Gary James' Interview With
Ian Gomm




He was the rhythm guitarist for Brinsley Schwarz. He was so good at his job that in 1971 New Musical Express named him Best Rhythm Guitarist. He toured with Dire Straights on their "Sultan Of Swing" tour. He co-wrote the hit "Cruel To Be Kind" with Nick Lowe. If you're thinking that sounds like Ian Gomm you're writing about, you'd be right! Ian Gomm spoke with us about his life in music.

Q - You have a CD out with Jeb Loy Nichols titled "Only Time Will Tell". Is that your latest CD? And besides talking to guys like me, how are you helping to promote it?

A - It's a couple of years old now. It was the last serious project I did. I've been very lucky in the music business. I've had a few hits and I've had some success, but it's got to the stage now where I got a feeling where there's too many people doing it.

Q - I say that every day!

A - There's a market there that can only satisfy so many things and its got to the stage I think where it doesn't matter whether you're good or bad. I think I'm bloody great! But it doesn't matter because you're just bumping into everybody else.

Q - You have a name and strong credits behind that name. But every day there's just too much product being released. A person can't keep up with it all.

A - The trouble is when I hear them. I must have sixty years worth of music in my head. I have a very musical brain. (laughs) I can remember so many things musically and I've gotten to the stage where I've heard all this. (laughs) That's been done. That's been done. In fact, it does tickle me sometimes when I hear a song, yeah, okay, forty years ago, but you're playing it inside out and backwards, but it's the same thing.

Q - It does seem like there's nothing new under the sun. Everything that could be done in Rock 'n' Roll has been done.

A - When I started Gary, I was in a school band. There were instrumental groups here (England), The Shadows, but I liked The Ventures, the American group, the instrumental group. That's what triggered me. In those days, to be in a group in London you really to wanted to do it. I'm not Jewish, but I was in a Jewish group. All those other groups were Jewish. They wanted me 'cause I was a really good guitarist and I wanted to be with them 'cause they had a Fender Statocaster and I couldn't afford one. (laughs) But the bass player's mother had a gown shop, chain of gown shops in London. She actually drove around one night to try and persuade my parents to get me to persuade their son to stop doing this crazy Rock music. (laughs) "He's got to concentrate on the gown business." Do you see what I mean?

Q - I do. And so, what happened with the kid?

A - In the end I think he did.

Q - I take it the gown business is still around?

A - I think it's still going. The last time I spoke to this guy he had a huge house in Chelsea, which is a rich area of London, with his own swimming pool. He was doing alright! (laughs)

Q - When you say gown business, in the States we would call it wedding gown design business?

A - Well, that sort of thing, ladies fashion shall we say.

Q - There is a lot of money in that line of work.

A - Well, yes there is. Being in groups at school, I actually did a five year engineering apprenticeship to become a draftsman. Funny enough, I did it with E.M.I. who had all The Beatles stuff. They used to make television cameras. They pressed all the records. I was with them for about five years. I kept meeting these middle-aged guys who had been working in factories and offices. I was saying to them, "I'd really like to do music full-time." They were always saying to me, "When I was your age I could have been a professional football player. I wish I had done it now." And I thought I don't want to be like that. So, one day I just quit, (laughs) and joined this group called Brinsley Schwarz. I thought I don't want to be middle-aged and saying I wish I had become a professional musician without trying it. I thought if I try it and I fail I can still go back to what I just left.

Q - Right. You didn't want to have regrets.

A - That's the one, and I haven't now. It's the best thing I ever did.

Q - There you go. You followed your dreams and your passion.

A - Yeah, but the thing is I don't believe that these days it's not the same idea. Over here, there's lots of young kids. They don't want to put in a lot of time in learning how to do it. (laughs) Sampling was a great thing, wasn't it? You can just sit in your own bedroom and create music with your computer. Young kids think they want to do it, but there's hardly any money in it, Gary. In fact, if they think they're going to do it for the rest of their lives is just stupid 'cause you won't.

Q - If you're Rhianna or Beyonce or Taylor Swift you make your money off of endorsement deals. You have cosmetic company deals, shampoo company deals, and you have your own clothing line. That's where the money is.

A - I recorded an album, "Turn Of The Century" in Nashville 'cause I've always wanted to go to Nashville with a friend of mine. He was in a group called The Amazing Rhythm Aces. They had "Third Rate Romance". I went with them to the Grand Ole Opry.

Q - Lucky you!

A - It was so funny 'cause I was just hanging on 'cause I was recording at Jack Clements Studio with this guy called David Ferguson. He was Johnny Cash's engineer in his later days. I was hanging around these lads at the Grand Ole Opry and the guy who wrote "Act Naturally". Ringo recorded it.

Q - Buck Owens.

A - Was it? Whoever it was. He was doing the comparing, the emceeing. The Amazing Rhythm Aces waited thirty years to appear at the Grand Ole Opry because the didn't think they were Country enough. They had all their family in the audience. They came on stage and it must've been Buck Owens and he said, "And they they are, The Rhythm Aces. I was standing at the side of the stage and I shouted really loud, "And they're amazing!" (laughs)

Q - And the audience did what?

A - I think they got it. A most peculiar place, oh, dear.

Q - Back in 1971, New Musical Express named you Best Rhythm Guitarist. You don't hear much anymore about rhythm guitarists. At one time there was John Lennon and Brian Jones. Now it's lead guitar all the way. What happened to rhythm guitar players?

A - I was in a lot of three piece groups, bass, drums and guitar, and I sang. So, you end up having to develop a style that is like playing rhythm and lead all in one. I was in this group, Brinsley Schwarz, and we had two guitarists. So, I concentrated on doing the rhythm and fill-ins all while Brinsley Schwarz himself played the solos. But I must have been pretty good. C'mon, Gary!

Q - You must've been!

A - (laughs)

Q - You were voted The Best Rhythm Guitarist of 1971!

A - I couldn't argue with it, could I? (laughs)

Q - No, you couldn't. Take every award you can get! Get that recognition.

A - Yes, thank-you very much.

Q - In the 1960s your group, and I don't know what group that was, was playing the same clubs The Rolling Stones were playing.

A - That's it. The same R&B clubs.

Q - Was that Brinsley Schwarz?

A - No, that was me. I might've even been in school then.

Q - Are we talking about The Marquee Club?

A - No. I was in a three piece Tamla-Motown group. Get your head around that, singing with a London accent. (laughs) We were playing this place called the Kew Boathouse, near the Thames in West London by Kew Gardens, which is a big botanical garden. We were the support group. So, we were stuck in the corner of this room. It was packed. It was like a ballroom. We were stuck not on the stage but in the corner by the radiators. We did our Top Ten, Tamla-Motown stuff, right? Then the main group that evening was Pink Floyd. They were just starting out. Syd Barrett was alive then and they were playing. Their light show was a blue bulb on either side of the stage, flashing. (laughs) That was their light show, on and off. The crowd, in those days we used to called them Bubba boys. They were lads with braces and big boots. They didn't like this 'cause it was very new. What Pink Floyd was doing was like experimental. They didn't like this. So, in the end they were throwing coins at them and booing. Eventually, one of these lads jumped on stage and he pulled the microphone out of Roger Waters' hands and shouted, "This group is shit! We want the other group!" There was going to be a riot. We were forced to go and play again, but I felt really bad 'cause I was enjoying Pink Floyd. When they booed this embryonic Pink Floyd off stage, I often think to myself, who had the last laugh? (laughs) I think they did.

Q - I wonder what would have happened had you befriended Roger Waters?

A - That's very true. Before The Who were The Who they were The High Numbers. Before then they were Del Angels And The Detours. Del Angels was the lead singer. His brother was the drummer. Roger Daltry was the lead guitarist. Pete Townshend was the rhythm guitarist and John Entwistle was the bass. They eventually went on to become The Who. They swapped over and Roger Daltry became the singer and they got Keith Moon in. But Roger Daltry was was the same as me. He had an engineering background. He was working in factories and he'd made his own guitar. Actually made his own electric guitar. He said to me backstage one night, "I'm fed up with this guitar. Do you want to buy it?" Why didn't I buy it, Gary? (laughs)

Q - Who knew? You would've been set for life.

A - I know. (laughs) If you've got a time machine, I know what to do now.

Q - I actually did an interview with someone on time travel who says it's been done and will be available to people in the future.

A - Well, if it's true you better warn my first manager when I went solo that I'm coming after him. (laughs)

Q - Was he a famous manager?

A - Over here (England) he was. He had everything off me. You've heard it all before.

Q - Have I ever!

A - Do you know the funniest thing is when Keith Richards was asked, "How would you describe your time with Allen Klein?" He said, "You've got to pay for your education." (laughs) He had The Stones for about a year and he bled them dry. So, I had my education. My wife used to say to me, "How come your manager has a yacht and an Aston Martin, and we're driving around in this old, battered Ford Cortine?" (laughs)

Q - Because you're dong all the work!

A - Yeah. (laughs)

Q - Musicians should have some business college in their background. Maybe then this wouldn't keep happening.

A - Well, the most successful groups are the ones that have been robbed the first time and they have a second bite at the cherry 'cause they know what to do, don't they? Do you know what I mean? The Stones know what to do now. They make millions because you just don't let it happen.

Q - Some groups just don't have that second chance.

A - The Stranglers, I don't think they were very big in America, they had the same manager as me and they got ripped off as well. But they had the second bite at the cherry and they did really well after that.

Q - Did you ever meet The Stones?

A - I met Keith Richards once when I was in Brinsley Schwarz. That was the first professional group I was in. I was with them for about six years I think. We were booked to play, I think it was in 1973, at The Hard Rock Cafe, their first outlet in London. It's a familiar thing, isn't it?

Q - It certainly is, yeah.

A - Well, they opened their first club in London. The Brinsley Schwarz group were booked to play on that night. So, we were playing and also in the audience happened to be Paul and Linda McCartney. They liked us so much we were invited to be the support group when Paul formed Wings. He did two U.K. tours of Britain, Paul McCartney And Wings, and we were the support act. We used to travel around with him on the same couch. I used to sit next to Paul and talk to him.

Q - And what was that like?

A - How can I put it? I just think people are people. (laughs) They were just a couple and they fell out every now and then. Say you're on a couch in London and you're driving up to Manchester, which is about 250 miles or something. So, you're on a couch for about three or four hours. I'm thinking he's sitting up there alone 'cause they've had a little tiff or something, like Linda is sitting alone. I'll go have a chat with him. It developed into this thing where it was quite interesting. (laughs) He was okay.

Q - What would you two guys talk about?

A - Just life.

Q - Would he talk at all about The Beatles to you?

A - A little bit. We would start talking and I think you would just forget. You're just two people. We were just two people talking. As soon as he got back off the motorway, which is the freeway, into the outskirts of Manchester, say I was talking to him once and he had his back to the window. The coach stopped and there was a bus, people cueing for the bus. I'm looking at Paul, talking to him, but behind him in the street everybody's going, "It's Paul McCartney." Do you see what I mean?

Q - I do.

A - At which stage you say I've got to stop now because you've got to be Paul McCartney. (laughs) Everywhere he went. He'd check into a hotel. It was like he was always on holiday. "Mr. McCartney. Pleased to see you!" (laughs) I can tell you a story he told me once. Well, it doesn't matter. What do I care? It was a long time ago. He told me this story: He wrote this song. He bought this house up in Scotland called the Mull of Kintyre. You know the song he wrote?

Q - I know it.

A - On this Wings tour, when they got together to start, they used to just travel around in a coach with all their equipment. And say they used to go to a university in Britain and they'd turn up in the afternoon and say, "Paul McCartney and Wings would like to play at your university tonight. Would you do it?" And of course they did. Then he went over to Europe. He did a few things in Europe trying to get the feel of playing 'live' again, yeah? He told me, "The funny thing was, there was these two American girls, they were fans, it was uncanny we didn't even know where we were going to play that night, but they'd always be there. We'd be in Europe and they would be there." They bought this little cottage up in Scotland just to get away from everything. It was just hills and scenery. Just quiet. Nothing happened at all. The first morning he said, "I got up, I went to make a cup of tea, standing in the little kitchen and looked out the window and on the skyline on the other side of the valley I saw these two figures." He said, "It's these girls! It's like being stalked." He said, "I shouldn't really tell you, but I just had enough of it. I walked all the way across the valley, up to the top where these two girls were and said, look girls, fuck off!" (laughs) He said, "It's the hardest thing to do to tell your adoring fans to just leave you alone."

Q - And what did the two girls do?

A - I think they went, they were so shocked.

Q - And he never saw them again?

A - I don't think so.

Q - They weren't teenage girls, were they?

A - Older. It's just fan worship, isn't it?

Q - It's even worse than that.

A - He said it was getting bizarre.

Q - You have to remember what is it they wanted and more importantly how did they know where he was all the time?

A - They must have been stalking him. When we were on this coach, goin' 'round, we'd stop at what we called motorway services where you fill up with petrol and all that. His coach would always park at the far end of the car park 'cause they wanted to get out and stretch their legs and all that. But he could never go anywhere. With his fame he could never go anywhere normally. He started taking his kids 'round with him as well. They're big girls now. I think they were four or five years old. I've got kids as well. This little girl got out to stretch her legs and I said, "I'm going to go over to the shop over there, right over there by the other end of the car park and buy some sweets." I said, "Would you like me to get you anything?" They said, "Oh, yeah," and gave me a little list of what they wanted. So I said, "Okay, got some money?" And you know what they said? They said, "We don't have money."

Q - Probably because everyone gives them things for free.

A - No, because they've been kidnapped and everything. That's when you actually think this is a totally different world from my world. I'm speaking too much about Paul McCartney. There you go.

Q - Back to Keith Richards.

A - That's what I was trying to get to. At the end of the second tour they had an all-star party in London to celebrate his comeback or something. Me and my wife were all invited. We actually played there. That night we did a triple. We opened at the Hammersmith Odeon for Wings. Then we went and played a Pub Rock gig all evening, another pub. Then we went to the Cafe Royale in the center of London. We said, "Oh, there's a little stage there." So we brought all our gear in, all our amps and everything and the drum kit. We went into this room, and can you imagine a room filled with peacocks? It was like the things I studied in the music papers. Everybody was there. You had a look around this room, Neil Sedaka, Rod Stewart, Elton John. They're so used to people looking at them that they're all lost in a way. They were more interested in who we were. Keith Richards was there. Oh, Marc Bolen was there. Marc Bolen carried some tom-toms up the stairs to the gig. Somebody handed Keith Richards a joint and he took a couple of puffs and he handed next to the person standing next to me. He said, "Here you are. I've got leprosy." (laughs)

Q - When Paul McCartney would show up at a university to play would he negotiate the price to play?

A - I don't know. He didn't care about the price. He was doing it 'cause The Beatles gave up 'cause they couldn't play 'live'. And he enjoyed doing it. In fact, I'll tell you another story. One night, up in I think it might have been Manchester, he had like a personal assistant, like a road manager who had been with him for years. A minder. Someone who looked after him. We were talking and he said, "It's such a shame Paul doesn't sing any Beatles songs anymore 'cause he's got a mental block about it." So, we sort of came up with this plan. We had a sort of a little party in one of the hotel rooms. There was about eight people in the room. Two bottles of whiskey appeared and two guitars. (laughs) So, being like I am, I grabbed one of them and he grabbed the other, the acoustics (guitars). Now he could play 'cause he's left-handed, he could play that guitar back to front. So, we started playing and singing old Rock 'n' Roll songs. He had a few whiskeys. We were all a bit loose. Then his personal (assistant) gave me a wink and said, "Now," 'cause we'd set it all up. I started playing "Love Me Do". He got half-way through. I suddenly realized he couldn't remember the middle eight. So he's looking at me for the chord shapes. (laughs) We must've unlocked something 'cause he started doing Beatle songs after. It was just like a mental block in his head. "I don't want to do 'em. I don't want to do 'em."

Q - Brinsley Schwarz was popular in the U.K., Holland, Ireland and Germany. How popular were you in the U.S.?

A - Well, that was the point. We split up because we wanted to go to America. From 1970 to 1975, non-stop touring Europe, Britain. Once you've been back to the same places every nine months to the same gig it just get like a constant deja vu and you can't break out of it. Island Records offered us a contract that would involve us moving to America and we thought, "Why that's the next move, isn't it? That'll be great!" But our record company over in Britain, United Artists did the usual thing, "We won't release you from your contract. You owe us a couple more albums," and we were so fed up with it all and I think we just gave up in the end. If we went with Island Records, the five albums that United Artists had would sell in America! I'm not kidding. We used to say if it was any other business they would be out of business.

Q - Did you support Dire Straights on tour?

A - It was a five week "Sultan Of Swing" tour.

Q - As part of Brinsley Schwarz?

A - No. I had a Top 20 hit, me. "Hold On" it was called. It was a bloody good record. It actually started climbing the charts the second time as I was touring with Dire Straights. It was quite funny actually. After the gigs we used to go to the Holiday Inns and all that. We'd be in the bar and I had my teenage fans, Gary, all these young girls. I had three of 'em come backstage once. This girl lifted her t-shirt up and said, "Sign these Ian." (laughs)

Q - And did you?

A - I said, "I'll try. My hand is trembling so much." (laughs) I did sign 'em though, Gary. (laughs) It was quite funny though, isn't it? We used to, in the bar at the Holiday Inn about midnight after the gigs, Dire Straights would be at one end of the bar and my band would be at the other side of the bar. Those girls would come in and say, "Where's Ian?" Dire Straights got fed up because they thought they were the ones who should be pestered by young girls and they'd say, "Oh, he's down at the other end of the bar." So, they'd come down to me and say, "Where's Ian?" I'd say, "Oh, he's gone to bed. He's boring. You'd hate him. (laughs) But that's Dire Straights down there." And I'd send 'em back down there again.

Q - Dire Straights were playing to 20,000 people a night at that time, weren't they?

A - Yeah.

Q - That must've helped your career out quite a bit, performing in front of those crowds night after night?

A - Well, it did. It was going really well. We had to go back and do a second tour with just me headlining. But, you know the way these things go, Gary. It was Stiff Records that did a deal with Epic Records in America. So, it was Stiff/Epic Records. Epic Records. If you tour you don't make a lot of money, so the record company helps you out. So we had, don't laugh, ARSE Management in New York. So, Epic gave them the tour money who promptly did a runner with it. So, my career was abruptly halted because Epic said, "You've told us to give the tour money to these people. They've run off with the money. We can't give you any more."

Q - It must have been a substantial amount of money then.

A - Yes.

Q - You had no legal recourse?

A - They're crooks. (laughs) I'm lucky to be alive. I'm the sort of guy that just laughs at it. You either laugh or cry.

Q - You co-wrote that song "Cruel To Be Kind" with Nick Lowe. How long did it take you to write that song?

A - It was about three quarters of an hour. Around a kitchen table in our communal kitchen. We wrote quite a few songs together, but generally in the late evening. Just a couple of guitars. Sometimes the most successful ones happen really easily. But it's all luck, isn't it? It's all luck because I mean, Nick Lowe had a big hit with it. But he wasn't going to do it. We did it in the Brinsley Schwarz group. We recorded it. He had a deal with Columbia, CBS and the guy in charge of the A&R there said they wanted him to do "Cruel To Be Kind" 'cause they'd heard the Brinsley Schwarz version of it. Nick said he didn't want to do it so they forced him to do it. They said, "Do this or there's no deal." So, he was forced to record it and then that was his biggest hit. And I'm so grateful he recorded it! (laughs) It's the best three quarters of an hour I've ever spent around a kitchen table. I've got four children and they've never starved.

Q - Now you've got to sit down and write another song like that!

A - If only it was that easy. I've had my moments. Glen Campbell did one of my songs.

Q - Which one did he record?

A - It's called "Hooked On Love". Unfortunately it was during the height of his cocaine addiction. He took it a rather fast tempo. But my proudest one was Phil Everly. He did one of my songs, a song called "Louise". The fourth 45 record I bought when I was a teenager was "Cathy's Clown" by The Everly Brothers. Then, to go around a circle where he's actually dong my song?! (laughs) Fantastic!

Q - We talked so much in this interview about Paul McCartney that I wanted to add that Paul was being interviewed some years back by Bernard Goldberg. He asked him where these songs came from and it's the only time I saw Paul flinch. I don't think he knows or wants to know. It's too bad you couldn't have asked him that question.

A - He's at it all the time. At the end of this tour we were doing with Wings, I got to know him really well. There was unrest in the Wings' camp. At that time they'd had "My Love". It was a double number one in Britain and America. And the group was saying to him, 'cause he used to pay them a retainer every week to be in Wings. A couple of them were a bit strapped for money and actually said to him at the end of the tour, "We're number one in America. We're number one in Britain. Can we have an advance, please? Paul McCartney refused. "It's pipeline money. You'll get it when it comes through." But he was bloody loaded then! Paul McCartney tells this story. The next record they made was "Band On The Run". They made it in Africa. I've heard Paul say several times, "We were booked to go to Nigeria at this recording studio and we turned up at Heathrow Airport and two of the group never showed up." That's why he went in with Linda and Denny Laine. Only three of 'em made "Band On The Run". I just told you why they didn't turn up. (laughs) Paul has a funny thing in his head. How can I put it? He's tight. (laughs) Back then if I'd told you that he would have sued me. He still struggles. I told you the truth, but he's still in denial.

Q - Paul has yet to write his autobiography. Everyone else is writing his story.

A - What happened to John Lennon is enough to un-nerve anybody, isn't it? The Beatles were brilliant.

Q - Did you ever see The Beatles in concert?

A - I haven't, no.

Official Website: www.IanGomm.com


© Gary James. All rights reserved.


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