The voice of country, folk, bluegrass and roots music
Issue 97 August 2010
Based in Bournemouth and recently released his latest album FRANK, solo artist Pete Christie is one of the finest pickers of an acoustic guitar around. His first band was with The Skavengers in 1979, and it was during that time that they went into the BBC where they managed to blag their way into meeting Mike Reid and John Peel separately and got them to play their music on their shows separately over the course of the next week.
Now performing solo in several gigs a month, I asked him first how did he get into playing the guitar?
“Before my grandmother came back from her holiday when I was about thirteen or fourteen she asked if she could bring something back for me. I said ‘Could you pick me up a guitar?’ We went to get her from the station and she got off the train carrying a bright blue guitar that looked hideous. It was almost unplayable but I found by jamming a piece of Lego under the neck I could play it.”
I wondered why Pete performs solo? “When [The Skavengers] broke up, as all good bands invariably do, I went back to the acoustic guitar and found that I’d grown” Pete told me. “I reckoned I could play better and I thought ‘I just spent ten or so years paying out for vans, for big PA’s, lighting rigs, roadies and all this nonsense’. I thought it was great to strip it down and minimalise everything with just me, a small PA and a very unplugged sound. And then from that was where I got to today.”
Of his last two albums FRANK and LIVE AT MR KYPS, all but three songs have been written by Pete and I queried him about his writing style. “You sit down with a guitar and you noodle about. Just fiddle about with a few ideas in your head and words in your mind or some lyrics you might have jotted down whilst driving in the middle of the night” Pete replied. “You might even have a line in your head and it sticks. When you pick the guitar up, you might take that line and it grows.”
Back in the 1980’s Pete had a songwriting contract and I wondered how that went.
“It was a good deal but unfortunately they wanted me to write songs that they wanted me to write songs about. I kept saying ‘I can’t really do that’. I can’t write a song that says John Loves Mary. I’m not that sort of a songwriter” Pete says enthusiastically.
“Sometimes a song will take years to finish. If I’m not happy I can’t let it go. If I’ve got an ugly rhyme or something that makes me cringe I won’t take the song out [on the road] until it’s finished. Sometimes they take years.”
I wondered why Pete chooses to self release his albums? “I had a bit of a falling out with someone who was producing a song of mine and I said ‘Well, you’re just taking all the feel out of the song’. This is where it suddenly occurred to me that the only person who I wanted to produce my music was me” said Pete in a serious but jovial tone. “I’m not that technically minded but I know what I want to end up with. And if I’ve got a guy in the studio who I can talk to and get on with between us we can find what I’m trying to get. It’s not a commercial thing.”
And his intended reaction from the general public? “I don’t want people to go ‘That’s nice’. I want people to say ‘I hate that’ or ‘that’s the worst song I’ve ever heard. I didn’t like that at all mate’. That to me is what it’s about” Pete told me. “You’ve got to provoke a reaction, not just have the bland, Radio 2 middle of the road opinion. I’m really annoyed about mid stream. If you’re in the middle of a stream, you’re bobbing along with all this other stuff. I want to
be along the edges bumping along the bank. If you’re in the middle of a stream, you’re going along with flow. I want to get on in the edges. Stay out of the middle.”
With FRANK being played on BBC Radio Solent, such as by Sally Taylor and in front of a studio panel on Phil Jackson’s programme, I asked Pete how great this exposure has been for him?
“Absolutely marvellous. I went along to the panel and these guys come on [Phil Jackson’s show] afterwards. I thought ‘They’re going to rip me apart’. And they all, without fail, just zeroed straight in on what I’m all about. Every single one of those guys I owe them a debt of gratitude because I felt at last someone knew what I was going on about. And it made me feel more comfortable with what I’m doing. That’s always important because if everyone is criticising you every day you tend to lose your confidence a bit.”
In his last two albums, Bob Dylan’s Not Dark Yet are in the track listing. How important to Pete has he been?
“Massive. I try and keep away from covers unless they mean something to me. Then I’ll do it but do it my own way. I don’t mean that because I don’t like the original. When I start playing it I’ll begin and see how it turns out. He [Dylan] has that ability to make something so ordinary sound so deep. And he moves me! Some of his stuff is just visual. One of the guys said [on Phil Jackson’s programme] ‘the sign of a good song is you can see what the guy’s singing about. It takes you there’. And that’s what I strive for. Most people say to me ‘I know exactly what you mean. I’ve done that. I’ve been there’. Result.”
And what does the future hold for Pete? “For the next twelve to eighteen months I want to do another album and getting further afield. I’m trying to do South by South West just for the hell of doing it. That’s why I do things. I do it for the hell of it. I’m not looking to be a pop star” mentions Pete passionately. “To get paid to stand up in front of people and make contact with them in a place you’ve never been to in your life and by the end of the night you’ve got a room full of friends can’t get much better than that.”
With regular gigs happening across Southern UK over the next few months, to see Pete in action is a gig to savour and remember. Be sure to check out his websites http://www.petechristie.co.uk and http://www.myspace.com/petechristie where you can see and hear for yourself what a talented guy he is and how lucky we are for having him.