Brian Coyle was the guitarist,backing vocalist and Harmonica player with Underhand Jones # 2 and was co writer and founder member of  The Dolphins.

Now living and working in Spain, Brian has given us an insight into what he is doing now and some of his views on the music scene past and present.

 

 Where were you born and brought up?

I was born in Cambuslang, Glasgow (though pretty much in Burnside) and lived there till I was about 18, when I moved into the West End (Byres Road) with a male and a female friend. That was kinda daring in those days, even with reference to The Dolphins, who (many years later) thought that people living in flats were “different”.

• How did you get in to music and was Underhand Jones your first band?

I started learning the guitar in 1965, with a guitar from my dad's Embassy coupons, then an electric “Top Twenty” electric with home-made amp which I bought second hand for 13 quid, then a Hofner. At that time, a friend who had studied piano was playing organ with local bands, and even earning money! It was all Tamla / Stax then. In other words, live dancebands. At school, I met this English guy, Kevin, and we started messing around together, and wrote songs and recorded them on cassette. Some of that stuff was quite good, actually. We also messed around forming groups covering songs by groups like Canned Heat, Creedence, and especially 20-minute psychedelic improvisations based on early Pink Floyd songs like “Astronomy Domine” and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. When we played that stuff at the local youth club, the kids were unusually kind. However, we got thrown out of the Catholic youth club Christmas dance for playing “Je T'aime - Moi Non Plus” after turning the lights off.

Back to guitars. I remember going to McCormack's music shop, trying a Fender Telecaster, and thinking: “That's the guitar of my dreams.” Unfortunately, they cost more than 10 quid. Then there was an acoustic phase, with a lovely Yamaha acoustic, which was as playable as an electric, and although I started learning ragtime fingerpicking, the guitar still let me play rocky stuff.

At that point (74/5?) I joined my first ever professional group (professional meaning money-making), after answering an advert. These guys had been a pop/rock group (Nevada) but, now married, wanted to form an acoustic trio doing clubs. They say old rockers never die, and at the auditions I remember wimpy acoustic guitarists being sent off and I got the gig cos I played with lots of presence (probably thanks to the Yamaha!) That trio quickly became electric, with drums, and I swapped my acoustic for a weird Hayman body / Strat neck guitar. It was nice, but that's when my string-breaking days began, never to cease. I then got a Strat, which I didn't take to and swapped for a Gibson SG Special, which was my guitar when I joined Underhand Jones.

The start UJ was thus: they met me, said maybe I was a bit older than them but what the hell, and gave me a cassette to take home and learn for the audition. When I came back a couple of days later, they asked which of the seven songs I had learnt. I replied: “All of them”, which shook them a little. So I got the gig. (At the audition I used a Fender Tele, which The Cuban Heels had lent the band to help out.) Ah, Telecasters! Curiously, the Fender Telecaster I've had since after the Dolphins split up (I got rid of the lovely Les Paul cos I wanted a livelier sound) was born in the same year as I started learning guitar, 1965.)


• You played the Loch Lomond Rock Festival in 1979 with Underhand Jones, what was that like?

Even now, I find it hard to understand why I was never nervous about going onstage, or impressed by big venues. Perhaps it was because when I started playing in public, I never wore my glasses, and even when I eventually got contact lenses, I wasn't used to looking out there at the audience. I didn't have my lenses at Loch Lomond, so I saw nothing!
The night before we played there was my birthday, so I went out with my friends on the piss. It got late, and Pete suggested driving up to Loch Lomond to see what the atmosphere was like. We wandered round the campsite and I got off with this rather nifty girl called Susan, and ended up spending the night in her tent. In the morning, I crawled out to see we were right at the backstage security gate, and after convincing them that I was really due onstage that day, they let me in to phone the group and tell them that they didn't need to pick me up.

Some time later, we played our gig, I think it went OK, I remember little about the concert. Afterwards, the group went home, and I stayed behind with Susan and my friends (most of whom missed our performance because they had been in the pub down the road.)

I also remember we shared our dressing room caravan with Fairport Convention. Now THAT was like a dream, cos they were a major influence in my musical development. Being a bit shy, I didn't speak to them.

• Underhand Jones brought out a single in 1978, How did that do?

I was not a UJ member then. I hadn't even heard of them. I joined UJ after Billy and Elvis left. Some of the photos on the net show the previous version of UJ, whereas the recordings are of UJ V2. When I joined, I was still earning money playing “cabaret” (covers in clubs and pubs). I think that was the last time in Britain I earned money playing music.

• You started The Dolphins along with Cammy Forbes in 1981, how did it feel to play in one of the best bands in Scotland at that time?

Cammy and I had become close, ever since I had joined the band. For instance, when we started rehearsing UJ2, he and I would get together and he would sit at the piano and play me lots of the songs he had written beforehand, to see which, if any, could be done by the new group -- UJ2. From those sessions came “Creatures”, “Things That You Say” and others, and more particularly “Running”, which Cammy couldn't see as a goodie, but I persuaded him to do it. At that point, I also got back to writing, and UJ did “Suddenly”, Marie L'Eturdie” and another song which I forget now!

So when UJ2 split up, it was only Cammy and I who thought of starting anew, and at my insistence, afresh. New name, new style, drop ALL the old songs, style and attitude. We talked about who to get as a lead singer, but I told Cammy he was able to take that on. The original idea was to have both of us as front men, including interviews et al.

The basic idea was to write great songs and get famous, and ride into towns in “The Dolphin-bus”. Seemed like a dream, but we did eventually get the bus, though we were too afraid to decorate it for fear of theft. We had an idea of becoming the new Monkees, but in line with the music of the day, which was post-punk new wave of British pop or something. We started writing together, and agreed that all songs we did would be seen as jointly composed, even if they were completely written by one of us.

Some of our joint compositions were “Home Life”, “She's So Right”, “Cold War” “My Country” and “Tin Soldier”. Some of my individual efforts which would be included in the joint notion were “Valerie”, “San Sebastian”, “Shock Horror”, “Hang Your Head”, “Davy Jones”. Most early songs were combined efforts, however, and that's where things started coming adrift.


There is much, much more to say, but in answer to your question, I didn't think we were one of the best groups. other people did. I think we could have been one of the best groups, had we stuck to our original ideas and filtered out or re-arranged the inappropriate stuff .

• The Dolphins played Live on The BBC's Untied Shoelaces Show in 1983, how did that go?

There's no doubt, watching the videos on You Tube or PhotoBucket (Thanks, guys! I had only ever seen that once in my life, in 198-, ) that the band played perfectly. Groups normally pre-recorded their songs, but we played totally live, and the BBC guys got a great sound. For the first and only time I was nearly nervous, since I had to start the first song on guitar, getting the speed right.

Just before the show, I told the make-up lady I was a bit worried about the odd grey hair showing up, but she said it wouldn't be visible on TV. Nevertheless, she sprayed my hair with brown stuff, to ease my mind. After that day, I started dying my hair!

As for the show, it was in the morning, so it didn't really exist!

• You were involved in the song writing in the band, what songs did you write or co-write?

I've mentioned some of the songs above. Lots of the co-written songs were when either Cammy or I had an idea and we would get together and spend hours working on it together. Songs like “Tin Soldier” started when I brought along a few riffs and we worked them into a song. In fact, after writing the structure and melody for that song, we both went away with homework: write a verse of lyrics each!

Songs like “She's So Right” and “Home Life” just came into existence as Cammy and I played together. Other songs like “Cold War” started from a Cammy idea at the piano. We worked on the concept (a German at the Russian Front) then I came up with the lyrics, suggesting things while Cammy would say “No” and I'd be forced to come up with something better. Once written, we'd work out the overall structure. True teamwork.

If you listen to the early songs, you will hear some great lyrics. In order to compete, presenting a song fait accompli meant it had to be convincing right from the start, so no presenting half-baked ideas.

Of my own songs, my favourites are probably “Paradise Lost”, “Light Up The Sky Pt1”, “San Sebastian”, “Shock Horror”” and the sadly underplayed “Call It A Day” (I don't even have a rehearsal copy of that one.)

“Café Du Marché”, “Security”, “Valerie”, “Hang Your Head” … I don't have a list, maybe more, I'd need to see a list!


• The Dolphins got as far as you can get without ever getting a record deal, how close do you think the band came to being signed and was there a point when you guys thought “we're gonna make it here!”?

We got fed on constant “next week, they're coming to see us from the States” type stuff, and that's what held the band together for a long time after everyone had got totally pissed off. If anyone had eventually got signed up, it would have been Cammy and “Stay”, and the band would've been nowhere to be seen. It took us a while for that to sink in.

• Why did the band never move down to London to crack the big time?

If the band had been attractive, people would've come to see us. We played a few gigs in London, but it was all fake, really. Even in the late 70s, record companies came to Glasgow and signed up bands if they seemed sellable.

• Was the Dolphins “sound” better Live or in the Studio? And why?

Probably better live, as we never had a producer, someone to tell us the truth. We did OK self-producing, but I believe that some objective and knowledgeable (or hip!) producer could have raised us to a new level. this is in retrospect, of course.

• Did you rate any other bands from the Glasgow pub/rock scene from back then?

Henry Gorman…. Scheme were simply excellent. They should have made it. I never saw H2O live, but they were going in the right direction. Some bands have slipped my mind, but the best band in all of Glasgow's history was, however, The George McGowan Big Band.

• Underhand Jones get a mention in the book “45 Revolutions” and The Dolphins get mentioned in the book “Big Noise” (the sound of Scotland) do you think it's about time that era got some recognition?

No more than any other era, anywhere. I think it's record success that counts at the end of the day. If any one of us were to “modernize” those old songs, record them and sell them now, then that would be interesting. I mean, even old famous stuff mostly sounds boring now.

• The “legendary” Dial Inn, what do you remember about that venue?

We had some great gigs there, but I will never forgive Marillion for leaving red makeup on the dressing room table, which ruined my strides!
It's a double-edged sword, though. We had a great following there, but I always said that it held us back, making us too available and just another pub band. I had to fight long and hard with the other guys about that one. Unfortunately, we left it too late,

The Dial In was great for seeing groups, magnificent in fact. But it was also the death of many, for not being “trendy”.

• You have played at Kelvingrove, Loch Lomond, The Kings Theatre (Glasgow) and more, what has been your most memorable Gig?

The Fair Friday midnight gig has to be the best. But some of the best ever playing was seen in out of the way places like Davy Jones' Locker doon the watter, or in John O' Groats and the like.

• Apart from the better weather, why did you move to Spain? And what are you doing these days?

I came to Spain to visit my brother, who got married to a Spanish girl. The chance of work arose, so I came back after the summer as an English teacher, and am now the Director of Studies at a language school. It's very challenging and creative, and I am free to use any talent I have. I love working with computers, communicating, designing, organizing etc. and that's all part of the job.

When I came here, I did some gigs with local musicians, but they are so lazy and undependable that I gave up. There was one point where I was singing and writing new stuff, and it was looking promising, but the locals are just impossible to deal with, in the sense of rehearsing or learning parts, and it's not as if they can improvise well. So maybe one day I'll do some new stuff on the computer.

• What bands/artists do you rate today? And what was the last album/CD/download you bought?

Glasvegas are close to my heart, though I preferred the demo version of their album. I can very much see where they're coming from and I hope they can find out where to go.
Otherwise, I'm listening to Muse, Nine Inch Nails, Frank Zappa, Small Faces, Kinks, Portishead, The Who… and I liked The Editors for about two listens.

• When were you last back in Scotland? And will you ever come back here to live again?

I was last back in Scotland in 2002, before that it was 1996. I might well be popping over at Easter this year. As for living there, no chance.

Interview Edited By Glasband 80.
Thanks Brian.
Brian Coyle Interview March 2009.