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Guy Pratt interview - August 2005 - with Brain Damage Print E-mail

Edinburgh, August 2005. Interviewed by Matt Johns

Guy Pratt
Guy Pratt
We had the pleasure of catching up with Guy Pratt this week, for a chat about his career. Guy is currently in Edinburgh staging a very successful one-man-show looking at his long musical career, which has involved working with such artists as Michael Jackson and Madonna. Recently described as "Pink Floyd's bass player for when the band are arguing", he has worked with them since 1987, in the studio and on the road.


BD: How's the show going?

Guy: The show's going fantastically well - it's been frantic here!

BD: Why have you decided to do the show?

Guy: Because I was trying to write a book... I was finding it quite hard going, although I still intend to write the book, but I realised that I just love telling stories. I actually got a lot of encouragement - mainly from Pink Floyd actually - Dave, Rick and Nick were all incredibly encouraging, about me doing it - but have all said that I should have laid into them more [during the show]! (Laughs)

BD: So you've got an opportunity in the remaining dates of the current run, and in the book as well...

Guy: Nah! I wouldn't...! (Laughs)

BD: Are you considering releasing a recording of the show?

Guy: It's not something that I'd thought about, but it is something I might think about. The main idea was that if things go well here, which they seem to be, that I'd then tour it...

BD: You do know that there's a lot of interest in the show - and that's worldwide, too. A lot of people are interested to hear it...

Guy: That's one of the reasons that I thought I'd do this, as there hasn't really been anything like this [show] before - a lot of artists do shows: Ray Davies does a show, as does [The Stranglers'] Hugh Cornwall, but no-one's really done one from the point of view of the "gun for hire" where there's little bits about a lot of people. And it's basically meant to be funny! And Ray Davies' show was NOT funny!

BD: People are going to be fascinated with you being an insider on, for example, the Pink Floyd show, and recording sessions for Madonna and Michael Jackson. The book, have you started work on that yet?

Guy: Yeah, I've got a lot of raw material for that, and I am just pottering away on that, but I doubt that there will be anything ready until next year. I don't know how long these things take... I mean, Nick's book - was that ten years?

BD: Yes, off and on. Will you be pulling many punches in the book, or will you tell it as it was?

Guy: Erm...well, like the show, on the whole, it's going to be a pretty affectionate account; because I'm pretty affectionate towards most of the people I've worked with. I'm not trying to dish the dirt on anyone specifically, it's just that these are funny things that have happened.

Most of the show is pretty visual - that's the problem with interviews; anecdotes don't really translate very well [to the written word]. Most of the stuff I do about Pink Floyd relates to what it's like to suddenly find yourself thrust into that situation, and basically things that you encounter with an audience that size. But I don't want to give too much away because I want people to come to the show!

BD: Absolutely! (Both laugh) Let's have a look at your career. You were very quickly thrust into the limelight, working with Icehouse on the 1983 David Bowie tour. Was that a surprise, to get onto such a highly visible tour at such an early stage of your career?

Guy: That was a complete and utter surprise - yeah, totally took me by surprise. It wasn't that so much, but the fact that everything then moved so fast from that point on - whilst on that tour, I was spotted by Robert Palmer, who then invited me out to the Bahamas. Next thing I knew, I was working on the album he was doing with Duran Duran, and then the next thing was that Bryan Ferry spotted me, and it was all very much a rollercoaster for two or three years.

BD: You were a graphic designer before then, weren't you?

Guy: Yeah, a cartoonist/graphic designer, yes... I only did that for about eight months, I'd never trained for it or anything.

BD: And presumably you'd been playing music for quite a few years before then...

Guy: Yes, I got my first bass guitar when I was thirteen.

BD: And [music] was your father's influence, presumably?

Guy: Yes - it was a musical family. And basically I got a bass guitar because they wouldn't get me an electric guitar, so rather than get an acoustic, I thought if I asked for a bass, there'd be no way they'd get me a double bass, as they are far too big and expensive!

BD: So circumstance forced your way into the bass guitar route, which has probably paid off handsomely for you...

Guy: Well it did, because [at school] it was around the time that everyone discovered rock and roll, and everyone was getting electric guitars, but I was the only person with a bass, so you had your pick of bands back at school!

BD: I guess it's like drummers - they're fairly much in demand because no-one wants to lug a set of drums around with them!

Guy: Exactly! True enough...

BD: So, how did you get involved with Pink Floyd back in 1987?

Guy: Well, I knew David, firstly through Dream Academy, because I'd always played with them, although I think that probably counted against me, if anything! It was essentially because of Bryan Ferry, because I was working on Bryan's Bete Noire album, and David used to come down and play guitar on that quite often. I think through Dream Academy he thought I was quite a good bass player, but it was only when he saw me playing with Bryan Ferry that he thought "Oooh, maybe this bloke's worth taking seriously" because you know that Bryan's no slouch when it comes to picking musicians.

BD: Well, that's right, and you've been touring with [Bryan] recently...

Guy: Yeah, well I literally came here [to Edinburgh] straight from my last Roxy Music date...

BD: And of course, Live 8 as well!

Guy: Mmm yes, Live 8! A very very big show - over 250,000. I mean, it wasn't the most exciting line-up (I think we were the most exciting thing on that bill) and it was a bit of a cock-up [at times], with everything running so late, but I think people were there to be part of the event. "Daddy what did you do during Live 8?" "I went to the show!"

BD: Did part of you wish you were at the London show, playing with the Floyd maybe?

Guy: Well, I probably would've made a very very bad and wrong decision, if I didn't have the Roxy Music gig. Because I was actually asked to play with Pink Floyd. Originally Roger wanted to play acoustic on two songs - Wish You Were Here and Comfortably Numb - and I think David obviously wanted to draw from his pool of musicians rather than Roger's. So I was asked if I'd do it.

For a second, I contemplated blowing out the Roxy gig - this was before Roxy Music [had decided to do] the German Live 8 show, we were just doing another concert in Germany. It was a terrible quandry, because I'd been working with Bryan for twenty years, and I'd been waiting to tour with him for twenty years, but of course my ultimate allegiance is, kind of, with Floyd. It was an ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE! But I think I made the right choice...

Because you certainly wouldn't have seen me - I mean, my whole job with Pink Floyd was that I was there, because Roger wasn't. And if he was there, I'd sort of lost my slot, and I'd have been skulking around the back of the stage like the Phantom of the Opera! (Laughs)

BD: And I guess there's also the chance that people would be saying "What the hell's he playing bass for, when they've got Roger there?"

Guy: Yes, exactly. Well, you just wouldn't have seen me.

BD: Like Jon Carin then?

Guy: Yeah, exactly!

BD: Keeping to recent events, what really happened in Formentara recently [when rumours spread rapidly that David played badly to a bemused bunch of locals]?

Guy: Well, we were on holiday with the Gilmours, because we have children who are the same age, and who are very good friends, just on a "bucket and spade" holiday - with my son Stanley, who is Rick Wright's grandson.

Guy Pratt
Guy Pratt
What happened was, there was a big fiesta in the town one night and David had gone to bed. Polly (his wife) and Gala (my wife) and I, along with some friends, had gone into town to the fiesta. We started drinking tequila in a bar, and there was a band playing Wish You Were Here, which of course was just a red rag to a bull!

Polly egged me on, and so I just decided that I was going to play the bass, and wrestled the bass off this bloke! (Laughs)

David had been spotted around the island, so word got round that he'd been playing the guitar! It was a fretless, and I hadn't played a fretless for a long time, I was really quite drunk so I was terrible!

So the idea that anyone would think that it was David... I mean, David is a wonderful fretless player (laughs) - he is, you know; he's one of my heroes of the fretless bass!

BD: Well, the story that David played the guitar badly spread like absolute wildfire - with people astonished that the locals hadn't recognised him, and that he'd played SO badly...

Guy: I know - it was rather classic! (Laughs) So, it wasn't David at all, it was all rather unfair!

BD: What musicians have influenced your playing style? Obviously you've played with a lot of different people. Who in particular has influenced your style, or do you adapt yourself to the situation?

Guy: I tend to adapt myself to the situation - my natural inclination is towards... I mean the people that I really love are people like Bernard Edwards - I like disco playing really, and Motown playing. It's funny, most of the playing I tend to do is rock playing - with Pink Floyd I tried to invent a very deliberate [suitable style] - if I was changing anything, I would try and do it in such a way that it sounded like it could always have been played that way.

Although that's not true of the '87 tour - the slap break in Brick In The Wall will haunt me to the end of my days, to be honest! (Laughs) I'm incredibly embarrassed by that!

BD: But then you've got to try these things, to make your mark...

Guy: Well, yeah, you do - I was young, it was the eighties! That, and the reggae section in Money, I think were horrific. Although I would like to say that was NOT my idea!

BD: I can see where that possibly came from!

Guy: Good lad! (Laughs)

BD: Certainly, there were a few concerts you guys did at the time under different names - there were the Fishermen gigs in 1988 in Melbourne and Copenhagen, for example...

Guy: Here's something I'd like to point out - I've always hated this; I would never ever be in a band called The Fishermen. The band was called The Fishermen's - it was a name I came up with. It's based on an old Peter Cook joke, where he invented a rhyming slang language, but the joke being that it only had one word - everything was just "fishermen's..."; "see the fishermen's", "got a bit of fishermen's", and you just rhymed fishermen's with anything: fishermen's wife, fishermen's stairs, so that was meant to be the gag!

The band was more the hired-hands rather than the Floyd - I mean, David always loves to get up and play, he's always very very game like that, but thanks to that band, I can never listen to Superstition again! Brings me out in a cold sweat! (Laughs)

BD: Going back to when you joined the Floyd back in 1987, you arrived as the legal battles were at a head. Did that make for some difficult or "interesting" situations?

Guy: Certainly I wasn't made aware of quite how up-to-the-wire things were, until afterwards. I didn't realise that they had teams of lawyers in each town, and it wasn't something that was ever mentioned or discussed. The only thing that shocked me was when I found out that I was standing at the front of the stage, on the left, in Roger's old spot, where I'd assumed that I was going to be buried at the back somewhere!

That was the only thing that really took me by surprise. I was thrilled, naturally! (Laughs)

BD: Yeah, absolutely! But fairly daunting for a young man, fairly new into his music career, and with the Floyd it was a massive tour as well, covering an awful lot of ground...

Guy: The thing with the Floyd is that you are much more protected than with most bands that size, because of the sheer scale of the show. Even if you are not "on it", bang on it at the time, there are 19 other really interesting things happening either visually, or aurally!

BD: Of all the big shows and tours, which have made the most impression on you?

Guy: Venice! Well, Venice, and Moscow, and the Palace of Versailles, are the three that... Well, probably the first time I played Madison Square Garden [in New York] because that was always a dream to play there, from a kid. We'd been playing arenas around America for a couple of months before reaching there, and I was just shocked at how small it was! "I've waited all my life for THIS?!" (Laughs) But that, and Wembley Stadium, always stays with you...

BD: Who would you like to work with?

Guy: Pete Townshend. There doesn't seem to be a possibility of playing with him at present. He keeps on getting himself into situations where he could really do with a bass player but I never get the call! (Laughs)

Peter Gabriel I'd also love to work with, but that's very much Tony Levine's gig, so... I love Pino [Palladino] too!

BD: So there's all these good bass players around, all fighting for work!

Guy: That's why I've given up and I'm doing stand-up, mate! (Laughs)

BD: You've done a lot of things; you've written and composed, done TV music, all sorts of things... Which of them do you prefer? Or do you like the variety of your work?

Guy: Yes, the variety - you tend to enjoy what's in front of you. I love making up music at home. I don't like being involved in record production because that's the one you seem to have to take more seriously than anything else, and I don't really have the patience.

TV music is great because you are basically making pretend film music. "If this was a film, this is how the music would sound" without actually having to do it properly!

It just depends what's in front of you. The last couple of months I've been on the road with Roxy Music, which is a life-long dream, all these songs I've known from my youth, and it's a fantastic, fantastic band - it's great to be working with Bryan, and Phil [Manzanera], and Andy [Mackay]. When I'm out doing that, I just think "God, this is the best job in the world!" It just depends what's in front of you...

BD: You've been doing some scores for theatrical productions, too?

Guy: Yeah, I've written a couple of musicals - both with Gary Kemp. One of them is a big, weighty, adult piece about the poet W B Yeats, and his affair with his muse, Maud Gonne, which we have't been able to get on [yet], and the other thing was a mad old Russian piece we re-wrote called "The Bedbug", which did actually go on at the National [Theatre, London], as part of a youth festival. That was as much fun as anything else, as well.

But there's no money in it! (Laughs)

BD: But again, it's variety. Like the thing you did for [BBC TV's] Top Gear programme, putting together the theme music using engine sounds...

Guy: That was Nick [Mason] that put me up for that! It was always going to be Nick, wasn't it?! (Laughs) The idea was that I was supposed to do it with him, but he was on holiday when it came to doing it...

BD: Well, I guess you'll be off to do your show shortly...so just one final question. I understand you've been working with David recently?

Guy: Yes, I've been working on his album. Which is lovely...just two days after Live 8 I was in the studio with him and Rick, which was just delightful.

BD: I hear that there's a number of distinct styles on the album...

Guy: Yeah, there are. There's some lovely, lovely stuff on there. David's using a different guitar, which has really changed his lead playing in a really nice way. And he's on fine form.

BD: He's got a lot of material ready as well, hasn't he?

Guy: Tons!

BD: Enough for a double album I hear... Tell him that's what we want, not a single!

Guy: I'll tell him!


Our thanks to Guy for his time - we really appreciate it, and wish him good luck for the rest of his Edinburgh shows.

 
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