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Home News Off the Beaten Tracks: In praise of Bryn Haworth

Off the Beaten Tracks: In praise of Bryn Haworth

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DURING my early years in journalism, I was lucky enough to interview a number of musicians. I have already described my meeting with the delightful Kevin Coyne, at which he persuaded the future Police multi-millionaire Andy Summers to buy me a pint. The Sensational Alex Harvey was a poppet, who bought me a couple himself. And another fond memory from the seventies concerns a half-hour chat with the singer, songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Bryn Haworth.

Bryn grew up in Darwen, which gave me the excuse to interview him for the Lancashire Evening Telegraph following the release of his first album Let The Days Go By in 1974. We met in his dressing room at Preston Guild Hall, where he was appearing in concert, and he told me his life story.

It was on July 29, 1948 that Bryn was born in Blackburn, son of a maths teacher. The family soon moved up the road to Darwen, where Mr Haworth taught at the technical college and Bryn would eventually become a pupil. At the age of 11 he was given his first classical guitar and had lessons for a year. He went electric after falling in love with the Shadows and played with local pop groups the Mustangs, the Railroaders and the Mike Taylor Combo.

On leaving school he began work at a paper mill but soon got the tin tack for repeated absenteeism. ‘I couldn’t get up in the morning as I’d been out late the previous night, playing in a band, so something had to give.’

At the age of 17, Bryn set out for London with his guitar and all his possessions wrapped up in a spotted handkerchief (OK, he had a suitcase really), determined to make it in the vibrant mid-sixties music scene. He had no money, knew no one in the capital, and was forced to sleep rough at Victoria coach station while he toured music companies seeking an audition. Eventually he teamed up with the band Wynder K Frog and kipped on the floor of their London home. He then became lead guitarist with a psychedelic pop group, the Fleur de Lys, alongside future King Crimson bassist Gordon Haskell and guitarist Pete Sears, who would play on Rod Stewart’s early solo albums before moving to America and joining Jefferson Starship. The Fleur de Lys became Polydor Records’ house band for visiting artists from America, enabling Bryn to make many useful contacts in the US. The band had a residency at the Speakeasy Club, where Bryn once played Red House with Jimi Hendrix during a jam session, and he also provided backing for singer Sharon Tandy on several singles.

In 1969 he headed for San Francisco, forming a group called Red Weather with former Blue Cheer guitarist Lee Stevens. The pair went on to play in another group, Wolfgang, who toured as support act to big names such as Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. By this time Bryn was making a name for himself as a slide guitarist, inspired by Ry Cooder, Duane Allman and Lowell George, and you can’t have much better musical influences than that. He was a session man on several albums, often for contractual reasons under the name Frank Furter.

Moving to Woodstock in New York State, Bryn played on Jackie Lomax’s second and third albums, and met his future wife Sally. She was with him when he moved back to the UK in 1973 and signed a six-album contract with Island Records. At the time, Island was the hottest rock label around, with a roster including Free, John Martyn, Roxy Music, Fairport Convention, King Crimson, Bob Marley and Nick Drake.

‘It was just an incredibly creative time,’ Bryn told an interviewer. ‘Island had a restaurant/cafe thing; they encouraged musicians to sit down, eat and talk with each other. There was a rehearsal studio and a recording studio in the block at St Peter’s Square in Hammersmith, so it was a really good, creative environment. They’d laid it out very well. You’d meet and eat and talk and chat. I remember Steve Winwood saying, “What’s that you’re playing?” and I said, “It’s a mandolin.” The next time I saw him, he’d bought one and was playing it.

‘I talked to Eno a lot, from Roxy Music. He was always intellectual, reading books and talking about sounds and things. He was fascinating to talk to. Fairport Convention, who I went on tour with, were very sociable as well.

‘Robert Palmer was great. He was working with Lowell George from Little Feat, who produced his album Sneaking Sally Down the Alley. He said, “Would you like me and Lowell to produce your album?” I thought, “That would be interesting!” but it had all been tied up with the record company.’

Bryn himself ended up co-producing Let The Days Go By with engineer Richard Digby Smith, and a great job they made of it. Backing was provided by members of the Grease Band and Kokomo.

Bryn and Sally had recently found Christianity and their faith is reflected in the first two tracks, Grappenhall Rag and All I Want.

One of my favourite tracks is Miss Swiss, which I told Bryn reminded me of the Beatles song Two of Us.

He was quite chuffed about that. Next comes the title track, which had been recorded the previous year in Hollywood with Bryn on an instrument called the Harpolek. Here is a lovely clip of him playing it live.

Another highlight is the wistful All I Need is a Home, while the final track, Anywhere You Want To Be, is a delight. It features Bryn on 12-string slide plus the sound of crickets and the ocean. He told me he recorded it in Malibu with two microphones, one indoors for his guitar, the other stuck out of the window to capture the sounds of the night.

Bryn didn’t mention religion during our interview but he did say he was particularly proud of a song he had just written called Heaven Knows. This proved to be the highlight of his second album, Sunny Side of the Street, on which he was mainly backed by members of Fairport. Other favourites include the delightfully northern stomper Pick Me Up – ‘when I get up in the morning, first thing that I do, is slide right into the kitchen, and make myself a brew.’ The soulful Give All You’ve Got To Give was released as a single and received lots of airplay but sadly and inexplicably failed to sell much.

After this Bryn and Island parted company and he moved to A & M Records for his third LP, Grand Arrival. This was recorded at Crazy Mama’s studio in Nashville and produced by Audie Ashworth, who already had some of J J Cale’s hit albums under his belt. By far the outstanding track is the beautiful Moments, which was covered by Mary Black and was one of the last songs recorded by Sandy Denny  before she died.

I love both Bryn’s and Sandy’s versions but I think his just shades it. The first track, Come See What Love, has been covered by Lulu and We’re All One by Cliff Richard. Other strong songs on an exceptional album include Nothing Without You, Sing to the Lord and Summer Wine.

On the next album, Keep the Ball Rolling, Cliff sings backing vocals on Luxury Liner and Standing on the Rock. My favourite track is probably Let Me Love You. 

And that was it as far as Bryn and major labels were concerned. ‘I was – and still am – excited about God, but I realise that wasn’t necessarily something that secular record labels could market,’ he said. While continuing to be an in-demand session player for artists including Gerry Rafferty, Ian Matthews,  Chris de Burgh and Joan Armatrading, Bryn has ploughed a lone furrow, making twenty or so independent albums on a religious theme.

Thirty years ago he realised that his vocation was working with prisoners. ‘As much as I loved leading worship, I wished I could do more,’ he said. ‘My heart leapt every time I read Matthew 25 v. 36: “I was in prison and you came to visit me”. I was excited, stirred and scared all at the same time, but would usually talk myself out of doing something about it, using some really good excuses. The encouraging thing is that if the Lord is calling you to do something he will keep speaking to you about it.’

Bryn and Sally are regular prison visitors and two of his albums, Inside Out and Time Out, were made specifically to be given free to inmates. ‘Working in prisons has been extremely creative songwriting-wise,’ he said. ‘When you’re standing in front of people who God loves to bits, you look for ways to communicate; songs are a wonderful way into people’s lives. Inside Out has been really well received by inmates, and not just because it’s free! They’ve told me they have favourite songs and request them when I go in.’

Bryn has his own YouTube channel, where you can hear his latest single Enough is Enough.

I am proud to have met him.

PS After my Hot Rats piece last week a reader kindly posted a link to an interview with the incredible Rachel Flowers. At the ten minute 16 second mark she begins a solo piano version of Peaches En Regalia which brought tears to my eyes. And she’s not just a keyboards virtuoso. Here she plays mind-boggling guitar with Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil on a version of Montana. Enjoy.

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells with the family dog Bingo. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk

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