The Bevis Frond :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Nick Saloman of the Bevis Frond first began banging out psychedelic guitar riffs as a schoolboy, starting out on his instrument at age six and immersing himself in an exploding U.K. and American rock movement. He caught Jimi Hendrix on the television show, Ready Steady Go, in 1966 and had his mind blown. A few years later, Saloman himself was playing on stage, over time developing a signature sound that combined tuneful, folkish melodies with the most incendiary style of guitar playing. His latest album, Little Eden, is his 30th full-length, a roaring, raging triumphant double album that Saloman recorded almost entirely by himself during the COVID lockdown. 

We talked about Saloman’s early musical fascinations, the pros and cons of recording alone, the state of psychedelic music, his substantial collection of singles, and the ways in which ageing—he’s nearly 70—has and has not had an impact on his music. “I just kind of take all the things that I like and stick them into the mincer and turn it on, and this Bevis Frond thing comes out. It’s an amalgam of all the things I like,” he says. | j kelly

Aquarium Drunkard: What’s great about this new record is that it sounds very much in line with what you’ve been doing forever, going back to New River Head and maybe further. What has changed about what you do and what has stayed the same?

Nick Saloman: I suppose that one of the things that has changed, mostly, is that this latest album, I did on my own. Whereas the last four or five or six albums, I’ve done with a band. Reason being, I was writing a lot of songs during lockdown.

I wanted to demo them, so I’ve got a friend whose got a little studio. He’s got a room that I could use on my own, and he’d be in a different room on the control desk. I could just go in and do it without anyone else around.  So, I was laying down demos intending to give them to the guys in the band so that when we meet up, we’ll record them. I gave a couple to Paul and Adrian who play with me, and I’d done about half a dozen songs, and they listened to them and said they sound fine as they are. You don’t have to do anything. Maybe they just didn’t want to play on it. 

But I took their advice and I thought yeah, I think it sounds all right. So, I went on recording it on my own and I played everything except for drums on one track because it was a bit too complicated.

AD: How was that? Did you enjoy doing all the instruments?

Nick Saloman: Yeah. It was great. I love it. In a way, it’s easier than working with a band. I’m not relying on them to get things right. There’s none of this not quite getting the feel of what I want. Not that they haven’t done it. They’re great players, and they’ve always enhanced what I do, but it’s nice. I do like working on my own, really.

AD: The guitar solos are just fantastic, and I know you’ve talked a lot about Jimi Hendrix as an influence. Can you tell me about how you first discovered him and what it was about him that spoke to you?

Nick Saloman: I was playing the guitar when I was 7. That’s when I started. That would have been 1960. I was kind of rock and roll when I was a little boy. Spent my pocket money on things that little boys spend their money on, but I also bought the occasional record. For Christmas, I got records. I was always into the pop music. I loved the rock and roll sounds, and the Shadows were particularly influential on me when I was a little boy. 

Then the Beatles came along, and that knocked everybody out of the water. I was about 10 when the Beatles took place. I was already not a bad guitarist for a 10 year-old, and I was totally into the Beatles and the Stones and the Kinks and the Who and the Small Faces. All the bands. And I still liked all the American stuff as well. I quite liked some of the surfing stuff. You the Surfaris and the Chantays, and people like that. What you could get in Britain or what you could hear in Britain. 

I’d gotten to be about 13. That would have been 1966. There was a TV show in Britain called, Ready Steady Go that used to be on Friday nights. “The Weekend Starts Here,” that was the tagline. I used to watch it religiously because they used to have bands on you didn’t usually see on television. They did a Motown special with loads of people.  It was a great show. 

I was watching it one Friday night when this guy named Jimi Hendrix came on. The guitar sounded like nothing I’d ever heard. I liked people like Pete Townshend and all the people who played guitar, but I saw Jimi Hendrix, and if I remember, he did “Hey Joe” and “Stone Free,” his first singles. I just thought that was the best guitar I’d ever heard in my life. I was stunned by how good he was. I immediately became a massive Jimi Hendrix fan. I spent my money going out and buying “hey Joe” and “Purple Haze” and “Are You Experienced?” He was just a fantastic guitarist. And as I got a little older, I went to gigs and got a little band together. I suppose it wasn’t just Hendrix. It was all the great guitarists of the late 1960s were really influential. But I suppose Hendrix was one of my favorites.

AD: I was hearing a little of his way with psychedelic blues in “Away We Go.”

Nick Saloman: I’ve heard this, but strangely enough it didn’t cross my mind. Sometimes when you’ve done a song, and you put a bit of guitar down, I kind of think that that’s the one that they’re all going to go Hendrix. For that one, I didn’t hear it at all. I thought it sounded more like Neil Young, but they all said it sounded like Hendrix, so it shows what I know. 

AD: It’s not a bad thing to get compared to Hendrix.

Nick Saloman: Well, no, I’m not griping. 

AD: I also like that distorted guitar bit at the beginning of “You Owe Me” which reminds me a little of J. Mascis. 

Nick Saloman: J. and I, I know him but not that well. We’ve played together a few times and I’ve met him a few times, and he’s a nice guy. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Well, he doesn’t pretend he doesn’t like other stuff, like some people do.  I guess we’ve been been doing similar type of stuff on either side of the Atlantic.  He’s a bit more noisy and indie than I am. But you know. We’re both kind of oldish guys playing cranked up. It’s compatible really.  When I hear something by J or Dinosaur Jr., I say, oh, I know that. I’ve done that. And I’m sure he does the same with me. I think it all sits together quite nicely.

AD: A friend of mine reviewed your album, and one of the things he was struck by was the sheer vitality of it. It’s immensely long, and all kinds of different songs…I was wondering does it get harder to maintain all that as you get older?

Nick Saloman: Not for me it doesn’t. I can only speak for myself really, but no, not at all. I just kind of keep on doing what I do. I think I’ll know when it turns into junk, you know. Then I’ll stop doing it. But you know, I just write songs.

I’ll sit down at home with my guitar and strum away and if something comes along then great, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m not too worried. Eventually, I’ll find something. I’m not lost for a topic or words or anything like that.  If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, like I did during lockdown — I wrote more songs than usual. I probably had 34 songs that I’d written, and out of those, I recorded about 30 in the studio and then chose the ones that I thought were the best. I like doing it. It’s fun, you know, and I don’t want to do something weedy and writing about boring topics. I’m not going to write about trucking down the highway, or baby you left me. I can’t. I’m nearly 70.  It’s got to have a truth to it. So, I write about things that maybe someone who’s a bit older would look at and go, oh, I get that. But I’m not too bothered really. I think if it sounds good, then I’m okay with it.

AD: A lot of times when you have an artist that’s really good at the guitar, they kind of slight the song part, and the melody, and you don’t do that. I was wondering if you could talk about how the structure and the folk melodies all fit with really blasting out a guitar solo.

Nick Saloman: Well, you know, I’m a fan of music. Mostly pop music. Rock and soul and folk and jazz and blues and all the stuff that came out through my lifetime. I have a particular fondness for the old psychedelic music and the British Beat but not to the exclusion of all else. I pretty much write stuff that I get inspired by. 

I’ll hear a record or a bit of music and think, oh, that’s good, and it makes me want to write something in that vein.  A bit of folk sometimes comes out, and I do like the folk music. I try to make it English. I don’t see the point in English people pretending they’re American and vice versa. You had Americans trying to do the Mersey Beat.

I do think American place names sound more rock and roll than British ones. Memphis sounds more rock and roll than Houndsworth, you know. But nonetheless, I’ll stick British names in because that’s more true to what I’m about. But getting back to what you say, how it’s structured, I just kind of take all the things that I like and stick them into the mincer and turn it on, and this Bevis Frond things come out. It’s an amalgam of all the things I like.

AD: It’s pretty instinctual.

Nick Saloman: Yes but the lyrical side is bit different. With tunes, you know, it’s nice to write a good tune, but it’s hard to do something that’s completely different because there’s only eight notes in the scale. 

AD: Eight that you could play on a piano.

Nick Saloman: I do play the piano a bit.  I’m not really a pianist. I took lessons as a kid, but it didn’t take. I was obsessed with being a little six year old rock and roller. But the song, you know, it takes its shape. I don’t really think about it when I’m doing it.  I’m just writing the song and the chords come out and it seems to almost…did you ever see Sleeper, the Woody Allen film?

AD: Yes.

Nick Saloman: You know, he finds the president’s nose, and they clone the president from his nose.  It’s sort of like that. I write the president’s nose, and it kind of clones itself into a song. I don’t really think about what I’m doing too much. I take a lot of trouble over the lyrics. I’ll spend a lot of time changing one word. Most of it, I’ll write in about half an hour and then I’ll spend a day, going, no, I don’t like when, I’m going to change that “when” to “till.”

AD: What was one of the songs where you really worked over the lyrics and you were happy with the way they came out?

Nick Saloman: There was a song on the new album called “Brain Fatigue,” and I took a lot of time over getting the last verse right. I’d written a last verse and when I finished it, I looked at it and though “Nah, that just isn’t right. That just doesn’t sound right.  It’s not quite how I want it.” And I took a long time changing things around.  There have been a couple of ones on this album where I had 75% of it written and then the last 25% I wasn’t happy with.  It just takes a bit of time to get it to where I’m going, yeah, I’m happy with it now.

AD: Do you do that on the guitar or pencil and paper? Do you keep journals and jot down phrases?

Nick Saloman: Pencil and paper. I write the song out when I’ve done it, and then it’s crossed out and rewritten and bits. So, I’ve got a piece of paper with scribbles on it, and then I’ll probably type out a finished version, but I don’t keep it, like oh that’s a good idea, or a couple of words. I never do that.

AD: “Hold Your Horses” is really beautiful, both the lyrics and the music together.  Could you tell me a little about writing that song?

Nick Saloman: That was the very last thing I wrote for that album. I’d recorded the album basically, and it was finished, and I just had this feeling. I had 20 songs, a double album, all set up, and I just thought it needed another song like that.  It was missing a really nice kind of song, not too fast, not too loud. I just felt it needed another song, and I’m sitting at home, twanging about, and I wrote that. 

“Hold your horses,” is an English phrase, for don’t jump into it without thinking. That was straightforward, and once it was finished, I listened to it, and I thought, it sounds a little bit like the Faces. I could imagine Roddy Lane singing. 

AD: It’s got that nice balance. All my favorite songs, it’s hard to tell if they’re happy or sad. 

Nick Saloman: I don’t think it’s sad. But I don’t think it’s very happy. I think it’s more of a message about don’t jump to conclusions or do things without thinking them through first, which is not really how I am anyway. I do a lot of things without thinking and regret and think I shouldn’t have said that. 

AD: I was also really struck by “As I Lay Down to Die” because it’s a really pretty song, but also you’re making music about ageing and mortality, which not very many people do, especially with these giant guitars and the rock sound.

Nick Saloman: Well, yeah. Although it sounds kind of complicated, that is a pretty simple song, because it only has a four chord repeated coda. That’s all it does. It just does the same four, or three chords. There’s no chorus. There’s no different bit in it, but it has a bit of variation in it. There’s a bit of quiet and a bit of medium and a bit of loud, and so it kind of holds together. Normally, I’d try and make it a bit more musically varied. It’s got that nice climbing bit in it, which I was pleased with when I wrote that. 

I found myself writing about getting older and mortality. It’s something that I’m probably more in a place to write about than most people because of my age, you know? It affects me more than lyrics like, “Ooh baby, I want to make love to you all night long.” I’m not thinking about that any more really. I’m thinking about death. 

AD: Do you have any favorite bits on this album? 

Nick Saloman: I’ve got quite a few favorite bits. There are some bits that I think are quite funny, where I chucked in a line that makes me smile. I like “They Will Return.” I thought the lyrics to that were good, because the tagline at the end of every verse makes perfect sense, but it’s always about something different. I was kind of pleased with that. I had a little bit of you know—aren’t I clever? I made it work three different ways. Like Chinese cookery. 

Musically, yeah, there’s nothing on it that I’m regretting putting on it. Sometimes, in a year, if I listened to it, I’ll probably go, ooh, I shouldn’t have put that track on it. I don’t like that so much. But at the moment, I kind of like them all. I usually do when I’ve got an album. It takes a year or two before I can see it properly. Maybe I’ll say, well, actually that should have been a single album. I think I went a bit bonkers with it and put too much in it.

AD: There are quite a few angry songs on this album. Were you mad about something special?

Nick Saloman: I’m not angry. I’m maybe a little sad. But “You Owe Me,” is kind of an angry song. I don’t know why. It doesn’t reflect how I feel, that one. It’s just an angry song. I’m putting my angry head on for that one.

AD: There’s been a lot to be angry about lately.

Nick Saloman: There is. For the last few years, the world has been a bit of a mess. Then COVID comes along and just adds to things. I think you’ve had a bad time in the States with your esteemed leader, and I think we’re having a bad time in Britain with esteemed leader of the present who is a complete asshole. I mentioned my political feelings on my radio show last week, and quite a few people went, “Oh, you can’t say that.” Well, I can, it’s my bloody radio show. I can say what I like. They got a bit upset because I dared to suggest that Boris Johnson and his cabinet were a bunch of idiots, and lying buffoons. People say it’s a music show, and I shouldn’t be spouting my political feelings. 

AD: You can’t separate that.

Nick Saloman: I can’t, but I do take their point that it’s not really the place to do it. I was explaining why my colleague, Paul, couldn’t do the radio show with me. He couldn’t drive over, because of this ridiculous fuel shortage we’ve had. He couldn’t get any petrol to drive over to do the show. I was explaining to my trans-Atlantic friends that this was because there was a shortage of fuel, but it wasn’t a shortage of fuel. It was a shortage of lorry drivers. So, I was explaining how I saw that. And some listeners took umbrage, but sod them.

AD: You’ve been involved in this wonderful psychedelic rock scene for a long time, and I think there was one point where you were the only musician who had been to all the Terrastocks.

Nick Saloman: I’d done ‘em all, except the last one.

AD: What do you think of the state of psychedelic music now? Is it in good health?

Nick Saloman: I think it’s changed. What I think is psychedelic isn’t what it seen as psychedelic anymore. There’s the Liverpool Psychedelic Festival, right? There has been for years. I had once been asked to take part, but their financial offer was so paltry that I declined. The music that goes on there is much more drone-y. It sounds more like Spacemen 3, with lots of droning stuff and noise and all that. The kind of 1960s psychedelic stuff that I’m a bit of a fan of seems to be less in favor. Although, Stu Pope, my buddy in California, he’s doing this Hypnotic Bridge label and putting out lots of that kind of stuff.  New bands, melodic kind of stuff which I feel more akin with really.  But as long as people are enjoying what they’re doing and getting off on stuff, then that’s fine with me. It’s inevitable that things have to change. 

AD: What music are you excited about now, besides your own?

Nick Saloman: I’m never excited about my own really. Once an old record’s done, I never listen to it again. I’m on to the next thing. But what music excites me, I’ve got to say when I pick up a record I’ve been wanting for a long time.

AD: Has that happened recently?

Nick Saloman: Yeah, and I paid too much for it. I got it a copy of the Fantastic Zoo’s “Light Show,” original single, from the States. I’d been looking for for ages. I got excited about that. 

AD: Do you have a huge collection of records?  You must.

Nick Saloman: Yeah, it’s pretty sizeable. I’ve got more singles than albums. Probably about ten years ago, I had a big cull of records. I had a lot of stuff that I’d bought because it was two pounds, and I thought, I know that’s worth 20 pounds so I’ll buy that. And I had this idea that I was going to get rid of the stuff that I was never going to listen to. I had a criteria. Am I going to listen to it? Am I going to play it on my radio show? Or am I going to DJ to it?  And if it was no to all three, then it could go. I got rid of a lot of stuff. So, I’ve probably 1500 or 2000 albums. And singles probably a little bit more 2500 something like that. It’s not a massive collection. It’s not one that I need a storage facility to put it in. It fits in a room.

AD: What do you like about singles?

Nick Saloman: I just like the immediacy of it. There’s very few albums that there’s not a duff track on.  I put on an album, and I find myself getting up and having to change it because I don’t like a track. With a single, you either like it or you don’t. If you don’t like it, you don’t put it on. If you do like it, you’ve got three minutes of music. I just like the format. I’ll get a chair and the hi-fi in front of me and get a pile of singles out and sit down and play through them.

AD: How much contact do you have with your fans?

Nick Saloman: I’m always available. If anyone gets in touch with me, I always reply. When I do shows, I’m always happy to sit around and chat with people if that’s what they want. I wouldn’t say I’m always having a Nick Saloman get-together. I’m not organizing a Bevis Frond barbecue. But I’m always happy to have a chat with people and answer questions. It’s usually people who just want to say hi or sign this, and I’m always happy to do that. I’m not Ringo Starr. 

AD: Are you going to be playing this music live at some point?

Nick Saloman: That would be nice, wouldn’t it? At the moment, we’ve got a few issues. COVID is still around.  There’s a lot of gigs going on, but we haven’t done any.

The other issue is that my bass player Adrian, who’s been playing with me ever since I started doing Bevis Frond live, so we’re talking about 32 years, we’ve been playing together, and he’s also one of my best friends. His wife is really ill at the moment, and he’s pretty much become a carer for her, and at the moment there’s no way Adrian could go and gig because he’s got to look after his wife. 

So unless I wanted to play with a stand-in bass player, I’d have to do something else. I’d have to do something acoustic maybe. Me and Paul could do a few acoustic gigs. But the full might of the Bevis Frond on fire would have to be done with a different bass player. There are people I know who would be pleased to do it. But I’m holding back on that. I just don’t want to do it. Ade hasn’t said he has a problem with it. He hasn’t said, you mustn’t gig until I can do it again, but I just feel a bit…COVID’s around, Ade can’t do it, you know…it’s a bit awkward. 

Our drummer was ill during lockdown.  He didn’t have COVID, but he was ill.  And then, a lot of the work we do, we play in the U.K., but we also play a lot in Europe, and with Brexit, that has become really difficult. Because the Bevis Frond isn’t a big time band. It’s just not really feasible at the moment. It would be more trouble than it’s worth to do.  I feel sure that before too long, that will get straightened out. It can’t go on this way. But at the moment, while it’s still fresh, no one’s going to back us. Our current government isn’t going say, ooh, we changed our minds.  And Europe isn’t going to turn around and say, we’ll make it easy for you. There’s a bit of a stand-off there. But I think in time it will have to be sorted out because it’s just chaotic.

And the States is difficult because since 9/11, things changed with letting people in. The restrictions of bands of my rather small caliber. It’s really difficult to come and do a tour because you need work permits, and you have to jump through all kinds of hoops. I don’t have an American label to help out there. Fire (Records) is behind what I do, I don’t think they’re going to put money up to fund an American tour. I totally understand that. They’re not a charity.

AD: We went to a short festival last month, and I think every single artist started by talking about how hard it had been with COVID and not being able to play live. And for some of them it was the first time they’d played in a year or two years. I think the damage from this is going to reverberate for a long time.

Nick Saloman: Well, yeah, the thing is, these things do heal after a while. Just because you had a year when you couldn’t play doesn’t mean you’re not going to be able to play again. We’re going through a kind of weird time, but you know, you just look at history. Things change. I suppose in 1942 you might have thought that you were never going to live again without the fear of someone dropping a bomb on you, but four years later it was all over. Things do change. I hope I’m still alive when they change.

AD: What are you working on now?

Nick Saloman: I’m starting a new label. I should really sit still. But I’m thinking of starting a new record label up. Of course, it’s not a good time, because you can’t get vinyl.  That’s the way it is now. Not only is the world in turmoil with Brexit and COVID and this and that, but now there’s no vinyl around, and if you want to press a record, it takes two years or something ridiculous. But I’m thinking of starting a label just to make some nice vinyl stuff. My mate and I, Gary, we’re thinking putting a label together and putting out some deserving records, just as a bit of fun, really. So that’s something that I’m working on.

Where I am at the moment is I’ve got a secondhand record shop that I’ve had for ten years, and next July the lease runs out and I could renew it, but I think I’ve probably had enough. 

That’s why I’m thinking of doing a new label, because I don’t want to be sitting around doing nothing. But I think I’ve had enough of sitting around in a record shop and running around looking for records. Which is fun. I love it, but it’s time consuming. 

I’ve got an exaggerated sense of time running out. So, while I’m still reasonably healthy and while my wife Jan is reasonably healthy, there’s a lot of things we haven’t done and places we haven’t been, that we’d like to do.  If you’re sitting in a record shop all week, that makes it difficult. I think when the lease runs out, I’ll probably call that a day and have a bit more time to tick things off my bucket list. 

AD: What’s on your bucket list?  Parachute out of an airplane, or something?

Nick Saloman: It sounds pretty mundane but there’s a load of places just in Britain that I’ve never seen. It’s a small country. It’s the size of Rhode Island. Maybe a bit bigger. But there’s a load of places in Britain that I’ve never seen.  Some of them are not particularly interesting.  But I just feel, well, I live in Britain. I could be there in three hours. I should see it. I’ve never been to Hull. I’ve never been to Blackburn. There’s just places in Britain, and you think, at some stage of my life, I should go there. So, a road trip beckons around all the places that Jan and I have never been. Some of them are going to be better than others. That’s one of the things I’d like to do. I’d like to be able to go to India and Japan. I’ve never been there.

AD: You’d think your music would have taken you to Japan by now.

Nick Saloman: They’ve shown absolutely no interest in my music. Strange. There’s certain countries that have never had any interest in what I do. All of Europe is great except France. France just don’t want to know. In 30 years, I’ve done one show in France. I’ve done about 200 in Germany and 100 in Spain. But one in France, and that was organized by French fans. Because they knew we were going to tour Spain and we were going to drive through France. So they organized a show in Bordeaux. But that’s the only show I’ve ever done in France. They’re just not interested in what I do. And Japan is much the same. I’ve never had anything in Japan, no interviews, no contact, no nothing. 

AD: Well, here’s hoping you get to do all that. 

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