Interview with Jim Cregan (Graham Emondson Dec 2003)

Jim how did it actually come about, you getting back on the road with Steve again last year?

Well I was sitting in my studio, staring at a PC screen one day and I got an e mail from Steve saying that he was going out on the road and he needed an acoustic guitar player. He asked if there was any way I could break away and come and join and I just picked up the phone and said "yeah" right away, basically because Steve and I are great friends. I was also at the point where I was happy to get out of the house and go on the road. I hadn't been on the road for 7 years or so it was a chance to revisit playing live, which I love, and a change to hang out with Steve for a while- and I loved it.

Had you kept up with Steve's work over the past few years?

Yes I had heard some of it. Steve sent me stuff form time to time. We haven't kept up week by week but he's one of those friends who if I don't see for 6 months it makes no difference to things. The friendship is so long and established that we just pick up where we left off.

Jim, you are clearly close to Steve now but how did you get involved in Cockney Rebel in the first place?

It was through George Ford. We knew each other because he used to be in a band called Ferris Wheel with Linda Lewis and at one point I stepped in to fill in for the guitar player when they had a residency in Switzerland and the guy couldn't make it. George and I also did a couple of sessions. He was a good session player was George. One day Steve was cutting a track and George recommended me to him and we got along very well. The next thing I got a call asking if I would do the Reading Festival. I had two days to learn the stuff and do it live-it was hair raising. The only bloke from the old Cockney Rebel was Stuart. I remember that I had written notes on a piece of paper from a foolscap pad and I had then on the drum riser so I could do a quick check when I needed to. A crib sheet if you like. Of course 2 numbers into the set a huge bloody gust of wind blew it off the stage. Disaster! I had been in a band called Family immediately before, and the guys from the band were at the front of the stage jeering, making gestures and I was thinking "fuck it". It was all in good fun but Cockney Rebel was a very different band to Family. They (Family) were a real "man's band" and here was Cockney Rebel - they wore make- up and the clothes, slightly fey guys. When I said I was joining the band they didn't understand. It was Steve's performance that convinced me it was going to work though. I hadn't seen anybody perform so powerfully before. He had the crowd eating out of his hand. I thought whatever it is, this guys has got it".

And you did some writing with Steve a little while back?

Yes, we did "Friend For Life" together which was a real change for me because suddenly instead of Steve being the producer I was. I thought, "this could be strange" because he had always been the man in charge. Was he going to let go of the reins- how hard was that going to be. But it was fine- he obviously put his two cents in. We have a couple of other songs which haven't been fully recorded yet.

How was the singing voice after all these years?

That wasn't a problem as vocal talent never goes away. Even with the great and fully detailed vocal tuition that the many singing lessons online for learning how to improve vocal power that are around today, you still need that basic raw talent to make it work.

What was it like playing with Steve again after all these years?

Well, I had never done an acoustic duo in my career so it was great to hear so clearly what is going on. Steve's voice has got so strong. To revisit those lyrics was something I enjoyed most- to hear what a fabulous writer he is. We did songs that I never played in Cockney Rebel- stuff from Cockney Rebel Mk1 and things I had only heard on record. I had never played Lorretta's Tale and I enjoyed playing it so much. We didn't do much rehearsing- we had three days in fact. I had leant the songs but neither of us prefer to rehearse- we worked out a few endings and a few little bits here and there so I was improvising all the time. That was what made it so exciting.
Steve is such a high quality writer. The very last concert of the autumn tour my pal Rod Stewart was in town and he came to the gig and came backstage at the interval. He was just raving about how talented Steve is and how much he was enjoying it. Steve's a slightly overlooked treasure- he deserves to be more recognised than he is. He is beloved by the business but I feel he is a far more important figure than he gets credit for. The fact that Cockney Rebel never cracked the US was a big factor- it would have given him more status in the UK- in way a bit like Ray Davies and the Kinks.

How different was it playing to a few hundred in places like, say, Pocklington after playing to quarter of a million in Rio with Rod?

There isn't an enormous difference honestly. From the point of view of the audience it might seem so but from the point of view of what is happening on the stage there's no real difference. I used to be snobbish, about where I played and but I started to realise that the whole point is to perform. It doesn't matter if you are playing to 250,000 or 25 people, the joy is in the playing. The opportunity to play with Steve in such an intimate setting and with such a responsibility on both our shoulders was such a voyage of discovery for me. I found out more about myself as a musician playing with Steve on that trip than I have ever found out about myself as a player. It was most interesting for me and I loved the fact I had to search in places I hadn't looked for a while. I had to explore myself, this internal dialogue I was having. I discovered the less I played in terms of notes, the more satisfying it was for me and the audience. The most succinctly I played the more successful it was. I had learned that lesson before but I had to learn it again.

What were the songs that you most enjoyed revisiting?

One of them was Sebastian-it was very odd to do it without anybody else. Steve was playing harmonica and I was holding down the guitar part. When we first started playing it- you have to remember I hadn't played on stage for anything like 2.5 hour for years-my stamina wasn't there. My hands would start to hurt from playing so much for so long. The first week or so we were doing it I couldn't bloody handle those endless arpeggios and about 10 days in I suddenly started to be a bit creative in how I played it and then I started to love it- it was like a trance that I would go into playing it

And what about the new material?

Two Damned Lies, I loved playing that. It's so delicate. The Last Feast is a brilliant piece of writing -at some point I hope Steve will make a studio recording of that.

Are you happy with the live album that came out?

Yes, there were some technical cock ups recording it. We attempted to record several nights but failed to do it properly. But I was very happy with how it turned out. It's very live, very real and very straight ahead.

Will you do it again?

Absolutely. I would like to play more live. I'm fond of writing but I've been doing much more writing than playing. When I became a father I started to wind down. By the time my daughter was about three I was on the road for ten months with Rod and I missed so much- so I phased out going on the road. But now I'm happier to get back out there. It's never ideal but that last tour sped by-it was over at a flash. I really enjoyed it. We haven't made a plan to do anything but it was easy, light, fun, staying in fine county house hotels, sharing a glass of wine at the end of the day. We have similar interests Steve and myself. It's about who you are with when you are on the road.

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