Herbie Flowers Q&A

As as session musician,many performances have ensured his reputation as one of world's finest bass players (with the occasional demand for trumpet\tuba playing). He found fame in the late '60s session players supergroup’, Blue Mink, enjoying success with the international hit, Melting Pot. His songwriting talents brought him fame with the novelty number 1 hit for Clive Dunn, Grandad in January 1971.performance on Lou Reed's UK Top 10/US Top 20 hit Walk On The Wild Side produced one of rock's most distinctive bass lines. His later work with the group Sky brought him worldwide fame. Apart from T.Rex,many studio credits throughout his career have included work for David Bowie  Elton John ,Cat Stevens, Jeff Wayne, Steve Harley, Roger Daltry, George HarrisonPaul McCartney

Herbie joined the 'new look' T.RexSeptember 1976 ..around the time of 'Laser love'..and stayed up until Marc's death in 1977.
With such a varied career, a Q&A session with Herbie was bound to be interesting !
My thanks go out to the members of the T.Rex and Till Dawn lists who submitted the majority of the questions and of courseHerbie Flowers for his time and trouble taken.
                 John Wass
                 Nov 2003.

1)    What are you up to at the moment?

Same as ever. Lots of sessions, eg for Hazel O’connor, Brian Higgins (writer of Girls Aloud), Richard Durrant (brilliant Concert Guitarist… we do recitals as a duo…mostly uni gigs and little theatres). I play double bass in an instrumental quartet with Big Jim Sullivan called US. A bit jazzy, but right up my street. Don’t really want to play loud rock music at my age. Never reeeeaaaalllllyyy enjoyed it to tell the truth. You have to play more or less the same part every time or the punters stop dancing. I’ve had my go anyway. Nothing worse than old men playing stuff that they don’t like or know nothing about. I had my belly full of playing to a click track. I want to be the click track.
Doing a lot of music workshops (
Rockshops’) all over the place, in schools, colleges, prisons, rehab centres for disabled young adults, village halls, in Finland, etc… what a life eh! All that and a senior citizen’s bus pass and £200 pa heating bill assistance from the Warmongers of Westminster.

2)    How did you get involved with T.Rex?

Marc phoned me one day in ’75 I think, just to do a few recording dates which I enjoyed immensely. He also used Tony Newman on kit. Dino and Miller were already doing stuff with him. Then a few gigs popped up, a tour of France, a TV series entitled Marc’. All good. But because the work was intermittent, and anyhow I already was doing lots of freelance studio and live work, there was no way I , or Newman, would ever give all that up just to get wages for each thing that popped up. With a growing family not an option. Plus I’d not long spent some gruelling months on the Diamond Dogs tour and had developed tinnitus.
Plus, an opportunity to help put
Sky’ together was on the cards. More suited to my ambition at that time something different, a chance to do a bit of composing, a share of the profits, trips to Oz, Japan, NY, take the family…who wouldn’t?

3)    Why did a top session player like yourself decide to join T.Rex who at that timewere seen to be in decline by many people?

My work was taken by my wife Ann over the telephone. She ran my diary and had the knack of knowing whether or not the work was what I wanted to do. Like most musos, no plan. No commitment. That’s not to say no involvement. Players, especially those fantastic inventors of pop & rock records in those days were coming up with phenomenal music day in day out, year in year out, and so were we. Some of the time anyway. We were reliable, courteous, generally drink drug and bullshit free, cheap, a damn good laugh, first up, last to bed. All the things that Marc probably needed to be surrounded by at that time. And he rose to it. I loved him. I loved Tony Howerd, Newman, Dino, Miller, Muck, Cliff, all of em. And the music was good. I was old enough to know it wasn’t going to last gerrit?

4)    Can you remember your first T.Rex session?

One phone call. 10 1 at AIR London. £25 plus £5 porterage. Can’t remember the four tracks we did in three hours, but they were all one takers I think, and they were put on Dandy in the Underworld’ as far as I know. We worked quick. That’s my job. Didn’t wanna be hanging around all day in studios. Still don’t.

5)     Did you have any input on sessions or did Marc have everything worked out before hand?

Nothing to work out really. If it was four bars of E on the guitar then I’d played four bars of E on the bass. If the guvnor said that’s not working’ then we’d try something else. All Bolan’s pieces are a doddle to play. Any jackass with a stupid name could’ve done it. Just don’t speed up that’s all.

6)    Apart from the bass, did you ever contribute any other instruments (Ever got the chance to lay down a tuba solo for a T.Rex song!!)?

No, of course not. I’d save my tuba playing for Grandad’, Blue Mink’s Bannerman’, and Lou Reed’s Goodnight Ladies’. T.Rex was pure rock music.

7)    A favourite track \ session you played on?

Heroes’ on the last Marc’ program. David Bowie was on it, and in the dressing room he asked me what key his masterpiece hit recording was in. By accident I said E’ instead of D’. A simple mistake but nonetheless it sounded brilliant. Hope David doesn’t think I did it on purpose. At the end of the piece, Muriel the producer ran the programme’s end titles along the bottom of the screen to disguise Marc’s strapped up ankle (he’d had a slight fall some day’s before I think. Anyway… that was the last time I saw Marc. I think.

8)    How did you rate Marc as a musician and a boss?

A star. Nice player. Great to be with. Never once saw him lose his rag, ever. I think we supported him well by not influencing him badly. Now I think about it, what a great band that was. Although Gloria was around I never really got to know her very well.

9)    Where you on a set wage and did Marc pay the going rate!

Of course. Wouldn’t and couldn’t have it any other way. All the songs were his, the show was his. Everything was how he wanted it to be. So why should I expect any more? People ask if I feel bitter about only getting a session fee for playing the bass on Reed’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side’. Nope. A bar of C and a bar of F for four minutes. Not my song. My job.

10)     Did Marc ever rib you about Grandad keeping Ride a White Swan off the no. 1 spot?

Only once. Hard luck. Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys’ kept Bannerman’ off the no. 1 spot the following year. And I’d played on it.

11)    A fav T.Rex Tour

All of em. Tony Newman was/is my best friend. Everything… everything, made us laugh. Still does. The two biggest flannelers in the business and we’re still going strong. Him in Nashville touring with the Elderly Brothers, Crystal Gail, John Prine etc. despite a quadruple, and me, here, packing my suitcase to go and do a week’s workshop at the conservatory of music in Helsinki. Paradise.

12)    A fav T.Rex moment!

In a Little Chef on the A1 at 1 in the morning after a terrific gig. A coach load of us, including the damn Damned’, all starving hungry. Tony Howerd rang the bell and asked if the proprietor and his wike if they’d open up and dook us all a full breakfast each. You’ll have to help, said the proprietor. So we did, including the coach driver. The two loos, like all loos had great echoey accoustics, so we had a rude noise competition. Whoever could make the loudest raspberry by blowing in the inside part of the elbow would win. Tony Newman won hands down. At least fifteen times louder than Rat Scabies. I was second.

13)    Any pranks you got up to!!

Good Lord no.

14)    Did you see much of Marc when you worked with Bowie?

Not at all.

15)    Do you remember playing on the backing track of Heroes’ when Bowie guested on Marc’, and did Marc play the guitar parts?

See question seven. I don’t think there were any othe guitar tracks put down apart from Marc, David and Miller, unless some were done after the shooting. As I’ve said, I wasn’’t a one for hanging about afterwards. Straight on the road and up next morning to take the kids to school.

16)    Can you remember any other Marc\Bowie collaborations (i.e. Madman’ and Standing next to you’)? Is there anything else left in the can?

No idea.

17)    Can you recall if Marc was actively trying to write songs for other artists in 77 and if so whom?

No idea.

18)    Did you witness any of Marc’s drink \drugs tantrums!

None whatsoever. And that’s true.

19)    What made Marc get back into shape again?

Willpower, love, being a dad, and a belief perhaps that he had the light to enrich all of our lives. That he certainly did. More people I’ve met in my travels as an itinerant musician, ask me about Bolan than all the other so called artistes’ put together. What was it like working for him? Fine. I shall always treasure knowing him, loving him, and all those around him. He knew exactly what he was doing.

20)    What did you think of the Marc’ shows?

I was very happy with it. Being a bass player, there’s not a lot to do except sit on the beat. So I could look around at the punters. Their faces said it all. He had a magical effect on them all. If people don’t like T.Rex (Bolan that is), there’s something wrong with them.

21)    Can you remember why the French tour in 77 seemed so chaotic with dates cancelled and re-scheduled?

Probably because there’s no rock music in France. Or birds.

22)    Why did you give your notice in?

I didn’t give my notice in. I might have said that the work with the band seemed to be drying up a bit, despite a projected tour of the USA. Bear in mind As well, that being a freelance player, there were lots of dates in my diary that I needed to do, and not send deps on. Some bookers were not phoning me any more. There’s more to one’s career than not getting paid for cancellations.

23)    It’s reported Marc had approached Adrian Shaw from Hawkwind as your replacement…did you actually leave the band before Marc’s death or had you plans to finish at a later date?

Did he? Don’t think I left the band. I think the band left me. And Newman by then had all but made his mind up to emigrate.

24)    When was the last time you saw Marc?

A day or so before the terrible day.

25)    How did you get to hear of Marc’s death?

Newman phoned me.

26)    Do you think Marc would have been big time’ again?

He still is. A legend.

27)    How do you look back on your time with T.Rex!

Those years weren’t my best years for my own reasons. But, yes, it was good. I don’t rate myself too highly in the grand scheme. I was just a middle rate busking jazzeroonie, and still am. For every hit I’ve played on there are a thousand that weren’t, a lot of which I might have been responsible for f****** up with out of tune, busy in yer face style. Can’t bear to hear myself on any of it. So now you know.

28)    You recorded a single called Jubilee Bop’ in 1977.
Can you tell us the story behind this and who played on it?

Dunno. Maybe I asked Vic Lanza at EMI if we could get Rolf or someone to record a single about the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. I did a demo of it, and you know more about it than I. Those memories are the first to go when you get a bus pass.

29)     What is the most common question you are asked! (If its not been
asked--what's the answer?).

Is Herbie Flowers your real name? No, it’s Brian. A Brian Flowers wouldn’t have ever made it in the music business.

30)    What is your lasting impression of Marc?

How tiny he was. Beautiful. Think how much he gave us all in this hot demoralised society weve nearly demolished.


The Till Dawn Organization/Thanks to Herbie for offering us these new Pictures of himself