|Colin with Prince Robinson (RBC) aged 58.|
This writer discovered Colin Bassâ€™ tasteful playing and singing when the latter joined seminal British progressive rock outfit Camel for their 1979 album I Can See Your House From Here. This was during a period when Camel were going through quite a few line-up changes. Since then, Colin has played on almost everything Camel has done, and has remained a consistent member for the last 30 years (only founder member Andy Latimer has been in the band longer). Apart from his extensive work with Camel, Colin has played with several acts within the world music field (for example 3 Mustaphas 3) as well as releasing a fine solo album, An Outcast of the Islands. A few years ago he formed the trio RBC (Robinson Bass Clement), releasing an album in the process. In addition to the recent projects that Colin mentions in the following interview, there are subtle indications that Camel may be up and running again next year, following Andy Latimerâ€™s rehabilitation from a severe illness.
SingingBassist: Who inspired you to pick up the bass guitar, and why?
Colin Bass: Jimi Hendrix, he was just too good.
SB: Please give us a brief history as a bass player. When did you start playing and how did it develop?
CB: I was a guitarist but there was a bass job going with The Foundations that paid regular money, so I bought a Futurama bass from a friend of mine. Then, learning all the soul/pop repertoire of the Foundations, I found the way to admire the fabulous economic but tough playing of Donald â€œDuckâ€ Dunn of Booker T & the MGs, the amazing ability of Tamla-Motownâ€™s great James Jamerson to place notes in exactly the right, unexpected places to make the groove come alive and, from a host of others, the wonderful world of funky bass. At the same time I was thankful to learn about jazz players like Ron Carter and Charles Mingus from the guys in the band, some of whom were very proficient jazzers.
SB:Do you have formal training, and do you think thatâ€™s important?
CB: No and yes.
SB: With whom have you played since?
CB: Let me seeâ€¦ Clancy, Steve Hillage, The Casual Band, Camel, Tim Hardin, Jim Cuomo, Gasper Lawal, Orchestre Jazira, 3 Mustaphas 3, Ofra Haza, Dembo Konte & Kausu Kouyate, Tarika Sammy, The Rinken Band, Sabah Habas Mustapha & the Jugala Allstars, Oumou Sangare, Stella Chiweshe, Maurice el Medioni, Prince Robinson, Josef Skrzek, RBC and probably a few moreâ€¦
SB: When did you start playing fretless?
CB: I started when I joined Camel in 1979 and bought a WAL fretless bass. The whole approach is different. Itâ€™s more to do with tonality and timbre.
SB: When did you start to sing and play bass at the same time? Can you describe how you approached it, and how you overcame any difficulties?
CB: Well, I guess thatâ€™s the important question. I think itâ€™s a question of practising so you can get to the place where you can concentrate on the singing and play the bass part automatically. For I believe that if youâ€™re going to sing, it should be the central point of the sound canvas and you should be able to articulate any meaning encased within the words.
SB: Do you have any advice on how to â€separateâ€ playing and singing in your mind?
CB: Not really, because I donâ€™t really know how I do it myself. It helps to practise and keep calm.
SB: Do you feel like a bassist who sings, a singer who plays bass, or an overall musicians who just does whatâ€™s required to make things work?
CB: I feel like I am both of the first two and would like to be the third.
SB: Are there any songs that youâ€™ve found it difficult, or even impossible, to both play and sing?
CB: Yes of course, especially if the rhythms run completely counter to each other.
SB: You always seem to play what suits the song. Was there any period when you, in retrospect, feel that your playing was too busy?
CB: No, I was never that good.
SB: Do you play every day?
SB: Do you write songs on the bass?
CB: Sometimes an idea for a song will come from a bass-line.
SB: What equipment have you used over the years, and what are you using now?
CB: Iâ€™ve used a lot of equipment over the years. There are so many good amps available these days. I do wish I still had my old Acoustic amp with the 18â€ reflex cabinet. That was the best. My main instruments are a 1979 WAL Pro 2 bass, a 1992 Zon fretless and a 1986 Fender Jazz played through a choice of Ashdown, Trace-Elliot and Ampeg combos. I refuse to lift heavy bass cabinets any more.
SB: What are you up to next, musically?
CB: Iâ€™m writing some songs, doing some production work for other artists and whistling quite a lot. I’m putting together a few new tunes inbetween producer projects. In the last months i have been finishing the mixing on albums by the Krar Collective (dynamic Ethiopian electric krar power-trio based in london), a solo album by Alhouis from Etran Finatawa (from Niger) and a most amusing album by Berlin’s own Lord Mouse & the Kalypso Kats.
SB: As a bonus, weâ€™d like to present you with some of the more laconic answers that give examples of Colinâ€™s typically British wit:
Youâ€™ve played with quite a few different drummers, with different styles. What type of drummer do you feel most comfortable playing with, and how you collaborate.
CB: On the whole, I much prefer playing with good drummers.
SB: Which singing bassists do you feel related to?
CB: Well, thereâ€™s my Uncle Cuthbert who was in the famous flower-power group, Ash-Khan and the Cosmic Pork Pies. Erm, thatâ€™s it.
SB: Do you have any general advice for aspiring singing bassists?
CB: Donâ€™t give up your day-job.
Colinâ€™s web site: http://www.colinbass.com
|Colin with Camel aged 28.|