Over the course of the next couple of years I played in bands with various combinations of friends and progressed to a Starforce bass, which my parents bought me for Christmas in 1991. This bass really helped me to move my playing on to the next level as it was set up with a nice low action and had 24 frets. It was around this time that a friend introduced me to the playing of Billy Sheehan, who was at the time doing very impressive things with the rock group Mr. Big. We scoured local music shops for all the Billy Sheehan-related material that we could find and eventually discovered the second Talas album Sink Your Teeth Into That and the accompanying TAB book. At this point my obsession with the bass guitar began to reach new heights: I spent hours and hours learning the pieces from the Talas book and studying the Billy Sheehan tuition videos and eventually managed to learn Billy’s solo piece ‘NV4 3345′ in its entirety. This work, combined with my studies of Mark King and Stuart Hamm meant that I had become quite technically proficient on the bass guitar, although at this point I had learnt little or no music theory and to all intents and purposes, had no idea what I was actually doing.
By the middle of 1992 I was finishing up at secondary school and about to move on to study A Levels at North Devon College. My intention was to study music and so I was taken to meet the Head of Music at the college, Keith Kerslake. He was impressed at how much I had learnt on my own, but told me that in order to be allowed on the course I would need to have passed Grade 5 Theory. I therefore spent the summer taking theory lessons and trying to relate what I was learning to the bass. Eventually, I took the exam and passed with distinction.
I spent the next two years studying A Level music at North Devon College and it proved to be an invaluable experience. By the time I left I had learnt a lot of music theory and history, played a lot of different kinds of music – mainly through school musicals such as The Commitments, The Blues Brothers and Dirty Dancing – and begun to play some actual, paid gigs having been hired by my music teacher. The gigs were mostly weddings and functions and they proved to be a real education – whilst I knew some of the songs from the college productions, there were many more that I had never heard. Sometimes there were charts to read, but most of the time I found myself watching the piano player’s left hand like a hawk.
In September 1994 I moved to Leeds to study at Leeds College of Music. It was during my time at Leeds that I got my hands on my first ‘good’ bass, a headless Status Series 2000, which was made entirely of carbon fibre. I somehow managed to buy it (£700) and it became my main instrument, replacing the knackered Maison bass that I had been using for the last few years. Whilst at Leeds I worked hard on my sight reading and walking basslines and studied with a couple of great bass teachers, Pete Glennon and Steve Berry. My lessons with Steve in particular really helped me to get some things together. One of the best things that he taught me was to learn my major scales all over the fingerboard without relying on any patterns. I spent many hours working on this and have been glad I did ever since. This approach to learning scales is one that I now use a great deal in my own teaching and like Steve, I’ve found it very successful. Steve was also very encouraging about my transcription work. Up to this point I had always tried to create accurate transcriptions of songs that I liked and had written full transcriptions of many Level 42 songs. It was Steve that initially suggested that I put them into a book and try to publish them, which a few years later I did.