist in a studio and looking round and there's a bunch of guy's picking their noses. You're required to give something. I enjoy it, so hopefully I give out as much as I can to try and encourage other people.

from pages 85-86

Good Breaks Bad Breaks
I'd played on five of Al Stewart's albums, and The Year of The Cat did fantastically well. I remember being very miffed that Al that year was voted Second Best Pop Guitarist in the American Guitar Player magazine. I couldn't believe it. They'd just assumed he'd played the guitar on the record.

He paid me a very healthy and handsome sum of money to do the following album, which was way over the top, so that did make up for it to a certain extent, but with a lot of things it's just that pride element, because a lot of people mention the record and you say, 'Oh I played on that one.' 'Did you? It's my favourite single of all time.' No one seems to know. But I was bitter about that, I must admit, very bitter. I got fifty quid for playing on this thing that sold millions and established his career , and there I am, can't afford pay my electricity bill, driving round in my Beetle.

From page 93

Thanks, Sam, for the torment

Tim Renwick's page at BtP 

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