|New Musical Express, November 25, 1972|
PATTO: last of the raving bands
ALL PERSONS UNDER 18 should enter this article only if accompanied by haggard, nostalgia-ridden adults in their mid-20s. Because, if you weren’t into the London club scene of circa 1965, if names like Klook’s Kleek, The Flamingo, The Ram-Jam, The Crawdaddy, Eel Pie Island, The 100 and The Marquee don’t draw tears from your smoke-reddened eyes you won’t understand.
If you weren’t around when Herbie Goins, the original John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the Spencer Davis Group, the Yardbirds, the Graham Bond Organisation, and the Bo Street Runners were on the scene, you won’t know what I mean when I say that Patto are the last of the raving bands. The Bo Street Runners???
"I was in the Bo Street Runners," says Mike Patto, hunched and grinning over a fat cigarette he’s just rolled himself. "I think. Wait a minute – was I? Yeah. I was." He inhales deeply, rocks to and fro for a minute or two, and then continues with his eyes closed.
"We were on ‘Ready Steady Win’. Got wheeled in on a trolley, singing. Yeah. I was in dozens of bands before I joined Patto, we all were in those days – in and out of each others’ groups all the time. Informal.
"We formed a group once, guys from the Blue Flames and all, the immaculate Viv Prince on drums, and went out as the Chicago Roll Blues Band. Just playing 12-bars in C for 70 quid every night. And, one evening, we were all in the van going down to Brighton and Viv said: ‘I’m pissed off with this, I’m leaving’, and got out and disappeared. And that was the end of the group."
Anyway, as I was saying, Patto are the last of the raving bands – but not in the sense that no one else lives it up on stage these days: just historically speaking.
Patto raving has a quality of antiquity about it which marks them out from the looners of today, and their comedy routines are steeped in the British rock tradition of the last decade in a way that the instant anarchy of the Faces, for example, is not – although that band’s been around for just as long.
Patto interrupts: "It’s weird to put it down to just "comedee", you know? It’s completely down to the old rock, where we’re at, dragging the old roots up. It’s a gas loon and it breaks down everybody’s tensions. Breaks us down and them down. Shows we’re human and not heavy metal rock artists. Gets people in the frame of mind to accept it when it begins to get free – when Ollie’s blowing and Drummer John’s steaming. Gives them a chance to see where these maniacs come from.
"Our idea is to do the whole show with our arms wide open, feedback, communication. Cos, once they’ve caught on, they’ll really rock with you on the next one." He tapped a wobbling column of ash off the end of his fag and coughed politely. "We’re not just stupid idiots, you know."
In any event it’s hardly fair to stigmatise Patto’s music as an enjoyable anachronism. In the past few years they’ve laid down some of the most advanced and musical material around, and their new album, "Roll ‘Em Smoke ‘Em Put Another Line Out" is, among other things, a blueprint for a new, supercharged rock sound that will form a far-reaching influence on bands in the 'Seventies. John Halsey’s drums, for example, are enormously heavy.
"They’re quite bright, aren’t they?" Patto agrees, looking pleased. "What we did was we completely chucked the idea of taking the bass-drum head off and stuffing it full of blankets, and taping down all the heads, and Getting That Ringo Sound – which was a gas for ‘67 and all those records that came out consequently, but we wanted more of an open kit with all the skins on and just tuned ringing. And one mike over it like they did on the old Bluenote records.
"He’s a good drummer is Drummer John Halsey, and a character as you can probably tell from one or two tracks on the album. We’re a lunatic bunch, really."
The bunch was put together out of the burnt-out remains of a group called Timebox in 1969. On bass is Clive Griffiths, and on guitar, keyboards, and vibes is the band’s virtuoso, Ollie Halsall. He plays mostly piano on "Roll ‘Em" because the vibes got smashed up during a recent gig ("On a frrreak out!" says Patto), and it’s some of the silliest ivory tickling you’ll ever hear.
The material on the record ranges from an extremely tight James Brown riff called "Singing The Blues On Reds" to four minutes of undiluted insanity on the end of side one, entitled "Loud Green Song".
"That one," Patto recalls, "got done when we had four hours to go in the studio and nothing specific to record except some lyrics I’d given to Ollie a while before. All we had were these five chords, so we went to the pub and got drunk, lumbered back in, and pow! – Take One. And that was it.
"Muff (Winwood) says: ‘What’s that called?’ ‘Er . . .I dunno, ‘Loud Green Song’," So he writes it down. He takes everything we say these days.
"‘Singing The Blues On Reds’? It’s not specifically James Brown. It’s just picking up on that rhythm and on various blues singers. Actually, it’s just about people who sing stoned out of their minds. And get paid. Singing stoned and getting paid is a very weird trip. That one was a single in the States and got banned because they’ve got a very bad reds problem over there."
The tour was the group’s first world-wide gig, the direct result of a successful Rainbow gig with Joe Cocker and Chris Stainton in July.
"It was a gas. Before we went, the biggest audience we’d played to was 8,000 or so, but out there we were doing 15 or 20,000 seaters. The old Hollywood Bowl, don’t you know.
"We had to learn how to get it on all over again, cos it was all ‘Get out there and kill ‘em’ and ‘You got half an hour and then the road crew’s coming on’ – all that happening back stage.
"Whereas, in the clubs over here we usually have an hour and a half and we can do what we like. In the States you always know there’s going to be a guy leaping up behind Drummer John and shouting: ‘One more, then off!’ Very quick business.
"We were using Joe Cocker’s aeroplane. So it was the plane, then limousines to the hotel, limousines to the gig, go back stage and get out of your mind on booze, food and dope, on-bang-thankyou-off, limousine back to the hotel and choose any of the 30 rooms, and people arriving all the time. Amazing.
"After America, we did a couple of dates in Hawaii, then New Zealand and Australia. Bobby Keyes and Jim Price split after the Auckland gig and, when we got to Sydney, I asked Joe to let Drummer John sit in to fatten up the sound, and Ollie joined in too, and they did all the dates in Australia like that. Real beaut."
Patto are back in Britain and gigging already.
There’s a song on the group’s new album called "Peter Abraham" which has a set of unusually daft lyrics. When I asked Mike Patto to clarify them for me, he told me they were about some mates of Ollie who’d played in bands with him years ago. One of them, Michael O’Flaherty, had his toes amputated by a lawn mower during a particularly surrealistic gig. "Great blokes." Patto reminisced, with a fond smile. "But all out of their minds."
There you go, kids: Patto. The last of the raving hands.
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