Interview for Glenn Williams • Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Steve Holley interview

Interview of Steve Holley
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Glenn Williams
Interview by:
Glenn Williams
Read interview on Glenn Williams
Timeline More from year 2015

Album This interview has been made to promote the Back To The Egg Official album.

Songs mentioned in this interview

Rockestra Theme

Officially appears on Back To The Egg

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Q: You of course were on the Rockestra theme which was an amazing array of Rock royalty. Was it chaos on the day or was it reasonably together?

SH: It was very well together. It transpired because we had been mucking around in a studio and Paul had written the Rockestra Theme several months earlier and he was wondering what it would sound like with a Rock and Roll orchestra – having seven or eight guitars rather than fourteen violins for example with three basses, three drums, three pianos, etc and I said ‘Well it would probably sound fantastic’ to which he said ‘Yeah but who would I invite?’ I then remember saying ‘Well, I would think you could invite whoever you wanted and I’m sure most of them would take it. (laughs) This doesn’t seem like something people are not going to want to do. If I were in your shoes, I would just pick your favourites and ask them’ and that’s what happened. At that time, 24 tracks was the most that were available and that’s what we had so we, as a band, decided to take 8 tracks and record it and then take another 8 tracks and record it again. So we actually triple tracked ourselves which I would love to have a copy of but nobody seems to have. It was a demo just to see what it would be like and it sounded exactly as you would imagine (laughs) but I thought a live performance of this would be great fun and it was originally scheduled to be Keith Moon, John Bonham and myself. Naturally I was more interested in who the drummers would be although I was highly delighted to see Dave Gilmour and Hank Marvin added to the mix. Then there was Pete Townsend and I thought ‘This is ridiculous…what a day this is going to be’ and it was! It was a wonderful time with some brilliant people there.

Q: Keith passed away just before it though so Kenny Jones stepped in didn’t he?

SH: Yeah that’s exactly what happened and so we delayed the recordings. As a matter of fact, we played the Buddy Holly show at the Empire in Shepherds Bush that Paul was promoting because he had recently acquired Buddy Holly’s publishing catalogue and he wanted to do it justice. He wanted to put together the Buddy Holly Story and bring him to the fore again and we played that show and had an after-show party at either Peppermint Park or Peppermint lounge.  I took a Polaroid picture of Paul and Linda and Keith who had his back to me – I’m trying to find it at the moment. I know I still have it, it’s not gone…it’s in my house somewhere but anyway, I took this lovely photo of Keith talking to Paul and Linda, he was saying goodnight to them and then he left and it was later that night that he died. I was in a little cottage in Northiam in Kent, I basically cried my eyes out and played Elton John’s Funeral For A Friend for three days. It just destroyed me and then of course less than a year later, John Bonham was gone too. It was dreadful. The thing is, I knew Kenny was close to Keith and I knew he would be an obvious choice but we needed some time to pass before we brought it up again. It was an incredible day although I must admit would have loved to have had the opportunity to sit between Keith and John.

​Q: The two maddest drummers in the history of Rock…

SH: Yeah. I adored both of them and Kenny too but I knew Keith because he used to live four miles away from me in Chertsey – this was before I lived in Kent – and I had met him at his local pub several times. I had even gone dancing with him and his wife, Kim, a couple of times believe it or not. I first met him at the level crossing gates at Staines on his way to a club called Sgt Pepper’s in my hometown (Staines) which used to be open until 2am. You may know that the licensing laws back in England then were that the pubs on one side of the river (Thames) closed at 10:30pm and on the other side they closed at 11pm which was always a thrill to me because you had more drunks on the road at 10:30pm trying to cross the river to get to the 11pm pubs than anywhere else on the planet (laughs). So anyway, I was at the level crossing gates and the gates were down and Keith was on the other side driving a red…I’m not sure what it was but it was like a 1940’s Pontiac or something and he was standing on top of the level crossing gate going ‘Come on you bloody train! Hurry up!’ I thought, That’s Keith Moon’ so when came by me I did a U-turn and followed him into the car park and into Sgt Pepper’s and introduced myself. Kim was sitting there and he said ‘Do you dance?’ and I said ‘Well not really’ and he said ‘Oh come on’ and dragged me up he was into pogoing at that time just jumping up and down going boing boing boing and then he would fall down and hit the floor. Then he’d jump up and start again; he was hysterical. Lovely guy, a really sweet man. I was also playing at the Playboy Club the night that he, Viv Stanshall and Oliver Reed were all dressed in German military uniforms. They marched in goose-stepping, jumped on the tables…it was ridiculous. I was playing in a band called London and for some reason they wanted us dressed in clown outfits so nobody knew who we were anyway and I’m onstage, looking at all this and it was surreal. Believe me, it was so strange. Vivian Stanshall I played with later as well. I’m digressing a lot here but it’s just interesting how all these people were in and around that neighborhood and the Rockestra thing was the bringing together of a lot of the people I knew on the peripheral but never actually been directly involved with. A wonderful session with a few sad moments – Ronnie Lane for example.

Q: I’ve always loved his bass playing.

SH: One of the greatest bass players, greatest songwriters and again, one of the sweetest people. I think the only person in the room that would have known he was suffering would be Pete Townsend because Pete was letting him live on his property at that time. Ronnie’s Mum died from multiple sclerosis but none of us knew that at the time and none of us knew that Ronnie knew about himself. I didn’t know until much later when I saw an interview with him two years prior to that recording session; he’s looking at Pete Townsend and he says ‘Is my disease showing?’ and I thought, ‘Oh Jesus…he knew that long ago.’ We unfortunately thought he had availed himself of the bar a little too much and the following day when we were listening back to sessions and soloing the tracks we were saying ‘Bloody hell, he’s all over the place’ but it was because he was actually ill and we didn’t know: That was bitter-sweet. I was in the audience at his tribute concert at Madison Square Garden when he walked out which was great. There were a couple of other things for me at that session: Hank Marvin – we had to take a break at 6pm because he taught bible class so we had to put everyone on hold for an hour while he…

​Q: I’m sorry…did you say Hank Marvin taught bible class?

SH: Yeah. He’s very heavily involved – a believer.

​Q: Ok, let’s move on. Let’s talk about the Japan 1980 Wings tour, the one that stopped before it started because of Paul’s drug bust. I have one of the programs for you which I found in a collector’s shop.

SH: That’d be wonderful – thank you. I also had a Wings Japan Tour Jacket but I’m not sure what happened to it. I wish to God I still had it. When I flew back all dejected from Japan, I wore that jacket and the other non-event of the year, I had a shoulder bag for the Moscow Olympics (laughs).

​Q: Everyone knows the story of Paul being busted in Japan in 1980 but unknown is the story of what happened to the band. Did you all have a few days her, go home, or what?

SH: First of all. I came in with Denny Laine from London on a direct TWA flight and we had multiple-entry, open ended tickets for anywhere in the world, First-class, valid for one year. I questioned Denny about it and asked ‘Why have we got tickets like this?’ and he said it was his guess that if the Japan dates go well they will add more shows in another country. Apparently they did that in ’75 or ’76 where they did a tour and then were told to take two weeks’ vacation and then regrouped in Australia or Sweden or wherever. So he  in effect was telling me that he thought or hoped it would be the start of another world tour which of course made me delighted. However, it has to be said in hindsight and with retrospect, Paul wasn’t the happiest guy on the planet before we left. At the rehearsals, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to take the horns on tour as he did in ’75 and ’76 and he had asked us all individually but I was the new guy so I wasn’t going to say we shouldn’t have a horn section and put four people out of work. It was not my position and I would never ever choose to accept that, plus the fact I liked the guys and I thought that retaining the horn section was a good thing; I enjoyed it on the tour we did for twenty-two dates in the UK but I could tell that Paul wasn’t entirely happy with the way rehearsals went to say the least. Then, we were briefed in London at the MPL offices where it was said ‘We are not suggesting that you do use drugs but if you do, we ask you to make sure your clothes are clean, your fingernails are clean and the linings of you pockets are clean. This is a tour where we are going to be scrutinized for our behavior and we don’t want any mishaps.’ So Denny and I flew in from London ahead of Paul, Linda and Laurence came in from New York and I can’t to this day imagine why this happened. I’ve thought about it and you know as well as I do that there are at least a dozen theories but none of them seem plausible to me. So I can’t tell you what happened but I can tell you happened when it went down. We were all obviously very stressed out by it and the brutal efficiency of Japan as well was shown by the fact that when we rode in from the airport to the hotel, there was a poster every hundred feet (30m) saying ‘Wings – the greatest rock band in the world visits Japan 1980!’ They were everywhere on billboards, lampposts, buildings in store windows…it was inestimable how many there were and in the morning, they were all gone.

​Q: Wow.

SH: There was no Beatles music on the radio, the records were out of the stores, it was phenomenal and we were ordered out of the country because of guilty by association. We were with Chris and Mika Thomas  – you may remember Mika from the Sadistic Mika Band?

​Q: Yes.

SH: Well Chris was with us having worked on Back To The Egg and his wife was Mika who was like Rock royalty in Japan so we had a little deception and pretended to go to the airport but actually took the bullet train to Kyoto. We hung out there in the hope that they would manage to solve this, spring paul and that we could salvage some of the tour but after four days it was apparent that it was not going to happen. He ended up spending nine days in jail which was the longest separation he ever had from Linda and I found out later that he was upset because he thought we’d just buggered off and left him too it but that was not the case. We were upset obviously and he carried the weight for everyone but after a time it wasn’t going to happen so I spoke to Alan Crowder (from MPL office) and suggested we move on and he agreed. I told him I wasn’t going straight home if he didn’t mind because of this splendiferous ticket I had so I visited my Uncle and Aunt in New Zealand and my dad in Australia. I got offered a job there and took it and lived there for a while but always staying in touch. Even when he was back in England though, it was months before we heard anything so I just swung around a bit including going to Hawaii and Canada and that was that.

​Q: Are you still in touch with Paul or Denny?

SH: Oh yeah. Not so much Paul but Denny and I played together last year and we’re going to play together this year. We did a couple of solo things post Wings as well. Last year Denny, Laurence and I played together and I don’t mind telling you I got shivers playing with them –it was really great! We were aided and abetied by Terry Sylvester on vocals from The Hollies so we did his songbook  to with a band I have here called The Cryers. It came together to the utter amazement of everybody because nobody knew it was going to happen. We just did it on the fly, it wasn’t announced and we played to a small group of people in Louisville, Kentucky at something called the Abbey Road on the River Festival which celebrates the music of not just the Beatles but the Abbey Road studio. I can tell you as well that I am debuting a band in Liverpool this year which we would like to bring to Tokyo. Me and some friends were sitting around and we thought wouldn’t it be fun to have a band where everybody in the band with every member of the Beatles. We started looking at how that was possible and we have come up with a band with Earl Slick who played with Paul, John and George and has also been with David Bowie for twenty-six years, Joey Molland from Badfinger, Mark Hudson who is one of the Hudson Brothers and Ringo’s producer, Gary Van Scyoc from Elephant’s Memory and myself so between the five of us we played with all the Beatles.

​Q: I think there would be a lot of interest in Japan for that.

SH: We are going to test the water with it in Liverpool doing two nights at the Philharmonic Hall as part of the Beatle Week which takes place on the August Bank Holiday weekend (Aug 29/30/31). The advertising is already out for that and the working name for the band is Story Fellahs and the whole concept is that we will engage in a conversation amongst ourselves, field questions from the audience and perform music which is of The Beatles and then honoring all the individual members. That’s the plan, we haven’t rehearsed it yet but the shows are booked (laughs).

Q: It must be difficult to get away from the Wings tag at times.

SH: I do owe Paul a great deal of gratitude though because without the association, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my career wouldn’t have been what it is. I’m not denying myself or belittling myself because I work very hard to do what I do and I will continue to make an enormous amount of records in areas that people don’t even realize. I’m picking up an award this week for my work with Blues music. I’ve made over fifty albums in that category and people don’t even know I’ve done that. I’ve played on records with Joe Louis Walker, Charlie Musselwhite, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Phoebe Snow, Johnnie Johnson…I have a huge body of material in the Blues and Southern Rock area and that’s just what I am; a journeyman and I record nearly every day. It’s funny for me because I talk about working with Paul more than anything  – I played with Elton John and Joe Cocker as well – but Mr. McCartney eclipses it all. I am aware of that but I was hesitant to capitalize on it and I remain that way but on the other hand, as it’s been put to me, there is no pretence here. It’s was not a cover band, I was there, doing it, I was part of it and it’s true and there are not many people left that can say that.

​Q: You could never be accused of capitalizing given that you’ve waited some thirty years before playing the music again. Revisiting would probably be a better word.

SH: Yeah. Revisiting or honoring if that is at all possible. One of the things I always felt when the band was over was that that was the time we were in a situation to do something really good but then again, if you think of the longevity of The Beatles which was just a little under ten years, it was the same with Wings. I think Paul just gets itchy after that amount of time and as we all do, wants to do something else – that’s a very natural turn of events. I didn’t like finding out about it from a newspaper which is what happened – I found out that the band had been disbanded from the London Evening Standard which came through my letterbox but that’s the only fly in the ointment in that whole thing. I called him on it immediately and he apologized saying that he had been meaning to call. It’s all understandable and his reason for the band being dispersed by the way was that he wanted to work with George Martin again and George Martin wanted to work with Paul but not within the constraints of Wings which is very plausible.

​Q: That’s all part of being a musician though isn’t it?

SH: It is. My feeling was though that Paul just couldn’t bring himself to tell us because it would destroy us but in actuality, not knowing is more harmful than being told. If I had been told like that initially I would have said ‘I understand.’ I would have been disappointed but I would have understood. There’s certainly no hard feelings or regrets between us and in fact Wings breaking up as it did gave me a lot of other opportunities as I mentioned last month.

Last updated on January 27, 2020


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