A cosy chat with Pete Moss (part 3)

I got hold of Peter’s e-mail address from Ki Longfellow some months ago and, after some procrastination requested a meeting to interview him about his long-standing friendship with Vivian.
Peter was particularly interesting to make contact with becuase he worked on all of the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End radio sessions, the film and album of the same name, the Teddy Boys Don’t Knit album and the Stinkfoot musical, to name but a few.
He was only too pleased to talk to myself and John Hobbs (of www.rawlinsonend.org.uk) at length about Vivian between flying off to Leipzig and various other meetings.
So we fixed a date, changed it and eventually descended Bournemouth-wards to meet and pester him at his home.
Once we got there we chatted to Peter for some two hours, it was wonderfully enlightening, and also pointed out a couple of inaccuracies in the Ginger Geezer biography of Vivian, the prime one being how Peter met Vivian.
Below are some responses to the questions we asked Peter, there was be a first part to this interview in the last issue.

All questions are Italicicized, the stills are from the October Films 2004 documentary for the BBC.

Vivian did direct Stinkfoot, and it was an absolute disaster because it was like a far greater version of him demonstrating a song, to me.
‘Vivian, play me the song as it’s going to be’, ‘Ok Amigo’, thrash, thrash, thrash.
‘Right, so you want it like this?’
And that’s how it always was with Vivian, he didn’t have that type of tidy organised mind, I tend to because that’s the way I like my life, I have to be like that because otherwise I can’t survive, I can’t survive in chaos. But Vivian never had that type of mind,I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but people with that kind of mind cannot be organisers or leaders because you’re trying to lead a group of people with you but you’re changing things.
It’s like saying ‘Go up the road and turn left’, so he immediately turns right, so everybody loses the plot. This is why Stinkfoot was so difficult down in Bristol, because Vivian was directing it.
Quite rightly, the people at Charisma wouldn’t allow him to direct the Sir Henry movie, because they knew it probably wouldn’t have got past the first couple of shots.
From what we gather that comes across quite plainly, Vivian himself wasn’t pleased with the movie because it couldn’t project the visuals in his mind onto the screen, in a few interviews he mentioned that he wanted to have re-shot several things.
Steve Roberts reaction was ‘Well, we’ve got a budget’, there was only so many weeks to get the whole thing onto celluloid.
He wasn’t organised in that way, and seems to have had his own form of perfectionism with his work, it basically would’ve taken a long time to get it to where he wanted.
When I was in the studio with Vivian, he had so many things going on in his head which were probably quite clever. But you see, it was my job to make sense of all this, so I’ve got a poor engineer there and we’ve got six multi-tracks, every time you take one multitrack off and put another one on, you’ve got a minimum of 24 tracks and you’ve got to rebalance.
So it’s a five or ten minute job to get one multitrack off, another multitrack on and rebalance everything so that you’ve got some basic idea of what you’re doing, and Vivian used to say ‘I’m going o play the Ukulele on this one’, thrash, thrash, thrash. ‘Now I’m going to put the Ukulele on this song’.
And I’d say, ‘Hang on, that’s on the other reel Vivian, can’t we finish what we’re doing on this one?’ To which he’d say ‘Well no, I want to do it now’ and it was my job to try and say, ‘Vivian, you can’t do this, because it’s going to destroy this flow we’ve got’.
And in a way I’ve got a certain amount of sympathy, not a great deal, but a certain amount of sympathy for Steve Roberts in this, he must have gone through the same problems in a film situation as I had to go through with Vivian in a studio, the fact that he would have gone ‘Right, we’ll shoot this bit in the concentration camp, then what I’ll do is, while I’m in costume we’ll do the bit on the boat’, and y’know nobody’s set up for that.
But he had that type of mind, he was leaping all over the place, and that was when he was straight.

There’s some quotes in the book ‘Ginger Geezer’ saying ‘Working with Vivian was often easier when he wasn’t sober’, can you elaborate on that from your own experiences?
Well to be honest when Vivian had taken a bit of drink or whatever, he was difficult and erratic, but the problem is when he was absolutely sober he thought he was being frighteningly efficient but he was just sort of exploding all over the place, it wasn’t so much a natural energy, more like a manic thing. I remember my engineer saying at one point ‘For God’s sake, I wish he’d have a drink and calm down’ Y’know, he was very difficult to work with when he was absolutely straight, when he was drunk or when he was straight he had the same problems, only in different ways. The same disorganisation or unorganised nonparallel lines in the mind were always there no matter what happened.
It’s true to say that when we scheduled the ‘Teddy Boys Don’t Knit’ album, we did all the basic tracks, the first lot down at Regents Park Recording in St Johns Wood, a nice place in an old Church, it was a nice studio and I’d done a lot of sessions down there before.
We had a lot of people down there and Andrew had put Vivian in the Holiday Inn in Marble Arch, giving strict instructions to keep him clear of drink.
And of course, he got hold of drink the morning that we were supposed to start the sessions at two, and I can only tell you the truth on this, he turned up absolutely off his head, falling over and we hadn’t even started the thing.

But I had seven titles, half of the album which I’d already prepared, got done. We had Neil Innes playing with Ollie Halsall, Richard Thompson, all these people there waiting to go and I said ‘Well, we’re just going to have to go ahead, start and do whatever we have to do and see how it goes’.
So as we started running through the first song, Michael Brown was in the box as a producer I suppose, we had a good engineer so we just got everything set up, sorted and Vivian just collapsed on the sofa in the studio, all this noise was going on around him, we started about two o’clock in the afternoon, we had breaks, we discussed this and that, we had drum noises, we had bangs we had crashes.
Finally we got through all seven songs bay bout nine-thirty in the evening and he’d not shifted a muscle, he finally woke up about a quarter to ten ‘Hello Amigo, humm I suppose we’d better start’, I said ‘It’s done’, he went mad, he went off his head.
‘How can you start this when I wasn’t here?’, I said ‘You were here, you’ve been here all the time Vivian. Don’t worry about it it’s all cool’.
I have to say, out of all the times I’ve worked with Vivian it’s the easiest lot of sessions I’ve ever done with him, but he was totally out of it and seven tracks were done, things like Terry Keeps His Clips On, Calypso to Colapso, Possibly an Armchair and King Kripple, all those things were done with me standing, conducting, directing and whatever with Vivian flat-out on the sofa, and to this day probably a lot of people would say it’s probably the best album he’d ever done.
And I have be totally honest to say, in no small part it was because he was out of it most of the time and he just left me to do it.

He just recorded the vocals afterwards?
Yep, we just whacked the vocals on afterwards, and he wanted to put a few silly things on afterwards as well.
So that’s what I mean when I say Vivian was sometimes more easy to work with when he wasn’t sober, when he’d had a drink he was thrashing around, but he could be more malleable, you could move him around a little bit and say ‘Vivian, go and practice this in the corner’ and while he was practising you could do something else and get little bits out of the way.
I always said that four of the albums which I did in that period of my life are the four of my favourite albums that I’ve done in my life and they’re four of the worst selling albums that I've ever done, one of them was Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, one was ‘Life after death’ RD Lane, ‘The sound of Edna’ by Dame Edna Everage, but the fourth one was ‘Teddy Boys Don’t Knit’.
I can listen to that even now, and I’ve got to say, we had good musicians, I knew what I wanted and what I was doing, and I had all Vivian’s songs that I’d sorted out, Malcolm Brown and I got along very well, we got good support from the record company and Vivian was out of it half of the time.

Did you ever record Stinkfoot?
Not as such, we did do a few bits of tracks.
Some of Stinkfoot of course, was done in some of the John Peel sessions before Stinkfoot was put together as an entity.
But it was never recorded or put together as an actual album, no.

Ki sent us a few tracks from that, things like ‘Simone’ and ‘No time like the future’, but with more of an electric keyboard backing, presumably he must have done some form of studio work for that.
Well, Vivian and I sort of went in and out, part of the reason why we had our moments when he was away was because he used to get very ill and he had this whole period when he was on the barge, around the time of ‘Teddy Boys Don’t Knit’, he didn’t do maintenance on it and he had a bad problem there and then Ki had left because he tried to attack her with a hatchet or something, then because he didn’t do his out-rigger’s properly, a log came down the Thames and smashed a hole in it and it sank.
So he then moved on and finally Ki got this whole situation together in Sunderland with this boat, he went up there and sailed all the way around till it ended up in Bristol.
I didn’t have a lot to do with him at that moment because I had a large family and was roaring away with my own career, so I had other things to do.
With the greats respect to Vivian I did love him dearly, in the long run I loved him to death, but I can’t sit and wait for an alcoholic, someone with a terrible problem like that to come in and out, so we had our moments.
All of a sudden I got this phone call to go down to Bristol, and I think I got the call from Ki, y’know ‘Can you come down and sort this out?’
Because Vivian had in a weird way gone back to his working class roots and gone around the streets of Bristol, trawling the streets to find busking musicians, he didn’t want ‘proper’ musicians, he wanted the street musicians to do this type of thing.
Of course, there’s nobody directing them so I went down there and in the space of a day I wrote the overture, put that together had a big rehearsal in the evening and thrashed them all into shape in a general sense, got things set up and then left.
I didn’t know anything more about the situation, but Vivian looked dreadful down there, he looked awful.

You can see that all too clearly on the Bristol Showboat Saga documentary, he was quite out of it.
The trouble is, he got himself into a bad state during the Teddy Boys Don’t Knit period where he was on the boat, and then Ki left, which made him worse. Then he got onto the big boat which went all the way around, but he was thin then and I dunno what he was taking, prescription medication, other stuff? God knows what he was taking and he was very, very ill.
I was out of it again during Stinkfoot’s first run and then I got a call to come and sort Stinkfoot out in London, which I did. He was in better health then, the boat situation had collapsed and he’d left that, he was then living in one room in Muswell Hill before he bought the final flat where he died.
I musically directed the whole thing, supervised it and sorted out the band, but I didn’t want to be in the show as such because I had other things to do, but got the whole thing up and running and it was good, it was ok.
But by that time he was a little better, he still had some terrible problems and all that.

There's more to come in our next issue...

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