New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Pretty self-explanatory
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Interview with Bruce Thomas , July 2017

Postby johnfoyle » Wed Sep 30, 2015 1:22 pm ... -memoir-2/

SEPTEMBER 30, 2015

Does Elvis Costello Bassist Steal Thunder with New Memoir?

by MC Krispy E

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Bruce Thomas, bassist for Elvis Costello’s original backing band The Attractions, makes quick work attributing a quote popularized by Costello to its originator Martin Mull. It’s one of several examples in Rough Notes that attempts to take Costello down a peg or two – but at best paints Bruce as George Takei to Costello’s William Shatner. And why not? It’s made a household name of Mr. Takei, at least.

Bruce’s books are the only fly-on-the-wall accounts of the Costello machine – until Elvis’ book Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink drops in October. As any bass player knows, timing is everything, and this one is in the pocket.

Band dynamics are a bitch, and I’m sure Mr. Costello shares some of the blame for falling out with Bruce. Still, in my estimation, Bruce Thomas owes a hell of a lot to having worked for one of the best singer-songwriters of his or any generation.

Of course the E-Street Band take is personally when Springsteen works without them, and maybe Doug Stegmeyer did ultimately kill himself when Billy Joel decided to move in another direction. Springsteen, Costello and Joel’s most important records would be blank discs without the vested interest of these musicians, friends, and confidants – so the resentment is real, I get it.

Thomas paints himself as the voice of reason in most every situation here. He’s the one that named The Attractions, created Steve Nieve’s moniker, tried to explain the famous Ray Charles/James Brown incident to Michael Jackson, and destroyed a tape where an interview caught drummer Pete Thomas (no blood relation) dragging Costello through the mud (only to unearth the story here?).

The demise of The Attractions is written as to make the whole thing sound mutual yet somehow Costello’s “fault.” Even when he criticizes himself, it’s done in a self aggrandizing way. Like how the likes of Chrissie Hynde, Tom Waits or Jim Keltner preferred Bruce to play functionally as opposed to creatively – as if asking Bruce to serve the song is somehow beneath him.

But honestly, whose memoir isn’t going to be self-serving? I know mine would be. You think I’m gonna say that someone else deserves most of the credit for my success? Would you? Also, Bruce is ultimately an artist, and true artists can be notoriously difficult chaps. Just look at Costello himself.

Truth be told, Thomas is an excellent writer. He has a way of taking swaths of time and condensing them into hyper intelligent chunks. Whole eras are boiled down into well executed and often beautifully illustrative paragraphs. I actually enjoyed reading it and recommend it to hardcore fans that know what a grain of salt tastes like.

Despite the drama, The Attractions did reunite for a few great great records and tours (and to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) but it’s no wonder Costello tours with the exact same band minus Bruce – even calling themselves Elvis Costello & The Imposters with the mutli-talented Davey Faragher on bass.

Rough Notes attempts to take Costello down a peg or two – but at best paints Bruce as George Takei to Costello’s William Shatner.
Is he a great bass player? No doubt. His playing was integral to many of those songs. Is he a great writer? Indeed. You may even be interested in his fictionalized accounts of touring or his Bruce Lee biography. Will anyone know who he is in fifty years? No. Not to diminish his contributions, but look at the bands of other renown front-men, like Willie Nelson for instance. Willie’s bassist was on-board since 1968 yet you can’t tell me that guy’s name or that he died in 2011. Only hardcore fans know that stuff. It seems Bruce really did publish this memoir at the last possible moment it would be of interest.

Bruce Thomas knows which side his bread is buttered on. He just doesn’t want you to know he knows it. Read his book and see.

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Thu Oct 08, 2015 3:42 pm ... rough.html

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Interview with Bruce Thomas about his new book: "Rough Notes"

by Harry Pye

Bruce Thomas has worked with Paul Rodgers (of Free), Suzanne Vega, Paul McCartney, Billy Bragg, The Pretenders, Madness, jammed with Fleetwood Mac, been asked to join Pink Floyd etc but, whatever he does, he will always be best known as the guy who played bass in Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

In my opinion Elvis, Bruce and keyboard player Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas made 2 slightly dodgy albums called "Goodbye Cruel World" (1984) and "All This Useless Beauty" (1996) and 9 brilliant records! I love "This Year's Model" (1978), "Armed Forces" (1979), "Get Happy" (1980), "Trust" (1981), "Almost Blue" (1981), "Imperial Bedroom" (1982), "Punch The Clock" (1983), "Blood & Chocolate" (1986) and "Brutal Youth" (1994) and I've played them all millions of times. Although Elv & The Attractions enjoyed some chart success in the late 1970s and early 1980s, received rave reviews from Rolling Stone magazine, had sell out tours all over the world and were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 - to my mind, it's not said often enough: Elvis Costello & The Attractions were one of the best bands there has ever been. The first book Bruce Thomas wrote was called "The Big Wheel." Among those to sing it's praises were Q Magazine who said Mr Thomas was: "A top notch anecdotalist who can time a twist to make you laugh out loud." Since then Bruce has written a best selling book on Martial Arts legend Bruce Lee. His latest effort "Rough Notes" is about his days as a music fan and being in The Attractions.

The book made me laugh a lot but I must say I was surprised how well written it was and how touching some sections were. You don't have to be a fan of Elvis Costello and The Attractions to enjoy Bruce's book (but I guess it helps). If you're interested in popular music post Sinatra then this insightful book is well worth snapping up as there are fascinating sections on everyone from the Man in Black to The Fab Four to King of Pop. And from jazz greats such as Chet Baker to loathsome losers like Jimmy Saville. There are funny stories about the legendary managers who started Stiff Records and members of lovable pub rock bands such as The Rumour and The Blockheads. The tales Mr Thomas has to tell about Pete, Steve and The Beloved Entertainer are a pleasure to read. What follows is a recent interview conducted via e-mail.

1) I remember The Big Wheel had a lot of rave reviews when it was published, but in your new book you don't seem very proud of it. In what ways is Rough Notes a better book than the first one?

It’s not that I’m not proud of The Big Wheel — it was the right book at the time and has a few good one-liners (which I probably stole). But in Rough Notes I wanted people to know the rather more complex aspects about my relationship with EC than have so far been aired. I wanted people to have a less knockabout version of the story and to realize, first of all, that we were actually friends — despite what’s been said on both sides over the years. I also wanted to (re)tell the story for the benefit of those who appear to think they know better than I do —chipping in on Wikipedia and their blogs with their character assessments of me, but without it having been within 10,000 miles of the situation. The Big Wheel was never the cause of any fallout with EC— even though I was always happy to encourage the myth to boost sales. It was actually his treatment of Steve Nieve, when Steve was in a very vulnerable state, that cause the first split. I’ve had to wait for enough time to pass before I felt it appropriate to tell the story. As it turned out, Steve forgave him long before I did. Rough Notes is equally factual about the circumstances of the second irrevocable break-up. In my opinion (and it is only my opinion)that was helped along by someone behind the scenes who had aspirations of becoming EC’s manager. I think ‘they’ wanted to create problems that they could then resolve and so insert themselves into the loop. I wanted people to know how and why the situation became unresolvable. And I thought I’d better tell the story while anyone who gives a shit is still around. The Big Wheel was my first attempt at writing, and I think it still just about holds up. Rough Notes is a far better written book, and a better read, and I think that shows up in the odd places where the two books overlap to describe the same event.

2) Elvis Costello said in one interview that the only issue he had with The Big Wheel is that he thought it was sad you hadn't had as much fun being in the band as he had. However, he then wrote an absolutely furious song about a "professional liar" who has found a "brand new occupation" and now has beautiful people making a stampede to his house because they think he's the "funniest fucker in the world" and that if there were any justice in this world he would instead be placed in "a modern museum of mistakes." This song (How To Be Dumb) is probably the most angry song that Pop's Mr Angry has recorded but does the song seem genuine to you? Do you think that as a song or performance it's as good as Lennon's How Do You Sleep? or Dylan's Positively 4th Street?

That’s more than a little ironic. I never thought of Elvis as someone who was having fun. If he was, he never let on! You have to realize that The Big Wheel was written while I was still a little pissed off for the reason referred to in the first question, and described more fully in Rough Notes, which occurred after a long period of ‘alienating’ the Attractions, which bordered on insulting. It wasn’t just me who was unhappy with the course of events. Steve actually got drunk and went and harangued Elvis very publicly at one of his solo gigs. I took it more philosophically and wrote a sarcastic book. I think it’s clear in Rough Notes that I’m at pains to correct the impression that I never enjoyed being in the band. As I say, for a time it was the best ‘beat group’ in the world — and I wouldn’t have missed that for anything. But I believe that EC always had the long game in mind — even as far back as his solo version of My Funny Valentine which was done when the band had been together for barely a few months. The ‘Dumb’ song never really got to me. It makes me laugh, if anything. ‘It’s all sound and fury, signifying…’As I point out in Rough Notes, after having done three years of intensive martial art training by then, it was like being attacked by Bambi. The only ones who really hang on to the song are the kind of Elvis fan boys who’d happily frame one of EC’s Tesco shopping lists and hang it on their wall, as if it contained pearls of wisdom. As a song, I’ve never considered ‘Dumb’ alongside the ones you cite — it’s more like Jilted John’s Gordon is a Moron, eh? Ha-ha. And I think even Lennon might’ve ended up embarrassed about How Do You Sleep. It’s got a good riff’n all, but anyone who’s ever heard National Lampoon’s musical send-up of Lennon’s Rolling Stone interview will know what I’m talking about. …By coincidence, last night I saw a later interview with Lennon in which he said that songs like Hey Jude and Eleanor Rigby would last for generations — so I guess he mellowed a bit, after all. As the saying goes, ‘Time wounds all heels’.

3) Did you send an advance copy of Rough Notes to either Pete Thomas or your ex-wife before bringing the book out? You're very honest and don't seem to hold back - which is good, but I just wondered were there any instances where you'd send Pete an e-mail saying: "How would you feel if I tell the story about what you said when we met up and..." Or was it a case of publish and be damned?

I did send my ex-wife, Suzanne, a copy of the book, just after publication, and awaited her response with a little trepidation wondering whether I should’ve done as you suggest. So imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from her one morning during which she could hardly speak for crying …with laughter! — saying she couldn’t read any more because of the tears rolling down her face. …But also adding that she was moved that I remembered so much about things. It was typical of her spirit and reminded me, not of why we’re no longer together, but of why I married her in the first place. It was the best conversation we’d had in 20 years. As regards Pete, I’ve been variously accused of ‘throwing him under the bus’ and ‘lapsing into sentimentality’ — so you can never please everyone. As regards quoting so many details of the conversation I had with Pete outside the Polly Tea Rooms in Marlborough, I simply went straight home and wrote the whole thing down verbatim. I later took a few things out — and in retrospect I should probably have taken out the information about his health complaints, which was unnecessarily included. While I wasn’t interested in making his life more difficult, or ramping up any old tension and friction —neither was I going to paint a false picture. I was determined to leave that in Pete’s remarks on Elvis’ grumpiness having improved slightly in recent years, or the fact that the band still find ways to dodge going in his car with him and having to listen to his latest ‘solo’ project. I was always the ‘shop steward’ for the Attractions and had to speak up about many things — like getting billing on our tours and albums. So I wanted Pete’s honest opinion aired for once, not just heard in private—even if it meant giving him no choice about it. However, I recall that, on the last tour I ever did with the band, even when Pete was once caught making a disparaging remark about Elvis, I still got shit for it. ‘But I said it!’ Pete said to EC. ‘Yeah, but it’s the sort of thing he would say, said Elvis, glaring at me. So doubtless my conversation with Pete will be spin-doctored, and construed as make-believe on my part, and things will carry on. In the final analysis, just as I ended up remembering why I married Suzanne in the first place, I wanted Rough Notes to be about why the band actually played together for 20 years, on and off, rather than why we fell out. That’s why I mentioned EC’s generosity and recall some of the better shows we did. I didn’t want to look at it through rose-tinted lenses, but I hope you’ll agree that there’s no bitterness or resentment in the book, because there isn’t.

4) You mention George Martin casting an eye on Steve Nieve's orchestral score. Martin once said that he'd have given "his eye teeth" to have worked with Costello around the time of Imperial Bedroom. If George had been in the producer's chair for Goodbye Cruel World it would have been a better record?

I wasn’t aware of that George Martin quote, it would’ve been interesting for sure — but I think the clue here is in the phrase ‘working with’— whereas EC might’ve been thinking more along the lines of him ‘working for’—as he did with Geoff Emerick. As for Goodbye Cruel World, the problem with that record wasn’t the production values but the lack of substantial material. Even by his own admission EC knows it was a pretty weak batch of songs coupled with the fact that he didn’t really want to work with us anymore. It was, in every sense of the expression, ‘end music’.

5) The Attractions albums have been re-issued with bonus tracks. Are there any rarities or recordings that are still in the vaults? And has Elvis dug out any stuff you were pleased to hear again - (Leave My Kitten Alone from the B&C sessions, the slow version of I Can't Stand Up, the Merseybeat version of Everyday, the reggae version of New Lace Sleeves).

I’ve no idea what’s in the vaults, but I can’t imagine that there’s anything left to be unearthed at this point. I can’t really answer the question, as I never listen to anything I did with the band — other than the odd track that comes up from time to time on TV or radio.

6) In the book you're very clear on Costello being fair about things, giving the band percentages of album sales, lending you money so you could get on the property ladder etc however, ultimately, you seem to fall out over quite petty things. Could you have arranged a meeting in which you'd brought a few things to his attention and said look, "I still haven't been paid for this and I don't think it was fair you said this..." Could your leaving have been avoided or had mutual trust, respect and the ability to communicate just corroded away?

As for falling out over petty things… at the end of the day relationships don’t end because of big gulfs in opinion on politics, religion or philosophy — but because someone keeps leaving the top off the toothpaste… But you don’t imagine that we bumbled along for 20 years and never thought for a second about what was going on, at any given time? You’ve got to remember that each one of us was sacked, or resigned, or retired, almost on a weekly rota.Band meetings were called on a regular basis and things aired — apart from the fact that we shared buses, hotel rooms, dressing rooms (not to mention other things). How many times over the years do you think we had ‘meetings’?—It was one long permanent meeting. As far as going to him about one thing or another to be straightened out, I had the DVD, the T-shirt, the Access-All-Areas pass, the Frequent Flyer points, Long-Service clock, Blue Peter badge and Crackerjack pencil. …Though I do admit that we never asked Jim to Fix It for us. You also have to remember that even after the ‘Big Wheel / How to be Dumb’ spat, things were resolved, and we got together again very productively and enjoyably for a while. The final split was never to do with my trust in, or respect for him, but the ‘fact’ someone else muddied the waters. I also got annoyed with his comments about there only being room for one star on the stage — and saying I was being ‘unprofessional’ for expressing myself musically. The other thing to bear in mind — to paraphrase Princess Di’s comment about there being ‘three in the marriage’ — is that, by this point, there were ‘five in the band’. In the latter years, we travelled separately as three (the Attractions) plus two (Elvis and Cait). Even backstage in the dressing rooms it was the same, by that point we only ever saw him on stage— and so it was more difficult to ‘arrange a meeting’. Even the Beatles didn’t manage to overcome the ‘Yoko factor’. And if the Beatles couldn’t manage it, it’s hard to see how we could’ve. But after all of that, a couple of years later, while I was living in Henley, I got a call from Pete. ‘How’s it going,’ I said, ‘what’re you up to?’ ‘We’re looking for a bass player,’ he said. Taking him at face value, I simply replied, ‘Good Luck.’ It was only some time later that I wondered if he’d been dropping a hint that I’d been too dumb to pick up on— just as (as I recount in Rough Notes) I once failed to recognize that I was being offered a job with Pink Floyd! During my conversation with Pete in Marlborough High Street, I asked him if this was the case. He seemed a bit uncomfortable, and said, ‘I don’t know.’ …So it’s probably best left as a mystery.

7) In 1996, when All This Useless Beauty was released on Warners a critic in Q magazine began his review with the words: "Do you remember the days when Costello releasing a new album was a big deal?" Although the tours sell out and New Yorkers loved his TV show - the albums that followed rarely troubled the charts and none received 5-star reviews. In your opinion what's gone wrong, and what can make it right again?

Well it’s not for me to say what, or if anything, has indeed gone wrong. So I can’t say what it would take to put it right. All I can observe is that, of the top 25 iTunes downloads of his entire catalogue, I play on (I think) 22 of them. I recently read a comment on a fan blog which said something along the lines of, ‘If Costello’s upcoming book is anything like his recording career, then the first three chapters will be short, exciting and creative, and the rest will become ever more self-indulgent’. I’m not saying that my going was the sole factor in any perceived change. But suffice to say then that it’s not the same band—if he ever wanted to be in a band, as such.

8) Burt Bacharach's collaboration with Hal David produced many a magic moment. Were you impressed by the Painted from Memory album, and would it be good if El and Burt worked on a follow up?

I’ve never heard Painted from Memory either, so I can’t answer your questions. …Though I do recall the time that El and Burt were working together on a song called God Give Me Strength(aptly-named). Anyone who saw the recent Cilla docudrama will know that Burt made our Cilla do nearly thirty takes of Alfie before he was satisfied. Why she didn’t whack him upside the head, I’ll never know. Burt is a pernickety and fastidious man — always turned out in immaculate white slacks and cashmere jersey. I think he gave EC a similarly torrid time, only this time it was via endless e-mails and phone calls, over constant changes to the arrangements.

9) What next for Mr Thomas? Previously you've written books about metaphysics and martial arts are there any other subjects you've considered writing about?

I’ve just written a new Bruce Lee book of completely original material, which I’m very happy with, after incubating it for about 10 years— but I’m not going to give any more away about it at the moment. I’m also working on a book about music from the point of view of the physics of sound, probably to be accompanied CD or download. I may write a follow-up to Rough Notes about what I did, in between the tours and recordings, which to me is maybe the more interesting half — but which could overlap in places with my musical career, as a reference point, and with further relevant anecdotes.

10) In your book you talk about working with arrangers and producers who helped make classic albums by Nick Drake, The Beatles and various other heroes and also meeting various major stars such as Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash and so on. Looking back what was the biggest thrill for you? Was there a particular moment when you had to pinch yourself because it all seemed too good to be true?

In away, the whole of Rough Notes is a compilation of ‘pinch myself’ moments of varying degrees of intensity and triviality — like Stevie Wonder playing the piano on Elton’s jet, or seeing Elvis Presley live. But the one that sticks with me is doing the session where Booker T played organ —bearing in mind that the first riff I ever learned to play was Green Onions. Another good memory is that, when Pete Townshend was working as an editor at Faber & Faber, I sent him some of my writing. He sent me a lovely handwritten letter back expressing his ‘profound empathy’ with it. Other than that, I tend to get as much of a kick out of meeting footballers and sportsmen. I remember shaking Neil Young’s hand at the Hall of Fame jolly-up in New York — only to turn round and stand face-to-ace with John McEnroe. I think that’s the only time I’ve felt really star-struck.

11) Elvis is about to bring out his autobiography. Can you imagine Nick Lowe or Jake Rivera bringing out their biogs? Who, from that era, would you most like to read their version of events?

I await EC’s memoirs… no doubt someone will tell me what’s in them. I don’t mind being called a liar, a pasty-face dilettante, or the funniest fucker in the world, or anything else. But if he persists with the slur about me being unprofessional, or playing badly to piss him off on the final tour, then I may just have to get cross all over again. At this point— and I have to use the world ALLEGEDLY very prominently —I have it from a reliable source (not Pete Thomas) that Elvis’ memoirs were ghosted, and that he simply dictated them. I have to emphasise that I have no firm evidence of this, only what I consider to be reliable information. But if it is true, then it brings new meaning to ‘Wise Up, Ghost.’ I don’t know if Nick Lowe would consider writing anything. He was always very kind about The Big Wheel though — as most people were in private — he said my writing, ‘walked off the page’.But bear in mind that songwriters don’t always make the best prose writers. Surprisingly, while writing Rough Notes I found myself remembering Jake a lot more fondly than I felt about him at the time. Yes, he could be a bit of a bully and a pain, but he had a real entrepreneur’s spirit, and a maverick flair — and he was a fellow cyclist. Jake has never had anything whatsoever to do with EC after he was fired,understandably, but I think he might have a good book in him. At least he’d be good value for a long leisurely lunch. John Cooper Clarkey’s would be the book I’d want to read — he could write a cracker, and it would certainly have some great jokes in it. Other than that, I’m not sure about anyone else from that era. I think the most interesting rock memoirs around are Pete Townshend’s.

12. In your book we learn about how Jimmy Saville "fixed it" for a young lad to be a roadie for The Attractions. You've travelled the world and played on great records but are there any dreams that haven't come true? What ambitions do you have left?

My main ambition is to get out of life, alive —I may have said that before. But in the meantime I’ll take another world tour, another great album …and another best seller or two. Other than that, waking up is better than dreams.

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Wed Dec 23, 2015 3:38 am

The latest from Bruce -

Jerry Cohen says:

December 20, 2015 question has to do with the song Party Girl, among your best work with The Attractions in my humble opinion. Is that a part you worked out quickly in the studio with the band there, or did you have to spend some time with it before coming up with that amazing bass line? And was there one particular way you worked on your lines generally with The Attractions? Happy 2016.

Bruce says:
December 20, 2015

I think I came up with the bass line to the Middle 8 in rehearsal. It was a puzzle I set myself to come up with the highest then the lowest note on the same string that fit the chord change — and then the next highest and lowest — sliding up and down, to give the impression of a tipsy girl tottering along on high heels. Not all the bass lines were constructed that way, as puzzles. If there was an overriding approach it was to take the rhythmic cues from the drums and the melodic cues from the voice, thus tying the top and bottom of the song together. I’ve recently answered the your questions at greater length in a feature interview for Bass Guitar magazine (UK) which is out in February. (The January edition has a review of the Profile Bass — which gives it 10/10 for value.)

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Sun Mar 20, 2016 3:36 pm ... usive.html

Bruce Thomas - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive

Written by Gaz Tidey

Sunday, 20 March 2016

"Do you fancy interviewing Bruce?" the message read, and, within moments, I had stopped punching the air and thanking my aged iconic subject finder and was already cramming facts on a bona fide star of the music world; one inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, no less.....

Bruce Thomas was the bassist for the Attractions, the band formed around Elvis Costello in 1977. The music they created is as timeless as it is popular, the tensions that followed perhaps not as well known, but certainly as noteworthy. In his new book, 'Rough Notes', Bruce gives the full story of his tempestuous times with "The Singer" so there appeared to be no better time than the present to catch up with the legendary bass player to get the lowdown on his written works, his musical career, and Operation Yewtree.....

First things first, I have to say that it is an honour to be asked to interview a bona fide star of the music world, who's been on Top Of The Pops an' everything!

Ah, yes. Top of the Pops — two minutes of miming and two days of hanging about. But I suppose it’s not everyone who gets to within spitting distance of Bucks Fizz and Gary Numan.

Readers will no doubt know you as a former member of The Attractions, but may not realise that you have written a number of books....

I have indeed written several books, but the only ones you need concern yourself with are my Bruce Lee biography, 'Fighting Spirit' (which is now pretty well accepted as the definitive book on its subject), and my recent ‘memoirs’, 'Rough Notes'.

Would you say that 'Rough Notes' tells the full story of the boy who took on a paper round so he could afford to buy a guitar and later found himself inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

I would say that — because that’s what it says on the cover. But it also includes many of the bits in between. 'Rough Notes' is the ‘full story’ in terms of my musical career — and obviously dwells on my time as an Attraction — but is also a memoir of the entire ‘golden age’ of rock and pop. I concentrated on the musical side of things — that is, the rock and roll, without the sex and drugs — because the idea was to write a book not a set of encyclopaedias.

How does this memoir differ from your first book, 'The Big Wheel', and its sequel, 'On The Road... Again'?

'The Big Wheel' was also based around my time with EC and the As, but was written as a tale of any generic band, mainly as therapy for ‘touritis’. But there’s an entire chapter in 'Rough Notes' that answers this question more fully. I started writing '...Wheel' on a US tour where there was us and our support band, ironically named Squeeze, along with managers, agents and tour managers all crammed on to the same bus. It was a time when all the endless touring came to a head and the book is pretty much a long whinge …along with a few good jokes. Its release pretty much coincided with the end of the Attractions Mk1. But if you haven’t already read it, then thank the circumstance and leave it to be lost to the mists of time.

'On the Road Again' coincided with the end of the Attractions v2.0. The only thing it illuminates is that you should never write a book while having a nervous breakdown — or at least, not while you’re feeling exhausted, emotional and confused. So you can thank the circumstances again, and let that book be lost to the mists of time, too. The idea was also to write about all the ‘other stuff’ in my life. As it happens, I’ve just started writing a new ‘memoir’ that interweaves some other experiences with the band with ‘what I did on my holidays’— like spending time with the Hopi Indians and working up at the Findhorn community in Scotland, as well my time learning kung fu, and several what you might call ‘X-Factor’ incidents.

'The Big Wheel' was a memoir that never mentioned some of the main players by name - a certain Mr. MacManus/Costello referred to as "The Singer" for example. Was writing 'Rough Notes' an opportunity to set the record straight regarding the subsequent feud that followed the release of that first book?

I’d always been happy to encourage the idea that 'The Big Wheel' upset EC so much it led to my sacking, but that was really only a myth to add a bit of notoriety to it and encourage sales. In fact, I made a rod for my own back by doing that, and the myth became accepted as the official version of events — and every know-nothing journo and fan-boy who’d never been within 1,000 miles of the band began repeating the myth in their accounts, or posting it on Wikipedia. The reason for my first split with the band was a lot more subtle, detailed, and quite a bit darker than that, and revolved around something EC did to Steve Nieve, by ‘attacking’ him while he was in a very vulnerable state — as is fully explained in 'Rough Notes'. As it happened Steve forgave for it long before I did.

The song 'How To Be Dumb', from Elvis Costello's 1991 album, 'Mighty Like A Rose' was said to be written in retaliation to 'The Big Wheel' - do family members ever play it at you after an argument?!

Of course ‘Dumb’ was a riposte to my book, but the only person who’s ever actually played it to me was the producer, Mitchell Froom. So yeah, what can I say about it? It’s a bit of Dylanesque bluster based around the customary lyrical pun. What nobody seems to have picked up on is the song that precedes it — 'Hurry Down Doomsday', is far more direct. For your consideration here’s part of the first verse. (Copyright of course remains with the artist formerly known as…)

“He's planting a trashy paperback book for accidental purchase.
Containing all the secrets of life and other useless things.
But I can't bring myself to look.
Wake up Zombie write yourself another book.
You want to scream and shout my little flaxen lout.
Hurry down Doomsday the bugs are taking over.”

So, in fact, I got two songs out of him!

Despite your differences you rejoined the Attractions, playing on 'Brutal Youth' and 'All This Useless Beauty' and taking part in a World Tour - how did this happen, and how tense was your relationship with "The Singer"?

The reconciliation between EC and me was brokered by Mitchell Froom who I used to do a lot of session work for. He was Suzanne Vega’s producer (and later, her husband) and he’d been booked in to produce EC’s new album. He did a kind of ‘what would you say if he rang you?’ routine with both of us in turn. As it happened, I was in Los Angeles, staying at Mitchell’s house, while he was in New York, the precise moment I got a call from EC about getting back together. And at that moment there was a substantial aftershock from a recent earthquake. The ground shook!

The reformed band was actually a joy for a year or so. EC gave me gifts of classical CDs. We talked about painters we liked. I even travelled in his car with him on occasion. In fact, we were enjoying touring 'Brutal Youth' so much we elected to extend the tour of the US and Europe into Japan, followed by a further UK tour and then decided to record a further album the following year. And all went along swimmingly, until the next question…

Didn't he claim that you sabotaged songs onstage after the Attractions disbanded for the final time, before regrouping as The Imposters with the bass player from Cracker replacing you?

Cracker?! — That was Robbie Coltrane, surely — unless he was an imposter too.

I can’t put my finger on the exact moment that the dysfunction set back in, but there was certainly a ‘tipping point’. One night, at a gig in Spain, we were playing 'I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down'. But unlike the up-tempo version of the hit single, we were doing like the original Sam and Dave soul ballad. At one point, EC did one of his best Joss Stone impressions to which I added a blues lick high up the neck — a guitar part if you like. The following day on the way to the airport, he looked at me and told me, ‘And I don’t want you camping it up on stage again like last night.’ And then added (and I don’t think he was joking) ‘There’s only room for one star on stage’.

Unfortunately, at the following gig, my faux pas was compounded. We were playing one of his new songs — a vaguely feminist ditty that I suspect “Mrs” C had had more than a hand in — when I played a bum note. He whirled round and glared at me because it was my first mistake in the best part of 20 years and probably came about because I was wondering why I was there. Obviously, from what he later said about being ‘sabotaged’, it was enough to convince him that I was now attacking musically, on stage. Or at least, that was the spin he decided to put on it.

You did appear alongside Elvis Costello when you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, though....

I got a call from Elvis’ office, to say the band had been voted in to the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But over the course of the call, it became clear that if I was going to be involved there’d be no reconciliation. So I suggested that we treat the occasion like the German and English soldiers who famously put down their weapons on Christmas Day to have a game of football between the barbed wire and the trenches, before they returned to sniping at each other on Boxing Day. I added that if it would make life easier I needn’t be seated at the same table and would just go on stage at the required time to collect my gong. Come the evening of the award ceremony, I’d been taken at my word about separate tables, and so I found myself seated with representatives of various other musicians there to be honoured — the other Elvis’s piano player, Floyd Cramer; the late Benny Benjamin, the drummer who played on Motown hits with the great Mr Jamerson; and Steve Douglas (the sax player in Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound). It was company I was more than happy to be included in.

When it was ‘our’ turn to go to the side of the stage — it was the first time we’d been together for seven years. I shook hands with everyone, including Elvis, who slapped me on the back. But the bonhomie was superficial — no more than the truce described. Elton John was to present our awards. He took to the mic saying he didn’t know much about the Attractions, so he would only talk about Elvis. I’d suspected they would airbrush the picture a little. But in order to ignore me, they had to ignore us all.

Elvis told the audience, ‘This isn’t a time to air old grievances.’ …In other words, ‘I’m not going to mention what I’ve just mentioned.’ When it was my turn to speak, I contented myself with, ‘Thanks for the memories …that’s it.’ And so it was.

Some readers may be surprised to learn that you wrote a Bruce Lee biography, 'Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit', which has been reissued in a revised and updated issue. What was the, erm, attraction with the iconic martial artist?

Most people who saw a Bruce Lee movie were inspired to take up kung fu; I did it the other way round. One evening I was mugged near my own house, which pissed me off so much that I decided to seek out a martial arts instructor. As luck would have it, I ended up being directed to the very best, a guy called Derek Jones who had a school in Shepherds Bush. After I’d been with Derek for a while he came round to my house one day with a video in which he’d compiled the fight scenes from all of Bruce Lee’s movies. He explained what was actually happening in them, which was basically the same as he was teaching me.

It was the first time I’d ever studied Bruce Lee in action — at the time of Bruce Lee’s rise I was on tour all the time and so never got caught up in it. Now, I was as dumbfounded as I was the first time I saw Jimi Hendrix, or George Best …or the Who. It’s only a few times in a lifetime that you ever see someone who’s so supreme and innovative in what they do there’s just nothing to compare it with. I realized I had to understand what Bruce Lee’s art was all about, so I decided to write a book about it — not to teach anyone, but to learn. I wanted to explain him to someone who knew nothing about him — me! And reckoned that by the time I’d understood it all, I would’ve explained it to everyone else. And that’s pretty much how it turned out. I’ve recently finished a new Bruce Lee book which goes much deeper into understanding what he was about; I’m very pleased and excited about it.

On the subject of books, I can't leave the topic without mentioning your inclusion in Derek Philpott's 'Dear Mr. Kershaw: A Pensioner Writes'. Your reply to Derek's letter about Oliver's Army is a highlight of the book!

You’re very kind. Derek Philpott, for those who don’t know, is an old buffer who writes to songwriters to point out anomalies in their lyrics. And so, in writing to EC, he says that 'Oliver’s Army' can’t be ‘on their way’ and ‘here to stay’ at one and the same time. My reply was written on behalf of ‘the Songwriter’ himself, who declined to take up the challenge. I point out that John Lennon made a similar statement in 'War Is Over' — in which he writes: ‘And so this is Christmas. And what have you done. Another year over. And a new one just begun.’ Lennon is similarly saying that it’s Christmas and New Year at one and the same time.

My longer reply cites the work of Edwin Abbott, a Victorian mathematician who wrote a novel called 'Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions', which is a clever analogy that shows how the nature of time is dependent on our personal perception of it — and explains perfectly how events seemingly separated by time can co-exist. There’s also a good explanation of this in the movie 'What the Bleep Do We Know'.

The short explanation is that we are used to perceiving time as an endless line coming out of the distant past, going on towards an equally distant future. We think of eternity like this, as an endless length of time, going on ‘for ever and ever, Amen’. But eternity isn’t an endless length of time; it’s the third dimension of time — like a cube or sphere of time — where all possible timelines are contained, all at the same time.

Looking back to your music career before and after The Attractions, you worked with future rock legends Micky Moody and Paul Rodgers in The Roadrunners, right?

Of course, we now understand that they weren’t ‘future’ rock legends and that that time-line was one among an infinite number of possible time-lines that already existed, waiting to be actualized. But speaking from the conventional, sense-based perception of passing time, you are quite correct.

It was only because Paul Rodgers wanted to concentrate on singing that the job of bass player with the Roadrunners came up. A local entrepreneur, John McCoy, recognized that, even at the age of 15, Paul Rodgers would go on to be ‘one of the great voices of rock’. After we turned pro and moved to London, PR used to go out on to Hampstead Heath and scream himself hoarse to break his voice down a further register. He must’ve known what he was doing, because it worked.

You've also worked with the likes of Al Stewart, Billy Bragg, and Suzanne Vega.....

The enduring memories of the Al Stewart sessions are the antics of the piano player who was also on them — one Rick Wakeman, who was forever clowning around, doing his impressions of pub pianists playing Led Zeppelin melodies and such like. Approaching the climax of recording an epic ballad about Napoleon’s armies marching on Moscow, that was about 10 minutes long, Rick sneaked up behind Al and jabbed him in the ribs, wrecking the entire take. Jeez, I’d love to have seen Steve Nieve do that with Elvis!

I enjoyed the Suzanne Vega sessions a lot. She’s a great songwriter and a lovely person. Mitchell Froom built the arrangements around the bass parts. Though I often went back and redid the master bass part as the last track to go on the recording, so that I could musically tie everything together. It became my preferred way of working.

Easy one this: what is the highlight of your musical career?

In terms of recording, probably being asked to play bass for Paul McCartney …or turning up to a session in LA and finding that Booker T was the organ player …or maybe the day we cut seven tracks for 'This Year’s Model' in one session. In terms of being in the audience that would be The Who’s show in Glasgow in 1971. I’ve never seen another live show that’s come anywhere near it. You never know, the musical highlight of my career may yet be to happen — but in terms of the past I’m going to answer this by quoting a passage from 'Rough Notes'…

“Not long after I first arrived in London, I discovered how I could go round the back of the Marquee Club, hide in the toilets, and then sneak in and see some great musicians for free. Two years later, one of those musicians was about to make a guest appearance with my band at the time, Village. This particular week, our organist Pete Bardens called in a favour from the guitar player of his previous band, Peter Green. By now, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac were not only the preeminent blues band in Britain but were outselling the Beatles with hits like the evocative instrumental Albatross, classics like Need Your Love So Bad, haunting songs like Man of the World, and innovative ones like Oh Well.

Greeny came on to the stage and stood alongside me. ‘Shuffle in A,’ he said to everyone — and then leaning his head towards me, he whispered in my ear ‘…nothing fancy. ’ And then…

Neither before, nor since, have I heard anyone play with such tenderness, passion, purpose, precision, intelligence, lyricism, tone, taste, soul and power — with such fire in his belly and authority under his fingers.

Immediately afterwards I tried to tell him — and many times later, to tell others about it — always at a loss to express it …just as I am now. But to hear someone reaching into the sheer depth of feeling it’s possible to find in notes of music is both a humbling and elevating experience. How could one single note give so much, let alone the clusters of stunning lucidity? Peter replied that half the time he didn’t know what he was playing. If that’s so, then it’s only because the gods were playing it for him.

Of course, Peter Green didn’t invent the blues! But as my kung fu teacher Derek Jones once told me, as he’d gone on to become better than the people he’d learned from, he was able to ‘stand on the shoulders of the masters’. Of course you could still hear Freddy King and Otis Rush and others in Greeny’s playing — but he’d also surpassed them. Even BB, the King, said that Peter Green was the only guitar player who could make the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.

By contrast, I’ve heard many, many, many bad guitarists over the years, and some truly awful ones — the widdly-widdly-widdly ‘more is less’ guys — fat guys in Hawaiian shirts, skinny guys in leather pants — never mind the feeling, count the notes! Some have even tried to copy Peter Green, covering his songs, gritting their teeth, narrowing their eyes, trying to look soulful, over-bending the strings, over-sustaining the notes, overdoing it all, kidding themselves (and quite a few others), but not even scratching the surface.

Greeny didn’t just play notes — he would finesse them and let them breathe. Every note had its own quality, got its own due attention and told its own story. But he no more played guitar note by note than I can describe it word by word. What it amounted to was listening to the blues …and finding sheer joy. As I said, it’s unusual and unexpected to have such an experience so early in a long career in music. But hand on heart, and on the record, the young Peter Green wasn’t simply the best guitarist I ever heard, but the most gloriously inspiring musician.”

One last thing; 'Rough Notes' features details of an encounter with Jimmy Savile - as a veteran of Top Of The Pops appearances, was the inner sanctum of the BBC as blatantly awash with sexual scandal as the tabloids would have us believe?

Who knew what was going on? Well pretty much everyone — the rumours were universally known. Who spoke out? Well for a start, the punk comedian Jerry Sadowicz did. On a routine on an album he plainly stated, ‘Savile is a child bender; he only does all that charity work for when his case comes up.’ He was quickly forced to withdraw the album for ‘legal reasons’. John Lydon also went on record about Savile, and the BBC banned him for 10 years for his trouble. And there’s even the ‘conspiracy theory’ that the presenter Jill Dando had compiled a dossier on the sexual abuse within the organization and was banned from living for her trouble. But who would’ve suspected Rolf Harris and his extra leg?

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby sheeptotheslaughter » Wed Mar 30, 2016 6:20 am

Myself and Bruce are exchanging messages and statuses on Facebook on all things Manchester United

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Mon Apr 18, 2016 5:09 am

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Sat May 07, 2016 5:58 pm


April 28, 2016


I bumped into Pete Thomas’ good lady in my local pharmacy yesterday. She volunteered the information that Pete very much enjoyed reading Rough Notes. Top man, that Pete Thomas.

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Fri Jul 22, 2016 7:06 am

More smarty pant remarks from Bruce Thomas , on a local BBC radio station last week , about 16 minutes into this. ... mr-kershaw

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Sun Dec 18, 2016 2:23 pm

Looking for something else , I happened on this from July 1996 , when Elvis was rehearsing with The Attractions in Dublin , about a month before the 'there's only room for one star on this stage' episode. ... y_24,_1996

"I was aware that Brutal Youth didn't have the power of a Blood And Chocolate because the band hadn't played together for eight years. What it did have was the sense of discovering one another's way of playing again. so there's a charm to that. Occasionally, that power would click and it's an awesome sound, The Attractions, when it clicks.

"I really like that record for having that nervy sound because it is, literally, a document of our getting to know one another again. Now, we've got the confidence to be able to take the foot off the gas and not be trying so hard. We've stopped to listen to one another again, because we're getting along.

"There's always the danger that we'd start to take each other for granted. But I started to listen to Bruce playing bass the other night and I nearly stopped playing in the middle of a live number, it was so amazing what he was doing. He's one of the greatest musicians on the planet. I know Nieve takes everybody's ear but the other two are just as good. I'm just the singer. I write the songs. I don't play great guitar. I make the right noise for this band but they are a really good band and they have never got the credit for how good they are.

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Sun Jan 29, 2017 4:44 pm

Recent comments from Bruce -

BorisBrain says:

January 22, 2017

A quick historical question if I may. Did you have the opportunity to team up with Pete and Steve in the house band for Jonathan Ross’ show back in the day? Would have been the perfect to see you with those two, and some of the guests they backed…

Bruce says:

I did have the opportunity, but I declined because I thought it would somehow devalue the Attractions ‘brand’ and I thought we were better than journeymen musicians. Of course, Pete ‘I’ve got a mortgage’ Thomas’s missus didn’t necessarily see it that way :D in hindsight, I think I did the right thing. …Though of course I should regret missing the opportunity to back Rolf Harris.

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Re: New autobiography from Bruce Thomas , July 2015

Postby johnfoyle » Sat Mar 11, 2017 11:07 am

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Re: New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Postby Offshoreram » Sat Mar 11, 2017 1:35 pm

I assumed he was a Boro (Middlesbrough) fan.

I'm sure I read that somewhere?
My head is spinning and my legs are weak

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Re: New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Postby sulky lad » Sat Mar 11, 2017 4:38 pm

I think Bruce's football history is a bit chequered here. After all didn't he once live in Shepherd's Bush at one stage and wrote the club song for QPR ( Loftis Road Runners)? - but like so other non Mancunians, hitched his affectations to M.U. once they became successful again under Ferguson !! As my uncle is the only person I know who supports QPR, I feel a bit betrayed by Bruce in this :evil:

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Re: New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Postby sheeptotheslaughter » Mon Mar 13, 2017 3:08 am

Bruce sent me a signed copy on friday.I wont hear a word said against him :D

As an non Mancunian United supporter, when we had a massive out of town support in the early 70's the days of division 2 etc it was considered a good thing that fans came from all over the country to support united. But typical of this country as you as you become the best they want to bring you down. But that's for another day and another fan forum

Sulky I do know another Elvis fan who supports QPR but i dont think he posts on here.

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Re: New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Postby Mikeh » Mon Mar 13, 2017 5:55 pm

There is a link between Bruce's earlier books and Manchester United. I seem to remember that Cantona did a good Bruce Lee impression

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Re: New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Postby sulky lad » Mon Mar 13, 2017 6:21 pm

Mikeh - brilliant, just brilliant - you will forever be a hero in my heart for that !!!

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Re: New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Postby Top balcony » Mon Mar 13, 2017 6:23 pm

you really can see why Elvis and Bruce got on so well.....

Colin Top Balcony

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Re: New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Postby martinfoyle » Wed Jul 12, 2017 1:57 pm

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Re: New book from Bruce Thomas , March 2017

Postby johnfoyle » Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:02 pm

New interview today with Bruce - I'm listening to it now -

Chat re. Elvis at c.2.40 , the dance routines in the videos , the recording sessions for Get Happy ! and Almost Blue etc.

c. 2.54 - dig at Elvis . Sign off with comment about working on Vol. 2 of his memoirs.

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