Davy O'List: Q+A
He was part of The Nice and was in the delivery room at the birth of prog rock in the late 60s. But the reclusive guitarist and songwriter has been busy in the movie world in recent years.
Now comes a long-overdue second solo album and – who'd have thought it? – a possible sideline in stand-up comedy.
Davy O'List is hardly the most prolific musician around. After playing on the debut Nice album, 1967's The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack, he was briefly involved with Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and Roxy Music, before playing guitar on Bryan Ferry's 1974 album Another Time, Another Place. But it took until 1997 for O'List to put out his first solo album, Flight Of The Eagle. And, since then he's been silent. Now, though, O'List has just released the follow-up. Titled Second Thoughts, it marks a firm commitment to his music that perhaps he's not shown since the early 70s.
It's been 18 years since your last solo album. Why the long gap?
I took up teaching film editing at undergraduate level, and had no interest in getting back involved with music. But my mentor at college found out about my musical background and nagged me to start playing again. Now, I had a few ideas I'd not used in the past, so in 2005 I dug them, out, and also began to work on new material. It took a long time to come together, though.
How did the musicians featured on the album?
I've known Dave Wagstaffe [Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash drummer] for a while. Dave is amazing, because he can play anything. Unlike some drummers he varies what he does – it isn't all on one level. Paul Brown [bass] has been in a band with Oliver Wakeman [The Oliver Wakeman Band] and was recommended to me. It was also suggested I check out Andy Tillison, and the way he played keyboards was exactly right for what I was after.
So, is this your touring band?
Unfortunately, no. Dave is still with me. But Paul suffers from tinnitus, and also has a wrist injury. So, I went on Facebook and have found this guy called Gordon Brown – no relation. He's a record producer, and has had nothing to do with prog music. But one of his ambitions was to join a prog band, so I got him in. Andy is so busy he couldn't commit to a tour. The new keyboard player is Roddy Knight. When I took my six-year-old son to church one day, I got talking to a woman, told her I was looking for a keyboard player and she said she represented this guy who could fit. It was Roddy, and I love the unusual sounds he gets. I'm also thinking of bringing in a second guitarist, which would give me more freedom live.
You're also working on a sci- fi TV series called Adastra. What's the premise for this?
It starts in the 1940s and goes all the way to the end of the universe. It's about the ongoing battle between the Force For Reason and the Force For Chaos. This started out as a feature film, but it's so hard to get one made these days, so it's become a TV series. I'm co-writing it with Malcolm Stone, an art director who's worked with Sean Connery and other big names. We hope to have the finance in place to start filming the first series later in the year. That will go from the Second World War up to the present, with a second series going into the future.
Will your music appear in the series?
Definitely. Some will be new, but I might also use parts of tracks from Second Thoughts. I've done soundtrack music before. I did a couple of abstract animated movies when I was studying for my BA, and composed music for these.
It sounds like you're involved with different aspects of art, not just music.
I've been doing a variety of artistic things for a while. I took a BA in fine arts in the early 1990s, and then an MA in film editing, before getting a teacher's diploma. While at college I was encouraged to embrace all aspects of my artistic temperament. So, I paint, sculpt, write... it's all part of a learning curve for me.
I have more to offer than just being a musician. In fact, when this band tours later in the year, I will be telling funny anecdotes onstage. I do have the background to make this amusing. My dad was Reg O'List who was a post-war comedian. He worked with a lot of top names, including Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. I've no experience of doing stand-up, but I know how to deliver funny lines.
You were briefly involved with The Nice, Jethro Tull, Roxy Music and even Pink Floyd for one gig. Do you sometimes feel like prog's 'nearly man'?
I know why you say that, but it's not the way I think. To be honest, I was too young when I got those chances to take full advantage. I was 19 when was in The Nice and the rest of them were about 25, so that caused its own problems. I did one gig with Floyd in Liverpool, standing in for Syd Barrett, and the guys did come to see me play a few times with The Nice when they were looking to bring in a permanent second guitarist. I really should have grasped the opportunity and pushed myself forward, but, again, my inexperience held me back. I waited for them to come to me, and instead they offered the job to David Gilmour.
Would you have taken the job?
Yes! As for Roxy, I had a verbal agreement when I was with them. I was naïve enough to think that was as good as a contract, which it wasn't. So, I learnt that lesson from my time with them. If I'd been older, then I think I'd have been better placed to make my mark. As it is... well, at least the 'nearly man' now has a second life.
Keith Emerson and Lee Jackson were rather scathing about your role in The Nice back in Prog 16, after you took credit for a lot of The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack two issues earlier. Did their reaction surprise you?
Sadly, no. But they have their reasons, and I know better now than to get into all that history. It only brings trouble. All I can say is that on a personal level I always got on fine with Brian Davison, the band's drummer [who died in 2008]. I have meet Lee in the street in the past, and it's been very pleasant. Keith and I exchanged emails when my son was born, and discussed fatherhood. He was friendly. So, I think as long as we avoid the subject of The Nice then I'm on good terms with Keith and Lee.
Second Thoughts is out now on Made In Soho Records.