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Friars Interviews

Jim Cregan
blossom toes  cockney rebel
friars appearances:  Blossom Toes 23/06/69   22/09/69  Cockney Rebel 07/04/76

Picture copyright John Hornby

The wonderfully named Blossom Toes proved a hit with Friars audiences in 1969 with their brand of psychedelia and rock.  Blossom Toes disbanded late in 1969. Jim Cregan went on to become part of Steve Harley's new Cockney Rebel in 1974 (that's his legendary acoustic guitar solo on Make Me Smile) and became Rod Stewart's guitarist co-writing many platinum selling songs like Hot Legs. Jim was also in Family who reunite for dates in 2013 and played with Chapman Whitney Streetwalkers and Katie Melua amongst a countless who's who of rock including the likes of Elton John and Chuck Berry

Jim has remained musically active all these years as you can see and aside from the Family gigs also has his own band Cregan and Co who are gigging.

Hello Jim, thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. You first played Friars back in our early days with Blossom Toes twice in 1969....

I remember playing Friars. I can't remember much of the detail, but I do recall that when we knew we had a Friars gig, we knew it was a good thing as the crowd was incredibly appreciative. I remember it was one of the great gigs in the London area that was so memorable. One would have been the Marquee and the other was Friars. There were a couple of others, like Middle Earth. The music we were playing that year was all original and some places were fussy about what they wanted to hear. But Friars was a very cool crowd for us.

From talking to other musicians of that time, that sentiment of the club being cool, knowledgeable and appreciative comes through very strongly.

Yes, definitively knowledgeable. It was odd though, with Aylesbury not being a particularly big cosmopolitan or metropolitan area, that it had this great reputation. I don't know if it was the guys running the club, or the advertising or coincidence, but it was unusual. You could play Swindon and feel like you were out in the sticks and with no-one really caring.

You made just the two albums with Blossom Toes and although the sounds were evolving with the twin guitar parts, why did Blossom Toes come to an end?

We had a car crash coming back from a gig in Reading. It was an icy road. We were on the M4 and at that time there were no central reservation. We hit black ice and we slid across and ended up in the fast lane against oncoming traffic. Fortunately it was late at night so the traffic was not heavy but had to swerve to avoid us. We weren't badly hurt and that put us into quite a spin. So at that point Brian Godding and Brian Belshaw retired to a cottage to recuperate and during that period, they decided it was time for a change and to not to continue in that way, so that broke the band up.

The two Brians did come back to Friars as BB Blunder, but you had moved on firstly with Stud and then Family. Actually when I look back through Friars history, there are two occasions we nearly had you at Friars but didn't. The Family gig at Friars Watford (coincidentally with BB Blunder supporting) was one as I think you joined them in September 1972 and I know you played with Chapman Whitney Streetwalkers but you didn't gig with them in 1975 when they played.

(laughs) I couldn't tell you about the timeline! I didn't play with Chapman Whitney as I was in Cockney Rebel then.

I was just coming onto that! Steve Harley became a Friars legend in 1974 and played four times. That Friars gig was your first live venture as the new Cockney Rebel ( and you would have been here in April 1976.

There were three versions of Cockney Rebel. The original band, Steve broke up. The only survivor aside from Steve was Stuart Elliott the drummer. George Ford, the new bassist got me that job. We had a couple of weeks in Switzerland working and George and I got on well enough and he recommended me. Then Duncan Mackay joined on keyboards. There were just two days before our first major gig and Duncan hadn't joined then we had on keyboards that bloke who had the hit with "16 and a Bullet".

Pete Wingfield?

, and there we were second headlining at Reading with two days rehearsal! So I was trying to learn the entire set and then go and perform in front of 35,000 people!

No pressure then! What a baptism of fire!

(laughs) I had made some notes, crib sheets of what the chords were etc. And I had them on the drum riser so I could check at the beginning where we were. After about two songs a gust of wind blew them away! To add insult to injury, Family had been playing as well and Roger Chapman, Bobby Tench and Charlie Whitney were all in the press enclosure right at the front of the stage and stood right in front of me. There were my old friends shouting "you're rubbish!" and such trying to put me off!

I know you've been asked this probably a thousand times, but THAT hit single (Come Up and See Me) and THAT guitar solo is one of the defining sounds of the 1970s? And it's you!

These things happen. You have a moment where something you do becomes important to that period. But we had no idea when we were doing that song it was going to be such a big hit. You do the best you can. But I create solos on the spot. I'm an untrained musician and I'm very intuitive but I'm also shit, I can be absolute rubbish. My best work - I don't know what I am doing or what key it's in, I just play and it happens. Don't know why, but it happens. I have to go back sometimes trying to figure out what I just did! When I am like that you get my best work. I am a bit hit and miss because I am unschooled. I can be shown a piece of music with chord progressions and scales etc, but I might know them by ear. I'm self taught. I can hear what I want arrangement wise and then play it.

I think you're downplaying your talent because something brought you to Rod Stewart's attention.

I think that guitar solo had something to do with it. But so much is luck. I think it's 30% talent and 70% luck. We were (Cockney Rebel) playing the Roxy in Los Angeles and Rod Stewart and Britt Ekland happened to turn up. I remember seeing Rod wondering across the room. On our days off, the agent booked us to play little clubs like this to help keep our profile up. Rod came along and then I got a call from his tour manager asking if I was interested in joining his band. I said yes of course. One of the things that interested me was that I would get to write songs as well which in Cockney Rebel I couldn't do as Steve wrote all the songs. But then after I joined Rod, I ended up writing for Steve as well.


If I'd had more of an opportunity to write with Steve, I wouldn't have moved elsewhere.

Cockney Rebel was very much Steve's thing....

Yes, but don't get me wrong, I loved being in that band and played with some great musicians. It was good fun and I was very appreciative. We were never treated with any disrespect as musicians.

You worked with Rod Stewart for around 12 years didn't you?

Probably longer actually because I took some time off then came back for the Unplugged album and tour. That was supposed to be a three month tour but ended up as ten. Which was OK but you sacrifice so much being a professional musician. If you can bring your partner and kids it's not so bad. But much of the time you are separated from your loved ones and it's stressful. It's a great life for someone under 40. After that it becomes something else. I started the band under my own name, Cregan and Co, because I just want to go out and play, but I don't want to go out on the road for ten months.

We mentioned that you had the opportunity to write with Rod Stewart and this of course led to you getting a number of gold and platinum discs. The genie was now out of the bottle and you obviously didn't feel the restraints you'd had before.....

Rod gave me a lot of responsibility. I was musical director of the band and produced his records as well. He valued my opinion and point and view which was a lovely feeling to have that. There was good chemistry. We are godfathers to each others children and have holidayed together. We're still good mates.

In terms of the Rod Stewart period, what gives you most pride -   was it being involved in the songwriting? Or the playing? I still have the Hot Legs video in my head!

(laughs) The music business around that period was working very well in all aspects. New artists were getting signed, there was money about and artists were in the studio wanting to make a record. Record companies left you alone and didn't tell you what to do. At the end, your managers would come and take the masters and then the record came out. Then you did the video and then you did the tour which had been booked whilst you were still making the album. We were allowed to get on and have fun and get on with the job.

The music business today is anything but fun.

I was over in California producing Charlie Hole and I thought I would see what the label would think, just had three of four songs at that point. This was Universal and the overriding impression I had as I entered the building was fear. There was no music coming out of anyone's office. In the old days, there was music out of every office, laughing and joking...I couldn't believe the atmosphere. I was then told they liked the material but they weren't signing anyone who wasn't coming out of a TV show. I said "this is still the music business isn't it?"

To put that in perspective, in the old days, a band who would have just been signed, at least the record company would give you a chance. if your first album bombed, you had the opportunity to do better as you had three album deals. Now it seems that if your first single bombs, they don't want to know.

A girl I know, has been signed on a single deal with a promise of an album if the single does well.

No nurturing and no development at all.

There is no development. (new artists) are having to be discovered through the likes of Twitter and YouTube before anyone will take any notice. It is what it is. It's a more difficult game these and everyone's grown up. There's no bad behaviour. The record companies completely call the shots and trust the A&R men. I have very little respect for the A&R community these days but there are still some great guys there who have a good point of view. Music drives us forward, the creative process, being in the studio, the things that come out when you least expect it. And the concerts.

Taking of new talent and you've been involved in the production side for some time now, but you helped bring Katie Melua through didn't you?

I guess to some small degree in that I made a contribution to the records but that mostly down to Mike Batt. I adore that girl. She is a good writer. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her.

To bring up bang up to date, you're shortly about to do some reunion gigs with Family. How did that come about?

(laughs) I got a call asking if I would and I said yes. Roger (Chapman) and I are old mates. I produced some of his stuff and played on it. We're old friends. And I'm also musical director on this as well. What I like about being MD is you get more money!!!

Jim, thank you for your time and best wishes from all at Friars Aylesbury. Good luck with the Family reunion.

Thank you.

Official Jim Cregan website

This interview and its content are 2012 Mike O'Connor/ and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.


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