Melody Maker January 23, 1971
      
 

Bitter Patto: 
two years ahead

 

 

                PATTO: people are easily led
         
I FIRST met Mike Patto four months ago. With his agent he walked into the MM office, a gangling figure in high green leather boots and straggling curls that fell around his face like an Elizabethan wig. With his clothes and roguish leer, he had the appearance of an eighteenth century footpad, or a poacher who had just bagged a brace of pheasants.

We did the interview over half a dozen cups of coffee in a cafe round the corner, and it was one of the funniest 90 minutes I have ever spent, because Patto has a rogueís humour and drollness to go with his King Lear appearance. Having been around a long time, since Eric Clapton was still playing 12-bar licks with the Yardbirds, he has this fund of anecdotes, you see; like the time he got completely drunk on stage when he was compering a Moody Blues-Graham Bond tour and was pulling Bondís moustache.

That interview never did get published, probably because I was too busy laughing to bother about writing much. Anyhow, for a while I forgot about Patto the singer and the band that was named after him, until, at the end of November, they had an album released. It was not great in the sense that it would set the whole musical world afire with the scope of its conception, but it did have a different sound and feel to it, it was not modish, and, above all, it was extremely musicianly. Particularly in its lead guitar work.

I could remember Patto telling me about this lead guitarist, whose name was Peter but whom everyone called Olly. I looked back in an old notebook at the original interview: "Heís one of the finest guitarists Iíve ever heard, but no-one knows of him," Patto had said. "He plays lovely vibes as well, and piano and drums. Heís a freak but heís so modest; he has strong views about what is good and bad as much in his own work as that of others."

There it was in writing, and there it was on the album. Highly jazz-inflected guitar, very clean and fast, and making hardly any concessions to the usual process of riff-based rock music. And the vibes were there, too, used in a classically simple way and without any of the heavy sustain that very often makes them an instrument of torture for the ears.

Iíve watched the band a few times since then and nothing has altered my original impression, although the drummer, John Halsey is in reality not as busy as the record suggests.

The other day Mike Patto walked into the office again with his agent and two other members of the band, Halsey and the bassist, Clive Griffiths. Olly Halsall was not there, unfortunately, because of illness; or maybe it was his modesty again.

Things appear to be moving for them. They are now getting a lot of television and radio appearances; their record is in the German charts; everybodyí is talking.

They are sceptical, though, and quite understandably. All four of them have been around too long to be affected by the whispers in the breeze: the breathless praise after a gig, the talk of big money.

Patto, who is from Norwich, but was born in Gloucestershire, can recall playing with leftovers from Larry Parnesí stable; Halsey worked in a drawing office before playing with various London bands, such as Felderís Orioles and The VIPS -- "not THE VIPS, the Finchley VIPS." Griffiths came down with Halsall from Southport years ago to become part of Take 5, which later became Timebox.

Timebox was about the closest the four of them ever got to any sort- of recognisable fame. They had a single called "Begging," which got into the top 30, but they never had to chance to follow up their initial success. The promoters billed them as a harmony band and they didnít dig it when they turned up and started playing jazz-orientated stuff, vibes and all. They were, in truth, torn between their musical inclinations and the desire for. recognition.

There is still a residue of bitterness about their past hangups. "Iím bitter to most of the business," said Halsey. "As long as we can earn a living I donít mind, but sometimes it does bother me a lot when people suddenly get this massive acclaim, like Elton John is getting now. It makes you a bit bitter, when you've been working for yearsí.

"I suppose itís down to the public not knowing about us, up to a point. Olly, for instance, deserves some recognition, because heís got something to say, whereas most guitarists in this country are the biggest load of rubbish when you actually get to see them. Personally, as long as I can get by I donít mind too much. As long as I can pay the man at the door."

"Sure weíre a bit wary," said Patto. "People, often those in the business, are coming up to us after a performance and saying, you were great, man. But we have been playing as well for years. People are easily led.

"The British scene, especially," cut in Halsey. "The scene here is so tied up with showbiz, even the heads. They pretend itís not show biz, but it is; showbiz disguised as something else.

"Iím completely disillusioned with the whole scene. The thing is that you've got to go out and play, and if you earn a living youíre lucky."

"Every audience is two years behind a band," Patto stressed. "The ideas in our heads now will not get to the audience for another 18 months. Itís sad that it takes so long. People are so impressed by all the show. All the guitarist has got to do nowadays is play high notes, get his foot in the spotlight and shake his head.

"We probably sound like a bitter group," added Halsey finally. "Thatís because we are a bitter group."

He was only half-laughing when he said it.

Nitpicking:  "Beggin'" reached #38 in the charts -- not quite the top 30.

    

  

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