- On the phone with Philip Anderson - Summer 2000
- Throughout the British invasion and beyond the main focus of rock music has been the actual melodies. Vocalists have come and gone - some making their mark and some forgotten - but there are those scant few who may have gotten noticed just enough to keep them busy for the years to follow. Amongst these vocalists is one very talented singer - and songwriter - named John Fiddler. John was a mainstay in the early progressive/folk band Medicine Head, a twosome from England who had quite the name recognition and history during the mid-1970s. Right around the time of the demise of Medicine Head, the final break-up of British legends Mott The Hoople, by that time known plainly as Mott, was going on. That band had been trying to wipe the slate clean of the Hoople moniker and was not too successful doing so even by shortening their name to just Mott. They were in transition, as well as a title change, when they realized the necessity of a proper frontman, as well as a talented songwriter. They needed someone who could carry the torch as Ian Hunter had done before.
In comes John Fiddler by suggestion and the rest is history. From this point on started the new, if ill-fated, British Lions around 1978. The Lions were a punkier, sassier rock band than the more dramatic and bluesy Mott The Hoople influence. Songs like Eat The Rich, My Lifes In Your Hands, and The Big Drift Away would signify this band as quite original. Managerial problems and the music business end, better known as the record companies, again got in the way of artistic creativity and stifled what should have become a huge band. British Lions were primed for glory and would have had it, especially in America, had it not been for meddling suits. Thus, shortly thereafter, with two albums under their belt, the British Lions would cease to exist - also successively ending any future musical contributions by bassist Peter Overend Watts and drummer Dale Buffin Griffin, whose by-then frail esteems had had enough.
We had a chance to speak with John Fiddler who is still maintaining the idea that music is truly in the heart and should be played if that is what the spirit wishes. A Brit who recently transplanted to his dream haven of Arizona, with the sunshine and deserts, John remains active musically to this day. At the time of this interview, John was in England. Currently, Angel Air re-released his earlier solo album, The Great Buffalo. John has been touring on and off, primarily in Europe, for this album, doing mostly acoustic shows. He is also, slowly but surely, putting together a band for future projects, but basically enjoys what life and music have given him. As we spoke, he told of his days in British Lions and Medicine Head as well as his current projects.
K2K: To begin with, I have been a huge fan of British Lions since the first album was released. I was surprised that it never did anything for the band.
JF: Yeah, it was one of those situations where with all of us of what we thought. This band was very high energy and probably quite experienced, etc. I think we needed a different, sort of, management or that sort of thing. We didnt really play in major cities. We didnt do the major rock circuit, sadly.
K2K: When I had spoken with John Du Cann of Atomic Rooster, he had the same story about bad management. That seems to be the story with a lot of British bands.
JF: I think that we had management that was basically European. We didnt have American management. Our managers at that time were essentially quite well through Europe. Also, there was quite a big change when the punk thing came along. People, I suppose, felt a bit threatened by that. We didnt at all. We loved it.
K2K: Thats what I dont understand. I have read through some of the bios and write-ups about British Lions. At that time, I was listening more to progressive rock and maybe some early metal. When I heard British Lions, I thought, Yeah, this is cool. Kind of punk. I didnt really care for punk at the time but I thought that your band was a nice transition into it. So, I didnt get when people have said that the reason British Lions didnt work was because of the punk movement.
JF: I think it was maybe the beginning of that. We were probably in our late 20s and early 30s at that time. There seemed to be a backlash against us. Old guys like us. It doesnt happen so much in the United States. There is less ageism there it seems. Do you get that feeling?
K2K: Ive been in a band since the early 1990s and am in my later 30s. Ive had the comments thrown at me such as Whats that old guy doing playing punk? Real punk, if you think about it, would be as old as our grandfathers. Punk waves have always come in since the late 1960s. It wasnt called punk then until the late 1970s. It just depends how you look at it. I thought you had a very punky attitude. A real bite to it. Rock n roll but with an edge to it is how I saw it.
JF: Well the whole thing with the Mott guys, the Mott The Hoople guys, is that they are very much into that show thing. It was very much a show, a very effaced kind of thing. With Ian [Hunter], Ian wrote some great songs, which added a meaning... a content to the whole, which was a wonderful thing. My background before, I used to play in Medicine Head. I used to play bass drum, high hat, guitar, and sing. It was full on. It was crazy energy. It was good to find... it was difficult to play with players sometimes because they didnt understand the amount of energy that it takes to do that. Not like a one-man band thing. It was like a very high energy, like a rock band, all in one thing. Thats the best way I can explain it.
K2K: You were a two-piece as Medicine Head though?
JF: We were, yeah. Peter was out there. He now plays with Pete Townshend, with his solo work anyway. Since the White City album. It was a big ball of energy but it was great to find people with similar attitudes who let the energy out.
K2K: Who actually was from Mott The Hoople in British Lions?
JF: Overend Watts, the bass player. Dale Griffin, or Buffin, the drummer. Morgan Fisher was in Mott The Hoople. He replaced Verden Allen, the original keyboard player. He left after All The Young Dudes, and then Morgan came in. I was probably more friendly with Morgan than with Buffin and Overend. Thats how the idea of getting me to join with those guys came about. Ray Majors [on guitar] was in Mott.
K2K: I have a few of those old albums including the Mott albums. It took me a while at that time to figure out that it wasnt actually Mott The Hoople. Ian Hunter had actually left some time before that, right?
JF: Yeah, he had the Hunter/Ronson band at that time.
K2K: So were the British Lions supposed to be the next Mott The Hoople with a different name?
JF: I think that probably the guys thought it was more of an opportunity because there were more songs. With the Mott thing, they didnt have a songwriter anymore, really. I say that with the greatest respect to Overend Watts because he tried very hard. Weve written some really good songs together. Hes a good friend of mine and he says exactly the same thing. They felt very excited because I had a load of songs that were kind of the same spirit as they had with Ian. They had a great respect for Ian and his songwriting. I kind of echoed that musically.
K2K: I thought Mott The Hoople had a bit of a punk edge too, and of course David Bowie has always been sort of a punk icon too.
JF: Thats correct. You know the Clash guys? Micky Jones used to come in... they were big fans of Mott The Hoople. The Damned... when we were kicking off the British Lions, they used to hang out.
K2K: In retrospect you see that. People didnt know that here at the time.
JF: Thats right. (laughs) Time always tells us.
K2K: Any chance of doing the British Lions again?
JF: I dont think that either Buffin nor Overend want to do that.
K2K: What are they doing now?
JF: Well, theyre both kind of... Buffins doing production. Hes not doing performing anymore. I think that they were quite disillusioned when the end of the Lions came along. They were quite disillusioned because what really should have happened is that we should have gone out on that album - the first album - again. We only did six weeks around the States.
K2K: You had hits on the radio here. Eat The Rich and Give Me One More Chance To Run were being played quite a bit.
JF: I know. We could have really done it. It sounds like Im throwing it away by saying we could have gone with stronger management that had more vision, but I think thats right. We were trying to take care of the musical side of it. We really needed... like Peter Grant obviously did a great job with Led Zeppelin while they just took care of the music. He did the rest. We probably failed because we didnt have that kind of support, in a way. The band itself, from all the reports that weve gotten over the years, its like What happened? It was a tragedy.
K2K: If you guys were all still friends, it doesnt sound like there was a reason to have to end it permanently.
JF: It was a business thing in as much as we had made the first album and we had done one tour of that album. We should have toured it again because we didnt hit a lot of places. It was just beginning to build off of that album. Then it was like, Oh, youve got to come back to England to make another album. Well, we werent ready. We werent ready to make a new album, we were ready to stick with that one.
K2K: The second album was Trouble With Women?
JF: Yeah. (laughs)
K2K: I had not ever even heard of that album until about a week ago.
JF: Well there you go. I personally wasnt very happy with it at all. I didnt enjoy the time. I wanted to stay in the States and really... that was where we were, you know. A kind of spiritual home, as it were.
K2K: Yeah, stay in the States to milk the first album and make it happen.
JF: Yeah, make it work. That was sensible. The best thing was working. We werent ready. I wasnt ready to make a new album and I dont think anyone else was either. But, it was Youve got to make another album. It didnt work. It was the business situation that bogged that up. We were all broke and we couldnt survive. We needed to be out there working and making it work, make that album work. We were all very pleased with that album.
K2K: Where did you guys come up with your look? Was it calculated or just what you happened to wear. It was almost glam and then with the one dapper dresser...
JF: Thats right. Morgan. Morgan was always like that - Our man in Havana almost. I dont know if youve seen photographs of me before I joined. I was the old hippie. (laughs) Yeah, I changed quite dramatically and produced that particular look.
K2K: In your old pictures, you have an almost [Monty Pythons] Eric Idle look.
JF: Oh, yeah. Its been said before. Thats great. I always look at the bright side of life, man. (laughs)
K2K: Erics coming to town soon too.
JF: Isnt he moving there or just moved there?
K2K: Oh, who knows. So many Brits move out to the States these days. Everybody moves to the Bay Area too.
JF: Oh, youre out there. Great.
K2K: Since we had mentioned The Big Buffalo, I like the new stuff of yours.
JF: Thank you very much, sir.
K2K: What I noticed is that you had a much raspier singing voice in the British Lions but have a much sweeter style now.
JF: Its... yeah. My voice... I kind of use it for what the song is, in a way. It does change a little. Thats fairly true. That almost goes back to the Medicine Head days, in style.
K2K: You just expect that age brings raspiness but your voice has become smoother.
JF: Thats funny because thats probably how I sound right now since Ive just woken up. I dont know, its like becoming another person almost. When I talk to people its always that you talk like this but sing like that.
K2K: It depends. I dont think that Geddy Lee of Rush talks like he sings.
JF: Thats right. (starts laughing)
K2K: Then again, I havent really heard Geddy talking, but I would hope not.
JF: (continuously laughing) Thats great.
K2K: As far as your Buffalo album, is that the latest thing?
JF: Im working on some new stuff but yeah, essentially. That came out in 1995.
K2K: So its a re-release.
JF: It is, yeah. Its a repackage and remaster, the whole thing. Hopefully like a re-launch of it.
K2K: What market are you trying to hit with this current release? Alternative or easy listening?
JF: Well, I think that on that album its quite broad. The breadth of songs on it might go across the board, the way Ive always tried to be. In my everyday life I try to talk with all kinds of people and be with all kinds of people.
K2K: I see this album, The Big Buffalo, as selling to 20 to 40 year old women.
JF: Now youre talking my language. (laughs) Its a funny thing, Ive always gone on very well with women.
K2K: One would hope. (laughs)
JF: Well, yeah. I think... My father died when I was very young. I was one years old. I was always by my mum and two sisters, so they had an influence there. It helps your communication with women, I think, and understanding.
K2K: Have you seen the lyrics page online for the British Lions?
JF: The lyrics page?
K2K: Somebody has a page up of your lyrics. I was wondering if that was something you knew about. There is a disclaimer at the bottom that says, These have been determined, after careful listening, and have been provided for educational purposes only.
(We got on to talking more about the solo album, The Big Buffalo, and how people reacted to it versus British Lions.)
JF: Its funny, [Angel Air Records head honcho] Peter Purnell was in the States a couple of weeks ago. He said, We took one CD with us and we chose The Big Buffalo. They would play a track from that and then switch to American radio and it slotted straight in, seamlessly. It fit the programming in the States. Thats a great thing for me to hear. I was talking earlier about your spiritual home and Ive spent most of my life over here. I feel, very much, that my spiritual home is in the U.S.A. Musically I just feel a great affinity for that country.
K2K: Could it be for tax reasons? (laughs)
JF: I wish it was. (laughs) No. When I was a kid, we had a beaten-up old radio in the corner of the room. I remember hearing something like Muddy Waters. I was just a little boy at the time, but it was someone like Muddy Waters. I just couldnt believe it. It was a complete turn-around point. The music from the U.S.A. has been the most influential and spiritually uplifting. Its just great.
K2K: It depends who you talk to. Some people think its OK, but Europe is more influential. It seems like some think that European radio has more diversity while others think that American radio does.
JF: Well, there is no doubt, you can basically hear anything you want in the U.S.A. You just select the dial and away you go. You dont hear Pink Floyd over here [in England].
K2K: Yeah, Ive heard that they dont play Pink Floyd and The Who and...
JF: The Stones. You just dont hear them. Its a rare thing. There are a couple of oldies stations who play some stuff, but you hardly ever hear the Stones. Its amazing.
K2K: So there is no respect for British artists themselves in Britain?
JF: It feels like the British music industry, including radio programmers and all sorts of things, play pop dross.
K2K: Thats what we thought would happen here but, youre right, I have been hearing more diverse music.
JF: I havent played there [in America] that much at all, but when I have played there, its been just fantastic. The breadth of thinking is refreshing.
(We got to talking about his moving to Arizona.)
K2K: I just got back from a cross-country trip down south and have come to the realization, about Arizona, that it is exactly like California only without a proper sprinkler system.
JF: (laughs) Yeah, well there are a lot of people moving from California down to Arizona. Ive lived there for a couple of years. More or less, back and forth. Friends of mine who used to live in Los Angeles are down in Paradise Valley and Tempe. They moved down. Its just a great place.
K2K: Its better breathing out there. The dry air keeps away a lot of allergies.
JF: A friend of mine, Keith Rolf, who was the Yardbirds singer, he suffered with asthma chronically. He used to go down to the desert in Arizona. It was better for him. Apart from that, the sky there... when you see this massive, huge, beautiful big sky, you wonder when you see those Native American colors and you think that those colors dont exist, or where did they come from. All you have to do is see the Arizona sky and oh, boy! Its beautiful.
K2K: So you are moving out here permanently?
JF: My major task right now is to find some American representation and to start to work there. I want to get all that going. As much as Buffalo is five years old, its still fresh there. I want to work it.
K2K: Being a songwriter myself, I can say that the best thing going for you is your ability to write timeless music.
JF: Thank you very much.
K2K: Even the British Lions stuff... Its 23 years old but, with a bit of re-tooling, could be fresh today as well.
JF: Yeah, yeah.
(We got to talking a bit about the breakdown of different songs from his career before coming back to current projects.)
K2K: So what else are you working on now? Are you working with anyone else?
JF: Actually, Im sort of putting a band together here at the moment and working on a new album. No names or anything like that, if thats what you mean, but some good players. Im mainly doing solo stuff, with a couple of acoustic guitars.
K2K: So thats your focus is the acoustic now?
JF: Its kind of, but now Ive been working with a bass player, drummer and guitar player. Ive got that itch again and Ive got to scratch it.
And with that we went on to talk about touring possibilities in the U.S. and other musical tidbits. Be sure to check out Angel Airs release of John Fiddlers The Big Buffalo as well as the British Lions re-releases while waiting for his next project. Check out Angel Airs catalog to order. You can also visit John's website at: http://www.johnfiddler.com.
Written by Philip Anderson
- Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.