MO FOSTER INTERVIEW
Bass player Mo Foster is back with a newly-expanded version of his personal history of the early British rock scene, long a cult classic amongst musicians in the know. Interview by Michael Heatley
The availability of affordable studio-quality digital recording gear in the past decade has meant the end of the London session scene where bassist Mo Foster made his living for over 30 years. Thankfully he is still fully occupied penning and recording soundtracks… and, in between times, writing about the way things were.
The trickle of US gear turned into a flood as the ’60s progressed and gave Brits access to the authentic American sound. ‘It was a mixture of the instruments, the amps and the strings,’ says Mo, who reveals in the book the secret of the unwound third string, allowing all-important bending. ‘It’s about using a banjo string first for the E, then moving every string over one. In effect it becomes a light-gauge set, which you couldn’t get any other way.’
Mo’s latest book is called British Rock Guitar – and that considerably undersells the contents. It’s nothing more or less than a history of British popular music, as told by the men who played it on the road and in the studio. Things with strings get the lion’s share of attention, but there’s so much more to a tome that runs to 263 fully illustrated pages and – guitar porn alert! – a luscious pic of Hank Marvin’s first Strat on the cover.
‘ I tried to make the book authentic. It’s fun, but it’s also a history of the period’
Prior to this, Mo says, English rock records were terrible. ‘There were two exceptions – Move It by Cliff and the Drifters and Shakin’ All Over by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates,’ he adds. ‘They were very special records.’ Joe Moretti, who played the spine-chilling intro on Shakin’ All Over, was interviewed for the book before he moved to Johannesburg.
‘It was imported 52 years ago,’ the ever-enthusiastic Mo breathes with schoolboy awe. ‘It was the first Stratocaster anyone ever saw, and it looked like a spaceship – it was wonderful! I went round with the photographer to Bruce Welch’s house. He now owns the guitar, so this is the actual one. Bruce has had it for 20 or 25 years, but you can still see Hank’s sweaty mark on the tremolo arm!
Sadly, a proportion of the interviewees from the early days like Noel Redding, Mel Galley and Hugh Hopper are no longer with us, making their reminiscences even more valuable. ‘Something like 25 people
‘Every year Bruce holds Shadowmania, a one-day festival of Shadows music at a club in Surrey. Brian Bennett asked me if I would come along and play. We did a half-hour rehearsal, went on and did a set. I’ve been a fan of the Shadows since they started, so it was lovely to end up meeting the guys and working with them.’ Oh, and did we mention Hank contributes an introduction to the book too?
Basses 1974 Fender Precision, 1968 Fender Jazz converted to fretless Amps SWR combo with two 8" speakers
If they’re UK rock royalty, the chances are they’re in this book – and Mo Foster has probably played with them. The concept was born when he was chatting, with legendary session guitarist Vic Flick. ‘We were comparing notes on the early days, when American amps and guitars were unobtainable due to the trade embargo. Amps were out of the question, unless a sailor had brought one in from somewhere. Vox had just started, but an AC30 was a year’s wages! That was why we built stuff ourselves, or imported these awful German and Swedish guitars. The only reason Hank got that Strat was because Cliff did a private import.’
From Mo’s book: a miniature Gary Moore in 1960
British guitar great Vic Flick, player of the famous Bond theme lick
FEBRUARY 2012 Guitar & Bass 37