R.A.T.W. Page 13
in this corner. .BOXER
One of the great traditions in rock music, particularly in Great Britain, is the formation of new groups from the remnants of previous combinations. The geographical compactness of England combines with the overall intimacy of the venues in such a way as to provide an atmosphere where musicians can easily see and hear lots of people play. Oftentimes, the nucleus of a new group will be formed from a post-gig jam; since a band in England has to tour a great deal to get anywhere, the chances for meeting new people is enhanced. A Nice-King Crimson tour provided the impetus for the formation of ELP; likewise, a Free-Mott tour spawned Bad Co.
All of which brings us to Boxer; comprised of Mike Patto (vocals, keyboards), 011ie Halsall (guitar and keyboards), Keith Ellis (bass), and Tony Newman (drums), Boxer has a rich history in British avant-garde groups. Their stage performances are among the most intense in recent memory, while on record, they attack with a bite that means business. RATW recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mike, 011ie and Keith and discuss the ‘no kid glove’ approach of Boxer just prior to the band’s debut U.S. tour. Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner, Boxer:
RATW: To start with, all of you are in your own
right, fairly famous musicians, but not too
many people in America really know where
you come from. Could you give us some in-
dividual musical background?
MIKE: We’ll start with Tony; he started out in about 1960 with a band called Sounds, Inc.
They would back up all the big American
stars who came over, like Jerry Lee Lewis
and Little Richard . . . Tony went from
there to doing lots of sessions, and then to The Jeff Beck Band, when Stewart was singing and Ronnie Wood was in the band,
and then he went to a band called May Blitz,
and then back into sessions. Later on, he
joined David Bowie for the Diamond Dogs
tour and album . . . he’s always played a lot. . .
He played on “Downtown,” by Petula Clark . . . (laughter)
If he was here, he’d punch all our teeth out for tellin’ you that, but it is a fact.
OK, Keith, you’re next.
I started out with a band called The Cubas in Liverpool, and went from there to a band called Van der Graaf Generator. I played with them for about 18 months, and after that we got Juicy Lucy together (that was
with Neil Hubbard and Glen Campbell). KEITH: That lasted about 18 months, an’ I joined up with Bobby Whitlock. I was livin’ in MIKE: America with that band, and I went back to England and ended up with Spooky Tooth. I
tolerated that for about 9 months . . . when
that ended, I just decided to move to RATW: L.A. . . . I wasn’t really doing anything, un-
til Nigel Thomas, who’s our manager, rung me up and asked me if I’d be interested in joining Boxer, and here I am! (laughs) 011ie.
I play keyboards as well as guitar, and I became a member of this group from around Liverpool called Take Five. I played vibraphone and sang a bit . . . then we came down to London from Southport and changed our name to The Timebox, and that’s when Mike joined the band. Time Box changed into Patto, then broke up. I did a lot of sessions, like all the guitar work on “Jesus Christ, Superstar, then joined Jon Heisman’s Tempest. From there, I joined Kevin Ayers and did four albums with him. I also formed a European tour band for Kevin, consisting of Tony Newman, Zoot Money, Rick Wills (now with Roxy Music), and myself. When that band ended, Tony and I stuck together . . eventually, I. got together with Mike and that was pretty much the band.
Mike, you’re up.
I came down to London from the country, ‘cuz London was where everything was happenin’. I sang in a few bands, and finally ended up in Time Box. After a year and a half, Time Box became Patto. We tried a lot of musical experiments, and there were a lot of good things . . . when Patto split, I started to do the proverbial solo album, and formed a band called Dick And The Fireman. I had two drummers, Ian Wallace and John Halsey, two bass players, Boz and Allen Spanner (from Kokomo), Zoot Money and Tim Hinkley on keyboards, Mel Collins on saxophone and me tap-dancin’ in front. We had a ball!!! However, there was no way to keep it together, an’ I got offered the gig in Spooky Tooth. When that blew up finally, I ended up trouble-shooting promotion for a record company, which I didn’t know what I was doing, and that’s when 011ie and Tony came to see me . . . the name Boxer came from our manager, from the image he felt from us and our music. By the time Keith had arrived from the States, we had half the album written; we just finished up, rehearsed with Keith, and went right in the studio. We weren’t wise to each other on stage yet, so
Not totally wise, but everybody in the band played with somebody else .. .
Good point, yeah, we’d all played with each other in different bands before but never the four of us together. So we ended up just bouncin’ off each other.
Well, given the philosophy and music of the band, how did Boxer end up on Virgin
Records, which has a reputation as pretty much of an esoteric label?
MIKE: Well, Virgin Records, unbeknown to us, were looking for a rock band to go on their label, ’cause they figured they needed to expand . . . they were very nice .. .
OLLIE: We were friendly with all of them, with Richard Branson, the boss, and the people at the Manor.
MIKE: Yeah, they took a personal interest in the band, and that turned out to be the deciding factor. They looked after us. You know, if you’ve got a problem, you can ring up Richard and talk to him . . . it’s a nice feelin’.
RATW: Why do you think that there’s more of an underground scene in England than there is in America?
MIKE: You can’t earn much bread in England, in a band, unless you’re, like, The Who, an’ they’ll lose money when they tour England, ‘cuz the halls aren’t big enough. So the guys that really mean it and stay in the business will find their backs to the wall quite a lot of the time. You don’t compromise ‘cuz there’s nothing to compromise for; you tend, as a result, to experiment a bit more, and try other things .. .
RATW: Someone mentioned to me that the only wa), for a musician to learn about the business was to get contracturally screwed three of four times. Do you think that a good business sense is a necessity for a musician today?
MIKE: You’re correct. You do need to know somethin’ .. .
OLLIE: Or you need to know somebody who does know about it, to help you cope with business types .. .
KEITH: The thing is, you have to know enough not to let the guy who’s actually takin’ care of the business screw you. That’s how much you have to know.
OLLIE: The business people around us have all been good, from Nigel, our manager, on through to Richard Branson of Virgin . . . Richard loves the band, he really does, so .. .
MIKE: He sees credibility in the band as far as musicianship goes. He knows we’re not junkies, and we’re not gonna fall Duet sideways. We are musicians, that is our wa.■ of life . . . we shall always carry on. Boxer has lit a fuse, we’re headin’ high an’ that’s where we want to head. There’s no stars in this band; we’re all on a certain rung of a ladder which perches on respect. There’s respect for every member of this band by other musicians.