|Billy Bremner Q and A|
|Q: Tell us about the first music that really got to you as a child?
Billy: Anything melodic. Many things caught my ear on the radio in them days. I loved to hear Doris Day singing.
Q: Does playing and singing run in your family?
Billy: My dad played ukulele, and my mum played piano without anyone ever knowing.
Q: What do you mean 'without anyone ever knowing' ?
Billy: We got a piano when I was very young. One day my mum appeared with this sheet music that she must have had for years and she just sat down and started to play. And then she said "don't tell your Dad", which (of course) was the first thing I told him as soon as he came home from work.
Q: How did you get started playing the guitar?
Billy: Listening to any kind of guitar music and borrowing my cousin's guitar - tuning it my own way.
Q: Who were/are your favourite guitarists?
Billy: Too many to name. From Django, to Hank Garland, to Chet Atkins, to Jerry Reed, to everyone who plays.
Q: When did you start writing songs?
Billy: When I was sixteen or so.
Q: Who influenced you as a songwriter?
Billy: Again, anyone who wrote in a melodic way.
Q: Can you recall the earliest recordings you were involved with?
Billy: I can't remember. I think the first (well known) band was probably The Luvvers.
Q: (from list member Anders Almqvist) Does anybody know more about Billy’s work with The Luvvers? I know he made a single 1966 - "The House On The Hill / Most Unlovely" on Parlophone - with them, but nothing else. In The Tapestry Of Delights, where Billy is uncredited, a privately-pressed album is mentioned. (The Tapestry Of Delights says: The Luvvers became Lulu's backing band in 1964 and recorded the above disc after splitting with her in 1966. It is now quite collectable. Some of them were also involved in making a privately-pressed album, Three's Company under the name Peter Ross Oliver, which mostly contained cover versions. Jim Dewar later played with Robin Trower in the seventies.) Billy can you add any details? Were you on the single and/or the album?
Billy: I was only on the single, and I'm sorry, but I can't add any details.
Q: Did you tour with Tom Jones and the Walker Brothers? If yes, can you recount the highlights of those tours?
Billy: Never toured with Tom Jones. I played with the Walker Brothers for two years, travelling extensively with them. Many highlights.
Q: Can you give us a rundown of the early bands you were in and the people you played with?
Billy: Early bands you would never have heard of. I worked in France and Germany with unknown bands. The later years you can look up at: www.allmusic.com. To the list there a couple of names should be added, like Soup de Jour, The Refreshments, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, the original Nirvana and several Swedish artists. I will try to make a complete discography, when my new record is finished.
Q: I think serious fans would like to know the names of those early bands.
Billy: Tremours, Compass, Quotations (which backed Little Richard, Brenda Lee, Walker Brothers, Duane Eddy etc).
Q: What years were you playing in France and Germany?
Billy: I played in France and in Germany many times over the years with different bands. In Paris I played at the "Crazy Horse Club" with a band called "You, Me and Him". It was a musical comedy trio and we were playing and doing funny sketches. I was the straight guy and the other two were loonies. I also played on Billy Connolly's single "Super Gran". It was used as the theme song for a children’s comedy series in the U.K.
Q: Besides The Refreshments, can you name the other Swedish artists you have played with?
Billy: Robert Wells, Inger Nordström, Totta Näslund, Dan Hylander, Magnus Lindberg, Ann-Sofie von Otter (with Elvis Costello), Idolerna, Totte Wallin, Sigge Hill, Jerry Williams and more.
Q: What other musical projects were you involved with between the mid-60’s and the mid-70’s?
Billy: Again, sorry to say, I can't recall. You would have to look that up. There was quite a lot going on then. Like the Walker Brothers, Neil Innes. I have to think.
Q: Did Neil Innes and Fatso record? Did you work with Neil on any of the Monty Python albums or films?
Billy: We did one album with Neil, but I can't remember what it was called. I remember one title - Concrete Jungle Boy. It was under Neil's name and on the cover he has a duck on his head. We also did the original demos and the music for the original pilot for the Rutles. Eric Idle had his own TV-Series, Rutland Weekend Television, which is also an album, and I'm on that with Eric and Neil, and we would sometimes appear on the sketches. There was also a Christmas Special when we played with George Harrison, who was the special guest. (Note: The Neil Innes solo album Billy played on is Taking Off from 1977. Concrete Jungle Boy was not released until 2000, on the compilation Recollections 1.)
Q: You played on the first Rutles recording, the original version of “I Must Be In Love” on the Rutland Weekend Songbook album in ’76. What was that like?
Billy: It was really good. I really admire Neil. His music for "The Rutles" was superb. Neil is so fucking clever and there was a lot of very good stuff that we did on the TV-series that were never recorded.
Q: Was the idea for the Rutles documentary or the album in the works at that time?
Billy: The documentary came from the TV-series.
Q: Who did you meet first, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe?
Billy: I met them both when they came to see me play with Neil Innes + Fatso at the Nashville Rooms in London. They asked me then to make up the final spot in Rockpile.
Q: What were the best things about playing in Rockpile?
Billy: The whole four years, ‘76 to ‘80. Great friendship.
Q: (from list member Greg Odegaard) Well over a year ago, on the Nick Lowe list, it was a given discussion that Seconds Of Pleasure was going to be officially and long overdue re-released with all the bonus cuts one could ever hope for. What has become of this project?...Anyway any insight from those in the know or want to be, about a Seconds of Pleasure re-release or reissue would be appreciate. Hate to imagine it got lost in some legal shuffle.
Billy: Nick mentioned it to me when I saw him a couple of months ago, but I haven't heard anything more about this. Sorry.
Q: Do you know what studio material from the Rockpile days was recorded and unreleased? Can you describe any you know about?
Billy: Again, I really don't know. Maybe someone at Eden Studio, Cheswick, London would know, or Sue at Riviera Global. The only song I remember was recorded and not released was "Living Just A Little". It was recorded either by the Detroit Emeralds or the Detroit Spinners.
Q: Was there very much live Rockpile recorded that might still be sitting 'in the vaults'?
Billy: There are so many CDs that show up and I don't know who does the compilations.
Q: Talk about writing songs with Kenny Pickett?
Billy: Kenny and I tried out a few ideas, some worked, some didn't. He was a good guy.
Q: with Will Birch?
Billy: Enjoyed my co-writing with Will. Again some good songs and some shitty.
Q: Don Morrell?
Billy: Exactly the same.
(Note: Here's what the Gadfly website had to say about the connection between the Billy and Don: 'During his years in Nashville, Morrell also linked up with Billy Bremner, co-writing and producing demos that led to Bremner's deal with Bluewater Music, and eventually performing as Bremner-Morrell.')
Q: What's the rest of the story here?
Helén: Billy and Don put a local band together with Supe Granda "Ozarks" on bass and different drummers. They did many gigs together.
Q: Writing with others?
Billy: I don't usually write with other musicians.
Q: Talk about working with the Refreshments?
Billy: I enjoyed a lot of it. Some of the gigs were awful places to play. But we made the best of it.
Q: And you produced, wrote songs for, played and sang on three or four Refeshments albums. Can you talk about how you connected with these guys and discuss the music you made together?
Billy: They contacted me in Nashville and asked me to come over here and guest with them in a couple of tours, and the third time I came over to Sweden, they were recording, and it wasn't going too well, so they asked me to take over. I think they only wanted a producer. I did a lot of their arrangements and helped them with their pronunciation.
Q: There is a compilation CD called Brit Rock - Back On Track which features (among others) Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker, Albert Lee, Dr. Feelgood, Micky Jupp and yourself. The recordings by you are The Girl Can't Help It and Dream Lover. I assume these are the Little Richard and Bobby Darin tunes respectively. Can you tell us the story behind these recordings?
Billy: They wanted two songs done by me on the album, and I thought these two fitted with the theme of the record.
Q: The Pretenders?
Billy: An honour. Chrissie could be tough as well as great. The other members were very good friends.
Q: Phil Everly?
Billy: One of my heroes.
Q: The Cole Porters?
Billy: Great stuff.
Q: Rosie Flores?
Billy: Underrated. Top class.
Q: Shakin’ Stevens?
Billy: I enjoyed my time with Shaky.
Q: Howard Werth?
Billy: Very good.
Q: Deke Leonard?
Billy: Unfortunately we had a very short time to work together.
Q: Paul Kennerly (whose Misery With A Beat EP sounds a lot like Rockpile)?
Billy: Paul is a wonderful writer. I remember playing on many of his demos in London before he became well known.
Q: Is Paul a Brit? How many demos did you record with him? Song titles? Were the demos ever released? What's the time frame here?
Billy: Yes, he is from somewhere round about London. There were so many demos made with him in the mid-70s, before he went to Nashville and made himself a name. The demos were never released and they were all done at Eden Studios. He was at that time not writing for an album, but for other artists. I'm afraid I can't remember any song title.
Q: You have one of the most distinctive and exciting styles of guitar playing. Have you ever considered writing and recording an instrumental or for that matter an instrumental album?
Billy: I can't seem to play the same thing twice, (well accidentally). I don't think I could put together an ongoing theme.
Q: That's one of the reasons why I like your guitar playing so much, it's unpredictable! Besides, you are too modest. How about a ‘jazz’ instrumental album?
Billy: Well, sorry - but I can't play jazz.
Q: (from list member Rupert Williams) Anyway the Billy Bremner question(s) relate to a story that Sid Griffin (ex Long Riders) told me when they shared a house together in L.A. some years ago. Much to Billy's annoyance he is often mistake for his namesake the ex Scottish Football captain and I believe even considered changing his name at one point. However it doesn't always have it's disadvantages as he once made a person to person call to his Dad in Aberdeen (?), the Scottish operator mistook Billy for his nemesis (and the operators hero) and as a result didn't charge him for the lengthy call. The question is, does he still get free phone calls, upgrades on planes etc., or is this story an Urban Myth?
Helén: Yes, Billy and Joe Stella (the roadie with The Bangles) both stayed at Sid's house for a couple of weeks, when Billy first got to L. A.. Then he got a place of his own. And it so happened, that when he would make phone-calls and he said his name, Billy Bremner, sometimes the operator thought that he was the famous Football captain, so he would get free phone calls, from America, Australia etc. In these days, the operator would put you through, so you had to talk to the guy in person. Anyway, at one time, Billy called the operator up, and was kind of hinting that he wanted a free phone-call from America to Aberdeen (Scotland), so he told the guy his name - Billy Bremner - and the guy answered, "Yes sure, and I'm fucking Bobby Charlton", and then he hung up. That was the end of that, and in these days he is not getting free phone calls or anything else free for that matter. And Rupe, Billy actually used his middle name Billy Murray, and released a couple of records in this name - "Heart And The Stone” and "I Don't Want To Be No Hero". And he wrote "Trouble boys" under this name as well. But then this comedian actor became famous, and the Football player died, so he went back to basics again.
Q: Re: Billy Murray records – what was the year of release and the label? Was it just the two songs? Are there copies of these available anywhere?
Billy: On one single - yes, them two songs. The label was State Records, early 70’s. The other single under this name was "Downtown Hoe-down" (with Huey Lewis) on Polydor around 1975-77. I afraid I don't remember the B-side.
Downtown Hoedown / Rhyme Or Reason - Bill Murray on Polydor Records 
I Don't Want To Be A Hero / Heart And The Stone - Billy Murray on State Records - State 72 
Q: (question no.2 from Rupert) Is he coming over to London to do any gigs in the near future, if so will he be asking his old pal Basher to put in an appearance?
Helén: A gig in London in the near future - shouldn't think so. The new recording might be finished in April - May, but perhaps after that. And of course Billy will talk to Nick about it. We met him a couple of months ago, and they were really having a good time.
Billy: Well Mike, I hope these answers are OK, because it's the best I can do for just now, but you're welcome to get back to me. Cheers.
Billy Bremner has recorded two solo albums, Bash! and A Good Week's Work.. Both are available on Gadfly Records. Bash! includes (as bonus tracks) most of the single A and B sides from the period. Go to: http://www.gadflyrecords.com/
The Refreshments CDs that Billy was involved with are available at: http://www.refreshments.nu/
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|1, 2, 3 - A Triple Threat
1. Guitar players as good as Billy Bremner are rare indeed. He possesses an original sound that shows many an influence, yet comes out sounding like no one else. That's doubtless why Billy has been called upon to play guitar on so many varied projects over the years. Probably the most well known recording Billy's guitar playing has graced is a double-sided hit single by the Pretenders. Many discerning listeners rate the highly inventive and melodic guitar solo on "Back On The Chain Gang" as one of the very best in pop music, while others prefer the edge and attack of the completely different and equally impressive "My City Was Gone". Both solos are distinctly Billy, but that's just the tip of this musical iceberg.
2. If great guitar playing is not enough, then there's his singing. Nick Lowe once said that Billy 'sings like a bird'. He put his money where his mouth is by allowing Billy to sing "Heart", one of Lowe's very best songs, which appears on the Rockpile album Seconds Of Pleasure.
3. To cap it off, Billy is a top notch songwriter. The classic Dave Edmunds rocker "Trouble Boys" was written by Billy and (I'm sure) Eddie Cochran is looking up and smiling from his grave whenever the needle hits those grooves.
Billy is currently working with his new band, which he is thinking of calling the BB Guns and an album is in the works.
This interview was conducted by email over the course of a few weeks. It was completed on December 16, 2002. Thanks to Billy for taking the time and a special thanks to Helén Lövgren for additional input. Questions are by Mike Griffiths unless otherwise noted.