Sounds,  July 28, 1973

The flame burns on

By Ray Telford



A BEAUTIFULLY reworked reggae version of the old Billy Stewart classic "Sitting In The Park" bounced out from the speakers and Mike Patto sat back with an ear to ear grin splitting his none too angelic face.

MIKE PATTO: a very happy man
The band were a bunch of Mike’s best mates who are known collectively as Dick and The Firemen, a title which must surely deserve some kind of prize for its unique arrogance. Mike had just breezed in from a session with the Firemen which had gone like a dream and his general air of well being suggests that Mr. Patto is a very happy man these days.

A couple of months back Mike decided to disband the group he’s nursed and mothered for around nine years first as Timebox then as Patto. Patto especially gained a lot of respect from the music business and they were given that strange tag of being a "group’s group" more often than was good for them.

Mike agrees that the main of Patto’s following was to be found in London, though they also found a lot happening for them in the northern clubs, especially The Black Swan pub in Sheffield known affectionately to Southern musicians as the Mucky Duck.

The demise of Patto, Mike says, was a slow gradual process. Their three albums, however, suggested that the breakup was not due to their drying up in terms of ideas and advancement for the last album, the incomparable "Roll ‘Em, Smoke ‘Em Put Another Line Out" I felt was one of the best albums of last year and perhaps even suggested the beginnings of wholly original departures in rock and roll forms both in sheer musicianship and in the songwriting of Mike and guitarist Olly Halsall.

"The first thing is," Mike explained, "was that we’d been together for a bloody long time and there were a lot of internal frustrations in the band which began to get a bit heavy. The funny thing was, though, that nobody outside the band could tell because the music always sounded fresh but Patto had its limitations obviously. Like I was beginning to feel stifled because of Olly’s guitar playing. He’s a great player but he didn’t leave any holes for me to fill up. He was busy all the time."

The idea of Dick and The Firemen, Mike says, is pretty old. He stresses that it’s not a regular group as such for everyone involved is not contracted to the set-up and they’re free to undertake whatever else is made available to them. The lineup on the tapes Mike had been playing consisted of Tim Hinkley, keyboards, Neil Hubbard, guitar, John Halsey (ex-Patto) and Ian Wallace drums, Zoot Money, piano, and horn player Mel Collins. All the guys involved have known Mike since way back and the absence of contracts and the rest of the kind of business paraphernalia that forces outside pressures onto a musician increases the feeling of comradeship Mike assures you that Dick and The Firemen have established.

"The first gig we did together was at Sheffield and it was amazing the way every thing turned out. It was supposed to be a jam but at the end of the set we came off stage and just looked at each other and said ‘right there’s a band there’."

The Patto split Mike reckons has also cleared his head a little and he has been writing with a lot more ease of late. In the past he gained a reputation as a writer of tough, hard-headed songs the likes of which reach a peak on the "Hold Your Fire" album. Now he finds himself writing more about direct sentimentality and there’s even love songs beginning to flow.

"A couple of years ago I was pretty much into one style of writing the same as a lot of other people were and looking at what I was doing then they sounded . . . not pseudo but just a little bit pretentious though I meant them at the time. But what I’m writing now is a whole lot looser and it’s because there’s been a change in my attitude and because of the fact that I’m playing with musicians who I can feed off in a completely different way."

The responsibility of heading the band, Mike says, rests with him alone. He is the only fixed member of the group and as such is eager to see things turn out as near to his aims as possible. For Patto freaks there is reportedly another album waiting to be remixed at Island and Mike envisages a release sometime later this summer: "The funny thing is, it’s the best thing Patto ever recorded. It really is an ace record and it’s a good end to a pretty good band." – RAY TELFORD.


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