People from the era tell their stories.
» Tony Wrafter
Hi this is Alex from the Jeli Sound Archive. I am here with Tony Wrafter.
He is a flute and saxophone player who was a member of the punk, funk and jazz infused bands: Glaxo Babies, Maximum Joy and the Vital Excursions. He has also worked within many other projects including as a session musician for Tricky, Smith and Mighty, The Blue Aeroplanes, The Slits, The Pop Group, Mark Stewart, On. U' Sound, Nigel Kennedy, Massive Attack and John Peel.
Tell me about your early musical experiences
I started playing on guitar originally which was a good backing for me to learn about chords and progressions. For a second instrument I chose flute which led me onto saxophone because the fingering is very similar. I was a great fan of Frank Zappa and loved his work especially Hot Rats.
I came to Bristol in 1977 with a 4K rig and an incredible mixing desk that had electronic crossovers and all the mod cons built in. I immediately became one of the most popular people in town because nobody had a sound system like this. I got to meet all the musicians very quickly. It's a very small town Bristol, there were only about 120 to 150 people actually on the scene. Initially I played with a funk band called The Planets which was a great laugh, having a punk saxophone player and doing Crusader covers. Shortly afterwards followed by a band called Peru with a wonderful bass player called John Oldfield who unfortunately had a fatal injury on the way to a gig that we were doing up in Sheffield. That started my long term obsession with transportation and 'the band wagon', which keeps coming back of course because you have to travel to do these things.
After doing a lot of personal work on the saxophone, anything up to 7 or 8 hours a day for about a year, I was invited to come and sit in with a session in the Glaxo Babies, which was not actually called that at the time. It was a great band except they had a vibes player, and if there was one thing I really didn't like at the time it was vibes. The guy was great, he was a great player. That wasn't the issue.
What do you mean when you say vibes?
Vibes, is a long cylindrical piece of metal like a xylophone, but vibes is the orchestral term for this instrument. It is derived from the African instrument the baliphone/Marimba, which has got gourds underneath. It's made of wood, which is beautiful, but this was metal and had a different sound. I really didn't like it. I never have liked vibes so it really wasn't working out for me. The sound was a bit strange as well: there was punk bass, punk guitar, a very punk drummer, vibes and a saxophone. It was like, what was this? I excused myself and went off to do other things like The Spics and a few other bands in the interim but about a year later they released an EP, The Glaxo Babies first release, which was called This Is Your Life. It was brilliant, and it was very punk and just what I wanted to get into. I had been studying jazz all this time but I didn't want to play with a bunch of double bass players - brushes and drums - even though I loved and appreciated that music. I thought, “that was then and now we are in a different time.” It was punk's time. I wanted to play improvised jazz with a punk band. After I heard this record I was invited to come back and try again with the Glaxo Babies, this time it worked out perfectly and I was very glad to come back and do that recording session with them.
Had the vibes player left or was he still there?
The vibes player had gone, bless him. I have got nothing against him personally at all. Incidentally the only vibes that I actually do like that I have ever heard are on the John Martyn album Solid Air.
For me with The Glaxo Babies it was a boys dream: to be invited to come into a band that was just taking off. Within weeks of joining them we were recording what later became known as the Put Me On The Guest List album in St Pauls in the Studio at Backfields Lane, with Steve Street engineering. That was great, I enjoyed that very much. After that we did a John Peel session, which he repeated seven times I believe within a year, he was very fond of it. Then we were on TV in Whiteladies Road in something called RPM which was hilarious. They had us standing in silver boxes and stuff, you've got to laugh. It was very unionised at the time so to see that was quite interesting.
The Glaxo's were quite a serious band, the Glaxo Babies the name is quite poignant, it was a dig at the Glaxo Pharmaceuticals Company, Nestle, the lot. The image that the Glaxo Babies used for their logo is of a baby wearing a little hat. The original image that I saw for the Glaxo Babies was one which involved numerous babies graves with empty milk bottles on top. Basically, third world policy was such that multi-nationals like Nestle and Glaxo Pharmaceuticals were pushing their products, especially their powdered milk, making women in third world countries feel that they were second class citizens if they breastfed. The governments couldn't afford to print health information leaflets so the kind multi-nationals, Glaxo and Nestle, would print them for them. Of course in that they would also push their products. The water in these countries would be terrible and the women poor, so they would halve or quarter the usual mixture of the powdered milk and then mix it with unsterilised water. Of course the babies would die in their thousands and the babies graves had their most prized possession left on top. The original Glaxo Babies photograph that I saw contained several of these babies graves with empty milk bottles and teats on top - hence the name Glaxo Babies. Mum's milk not powder, basically.
This was not my idea, this was Dan Catsis and Rob Chapman but I was quite happy to join in with them. I enjoyed playing with them very much. Jimmy Catsis I used to call him. Dan Catsis was his name but playing on stage with this guy was like being on stage with Jimmy Hendrix for me. I remember playing at Ashton Court Festival and looking up to see him standing there with his legs spread wide apart moving his torso up and down round his guitar. He was playing it with a dildo and making this incredible sound, I thought, “this is unreal, this is a great band.”
Other gigs with Glaxos that I can remember distinctly, there was one at Reading at the University. It was at the height of the punk time, I got spat at so much that afterwards I had to wring out my t-shirt in the dressing room. It took me hours to get all the phlegm off my saxophone. I can't believe that happened. The thing is that that stuff gets inside you, every now and again I get this urge at a performance, if I am enjoying it and appreciating it, to pogo and gob. I don't do it because it would be completely unacceptable now but it was an expression that was incredible really. I don't really know how it came about.
Another Glaxo Baby gig was at Chippenham Town Hall of all places, we thought it might be the final gig, we had just had notice from Glaxo Pharmaceuticals that they were going to stop us using their name and if necessary send bailiffs to the gigs to stop us from going on stage. I thought that was great, it was free publicity. A pub band against some international company, David versus Goliath, who is going to win? In that sort of aurora we played this gig in Chippenham Town hall. They had gone to a lot of trouble to make it look arty, I think because Dan Catsis had been at the art college that day and talked to his friends. It was a good gig, we had a great night. What I remember most is the last number and walking off stage, Dan Catsis put his guitar up against his amp and walked off and left it with the volume up full and within minutes the feedback was going around the room, spinning the room out. People just freaked out, I grabbed my saxophone and was running up and down the bar playing it. That was a great experience and another reason why I think of him as Jimmy Catsis.
It was strange, being in Bristol we were quite enclosed. One day one of our friends said they heard John Peel on his radio show saying that he tried unsuccessfully to get through to this band. He was doing a John Peel road show at Brunel College at the top of Ashley Down and he really wanted the Glaxo Babies to come do a live performance. If anyone knew the band could they they get in touch with him at Broadcasting House in London. This was over the air so it makes you wonder what our record company was playing at.
Who was your record company at that time?
It was Heartbeat, in Bristol, but he was a part-timer so you can't really blame him.
Anyway the message got through and we did the road show. It was great to meet John Peel, I remember his only comment to me afterwards was, “is that it?” We had played ourselves crazy for about 45 - 50 minutes, he expected us to go on for another hour.
For me it was great to play with the Glaxo Babies. I did my first recording with them, the single Christine Keeler, which I think had some great punk sax on. That was a bit of a rarity in those days - punk sax.
Rob Chapman wrote some great songs. There was one called She Went To Pieces, which was about Margaret Thatcher. That was a very important aspect about what was going on. Thatcher took over, she won the election in '79 that year, interest rates went up to an unbelievable 17%. People can't understand what that means, it's a phenomenal amount of money. The year before in early 78' under a labour government, albeit there was a lot of strike problems, interests rates were only at about 5% - 6.5%. For it to go up to 17% so quickly is shocking. In her effort to smash the unions Margaret Thatcher's fiscal policies I think demanded that there needed to be mass unemployment. They use to call it Thatcher's Millions, there were 3 million people unemployed for the first time ever. A million was a lot before, but 3 million? These policies designed people out of society. This is where the so-called under class began. I think it was quite a desperate time in that respect and it didn't really get much better for a while. This track called She Went To Pieces which Rob wrote was fantastic. It had lyrics like: she went to pieces, her hair fell out, her teeth went yellow, she went to pieces. A great song, very punk, they had other tunes like Police State, This Is Your Life.
I remember when we opened for The Cure in Gloucester. That was a great gig, Robert Smith turned out to be a big Glaxo Babies fan and invited me to play with them in their concert that evening. That's one of the handy things about being an improvising saxophonist.
The Glaxo babies was a brilliant experience for me, it was like a school boy's dream to join a band like that. Unfortunately they buckled under the legal pressures that the pharmaceutical company were putting on the band. I was all up for the fight, I would have loved to have taken on a multi national, to see bailiffs come and try and stop us from playing. What a film that would have made, but I am afraid the band couldn't hack it. After we recorded Nine Months To The Disco album another Bristol band called the Pop Group really wanted our bass player because their bass player had left. My friend Simon Underwood, having been a founding member on bass with the Pop Group, had left that band leaving a vacancy. I did appreciate the band, I liked them very much. What was funny was that originally they wanted to replace their bass player with ours, Tom Nichols, from the Glaxo Babies. I can remember him saying, “they are a bunch of poseurs, I am not going to play with them.” He was shocked and horrified when Dan [Catsis] took the job.
He switched from guitar to bass?
He switched from guitar to bass and started playing with the Pop Group, which left us all a bit short. I was seeing a lot of Simon at the time, we were both seeing girls who were sisters, and his girlfriend, Janine [Rainforth], later became the singer for Maximum Joy. Originally we started working on a band together, which later became called Pig Bag. He then incorporated some musicians from Cheltenham, which I didn't really get on with, I've got to say. I thought it would be a good idea for me to go off and form a band on my own, which I did with Janine. Then that was Maximum Joy. I took the name from one of the tracks on the Glaxo Babies album Nine Months To The Disco, which was called Maximum Sexual Joy. I dropped the 'sexual', and that's where the band name comes from.
That was a completely different kettle of fish, Maximum Joy was hard work, the political scene hardened but it gave me an education. It was at this time that blank cassettes made their appearance. Prior to that we were selling quite a lot of vinyl records, we were doing quite well. Cassette machines in those days were black boxes with handles that you slipped into the top. You could record on it with your voice or put it next to the speaker, then record off that way but there was no DI [Direct Input] in those days. You could buy blank cassettes and make your own records and do what you wanted to do.
Then all of a sudden there was a massive campaign by lobbies from TDK, Sony and people because the Musicians Union wanted to put a levy on blank cassettes because people were recording works and not paying any loyalties. There was a massive deficit all of a sudden. The recording industry had only just come through a transformation thanks to Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. They had persuaded the industry and big multi-national companies like Decca to stop putting all the money they made in pop music into classical music and to support the pop culture. That had just been achieved and all of a sudden along come these manufacturers. These music systems with a deck and a cassette machine built in started appearing. It was easy to copy tapes and that was the death of it really. We went from selling nine thousand units a week to one, just like that out the window. That made life much harder.
Thatcher cut all the student grants. She was famous for cutting things in education, without really thinking it through I think, because the import and export value of the bands, like The Police, that came up through that culture were huge. She cut that to pieces by cutting the student grants. The way it was structured in those days was that you could play in a club but you wouldn't get much money, a quarter of the money you would get playing in a university. The universities more or less subsidised the clubs. You would do university gigs, club gigs, around the county and you would make a living. You could have a laugh, play some expressive music and people would enjoy themselves. They had good nights out and good nights in from the recordings but once the university grants and college grants were cut the college circuit went and clubs couldn't support it on there own. Between that and home recording cassettes the whole industry just turned in on itself. I knew people who had all my records but none of them had them on vinyl any more, they would copy them onto cassette and it wasn't a particularly a good copy. Cassettes are just this tiny little bit of tape, compared to a vinyl which would be equivalent to a 3o inch per second 2 inch tape, which is a much better quality. Anyway it was cheaper, so they would buy the album, record it and sell it. That's the way it went, I mean that's how Richard Branson made his money in those days because everyone was selling off there vinyl. That's the political scenario, also during that time there was the miners strike, which was a big thing. Thatcher wanted to break the unions and she needed a pool of unemployed people to do that, which was another reason for Thatcher's millions. You can see how that works out if you think about it for a minute.
Maximum Joy was hard work against this financial background but there bright spots. The music of Maximum Joy was influenced by jazz and reggae. Our first single Stretch was about trying to overcome the difficult situations, to get on and has references to the space race etc. It was an uplifting record, I was pleased to have made it, very funky. I can remember using an octavider on the saxophone, which set a few tongues wagging and became the subject of a few interviews from the NME and Melody Maker for this new saxophone sound. Technology was very important, the roland space echo was basically what enabled dub to be dub. Without that echo box there wouldn't have been dub. The octavider was a great tool to use as well.
On the B side of the first Maximum Joy single was a track called Silent Street, which I wrote about living in St Pauls. Living in St Pauls in those days it was constant music 24 hours a day. I can remember in Cairo the guys were using their horns all the time when they were driving they don't have immediate bleep horns they have these horns that swell up. During the day this would be there all of the time mixed in with the call to prayer. At night even at five o'clock in the morning it would still be there in the distance, it would come right down and as dawn came it would come up again. St Pauls was like that but with dub. There would be at least 15 sound systems going at any one time and whenever you left St Pauls, went on holiday or a trip somewhere, shopping in town, you would miss this sound. You wouldn't realise what it was at first that you missed but as soon as you came back up the street with the windows down in your car you could heard this sound. It was just fantastic to live in that place and Silent Street was an accolade for that and I really appreciated living in Campbell Street even though it had a bit of a bad rep.
It was quite a surprise for me when Simon Underwood came back from New York and told me that he heard Silent Street on the radio every day being used to promote a new radio station. I was very pleased to hear this, the radio station was a new radio station called Kiss FM.
Maximum Joy's influences were soul, punk, reggae, dub even a little bit of rock and it was good times. We had some great gigs, everyone in the band was on LSD at this one gig at a college just off Regent Street in London. It was a crazy gig.
Did it sound better?
Apparently so, I can remember wandering about with a ghetto blaster playing a tune, which we were suppose be playing and getting it on the mic, getting that space echo. There was this mix of a recording and live, that is the only memory I have of that night I'm afraid, it was a long night. I was told by people afterwards it was a good gig and they enjoyed the elephant noises I made with the trumpet. I played the trumpet as well as the Sax, going right up to the microphone and spinning off echo and seagull sounds. They loved all the noises. I can remember being at Ravensbourne College of Art and the girl from the Student's Union who had booked the gig said she had heard of all our animal noises and was really looking forward to it, so I did my best to make sure she got them.
Glaxo Babies was fun but it was quite isolated from the media, Maximum Joy took me out of my shell. I heard later on that major record labels were ringing Heartbeat records all the time trying to get through but we never heard about and subsequently we never got to meet any journalists. So With Maximum Joy the new delight of music journalists interviewing you and taking photographs of you was new. It was exciting having articles about the band being published in Melody Maker, NME and Sounds. You got quite use to giving interviews in the end and having a laugh with it, it was good experience for me in terms of the media. I had a little bit of that in between Glaxo and Maximum Joy in those few months when I working with Simon on what later became Pig Bag. I had been on tour with the Slits which was an incredible experience for me. I had also done a session with The Blue Aeroplanes in Bristol. A lot of the original gigs that Maximum Joy did was supporting Pig Bag. It was one of the reasons that we set up the band, so we had a united front like a package. We were both on Y records which my future wife ran, Janine's sister, Gabby. I can remember once doing a gig with Maximum Joy, we were in Amsterdam and this kid had made a point of getting through all the security and coming up to me in the dressing room afterwards. He said, “hey man I don't know what it is that you do, but please don't stop doing it!” He got through to me, he might have thought that I got that all time but I didn't. You don't get that sort of thing very often and that's the sort of thing that inspires you to carry on.
It was difficult with Maximum Joy because in the light of not selling records any more and there not be many college gigs, getting work was hard. We were all determined to do it full time, so there was no other income and we were living in squats. We did that for 2 years touring on the continent, I remember there was a club in Berlin that loved our first single. I looked at that later on and I realised it was the beat from record and the fact that Janine was screaming at one point. I am sure that's why they got a feel for it.
What was it called?
Stretch, the first Maximum Joy single. It had this constant disco beat and Janine did this bit of screaming, “Stretch!” She took it to the limit. You had this marching and screaming over the top of it, I am sure that was why we got invited to do this gig out there. It was a club called the Music Halle [near the Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin] and it had been closed down for a quite a while and they were reopening it and they wanted us to do it. That was an accolade, it was lovely to go out there and do that gig. We went by train when it was still East Germany.
With Maximum Joy you were in talks with a major label and at that point things started to unravel, is that right?
Yes, after 2 years of graft and living out of each others pockets, human nature is such that you don't expect things to go smoothly. Of course it would go from one extreme to another, it was a bipolar band in that respect. From the outside looking in everyone would expect or hope that it was one big happy family and at times it was, but other times it was world war three. The transport issue was the thing that ended it for me, in specific terms. I should have seen it coming really, but I didn't, so it was a bit of a surprise. We had just played at the Hammersmith supporting a band called Defunkt from America who completely ripped us off. I couldn't believe it.
How did they rip you off?
We had played with them before in Brighton about 6 months before and I can remember Joseph Bowie coming up to me and saying that he really loved the effects I was using on the trumpet, the space echo. I didn't think any more of it, I didn't realise but he had thrown down the gauntlet.
When we played at the Hammersmith Palais we didn't need to support this band we could have done it on our own, we had enough of a fan base to do it. They insisted that we played early before even half our fans were there. The band that played in between us had paid for the PA to be there. We had problems, the space echo hadn't worked for us, the mixing desk was awful. Then when they came on they unveiled another mixing desk, which was brand new and all of a sudden the space echo was working, and their trumpet player went out and took my sound and my performance and played it to the audience. Learning to live with Americans; There is no such thing as a gentleman's agreement with an American business. If you leave yourself open for them to stabbing you in the back it's your fault for leaving yourself open. If you can take that on board then you might survive an American tour but if you can't take that on board you haven't got a snowball's, because they will cut you every time. The star is the issue and everybody else is just to be walked on and doesn't matter, that's really sad.
The Vital Excursions did you start writing for them then?
I use to write a lot of the material for Maximum Joy, a lot of it initially. I wrote the B side, Silent Street lyrics and the A side I did in connection with Janine but I was happy to sit back and let them do the second single White and Green Place. I didn't have much of a stamp on that except for the B side Building Bridges. I had been reading a lot of that Billy Brandt [Politician and mayor of West Berlin] North South and put that into the lyrics for Building Bridges but mainly I left that to them. When it came time to record the album I had a massive input in that especially on the All Wrapped Up track, which was a rap I wrote specifically. Some of the lyrics were, “before they dump you on the street they ought to give you sharper teeth.”
Did you do the rap?
I got Janine to do it as she was the vocalist. I was playing sax and flute. As you said to me earlier, do I find it strange as a saxophone player that I have a lot of input in writing the material? However I played the guitar long before and learnt all about chord progressions. For me the flute, the sax, and trumpet is the icing on the cake, it's performance. When writing the material I am quite happy to sit there with a keyboard and a guitar, to write lyrics, rhythms and melodies. I think you need to be able to do that to be a good saxophone player really. You need to be able to look into the music and then you can express so much more on top of that. It almost becomes a waste for you to then play the guitar, it is almost better for you to play over the top of that. So there's the virtuoso bit.
John peel had been very important for the Glaxo Babies, so had Peter Gabrielle. Peter Gabrielle use to come to see us when we were in Bath at the Crescent Studios and he really loved Rob's lyrics and he was very disappointed when Rob left and we became more of an instrumental band at that stage. Nine Months To The Disco is without Rob unfortunately, but we had recorded a single at that session which was Christine Keeler. It was all about the Profumo Affair and they were some of his best lyrics. That was my first single and I loved the sax on that.
What was the Profumo Affair?
To put it in a nutshell, it was all about a young prostitute who brought down the conservative government. She had amorous relationships with various people in high responsibility, high profile situations, who were ministers in the cabinet but at the same time she was also having sexual relationships with Russian generals. You can see this contributed to a security problem. To cut a long story short Profumo had to resign over this affair. Christine Keeler became not only a media star, but her and her friend Mandy Rice-Davis, who were both call girls if you like, managed to bring down this government with their pussys. I think it is quite a good subject for a punk band to write a song about and I enjoyed playing saxophone for that. When I was playing saxophone for that there was a porn magazine on the music stand and on the page was this label saying, on this beautiful girl that looked that Christine Keeler, maximum sexual joy so that's where the name came from.
So Maximum Joy was coming to an end it was a shame, but when we were in Berlin I met Fassbinder [Rainer Werner] and we got really drunk together and he was one of my favourite drinking partners, in my long list of favourite drinking partners. Along with people like Nigel Kennedy, Gavin Turk and Timothy Spall. He is definitely up there. Unfortunately he killed himself about 2 months later, and I think Wim Wenders said “what do we do now?” He was one of Germany's greatest film makers. I am really glad that I met him and really glad I had that time with him.
It was quite a funny situation, we were in a club called The Mink, in between gigs, it was 3:00am/4:00am in the morning. It was a tiny club, white tiles on the wall - like a big toilet - it was only about two minutes away from Checkpoint Charlie. It was snowing that night and I remember I was outside this club trying to get over to The Loft and there was another chap there and we were both waiting for a taxi. It was unusual for Berlin not to have any taxis but I suppose there weren't any because it was snowing, they were busy.
We [Fassbinder] struck up a conversation and decided that if a cab did come we would share it because we were going in the same direction. What happened was that we had to walk, as the cab didn't turn up, in the snow from Checkpoint Charlie to Alexanderplatz it took about 25 minutes and we were both very drunk. When we got to The Loft and went to the bar I was greeted with “how are you doing, good to see you. Hey see that guy over there with the beard? Do you know who that is?” I said “yeah.” They couldn't believe I knew him. I shouted out “hey Raymond,” and he shouted out, “hey Tony.” This was Raymond Fassbinder and their faces just dropped in suspension of disbelief. You can't make stuff up like that. Jane and Louise Wilson were trying to put me under hypnosis to see if they could extract the conversation I had with Rainer Fassbinder because he was their hero. I was so drunk I couldn't remember most of the conversation. I remember how he spoke and his mannerisms but the actual content of what we spoke about... Hopefully it is in my memory somewhere and Jane and Louise Wilson will get it out of me one day.
I was really glad I was in Berlin then and I got to go to East Berlin, if you were a foreigner you could. If you were a Berliner you couldn't and I had an incredible curiosity about the The Wall and the Iron Curtain. The Glaxo Babies got letters from people in Belgrade [eastern block] because they could pick up the John Peel show. John Peel was great for Maximum Joy he really loved the band and we did three or four recording sessions. We managed to escape to Cornwall once and write some material in a cottage. He said on air “Maximum Joy are in Cornwall,” so instead of writing we had to find a gig in village halls in Bude and places like this every night. Without fail, he was true to his word he would be on the radio doing his show telling people what village hall we were playing at that night. What a guy.
I rated him highly, he was very disappointed that Maximum Joy broke up. I remember 2 weeks after the release of Station M.X.J.Y. I had been out of the band for a month at this time and he was hosting Tops of Pops and he actually came on and took some of the lyrics from All Wrapped Up, one of the tracks from Station MXJY, which was when I was having a dig at the media chiefs. The lyrics were: “the media chiefs are keen to show that they are liberal, that they cover every angle, what a swindle, what a scandal. What you say is on the tape so shut your face or set the pace.” He came on looked straight at the television screen and he said “just to show you that 'us' media chiefs have something to say, I am going to introduce this next band, Simple Minds,” which was the other band that EMI was looking at when they couldn't sign us. They signed Simple Minds, those guys were behind the scenes, Peter Gabrielle spoke about the Glaxo Babies for instance in so many of his interviews and those guys make an effort for you if they think what you are doing is a good thing. I love that, that is human nature at its best.
After Maximum Joy I had several tracks that I was going to give Maximum Joy but I kept them back. I very quickly recorded another album with those tracks on for the band Vital Excursions, which was my next band after Maximum Joy. We played gigs in Bristol at the Western Star Domino Club and in London supporting Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart. John Peel again was very cool and gave us a session so that was one of the first things that we did. I remember I was in the studio recording the Give! album and Bob Black [manager/music executive] came in and he wanted to use one of the tracks for a compilation album. I couldn't give it to him because of the publishing so he got PolyGram to pay for me to record another track that was similar, which I called Flowers for Ingrid because Ingrid Bergman had died that morning when we went to record it. It was completely improvised I tried to make it sounds like an old 50's black and white soundtrack in dedication to Ingrid Bergman who I always very fond of.
John Peel I loved that man and really miss him. I didn't hear it myself but some of my friends did, one night on his show he said, “we are having a little competition tonight, I want you to guess what the connection is between these four or five pieces of music.” It was the saxophone player. It turned out he did a little competition on me, bless him that is such an accolade.
What did he play?
He played Christine Keeler, he played some Stretch, he played one of the new Vital Excursion albums and some of the new stuff I had done with On-U Sound's Adrian Sherwood, which was fantastic to be involved with. Do you want me to mention that briefly?
That is such a brilliant way of recognising you as well.
Indeed, he didn't tell me he was going to do it, he just did it. He knew I was an improviser. I will never forget about the idea basically of having a saxophone player with a punk band. He actually said, “I want you to listen to this session,” then he mentioned something about a saxophone and said, “punk has opened many doors.” I felt that I had got my saxophone and opened many doors with it, thank you John. What a lovely man. I miss him, seriously.
Do you want to talk about On-U Sounds and also the more recent things that you have done.
Sure, the On-U Sound thing happened during the time I was with Maximum Joy. Maximum Joy and Pig Bag had played a gig in London. We couldn't afford to do benefit gigs all the time but if we were playing one or two paid gigs we would put a benefit in the middle. Almost like a benefit sandwich because it would keep the costs down. We did many like that, there was one in Brixton town hall. We did a birthday party when Nick Cave was still in it and Mark Stewart on the mixing desk with a police siren - wild sounds man! We were doing this east London workers against racism benefit and halfway through the gig we had to lock the doors because the bastards were outside. They turned up in jeeps and land rovers and wanted to stop the gig.
Who were the bastards?
The National Front, because it was just off Brick Lane. It was great gig, I enjoyed it thoroughly even though we were locked in. Afterwards this chap Peter Holdsworth [On-U Sounds] a singer from a band called London Underground came up to me and asked me to do a session with him the next day at a studio called Berry Street. I went down there not expecting much really, only to find I am not the only saxophone player at the session. The other was Deadly Headley from The Wailers [Shotgun Headley Bennett], what a brilliant trip, I didn't expect that at all. It was great to meet him and Prince Far I was in the corner, the voice, and he did a little bit of work on it too. That is how I met Adrian Sherwood for the first time and it was a great experience playing with The Wailers saxophone player.
The reason he is called Shotgun Headley is because there was an election in Jamaica with [Edward] Seaga and [Michael] Manley and it was so fierce that people were getting killed in the lead up to the election. Bob Marley got them to come together at one of his gigs, he invited them both and brought them on stage together and held there hands up and he tried to bring out the good in each other that what Bob was about. Unfortunately human nature being what it is, someone took a shot at him, after which time, Headley Bennett started carrying two alto saxophone cases. The bet between the young lads was which one had the saxophone in it. They knew full well what was in the other case.
Who were they trying to shoot, the politician?
So, that's where that little story comes from, that's a nice little anecdote. Deadly Headley is a lovely guy. I look forward to seeing him when I go to Jamaica next, unfortunately his son was killed recently. He was put into Gun Court, and he didn't make it.
What is gun court?
In Jamaica there is one particular prison if your caught with a gun or anything to do with a gun you are just put in Gun Court straight away. Unless you have money or influence you don't get out and we couldn't get him out, it was such a shame he was only 16.
Is it that the prison is so rough that the other inmates are fighting?
It's a world unto itself and it's survival of the fittest I am afraid. Gun Court haven't you ever heard of it ?
Gun Court it is a Jamaican sort of situation. You see in Jamaica, in the music, the man gets paid and everybody else is just learning. They are getting the experience and they get to play with the man, so one day they become the man and they have young people come and play for them. That's the way it is. So in your dealings with Jamaican reggae musicians you have to bear in mind that's the way it is. Since those days, I have kept on playing and done a lot of stuff in London, it has all been session work really, because I have four children and I love them to bits. They are more important than anything else and I didn't get on so well with there mums. They are all Wrafters, they all got my surname and I managed to work it so I had them all together at weekends. I couldn't be in a band after that because you can't say to a band I can't be there on weekends. That's the main time, but I still played so I more or less became a session musician then and did tracks with people like Tricky. The Aftermath, his first single that went worldwide platinum, I did flute on that and the sub-bass as well. After about 2 minutes I was getting really nervous, can you imagine it?
What's the sub bass?
The famous Bristol sub-bass. You don't hear it you feel it. I played it live on keyboard. [Wrafter makes a single 'dum' noise on an imaginary keyboard] It is easy enough for about 30 seconds but after about 2 minutes... It became known as the flute track because Tricky has a low voice when he is rapping. In a club or bar where these records are played, what with the ringing of the tills, clinking of the glasses and the chit chat, all you could hear was Martina [Topley-Bird] over the top and the flute, so it became known as the flute track.
Did you do any live stuff with him?
We never did no, there was a request from the Word wanting us to play but they wanted the flute player to come and play with him, they didn't want him without the flute player and that really upset him. I wouldn't mime anyway, so we kind of fell out after that I am afraid, because I am not an actor.
What about Smith and Mighty?
Rob Smith is a musician's musician. Ray Mighty has got the most beautiful smile in the world. Tammy Payne and Alice Perera have the most gorgeous voices. Yeah, I love playing with those guys.
There are three members to that band aren't there?
Pete Rose - Pete D - great ears man!
Yeah, I met Rob after Maximum Joy and Vital Excursions. I took a job as the sound supervisor for YTS [Youth Training scheme] St Pauls, Arts Opportunity theatre and I built them a studio in St Pauls. When I first started with them up in the church on Blackboy Hill, which was quite a misnomer really - now there were black boys of St Pauls running around Blackboy Hill. I have never seen a sign post for Blackboy Hill because it is Whiteladies Road, I am sure it is known mainly by word of mouth. Outrageous really.
Anyway, so that's where it started. I mean I got there and there was a shortlist of 60 applicants for that job but I was able to go in and go swoosh with all this vinyl so I got the job. I built them a recording studio and after the third riots, the motorbike shop down in Grosvenor Road had been torched and stripped and the building was gutted and vacant. We were able to take it over very cheaply for the Arts Opportunity theatre where they did acting and scenery production, writing, silk screen, video making and sound. Sound was my department and I built a recording studio in there and taught kids on the YTS scheme how to record and how to do live sounds. It was great job for me and I was able to buy a house for my wife and my new baby around the corner in St Werburghs. It was a good start for my family. Rob Smith was teaching guitar. I had known Rob before in Restriction and The Zion Band, who I did the sound engineering for as part of Black And White In Colour [a play performed by Arts Opportunity Theatre aka YTS St Pauls].
What do you mean when you say Restriction?
Restriction was a band that Rob was in with Basil Anderson, when I first came across him they were a little reggae band in Bristol. A mixture of black and white, which was great. I thought they were a lot better than UB40 but no accounting for taste.
Since then I have done a lot of work in London as a session player, that was hard work. I can remember going up there so much I ended up getting a flat up there in Dalston. The whole thing changed, it became DJ culture and there was a lot people at home with home studio things, which was a big thing. People would be making these pieces of music, which were all basically machines, originally more so than the samples. Samples came a bit later, but they would be making these massive pieces of music on their own in their bedrooms. It was all very structured and very in time and I remember practising really hard to play along with these things but basically they would turn out lifeless. I did a lot of work to get life back into these things. If you play sax you get breath, you play flute you get breath and trumpet - so I was breathing life into the machines.
I started to do the horn sections very quickly I'd lay down a couple of quick lines with the trumpet and do all the counter points with the sax. I could go in and do two horn sections and a solo on top of each other within about an hour and a half. They would give me £300 or £400 to do so and that was great and became a really good way for me to make money. It made me a very good session musician and very fast that's the thing that people like, fast. When I worked with The Creatures in New York I actually did four saxophone lines in one take, which they sampled out and put on top of each to make what was a perfect horn section. I did it in one take, that's how mad it had become and how quick you had to be. The other track I did for them was on flute and as a solo in one take I heard it through and played it. I was in and out of the studio in the Bronx, thank god, in an about an hour. South Bronx isn't a place you want to hang about. That was Fred Ones' studio, Afrika Bambaataa did some recording there. New York is where I met the Polish artists. I had been in Krakow at Nigel Kennedy's wedding when he married Anouska, his Polish wife. I got invited down to that because I had a Czech girlfriend, Katus, she sang in a lot of languages. They thought it would fit, I don't know why, but anyway we were mates and we were drinking buddies. It was a good crack, Krakow. Unfortunately the Pope was there as well, so we couldn't get a drink.
The Actual pope?
Yes, the actual pope in Krakow. At the same time Nigel was getting married, you couldn't buy a drink in a shop or bar for up to 60 kilometres in and around Krakow while the pope was there. Nigel got it all sorted for his wedding of course, it was in a basement jazz bar, but I was given the stuff the students drink spiritus, which was pure alcohol. I was putting it in the coke and the coffee. I had something called Venus malfunction where at the top of your head there is this little value. Just before you cum it starts to really hurt so you can't cum. That's why they call it a Venus malfunction, oh my god, I had to go for long walks. Katus held my head under mountain streams in the Tatrys.
That was because of the alcohol?
Yes, I am sure. They drink vodka for breakfast out there. I thought it was fruit juice when I first had it, I was at this blues bar in the mountains called Muzyczna Owczarnia in Jaworki, and there was this golden liquid in a glass. I thought it was apple juice. It tasted like honey it was called Krupnik, honey vodka, traditionally made by the wife for the husband. I drank three glasses of this stuff and couldn't stand up. I just went straight down on my face on the floor. This was at eight o'clock in the morning. It's the same everywhere you go, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Russia, Georgia. They give you this jar of honey vodka for breakfast and then they all go to work.
So, what are your lasting memories of Bristol music scene from the late 70's to the early 80's?
A fantastic place to be. Apart from anything else a wonderful place to have children, I am so glad I had them in Bristol, the music scene is very small and tight knit. Everyone knows everyone and you can walk from one place to the next. You don't need to drive and that's a wonderful thing. In some respects it's wonderful, in other respects quite claustrophobic. It is also quite incestuous, that is to be expected I suppose in a small town. It is a very small town, not many people are in the scene as it were. You are probably looking at a couple of thousand I reckon and they are all on facebook so you can count them if you like. I remember when I first came to Bristol in '77 I had problems with my car and there was this garage in Totterdown. I couldn't understand what this bloke said and what people call the Bristol accent it isn't. It is North Somerset it's a Somerset accent, but this bloke was Bristolian and this was beyond comprehension. I just couldn't understand what this guy was saying to me and I was trying to tell him what was wrong with the car. I had to write it down in the end.
Bristol is a great place to play music. Coming here was a great experience and I have met some great people here. I don't regret it one little bit, my only issue with what's happened to me personally is that I did a second Vital Excursions album in the Coach House studios. At the same time, almost matching days for days with Delge [Robert Del Naja] and Grant [Grantley Evan Marshall] when Massive Attack did Blue Lines. It is the same room sound, same piano, same engineer, same equipment and the tapes disappeared. So I have this issue with the lost tapes. I hope they are out there somewhere, unless someone used them; wiped the tapes and used them again. Hopefully that hasn't happen but there are three two inch master tapes out there with that album on. It's a problem, it has been an issue for me for a while and if anyone knows about those tapes let's do it. Let's mix them up. I'd even pay for it, I would give you some money. If you have the tapes or know where they are. No hassle, there is no issue about it just give me a shout. I will definitely bung you [slang. to give a tip or bribe] .
No questions asked ?
No questions asked, no problems. I just really would like to finish it, there are some great people on there, there are people that are no longer with us on there and I owe it to them to mix it up for their families. If anyone knows where the Vital Excursions tapes are, they have Tony Wrafter written on them I would really appreciate if they could get in touch and let me know. I could be contacted very easily in many places. Probably the best place is the Bell pub off Jamaica Street. Marion would take a message for me any time. She owns the bar, I have know her since she was at the Lion in Clifton.
Thank you so much Tony it has been a great interview.
ALEX CATER OCTOBER 2011