New Musical Express April, 10 1976
The nude, the boxing glove and the wooden box

…a slightly misleading headline heralding an informative article on BOXER which does in fact refer to nudes, boxing gloves and wooden boxes. By CHRIS SALEWICZ
YOU JUST can’t have missed the Boxer sleeves, I reckon.

£250 a gig, for that young lady. You know -- the one with the sprightly pimples on her chest. She appears to have been modest about the whole matter too. You know, that arm holding the boxing glove at of her legs? Well, it’s not superimposed. There really was a guy lying underneath the delicious young thing holding his arm up.

And do you know something? You’ll never guess. The poor child suddenly went all bashful and demanded that most of the man holding the glove be kept in a box on the floor so that he couldn’t look up her skirt. How charmingly sweet.

Pity for the man with the arm that the session lasted about eight hours.

Two hundred and fifty knicker may have been the modelling bill but Nigel Thomas and Virgin must have been certain they’d milk their pound of copy from it.

Nigel himself told me that story about the photo session in the limo on the way down to Boxer’s gig in Bath. He’s used to wheeling dealing rock ‘n’ roll stunts. After all, he had a share of his very own rock legend for quite a while when he was holding the management leash on Joe Cocker.

Virgin must be fazed by the whole operation, though. After all, there’s not one Home Counties hippy in the band. None of Boxer appear to be motivated by the fact that it might be "A really nice idea" or whatever it is that does motivate the loon pants and synthesizers area of the Virgin catalogue.

Nah, mate, these boys is all pros. Boys halfway to having nice names for themselves: Mike Patto (keyboards, ex-Patto, Timebox and most recently Spooky Tooth), Ollie Halsall (ex-Kevin Ayers, Grimms, Tempest and Patto and nascent guitar hero), Tony Newman (drummer with Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, Kevin Ayers and Bowie), and Keith Ellis (bass ex-Van Der Graaf. Juicy Lucy and Spooky Tooth as well).

IF YOU really want the truth -- and what else are we here for? -- the first half of the gig was so duff that most of the sound-crew got themselves fired. TOO LOUD. And much worse than that, the whole balance was really screwed. It was painful. Before heading off to the bar all that my pained sensibilities would let me check out was that all four Boxers have paunches and like displaying their bodies.

After the sound had been sorted out, though, I did spot plenty of latent-excitement, despite being left wondering why the hell Tony Newman has to be allowed to play the dreaded drum solo. Has nobody ever told them --!--!--

SO WE’RE sitting in Mike Patto’s identikit hotel room. Just Pennie Smith, Mike Patto and me. The TV flickers in the corner. It’s a standard gigging room with a standard greasy, cold, half eaten steak sandwich squatting on a plate on top of a chest of drawers when we walk in the room.

Patto picks it up and chews it to its final death.

Tony Newman’s in his room getting changed. Playing golf and cleanliness -- which is, of course, next to Godliness -- keep Boxer sane. It’d better do: the band have apparently been booked out until Eternity.

Keith Ellis and Ollie Halsall have disappeared in the direction of the bar. When we were in the bar before the gig Newman was asked to leave the hotel. They don’t seem to appreciate Jewish jokes in Bath.

Patto’s telling me about The Day He Became A Record Executive: "I’ve known Nigel (The aforementioned Nigel Thomas, Manager) for quite a while and when I left him to join Spooky Tooth he said to me, ‘Patto,’ he said, ‘You’ll probably come crawling back in here within a year.’

"And I went, ‘Well, look man. They’ve offered my wife and kids and me a huge house with a pool and a lawn and I’ve never had it and I want a bit.’

"And I went and that’s what it was all about. I wasn’t going to go on and do a Mike Harrison impression. I could do a pretty good one, I suppose, if I tried but his voice was Spooky Tooth for me. Mike "The Voice" Harrison, man.

"And I did come back. And I did phone him up from the States. I went, ‘Nigel, I’ve got two dollars, man, and a wife and three kids. Help’. And he flew ‘em home, bless his heart, and flew out to see me -- because I’d started working on a solo album project, the usual crap: You haven’t got a band so you start laying down some tracks with your mates.

"So anyway, Nigel opened his record company up in the States and supposedly I was recording for the new Good Ear label which was going to go WHING BANG in the States.

"He asked me to go and troubleshoot the States regarding all the radio pluggers and PR people."

You ever sat on the other side of the fence before?

"No. Complete bluffer."

Did you actually want to do it or was it just out of desperation because you were so broke?

"I’m always broke -- reasonably, you know. I’ve got a mortgage and a Jag and I’m hanging on by my teeth. I’m quite happy and healthy. But I really dig Nigel. He’s done a lot for me and he’s pulled me out of scrapes and he needed an English cat essentially to sort out what was going on. ‘Cos he’s like that. He’s very English…"

Tony Newman and Ollie Halsall stalk in together. They sit down on the edge of the bed and hold a highly prurient conversation that intrudes on the listening space of Patto and myself.

Patto continues: "When I came back here -- still with Good Ear -- I started doing a bit of producing with Viola Wills. And I had an office and four phones…"

So why did he decide to form a band?

"They came up to my office," continues a placid Patto, "And couldn’t believe it. Ollie’s freaking out. I hadn’t seen him in two and a half years. He’s going: ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? WHAT’S ALL THIS THEN???’ They're picking up me desk and there’s these four phones" -- whatever happens the four phones must not be overlooked.

"And that was it really."

A DINING room has been prepared off the hotel’s main lounge so that our conversation can be continued into the heady night hours.

The band sit around a grey baize card table. Keith Ellis says little. He appears tried and emotional. Patto nibbles at some meat that has arrived with a side-table filled with salad: "Tongue!!! I can’t eat anything front an animal’s mouth! Fetch me a boiled egg."

Now, lads, seriously, why was it that Ollie and Tony were driven to go up to Mike’s office on that fateful day.

"I’ll tell you what really happened," offers Tony Newman.

"We got the sack from’ Kevin Ayers, right? So we’re poncing around. But everything we did was getting screwed on. We were really getting screwed badly -- like the porny film we did with Zoot Money (yet another ex-Ayers musician).

"It’s amazing," he squirms through a mouthful of salad and Moet Et Chandon. "They ‘ad the whole trip in it. I’ve never seen anything so funny. So these guys want us to do this porny film, so we say 'Sure'. We’re glad to take any work. It’s really the pits, you know.

"‘Do the music’. Oh, all right. So they said, ‘Come along to the studio and just do a few effects’. So we do ‘Music For Pissing By’ and ‘Knickers Up Clout’ and a few other delicacies.

"And we get knocked for that!

"So we’re down to a two-piece -- the drunk-as-a-coot-in-the-afternoon club.

"So we met Patto one day. We had a few drinks and I said ‘Come and have a jam with us for a couple of days’. And he said, ‘I’d love to if I can do it with a smile on my face.’ So you got a smile on your face and that’s why you did it."

BOY, THESE lads are really steaming away now. They reminisce about bands gone by, and Tony Newman for example has trod the boards with the likes of Rod Stewart and David Bowie.

He says: "I joined David Bowie because it was enlightening music. It wasn’t a big bash crash."

I have been reliably informed that DB was paying him a cool grand a week.

"Yes." nods Newman, looking rather pleased with himself.

Ollie: "And spending two thousand pounds a week."

"Does that answer all the questions?"

No. Tell me what playing with Bowie was like, please.

"Good. But monotonous. So I left."

What was monotonous?

"Well, it was a pit band on stage. I mean, it was interesting doing the recording; he’s very inventive. And he took a Broadway show on the road -- which is quite something to do, you know. He really did get it done.

"But just playing the same thing every night for 13 weeks is a bit too strenuous. He wanted to do another six months of it and I just couldn’t take it. Nor could Herbie Flowers who was the bass player. So we split.

"We were pit musicians. You see, my association with David was very weird. He’d done all these albums. He’d been off the road for a while. And then I got introduced to him by Herbie Flowers. And he said, ‘Well, come and do some sessions’. So I said ‘Sure’.

"Anyway, in five days we redid the album that had taken him two months -- "Diamond Dogs" -- so he was delighted. And there you go: he says, ‘Come on the road for three weeks’. And it turned out to be 13. Thirteen grand, you know," -- he looks a little peeved -- "I wish I had a millionth of it now."

BACK TO the subject of Boxer, lads. Did you four chaps try and work out any particular formula?

"There wasn’t one person who laid down what the band was going to be," says a didactic-sounding Halsall. "We just came together and we all agreed this was the way we wanted it. It was a bunch of us, you know."

Nigel Thomas chips in with an authorative and managerial percentage: "Chris, you must accept that Ollie is the only guitar player in the band. I think it’s worth saying that there is a problem in this band in that Ollie is definitely considered to be a guitar hero. And that’s absolutely true. And Mike is to a degree considered an introspective typical English band hero. So therefore there’s going to be an onus on those two in this band.

"But very definitely the band was conceived as a fourway rock’n’roll band."

Ollie: "Yeah."

Nigel continues: "And therefore at this point in time it’s causing a small problem to the extent that everybody has to view the band as Ollie and Mike’s rejuvenation of Patto -- which it most definitely is not."

"What’s all this money being spent on, then?" Mike Patto half-shouts. "What’s Patto doing in a zip-up jump-suit? Why aren’t they in jeans and T-shirts playing little blues clubs to a hundred people every night?"

Tony: "Why aren’t they starving?"

Patto: "What happened to our working class heroes? Why are they on stage with all this equipment and lights going BAAAANGGG.’ Ooooo. Watch ‘em fall now. Stepped out of their league now, boy.

"Or maybe not."

"But nevertheless," adds Nigel, almost visually weighing the words in his mouth, "I think there’s no cleaner way of putting it: This band is out there to entertain people and to have a really good time. And makes a lot of money. And that third point is the most dicey to the extent that that’s the most open to criticism.

"But that is a fact and it’s silly to avoid the point. That’s the truth."

Tony Newman summons the waiter and orders several more bottles of Moet Et Chandon. He turns to me: "For Chrissakes, we all know what to do so why haven’t we done it before. Let’s go out there and do it this time. We’ve been dithering about, we’ve been into everything we’ve done -- all of us -- at times. But it’s always been like a little dream sequence, you know.

"And all of a sudden this is reality: that we can actually do it because we’ve got the experience. My God, you know. Just apply yourself and get into it and enjoy it. ‘Cos it’s easy. Just get a good sound and go on and do it. A real loon."

Caption under the not-so-focused live picture:  BOXER aiming to entertain and make lottsa bread.  Pix: PENNIE SMITH



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