Dexys Pete Williams Interviewed: Going Solo, David Bowie And His New Record

Pete Williams, bassist of Dexys Midnight Runners, has now released a solo LP, SEE. Here he talks about the best gigs he's seen and performed, inspiration and going solo.
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Pete Williams, bassist of Dexys Midnight Runners, has now released a solo LP, SEE. Here he talks about the best gigs he's seen and performed, inspiration and going solo.

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Recently teams of not-so-young soul rebels have been gathering around the latest Dexys LP release like some sort of beacon.  After years in the wilderness hearts once again have been lifted by a sound that has been considered somewhat unique. Maybe not so unique after all it turns out. As a starter to the Dexys' comeback main course original member and current Rowland cohort Pete Williams has slipped out a solo LP that deserves a little attention in its own right - be you a disciple of Dexys or not. The wonders of modern media means searching for the rebels is much easier these days, I grabbed PW and took him to task...

Pete, thanks for sharing your time with me - first up, what's a typical day at the minute for you given your solo work and the rebirth of one of Britain's greatest bands?

Every day is different at the moment. I have a week off from Dexys touring and rehearsals right now. Though saying that I did have a couple of meetings in London on Monday of this week and got back in time to see Duane Eddy at Warwick where I met a few friends who make up Duane’s band (by the way I thoroughly recommend “Road Trip” his most recent CD).

Tell us about your recent LP - was this your first solo outing?

This is my first solo record, and though it’s my name “above the door” I couldn’t have made anything like this without the help, talent, belief and encouragement from my beautiful musical friends.

Who else appears on the LP?

Richard Hawley very generously asked if he could play guitar on ‘Black’ and came back to play on three other tracks.

Danny McCormack added his magic on piano, James O’Hara put down some sweet slide guitar and Paul Taylor blew up a storm on the trombone. Al Gare replaced some of my guide electric bass parts on bull fiddle (double bass to the great unwashed and yes I googled it! MJ). Finally Dean Beresford played drums and percussion along with Fred Skidmore on hammond organ and keyboard parts.

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How did you get them together?

They kind of got me together! I was gradually leaned on by Dean, Fred and Al. Dean had been working as drummer in the Hawley band and suggested we try to strike a deal with a fella he knew who had a great studio with a large (1000sq foot) live room.

Where was the LP recorded and over what sort of period?

The CD was recorded over a period of a year and a half at Axis Studio Sheffield (sadly no longer with us).

Did you find yourself working in a similar way to the writing and recording with Dexys or was did being the gaffer allow you to do things differently?

The similarity between SEE and the Dexys record begins and ends with the meticulous pre-production. All tracks were looked at and very basically demoed with tempos (is that tempi?) clocked, with different instrumentation, keys and arrangements tried, before we took step inside the studio.

The execution was quite different. We were tied to the availability of both the studio and people’s availability so most of the tracks were initially put down with myself on bass and guide vocal along with Fred on keys and Dean playing drums - all played together live. The idea being to get a great drum track we could build on, and replace the guide parts as and where needed. Once we had a good rhythm track we called on the different personnel and spent as long as it took to get the right feel for the ‘top line’ instruments. Finally we worked on lead vocals and then backing vocals.

Music really hit me in my late flowering teenage puberty, David Bowie meant so much to me, I never thought I’d be good enough to actually work as a musician. It wasn’t really helped by being told that I was a useless waste of space by my school music teacher.

Mike Timm who produced the CD was absolutely invaluable (and patient) and he did a great job in my opinion.

What inspired you to get the LP out, and did you go via a conventional route (record deal etc) or pursue it personally? 

As I’ve previously mentioned, my boys gave me a kick up the arse and told me to get my finger out! We managed to do a very good deal with Axis studios and Mike Timm, recording in 3 day chunks and staying at Mike and Kim’s place in Sheffield.

I didn’t even think about pursuing a record deal. I spent a few years schlepping round London trying to get some forward momentum with These Tender Virtues andlooking back I realize that was the wrong thing to do. Business people do business with business people, not the “artist” and it started to eat away at me.

It was rough and tough telling my Dad that I was packing in my shit factory job and that we were all going to really try and get somewhere with Dexys. Not a pleasant memory, still it had to be done.

In my experience, most of the industry I’ve met or been managed by have been incompetent, often malicious and play the old “divide and rule” game. I’ve got a small core of people that are helping me with SEE, so far so good. There’s a long way to go though and I’m taking advice from a few people whose opinions I value and trust.

Do you remember thinking "music is for me" and how hard was it to make a career out of it?

Music really hit me in my late flowering teenage puberty, David Bowie meant so much to me, I never thought I’d be good enough to actually work as a musician. It wasn’t really helped by being told that I was a useless waste of space by my school music teacher who refused (in my 3rd year secondary school) to have me in his class.

I bought a bass guitar off a kid in school and started playing in bands, self-taught, I learnt to pick out bass lines from chart hits and was soon playing with older lads in various outfits, “grendle” “zinc” “Adrenalin” chart hits, Hi Ho Silver Lining, Alright Now, Save The Last Dance For Me and so on.

It was rough and tough telling my Dad that I was packing in my shit factory job and that we were all going to really try and get somewhere with Dexys.

Not a pleasant memory, still it had to be done.

It's no secret the industry has changed and it's also widely understood that Dexys Midnight Runners probably saw record companies as a means to an end, what are your thoughts on the state of "the industry" in this modern day and age?

I think the industry is already, inevitably, eating itself. Some things are different and some things remain the same (clichés I know). Digital distribution, social media and the way that music is produced and consumed is liberating and stifling at the same time, but here’s a final old chestnut ... quality will out.

One show stands out when I look back and that was with Dexys Midnight Runners at a small club called Demelzas in Penzance, Cornwall. I can’t put my finger on any one thing it just seemed magical, iridescent in memory.

Traditionally you have been involved in music and bands that seem to forge an extremely devoted audience - both Dexys Midnight Runners and The Bureau delivered records many consider prized possessions, or put another way, real soul music. Is your link with both bands a badge of honour or do you clamour for recognition without the connection? I was certainly mindful I didn't use the release of your LP as a device to unlock a Dexys/Bureau interview but both bands mean so much to so many.

I’m very proud of all the music I’ve ever been involved with and all the friends I’ve been lucky enough to work with creatively. It’s taken me a long, long time to accept what my contribution to Dexys and The Bureau was (and is). I’m not a boastful, cocksure person and both of those bands have some painful memories along with magical ones. I’m just trying to move forwards. I hope that people will “listen without prejudice” to my music, take it on face value without any “ex” member or “former” or founder etc. muddying the listening waters. I want to be involved with lasting resonant recordings and performances. Just try to do the best that I can.

Any plans to play solo gigs at all, especially given the obvious appetite for well-crafted music in a sea of corporate fast-food noise?

I’m playing with my band at The Lexington Islington on August the 13th.

Finally some Kids TV style quickfire questions...

You can rescue one LP from your collection, what one?

Innervisions - Stevie Wonder

Best gig you've seen?

The Sex Pistols Lafayette Club, Wolves S.P.O.T.S. tour Aug 77.

Best gig you performed?

The last one (hopefully) or the next one. But seriously folks... one show stands out when I look back and that was with Dexys Midnight Runners at a small club called Demelzas in Penzance, Cornwall. I can’t put my finger on any one thing it just seemed magical, iridescent in memory.

SEE - Pete Williams is out now and you really should already own it.

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