Fruit For The Journey
Blackwater, County Kerry
BACK IN THE DAY – A SORT OF HISTORY
The first record I ever owned was T.Rex’s “Ride A White Swan” back in 1970.
I had “owned” other records before that but they were usually Beatles records and usually acquired from my formidable girl cousins and my Auntie Margie.
I wore out that T.Rex record (Both sides) and moved on to their next single “Hot Love” which was probably only the second record I ever owned!
The first album I ever owned was actually Holst’s “The Planets” (!) but once I started getting into Bolan, Bowie and Alice Cooper, classical music went on the backburner.
The first gig I ever went to, was to see T.Rex at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in 1971 and was probably the first time that I realized that I wanted to be in a band.
It wasn’t the screaming Scouse Marys that hooked me though, it was the emotion of the occasion and the MUSIC. It was escape.
My first guitar was a classic mail order Japanese copy.
I didn’t even buy a chord book, I just plugged it into my tiny mail order amp and sort of twanged away on it. It was shocking.
Having not learnt any chords in a year I decided that a bass guitar would be better for me.
So, on getting my first job ( working for Liverpool City Council), I bought myself a very posh black and white Rickenbacker.
It was a great guitar. And I even learnt how to play it. Well to a degree.
My first band was called Vice Versa which I formed when I was sixteen with Lol Connolly, who was a school mate and a drummer mate of his called George Manley.
We used to rehearse in an old Catholic hall in Garston and pay a couple of quid to the priests who probably drank it.
Vice Versa was quite a quirky little XTC type band and we picked up a lot of gigs playing Erics, The Pentagon and a strange but wonderful little French club in Sweeting Street called the Metro.
We even supported Deaf School at the Everyman just before my eighteenth birthday.
Vice Versa recorded a three track demo at Amazon Studios near Tower Hill in Kirby and the very posh studio manager, Jeremy Lewis, liked it enough to manage us.
Under his sponsorship we got a few gigs supporting the likes of Eddie and The Hot Rods, Ultravox, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Stranglers.
Howard Thompson from Island Records was a big fan and he even managed to bring up General Manager, Fred Cantrell and Managing Director, Tim Clark, to a showcase we did at Kirklands in Hardman Street in 1977.
Sadly, Island passed on us and shortly afterwards Vice Versa decided to dispense with me as their lead singer.
The following week I decided to leave my job with the Council and sign on the dole.
My aim was to write an album full of songs, find a band and get a record deal.
During 1978 I worked at my songwriting and towards the end of the year I found a great bunch of guys who had a cabaret band called Scooter.
I went down for an audition in a garden shed and became their new lead singer ( no guitar playing! Yes!)
We changed our name to The Skyscrapers and during the second half of 1978 and 1979 we played over a hundred gigs in and around Liverpool which made us very tight.
In the spring of 1979 the Skyscrapers recorded a two track demo at the now defunct Temple Studios just off Dale Street.
The two tracks “Radio Show” and “Another Guy” turned out well, a sort of hybrid between The Cars and the Boomtown Rats.
I peddled the demo around to a few of the record companies who had been interested in Vice Versa but to no avail ( incidentally Vice Versa had sunk without trace three months after giving me the bullet).
I had one final throw of the dice with Island but Tim Clark decided to pass on my band yet again.
After the meeting with Tim, Jan , my then girlfriend and I, were walking across St Peter’s Square when I decided we should have a drink before facing the eight hour coach journey back to Liverpool.
On entering the local Island Records boozer, The Cross Keys, who should be sat at the bar but Fred Cantrell, the former general manager of Island, sorting through his divorce papers!!
Cantrell was a larger than life character and immediately ordered us drinks and lunch and asked what I was up to musically.
I explained about the Vice Versa bullet and The Skyscrapers and Fred offered to give us a lift to Victoria Station in his Bentley which was parked outside.
On the way to Victoria, Fred put the Radio Show demo on at full blast in the car and didn’t say a word.
Here we go again I thought.
The demo went on again and Fred started asking questions about who wrote the stuff, where we had been gigging etc.
On the fourth playing of the demo I noticed that we were not heading towards Victoria Station!
Fred pre-empted this by asking Jan and I what we were up to for the next couple of days.
I told Fred that the Skyscrapers had a gig on the coming Friday but up until then I was up to nothing.
“Fucking great” (Fred’s favourite catch-phrase) Fred said, “ do you fancy staying at my house on Kingston Hill for a few days?”
I was blown away by Cantrell’s reaction and a quick nod from Jan settled it.
During those three heady days I discovered that Fred was running the US-based Berserkely label for Mathew King Kaufman and had had a couple of top ten hits with Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers ( Roadrunner and Egyptian Reggae) and some success with Greg Khin and The Rubinoos.
Fred now wanted to form his own label and told me that he wanted to sign The Skyscrapers to a two album deal!
On the Friday morning Fred, Myself, Jan and Karen Brown, Fred’s girlfriend, all piled into the Bentley and drove up to Liverpool.
As a laugh I asked Fred to park the Bentley on my Mum and Dad’s path so that my Dad couldn’t get out of the house. No problem at all said Fred.
My dad, who had been totally opposed to my music career, did actually get the joke, but it was great to rub his nose in it for a minute.
The gig went really well and Fred was hooked.
On leaving the club we had played, Fred was truly delighted that some Scally had scratched the words “Rich Cunt” onto the bonnet of his Bentley.
Fred couldn’t give a toss and we loved him for it.
Within two months we had signed to Fred’s new label, Zilch, and we were booked into Ramport Studios with producer, Mark “Death Ball” Dodson, to record the first Skyscrapers album “Mad Hatters And Autumn Rain”.
The recording was a fantastic experience of great studio days, evening in Young’s pubs and great weed.
The album turned out OK with one stand out track “Hot Line From Washington” which Fred immediately penciled in as our first single.
We made a very bizarre pop promo which I believe is still out there somewhere but the single sank without trace.
Several gigs and a second single “Chiffon Chiffon” followed and despite plays on Radio One and several regional stations, it too bombed.
Zilch was not having any hits and so in 1982 the band was reduced to Myself and drummer Mark “Choppy” Roberts.
We did enlist guitarist Mike Breslin and bass player Dave Harding to play as session men on the third single and after a tense couple of days we had “Waiting For This Moment All Night” which turned out really well under the circumstances but with Zilch Records going through the motions it too fell from grace.
At the tail end of 1982, the whole Zilch operation turned to custard and I can remember the legendary label manager, John “Knocker” Knowles taking a load of VHS’s down to a local second hand shop to get money so we could all have fish and chips for supper!
I signed on the dole again and waited for the legal onslaught thanks to Fred’s crazy management.
Luckily for me, an old mate, singer-songwriter, Roy Hill, put me in touch with a fantastic lawyer named David Gentle who essentially saved my skin.
In 1983, Lucian Grange who was running RCA, very kindly gave me £200 for a demo and I recorded Annie Road.
Tim Prior at Island Music signed me on the strength of Annie Road, paid off my debts and teamed me up with Phil Harrison and Stuart Gordon from the Korgis.
Phil Harrison, myself, along with Jake Burns ( my great mate back then from Stiff Little Fingers) and drummer Steve Grantley, went down to a fantastic studio in Didcot, Oxfordshire, called Courtyard.
This small demo studio was run by a very cool guy named Chris Hufford and a ex-Para engineer named John who impressed us greatly by hand rolling a cigarette in one hand!
Chris did us an incredible deal and we spent a halcyon four days recording four tracks for Island and living in-house.
Incidentally, about seven years later, a young local band from nearby Abingdon called On A Friday, walked into Courtyard Studios and recorded their first demo.
Chris Hufford decided to manage them, as he still does to this day. Only they changed their name to Radiohead! Good luck to you Chris, you’re a don and you deserve every success.
In the meantime Island decided they would pass on me and the Korgis and so it was back to the drawing board.
This was now mid 1984 and in a stroke of life-changing fortune, I decided to go for a beer at my local pub in Turnham Green, The Tabard.
SOUND AS A POUND
I was down to my last few shillings and Ray Andrews, a guy I knew who worked part-time behind the Tabard ramp offered to buy me a pint instead of the half I could afford.
Almost on glass empty, a guy called Billy Macarthy arrived in the bar and asked me if I knew anything about sound.
That conversation was the beginning of an amazing change in my career path and here I am twenty-eight years later, well-established in the film business as a production sound mixer.
Within six months of that fateful Tabard meeting with Billy, I was in California with Tears For Fears shooting the “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” video with Curt Smith.
I was even allowed to direct the middle section where the black guys dance around the petrol pumps! A big thank you to director and don, Nigel Dick.
I was still doing a bit of music and spent a couple of days in Crescent Studios in Bath working on a potential single with the Stu and Phil from the Korgis.
It was called “Broken Man” and was one of the best things I had written.
However Bob England at Towerbell wasn’t sure and so another one bit the dust.
But who cared? I was flying all over the world with Tears for Fears shooting The Scenes From The Big Chair long form film as well as working with the likes of U2, Chris Rea (legend) , Simple Minds and Madness.
I went on to work with directors Andy Morahan, Kevin Godley, Julien Temple and a host of other great guys before ending up working on two films with Paul MacCartney in 1990 and 1991.
Music was now in the back seat as my wife Annie and I had a young family, house, bills etc. but in 2001 I got involved with a very young band called 13palms.
After my years working with great musicians and producers I wanted to produce a young indie rock band and 13palms fitted the bill.
We recorded the EP “Shed” at Geoff Cooper’s studio in Hoddesdon with me producing and Geoff ( who also played drums on all three tracks) engineering.
The EP turned out really well with the first two tracks “New song” (which I co-wrote with the band) and “Seven” getting a lot of positive reaction from record companies and publishers alike.
Sadly 13palms were a bit too young and University and youth soon put paid to what could have been a very exciting project.
I did however buy myself an Ovation guitar at this point and started making a few acoustic demos but it was to be another ten years when approaching my fiftieth birthday I decided to have a go at making another record.
UP TO DATE: FRUIT FOR THE JOURNEY “THREE GRACES” EP
And so, incredibly, THIRTY years on from The Skyscrapers, I went around to Paz Magdinier’s studio in Stevenage with the three songs which feature on Fruit For The Journey’s first EP.
Paz had played some fantastic mellotron and keyboards on the 13palms EP and was also one of the best mixers in the business.
He liked the three FFTJ songs particularly “Beth” and “The Queen Of Falkner Street” and so we made plans to record them.
Paz got Rick Chambers in as drummer ( Rick and his brother Matt also manage the very talented Juan Zelada), Luke Higgins on guitar and Oscar Golding on bass.
We organized a Sunday (down time- so cheaper!) at the famous RAK Studios in St. John’s Wood to record the backing tracks with the rest being done at a discount price at Rick’s Insomnia Studios in Bengeo, Herts. Thanks Rick!
At the RAK session, I had brought along my good friends Ginnie and John who were traditional folk musicians to see if maybe they could add something a bit special on top of the basic guitar/bass/drums backing track.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out especially on “Beth” where we needed a vibrato on the violin whereas Ginnie was more of an accomplished cello player.
However Paz had a friend, Will Street, an amazing violinist, who laid down the fantastic violin part written for “Beth” a week later.
So we now had the three backing tracks with Will’s violin.
Another overdubbing session took place a month later with Luke Higgins putting down more great guitar on “Beth”, ”Baltic Fleet” and ”The Queen Of Falkner Street”.
We were now getting near to rough mix stage.
Judd Lander, legendary harmonica player (Culture Club, The The, Macca etc.) came in to double up on Luke’s Delta Blues guitar riff on “Baltic Fleet” with some blinding harmonica and once Paz had put some organ onto each track and Steve Furnace had played some quasi mandolin on”Beth”, we thought we were ready for lead vocals and harmonies.
There was however something niggling me about “Beth”.
It was the most radio-friendly track on the EP but I felt it was missing something.
And it was….A banjo!
Now if somebody had told me we would be recording banjo on ANY of these tracks I would have laughed. In fact Paz did at first.
However, I asked around, and Joe Thornber, one of my mates in the film game, said he had an uncle in Brighton named Dave Simner who was a seriously good banjo player.
Dave is in a band called The Curst Sons and one listen to their stuff convinced me that Dave was our man.
Within a couple of weeks Dave was up at Insomnia putting down some vintage banjo on ”Beth” and even jammed along with “Baltic Fleet” adding something special to that track as well.
My vocals were recorded up at Paz Magdinier’s place in one day and after adding some harmonies and even more “comping” work from Paz we were ready to mix the three tracks.
I must just say here that Paz Magdinier is the reason the tracks on “Three Graces” sound so good.
His tireless work “comping” (i.e. tidying up) each individual instrument is a testament to one of the best professionals I have come across in my career.
His production skills are awesome, plus any production input I had was taken on board and worked in with the minimum of hassle and consummate ease.
The three tracks were mixed down and we moved on to mastering.
Mastering is the cream on the cake of producing a record.
I suggested that there was some very good software plug-ins one could get to master one’s record but Paz was having none of it.
He insisted we go to Metropolis in Hammersmith which is where every record worth it’s salt goes to be mastered.
In the end I admitted defeat and we had a really enjoyable two hours down at Metropolis mastering the three tracks with one of their wonderful mastering engineers.
This guy would adjust the EQ on the track while dancing around the room listening through a variety of speakers while we gave him our opinion.
What a great way to spend an afternoon! I am now totally converted to the dark art of mastering.
With the mastering complete it was just down to sleeve design and notes.
Anne Tilby, the artist and designer ( who just so happens to be my missus!) came up with the fab front sleeve and back design and once Judd Lander’s mate, Tom, at Breed Media had printed the CDs we were now ready to go.
“BETH” THE VIDEO
Now Fruit For The Journey is basically a vehicle for Me and my songs.
There is no band as such and so when we came to shoot the video for “Beth” recently, the band who played on it were out on the road with Juan Zelada.
So the band who appear in the video aren’t actually the guys who played on the record!
Well apart from myself and Will Street, the violinist that is.
However, the other musicians are all great players who I have recently worked with and will be working with as Fruit for the Journey in the future.
Joe Lonsdale-Banjo, Guitar, Bass, Engineer,
The video was shot in an old Blacksmith’s forge in Essendon, Herts and features Blacksmith, Robin Penstone-Smith who runs the forge with his dad, Chris.
It was a great fun day with sterling lighting from Mark Brennan (Location Lighting) and cameras by Steve Thomas and Mark himself.
The art direction was by Anne Tilby and I would like to also thank Tom Sedgwick for playback and Chris Brown for sparking!
So that’s everything up to 2016 and fingers crossed for a good FFTJ year!
Aiming to release Three Graces in 2017 with a couple of gigs and some radio promotion, oh, and this website!!
Ronnie Jones 2016
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++ May 20, 2013 ++ 0 comments ++
The Vale Studio Session-May Bank Holiday 2013
++ March 21, 2013 ++ 0 comments ++
Fruit For The Journey Back In The Studio!
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Preorder our new EP “Three Graces” Release Date April 22nd 2013 2013
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