I began playing bass back in January 1990, when I was aged 13. I had never been particularly musical and although I had dabbled with piano lessons for a time, I was never very interested in playing music. That all changed when I saw Mark King playing bass with Level 42 on the Live at Wembley video that my Dad was watching. I remember him remarking at the time: ‘I’ve never seen anyone play the bass like that, he’s hitting it with his thumb…!’ I was instantly captivated – not only did it look really cool, but I loved the sound as well. This fascination with the bass guitar coincided nicely with the fact that two of my best friends were thinking of taking up the guitar and drums respectively as they had become mesmerised by rock groups such as Kiss. Surely we should form a band?!
At the age of 13 it’s pretty hard to just go out and buy instruments, but fortunately my friends and I all had early morning paper rounds. It was whilst sorting papers in the back room of Cobley’s Newsagent in Pilton that we spotted an advert in the pages of Kerrang! magazine: a company named Axe were selling cheap guitar/amp packages, drum kits, basses, everything we needed to get a band together. We resolved to spend the next few months saving, buy instruments, form a band, then conquer the world – in that order. These plans may very well have easily gone by the wayside, but fortunately, when the Christmas issue of Kerrang! was released we discovered that Axe had dropped the prices of all their instruments for the Christmas sale. The bass was now £67 and the guitar £90. Our orders were soon placed and all we had to do was wait…
After about three weeks our guitars arrived, massively delayed by the fierce storms that the UK experienced back in January 1990. My Axe bass (black – I wanted red like Mark King, but my friends thought black was cooler…) came complete with a small TCA amp, a strap, a curly jack lead, a plectrum and a book and tape set of basslines to learn. My friend’s guitar package came with the same, except he had a nice glossy tuition book, with colour photos and everything. We immediately started plucking away at our respective instruments, initially with little success. Eventually one of us worked out how to play the vocal melody line from Kiss’s ‘Heaven’s on Fire’ on one string – not much, but it was a start.
Over the next few months we taught ourselves to play what we could from the books we had, combined with what we could work out from listening to our favourite songs. After initially struggling to get anything decent out of the bass, I suddenly found myself able to play one of the exercises in the book – number 16, a ‘static baseline’, which was a simple eighth note groove with a little turnaround figure at the end. From that point on I was suitably inspired and began to progress through the book quickly, augmenting it with studying tuition videos rented from my local music shop – as I recall, my favourites were the Rudy Sarzo and Stuart Hamm HotLicks videos. These, combined with repeated viewings of Level 42 Live at Wembley helped me to get my fingerstyle and slap technique together. My enthusiasm at this point was enormous and I spent long hours practising and working out how to play Level 42 and Kiss songs. Within just a few months I found that I had a pretty good grasp of the basics.