“I've always been happy working for other people...”
Interview with Andy Whelan

Andy WhelanAndy Whelan, the guitarist. Advanced Chris-fans can remember he took part in recording of Chris's “The Growing Years” album (1992). But that was not his only intersection with Smokie theme. For many years Andy was a good friend of Alan Barton and had recorded with him a lot. For the last 3 years he is a guitarist in Alan Silson band and many of us could meet him on Alan's gigs and enjoy his playing. To add that in personal contact Andy is a very nice and friendly person. Here we'd like to present him to you more closely.


— Andy, where do you come from? Are there musicians or artists in your family?

— I was born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire and still live there.
      My brother Shaun plays bass guitar, my eldest daughter is learning guitar and my youngest daughter is learning flute.

— When did you start playing guitar? Who taught you to play? Who were your idols at that time?

— I first got a guitar when I was about 8 years old then started having lessons a year later with a chap called Adrian Ingham who went on to become a pretty well known jazz player. After he moved away I had lessons with a guy called Steve Walker who I am still friends with. Along the way I became friends with Stuart Duffy who owned a local music store and was a big Shadows fan. Stuart got me into country music and took me to see Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band with Albert Lee playing guitar when I was 14 and also to see The Shadows. Hank Marvin was my first main influence followed by Albert Lee and James Burton.

— Tell us about your musical career.

— My musical career began when I was 12 years old playing Shadows instrumentals with Shaun in Wakefield at Heppy's night club on Saturday nights. Heppy was a friend of my parents and used to let us get up and play with his band, then we had to go home before the strippers came on.

Around that time we found other young players to form our own band called Prairie Wind and began playing local club gigs. We did gigs opening shows for chart acts of the time like The Stylistics and The Dooleys. The other guitarist in the band was a chap called Steve Cooney who ended up years later as Smokies guitar technician, my brother Shaun went on to be their sound engineer for a couple of years.

After leaving school I joined a band with Graham Kearns (Note: Graham is an actuall bass player in Alan Silson band) called The Reverbs then turned professional when I joined The Stu Page Band in 1986. Spent the next 10 years touring Europe playing country rock music with Stu. Eventually the same band became The B'Eagles whom I toured with until it broke up in 2006.

I've been involved with lots of other live projects and recording sessions through the years too. A couple of years back Graham Kearns, Mick Bedford and myself were involved with an act called 'Jackson Webber' with Will Jackson and Roy Webber. Will was a member of a band called Magna Carta in the 70s, since then a record producer working with new bands like The Pigeon Detectives, The Kaiser Chiefs and he also produced the B'Eagles albums. He's the guy who played keyboards for us a few weeks ago in Germany. Roy used to be in a band back in the 70s called Wally who were signed to Atlantic records in America and toured opening for Lynard Skynard. (Note: here you can watch the video of Jackson Webber project)

Andy WhelanI played on Clive Gregson's “People and Places” album. Clive wrote a song called “Northern Soul” which was on Smokie's “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” record. He's just released “The Best of Clive Gregson” with a couple of the tracks I played on included. (Note: those of you who were lucky to attend Chris's UK promo tour in 2007 could see Clive Gregson playing in Dennis Loccorriere band)

Clive also asked me to play on an album he was producing for Pat Shaw and Julie Mathews from the Albion Band called “Lies and Alibies”. Alan Barton and myself started recording a version of a song called “Storm Damage” from that record shortly before his death. Hopefully Dean and myself are going to try and finish it off soon.

— What means the name B'Eagles, as it sounds like “be Eagles“? Who were the members of that band? Have you released any records?

— It's always hard coming up with names for bands and was the best name we could think of at the time, originally it was just The Beagles which is a type of dog. I think it was my brother Shaun who was our manager who thought of it.
A lot of players came and went during the 9 years.The original line up was:

Stu Page – guitar, vocals
Andy Whelan – guitar, vocals
Bryan Thomson – guitar, vocals
Pete Shand – bass guitar, vocals
Mike Bedford – drums

After Pete left we were joined by Colin Gibb from Black Lace for a couple of years. Colin left and moved to Canary islands and then Graham Kearns joined and stayed until the end. As for drummers, we went through about 10 and eventually ended up with Mike Bedford rejoining for the last 18 months. We made a couple of albums but they were never on national release, just to sell at shows really.

— Have any member of Eagles seen or heard your band?

— Stu worked part time in a music store selling vintage guitars and got a call to go in one day to look after Joe Walsh who was coming in to look at some guitars and he spent a day hanging out with him, so they were aware we existed.

— So, logically, Eagles were one of your main musical influences, werenít they? Can you name the others?

— My main influence originally was Hank Marvin but bands like T-Rex, Slade and The Osmonds which were around at the time when I began playing guitar had an influence too. The first Eagles single I bought was “One Of These Nights” and is probably still my favourite. After that I got into country music and started listening to people like Gram Parsons and Linda Ronstadt, with guitarists like James Burton, Albert Lee etc. Another early influence was Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Also the guy who played with The Carpenters – Tony Peluso, I still think his solo on “Goodbye To Love” is one of the best ever. Strangely enough a chap some of you may have heard of called Alan Silson too ;-).

— Now probably about the main cause of this interview. You took an active part in recording of Chrisís album “The Growing Years”. According to the credits in a booklet you played: “Electric guitar on various tracks, solos on Goodbye Lady Blue, Walking In The Rain & The Growing Years, 6 string bass on Run From The Shadows, mandolin”. Is this exhaustive information?

— Sounds about right, I played 12 string electric on a song called “Don't Fence Me In” which wasn't released then and some slide guitar too on the intro of “The Growing Years”. Also the electric mandolin solo on “Goodbye Lady Blue”.

— “Don't Fence Me In” was released on Chris's “Reflections” album in 1995. But according to the credits that was not your playing on it.

— Yes, it's completely different version.

— How it have happened that Chris asked you to play on his album? When did you meet him first?

— It came about after Chris heard Alan Barton's “Precious” album. Chris rang Alan and asked if he could use the bass player, guitarist and producer of that record. We all first met in a pub called “The Swan” in Liversedge, Yorkshire, there was Chris, Alan Barton, Neil Ferguson, Marcus Cliffe and myself.

— When and where that recording session took place? How long did it last?

— The album was recorded on the Isle Of Man at Chris's house in November 1991. We spent 2 weeks there recording.

— What were your feelings while recording with Chris and all other guys?

— Main thing I remember about it was the first night when we all arrived, we just spent the night jamming songs to get everyone used to playing together and playing snooker, at this point of course none of us really knew each other. I knew Neil and had met Marcus on a few occasions but never met Pete Spencer or Fred Lloyd. It was for me the first time I'd actually done a recording session for anyone other than working with Alan Barton and bands I was in where I knew everyone so it was a little strange.

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— Do you still stay in contact with anybody of them? What are they doing now?

— I'm still in touch with Pete, I was at his 60th birthday party a few nights ago along with Neil Ferguson. In 90's Neil played in Chris's band and now he's still with Chumbawamba. Marcus Cliffe is from Leeds and is a member of The Notting Hillbillies along with Mark Knopfler, he's also toured with Rod Stewart and Emma Bunton from the Spice Girls. We occasionally see each other, I saw him a couple of years back at a festival when he was playing for 70's band Kenny. Fred Lloyd I met for the first and last time when we recorded Chris's album.

— Can you remember any funny episodes during those sessions (at least looking at the photos one can say they should have been)? Was it a fun or just a hard work?

— It was both hard work and fun, Chris let us have the use of his house for the two weeks while him and his family stayed elsewhere. We tendered to record from around lunchtime until 7pm then if we were in the mood carry on or just go out to a restaurant. On one occasion when we were left in the house on our own we decided to use the dishwasher to clean all the empty beer glasses but at the time didn't know you had to put special washing up liquid in it, if you've ever put normal liquid in you'll know the result... A kitchen full of bubbles and not very easy to get rid of.

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— Was Chris a hospitable host? And who became a champion on the snooker? ;-)

— Chris certainly looked after us well, taking us out to some nice restaurants in the evenings and keeping us supplied with drinks. Can't remember who won the snooker game though, probably Chris.

— Who have invented those solos on 3 mentioned songs? Did you play them on the same leather Telecaster?

— I guess I invented them, “The Growing Years” solo is me playing how I naturally play, it was one of those occasions where we'd been out for dinner and had plenty to drink then decided to carry on recording, it was my leather Telecaster through a Musicman amp cranked up.
“Goodbye Lady Blue” was the same guitar and amp along with my Mandocaster (electric mandolin).
“Walking In The Rain” I played on a 1972 Telecaster Thinline with a B-string bender for the solo, the rest of the parts I played Chris's Strat.
“Run From The Shadows” was played on my old 1960s Fender Bass VI, I was trying to get the sound Jet Harris got on “Diamonds”.

— Had you made any recordings that didn't get into the album besides “Don't Fence Me In”?

— Whilst we were there we also recorded a couple of tracks for a singer called Katie Shears but don't know if it ever got released. We did a version of “Wild Angels” and a Robert Palmer track called “Bad Case Of Loving You”.

— You were close friends with Alan Barton and have worked with him. Please tell about that.

— I first met Alan the week Elvis died. At the time I was about 14 and on holiday with my family, Alan was playing with Black Lace who at that time were the resident band at Butlins (a holiday camp in Skegness)Ö

— Is that the same camp where future Smokie members in 1968 had got a professional status?

— Yes, its the same holiday camp – strange coincidence or whatÖ
So after the holidays we stayed in touch and our families became really good friends. Dean was around 18 months old and Lee wasn't born at that point in time. Over the years we did lots of work together, mainly for fun, then when Alan got his first recording studio in around 1986 we started doing some writing together and carried on until his death. We did a lot of recording together, not just Black Lace or Smokie songs but stuff for bands I was in through those years.

— Please tell about your work with Alan over his solo record “Precious”.

— The “Precious” album came about after Alan and myself wrote some songs and recorded demo's of them to put forward for a Smokie album, then Stageway records in Norway heard some of them and suggested he put out a solo album. It was one of those projects that we did over quite a long period of time fitting in with Alan's Smokie commitments and my touring schedule. All 3 tracks that I co-wrote with Al – 'White Dust', 'Drive, Drive, Drive' and 'Coming Home' – were written and recorded at his house as were most of the other tracks. 'Coming Home' was the B-side of the single “Carry Your Heart”. We originally used programmed drums with either myself or Al putting the bass guitar down then later on replaced them with real drums and a proper bass player at Woodlands Studio. We just happened to be there one day when Marcus called in for a chat so he re-played all the bass parts for us.

Most of the electric guitar parts were done at Al's house mainly using my leather Telecaster through my effects rack consisting of a Lexicon PCM 41 and a Korg A3 straight into the desk. I also used Alan's Les Paul and some of his Rickenbackers for various bits along with my old Fender bass VI. I seem to remember re-recording some bits through an amplifier down at Woodlands just to get a better sound. For acoustic we used my Martin D18, Alan's Gibson 12 string and my Gibson B45 high strung. The Mandocaster is probably in there too, it seems to make a habit of getting on records.

— And now you work also with Alan's son, Dean...

— I'd not seen Dean for years and then got a call out of the blue asking if I'd play guitar on a track he was recording which turned into a weekly get together to write new songs. At the moment we're working on a new album and as a result we've done a couple of gigs playing some of the new songs and also a couple of gigs as a kind of tribute to his dad doing some Smokie songs. When Alan Silson was ill a couple of weeks ago Dean stood in for him. We're also working on some of his dad's unfinished work to hopefully try and use it.

— But last years we know you mainly as a guitarist of Alan Silson band. How did it happen that you decided to unite with Alan? Do you like being in this band?

— Yeah, I love being in this band. It came about I guess after we did a night in Bradford as just a one of gig in late 2005, a few weeks later the B'Eagles decided to call it a day so I called Alan to see if he was interested in doing something together.

— What are your favourite songs in Alanís set?

— 'Chasing Shadows', 'If you think you know how to love me', 'Solitary Bird' and Alan's version of 'Runaway'.

— You also took some part in recording of his album “Solitary Bird”, but according to the credits it wasnít too much, was it?

— To be honest I can't remember what I played on. I went to Pete's studio one day and put all sorts of guitar parts down on different tracks, some probably didn't even have vocals on at that point. I also put some parts on at Alan's house one day, the one I mainly remember is a short track right at the end of the album that's not credited and I played some jazzy-bluesy guitar and Alan sang about sitting in the backyard with his dog.

— Do you enjoy touring or you prefer staying beside your family? By the way, tell us about your family...

— I love touring, especially going to new places I've never visited before but I always look forward to getting home to my family. I'm married to Yvette, we've been together since 1983 and got wed in March 1995. We have 2 girls Erin who is 13 and Ebony who is 10. We also have two German Shepherd dogs Max and Diesel.

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— With Alanís band you several times already were to Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia, I mean post-Soviet countries. What are your impressions about this part of the world and the people?

Russian Andy

— The people are always very warm and friendly towards us, very enthusiastic at the shows. Until I joined Alan I'd never been to that part of the world before and found it very different to my expectations, since then we've visited many times and been to some beautiful places from Siberia down to Sochi and Crimea on the Black Sea.

— Besides your work with Alan and Dean you also play with T-Rex and Dirty Dylan bands. Can you tell anything about them? Which one is more close to your tastes?

— I usually stand in with T-Rex when Graham Oliver is away with his band Saxon but occasionally I've done shows with them along with Graham which is good fun, he's a great player. A couple of weeks back he turned up at a Dirty Dylan show and got up to play “All Along The Watchtower” with us, it was like Hendrix meets Dylan.
The Dirty Dylans used to be an indie band called the Dirty Vinyls, a couple of them are big Bob Dylan fans and asked me if I would be involved if they did some tribute shows. The line up of the band changes gig to gig depending who's available. The line up is:
Jay Spargo – as Bob
Adam Jowett – bass guitar (Graham Kearns sometimes)
Ron Kelly or Mick Bedford – drums
Kevin Fitzpatrick or Steve Dymand – keyboards
Andy Whelan – guitar / mandolin

I think there all pretty close to my tastes, there all very much in a country vein from a guitarist point of view.

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— Is there anything special for you as a guitarist in playing in Alan's band?

— With Alan I mainly play Chris's rhythm parts because obviously Alan plays his own parts better than anyone else but we do a couple of harmony guitar parts in some songs like 'Baby It's You' and 'Lay Back', so in a way I get to play some of the bits I used to listen to as a kid along with one of my heroes.
When Alan was ill and Dean Barton stood in for him singing I had to learn all his guitar parts which was quite a challenge because he has a unique way of playing, especially his solo in “Oh Carol” which I spent ages learning then screwed it up on the gig.

— I guess country is your favourite style of music? In August youíve played at the festival in Denmark and on your web page we can see the pics with Hal Ketchum, American country music artist, for instance...

— I was playing guitar for American country music star Gail Davies whom I've worked on and off with for about 15 years. She asked me to put a band together for a few shows. I took Graham Kearns and Mick Bedford along to play bass and drums, Gails' son Chris Scruggs also played in the band playing lap steel guitar. His grandad is the famous banjo player Earl Scruggs so as you'd expect he's a great player. Hal Ketchum was on the same show and is a friend of Gails so I got to hang out with him for a couple of days.

— How many guitars you have in your collection? Which ones of them are most dear to you?

— I've got around 20 at the moment, most of them are dear to me in some way because I've had them for many years. I guess my leather Telecaster is the one I play most for live work, although with Alan I use my Gibson double neck quite a bit. My favourites are probably my pink 1964 Stratocaster and my 1965 Telecaster.

— Where have you got all these age-old guitars?

— When I got them in the 70s I suppose they weren't that old.

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— What instruments besides guitars you have? What instruments can you play or still wish to learn to play?

— I've got 5 mandolins, a sitar, autoharp, banjolin, balalayka and an old Vox Jaguar organ. I can only really play guitar and mandolin, we've got a piano but I only know a few basic chords.

— Who are your favourite guitar players?

— I have lots, Hank Marvin, James Burton, Albert Lee, Richard Thompson, Vince Gill, Ritchie Blackmore, Alan of course.

— What concerts which youíve been to you think you will remember all your life?

— The Everly Brothers reunion concert at the Albert Hall, Cliff Richard and The Shadows reunion concert at London Palladium in 1978, some of the early Steve Earle gigs in the mid 80s when he was doing real small venues. Status Quo at Sheffield Arena, my friend works on their crew so we took the kids a couple of years back – mindblowing... Also Deep Purple at same venue with Steve Morse on guitar, again I had a friend on the crew and got to meet them.

— Do you listen to modern new bands? Do you like anything of that?

— Yeah, I think as a musician you have to keep up to date with what's happening. My two young daughters keep me in touch anyway cause they listen to all the new bands, I got dragged along to see McFly and they were brilliant. There's some great guitar bands around at the minute that I like.

— What albums released last years have impressed you most?

— Bruce Springstein – Magic
        Def Leppard – Songs from Sparkle Lounge
        John Mayer – all his stuff

Andy & Chris 2007

— Have you been to the original Smokieís gig or to Chris Normanís?

— Yes, I went to see Smokie in about 1985-86 at Batley Variety Club whilst Chris was still with them, it wasn't Pete drumming though from what I can remember. On the whole they were great apart from someone trying to sabotage the sound. Alan remembers the gig and apparently before they went on someone changed all the settings on there guitar amps and monitoring. I also saw Chris with his own band in Padderborn, Germany a couple of years back when Graham and myself were over there helping Alan move house. Then again solo on the Dennis Loccorriere tour in Grimsby in 2007.

— Andy, you had a huge practices as a player, experience of working with plenty of musicians, experience of writing songs. Haven't you wish to compose and record your own album?

— Never really thought about my own album, I've always been happy working for other people. I don't think I'd be happy as the front person in a band if I did one and had to do live gigs. Maybe I could do one with tracks of all the best stuff I've done with other people like Alan, Chris and Clive etc... Sure there's a legal reason I can't though. Time will tell?

— Have you any big dream of your life? Are you happy with your musical career, your musical fate?

— I'm happy with things as they are, I'm not really a dreamer. Yes, I'm happy with my career, I get paid for travelling the world and playing guitar with my friends, so I've nothing to grumble about in that department. Andy WhelanWho knows my future fate, hopefully just to carry on touring and recording for as long as I'm able. Hopefully along the way I'll get to work with more of the people I've admired over the years.

— Dear Andy, thank you very much for your answers, for sharing such a rare photos with us, for your responsiveness and affability! You're a very good musician and a very nice person and we wish you luck and success in everything!

— Thank you! I've enjoyed myself, certainly brought back a few memories talking about it and looking through photographs. Hope it makes an interesting read to any of Chris's and Alan's fans, it's nice after all these years that people are still interested. Best wishes to Smokie, Chris and Alan fans everywhere!


Additional links:

Special thanks to Dmitriy Kraskovskiy and Graham Kearns for their inestimable participation.

November, 2008 © www.chris-norman.ru