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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Steve Grey

    EVA:

    I’m Eva and I’m interviewing Steve Grey, a local performer.

    STEVE GREY:

    Hi Eva.

    What was your first introduction to music?

    When I was fourteen years old which was a long time ago [laughing]. I’ve been into music all my life from the age of fourteen, playing music in bands, always been interested, so always and forever I’ve been interested.

    Who would you say inspired you?

    What originally? People like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, all are heroes of mine, all the old people really cos it was a long time ago now. I can’t think of anyone else off-hand but all the old blues, I was into blues, into old ska, always been into that old Jamaican ska, soul music, I went through a big phase of getting into soul music when I was seventeen eighteen – northern soul and all that, we did a lot of that when I was down south, played with an awful lot of bands, some were good, some were terrible. I’ve done all sorts of things from country and western to barber’s shop quartet when I was younger cos when I discovered I could sing I just wanted to sing anything I could possible sing you know, I had all the enthusiasm for it then you know.

    Barber’s shop quartet – what’s that then?

    Well what it is, it’s four singers, four singers, no music, just singing, acapello, it’s really hard to do, it’s really good fun, it’s beautiful.

    Any certain costumes?

    Barbers, oh yes, yes, boaters, moustaches, handlebar moustaches [laughing], tea towels over the arm, very good yeah, that’s what a barber’s shop quartet is anyway, very close harmony singing, four different parts you know, four part harmonies.

    That’s very hard to do.

    Very hard yeah, a lot of work goes into it.

    Real moustaches?

    No no no, no imitation. I remember I was blonde and I had to wear a black moustache, which was quite amusing! [laughing]

    So do you play any instruments yourself?

    I do yes, I play guitar and I play drums. I started off playing drums and then when I discovered I could sing which was down to my music teacher, which was a very – he was lovely, he was the only person I got on with at school. I went to an all boys’ secondary modern school in London which was fifteen hundred boys; it was terrible and I hated it. I kept my head down, everybody kept their head down in them days, and….they were doing some sort of concert or other, putting on some music hall or other. They sat the whole class down and said ‘right, I want to know who can sing and who can’t so everybody’s - I’m gonna go through everybody one at a time, you’re gonna get up and sing’ and everybody went ‘I’m bloody well not’ so anyway, we did. When it came to my turn I didn’t want to at all, but I just got up and did it and discovered I had a voice and I didn’t know. From then on that was it you know. I learnt to play guitar purely to have something to sing to you know, so yeah I play guitar, not brilliantly cos it’s just been for accompaniment mostly you know, but I’m okay – reasonable.

    So how long altogether would you say you’ve been involved with music?

    How long?

    Roughly.

    From the age of fourteen and I’m fifty-seven now, so that’s a long time – over forty years isn’t it?

    What music do you listen to?

    I listen to everything, I really do, that’s no word of a lie, I listen to everything, and I like everything. If it’s well played and well recorded, it’s good music you know, but I listen to anything from classical down to hip-hop and rap and house music and….you know, blues music, anything. If it’s well played, it’s good music.

    So when did you first start playing in bands and why?

    Well after I left school I did all sorts as I said, but I got really heavily into playing in bands from about the age of about eighteen nineteen when I just wanted to be famous. I was in a few bands. You get in a band, you write a couple of songs and record them and nothing happens, and I went on doing that hoping, hoping and hoping, and I met a guy when I was twenty-two and eventually we got a band together and eventually we went off and became professional, touring American air bases in Europe for about three years which was probably the best time of my musical career I would say. It was jolly good fun and we worked really hard, and the idea was we would come back we would record an LP and it happened and then the guitarist got sectioned; he had to go into a mental institution and the band sort of fizzled apart, but then I came back and a bit fed up for a while but then I joined a band that I still think is the best band I’ve been in to this day apart from ‘The Owter Zeds’ of course which was a band called ‘Travla’ [spelt t r a v l a] and we recorded, we signed a recording contract and recorded more, and very nearly cracked it, then same old story, personnel problems and the drummer got poached by ‘The Joe Jackson Band’ and that was it really, it fell apart, but I was so fed up – that was just before I moved to Hebden Bridge…wow!

    What sort of music did you play in ‘Travla’?

    It was….sort of rocky…it was more, it was quite a glam-rock band actually. I dressed up, I wore make-up, I bought all my clothes in Chelsea Girl or Dorothy Perkins, in them days, wore make-up [laughing], yeah I was a glam-rocker, wore chiffon scarves and things, but it was basically a rock band but they were excellent, they were an excellent band.

    Original music?

    Yeah it was all original music, yeah. Some good songs too, some good songs.

    So what happened after ‘Travla’?

    Well by that time I was fed up, I gave up music, I’d had enough and…I was doing nothing really, and I had a friend that I used to play in bands with, he had a house in Blackshawhead and he said ‘why don’t you come and stay up there for a while?’ so I came up to Hebden Bridge and….fell in love with it, but I didn’t think I’d ever live here. Anyway I went back, visited a few more times and just fell in love with it, what’s more I fell in love with northern people more than, more than anything and that was it – I moved, I made my decision. Within a week I was living in Hebden Bridge.

    What made you like the people so much in Hebden?

    They were just so nice. People talk to you in Hebden Bridge, people are friendly, they say ‘hello’ to you in the streets, took me a while to get used to that. Yeah, people talk to you. I loved it, I met some lovely people, so I ended moving here, just for a time. Anyway I’ve never been back, never been back. Twenty-seven years I’ve lived in Hebden Bridge, but that was it as far as music because I was an ignorant southerner I must admit. I didn’t think there was anything musically happening north of Watford particularly, and so I really didn’t think there’d be any music going on in Hebden Bridge at all you know at that time, but how wrong I was.

    What was going on in Hebden Bridge at the time?

    Well there was loads of music, I was just amazed – musicians on the hills, incredible musicians, nice people, very few egos which I’d had enough of egos in music you know, and I joined a band from Rochdale about six months after I came here. I met somebody and they said ‘come and have a play’ and I joined a band called ‘Shang-Hai’ from Rochdale when I first moved up here and I was with them for about two years. We did some recording, wrote some songs. That was very good, I liked that, but then I met Jim Gole and John Armstrong and then my life changed around. I gave up ‘Shang-Hai’ and started playing with Jim Gole and John Armstrong, playing in scratch bands, doing parties, and we raised some money for the Trades Club when that was first getting off the ground. We did some gigs in there when there was nothing in there, just a bare room, raising money for the Trades Club.

    What kind of stuff were you doing?

    Oh then was just covers you know, all cover songs then you know. The first gig I did with them was at the Trades Club. I met John Armstrong in the afternoon, the Saturday afternoon and he said ‘would you come along and do some singing?’ so I did a gig with them that night, so it was a matter of ‘what songs do you know?’ and we managed to get through a whole night and it was great, I loved them to bits, they’re great people, but…then it was 1984 and ‘The Owter Zeds’ came along.

    So how did ‘The Owter Zeds’ come about then?

    Well it started off…it started off..Jim Gole and John Armstrong got together with Mick Shillerbere, another local singer, and did what they call ‘Reggieburger’ – ‘Citizen Reg’ – which was a scratch band and they started off, got together to raise money for the miners, the striking miners in 1984, but that didn’t last long, I took over very soon after that, singing, cos I was busy playing with ‘Shang-Hai’ still in Rochdale at the time. Yeah anyway we did a few gigs just doing cover songs. We decided – we were all sort of rock and rollers and blues men and we all decided that it would be nice to do some reggae covers and stuff like that. We did a lot of Bob Marley and UB40 stuff and…just did covers, and discovered that people danced to it you know, which was quite a revelation for people that had been into blues music and rock music, so we decided that that was the way to go, so we decided that we would stick together as band when we’d done this money raising thing, but with one stipulation; we wouldn’t do any cover songs, we would do all our own material, all original, and that was exactly where it started from, and ‘Owter Zed’ was born and on the road.

    So where were some of your first gigs then?

    Well we tried cracking Manchester, we couldn’t crack Manchester. We did lots of gigs in Leeds at that time, in and out of Leeds where we met other bands doing a similar sort of stuff to us, so we got quite a following over there and we did a fair amount of gigs in Leeds, but we went all over, I mean we’d go down to London, you know, it was no problem travelling really, we just used to love doing it. There was no pressure, nobody wanted to be famous, it was just for fun, purely for the fun of it you know, and that’s why we’re still together now.

    When was the first time you did a gig abroad?

    Oh that didn’t come till a bit later, about ten years ago. We went to France to do a festival there, through Jim Gole’s sister who lives in France. We went and did this local festival and managed to get some other gigs around the town, and we loved it, we had a good time, so we’ve been back most years since then, and we’re still doing that now, it’s our annual hols every year. What better holiday…playing music?

    What was the French reaction when you first went over there?

    Oh they loved it. There was a big, big ska scene in France and there still is, they love ska music in France, there’s lots of ska bands, lots of French ska bands which are absolutely excellent I might add, but they love ska in France, so everywhere we go, I mean, they just love it in France, they love it, they really seem to enjoy it, you know, and they like the brass, they like the brass playing, the brass section, that always goes down well with the French.

    You’ve just recently celebrated your twenty-five years’ anniversary at the Trades. How did that come about?

    Well it was an idea we had a few years back actually and we all said when we got the twenty-five year, which is a Silver Jubilee, we’d have a big celebration and try and get as many of the old faces….Owter Zeds, there’s so many people that’s been through it, we thought it would be good fun to get as many as we can together and have one big bash on the twenty-five year anniversary.

    How many musicians were playing at the Trades?

    I think we managed to get…twenty I think…twenty-five people, and they were all up at the end, but yeah, I think there was twenty-five we managed, but there’s been an awful lot more you know. Unfortunately a few people have died and a few people have moved away, can’t trace them you know, but I think we managed to get twenty-five or something like that, musicians to come along, and people travelled, people came from down south to play a few tunes that night. It was a good celebration.

    So, twenty-five people. That must have been quite chaotic.

    Yeah it took a lot of organising. We did it in three sets – early years, middle years and later years which is now, you know, and we did three sets, and tried to do lots of old tunes and inviting various people up to play the tunes that were there when they were written basically, and we managed to get most people up throughout the first two sets, and then the last set, just everybody was up, you know, but it did take some organising, some working out, but it worked very well. It was organised chaos, it worked very well.

    You must have had to revamp some old tunes. How did that go?

    Well that was great because we’ve rediscovered some old tunes which we’re actually going to get back in the set again you know, so we’ve discovered some real old pearlers from the past that we’re gonna redo and modernise a bit, so yeah, there’s some really good songs, got some good songwriters in ‘The Owter Zeds’.

    What would you say is the most bizarre gig you’ve ever played?

    I think the carnival gigs, the Hebden Bridge Carnival gigs were very good, they were quite bizarre, cos when I was younger it was always the local carnivals, all the young local bands, all sat on the backs of floats and went round the town you know, but it didn’t happen in the north, so we thought it would be a good idea to play on the floats you know, and go round town, it went down great, I really enjoyed them, they were quite bizarre gigs, playing on the back of a lorry but one of the best gigs I think was a cave gig where we played in a cave…an immense old Victorian show cave, and it was amazing and I remember we’d forgotten the microphones and the acoustics were so good, we managed to get away with using a tape recorder mike, and that was all we had for the whole night, but it was an incredible gig, and incredible experience bringing all the equipment through this little three foot by six foot high entrance to this cave.

    Where was this cave?

    It was in the Dales, I can’t remember the name of it now, but it was up in the Dales somewhere, but that was probably one of the most bizarre gigs I’ve ever done I think.

    How many people turned up?

    Oh it was packed, it was a gig for the Yorkshire Cavers and Climbers Association, we do a lot of gigs for them you know, up and down, they love us.

    So how do we find out more about ‘The Owter Zeds’?

    www.owterzeds.com – that’s o w t e r z e d s [spelt it out], so yes, please log on.

    How did you come up with the name ‘Owter Zeds’?

    Oh well that was…think Jim Gole is responsible for that. It was…it was one night when we were, we were on the phones looking for gigs – early days, and we needed a name and we had a list and I think it was Jim Gole that came up with ‘Inner Zeds’ as in ‘In Our Heads’ and then came up with ‘Owter Zeds’ – Out Of Our Heads, so we just kept at that and the phone call came and we said ‘what are we called? Er, er…’Owter Zeds’ but it’s really stuck and it’s a great name.

    Are you still gigging?

    Yeah as regular as we can, yeah, yeah, there’s not that many gigs around these days because places have closed up, like the music venues, but they’re still out there if you look for them, you know, but we’re still doing quite regular gigs yeah, hopefully we will carry on for many years as well.

    Do you have many albums available?

    We’ve got…one main CD which was studio recorded and we’ve a compilation out called ‘Day By Day’ which is a compilation of the years year by year, a compilation of all sorts of stuff recorded throughout the years you know, we’ve done several short six EP type six track CDs in the past, but you know we’re more into gigging than recording are ‘The Owter Zeds’ you know, it’s not been an over important thing for us to record – we like to record, but we’re more of a live band, that’s what keeps it perpetuating.

    Well thank you very much and we’ll be looking for to the next anniversary celebration.

    Hopefully yes, thank you Eva.

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Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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