Thanks in part to the influence of his older sisters, young Ollie became a fan of the likes of Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore (Elvis' guitarist), The Four Seasons, and Johnny Ray. Ollie was a keen Beatles fan and actually attended some of the group's shows in Southport before Beatlemania exploded [in the 70's, Ollie recorded some Beatles cover versions with Tempest and Boxer]. Ollie also had an appreciation of jazz, which he eventually would say he preferred generally over rock music.
At the age of seven, he first tinkered around on a guitar, which was owned by one of his sisters. He also played a little piano in his early years. The drums, however, would be the first instrument that Ollie took up seriously. He began playing for various Southport groups beginning with Pete and the Pawnees and then The Gunslingers. He started playing semi-professionally circa 1962 when he was 13 with a band called the Music Students. Then there was Rhythm & Blues, Incorporated.
Take 5: Have Vibes Will Travel
In 1965, he went professional after getting out of art school at the age of 16. Future Timebox/Patto bandmate Clive Griffiths asked Ollie to come to London to be part of a group called Take Five, or Take 5. But instead of playing drums, he was to be their vibes player!
Accounts vary as to when Ollie taught himself to play vibes, but as Ollie said in a 1972 Melody Maker interview, "Clive Griffiths, the bass player, asked me to play vibes, which I’d never played before. I practiced on strips of paper until I got vibes, then I listened to Milt Jackson records and copied solos." In characteristic fashion, Ollie became competent on the instrument quickly and headed to London sometime in 1965 to begin his professional music career.
Take 5 played their own material and tunes by the likes of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Ollie called it "neo-quasi jazz." Imagine a 16 year-old Ollie showcasing the vibes during an MJQ number! They played regular gigs at the Whisky A-Go-Go in London, but things were not exactly taking off for the group.
The band changed their name to Timebox, and soon Ollie would find himself singing and playing guitar.
In early 1967, they began their recording career on the Piccadilly label with a single featuring John Henry, a US AWOL GI, on vocals. Soon the MP's took John away, and Ollie became, in his own words, "...a seventeen-year-old, vibraphone-playing, singing twit." However, their second and final single for Piccadilly consisted of two instrumentals.
Soon, Mike Patto would step in to assume the role of lead vocalist, but then their guitarist, Kevan Fogarty, quit the band. Ollie, who had been messing about with Kevan's guitar anyway, decided to take over the guitar duties along with vibes. Ollie's first guitar was a customized Fender Telecaster. Ollie was finally focused on the instrument that deep down he always knew he was born to play.
The final lineup of Timebox included Mike Patto (vocals), Ollie Halsall (vibes, guitar, vocals), Clive Griffiths (bass), Chris Holmes (keyboards), and John Halsey (drums, percussion). The band switched to the Deram label and released a series of singles. The most successful was a cover of the Four Seasons' "Beggin'" in the summer of 1968, which peaked at #38.
Ollie sang lead on the first Deram B-side, "Walking Through the Streets of My Mind". In 1968, Deram permitted the group to begin releasing its own compositions. "Gone Is The Sad Man", strangely placed as a B-side to the inferior "Girl Don't Make Me Wait", was the first Patto/Halsall original to be released. It is arguably one of the best Timebox recordings and one of the most historically recognized, appearing on various compilations of 60's British music over the years.
The final singles are notable for the increased role of Ollie's guitar. "Poor Little Heartbreaker" features some of Ollie's more notable early guitar playing. The 1998 "Deram Anthology" CD release included some other previously unreleased great examples of Ollie's growth as a guitar player, such as the track titled "Timebox".
Despite their lack of chart success, they established a cult following in London with their shows that included a mix of rock, jazz, and rhythm and blues. They also began developing their humorous on-stage antics known as "looning." Chris Holmes left the band after the last single was released in 1969. More information on Timebox can be found in the Timebox section of this web site.
Guitar Hero: Patto and The Blue Traffs
In 1970, the band renamed themselves to Patto. Ollie was 21 and had become a fantastic guitarist. It is incredible how far he had progressed on the instrument in just three years. At some point he had switched to playing a white Gibson SG Custom, which he loved and would play almost exclusively until 1976 when it was supposedly taken from him due to being in debt.
Compared to Timebox, Patto played a heavier mix of rock and jazz styles. Their first album for the vertigo label, "Patto", was released in late 1970. "Patto" is perhaps the heaviest album the band released in terms of playing raw, in-your-face rock music with lots of great rock and jazz-inflected guitar work. The Patto/Halsall writing partnership was maturing. Every song on the album is strong. There are many catchy riffs and vocal lines, "Hold Me Back" being a great example. Ollie burns up the fretboard on "Red Glow", and "Money Bag" showed his ability to improvise in a free-form jazz mode. Ollie's vibes also help give the album a jazzy character.
Their second album for Vertigo, "Hold Your Fire", was released in late 1971. Virtually every song on this album captures what is arguably the finest guitar playing that Ollie ever committed to tape. His legato soloing technique had been perfected by this time. The soloing in "Give It All Away" is simply incredible. Ollie's guitar playing was imaginative, fluid, and fast. He was technically years ahead of his time, but he was also musically crafty and knew how to step outside the boundaries of typical scalar patterns and make it all seem to work. Photo by Lucy Piller.
Ollie also showed he was a respectable keyboardist on "Hold Your Fire", but his vibes were only utilized on "Magic Door". Ollie would sometimes do a Keith Moon impression with his vibes at the end of gigs. One night he got a little carried away and smashed them into an unplayable heap. Maybe that's why the vibes weren't heard again on later Patto recordings.
The album also featured the first three tunes credited solely to Ollie. The jazzy "Air-raid Shelter" showed Ollie's tendency to be a bit obtuse lyrically. Ollie's writing ability was greatly respected within the band as Mike said in an 1972 interview for New Musical Express: "Take Olly’s tunes, he doesn’t fill them with fashionable rip-offs from other people’s material neither are his guitar solos in the current fashionable trend. Olly is an individual, and I feel that a great deal of our success hasn’t been because of my visual antics out front...but because of Olly’s great songs'"
He garnered a lot of respect from the the fans and the musical
community. He didn't seem to think much of the guitar hero label
that was being placed on him. He thought the praising attention was
strange, and he remained shy and humble about it all. In fact,
Ollie played guitar on less than half of their next album, favoring the
|Article: Melody Maker,
11-6-71 Ollie's Making It
Article: Melody Maker?, circa 12-71 Ollie's 'Istory
|Early in 1972, Ollie hooked up with Robert Fripp to record an album
with Halsey on drums, Harry Miller
on bass, Gary Windo on sax and Max Von Schmaks on violin. They were called
the Blue Traffs, which was basically "fart" backwards and in
the ignited state. Ollie called it "music to traff
to." The album consisted of four long numbers, "The Russian Medical Fan
Dance", "Peter Abraham", "And He Summoned Up The Tidal
Wave", and "Number 3".
In a 1973 New Haven Rock Press interview, Ollie revealed that the Blue Traffs recordings primarily featured his keyboard playing as opposed to guitar. Ollie also favored the piano over guitar on Patto's "Roll 'Em Smoke 'Em..." LP recorded later that year. Halsey remembers the Blue Traffs recordings to be fantastic, but unfortunately the album was never released and seems destined to remain the lost Halsall holy grail that us fans are hoping will be rediscovered one day.
Article: Melody Maker, 1-22-72 Ollie and the Blue Traffs
In October of 1972, Patto released its third album, "Roll 'Em Smoke 'Em, Put Another Line Out". It was not received as warmly by the fans and critics as their previous albums. This was probably due to the infusion of less serious looning material and the decreased role of Ollie's superb guitar playing. Ollie and Mike wrote some great songs for the album, though, and Ollie plays brilliant keyboards. The album included a version of Ollie's very bizarre "Peter Abraham" song from the Blue Traffs sessions. It is an unusual and entertaining album, and even if one can't get into the looning tracks, it is remarkable at least for "Loud Green Song", which features some of Ollie's most outrageous guitar playing ever.
Patto recorded a fourth album in early 1973. It is usually referred to as "Monkey's Bum" and still begs for an official release. Ollie was back to playing guitar primarily again. He plays some interesting sped up, Les Paul-esque guitar lines on his song, "I Need You". He played slide guitar on "Sugar Cube 1967" and "Hedyob". "My Days Are Numbered" and "Sausages" (credited solely to Ollie) also feature great guitar work.
However, there was friction within the group during the sessions. Ollie apparently wasn't happy with the direction of the new album, particularly some of the more commercial songs that Mike was writing. He was only putting full creative effort into the songs he'd written or co-written. He decided he wasn't happy and quit the band before the album was completed.
More information on Patto can be found in the Patto section of this web site.
Article: New Haven Rock Press 4-4-73 Olly Halsall Interview
In 1973, Ollie recorded some instrumentals using the alias of Rusty Strings. Click here for more information.
1973 saw Ollie's beginnings as a session player. He played on Neil Innes' "How Sweet To Be An Idiot", the Scaffold's "Fresh Liver", the GRIMMS' "Rocking Duck", and Michael D'Albuquerque's "We May Be Cattle But We All Got Names" LP. He even did all the guitar work for " Jesus Christ Superstar"!
|Ollie appeared, along with Mike Patto and a host of "all-stars", on Steve York's Camelo Pardalis album titled "Manor Live." It was released on the new Virgin label in the summer of 1973. Ollie co-wrote two of the songs and plays guitar or piano on eight of the eleven tracks.||
Some other miscellaneous albums on which Ollie played guitar include Andy Roberts' "And The Great Stampede" (1973), Terry Stamp's "Fatsticks" (1975), Scaffold's "Sold Out" (1975), Michael D'Albuquerque's "Stalking The Sleeper" (1976), John Otway's "Where Did I Go Right" (1979), and Vivian Stanshall's "Teddy Boys Don't Knit" (1981, also with John Halsey on drums). There are others, but Ollie's contributions are not as significant and sometimes not even discernable.