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Friars Interviews

Thomas Crimble
Skin Alley

friars appearances 15/09/69  20/10/69 06/04/70

 

Thomas Crimble has had an interesting career. He played Friars three times with Skin Alley, went on to join Hawkwind for a time and managed the Glastonbury Festival for nearly 30 years. Today, he is in Space Ritual, a band made up of former Hawkwind members (who all played Friars!). Step forward Thomas……

Thomas, welcome to the Friars Aylesbury website. Your history with Skin Alley at Friars goes back almost to the beginning with an announced support slot to Atomic Rooster and then headlining again a few weeks later having made an impression. Skin Alley played played Friars again in 1970 but I am not totally certain you played that as you joined Hawkwind.

I do remember playing Friars Aylesbury – I remember a small stage with people standing in front of it. Good memories of there and I remember the stage. In the mists of time you remember some places were shit and some were great and Friars was great.

(in terms of 1970) I left Skin Alley…well I was playing with Hawkwind when Jimi Hendrix played the Isle of Wight festival in the May.

Hawkwind played in February so were you with them then?

No and I left Hawkwind in December 1970. I joined about three weeks before the Isle of Wight festival.

As I have been trying to ensure all relevant gig line ups are correct and I knew you joined Hawkwind, I just wanted to be certain I had everything right! So you played in 1970 at Friars with Skin Alley. I’m a bit of stickler for details.

People aren’t always accurate with the details!

When you were playing Friars, you had brought out the ‘Skin Alley’ album so I presume you were playing your sets based around that?

Yes.

How would you tag Skin Alley and what sort of approach to the music were you taking? I’ve heard you described as jazz fusion or jazz rock for example.

It sounds weird now in retrospect. I had been playing with (Skin Alley’s) drummer, Giles Pope in the school holidays having both been sent off to private schools. We wanted to get a band together and in the summer holidays after A Levels, we went down to the south of France and also in this trip was a chap called Richard Thomas. Whilst we were all in France, we decided we’d come back up to London and try to get a little band together and Richard was going to manage it. For some strange reason it came about that I would play bass, but I really play guitar rather than bass.

Wasn’t Richard Thomas part of Clearwater Productions?

That’s when we went back up to London and he fell in with Wayne Bardell who managed Hawkwind.

I mentioned this as I spoke with Tim Blake last year who mentioned you…..

Wow, he was our roadie!

So you were with Clearwater, was that more a management company or production or both?

Mainly management. They used to sort of jokingly manage us but get us gigs more importantly. They also got us record deals.  I don’t know what quite came first in terms of Clearwater but it just happened and they all got together and with us and High Tide initially.

So in terms of the style of music?

We loved the blues, we’d been born with the blues. And some progressive as well. We put ads in Melody Maker and Bob (James) and Krystof (Justkiewicz), both  from Birmingham, came from that. In the very early days, we had a guitarist, Max Taylor, but he left after about four months and it was strange but we never thought about replacing a guitarist and carried on as we were. It was a bit weird really – drums, bass, sax and Hammond organ.

Hammonds and flutes wasn’t it?

Bob was on the flute and Krystof was on the Hammond. Every now and then he would pick up a trumpet and play whilst on the Hammond! Very strange!

A lot of people were still asking why we didn’t get a guitarist.

Maybe you didn’t need the guitarist?

Bob played guitar sometimes but not as a main instrument, he was sax and flute most of the time. I came up with material as did Bob. I was influenced at the time by blues people like Zoot Money and people like that. We had an eclectic selection of music. Krystof wrote a song which was pretty bizarre called Mother Help Your Child. He’s from Poland and it was based on a Polish dirge.

We felt quite strongly about the whole hippy movement.

That leads me to asking…..I think Hawkwind have an image, even now, of the archetypal space rockers/stoners/hippy band, was it a natural progression in your eyes to move from Skin Alley to Hawkwind in 1970 musically or otherwise?

I left Skin Alley as Giles Pope had left as he didn’t like the direction the band was being taken in by Bob and Krystof. And we wanted to expand it with more lights and dancers and Bob and Krystof fet that wouldn’t work and also how would we pay them? They seemed to put the kibosh on us expanding. On one track, we’d added banjo and it was great and we wanted to expand on the instruments and on the lights and the show and Bob and Krystof felt it was all about the music.

You wanted to make it a more audio visual experience?

Yes, and I’d already decided to leave and Hawkwind asked me to join and I did.

So you had similar ideals to the say UFO club and what Pink Floyd had been doing with sound and lights?

Yes, but we were a bit silly and only realised after we left (Skin Alley) of course (laughs) that we should have sacked THEM and left them to it.

So by the time Skin Alley made their final Friars appearance in 1972 supporting MC5, it was a new band in effect?

Totally different.

One story I wanted to ask you about but you won’t be able to confirm knowing you weren’t in the band then…I heard from friends that Skin Alley played Aylesbury College around 1971/1972 and for whatever reason, the show was running late and the band came on about 10 minutes before the curfew and led to all kinds of chaos with the punters not taking kindly to it!

By then, I had done Glastonbury and moved on.

I wanted to ask you about that. You did the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 and whilst Hendrix was bopping along to you reminds me that you jammed with him didn’t you?

Yes, at the Revolution Club. We had a gig there and we had done half of our set and we noticed a whole phalanx of people coming in and someone came over to us and Jimi Hendrix and Steven Stills had arrived and woud we minded if they jammed while we provided bass and drums. So Giles and myself played with them for an hour but sadly no photos or any record of that seem to exist.

I was watching a programme on BBC4 last year about the free festival movement and the way festivals generally evolved through the 1970s. Having done the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, you got very much involved in Glastonbury. I think there was something like 650,000 people at Isle of Wight which is a phenomenal amount of people and as I understand it, you felt there had to be a better way to run a festival and Michael Eavis asked you to help him with the 1971 Glastonbury Festival.

To be fair, Michael Eavis had nothing to do with the Glastonbury Festival in 1971…..

In that he just let the land?

Yes, and in 1970 he had had a little festival at his farm called the Pilton Folk Festival, Glastonbury started in 1971 put together by Andrew Carr, Mark Irons, Arabella Churchill and myself. The Isle of Wight festival was the catalyst in that we were all there doing different things but we felt there must be a better way of doing it. Later on we met up and Andrew had heard of this farmer in Somerset who had done a festival the year before and that was Michael Eavis. We went to meet him and rented the farm land off of him. Having done The Greasy Truckers gig at the Roundhouse with Hawkwind I then moved  I then moved to Glastonbury permanently in December 1971.

You obviously got to know Eavis well, as you worked for Glastonbury for nearly the next 30 years?

Until 1999.

I know the motives of Glastonbury may be different to many others, but you still had an enormous festival……the logistics and trying to entice well known bands to play must have been an interesting challenge every year!

Yes, especially as we had problems with the licence. There’s a lot less people going now than in the 1980s

But at least the 120,000 or whatever it is actually all pay now! And you must have been plagued with the mud……

With the mud, it was now and again that we had a muddy one. It seems to have got wetter in June!

You were working permanently for Eavis during this time weren’t you?

I had decided not to mix music with festival management, so I wasn’t playing in a band. I was doing odd jobs initially – buying locks, gates, fences, bog rolls, thousands of bars of soap or whatever was needed. Then I started setting up the gate folk so that it was all ready when they arrived. Then I was running stuff in the farmhouse, paying bands and crew and taking money from the gates and putting it in the farm safe. Then we stopped doing cash and I was involved in paying the main bands. Seeing it grow was quite extraordinary.

There was all the politics. The town council was run by liberals eventually but the Tories didn’t like Glastonbury at all in the 1980s when it was starting to get more structured and we were the biggest contributor to CND. And Maggie (Thatcher) really didn’t like us giving money to CND so they did everything she could to make it was difficult as possible for travellers and made it as difficult as possible to even run the festival. Weeks before we were due to open the gates, the council would have a licence review and it would be stand off between Eavis and the council with Eavis saying he’d do the festival regardless. It was tricky, very tricky. Dealing with all the travellers and the Police.

And here we were with a music festival that the local council and central government were trying to use as a political football and using a big stick to beat you with because of whom the festival chose to donate the profits to….that’s wrong.

At the time incidentally, only one guy genuinely played for free with no expenses out of everybody and that was Jimmy Somerville. Everybody else got something. He came into our office and I said how much do you want? And he said ‘I said I’d do it for nothing so I want nothing’.

And others played for reduced fees and the like…?

Yes, but when other bands talk and said they played Glastonbury for nothing, they didn’t. Only Jimmy Somerville did.

That’s an amazing fact we would never know. Whilst the festivals were going on though, you ran Mountain Studios in Wales……did you own that?

The band did! (laughs) I bought it in about 1972, I had a mortgage and all the rest of it and the 1980s I converted a barn into a recording studio. So we had bands rehearsing and recording there.

From what I can see, you had a good roster there!

Yes, it was amazing who came, I was impressed!

You had Thompson Twins, China Crisis, The Slits, Doll by Doll, Killing Joke, Gang of Four, Aylesbury’s own Marillion and another Friars connection, you also worked with the legendary lunatic, Aylesbury’s own John Otway!

He was the first to come down actually. I was in London and I could hear a band playing in a basement and being a nosey bastard, I wondered down and introduced myself. He told me he was John Otway and asked what I did. I said I was living in Wales and converting a barn into a studio/rehearsal space. He said that was good as there had been complaints about his rehearsals and suggested coming up the following week even though the studio wasn’t quite ready. We rushed back and didn’t have all the accommodation in place so we made some and plumbed it all in and put carpets and literally as the last piece of carpet was being laid, Otway turned up.

The album he was working on at the time, Where Did I Go Right, you ended up having a big hand in didn’t you?

I co-wrote a couple of songs, he did a great job and Neil Innes produced it. Otway is a great chap and what a performer!

Otway will never short change you that’s for sure!

Going full circle a bit here, you are in Space Ritual made up of former Hawkwind members including Nik Turner…..

About 10 years now.

I saw the BBC documentary on Hawkwind and it was interesting to say the least! I know there’s issues with current and former members of the band and so on. Who else is in the band?

Nik Turner aside, there’s Terry Ollis, Dave Anderson (who was the bass player after me and before Lemmy) and Mick Slattery the original guitarist who in Dick Taylor fashion thought they wouldn’t make it and went on holiday. It was a pleasure to play with Terry Ollis and Huw Langton and Dik Mik as well. I’ve played with Nik Turner for ten years and I am now getting my own band together and am in the songwriting and recording phase and hope to get out on the road with it later in the year.

Sounds like that will be great!

I think it might be. I’ve given ten years of my life to do what the fuck I like with and we’ve done great gigs and all the rest of it but there’s tuning issues and choice of material issues that I can no longer keep doing the same old stuff.

Seems a fair call.

I have a great guitarist and I am cautiously optimistic about the whole thing. I shouldn’t be talking this at all, but there still hasn’t been a rule book has there? I am just going to whatever it is I do and see what happens.

I had a choice ten years ago to my own thing and I gave Nik the opportunity but he hasn’t got any management strategies together or any discernable plan of action. I’m still going to play with Space Ritual but there’s no work for us at the moment. Nik also isn’t exactly a tuneful singer! He’s a figurehead who’s brought around a lot of changes in people’s lives. Also I’m over the whole drugs thing – I gave that up a long time ago otherwise I couldn’t have done Glastonbury for so long. The way I see drugs are that there are open doors and you have to get there organically without drugs. It’s a bit of a shock to find some people doing the same things we did at 20 (I’m 60 now)

There is/was a lot of bad blood between Space Ritual and Dave Brock over what you do?

Very much so. Nik’s a lovely chap and so is Dave Brock. But Dave is very organised and likes money and gets it together. Nik is more laissez-faire and not necessarily into money and is hippy orientated. Dave is a business man then music and capitalised on the work everybody did back then in the 1970s. That’s just the way it panned out. Nik feels he should be Hawkwind and Dave *is* Hawkwind and that was the end of it really. But Dave does put on a good show.

We had Hawkwind back at Friars last year and I wouldn’t disagree with you!

Thomas, we’re glad to have had the opportunity to talk to you about Skin Alley and your career.

This interview and its content are © 2012 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.

 
 
 

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