This interview was conducted by e-mail in late June and early July 2003. Many thanks to Martyn for his help.
Jump to a section of the interview...
As we travel through life there are few people that leave a lasting impression, but one was Anthony Fry my English master at Secondary School who brought the beauty of music and language into my life, another was a guy who's name I forget at The Redmon Cycling Club who always showed a bit of understanding and encouragement when I was falling off the back in a road race and another was Andrew Jackman who I shared many miles with in the back of a transit van as we ground our way up the M1 to another gig. He kept our band (Syn) together, he showed me musical discipline and even back in 1968 he was always the true professional. May he rest in peace. Martyn Adelman.
Martyn Adelman: I started playing drums at about the age of fourteen after hearing a friend of mine tap out a rhythm on a school desk and being challenged to copy what he was doing. I became completely hooked and got my Dad to lend me £35-00 to buy a kit of "Broadway" drums. I formed a group called The Insteps, which had as one of its members a very young, but multi-talented John Altman. Later in life, he became well known for composing advertising jingles, film scores and doing session work for people like Alison Moyet, Björk and George Michael with his John Altman Big Band.
What are your memories of Peter Banks at school? Did you perform together?
MA: I was at Barnet College of Further Education with Peter Banks (Brockbanks) and it was me who first introduced him to Chris [Squire]. Peter was a quiet sort of guy, serious and somewhat reserved, almost humble, just a "nice" sort of bloke. I never did get to play with him because at the time I was making music with Peter Knight, who was also at Barnet College and who later went on to join the folk-rock band Steeleye Span. We had a trio called Gray Payne and the Pete Martyn Duo (sorry!!!). Gray was the singer, Peter was on semi-acoustic guitar and me on bongoes and percussion. It didn't last too long. I remained good mates with Peter Knight and, as far as I remember, met Chris Squire at Boosey and Hawkes, the music publishers in Regent Street where, after leaving college, Knight went to work for a time. I admit that this part of my life is a little hazy.
[Martyn was very up front that his memories of this period are hazy. As far as he can remember, he joined the band when it was already called Syn, with a line up of Chris Squire (bass), Andrew Jackman (keys), Chris Slater (vocals) and either John Wheatley or John Painter on guitar—he was particularly uncertain about his memories of Wheatley versus Painter. However, going by other sources, it appears that when Martyn joined in 1965, the band was called The Selfs and had Wheatley on guitar. The Syn name came with new vocalist Steve Nardelli and new guitarist John Painter.]
How did you come to join the band?
MA: I think they were looking for a drummer and, due to my encounter with Squire, I just sort of landed in it. It's a little scary that you seem to know more about me than me. I'm still confused about this, I think the majority of the time I was with the band, Painter was playing lead guitar.
What are your memories of Squire and the other band members?
MA: We were all based around North London and John Painter's dad was the caretaker of a hall that we used for rehearsals. For some reason, Chris and I always joked about John's dad and would ask, "How's yah dad," always at the most inappropriate times. It's a stupid little thing that's stuck to this day and if I ever see Chris (which is very rarely), we still ask one another how our respective dad's are.
When I joined I'm sure the band was already called Syn. I might be mistaken, but I can't be sure, probably due to the abundance of black bombers and purple hearts that so freely found their way, my way. We seemed to get gigs quite easily though, including Tiles in the Oxford Street and a great little club in Swiss Cottage where we had a Friday night residency.
It was very apparent from my early musical encounters with Squire that if anyone was destined for fame, it was him. He and I had great fun on stage as the rhythm section because we simply knew what each other was up to and, consequently, no two performances were the same. We were like a machine. He was slightly arrogant and announced one night after a gig, while driving back to his place in Kingsbury, that his "first motor would be a Roller." As it happens, his first motor was a Bentley Continental. I would say he always remained aloof, as if he wasn't about to waste his energy on anyone undeserving. I reckon he knew what was to come and in a way was already preparing himself for it.
And I fancied his mother, but then I reckon all the band did.
Andrew Jackman on the other hand was the classically trained serious musician. It was him that kept us all together in the early days, because whenever the bickering started, he, like a father figure, would calm it down and sort the problem out. He hated my driving and on tour, grinding up the M1 in the Transit, would never let me drive, but I'm jumping the gun a bit because that happened after Slater left and Nardelli joined. I liked Andy, he was the "straight" member and the anchor of the band.
Slater, I never got to know. He was obsessed with his image, which I suppose was a good thing for the vocalist. He would prance about on stage in a leather coat, he was a true "mod" and I bought myself a leather coat just so I could be a bit like him. One night he was late for a gig at a club in Richmond, because he'd been "rolled" for his leather, and Squire took great pride in announcing the mishap to the assembled audience. Personally it was a relief when Steve Nardelli took over as vocalist. I never felt much camaraderie with Slater.
And finally we get to good old John Wheatley. I don't know where he is or what he's doing, but he was always the butt of our jokes. I don't honestly know if he was really thick, but he would always act it and, in a way, it was a good thing, because there were many times we needed some light relief that good old John gave us. As for his guitar skills, I just don't have any recollection.
Yes historians are very unclear about this period—can you remember how the line-up altered?
MA: As I've already mentioned as I recall I joined Syn. The only change to the line up when I was present was the arrival of Steve Nardelli and the exit of Chris Slater. [Painter also replaced Wheatley at the same time.] Nardelli brought a fresh approach to the band, his voice being a cross between early Rod Stewart and his bosom buddy Long John Baldry. It was needed and we continued as before, but with a better understanding of each other. This is when we started touring a bit of the UK and experienced a few high spots and some real lows.
Tell me about some of the highs and lows! What was life on the road like with the Syn?
MA: This could take years! Did you ever hear of the partnership we had with a couple of boy vocalists called Truth? We toured with them for a while doing gigs up North. They had recorded a cover version of The Beatles song "Girl" and needed a band to back them on a promotional tour. From the start it was a clash of egos: Syn was this cosy little unit that was disrupted by the arrival of these two really base guys. All of a sudden we had more people consuming the stale air of the Transit, ribbing each other and trying to outdo each other image wise, girl wise and even penile length wise. Sometimes the aggro would escalate into fist fights, always with Jackman stepping in to diffuse the situation. The mix on stage actually worked though. We would play some of our own material as an intro, Truth would be announced to screams from some of the girls and the two boys dressed all in white would prance onto the stage and whip into a fast number to get the audience going. I think we all felt it was a bit beneath us, doing this kind of 'show biz' thing, but for a time it worked. Truth did make the charts rising as high as #24 with "Girl", but they used session men for their record.
Talking of 'show biz', Syn had the honour of doing a gig at the Lyceum Ballroom which was billed as "The Show Biz Ball". It was a charity gig where many big names in TV and film paid a lot of money to attend and eat and dance themselves sick. The two bands appearing that night were ourselves and Pete Bardens' Looners, a really slick band led by Bardens [later in Camel], who played a wicked Hammond organ, and with a terrific young drummer called Mick Fleetwood. After the show was over and the guests had left, we all got together and had a tremendous jam until three in the morning when we were eventually kicked out. (Health and Safety, what health and safety?)
We once auditioned for a German tour. A promoter was putting together a 'package' of acts to entertain the American troops based out there, but we were turned down. Freddie and the Dreamers passed and got top billing; we were told to return when we had "more entertaining material."
Our biggest gig was a Saturday night in Leeds with an audience of well over two thousand people. It was the first time we realised we were rated so highly outside of London because driving through the suburbs of Leeds there were posters advertising "THE SYN, fresh from their success in London"! For a time, we decided to change the name of the band to The Whole Way and Jackman and myself were out in Harrow late one night, bill-posting for a "Big Beat Concert, featuring The Whole Way and various support acts". We were stopped by the police, arrested and taken to Harrow Police station, put up before the magistrates and fined 30 shillings (£1-50) each. We decided to stay with the name Syn.
What sort of material did you play?
MA: Tamla Motown, Blues and Soul. Stuff like Allen Toussaint's "Get Out My Life Woman" and Sam Cooke's "Dock of the Bay", plus numbers the band had written. It was a bluesy moddy mix of stuff.
Who were the songwriters in the band or did everybody throw ideas in?
MA: It was mainly Squire and Jackman, with an occasional flurry from the rest of us. It was often the case that songs were half written and we found the best way to complete something was to simply play what we had already formulated and see where it took us. I think you'll agree it's a different approach from the way Yes put their work together. Having been present for a good deal of the recording of Close to the Edge, I still don't know how Eddie Offord (the engineer) kept sane. (It could have been the dope of course!) There's a Bruford cymbal crash on that album that took two nights to record.
Radio Caroline aired a song we recorded (very badly) called "Merry Go Round", the b-side being a cover version of The Who's "I Can't Explain". I still have the remains of the disc which is hardly playable but demonstrates even then what a great bass player Chris was. The line up was myself on drums, Squire on bass, Steve Nardelli, vocals, Andrew Jackman, keyboards and lead guitar, John Painter, I think (not Pete Banks, who came later).
I can't recollect the exact circumstances that led to that recording. I do remember it was at a studio called Advision in Oxford Street and by god it was a crude set up. All the guitars were patched straight through to the control room, without going through our amps at all. We obviously lost the Syn sound, the drums were miked up to a degree but sounded as if I were beating a wet pillow. The recording took a few hours but we really had had no experience of studio playing. The result was a kind of sludge sound. We did get some air play from John Peel at Radio Caroline (the first UK offshore pirate radio station) but generally the whole thing was a bit of a no-no.
Over time, Syn shifted to a more psychedelic style. Can you remember how that development came about or was it after you had left the band?
MA: That was after I left. I often wondered how it came about. I know the management of the band changed and I think the "new psycho" style was partly due to that fact. When I was with the band we had a "manager" of sorts, the typical "Mr 10%", who didn't give a toss as to what we played or how we looked just as long as we went to the gig and got paid. As Syn matured so did the business input and I remember seeing their first gig at the Marquee and being shocked by their brightly coloured suits. (This was with Hankanarssen on drums—I really rated this guy, what ever became of him?) It was obvious their image was going through a transformation just as the music was. You could say it was part of someone's master plan.
And why did you leave the band?
MA: Ah, the big question. If I told you I fell in love, would you believe me? In retrospect it was ridiculous state of affairs, but inadvertently it happened due to the actions of Squire. We had played our normal Friday night Swiss Cottage residency and didn't have any gigs lined up for the weekend, so we both decided Saturday night we should go "on the pull". In those days I drove a 'Union Jack' Mini which was known all over North London and, consequently, found it fairly easy to stop and pick up girls. We were touring the upper reaches of the Finchley Road when, what did Chris spy, but two charming girls waiting at a bus stop. Chris convinced me to stop and, after a quick debate on the advantages of private over public transport, the girls told us they knew of a party up in Hampstead and hopped in. We paired off at the party and after that first encounter I unfortunately spent most of my spare time pursuing the girl in question instead of focussing on the band. I finally left the band for a girl I couldn't bear to be apart from. Wasn't it stupid, the fickleness of youth?
After your departure, the Syn seemed to go through a rapid succession of different drummers: Gunner Hankanarssen, Ray Steele, Chris Allen and others in under two years!
MA: I think the chameleon state of Syn drummers was due to the transformation the band was going through. With each new stage, came a new drummer. When I was with the band, we were a fairly solid crew that introduced new numbers into the repertoire but kept to the same formula.
You mentioned before that you also introduced Chris Squire and Peter Banks: how did that come about?
MA: I heard that Squire and co. were looking for a lead guitarist and having known that Banks played a wicked lead when at college I telephoned him and arranged a meeting with Squire. It was as simple as that. I never really got a thank you from Pete. Such is Life.
What did you do next, after the Syn? Are you still drumming today?
MA: I had attended art college and found a job as an assistant to a guy who designed record sleeves. Just as long I was near "my true love", I didn't care. It was fun, but a hell of a come down after Syn. I sold the drums, I tried to turn my back on the whole business, but Squire kept telephoning me to see if I wanted "in" again as "he had some new ideas," and I kept turning him down. It's got to be the joke of the last century, no?
Do I regret leaving the band? Yes, but not for the reasons you may think. I would never have lasted as a drummer with Yes, I was not good enough at the time and I would have been driven nuts. I think Bill Bruford discovered that fairly early on. My regret is knowing that I probably would have still been drumming professionally today.
I have taken up drumming again because one of my sons has started to show some interest and I was looking for an excuse to get another kit. It's surprising just how many guys of my age (55) are out there just bursting to get their old Strats out of the cupboard and "kick some arse."
I eventually took up photography and one of my first assignments were the sleeve pictures you see on the back of the Close to the Edge album. During the eighties, I did a lot of B+W portrait work for The Face and Blitz magazines. They were good times and meeting and photographing such luminaries as Bobby Womack and Peter Gabriel gave me a great buzz. I established a studio up in Soho and was there until the early nineties.
Did you go see Yes in the early days? What did you think of them? When did you first realise that Chris and Peter had hit the big time?
MA: In my capacity of a photographer I was asked by WEA records to do some pictures of Squire and others for a Yes concert programme. I had not seen Chris for over a year but heard through the grapevine what was happening with the band. It was only on arriving at his palatial residence in Weybridge and driving for half a mile up his drive that the truth of how far he'd come sunk in. His Bentley looked very much at home parked alongside his wife's Lotus and as the Spanish man-servant answered the door and showed me into the library. (I never saw Chris read a book in his life!) I thought it would be best if I simply upped and ran. My reticence ceased when I was confronted by a twitchy Steve Nardelli who had become Chris's PA. [Martyn has misremembered this—Nardelli explains that he was never Squire's PA, but had just been working with Squire on a musical project at the time.] We had a quick chat about the old times but he then nervously announced he had to leave. I got the distinct impression from Steve that Chris now expected a graceful bow from all and sundry who weren't quite as well heeled as his good self. He finally made a grand entrance dressed in some sort of wispy robe and asked me if I'd like to see his water bed. He gave me a conducted tour ending up in his new basement recording studio which was still under construction. We went to look at the grounds and found a good spot in the Japanese garden to do the photographs. And that was that. I rang WEA records and asked for some tickets for the concert, which was a very impressive affair. Eddie Offord had taken up the centre of the auditorium with the largest mobile mixing desk in the world (at the time) and it was at that point that I realised I'd lost an old friend and should be focussing on my own career as a photographer. Their music was never my bag, and considering they had so much talent I always felt they were holding back for the sake of making it sound like the recording. I never felt the music took off. I've seen Chris on a few occasions since then, we always ask about our Dads' health and have a laugh, but we never talk about the old times. It's a shame because without the old, there can be no new.
On at least one occasion, Chris seems to have taken musical ideas he was playing in the Syn and recycled them in Yes. I wondered if you had ever noticed that?
I noticed that some of the riffs and phrasing that Chris uses
have not changed since the early days, and I feel that's a good
thing. If I listen to some of their stuff I can sometimes predict
where Chris is going with the music. It's quite uncanny. Perhaps I
should play along, pourquoi pas?