Ptolemaic Terrascope
Vol. 3, No. 3
Summer 1992
By Nick Saloman


‘It’s time to pack up my Kimono and move on down the line, pack away my patent leather shoes, pack away my patent leather blues...’

Words from ‘See You At The Dance Tonight’, a track off Patto’s ‘Hold Your Fire’ album. Words with an unwittingly prophetic meaning, because earlier today I learned of the truly tragic death of the writer of those words and one of England’s, if not the world’s, greatest guitarists. Peter ‘Ollie’ Halsall was found dead in his bed in Madrid about two weeks ago. The official verdict was heart failure, but his recent departure from Kevin Ayers’ band due to his heroin addiction probably gives us a clearer indication of what came to pass.

Ollie grew up in Southport, Lancashire and began playing in bands in the early Sixties. Formative outfits included The Gunslingers, The Pawnees and The Music Students (for whom he played drums!). His first recordings were with Timebox in 1966 alongside his trusty companions Mike Patto, John Halsey and Clive Griffiths who later signed to Vertigo and changed their name to ‘Patto’. Timebox had one minor hit with a cover of the Four Seasons’ ‘Beggin’, but basically never really cracked the pop world apart. The name change also reflected a healthy change of direction. Suddenly Patto were blowing all and sundry away with their inspired jazz/rock/blues workouts, Halsall very quickly gaining a reputation as THE guitarist’s guitarist. I saw Patto countless times and I can quite honestly say that they really were the best live band I ever saw. Their three albums aren’t bad either, my particular favourite being 'Hold Your Fire’, although ‘Loud Green Song’ on 'Roll 'Em, Smoke ‘Em’ is without doubt one of my top five tracks of all time. A true classic giving lie to the theory that 1972 was all about progressive concepts and such, it storms away frantically like a cross between Hendrix and the Sex Pistols - quite superb.

When Patto split, Halsall joined Jon Hiseman’s Tempest, replacing Allan Holdsworth - though the two did actually play together for a short time. Ollie cut one album with Tempest - the impressive ‘Living In Fear’. However, it wasn’t long before he was back with Mike Patto in the vastly underrated Boxer. Their unreleased album ‘Bloodletting’ is a real corker, as is the unreleased fourth Patto album. Ollie then became Kevin Ayers’ right-hand man, moving to Spain and supplying guitar for Ayers right up until a few months ago. He played on albums by such luminaries as Neil Innes, Andy Roberts, John Otway, Robert Fripp, John Cale, Grimms and supplied all the guitar parts for The Rutles - actually appearing briefly as the fifth Rutle, Leppo.

Not only was Ollie a guitarist of unparalleled brilliance (I mean it, man!), but he was also a fine pianist and vibes player. I’m not used to writing obituaries and I don’t know how reverent you should be, but I do feel that I have to say that Ollie Halsall was the finest guitarist I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. When Hendrix died I was stunned, when Lennon was murdered I was angry and upset, but when I heard about Ollie I don’t mind admitting that I cried. He was special, and it’s a sad reflection on the music world that Freddie Mercury’s sad demise could fill Wembley Stadium, whereas Ollie’s probably won’t even get a mention in the Melody Maker or NME. But, I know there’s a whole load of people who are going to be hit for six when they read this. Roger McGough and Brian Patten went over to Spain and with Robert Graves’ son, they scattered Ollie's ashes at Deya. They brought back with them a poem written by Ollie some years ago, which they gave to his friend Andy Roberts. Andy kindly gave us a copy to publish this all too brief tribute. Rest in peace, Ollie.




She lives in this far away house
above the clouds. She is so light
she leaves no footprints.
She seems to check on every blade
of grass, every flower.
I can’t imagine what she does,
where she goes, or even what she is!
Is she that child, that girl,
that woman, in the Song?
No. She is in such silence,
cutting potatoes with those small,
unmanicured hands, with such peace
in such unusual fragrance.

But sometimes her music puts fire
into the air, the bluebottle
and mosquitoes pack their bags
and leave, then the clouds come up
the steps to dance in through the door.
Not like me,
who came like a drunken moth
in the night, to where that child,
that girl, that woman slept.

This poem by Ollie Halsall, written six
years ago, was hand-printed for his
and friends on the day his ashes were
brought back home to Deià.

June 9th 1992




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