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Pete Best Band - Interview With Phil Melia

  by Lisa Torem

published: 4 / 12 / 2010

Pete Best Band - Interview With Phil Melia


The Pete Best Band is the group of original Beatles drummer, Pete Best. Lisa Torem talks to the group's vocalist Phil Melia about his early rock 'n' roll influences, touring with Best and the group's latest album, 'Hayman's Green'

While speaking to Phil Melia, lead guitarist. harmonica player, vocalist and songwriter, in the Pete Best Band, from Liverpool, the musician was fielding enquiries on another phone, for the Eleanor Rigby Hotel, where he arranges bookings. One of the first things I discovered about the busy artist is his loyalty to his family, friends and fellow musicians, all which the artist spoke glowingly about. Success has not been handed to Melia and his colleagues; they’ve worked long hours to get to where they are. Melia has been working as a musician since his early teens, but his spirits are high and his schedules is filled with creative projects. I met the Pete Best Band several years ago, during a touring stop in Chicago, at the Heartland Café; an intimate club which features organic meals, a history of political involvement, and a funky neighborhood appeal. Band members were particularly friendly and approachable and tirelessly signed autographs and posed for pictures well into the night. Especially memorable were their unbeatable rock and roll renditions and trips through “memory lane” narrated by Best and set to music by the rest. The band’s 2008 album, ‘Hayman’s Green’ contains eleven confessional tracks which include the instrumental ‘Beat Street’ the pop-inflected ‘Red Light’ and the bittersweet ‘Broken.’ The album received positive acclaim by many reviewers and the band members hope to continue the recording process in the coming year. Pete Best performed with the Beatles from 1960-1962 in Hamburg, Germany and he and sibling Roag Best, percussionist; multi-instrumentalist Paul Parry; guitarist Tony Flynn and, of course, Phil Melia, co-wrote the album’s material and shared vocals. Melia resides in Liverpool, England, and when not touring with the Pete Best Band, he performs solo sets. He is warm, sharp and clearly loves what he does. PB: Hi Phil. Let’s talk about your influence, Faron Ruffley, vocalist of Faron’s Flamingos. PM: Yeah, he was kind of my mentor when I was a kid. PB: Was it the live act or actual songs (‘Let’s Stomp’) that made an impact? PM: Well, pure energetic rock and roll. Faron used to hang from the chandeliers in the venue. He’d be sliding along the bar. He was the most amazing showman I’ve ever come across. PB: Did that influence your sense of how a live performance should come across? PM: Most definitely. The first time I got on stage, I was fifteen and Faron let me get on with three songs, and, later on I did about four years with him as a member of his band. PB: They performed ‘Do You Love Me’ and Brian Poole and the Tremeloes came along and took that song right out from under them. PM: Yeah. Faron wrote him the words, Faron wrote the words out for him and the next week they recorded it and it was out on a record. Beat him to it. PB: Your grandfather played the drums. PM: My grandfather was a jazz drummer in a 16 piece band in the 40s. PB: But, guitar became your major instrument. PM: I do play drums, but guitar is definitely my major instrument. PB And harmonica, too. PM: Yeah. PB: You jammed with Les Paul in New York. How did that come about? PM: That’s right, at the Irradium Club. We were invited with Pete, as guests, to see Les Paul and it just followed on from there. All of a sudden, I found myself onstage with Les’ 1957 cherry red Gibson and he asked me what song do I want to play. PB: You designed your own guitar too. PM: It’s called a Liverpool guitar and it’s kind of a mixture of all music guitars; the Hofner, Rickenbacker, Gretsch. Yes, it’s my own design. I’m very proud of it. A lot of people show an interest in it actually, so I’ve got a couple of deals on the table for endorsements. PB: In the 80s you were in a band called Mojo Filters. PM: The Mojo Filters. That was my first band. PB: How old were you at the time? PM: I was 17. It was just after John Lennon died. I was actually the postman that used to deliver to John’s house. PB: Really? PM: On Strawberry Fields, yeah. I was furiously learning the guitar then. I was absolutely made up to be delivering to Strawberry Fields and John’s house everyday. PB: Did you ever see John? PM: No. I’ve seen his aunt Mimi and I used to deliver to Clive Epstein, Brian Epstein’s brother’s house, too, just up from Strawberry Fields. He was the only Jewish person to give me a tip at Christmas. PB: The Beatles were a huge influence on the Mojo Filters. PM: Oh, yeah. Particularly the early period of the Beatles, the Hamburg stuff. It’s what they used to play in the Cavern and the Casbah. PB: You performed at the Eggman Fest. PM: Yeah, that was an acoustic one I did a couple of years ago. I’ve been playing at the Beatles Festival (Adelphi Hotel) since the first one in 1981. PB: How did you end up joining the Pete Best Band? PM: Well, we met Peter in Hamburg in about 1986 and it was his first public appearance since 1966 when he retired from drumming and we talked to him for about three days, begging him to get back on the stage with his drums, with Mojo Filter, which he did and six, eight months later, he had his own band together and I was doing my thing so that wasn’t really involving me then. Years later I saw an advert in the paper saying, "Would you like to play for a Beatle?" So, of course, I rang and it turned out to be Pete’s brother Roag who answered the phone and we knew each other so I went to the audition and that was it. I got the job. PB: ‘Hayman’s Green’ was such a great album on so many levels and, for anyone who felt the band only concentrated on the Hamburg days, it proved that you were all powerful songwriters. The credits show that it was a group effort, but since most of the experiences were based on Pete’s trajectory, how did the rest of you go about creating a personal touch? PM: Well, we always wanted to do an original album to kind of have a go at putting Pete up there with all the other top acts; an original going back to the old days. So we talked with him, discussed a lot of stories from the past and we started writing the album then and we picked about ten themes from Pete’s life and it’s almost like chronologically describing Pete’s life, to be honest, in the form of pop songs. It’s not miserable. It’s happy stuff. It’s positive stuff, and what we wanted to bring out in the album, ‘Hayman’s Green’, was that Pete is a positive guy and he’s probably the luckiest Beatle of all; he gets to walk down the street. He’s got the family, he’s got money. He’s got his band. I think he’s the luckiest Beatle of all. PB: There was a lot of trading of the vocals. If you record again, will there be one main vocalist? Were you trying to be democratic? PM: Whoever brought a song to the table generally sang that song, even though we all arranged it and restructured it and all that stuff. We still wanted it to be the same band, rather than just have one lead singer. PB: How about having two drummers, Roag and Pete? Was that always part of the set up and were Roag and Pete trying to counteract each other? PM: We wanted that big powerhouse sound; a lot of the bands in the mid 70s had a couple of drummers. But, also, it’s not so much about the drumming. Pete basically plays percussion on his drum kit, but it’s more about Pete being able to come off the mic and talk to the audience, you. While the anchorman is still keeping the timing going, so it’s just to give Pete a chance, really, to come on stage and talk to the audience. PB: You worked with Jimmy Cauty from KLF. I found that intriguing because your musical interests seem to be so profoundly different. PM: (Laughs). I did a lot of session work in the past and I would be gigging. I like to do a variety of styles of music. I love the intonation of when the acid house music came out. It was quite different then. It wasn’t all bleepy-bleepy. It was quite musical at that stage, so I was interested in being part of that on a totally different, creative scale of rock and roll. PB: Are you interested in the production aspect of creating those ambient sounds? PM: Yeah, I do that a lot. I played with a couple of hip hop bands. I produced them PB: “Colours dancing in the window from the light that fills the street/ Find a girl beside an apple tree,” is a segment from the title song, ‘Hayman’s Green.’ That’s really quite poetic. Sometimes musicians realize lyrics from dreams. Is that what happened? PM: We wanted to be descriptive within the lyrics. We wanted it to be almost like you were at the Casbah – the stained glass windows at the Casbah. So we wanted the lyrics to actually describe the experience of going to the Casbah because it is a very strange place. PB: Why do you call it strange? PM: It just feels like there’s a power there and it has such a history. It’s like the catalyst of music, really. You know, Pete’s mum was known as the mother of the Mersey beat and that’s where it started – at the Casbah - and once all the bands out grew the Casbah, they started doing the bigger dance halls which Mo Best used to promote. So she was the first big promoter in Liverpool at the Casbah. The essence of Mo is still there. You can still feel her presence, you know. It’s a very strong building. It’s over 150 years old. It’s the only place that is exactly in the same condition as when the Beatles left it. You know everything else was knocked down. The Cavern – it’s just rebuilt as a replica. The Casbah has actually still got the original paintings by the Beatles there. I call it the Holy Grail of the Beatles trail. PB: Will you or any of the other band members further chronicle Mona Best’s career? PM: We’re going to work on another album, but I don’t think it will be so much as a biography, this one. I think it’s just going to be a free hand at writing a good, strong pop album and to try to get Pete up there where he should be. PB: When will that album be released? PM: We’re in the process of writing it now, so it’s probably going to take another six months to finish. We’re looking for an autumn release next year. PB: I imagine there’s a catharsis in doing a debut which involves so much personal history. PM: We’ve got a free hand on the next one. The last one, as I said, we had a theme to write to which can make it easier or it can also make it harder. This one we’ve got a free hand on so it’s just what comes in on the table. The ones that stick we’re going to put on the album and we don’t necessarily have to have any theme. We’re just going to be writers and try to write freely. PB: How will you narrow down the songs that you will use? Will you perform them live and see what reaction you get? PM: We’ll generally knock them down at rehearsals at the Casbah, but we make the decisions within the band. We’ll pick out our songs and we’ll stick with them, there. PB: Who were the other British invasion groups that influenced you? PM: The Hollies are fantastic, the harmonies and stuff, and, of course, the Kinks, the Who, powerful music. They kind of broke the mold at the time for the Cliff Richards and Tommy Steeles of the time. I just like the energy of it. It was refreshing and it’s still refreshing to hear a Kinks song or a song by the Who. PB: How did you arrange the harmonies for your recordings? PM: We sat around and worked them out live on piano and guitar; whose ever voice was most comfortable with what part it was, then we went with that. So, Paul Parry has quite a high voice and I’m in the middle range, so we worked around that whatever ability, whatever range the harmony was… PB: Performing live, are you dividing the act into the Hamburg days versus the originals? PM: We kind of do a section in the middle of the set. Pete comes up and talks a little on the mic, describes what we’ve just done imagining we’re in Hamburg or in the Casbah, and then, he says we’ve written some new stuff for you and we give it a go, see what you like and then we head back in with some rock and roll. PB: You’ve toured the Philippines, Norway, Argentina, Spain, just this year. PM: Yeah, we’ve done a bit of mileage. PB: Where’s your best audience? PM: South America. They love him over there. America’s our main market. PB: And what are you performing in your solo act? PM: I do acoustic spots in Lennon’s bar on Matthew Street in Liverpool. I’ve also been playing with another band, at the moment, called the Shakers. We’re the resident band at the Cavern and we play there three nights a week. So, I’m quite busy (laughs) and, of course, I run the Eleanor Rigby Hotel. PB: You’re managing the hotel. PM: Yeah, I am. It’s a friend of mine’s business. I’m a friend of the family who owns it and he’s asked me to help because I’m a whiz on computers and stuff and I’ve been here a year now (Laughs) and, that’s good. The Eleanor Rigby Hotel is a prime location just by the Cavern. It’s a nice little place. PB: Is that a good contrast for you, being on stage and then dealing with clients and tourists? PM: Yeah. I feel like I have a normal life as well as rock and roll. A bit of sanity is good. You know the sanity clause? (Laughs). PB: Who stays there? PM: In the hotel we get people from all over the world, a lot of people from France; a lot of soccer fans. The Irish people come over a lot to watch the Liverpool football club. Generally, the tourists come to see Liverpool since we became the capital of culture a few years ago. There’s been a lot of investments in Liverpool and it’s really, really brought a nice shine to the city. There’s been a lot of rebuilding going on and it’s all finished. It’s clean, a lot of facilities and beautiful restaurants. It’s just great working and living here at the moment. PB: You never thought about moving to London. PM: I did live in London for a while in the 80s, yeah. I found it a bit lonely down there. It’s a different world. I didn’t get on with it, really. PB: It appears that there’s a small town feel within the music community in Liverpool. PM: It is, yeah, everybody knows everyone. We all kind of support the live music thing and we need to keep building on that, make sure the live music thing is in Liverpool; it’s got to be here, got to keep it alive. The economy, the last couple of years, has been difficult, but it’s taken up again, now. PB: Live music will keep happening, there? PM: Definitely. We’re not going to let it go. PB: What are some of your favourite tracks on ‘Hayman’s Green?’ PM: One of my favourites is definitely ‘The Old Grey River.’ It’s about the Mersey and coming and going from the city and what that’s like. You’re away and you miss it. It’s about home, missing home. On your way home you can’t wait to get back. Of course, my son’s name is River; River after the river and John, after John Lennon, so that’s one of my favourites from the album. Another one is ‘Dream Me Home’ which we wrote because we spent that much time on the road with Pete (Laughs). We used to pinch pillows from hotels to make ourselves comfortable. One of the lines in that is “stolen pillows.” You’re just dreaming of getting home because you’ve been in the van that long or on the airplane and you’re looking down through the clouds. One day, I’m going to be home, soon, you know? That’s quite a sentimental song, that’s nice. And, of course, Pete’s been on the road for years, that’s what that represents; us as a band, a proper band, going out on tour and socializing with the fans, and stuff, back in the van, and off to the next place. PB: Which cities have felt most like home to you guys? PM: I do like New York a lot. It’s a bit extreme. I do like cities like Sonoma, in California, that’s a beautiful place; live horses and stuff. You don’t get that here. There are a lot of places in America I would really like to go back and see. I’m hoping to, when Pete retires, to put a small tour together just to go back to the places to say hello to the people, you know, maybe a couple of friends and just travel around the States and visit some of the lovely people we’ve met while we were there. PB: Paul Parry was a baboon keeper before he joined the Pete Best Band. The guys must have a good sense of humour. Nobody just showed up expecting to be a rock star. You’ve all paid your dues along the way. PM: Between us we must have done, I don’t know, easily more than 10,000 gigs. I’ve done about 5 or 6,000 myself over the years, so we’ve got a lot of mileage between us, so maybe it does come across that we’re quite experienced. PB: Do you feel a sense of nostalgia for those Mojo Filter days or have you found yourself with Pete Best? PM: I do. We’re having a little reunion next year. It will have been thirty years since we played our first Beatles Fest in 1981 so I’m really looking forward to getting some of the old songs out of the bag. But, no, I’m really happy with Pete. We meet some lovely people. I’m proud to play with Pete. He’s such a gentleman and a great guy. PB: You were hoping to be on the Grammy nomination list and were pitted against people like Beyonce. It’s kind of an odd system; Lady GaGa versus the Pete Best Band. Do you find that bizarre? PM: We didn’t stand a chance, did we? PB: I know who I would have voted for… PM: I’m not even sure how we got nominated. It was nice to be nominated because a lot of people make some great comments about the album and it just kind of simmered for a while and it wasn’t a big smasher. It didn’t go. We got some great comments about it. Everybody loves it, so I don’t know what else we have to do, really, you know, just apart from just going to write another one. PB: You were up for best pop performance, song of the years, best pop instrumental for ‘Beat Street’, best vocal performance for ‘Hayman’s Green.’ That’s very impressive. PM: Well, I didn’t realize it was that many. PB: The band captured a great deal of genuine emotion in that recording. PM: When it came to mixing the album, as well, Roag found out his father was dying of cancer, Neil Aspinall, and he actually did die during the mixing of the album. and it was a very, dark moment, but the album helped him get through it, you know, and we threw all our attentions in that. In fact, there’s a reference to Neil Aspinall in the song ‘Gone.’ I’m trying to describe it; it’s something Neil Aspinall used to say to his kids; “Dinnae do it.” It’s like an old Scottish way of saying, “don’t do that.” But, we put that in as backing harmonies in the song. (Phil sings a few bars). All that section is for Neil. PB: Have you started writing the tracks for the new album? PM: Yeah, we’ve all got a few. After Christmas. We’re going to put them on the table so that will be interesting. I’m looking forward to doing that. At this time, we may even do a box set with a book in it; Casbah memorabilia; a proper presentation, an anthology, if you like, something like that. PB: There were some hurt feelings because Pete’s photograph was ripped out of a famous picture used on 'The Beatles Anthology 1'. PM: Yeah, well, we’re putting Pete back in the picture there. That was pretty nervy that they took him off. There are lots of strange reactions that the Beatles have put towards Pete and he’s always been friendly. He’s never ever said a bad word about them. I think he’s still got his dignity, but he tried to talk to Ringo about it and he won’t talk. He tried to talk to Paul about it and he won’t talk. They’re like "Fuck you." I even think they’ve got a secret between them that they won’t tell anyone, but I don’t’ know. They’ve all sworn to not speak. It’s the greatest kept secret in rock and roll. I don’t know what it is. PB: Did ‘Hayman’s Green’ turn out to be a healing experience? PM: I think so. Pete was really proud when we came through. It changed him. He was still carrying a little hurt around. Still, after we brought the album out, he’s a different man and he’s really happy where we are and where he is. His place in history is secure and he knows that. He was there with the Beatles in the early days. No one could take that away from him. PB: You have such a busy life, Phil. What’s your idea of a relaxing night? PM: Warm weather (Laughs). PB: You’re not going to get that there. PM No, we’re not getting that here. Warm weather, a nice bottle of wine, sitting in the sun, putting some music on with an acoustic guitar, that’s my idea of a perfect evening. I’ve got three children. I’m a single parent, and have been for some years. My daughter Kia is twenty, my other son JJ is eighteen and my younger son River is eighteen. I have my hands full. I love it, you know. Their mum is not with us anymore, so we pick up the pieces and carry on. PB: Thank you, Phil. PM: Thank you, Lisa.

Picture Gallery:-
Pete Best Band - Interview With Phil Melia

Pete Best Band - Interview With Phil Melia

Visitor Comments:-
448 Posted By: tracy sadler, Middlesbrough UK on 04 Jul 2011
Great Interview Phil, fasanating things ,i didnt no, brilliant. Thanx to who ever organised it. tracy x

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