Melody Maker January 22, 1972
      

Ollie 
and the 
Blue Traffs
      
"It's music to laugh at," said Ollie Halsall, unbuttoning his long leather trenchcoat and removing his green Panzer hat with the flaps as he sat down in the restaurant. "It made me laugh, anyway; I went in there to have a loon."

For sure, thatís what Patto is about. Every gigís a larf, innit? But Halsall isnít talking of Patto. Heís referring to the album he made at Londonís Command Studios last week, him and a few pals. Ollie and The Blue Traffs, theyíre called.

What? Well, he explained, a traff is a fart backwards in spelling, and itís also the moment when you ignite a fart. The album is music to traff to, he says matter-of-factly. 0, I see.

Halsall, lead guitarist with Patto, cut the solo disc after being approached by Bob Fripp for a new label he has in mind, although itís not so likely now that it will be released under these conditions. But Fripp has produced it, and a bunch of people helped out. Thereís John Halsey, Pattoís drummer, a guy called Max Von Schmacks on violin, Harry Miller, bass, and Gary Windo, playing an instrument he borrowed, from Elton Dean, a sopranino. At least, thatís what Ollie thinks it's called.

As the discerning will know, the musicians above all belong to the Centipede/Crimson/Patto clique.

Tell me about the album, I said. Do you want to know the titles? he replied. All right, thereís "The Russian Medical Fan Dance," and a song called ĎPeter Abraham." Then thereís "And He Summoned Up The Tidal Wave." And an instrumental. Thatís called "Number Three." Just four numbers. They run on a bit, he said. Thereís quite a few verses.

Naturally an instrumental. When it comes round to cliques, Ollie has his own thing going for him. Some people think heís the best guitarist around at present. Just slip into the Marquee when Patto are playing. Other musicians, too. Ask Charlie Whitney of Family.

Itís a bit strange, says Ollie, all these guitarists coming up to you and saying such nice things: "Iím just a simple bloke, but I tend to freak guitarists out, put the willies up them. There was a cat last night in Preston, where we played, who said he couldnít stop laughing as he listened, and he kept getting cold shivers at the same time. It freaked a few people out." He shook his head in bewilderment.

Halsall is from Southport, originally, where his parents gave him the Christian name of Peter. He became a lead guitarist via a circular route. He first played guitar when be was seven, but by the time he was 13 he was playing drums with a local group called The Music Students.

Then he was asked by Clive Griffiths, Pattoís bassist now, and also from Southport, to join a seven-piece group he was forming, and pretty soon Ollie was playing vibes:

"I always wanted to be a vibes player. I was knocked out with the instrument, used to listen to Milt Jackson all the time. Griff knew this and he sensed I was a natural musician because I was a pretty good drummer.

He was 15-years-old, and he came down to London with Take 5, as they called themselves. Times were tough for a while. They had one regular gig a week, at the Whisky A-Gogo, where they played what he calls "neo-quasi jazz.

Then they got a break backing Tommy Quickly, at the time when his popularity was waning. They did dates in the north.

He saw the Beatles lots of times before they became famous, he says. Real stompers they were, especially Lennon. Once they used to play the Kingsway Club in Southport and do "Red Sails In The Sunset" and "I Remember You." Fripp, he says, tells him he has been very influenced by the Beatles as they were in the early days.

But, do you know when he officially took up lead guitar? It was at Butlins in Ď67. During a summer season, Kevin Fogerty, their lead guitarist, left, so he stood in instead: "I borrowed Kevinís guitar and started blowing on it and getting into it. I knew Iíd play it eventually. Deep down Iíd always been a guitarist."

Next thing he knew was lead vocalist, too. The regular singer, one Richard Henry, was a deserter from the US airforce. One night, as the band was picking up the gear after a gig, two huge MPs arrived and fingered his collar. They never saw Richard Henry again, but Ollie became the singer. That is, until Michael Patrick McGrath, alias Patto, came on the scene. He blew with them one night at the Playboy Club, and Halsall said for Christís sake join the band.

By now they were Timebox, making a succession of records that by and large were losers. The first one was "Donít Make Promises," the Timmy Hardin song, followed by "Begginí," the Four Seasons number -- the only one to get into the top 50. Then there was "Girl, Donít Make Me Wait," an outrageously embarrassing song which was the idea of their producer, Michael "Teenage" Aldred. "Remember him? He used to dance on Ready, Steady, Go! He was always telling us that a track ought to develop like a wedge of cheese." He laughed throatily.

Wayne Bickerton produced them next, and they cut an album which was such a mess that it had to be thrown on the dustheap, he says.

The last single, "Yellow Van," was a composition off the album. That never made it, either.

So they changed their name to get a new image. They retitled themselves after Michael McGrathís nickname, Patto. Patto the looner. The image has stuck. The band looks set to stay.

Theyíve just left their old management and joined Chrysalis. They feel pretty confident. All the sameÖHe pauses. Heís not sure whether they can ever be fully accepted in England or even on the Continent.

He doesnít know whether they are all that saleable, or commercial enough. In the States it will be different, he thinks.

To change the subject, I ask him what music be listens to. Oh, Mingus and Cecil Taylor, he says. No guitarists? Well, Hendrix at one time. At the start he listened to Django. But nobody now. Youíre always afraid of copping someone elseís licks.

Wait a minute, though, he says. There is someone. Bert Weedon!

Bert Weedon?

"Yeah. Fantastic, I really dug him. Wonder what heís doing now. "Ginchy!" Thatís the word. "Ginchy" is gonna be the word of í72. Just wait and see."

Itís either that or traff.

Michael Watts

Nitpicking:  Mike's last name was actually McCarthy (as credited for co-writing the songs "A Woman That's Waiting" and "Gone Is The Sad Man"), not McGrath. 

  

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