If you have a child who shows an interest in playing the piano, think carefully before you send him/her to piano lessons, because that's what happened to me when I was 6yrs old and I hated it. I stopped after a couple of years and might never have played again if I hadn't been recovering from an appendicitis operation at the same time as my father was recovering from a heart attack, which meant we were house-bound together for a few weeks. Back then, there was no daytime tv and, besides the radio, the only source of entertainment we in the house was the piano. Dad fancied himself as a crooner, a singer in the mould of Frank Sinatra (I love Frank Sinatra), and he could knock out a few tunes on the piano, albeit in a very basic manner> But it was well enough to teach me how to play the song Blue Moon, using the chords C major, A minor, F and G (which he used in that order for every tune). I was hooked and quickly discovered new chords and how to make them work in other tunes.
A few months later, something amazing happened: a Hammond organ shop opened in nearby Chester-le-Street. I remember like it was yesterday, peering through misty windows at these fabulous instruments, dying to have a go but thinking it might never happen. But Dad had other ideas and a few days later he'd arranged for me to do go in one evening, From then on, I was in there during school lunchtimes, after school, all day Saturday, and in just a few weeks, I was playing better than the shop manager. Crowds of people would gather in the doorway and spill onto the road to watch and listen enthusiastically to this little kid playing epic themes like the Dam Busters and South Rampart Street Parade. I'd caught the bug.
Chester-le Street might strike you as an unlikely place to set up a shop that sells expensive organs that were made in Chicago, USA, but workingman's clubs were springing up all over the North East of England back then, and they all wanted these high-tech instruments from America in their concert rooms, and Chester-le Street happened to be the best place to distribute them from. They sold so quickly there weren't enough organists around to play them, so shop manager asked my dad if I could join the pool of players he was sending out to the clubs. That weekend, aged 12, I played my first professional gig, watched by my proud mother and father, and soon I was making more by playing a couple of nights at a weekend in the clubs than Dad was making for working a week as a supervisor at a cable factory. I had found my vocation.
My proud, wonderful father passed away when I was sixteen. By then, I was resident organist at one of the better clubs and had bought a car that I couldn't drive for a few months until I became old enough to have a licence.
In my early 20's, after year long stint in a band on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean, I decided it was time to take it all a bit more seriously and I became involved with several bands, one of which's singer was Brian Johnson, later of ACDC. I joined up with Splinter who were signed to George Harrison's Dark Horse label (I met George and would see him quite often when, 10 yrs later, I joined Eric Clapton's band), I joined Newcastle band Lindesfarne for a UK tour that took in several UK festivals including Knebworth and Glastonbury, and joined Glallagher and Lyle for a tour and album. In 1980, I was head-hunted by Dire Straits, and joined them as their first keyboard player and remained with them until the band broke up in 1992.
People often point out that when I joined the Dire Straits, it turned into the huge, stadium-filling, number one in the world phenomena that people remember, and ask how much of a part I played in that. Before I joined, Mark's songs were written for and performed by a guitar only band, and he wanted to introduce another dynamic which would allow him to expand musically. I gave him a whole new bunch of colours for his musical palate and opened up another world to him. He used it very well. I'm a huge fan of MK's work.
A couple of years after I joined, we brought in a second keyboard player (Tommy Mandel) for the Love over Gold tour, to play the keyboard parts I'd created on the record. One of the songs we recorded when we were making Love over Gold was Private Dancer, which didn't make the record because it sounded daft being sung by a bloke. Tina Turner heard it and I recorded it with her, which led to me becoming her musical director for a few years. The Private Dancer album went to number one in the US while I was touring with her there. The party that night in San Antonio, Texas, is one I won't forget.
While with Dire Straits, I found time to work with other people, perhaps the most memorable being Eric Clapton whose band I joined in 1987. And what a band: Steve Ferrone, Nathan East, Greg Phillingaines, Ray Cooper, Tessa Niles, Katy Kassoon, and Phil Palmer. Mark Knopfler joined us for a while as 2nd guitarist. It was a brilliant band and a brilliant few years. People still tell me that it was Eric's best ever. With heavy heart, I left the band in 1990 to rejoin Dire Straits and co-produce the On Every Street album.
Since then, I've continued working with other people/bands and made music for TV, films and commercials. Here's some of them:
Dire Straits Eric Clapton Bob Dylan Tina Turner Bee Gees Gerry Rafferty Splinter Prefab Spout The Blessing Escape Club Bo Diddley Buddy Guy Billy Joel Lou Reed Dave Stewart David Knopfler Gallagher and Lyle Mary Hopkins Shakin Stevens Matt Monroe Mark Knopfler Rory Block Westernhagen Della Miles Mick Hucknall Sky Joan Armatrading Lindesfarne Geordie Brian Johnson Jimmy Nail Robert Cray Al Green