ANDY – ROCK / JAZZ / FOLK GUITARIST
Andy Cairns is a Coventry guitarist and musician who has worked his way through Rock, Jazz-Funk and folk
styles; was involved in the Hobo Workshop in the mid 70’s; played in a Jazz-funk band with bassist Horace Panter (later of the Specials); achieved a doctorate in micro-biology – and became a researcher in the field while remaining active as a musician, Morris Muso and organiser on the Aberystwyth folk scene. In 1984 he produced his first folk/ dance Album on Cassette as a beautiful tribute to his late girlfriend and went on to create his own self-sufficient eco-house.
(A Note on the Audio – Most of the audio has been abstracted from jam sessions and practices that weren’t intended for a wider audience - they were just works throughs and try outs - although there are a few folk and folk dance tunes towards the end from Andy’s Cassette album of 1984)
I met Andy Cairns at
Henley College in 1974 – I was studying Sociology and Andy’s course was science based. Andy, then a young, long-haired rock guitarist, responded to a poster I’d put up at the college advertising the first Hobo Music and Arts Workshop at the Holyhead Youth Centre. At that time Alex Murphy (whom Neil O’Connor wrote the song about (Here) was there too studying Art and literature. We would often go around to see Alex with Phil Knapper (blogged about elsewhere on this site). Andy became one of my closest musician friends.
I don’t know many details of Andy’s earlier musical activities (if he read this maybe he’ll tell us!), he was only about 20 when I met him, but I know he’d played in a band doing covers such as Do You Really Want to Hurt Me with Karl (who was I think a guitarist and a bass player – whose name eludes me but who later in 1979 was roadie / van driver for The Selecter as well as the upright string bassists of a Pentangle Style band Andy and I were in around 1980 (before we both left Coventry).
Andy got well involved with the Hobo Workshop attending sessions both at the Holyhead Youth Centre and later the
Golden Cross, often joining in jam sessions and playing in a band. The all important Jam Session is key to a lot of informal musical development. It’s where you swap musical ideas, riffs, sequences, give each other essential feedback such as “your timing’s out” “if you play it like this you will find it easier to..” “how do you get that effect?” “I like that – maybe if you begin the song with that” etc. It’s also a good place to generate new material. If you read the IS interview on this blog – they reveal how a lot of their material was developed through informal jamming. If you tape the jams – the tapes may also throw up ideas years later that weren’t developed at the time. It’s where you might find that elusive bass player, drummer, crumhorn player – whatever!
In Coventry Neol Davis sometimes organised public jam sessions like the one described in Umbrella Club band post on this site – marathon weekend sessions day and night in which musicians dropped in – picked up an instrument and then took a break while another popped in. Neol knew all the musicians and could rally them round. He helped organise one for the Hobo Workshop at the Golden Cross – it took some kick starting but eventually people like vocalists Nicky Hawkswell, John Gravenor, Neol and many others joined in. It was Neol’s befriending and jamming with some of the West Indian musicians in the basement of the Holyhead Youth Centre that built some of the relationships that led eventually to the classic Two Tone line ups.
More often though jamming happened more informally, sometimes in the Cathedral grounds on a sunny day or on the grass outside the Herbert Museum – or two or three musicians with guitars, bongos, harmonica, outside pubs – for example I witnessed an informal folk – blues jam with Rod Felton and Pete Waterman (on flute) outside the Earsldon Cottage folk club in 1970 . Often they would happen in someone’s house – it may be an open house affair or where you invite a few musical friends back. The jam session is the engine of a healthy music scene and possibly a few of you will be waxing lyrically on this.
JAMS AS A LEARNING TOOL
Andy and I began jamming periodically at each others house over the next 10 years, both in Cov and less frequently after we left Cov in 1980. In one of the first sessions Andy taught me a bunch guitar riffs like Day Tripper, Paperback Writer and I Feel Fine. In his own words his technique was ‘crowd teaching’ – in one session he taught me more riffs than I ever thought I could remember. He assured me I would remember and he was right – when I got bored practicing one riff – there was another to remember and practice. Further more once you have Day Tripper under your belt it’s not such a stretch to work out others based around much the same notes such as Pretty Women and then to work your own effective riffs out. Not that I was there to be ‘taught’ – we were jamming but the jam could be a highly effective learning tool.
RICKY’S JAZZ FUNK BAND WITH HORACE ON BASS
Early on in 74 / 75 I’d met a guy called Ricky through Jed And Arthur – two Mancunian acoustic guitar players who
had become involved with Hobo magazine. I’m not totally clear on this point, but I think Ricky was a former roadie with Indian Summer and later A Band Called George – (but I may be mixing up my Ricky’s here!). I sometimes jammed with Ricky on some of his riffs and chord sequences and took both Phil Knapper and Andy Cairns with me on one occasion. Anyway I think Ricky came along to the Hobo Workshop. I’m not quite sure how it all happened but Andy ended up playing in a Jazz funk band with Ricky and Horace Panter was the bassist (a good few years before the Specials were thought of). Andy or Horace would be able to give more details on how they got together and what they were called (if their memory holds out on it) but the band played for us at the Hobo Workshop after it’s move to Golden Cross in 1975.
EARLSDON COTTAGE JAZZ CLUB
Our early jams began around of some of Ricky’s jazzy sequences as a
means of Andy practicing his lead licks (Hear a snippet of audio). As our meetings developed we got more in to Jazz funk rhythms and sequences. Jazz Funk was the flavour of the month with many of the bands who played the Hobo Workshop playing in that style – bands like Khayyam and also Trigon, Analog (two of the bands that begat Ens, Bung, Reluctant Stereotypes (My Space Link)-, Pink Umbrellas and leading eventually to the formation of Paul King’s chart topping 80’s band King.) See Pete Chamber’s Pop into the Past columns for more on that heritage. The place to go for Jazz Funk in Cov in 1974/5 was the Jazz Club at the Earsldon Cottage (see pic of Khayyam at the Cottage)
. Andy got pretty involved with musicians at the cottage and soon swapped his rock licks for jazz rock structures – learning better
ways to hold his pick – (short sharp upward lead plucks rather than downward plucks – it did make a difference to the sound and style you got). The cottage had a good reputation – it was allegedly the place the Pink Floyd sought out after their gig and sax player Steve Tayton (Playing sax in the pic) played there. Although an accomplished jazz player he also played in the pop band Staveley Makepiece (an off shoot of the Lieutenant Pigeon band).
During our jams Andy would throw more and more challenging jazz chord
sequences and rhythms at me, including the Benny Hill Theme. I really wanted to jam on my own songs and some of Andy’s but it was a learning curve for me and I later recycled a few of the sequences into my later songs, while Andy honed his lead playing. By this time Andy was into people like Chick Corea and Joan Armatrading and the like.
During the Hobo Workshop period 74 –75 we formed an informal covers band with Andy and myself and Karl from his former band and Phil Knapper. Mostly we did a few parties at places like the Boatyard and also played the Hobo Workshop a few times. I’d also been jamming (and learning from Phil Knapper – who was learning classical style) but had a fully developed rock and folk style of playing. We did a mixtures of some of the covers that Phil like to lay and some that Andy and Karl favoured – including Get Back, All Along the Watch Tower, Bowie numbers, Mrs Robinson – Knocking on Heaven’s Door, and later Cockney Rebel’s Come up and See Me.
A new phase developed in the late 70’s – Andy had moved to Wolverhampton to do his degree and we continued to
jam during the holidays – After Two Tone had exploded I stayed over in the Halls of Residence a couple of times – we went to see the Specials and Selecter at the Town Hall (I think this was 79 or early 1980). Halfway through trouble broke out at the back – luckily we were near the front. The Specials stopped playing and tried to calm the trouble and the security managed to usher the trouble makers outside. The concert continued but when we got outside it was obvious there had be a streetbattle – handcuffed to the little trees in the shopping mall were skinheads, while the battle with the police continued elsewhere. It looked like calvary – criminals on crosses etc! Andy knew a long way back to the Halls that would avoid the trouble spots. Pete Chambers interview with Jerry Dammers
PENTANGLE STYLE BAND 1980
In the summer of 1980 after Andy had graduated we formed a Pentangle style band – yes Pentangle at the height of the Two Tone phenomenon! A time when every band (and well beyond) were skanking their music in the hope of a contract! The irony was that our bass player was Selecter’s roadie – he used his dad’s long wheel base van to transport them to gigs and we rehearsed in the place where Selecter stored their gear – in one of the Cavern type units under the railway bridge on . It was his dad’s plumbing (or whatever) workshop. In the early 70’s I remember going to a Cavern style all night ‘heavy music’ disco there with Al Docker and others. On one occasion Desmond – and I think Charley of Selecter came in to collect some gear – what nice guys they were – always polite and friendly whenever you saw them. I remembered them from the Holyhead basement in 74. Our bassist (I think his name was Martin but I can’t remember for sure) had
traded his bass guitar for an upright bass. He loved the bass on Pentangle’s Cruel Sister –where it comes in quite effectively half-way through. We spent a lot of our sessions honing Cruel Sister. I played acoustic picking style and Andy played lead – we also had a female singer join after a while. We covered a few Pentangle numbers but worked on some numbers I’d jammed on with Andy – and a few of my songs. Just as Andy had taught me Jazz sequences I had introduced him to finger picking and using 3rds and 4ths etc (the style that McCartney used for Blackbird) and the music of Bert Janch. There are plenty of sequences on the tapes where I’m showing him these styles which he developed and are well in evidence on his later folk album (Andy went far beyond me with them though - he picked up and absored things so quickly and made them his own) and on the other hand I began writing songs using some of the Jazz funk structures he had shown me. By 1980 we had been exploring in our jams a hybrid of folk and jazz styles. The surprise to me was that Andy took off on the folk side – working out his own pieces using the 3rds and 4ths style
and dragging us off to the Warwick Folk festival in 1980. Later he would be listening to Nic Jones and Martin Carhty's guitar styles. We loved the Two Tone music, it was infectious – you had to dance to it and it had something to say. I used to be EMF’s resident dancer (Mojo’s band) to get others dancing and Hot Snacks was another of my fave bands at the time but musically we were developing something of our own. There is some audio of some of the jams that led to more developed numbers.
However the band never came to fruition. Andy announced that he was moving to Aberystwyth in September to do his PhD in biology and I got on degree course in Teesside. By October we had both left Cov.
THE SPECIALS ILLUSTRATED SONGBOOK BY NICK DAVIS
Meanwhile before we left – one night while working on some songs at Andy’s - Artist Nick Davies came round – a
friend of Andy’s - with the drafts of the Specials Illustrated Song book asking what we thought of them. They were incredible illustrations cartoon style with the Specials typified as Boris, Tommy, Winston, Slug, Noddy, Leroy and Corky! And the band were called The Spare Shells on the Syphilis label! Nick had been working day and night on the book and it was very creative – better than the average songbook. Nick gave us the option of being immortalised in the book by scrawling our names on a cartoon of a urinal. As it was a urinal – our mention wouldn’t be too flattering – Andy’s name is on it – I declined, not knowing what he might write! It was a fantastic work and Nick was making last minute adjustments as we talked. I still have the book but you can view the pages on the net by Nick Davies and Ian Haygood here.
JIGS AND REELS
I next saw Andy in 1981 (we continued to meet in Cov
at the Oak inn in the hols for a while) but when he arrived in Middlesbrough – he carried a mandolin not a guitar! He had immersed himself in the Aberystwyth folk scene and as we jammed with Andy on Mandolin, playing endless jigs and reels I was amazed at Andy’s ability to hold a tune and play it from memory. It had only been a few months and he now had a vast repartoire of folk tunes under his belt (here are a couple we jammed on – me doing my best to keep up with him on guitar!). Later Andy discovered a form of folk music that is played on the off beat and although I never saw them play – he formed a little band in Aber playing folk -ska!.
PLANXTY IRENA ALBUM
In 1984 it was a Dr. Andy Cairns that arrived in to see me. This time with a couple of hand made
guitars. Andy had unfortunately lost his girlfriend in a tragic hit and run and had recorded a cassette of folk songs and Welsh dance tunes that she loved, to commemorate her – Planxty Irena. Andy played one of the songs – The Lakes of Ponchartrain when he jammed with a group of my backing musicians in .
Andy continued in Aberystwyth as a research biologist and last I heard was building a self sufficient eco home. The
Alternative technology centre is not far from Aber which may have inspired him. He took me there on one of my visits to Aber.
I haven’t seen or heard from Andy since around 1990.