Slim Chance have just released a new album entitled “On The Move” where Ronnie Lane’s former musicians mix new original songs with re-worked Ronnie Lane classics to great effect. Craig Chaligne caught up with Steve Bingham and Charlie Hart at The Half Moon in Putney last May.
Steve, can you tell us when you joined the original version of Slim Chance ?
Steve Bingham: I joined in 1974 but I wasn’t the original bass player. Ronnie started Slim Chance almost straight away after leaving The Faces. He did a little bit of recording and a one-off gig at Chipperfields Circus in Clapham Common which I think is probably what sowed the seeds of The Passing Show. Near the beginning of 1974, I got a call from Ronnie’s drummer Bruce Rowland (note : Bruce sadly passed away since this interview was done) who was a former member of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. I had been doing a lot of recording sessions with Bruce and he asked me if I’d like to come down to Wales to Ronnie’s farm to do some playing on his album. After I had done some tracks, Ronnie asked me if I’d like to do “The Passing Show” which sounded like a very exciting idea to which I replied “Yes,definitely”. The tour lasted about two months but we must have only done seven shows during that time as it took a week in between shows to move the whole caravan. It took 3 days just to set up the tent. It was a massive undertaking and that probably explains why nobody has ever done it since (laughs).
You actually stayed at Ronnie’s farm for the duration of the project ?
Yes we stayed at the farm in loads of old caravans, and when I say old I mean old (laughs). We actually took the caravans on the road for “The Passing Show” which turned out to be a bit disastrous as there was so much motorway driving that in the end they began falling apart. A lot of the vehicles suffered mechanical problems. The last gig we did was in Newcastle and the whole thing had fallen apart by then. I was committed to doing something else afterwards but rumour has it that he took several days for the vehicles to get back to Wales.
Was “Anymore for Anymore” recorded entirely at Fishpool Farm ?
Yes It was. Only “The Poacher” was recorded in London but all the other songs were recorded at his farm with the help of his mobile studio outside. The band was playing in a barn that was all wired up to the studio. We actually met the current owner (Mark St John, the manager of The Pretty Things) of the mobile studio not that long ago.
In what projects did you get involved after your time in Slim Chance came to an end ?
Well I was scheduled to some recording sessions with Matthew Fisher who was the keyboard player with Procol Harum. He was doing his first solo album. He asked me to do it before “The Passing Show” and he agreed to delay the sessions so I could do both. From my point of view “The Passing Show” was a great gig but life went on when it finished ! After I left is when Charlie (Hart) and Steve (Simpson) joined Ronnie. The line-up when I was in the band was: Bruce Rowland (drums), a fantastic sax player called Jimmy Jewell… we originally had Gallagher and Lyle but they pulled out because they didn’t want to do “The Passing Show” so we got another Scottish duo called Lucas and McCulloch. There was a guy called Kenny Slaven on fiddle, the late Kevin Westlake on rhythm guitar (he co-wrote “How Come” with Ronnie) and an American keyboard player called Billy Livsey who played on some of Ronnie’s later recordings too.
Slim Chance’s line-up changed a lot. No personnel from “Anymore for Anymore” was present on the next album ?
Yes there was quite a few changes but Charlie (Hart) stayed for quite a long time. Colin Davey who was there when we reformed the band played in the “One For The Road” line-up with Charlie and Steve and Geraint played with The Slim Chance line-up at The Ronnie Lane memorial concert at The Royal Albert Hall.
Do you think that it was this concert that triggered the reformation of Slim Chance on a permanent basis ?
Yes I think it did. Charlie and Steve were the main instigators behind it. My main bass playing job for the last 20 years has been Geno Washington. Steve asked me if I’d be interested in joining and I was so that’s the story. I think the “Passing Show” documentary that was put together by Rupert Williams and the fact that Universal Music is reissuing Ronnie’s music contributed to us putting the band together.
Alun Davies (former Cat Stevens side-man and neighbour of Ronnie in Shropshire) was in the band until recently ?
Yes Alun used to leave very close to Ronnie and they did write together for Ronnie’s 1979 album “See Me”. I actually spoke to him today as he phoned me to wish us well for tonight’s gig. He’s got so much work with Cat Stevens nowadays. He has a new album coming out and Alun will be touring with him. We’re great friends and long may continue !!!
The first time I saw the band was when you played The Elgiva Theatre in Chesham and Alan was still in the band for that gig…
Yes and he did a small opening set with his daughter which was a nice way to start the evening and Steve joined them for one song (a great version of The Band’s“The Weight”). He does quite a few duo gigs with her, notably at The Grey Horse pub in Kingston…
Speaking of The Grey Horse, isn’t there that a reformed Slim Chance played their first gig as “Fishpool Philarmonic” ?
Yes we started under that guise and the first gig that we did as Slim Chance was the 100 Club in Oxford Street in November 2010 and here we are now 5 years down line and in the process of recording our second album which is great. With Alun’s departure and the arrival of John Lingwood on drums, it has taken a bit longer than what we had planned but it’s working out really well.
On your first album “The Show Goes On”, you covered Ronnie Lane songs exclusively but with different arrangements ?
Yes we tried to interpret in a fresh way and for the new album we are going one step further as we’re playing original songs. We want it to be done properly and have a good material, that’s why we’re not rushing it. I think we’re looking at the autumn for the release date and doing the launch party at our next Half Moon gig.
John Lingwood has now replaced Colin Davey on drums. Was there any reason for his departure ?
Well as for Alun, we are still best of friends with Colin. I think Colin had a slight disadvantage compared to the rest of us because we’d all been playing regularly but Colin had retired from music and become a very successful businessman and hadn’t been playing as much we all had. The parting was very amicable and as I said we’re still the best of friends. Steve, Charlie and I are the core members and we also have Geraint who plays with us when his other commitments allow him too so it all works very well.
Hi Charlie, could you give us an account of how you came to join Slim Chance ?
Well temperamentally, I was very interested in what Ronnie was doing. I was trying to make a living of being a session musician and establish myself in other fields and I was interested in Ronnie’s philosophy and approach which was quite similar to my own. I used to play improvised music long before joining Slim Chance, total improvisation, avant garde.
Was that when you were in the People Band, before joining Kilburn and The High Roads ?
Yes exactly but at the same time I was involved in pop bands where we used to play “House of the Rising Sun” which was great too but really playing with Mel Davis who was the inspiration behind the People Band was fantastic, the music was totally wild. Saxophonist Davey Payne was also involved in the band and he went on to have a great career playing with Kilburn and the High Roads and The Blockheads. You would think it would be strange to jump from free music to Ronnie’s band but in a way it wasn’t strange. There was quite a lot of parallels in the attitude. Mel Davis hated the music business, he moved out of London to get away from it and he started a small farm in Lincolnshire and Ronnie did the same when he left The Faces, he went up in the hills to get away from it all.
What did you find playing in Slim Chance that you didn’t have in Kilburn and the High Roads ? In Will Birch’s book about Ian Dury, there is a description of when you left the band but not much on how you ended up joining Slim Chance…
Oh it was much more mellow playing with Ronnie. After leaving the band I ended up joining an outfit called St James Gate that counted in its ranks Ruan O’Lochlainn, Johnny Duan and Steve Simpson (their first collaboration but not the last). We had a record contract but Duan had second thoughts about the whole thing and ended up quitting so we were without a singer. Ronnie’s band in the meantime had broken up in the aftermath of The Passing Show. Ruan went to talk to Ronnie to see if maybe we could join forces and Ronnie looked interested by the proposal. We met up and played some songs with him but the problem was he had his own bass player. Ruan was very good so he managed to “sell me” to Ronnie “You know Charlie can play a lot of instruments, keyboards, fiddle”. My test came when accordion was needed and Ronnie just threw one at me, I realised it was my test. I’d never played accordion in my life and I played well enough to stay in the band. I enjoy playing different instruments and Ronnie didn’t want any virtuoso players, everything with him was about the intent.
You played with Ronnie after he dropped the Slim Chance moniker, can you tell us a bit more about that period round the “See Me” album ?
It was a wonderful period. Henry McCullough got involved in the band. I really enjoyed it but unfortunately the record label didn’t promote the album properly which is a shame because it had some really great songs on it: “Kuschtye Rye”, “Lad’s Got Money”. I remember doing some touring up north. I remember us supporting Bob Marley at a festival in Ireland.
The band are currently touring “On The Move”
November 20th Ent.Shed, The Gordon Arms
118 Castle Road, Bedford, MK40 3QY
November 21st Half Moon, Putney
November 27th Duke of Cumberland, Whitstable
December 10th The Brook Southampton