Mike Rimmer interviewed veteran singer, guitarist and "musician's musician" BRYN HAWORTH
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He continues, "I remember talking to Steve Winwood about mandolins and he said, 'What's that?!', because I had a mandolin." He laughs, "Winwood said, 'What's that you're playing?!' I said, 'It's a mandolin.' He said, 'Wow, that's really good! I like that!', and he got one. So it was great. There was a lot of interaction on the label then. And I got put on tour as a solo artist with Traffic, and then with Fairport, and then with Bad Company, so it was really good."
Bryn's debut album on Island, 'Let The Days Go By' was released in 1973. He remembers the album being well received. "It was quite positive actually. I think most of the music press found it quite fresh, you know. Back in those days there was an openness to all styles of music; it wasn't as narrow as it is now. And because it was a mix of songs and styles it seemed to please most people."
Strangely for a man who wasn't yet a Christian, the opening song on 'Let The Days Go By' has some pretty strong God references. So what was he thinking when he was writing "Grappenhall Rag"? He remembers, "I got that idea on the mandolin. We were trying to sort out some songs in Los Angeles and I came up with the tune. It was really powerful and I thought, I wonder what the words are for this? It took me about six months of humming and ah-ing and trying to find words and then I suddenly blurted out, 'I love my woman.love the Lord.so I'll be alright.I believe in him..' All these things started coming out and I suddenly thought, What? But it just sounded right! I tried to write, 'I love you baby' type songs but it just didn't seem to work. Then I sort of blurted out, 'I believe in him,' and, 'I love the Lord.' I just had to put those words on it because they seemed to be the right words. I was very concerned that the rest of the band would think I'd got religion and stuff like that and nobody else in the band was thinking that way. But I just thought, well this is the way it is, and it stuck."
The irony, of course, is that he did "get religion," three years later and in a most surprising manner. He was out driving in the countryside with his wife Sally when they saw a big tent and thought they were walking into a circus. Instead it was an evangelistic tent meeting. "We heard about Jesus for the first time," he remembers. "We heard why he came, what he'd done for us. It was kind of a Billy Graham-type meeting where you had to come to the front and someone prayed with you. We did that and I just walked out of that tent and I KNEW that God was real. I'd tried to adjust my lifestyle up until that point. I'd tried to be good, I stopped smoking dope, I stopped drinking, I became a vegetarian, I became a fruitarian. I gave my money away. Because I wanted to be right for God. But I'd given it up as a bad job because I was poor and thin and I STILL didn't know God! So I thought, stuff this for a lark; I'm going back to drinking and smoking again! I was just trying to be good. I was trying to make my life acceptable to what I thought God would be like and what he would like. And I struggled with the whole thing because I thought he probably doesn't like guitar players - electric, loud guitar players, you know?! It's all family stuff isn't it; the way that you're brought up. My grandparents made us go church and used to phone up if we didn't go. But there was nothing that I could say that struck me at all. My parents didn't go; it was just me and my brother and my sister had to go but I can't remember anything from it."
Haworth had obviously already begun to explore a few spiritual themes on the first album and then with the second album it became a bit more blatant. He'd become a Christian and the experience began to filter into much of his songwriting. He explains, "From that tent meeting, we went to an evangelical church. The minister there was really good with us. He would spend time with us and teach us about using the Word of God and living by faith and things like this. So gradually that started to seep into how I saw the world and how I saw myself. It changed my way of thinking. But the thing is, for me, I always felt, well this is the best news ever! God exists! And it's not about me just looking for him; he's actually looking for me! And he's not like I thought he was! It was just like this whole thing unravelling in my head. All the preconceived ideas I had were all being shot to pieces and it was like a bomb going off."
He remembers, "It was like another dimension you were seeing life in. You suddenly saw colour, you know? You were looking at trees differently; talk about being a hippie!" he laughs. "You suddenly look at trees and you go, wow, someone made that! And you go, wow, this is absolutely incredible! You just stand there and look at this tree and this was without drugs! You just go, wow, this is far out! You look at the sky and then you go for a walk at night and you see the stars and then you go, wow, this is stunning! And you'd go back into the Word and you'd go, wow, it says that he made the stars.! You just think, wow, this is the best thing ever! And music comes from him! You find out who the giver of the gift is, you know? And you think, wow! You thought the gift was great but now you've discovered the giver, and your eyes go a different place; you focus onto him."
With the spiritual changes in his life, how did his fellow musicians react? Bryn remembers, "Generally they would call me names. You'd get called 'Reverend', you know? 'Here comes the Rev!' Stuff like that. But the people that knew you were really quite glad I think and they would listen politely as you ranted on, as you do when you discover something great. You want everybody else in the world to know about it and you can't shut up! They were very gracious with me. Nobody hit me! It was fine."
In 1974, Island Records released Bryn's second album 'Sunny Side Of The Street' and it opened with a gospel song, "Good Job". Haworth comments, "I thought, give the first fruit; just say who you are and what you are and just let it out. Because I thought it was a great track. I thought, I've never heard anything like this before. I'd been listening to Andrae Crouch and all the Blind Boys stuff because there was nothing to listen to when you became a Christian back then so you'd go back in time. 'Andrae Crouch: Live At Carnegie Hall' was the best album that I'd heard at that time and then you went back to The Blind Boys and all the black gospel stuff and I thought, this is what I relate to because it's like R&B. My roots are more R&B roots; old style. So it started to come out in things like 'Good Job'."
Becoming a Christian meant that Bryn had to re-evaluate his life and what he was doing with his music. He came to a very surprising conclusion. "I suddenly decided the music business is evil. No Christian can be involved in the music business so I'm going to leave and I'm going to sit here and wait for my missionary call.you know.to the jungle. Then Island said, 'Right, if you don't come out to work we're not putting the record out.' Then the money went down and down and down and we got broker and broker and broker and no missionary call came. The minister was great; he just came round and said, 'Bryn, you're supposed to be IN the world. This is where you're supposed to be. Get back out there!' So fortunately I had a voice of reason and Island put the record out."
And Bryn went out and promoted it. Part of the promotion of in those days was to hit the road and tour but also to get radio and television coverage. This was the era of The Old Grey Whistle Test and the John Peel Radio 1 sessions and Bryn Haworth was part of both. What memories does he have of Whistle Test? "The first time I did it," he remembers, "was after 'Let The Days Go By'. You're in this room with no audience, no nothing, just three cameras and Bob Harris; it's this big black room. He interviewed me and then they just let you play three songs straight off, on your own. He didn't know anything about me really except that he liked the record. Arranged around me I had a thing called a harpolek [a kind of zither], which I played on 'Let The Days Go By'. I had a mandolin and then I had an electric guitar and an amp and little drum machine. So I moved from one to the other and did my own intros to things. You just wouldn't get that now!"
For those who remember John Peel as a pioneer of new music, it isn't surprising that a new artist on Island Records would catch his attention. Bryn remembers, "I got to know him through him playing the 'Hold On' record. He really liked that; he liked the guitar playing. I remember, he used to give me a ride in his Mini and I always had my guitar and I could never get my guitar into the Mini! It was always a big to-do getting into a Mini with guitars anyway. He would give me a ride back home in East Sussex because he lived quite near. He heard the stuff and liked it and just gave me these sessions, which was great. He was very serious but when you got him in a good mood, when he was laughing he was really funny. We had some really good times with him."
In the '70s, as well as creating his own music, Haworth also worked as a session guitarist. Obviously with the Island connections and his time later on the A&M label, he ended up playing with an awful lot of people. He explains, "If you were touring with people and opening for them, you'd end up playing with them or they'd end up playing.like Fairport ended up playing on 'Sunny Side Of The Street'. John Cale was on the label then and I got to play on one of his tracks on his album as well. It was good."
As a Christian, how did he find the session work? Did he get the chance to share his faith with the other musicians? "Well you're there to work. It's like any job, you're there to work and you get your head down and you learn the stuff and play as best as you can. Generally if conversations come up then you say what comes to your head at that time. But generally I shut up unless something really strong comes." He must have got quite used to passing on the spliff when it came around! "Well yeah. Obviously I didn't do dope! But I didn't make a fuss because that's what I used to do all the time so I didn't judge anybody for it. I'm often in environments like that when dope is passed around. I know what's going on in people's heads when they're doing it so I'm not intimidated."
After the release of 'Sunny Side Of The Street', Bryn parted company with Island and was doing sessions for the legendary producer Glyn Johns on a Joan Armatrading's breakthrough album 'Love And Affection'. Through that he got an offer to sign to A&M Records. He already had an album's worth of songs ready to record. "I also got a publishing deal with Rondo Music, which was fantastic because I was able to get onto the housing market!" He laughs. "I'd just been renting for years and years, and moving around and moving around. I thought, if I ever get any money from anything I'll just put it on a house. So that's what I did."