Friday, September 11, 2015

A Very Candid Conversation with Bev Bevan

Bev Bevan is a veteran rock drummer who has been playing professionally since the 1960s. His first major band was the Move, led by Roy Wood, a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter. The Move started out as a five-piece band with four vocalists. They were very famous in Britain but remained unknown in America. The Move started with pop singles such as “Fire Brigade” and “Blackberry Way.” By the time the second album Shazam (1970) came around, the music was becoming more sophisticated with songs such as “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” and “Hello Susie.” Jeff Lynne (who was also a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter) joined the Move shortly after the Shazam album. At the end of the Move’s career, the remaining band members were Wood, Bevan, and Lynne. The Move would mutate into Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Wood left ELO in 1972, but Lynne and Bevan remained. ELO would go on to become one of the most successful bands of the 1970s.

Although Bevan was still part of ELO, he got a chance to go on tour with Black Sabbath in 1983 to promote their album Born Again. Black Sabbath’s original drummer, Bill Ward, was too ill to do the tour, so Bevan stepped in and helped them complete the tour. Bevan stayed with ELO until they broke up in 1986. Bevan briefly returned to Black Sabbath in 1987 and added some percussion bits on the album The Eternal Idol. After Sabbath, Bevan wanted to reform ELO but Lynne was not interested. In addition, Lynne objected to Bevan continuing with the name ELO without his involvement. Therefore, Bevan toured with a few former ELO musicians under the new name, ELO Part II, throughout the ’90s.

In 2004, Bevan reformed the Move for a period of time with some of ELO Part II’s colleagues. Original Move member, Trevor Burton, would join the band a few years later. In 2014, Bevan retired from the Move. Today, Bevan is involved in two projects: Quill, and the Bev Bevan Band. Quill is a folk rock band, which is very different from Bevan’s early bands. Bevan plays drums on a few songs, but he mostly plays percussion for Quill. The Bev Bevan Band performs in a show called Stand Up and Rock.  This show features Jasper Carrott, a famous stand-up comedian in Britain and a good friend of Bevan’s. Stand Up and Rock alternates between stand-up comedy from Carrott and music from the Bev Bevan Band.

In this candid conversation, we cover Bevan’s days from the Move to the Bev Bevan band. I want to thank Billy James from Glass Onyon PR for setting up this interview. But most of all, I want to thank Bev.

Jeff Cramer: What encouraged you to pick up your sticks and play the drums?

Bev Bevan: I actually fell in love with American rock and roll music in the late ’50s. Music before that was really bland and didn't interest me whatsoever. Then, I heard Elvis and Little Richard. I just fell in love with music and I wanted to play music. Like a lot of other kids, we formed a band at school. I just really wanted to be the drummer.

JC: How did you get started in the Move?

BB: I started out with Denny Laine in a little band called Denny Laine and the Diplomats in '63 or '64. We did quite well. We had some great shows. We opened for the Beatles. We opened for the Stones.

JC: That’s great.

BB: Then Denny Laine left to form the Moody Blues and Wings, obviously. I joined another band called Carl Wayne and the Vikings. We went to Germany for a couple of months and play for seven- to nine-hour thing that the Beatles had done before us. Then, we got back. The Move really started with two guys—Ace Kefford and Trevor Burton. They went to see David Bowie at a club in Birmingham. He was doing well on the London scene. They asked him for some advice. He said, "What you should do is get all the best guys you can from Birmingham and form a Birmingham super group and put it together and get down to London and try and make it.” That's what happened. Ace Kefford and Trevor Burton asked Roy Wood to join. Then they asked me, and then they asked Carl Wayne. We became the Move in 1966 and worked really hard. It was a great little band.

JC: What's interesting is that over a short period of time, there were a lot of musical changes within the Move. You started with more singles like "Fire Brigade" and then got into Shazam to a little more complicated stuff. Can you talk a little bit more about the music transactions that the Move went through in that short period of time?

BB: When the Move started, we were at our best. When we started out, we were pretty much a rock band, but we had four- and five-piece harmonies. It was unusual. Roy Wood maybe got a little too poppy with his tunes. He had a lot of hit singles.

Cover of the Move’s first single “Night of Fear”

The scene that we were playing on in '67 and '68 were all the big London clubs and festivals. We worked mainly with people like Cream and the Who and Hendrix and Pink Floyd. In retrospect, I think we should have headed to the States in '67 the way a lot of other British bands did. I think we would have done okay. It was just bad management, really. [To hear a live performance of the Move’s “Blackberry Way,” click here.]

JC: As the Move started to end, two people came in who would eventually make the band become ELO—Jeff Lynne, and the manager, Don Arden, the father of Sharon Osbourne.

BB: Don managed the Move toward the end of its career. The only reason Jeff Lynne ever joined the Move was to form a new band. He was never interested in being a part of the Move. It was a good, money-earning band. It really subsidized the beginning of ELO for getting musicians in and recording and rehearsals and stuff. Jeff never wanted to be in the Move. He wanted to form a new band. In 1970, we were in two bands at the same time: the Move and ELO. The Move had a big hit in 1972 called "California Man." By then, ELO already had a hit.

Jeff Lynne in the Move (Bev on far right)

JC: Before we go into ELO, there are two drum breaks that I like from the Move—the beginning of "Feel Too Good," and the one at the ending of "The Words of Aaron."

BB: It's a very long time since I've heard either of those. Drumming-wise, my favorite stuff with the Move was on the Shazam album. It was in "Fields of People." That's what I would pick out as my best work with the Move. [Since this is Bev’s favorite, you can hear “Fields of People” by clicking here.]

JC: Okay. Discuss the transition on how the Move would become ELO at that point.

BB:When we started it was really just myself, Roy Wood, and Jeff Lynne. It was Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne's idea for ELO. They kept me out of the drama, then we brought in different musicians. We had a hit record, “10538 Overture”  that Jeff wrote. We did a couple of tours. Roy Wood suddenly left. We don't really know why. Even to this day, I'm not sure why. He just disappeared and formed a new band called Wizzard that did really well in Britain. Jeff, Richard Tandy, and I had to bring in new people and trimmed it down to a seven piece. We did the thing that Roy didn't do with the Move and really concentrated on breaking in America. [To hear a live performance of ELO’s “Showdown,” click here.]


JC: At this point, ELO had a lot of hits in the ’70s. There’s a lot of Beatles’ influence in those hits. In fact, there’s so much influence that it isn’t surprising that the surviving Beatles asked Jeff to produce the unfinished Beatles’ track “Free as a Bird.”

BB: Absolutely. You should really speak to Jeff about this, but Jeff was massively influenced by the Beatles. Then again, most people were. They changed music.

JC: Having mention the Beatles, let’s talk about Olivia Newton-John. Talk about the time ELO teamed up with Olivia when they did the soundtrack for Xanadu, the movie.

BB: Again, that was probably through Don Arden. It was a time when music movies were doing well in 1979. We only did five tracks, I think. It was great working with Olivia Newton-John because she's an absolute sweetheart. She's a lovely lady. She came up to Munich and laid the vocal down. I think the movie pretty much bombed. I've never seen the movie. There's some nice music in it.

JC: Some of that music still stands. From what I understand, Olivia did the title theme song “Xanadu,” but you guys did a version of “Xanadu” that did well in the UK.

BB: That was a number-one record. Actually, “Xanadu” is the only number one that ELO ever had in Britain. [Click here to listen to ELO’s only number-one hit in Britain.]

“Xanadu” single

JC: Really? I didn't know that. That's interesting. One other thing that's not talked about is that shortly after ELO you would join Black Sabbath. Talk about that event. I know this was right after Bill Ward wasn't going to tour behind the Ian Gillan album Born Again.

BB: Bill was having some health problems and stuff. That was quite a tough tour coming up. There was a European tour and a couple of trips to America, and there was a British tour. There was the Reading Festival, which we headlined. I've known Tony Iommi since 1969 or something like that. We're still absolute best mates to this date. He's still one of my closest friends in this business. I joined Black Sabbath in 1983. I was with them through ’84. I really, really enjoyed it. It was a bit like going back to what I talked about before with the Move’s Shazam album and playing heavy drums. I saw Tony last week, and he said that an American promoter wanted to put the Born Again tour back on the road with Tony, Ian Gillan, Geezer, and myself. If that ever happened, that would be fun. [To hear a live version of “Zero the Hero,” click here.]

JC: It would be. There's an interesting thing about the Born Again tour about the Stonehenge sets that couldn’t fit on the stage.

BB: Spinal Tap—one of my favorite movies—must have stolen the Stonehenge idea from Sabbath. In Spinal Tap, the Stonehenge is tiny. It looks absurd. In Sabbath, I think it was Geezer Butler who drew out the rough idea for it. When it arrived, it was just huge. We took the whole lot to America. I think the first place we played might have been in Toronto or Canada. Anyway, it was the first date of that tour. When the crew went to set it up, it would not fit on the stage. We kind of dumped it. We obviously kept a lot, but a lot of the pieces were so big that you couldn’t fit them anywhere.

Bev (sitting down)  with Black Sabbath

JC:  I remember reading somewhere that they dumped the Stonehenge.  

BB:  I think it was in a dock yard or something like that. They just left it.

JC:  You would come back briefly to ELO after that tour was over.

BB:  Yeah. The late ’80s were quiet. I think I did another two albums with ELO—the last two albums that I did. The last one was Balance of Power, which came out in '86, I think. I kind of briefly went back with Sabbath a couple of times and did shows for them as well. They were strange times.

JC: You also did an album for Black Sabbath. I know Sabbath fans are curious about your credit for percussion on The Eternal Idol

BB: Yeah.

JC: What exactly did you play? Are you actually playing percussion, or did you overdub a few drum tracks on that album?

BB: It was mainly percussion. I spent a couple of days in the studio. It was things like double tracking some snare and stuff, and maybe some cowbell and chimes and all kinds of weird things. It was adding little effects to the album.

JC: In addition to Sabbath, you would redo ELO Part II.

BB:We did an ELO Part II  pretty much for most of the ’90s. That was a lot of touring. We went to a lot of countries that we had never been to before. We did most of the South American countries, which was fascinating. We did Eastern Europe and Poland and Estonia and Latvia and all kinds of weird places. It was a good band. The band was good on stage. They played well. It was all good musicians. The only thing we didn't have was a song writer like Jeff. We didn't have the quality of songs. [To hear a semi-acoustic melody of “Telephone Line/Showdown” by ELO Part II, click here.]


JC: At the same time, it must have been nice to tour all of those countries that had wanted to see ELO.

BB:Yeah. We played with a lot of symphony orchestras, which was great. We played with the Moscow Symphony and the Sydney Symphony and the Singapore Symphony. There were loads of them. That was a good experience.

JC: You would also later redo the Move.

BB: In 2014,  myself and Trevor Burton did about thirty dates in Britain. We went back to a lot of the rock clubs that the original Move had played. It was fun, but it made me realize that it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. You don't get on stage until 10:30 at night in these rocks clubs now. It's just too late. It was good fun going out with Trevor and doing that, but it was just a one-off. I'm used to doing theaters now. We're doing this massive show called Stand Up and Rock in this country. I'm doing shows with Quill.

JC: Tell me about Stand Up and Rock and Quill.

BB: Jasper Carrott, a British comedian, is my best friend and very, very popular in Britain. He goes on stage and does half an hour of comedy. Then, we go on stage and do half an hour of rock. There's the stand-up and the rock. There's an interval. Jasper goes on and does another half-hour. We go on and do another half. To close the show, Jasper gets up at the end and joins us on a couple of songs like a Status Quo  medley with a bunch of rock-and-roll things. It's working really well. We've done it all over Britain, and it's selling out pretty much everywhere we go. [To hear Bev and his band performance of the ELO classic, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” click here.]

Bev in center with Stand Up and Rock

In my band—the Bev Bevan Band—we cover a lot of genres, so we definitely needed a female lead vocalist. The lead singer, Joy Strachan, has always had a fabulous voice. She's a great rock singer as well. She asked me if I'd like to join Quill and play some drums and percussion. I've been doing that for over a year now. It's really good fun. It's different stuff to do. It's original songs. We're really working hard for on writing the next album, which I'm writing most of the lyrics with Joy. It's nice. We've got Stand Up and Rock and Quill at the same time. The reviews for the Quill album I did with Joy have been absolutely staggering. It's amazingly good reviews. It's lovely to see.

They're all theater shows with a sit-down audience and proper lighting and good sound and back-projection screens. That's what I like to do now.

JC: Even I know that there is more percussion than drums with Quill. What are some of the instruments you played with Quill that you are currently using?

BB: The stuff that I use on stage is congas, snares, two floor toms, chimes, tambourine, shakers, and seven symbols. I think it’s seven symbols. It changes. I move them around a bit. It's just fun. It's fun creating nice, living sounds. I think I get on the drums for three or four songs, and then the drummer plays  percussion. It's a lot of movement going around. For the bongos, I just sit on the stools and play. So, it's just rhythm, which is one thing I can do.

What I particularly love at the moment with Quill and the Stand Up and Rock is just working with people that I really enjoy working with. I think I did 112 shows last year. They're all fine musicians, but they're all really nice people. Even our road crews are great. So, we make life as comfortable as possible. I don't want any pressures anymore. I don't want to be fighting with people and having arguments. I look forward to working. I'm never happier than when I'm playing gigs. I love it. [To hear a live version of Quill performing “9 Mile Camp,” click here.]

Bev with Quill behind him.

JC: Are there any other things besides Stand Up and Rock and Quill, or is that basically it?

BB: In the last year I played on the Paul Weller album. I played drums on that the album before the last. Other things come along. With my own band—the Bev Bevan Band—we have gigs coming in as well. We've got a couple of those coming up. We just do rock clubs occasionally or awards things. The Pride of Birmingham Awards is coming up. It's a big gala. We're playing at that. I'm writing CD reviews for my local Sunday paper, the Sunday Mercury. There's a magazine called 247. I'm writing reviews for that. I do radio work. I have my own radio specials on BBC-WM from time to time. So, I'm pretty busy.

JC: Out of your long career that has been filled with a lot of variety, can you tell me some of the highlights?

BB: When I played with Denny Laine and the Diplomats and opened for the Beatles in front of thousands of screaming girls was a highlight. With the Move, touring with Hendrix. That would be a highlight. With ELO, playing at places like Anaheim Stadium and having Michael Jackson come to see us afterwards. That was great. Black Sabbath headlining at Reading Festival was a big one. Nowadays, I keep myself fit and I think I'm playing drums better than I ever played. I never thought I'd be saying this at my age, but I actually think I’m better now than I've ever been. That's really, really gratifying.


Unknown said...

As the junior engineer ( tape op = tea boy ) on On the Third Day and Eldorado I can say that Bev along with Roy Wood are the two nicest musos I ever worked with!
Doug Bogie

Terry Heath said...

Was in HMV today in Mell Square Solihull buying a Ronnettes CD ,met Bev Bevan in there,had a chat seems a nice feller,was good to meet you Bev,bye Terry H

b1-66er said...

this interview is fabulous. thank you.

b1-66er said...

this interview is fabulous. thank you.

Paul Cole said...

Good interview, Jeff. We're looking forward to Bev's appearance at The Brummies, the new name for Pride of Birmingham on Friday October 7 at Birmingham Town Hall.

Chris said...

I disagree with Bev about ELO Part 2 not having a good song writer. Eric Troyer wrote some good songs and if he had been given a few more albums and some encouragement , I think he really would have shined. It took Jeff Lynne several albums before he got going. This was the time of the grunge movement when a lot of great albums got overlooked like "Loud and Clear" by Signal and other such. ELO songs never sounded better when they were performed by ELO Part Two. Just go to Youtube and watch ELO Part Two perform "Nightrider".

elvisbooks said...

Nice work, Jeff, and thanks. Your love of music makes me think your mind wanders to it when processing securities. I wish Douglas Gray would comment on Lynne. A genius, to be sure, but I once read elsewhere that he can be a dick.

Jess said...

I was told by several people that Bev Bevan left his lovely wife Valarie after 40-something years for Joy Strachan-Brain. Does anyone know if this is true or not??

Phil Fridge said...

Interesting to see positive comments re Bev, i'd heard he was argumentative and difficult and a bit up himself.....seeing the last posting rather suggests he's perhaps also a bit of a twat to leave his mrs when hes in his 70's.

Anonymous said...

It is true that that bitch Joy Strachan-Brain broke up Bev and Val's marriage.

Denise Southworth said...

I have met Bev 3 times over the last 20 years before/after gigs -If I have ever met a nicer man I dont recall when
I work for a small Community Radio station and the last time I met him when he was on tour with Jasper Carrot I asked about the chance of an interview -His reply was "Sure Do you want to do it now ? " But as I wasnt prepared for such a quick chance I had to ask to do it another time . Bev gave me his number and we did the interview a few days later . I wont hear a bad word about him

Jess said...

There is a program called Quill Connect on youtube hosted by Bev and that despicable beast.