February/March 2014

by Trevor Reekie

Moments Like These: Bruce Lynch

by Trevor Reekie

Moments Like These: Bruce Lynch

Bruce Lynch is a musician, producer, composer and arranger whose musical career in NZ and the UK includes recording and performing with a formidable who’’s who – artists including Cat Stevens, Richard Thompson, Kate Bush, Kiri Te Kanawa, Space Case, Spike Milligan – the list continues on. He is regarded by his peers, friends and fellow musicians (especially bass players), with considerable respect, and typically affection. These days Bruce has his own studio, The Boatshed, located in Bayswater, Auckland, where he continues to work on any number of projects and commissions, mainly film and TV scores, interspersed with pure music projects his passion for aviation. As Keith Richards once famously said, musical knowledge and experience should be passed on. Bruce Lynch has an exemplary record of doing just that.

Clockwise from top left: Bruce Lynch. Roger Sellers, Des Windsor, Gary Morgan, Christine Barnett, Billy Kristian.

Who are these people in the photo. Can you remember when, where and why this was taken?

I wish I could remember why. It was taken in the garden area at the back of the Embers nightclub in Durham Lane, Auckland and would have been in 1969. It was a good environment for musicians to hang out. A bit like Mrs Miggin’s pie shop in Blackadder. There’’s myself, Roger Sellers (drums), Des Windsor (piano), Billy Kristian (bass), Christine Barnett (vocalist) and Gary Morgan (piano).

We weren’’t playing together on that occasion, just hanging at Embers. The significance of this particular photo is that it represents for me, a great period of learning and developing the skills that have enabled me to make a living doing what I love. Billy Kristian was one of my first bass heroes. I was playing with Roger in the Mike Walker Trio. Gary was a jazz pianist with whom I flatted for a while, a very knowledgeable musician. Christine sang in various bands and Des was a gigging piano player.

There is very little historical info surrounding the Embers, it was Nic Villard’’s club. Nic was a great supporter of young musicians and provided a great environment for anybody with a desire to play, whether it was folk, jazz, rock, or any other genre. He also had a set up to record, and we would often have afternoon jam sessions with visiting musicians. In the late ’’60s we were fortunate enough to have frequent visits from the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington big bands that fuelled my passion for arranging and orchestration. The days were filled with music, studying, writing and playing.

Back in your formative years I don’’t imagine being a musician was really regarded as a career was it?

I recall an interview with the careers advisor at Spotswood College in New Plymouth in ‘’65. Apparently I would have made a good taxidermist or milliner! (Really!) My preferred options, either music or flying, were not considered careers back then (unless you joined the Air Force, with the attendant likelihood of being shot at), so I was packed off to Auckland uni to study engineering.

My parents were naturally disappointed when I announced my retirement from that esteemed learning establishment, but were very supportive and bought me the two volumes comprising the Schillinger Method of Composition. Joseph Schillinger started a music school in 1945 which later became the Berklee College of Music.

My mother played piano and forced me into piano lessons from age five. I spent a few years studying but my resistance to that discipline finally got the upper hand. I wish that she had been a little more persuasive. My father was a builder, and with his help I made my first guitars and basses. Fenders were simply not available in those days.

So what became your point of entry into the music business?

I suppose that would have been in 1969, when I stumbled into the job of putting a band together for a new club that was due to open in Fort St. I was well out of my depth so I looked to a higher authority and asked Frank Gibson Jnr to help sort it out. I found myself in a band; Bobby Gebbert – piano, Tony Baker – alto saxophone and Frank. Needless to say, this company did much to improve my game. It also provided a great excuse to quit university.

Those were very colourful times, always something going on and a great number of different musical avenues to pursue. The music landscape was also peppered with some interesting characters. There were also frequent tours with international artists, Cilla Black, Neil Sedaka, Rolf Harris and Shirley Bassey being a few I can remember. These people were usually accompanied by their own musical director. They were all reading gigs and it provided the opportunity to ‘look over the shoulder’ of accomplished professionals.

Curiously enough I never had the desire to be in a band in the popular sense. I’’ve always been a sideman with a passion for composition, arranging and orchestration. I started playing in dance bands in New Plymouth while still at school. I quit university in Auckland in ’’69 and continued working clubs, (Montmartre, Embers etc,) radio broadcasts, studio sessions, TV shows as well as arranging for same. The opportunity to arrange for orchestra on a weekly basis was a great way to learn that craft. It is a shame that this opportunity is rare these days. I also started to produce records as a natural extension of the arranging aspect.

I loved classical guitar as well and spent two years studying that. The arrival of my double bass rendered that direction somewhat difficult due to damage to fingers incurred by that instrument. I spent four years in Auckland, in total, before going to the UK.

When you moved to the UK in 1973 how did you get that all-important first break?

Suzanne and I were married in 1972 and that year we toured with Val Doonican who invited her to appear on his UK TV show. This was the catalyst to embark on our big OE. Aside from the TV appearance, the plan was quite simply to have a six month break. I was feeling a little burnt out at that stage and the break seemed to be good idea.

The reality was, that after three months I found myself on call as a studio bass player, thanks to a recommendation from Tony Visconti, who I’’d met in NZ in 1972, when he accompanied his wife, Mary Hopkin, on a tour with Tom Paxton. Tony borrowed my acoustic bass and I was playing for Tom. We had similar interests, both being bass players, arrangers and classical guitar players.

We’’ve stayed in touch over the years. He invited me to Australia in 2008 to play on an album that he was producing. It was great to be back in that environment.

One of the advantages of being a musician in those early days in Auckland, was the necessity to be as musically useful as possible, in order to make living. The ability to read and the ability to improvise, not just in the solo sense, but to be able to contribute something over and above a pedestrian presence to any musical situation. This background prepared me well for my time in the UK. The variety of situations one found oneself was huge. Singer/songwriter sessions, orchestral film recordings, jazz gigs, TV shows etc., sometimes all in one day.

What key ingredients are required to earn a reputation as a session musician in such a competitive environment?

Attitude, primarily. Every time you work with talented people, something rubs off. There is no substitute for ‘on the job’ experience to enhance the solitary hours spent practising, reading and above all, listening.

Is there any one artist you’’ve worked with who made the biggest impression on you?

That would have to be Cat Stevens, if only for the fact that he represented the longest association. It was more than that of course. One of the great songwriters – meaningful lyrics and great melodies, painstakingly crafted into timeless classics. The two world tours gave us a look at parts of the world that we would otherwise never have seen. The association also influenced the pecking order in the studio pool of bass players in London.

Got any favourite ‘on the road’ stories you can share?

I’m often appalled by the way music critics can go out of their way to make cruel and public attacks on artists. These keyboard warriors, I am sure would not venture some of their more hurtful comments if they were face to face with the subject.

I am reminded of an occasion in Copenhagen, 1976 after a particularly good concert with Cat Stevens, which received a scathing review in the morning paper. That evening the entire complement of the band and crew were seated at a long table in a local restaurant, (about 30 of us). The table was lined with plates either side and several bowls of salad and hors d’oeuvres down the centre.

A tall Nordic chap walked up to the top end of the table and announced, “Hello, my name is Sven. I am the person who wrote the review in the paper this morning…””

That was as far as he got. Sitting right next to him was one of our roadies. Jock, was a wiry wee Scotsman, a bit of a wildman and intensely loyal. Jock leapt out of his seat and delivered an almighty uppercut to the unfortunate Sven, who was propelled the full length of the table, scattering dishes everywhere! The table erupted into applause whilst the unfortunate critic picked himself off the floor at the other end and beat a hasty retreat with a piece of lettuce stuck to his hair.

the Embers nzm153Was NZ a different place – and were you a different person – when you returned?

In 1979 I started to feel like a change of scene. Young Andrew was born in January that year, which was also the coldest UK winter in 50 years. It was made unbearable with strikes from the garbage collectors, ambulance services, fuel deliveries and firemen.

NZ had changed, but not dramatically. I was the same person, with a little more experience under my belt. While still in the UK, an opportunity presented itself in the form of an offer from Glyn Tucker Jr. to return to NZ and build a new studio. The studio (Mandrill) was completed in 1980 and was the springboard for my re-entry into record production in NZ. Graeme Mhyre, who learnt his engineering skills working for Tony Visconti, was also involved in Mandrill as chief engineer.

Around the same time, other NZers had returned (Frank Gibson Jnr, Brian Smith) and thus ensued many jazz gigs, centred around the entity called Space Case. Throughout my career, I have been grateful to those who have unselfishly shared their knowledge (often hard earned). Sharing information also has the effect of increasing one’s own understanding.

Your own production CV is long and broad. How do you see the role of ‘producer’?

I like George Martin’’s statement, “All you need is ears.”” In addition, a good music vocabulary, the ability to communicate, the power of persuasion, and a focus to manage a project from its inception to completion.

In recent years I’’ve been more involved in film and TV scores as opposed to album production. This requires a broad knowledge of different soundtrack genres and requires a constant review of what has gone before. I am constantly listening to classical composers who have had an influence in this regard, with Ravel and Shostakovich being two of my favourites.

What’’s the most important lesson you learned from working with some of the industry’’s most accomplished producers?

A willingness to experiment tempered by taste. Use the technology, but don’’t let it use you.

A turning point for me was 1974 at Air London Studio. A Stevie Wonder track was playing as I walked past the open control room door. It was bass part that had me intrigued. It was not coming from a stringed instrument. This prompted me to buy my first synthesiser, the ARP 2600. I later used this to program drums and bass sounds for a Cat Stevens’’ track called Was Dog A Donut. Some 30 years later, I was surprised to hear it described as one of the first ‘techno’ recordings and other musical labels, the meanings of which escape me.

I have tried to stay abreast of the technological developments as it applies to my endeavours. The big breakthrough was the advent of digital samplers. My first, an Emulator 1 was used on Shona’’s Glad I’’m Not A Kennedy track. They have come a long way since then.

Your son Andy Lynch has also carved out a solid reputation for himself as a musician. Did you caution him of the realities of being a professional musician?

I’’m not even sure that I am aware of the realities of being a musician! I have always stressed the point of making yourself useful at the very least, and to always try to make yourself indispensible.

The most important thing to teach a young musician is to seek out and play with like-minded people. Study, practice and play. When you have done that, go and do it again.

Why is flying so important to you?

I have had a passion for aircraft ever since I can remember. WWII flying stories were consumed and model aircraft built and flown. The only diary I have ever kept is my logbook, which shows my first flying lesson occurring in January 1969, and getting my wings in November 1971.

Seven years in the UK left me starved of the aviation experience and I have done my best to make up for that. I restored a 1941 de Havilland Tiger Moth in the early ‘’80s, have since restored another and have other projects that I am working on. It would be fair to say that a reasonable portion of my music earnings have disappeared into the aviation habit. (The rest I just waste!)

In 1998, I had the pleasure of being involved in a feature film that was written with my Tiger as a central character. I did much of the flying sequences and composed the score. A most rewarding combination of my two passions.

The best advice you ever got was…?

I have forgotten. I am also sure that whatever it was, I took little heed.