Born 1948, Michael Bolton, in Wigan, Lancashire, UK.
Started piano lessons at age 11, learning mostly classical music but also the pop hits of the day - Beatles, Stones etc.
Attended teacher-training college in Twickenham from 1967 to 1969 and began to think about being a musician when I won a talent contest there playing piano. It was a fantastic time to be within easy reach of the London music scene and I regularly attended rock concerts and gigs, much to the detriment of my teaching course which I eventually abandoned.
In 1969 I returned to Wigan where I bought a Farfisa organ and joined my first band - WHITE MYTH. We set out to be a 'progressive blues band' but quickly found that to get local gigs we would have to play more popular stuff. After a difficult start (see my Anecdotes page) we made a few personnel changes and emerged as a fairly good pop outfit playing clubs and colleges around the north of England and the Midlands. Our drummer was Lou Rosenthal who went on to play with Ian Gillan's band and has been a member of The Merseybeats since 2000. In 1971 I left to join a local blues band BLIND EYE. Both bands played support gigs to such bands as Free, Queen, Atomic Rooster, Supertramp and Slade. In 1971 I attended a demonstration of Marshall equipment by DEEP PURPLE in Manchester in front of an invited audience of musicians. Their organist John Lord hadn't turned up and half way through the set Ian Gillan asked if anyone from the audience would like to join them on Hammond Organ for a couple of songs. Almost before the words had left his mouth I was sitting on the organ stool. We bashed through a couple of 12-bar blues and I returned to my seat more determined than ever that I was going to get somewhere in music. In 1972 I moved to London and joined a band called CLOCKWORK ORANGE, named after the film. For a while our singer was John Butler who went on to work with Luther Grosvenor in Widowmaker and later had success with his own band Diesel Park West. We played club gigs in London for a few months but split up in December 1972.
In May 1973 I auditioned for MOTT THE HOOPLE as piano player. They had a huge hit in 1972 with David Bowie's song All The Young Dudes and, following the release of their 1973 album Mott and the departure of organist Verden Allen, they were about to take on a piano-player and a Hammond organist to promote their new album. I didn't get the piano job - it quite rightly went to Morgan Fisher. But a couple of days later Stan Tippins the band's manager phoned to ask if I could play Hammond organ. When I answered yes I was told I had got the job.
Our first rehearsal was on June 15th in London and on July 27th we began a 42-date headlining US tour at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago with REO Speedwagon and Joe Walsh as support acts. The US and UK tours were virtual sell outs and we played some memorable concerts with some great support acts:-
- The Felt Forum, Madison Square Gardens, New York City supported by the New York Dolls
- Kennedy Centre, Washington D.C supported by Iggy Pop
- two nights at Bill Graham's Winterland, San Francisco
- two shows at the Schubert Theatre, Philadelphia supported by Aerosmith
- Hollywood Palladium supported by Blue Oyster Cult and Joe Walsh
- Spectrum, Philadelphia in front of 14,000.
- Radio City Music Hall, New York City
(See my Gig History page for lots more)
There were several TV appearances:- a show for ABC in NY City with Uriah Heep - a Midnight Special recorded in Los Angeles with Earth Wind and Fire and a Don Kirschner Show, also recorded in Los Angeles. Four clips from the Don Kirschner Show can now be seen on YouTube. I can be heard on two of them - All The Young Dudes and Sweet Angeline - they show guitarist Ariel Bender in great form on only his second performance with the band. .
The 20-date UK tour began at Leeds Town Hall on November 12th and ended with two shows at the Hammersmith Odeon on December 14th. The support band for the whole tour was Queen. Of the Hammersmith Odeon gig Sounds magazine said: "This will go down as one of the great gigs when the annals of rock 'n' roll are finally compiled". The second of our two shows that evening ended quite dramatically. The show was overrunning and the theatre manager tried to force us to stop by bringing down the safety curtain. Morgan Fisher tried to stop it by shoving the grand piano under it but eventually it came all the way down and the audience began to invade the stage. Most of us had the sense to run behind the curtain but the intrepid Ariel Bender just stood his ground and carried on playing. I remember being behind the curtain and hearing Ariel's guitar spluttering to a stop as he was pounced on by the fans. That was my last concert with Mott The Hoople as I left the band for personal reasons. During the tour we appeared on Top Of The Pops to promote the single Roll Away The Stone.
A complete list of all the gigs I have ever played is on my 'Gig History' page - and there are some stories about my time with Mott The Hoople on my 'Anecdotes' page.
After a self-imposed decade out of the music business I auditioned for the job of piano-player with DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS as they were preparing to record their album Don't Stand Me Down in 1984 . I suffered an agonising two weeks while they listened to tapes they had recorded of myself and Vincent Crane, formerly of Atomic Rooster and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. I came off second best (again) and Dexys spent a month in Montreux recording the album with Vincent on piano. I had pretty much forgotten about Dexys a month or so later when Kevin Rowland phoned to say that they were going to re-record most of the album and that they wanted me on piano.
When I sat down at the piano at my first audition with Dexys, their violinist Helen O'Hara had given me the sheet music to The Waltz. As soon as I started playing it I had realised that this was something really special - especially when she told me that the beginning should be played very gently, but then in the middle section I should hit the piano as hard as I could. I really wanted to join the band - I thought it would be wonderful to play the piano in songs that had such a wide range of expression. And it certainly was - in fact during the long days of rehearsals for the album I sometimes had to repeatedly play the piano so powerfully that my fingers became cracked and started to bleed. We spent two or three hot summer months rehearsing and recording Don't Stand Me Down. I always felt that we were creating something very special. It was the time of one-fingered synthesizer players and heavy metal guitar heroes and here was this album consisting of just seven long intense tracks full of wild and wonderful playing by a band that included guitars, violin, pedal steel, brass, piano, organ, mandolin - with no overdubs! When it was released in 1985 the reviews were mixed and the sales were disappointing but on its re-release in 2002 it was hailed by many as a lost masterpiece and some compared it to The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Reviewer Chris Roberts described it as an 'artistic triumph...one of the most unique and emotionally challenging records imaginable'. A review in Record Collector called it 'one of the most complex and beautiful albums ever released by a major pop act.'
The album was recorded using several different combinations of musicians. On the original 1985 release I can be heard on piano on just one track The Waltz, but on the re-issue of 2002 I am also the pianist on the additional opening track Kevin Rowland's 13th Time. My piano solo on this track also provides the music which repeats on the menu page of the DVD that accompanied this release. I feel involved in the whole album though, as I recorded more or less all the tracks and played them on tour the following year. The drummer on the recordings that I made was Woody Woodmansey who had been with David Bowie on his early albums - and Trevor Burton of The Move was on bass. In September 1984 we were told that the recording of the album was 'finished' and we would be called up again when it was time to go on tour. A few days later I phoned the band's organist Bob Noble (of the Judie Tzuke band) and asked him casually how he had been spending his leisure time. He said: 'Oh, you don't know then - we are back in the studio doing the album again.' The band were close to re-recording in one week most of the tracks that we had just spent a month recording - without Woody, Trevor and myself - and worst of all my old enemy Vincent Crane was back on piano! I was shattered as I felt I had done a good job, but after a few months I was recalled to the band for the Coming To Town tour, this time on Hammond Organ with Vincent Crane beside me on piano - no longer a rival but a good friend and hotel room-mate. There was talk of further touring in 1986 - Japan and the USA were mentioned, but the poor album sales took their toll and in our hotel in Nottingham we were called into a conference room and told that the band would be splitting after the final concerts of the tour at the Dominion Theatre in London. After the tour came to an end I continued to work occasionally with Dexys - recording a demo for a proposed single version of the song This Is What She's Like as well as the single Because Of You (the theme tune to the TV show Brush Strokes). I also appeared on Jonathan Ross's TV show The Last Resort with Kevin Rowland in 1988 performing the Chris Montez song The More I See You.
One of the things that contributed to the poor reception given to the album on its first release in 1985 was that the press ridiculed Dexys' new 'look'. Gone were the dungarees and the gypsy style gear they had worn during the Come On Eileen period and instead Kevin, Helen and Billy wore smart American Ivy League clothes. It's quite ironic that, when you see videos of them being interviewed and hear derisory comments about their new 'image', it's actually the interviewers who look outdated with their mid-1980s hairdos and fashions, while the band's clothes haven't dated at all. Unlike every previous version of Dexys this band didn't have a single look that permeated the whole band. We were allowed to wear anything we liked and since we came from several different backgrounds we were quite a diverse looking bunch. Three ultra-hip black dudes on drums, bass and guitar; a country and western pedal steel player complete with cowboy hat; a genuine hippy with long hair and flared trousers on piano; and three fairly standard 1980s muso types on brass and organ. But what a sound we made. The live performances of the songs from Don't Stand Me Down called for moments of delicate controlled beauty as in The Waltz and My National Pride and also prolonged onslaughts by the whole eleven piece band as in This Is What She's Like and One Of Those Things. Kevin has described Helen O'Hara as the musical director and she deserves a great deal of credit for her part in kicking the band into shape as well as for her stunning violin playing. One of the great things about the album is that there is always something new to discover each time you hear it as the arrangements are so intricate.
I've been reading some rave reviews on the internet of Dexys Midnight Runners' version of The Way You Look Tonight so I think I ought to recount how that came about. Kevin never encouraged his musicians to jam together between takes, so it was with some trepidation that I realised that he had returned to the studio to find a few of us gathered at the piano fooling around with some old standards and pub songs. I was relieved and pleasantly surprised when, instead of chastising us, Kevin asked: 'do you know this one?' He picked up his guitar and started strumming the chords to The Way You Look Tonight. After playing it through he said: 'come on, let's do it'. Now bear in mind that everything else was rehearsed over and over to get it right and then imagine what a shock it was to be told to just 'do it'. And we just did - on the first and only take, totally improvised and unrehearsed. Kevin strums a few gentle chords, Bob Noble picks out a little melody on organ, I echo it on piano and in comes Kevin with a great vocal performance, especially in the last few bars where he goes ballistic as the band come steaming in to support him. It's especially great to hear the brass players improvising freely and really going for it in a way that they didn't usually get the chance to do. I'm pleased to have been the unwitting instigator of a unique and priceless Dexys moment.
Here are some more excerpts from internet reviews that show how people feel about this unique album:
Don't Stand Me Down is one of the peaks of the 1980s and the best of Dexys three great albums - a heart-wrenching, intensely beautiful statement initially derided by baffled critics. It's fair to say that this is one of the most cruelly overlooked records of the eighties - incredible depth and authority - challenging, rewarding and powerful.
Rowland assembled a mighty ensemble for these recordings - Helen O'Hara's violin adds warmth and charm whilst some of the best session players have space of their own, rather than fading into the background. The music floats and grooves with effortless clarity and style.
If you think of albums such as 'Astral Weeks' and 'Grace' then this equals and maybe even betters them. It is as radical as it is beautiful.
'Kevin Rowland's 13th Time' is restored to its rightful place as the opener to this spellbinding set of songs. If you don't possess this album, buy it immediately…it will haunt and possess you entirely.
All the songs are compelling and make the heart burst - I don't think I could cope with liking this album even more than I do. It might be the greatest record of all time and it has taken me over 20 years to discover it. You need this album in your life - an uplifting, beautiful and exhilarating discovery.
When people speak of classic, groundbreaking and timeless LPs this should be right up there. Do not miss this, cherish it.
Between 1986 and 1991 I played Hammond organ and keyboards in Irish singer/songwriter PAUL BRADY's band doing several tours of Ireland, the UK, Europe and the USA and recording the album Primitive
Dance in 1987. This was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life as a musician. Paul Brady is a superb songwriter and performer and there were some memorable concerts.
I hadn't heard of Paul Brady until I joined his band in 1986 but I quickly realised that I was working with someone very special. His songs have been covered by Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Cliff Richard and others. He's also a fantastic live performer. It was especially satisfying to see how he (with a little help from the band, of course) could win over audiences who were completely unfamiliar with his music. This happened particularly on the US and European tours. I'll always treasure the memories of the Irish and UK concerts where we were mostly playing to Paul Brady fans. In the middle of the set most of the band would leave the stage while Paul performed one of his best known songs The Island with just guitar and piano. During that song which alludes to the troubles in Northern Ireland, the audience, who had been jumping up and down a few minutes earlier, would be absolutely silent and totally wrapped up in the moment. Then we would return and build up towards the end with full-blooded rockers like Busted Loose and Steel Claw. And usually after an encore of one of his biggest crowd-pleasers The Homes Of Donegal he would finish the show with a stunning solo performance of the traditional song The Lakes Of Ponchartrain. Paul Brady is still going strong and is well worth getting to know - he has a great website. On his video page (and on YouTube) there is a clip of a great performance of The Lakes Of Ponchartrain as well as some live performances that include myself on Hammond Organ. These are Crazy Dreams (at Cork City Hall in 1991) and Back To The Centre (Old Grey Whistle Test ).
For me the most memorable concert was at the Royal Dublin Showground in 1986. This was an indoor 10,000 seater. I remember someone saying at the sound check that only 2,000 tickets had been sold so it looked as though there would be a lot of empty seats. In the car on the way to the gig I gradually became aware that our progress was being slowed by hundreds of people on the streets. I said to Paul: 'looks like there is some rival attraction in town', but it turned out that they were all heading to our concert which turned out to be a full house. I'll never forget the ear-splitting roar that greeted us as we walked back onstage for the encores. I've played to bigger audiences and sometimes you kind-of take for granted the audience reaction after every song, but there was something about the intensity of that audience that was quite breathtaking.
In 1986 I heard that Paul McCartney's wife LINDA McCARTNEY was looking for someone to give her keyboard lessons. She had tried various teachers but had found them a bit too serious. What she really wanted was just someone to help her gain a bit of confidence on the keyboard and encourage her to enjoy playing. So I drove my old Volkswagen Beetle down to their beautiful farm in Sussex and happily I seemed to be just what she was looking for. For the next few years I would go down to the farm a couple of times a month and we would sit at two keyboards for a couple of hours bashing out old rock and roll songs like Tutti Frutti and Be Bop a Lula. Linda was never going to be a great keyboard player but she had real enthusiasm for playing and singing and wrote some good songs. Once we were working on one of her songs Endless Days and she said; 'You know Mick there's just something missing in this one - I'll go and make a cup of tea, see if you can come up with something.' In the time it took her to make the tea I wrote a bridge section that she liked so it became part of the song, which is on her album Wide Prairie. We recorded this along with a cover version of Poison Ivy at Jennifer Maidman's studio in East London. Jennifer had been in Paul Brady's band at the same time as me. We went down to the McCartney's farm to work on the arrangements of these two songs as well as Love's Full Glory although it is a different version of that song that is on the album. Two other members of Paul Brady's band Geoff Richardson and Steve Fletcher were also involved in recording those tracks. Linda also contributed to one of my songs called Prisoner Of Love which I will get around to recording at some point. As well as working with Linda she became a friend to my wife Carol and myself - spending ages on the phone to Carol and sending us cards and letters when she was on tour or on holiday. Of course Linda was also well-known as a photographer and she gave me a couple of books of her photos which include many pictures of bands from the sixties and seventies. When she found out that I was a fan of Neil Young she gave me a signed copy of a rare photo of him that she had taken when he was a member of Buffalo Springfield. I have scanned my now rather battered copy and included it in my Photo Gallery under 'Miscellaneous'. She had written to say that she looked forward to working with me again not long before she died of breast cancer in 1998.
I was never going to be very successful as a studio session player as I'm not one of those people who can instantly play absolutely anything in any key. But I have done a few interesting sessions. In 1990 I spent a few days in a studio in Hoxton, London with Michael Jackson's sister LATOYA JACKSON. Her husband and manager Jack Gordon had arranged some live dates in Paris and I was asked to play piano on the backing tracks of two songs which she was going to sing in French. They were La Vie en Rose and Je Ne Regrette Rien. We had been recording the backing tracks for a while when her manager said: 'OK, where's this French tutor then? - he should have been here by now.' Latoya didn't speak French so he had hired someone to help her with the pronunciation. The tutor didn't show up so I suggested that I take his place. I spent an interesting day trying to help Latoya get the pronunciation right. She tried hard but it wasn't going too well and finally Jack said: 'don't worry darling just, sing it in English and put a rose between your lips - they'll love you for it.' I don't think the proposed Paris dates ever took place.
Another interesting session was with LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III at a studio in Wapping in East London. I played Hammond organ on two tracks - though I believe he eventually released acoustic versions of the songs. The other musicians in the band were Nick Lowe (bass), Richard Thompson (guitar) and Terry Williams (of Dire Straits, drums).
I also recorded an album and performed several gigs with a band called BALLOON who deserved to be much more successful than they were. Singer/songwriter Ian Bickerton and guitarist Dave Shepherd were the two main members of the band. The album was called Gravity and it was released on the Dedicated label in 1992. They recorded most of the instruments at Daniel Lanois' studio in New Orleans and I added keyboards in London. Sarah McLachlan sang backing vocals on some tracks.
A radio show with VIC GODARD was a bit of a strange one. He was the lead singer with punk band Subway Sect in the late 1970s. For the show, which went out live on Capitol Radio in London, he put together a five piece band consisting of himself on vocals and guitar, myself on piano, Paul Cook (of the Sex Pistols) on drums, Pol Coussee (who had been on tour with me in Dexys) on sax and a bass player whos name I can't remember. We almost missed the show because the taxi in which all of us were travelling across London got stuck in traffic and after hastily setting up, Vic forgot to plug in his guitar so none of us even knew he had started playing. Despite all that, the tape I have of the performance sounds pretty good.
Throughout all the above periods I also worked as a pianist in countless London pubs - and in just about every other situation that a piano player can find himself in - hotels, restaurants, piano bars, shopping malls, theatrical rehearsals, private houses, gardens, holiday camps, riverboats - and once even in a shop window for the opening of a charity shop! Everything except cruise ships - I suffer from sea-sickness.
Since the early 1990s I have worked mainly as a solo musician/singer/songwriter performing in Scandinavia, Europe and the UK.