NB: A great example of that is what you’ve done with Engine, Clutch and Gearbox.
RC:Yes, a lot of what we were doing in that band was to take on quite complex music and play it as a trio. It’s completely possible to do it – the thing is not to worry about not having keys, strings or whatever but to choose the most important or recognisable parts of the song and nail them on whatever instrument you’re playing. I guess having like-minded people to play with is the key!
NB: You play with Bobby Fuego’s Fat Fingers of Funk too, right?
RC: That’s a slightly different thing for me – great fun, too. It calls for a more economical style of playing than I usually have and, being funk, more of a groove-led approach. But getting that right is just as satisfying to me.
NB: There’s a lot of harmony in your playing…
RC: Yes. When I started playing in the 1970s, I was a little nervous of what to play – I didn’t want my playing to be mundane and I wanted to be helpful to the people I was playing with and support the music and to begin with, perhaps I was playing things I didn’t need to.
As I went along, especially in bands like Felix with [sax player] Wesley Magoogan and [guitarist] Will Thomson, where we were playing our own quite advanced tunes, there was really room to stretch out.
After that, when I went back to simpler music, a lot of the people I played with seemed to like my style. A few people relied on me for the tricky bits in the tunes we were playing if they were a bit hesitant themselves.
From the 1980s onwards, I played with Tony Qunta (also from Factory). We were both into everything, including John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth, and we would bring that into what we were doing – both playing like crazy!
That was fine and there was plenty of room for experimentation on the bass and, though that didn’t sell me as a first-call commercial studio player, I did get a lot of work with people like [jazz saxophonist] Pete Burden and had a long residency with him.
We played in The Royal Standard in the Old Town every Monday for three and a half years so I learnt lots of jazz standards inside out, which has put me in good stead as a jazz player ever since.
NB: Can you tell us about the Popular Beat Combo?
RC: I formed a duo with my great friend the late Steve Dimitri on drums and that went on for two or three years and I would find ways of playing songs convincingly with just bass and drums, with me singing. At the same time I was doing gigs with [pianist] Rick Pentecost and we had a weekly residency at Porters in the Old Town and Rick was also playing with [singer / guitarist] the late Dave Blackman. We all joined forces and that was Pop Beat Combo. Dave and I shared the singing and we all chose what songs to do. That was the other side of my playing at the time – very different to the stuff I’d done with Tony Qunta and Pete Burden. That said, I’d still stick the odd solo in here and there – especially as Dave tended not to play lead. The line-up changed a bit over the years and we ended up with Russell Field on drums, preceded by Simon Page amongst others.
NB: Who would you say has influenced your playing?
RC: The bands I listened to as a teenager had great bassists but none who are really well known in their own right.
Andy Pyle from Blodwyn Pig is a good example – he played a great solo on one of their tunes, a jazz thing.
Tony Reeves from Colosseum was great – he played at The Royal Standard not long ago.
Peter Cetera from Chicago was also great, especially on their first two albums, and of course he became better known as a ballad singer subsequently.
I really enjoyed Andy Fraser from Free – poppy, funky lines under their rocky music.
I really liked Gary Moore’s guitar work, especially with Skid Row who were such an adventurous Irish rock trio. Gary’s playing on their second album “34 Hours” is some of the finest I’ve ever heard, even now. He was quite phenomenal from an early age and quite an inspiration to me as a bass player.
Colin Hodgkinson from Back Door was an influence – he played tunes and chords on the bass – and so was Jack Bruce from Cream; I definitely borrowed a few bits from him. The first single I ever played on (“Skinny Kid” by Stallion) had some Jack Bruce influences in my bass lines…
I also loved Ray Shulman’s work in Gentle Giant and Chris Squire in Yes. I ended up playing in [Gentle Giant reunion band] ‘Three Friends’ so had to learn all Ray’s parts note for note. Ray played extremely musical compositional bass lines and used a pick so that was a good fun challenge for me.
Obviously Jaco Pastorius was a major inspiration. There’d been nobody like him - he had a similar impact on music to Hendrix and Charlie Parker in my view.
NB: How would you summarise your technique?
RC: I didn’t develop a technique consciously by copying other players’ techniques. The way I play comes from my desire to make something happen musically and to be in control of it. I suppose articulation and expressiveness are a big part of what I do.
There are so many ways of hitting the strings – where and how hard you hit them, hammer-ons and pull offs and so on. It’s really important to be in the right headspace to play and what that is varies from gig to gig.
For example when I play with my wife Liane Carroll’s trio, I make sure I'm properly warmed up and I can get in the zone and play the right way for the music on the day – that goes for everything I play.
NB: Is practice important to you?
RC: I pick up a bass, or a guitar, a bit like people might light a cigarette. I’ll get up in the morning and put the kettle on and before it’s boiled I’ll have a play just for enjoyment – it helps me focus and it’s a nice thing to do and helps me relax.
I like to play the melody of one tune over the chords of another – that’s a fun challenge.
A favourite routine for me is to work through John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’. I’ve had a lot of mileage from that over the last 30 years or so – it’s such an interesting chord progression and it makes you play in a particular way harmonically. It’s a very intriguing piece – like a puzzle, even though it’s just 16 bars…
NB: Any tips for young players?
RC: Well, I started playing music young and I wanted to be as good a musician as I could be and I found the bass.
I’d say take the time to work at it and be the best you can be rather than measuring yourself against anyone else.
Learn to play, go outside your comfort zone if you want to, be challenged and the opportunities will come.
One doesn’t have to have the most prestigious or expensive instruments – there are lots of wonderful basses out there at all price ranges.
I would say treat your influences and heroes with respect but don’t feel you have to “be” them.
Give it your best shot but try to avoid getting trapped in a trip that is controlled purely by someone else – unless they’re paying you a wage you can live on!
I’ve talked about playing up-front, unorthodox and individualistically because those aspects interest me; but the most important thing is to able to play a song, a tune, a piece, properly in terms of what’s required, and - believe me – I'm still working full time on all that!