I’m very excited and pleased to announce that John Beck (It Bites) has joined the band as my new keyboard player to replace Mike Varty and bring us his vast experience and huge talent to complete a very special new line-up.
I’ve known and admired him since 1987 when It Bites supported Marillion at Wembley arena and our paths have crossed many times over the years with some of you aware of their shining performance at the Leamington Spa Fishheads club convention. I championed their album “Tall ships” when I was presenting on Planet Rock and have been a fan of theirs for a long while. I’ve always loved John’s playing and musicality but never really thought that we would ever get the chance to work together due to his commitment with his own band.
Robin’s illness and the tour cancellation gave me a chance to review the band situation as Mike Varty had not slotted in the way I had hoped. The first 3 weeks of rehearsals with him had been a struggle as he found it difficult to get his head round the material which created some frustration and a slight worry amongst the other band members with the fast approaching UK tour. None of us could remember ever spending so much time rehearsing and I admit to getting concerned at the increasing investment in time and money. I had added another 5 days before the UK tour here at the studio to get the set finally together and up to gig speed but we were all nervous with Mike in particular noticeably stressed during the last rehearsals in Denham. We both knew that it wasn’t coming together as fast or as well as we had hoped and everyone had tried to provide support and help to get through the songs. It had been a long slow process and it wasn’t doing anything for anyone’s morale including Mike’s. When I eventually called him last week to let him know that I had decided to change keyboard players I detected a sense of relief!
On the final rehearsal period I’d called immediately before the tour Robin had arrived already infected with chickenpox and the first morning it became very obvious just how seriously ill he actually was. The rest of us tried to soldier on but without a guitarist we were badly hampered as Robin could only stay on his feet for less than 30 minutes before collapsing exhausted in his bedroom. As the first show drew closer and Robin’s health deteriorated further rehearsals were impossible. We all knew that even if Robin made a miraculous recovery we would still need to replace the missing rehearsal days as Mike wasn’t yet ready for shows. As such the decision was made for me and when I called off the tour after Robin was proclaimed medically unfit to perform there was, amidst all the bitter disappointment, a chance to take a breath and a step back to get a better perspective on where we were. I knew I had to bring a keyboard player in with more experience who could pick things up quickly and deliver what everyone has come to expect from my band on stage.
The gig in Rome was next up on the 5th June and I had to find someone fast as Foss, although more than willing to help out again and cover the show, was already booked for another engagement the day after Rome when we are scheduled to fly back home. Calls were put in to various people I already knew who were more than capable but my tour schedules conflicted with their diaries and sessions they’d already booked. I was pointed in the direction of other players and the same answer came back with a couple of people seriously disappointed they couldn’t commit. This was all happening as I was desperately trying to deal with the tour fallout and various other episodes that I mentioned in previous blogs and posts at the time! The keyboard crisis was happening in the background. My stress levels were bordering on the red zone!
In football parlance I was hoofing long balls into the box hoping someone would score as the whistle was about to blow on the Rome gig. Robin was still ill and was incapable of doing anything including getting together with any new prospect to run through the basic arrangements. I had no idea when he would be able to play again and the latest I could call rehearsals to give Robin maximum time to recover was the 26th May, giving us only 4 days as Gavin Griffiths had gigs booked. I was tearing my head apart until I remembered John Beck and checked out the It Bites web site and saw nothing was really happening with the band. I called up their singer John Mitchell, who I’d got to know quite well and asked what they were up to and he confirmed the band had nothing in the works and were to all intents and purposes on hold. I explained my dilemma and nervously broached the subject of John Beck’s availability and commitments. I was surprised when John gushed his praises and announced he would be perfect for me and to follow up giving me his contact details. Before I had a chance to come to terms with this new possibility that had arrived out the blue from a long shot John Beck phoned me less than an hour later and told me he was well up for it and keen to discuss what was needed. He could play all the dates in the book and told me he could get the set together with the band in 4 days with homework adding he was a quick learner and had been a session player for Alice Cooper, Jon Anderson and Alan Parsons, something I wasn’t aware of and which made me feel even more confident about him. We had a long chat about how the circus operated and my cunning plans which he wanted to be a part of and I knew I had found my guy! The ball was in the net 🙂
E mails whizzed back and forward and Steve and I sent material to him to listen to and start to put together. John was really positive and was impressed by a few numbers he’d never heard before and which he was excited at the prospect of playing! He didn’t sound phased at all and was totally relaxed and confident and looking forward to getting up here to play!
Although we’d met quite a few times backstage and at festivals I didn’t really know him or much about him outside of It Bites. We’d always got on really well when we did meet up and there was definitely a mutual appreciation and respect between us. The communications in recent days leading up to the rehearsals strengthened my belief that this would work out. His session history put the others more at ease as John was more of an unknown quantity to them but when we met up on Sunday for the first time it was obvious he would fit in perfectly with our circus. When he started playing the tracks he’d been learning on his own at home over the past week with the band there were huge smiles across the rehearsal room for the first time in a while. I have no doubts whatsoever that we will be ready for the Rome show and we can concentrate on building the set through the Summer at the other festivals and put the whole new 2014 set in place to premier at the Haddington gig on the 23rd August.
Robin is a lot better and still easily fatigued but there’s an energy back in the unit again and having already run through a third of the set today everyone is looking forward to John’s debut with us in Italy.
It’s been a pretty tumultuous last couple of weeks and there were times I thought it was all going to collapse around my ears. As I said everything happens for a reason and despite the worry over the severity of Robin’s illness, the deep depression and dark clouds cast over us from losing the tour on the release of the single together with the accumulated cost of rehearsals and wasted time with no income, it’s been balanced by finding a superb keyboard player who, I am sure, will take this band to another level. With the promise of another fine writing partner for the next album and an immense cunning plan moving into position I am confident there are some very exciting times ahead.