A cosy chat with Pete Moss


I got hold of Peter’s e-mail address from Ki Longfellow some months ago and, after some procrastination requested a meeting to interview him about his long-standing friendship with Vivian.
Peter was particularly interesting to make contact with becuase he worked on all of the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End radio sessions, the film and album of the same name, the Teddy Boys Don’t Knit album and the Stinkfoot musical, to name but a few.
He was only too pleased to talk to myslef and John Hobbs (of www.rawlinsonend.org.uk) at length about Vivian between flying off to Leipzig and various other meetings.
So we fixed a date, changed it and eventually descended Bournemouth-wards to meet and pester him at his home.
Once we got there we chatted to Peter for some two hours, it was wonderfully enlightening, and also pointed out a couple of inaccuracies in the Ginger Geezer biography of Vivian, the prime one being how Peter met Vivian.
Below are some responses to the questions we asked Peter, there will be a second part to this interview in the next issue.

All questions are Italicicized, the stills are from the October Films 2004 documentary for the BBC.


What did you think when you were presented with a bunch of street buskers for the Stinkfoot production?
Panic mainly, sixty or seventy musicians turned up to auditions.
Viv had this win some/lose some attitude, you didn’t know who you’d discover, there was one woman there who had an absolutely fantastic voice.

During the production of Stinkfoot at the Bloomsbury Dec 1988 it came to your attention that you were looked on as the dominant gay partner to Vivian. How did you react to this?

I was chatting to this woman involved in the production after we'd finished, and she mentioned this.
One of the weirdest things anyone has ever said to me. I said ‘You’ve got to be joking!’, she said ‘No, they were all convinced’ - the musicians rehearsing for Stinkfoot.

Was Vivian difficult to work with?
Viv and I had a falling out , which we did not regularly but once or twice. As a result I had nothing to do with Ndidi’s Kraal, all the other Rawlinson things I was involved in.
My opinion from someone who knew him all that time is that I loved him to death in a way, but he was very difficult person to work with, compounded of course by the drink and drugs problem, and when he was straight he was very very good and very very quick, but even when he was straight - it was like an explosion in a mattress factory, he was all over the place like a 360 degree explosion.
One of the things I did with all those John Peel sessions was he used to book all these musicians up. He used to like to get people because of their names and I remember when we did the Teddy Boys Don’t Knit album, I said ‘Viv, we’ve got some great musicians here.’ He said ‘I want Rat Scabies from the Damned on Drums.’
I said ‘Why?’
He said ‘Because it’s a great name.’
In the end we didn’t.
I used to have to put everything down in musical form, he’d strum away, and the first time it’d be one thing, the second time he ran through the same song it’d be something totally different.
It’s fine doing that on a solo thing or for someone like me who can follow that but when you’ve got several musicians, and great musicians, we had Danny Thompson on bass, top names in their field.

On many occasions the early Bonzos supported Cream and Joe Cocker at the Marquee, Ginger Baker sat in on drums occasionally. Apparently no one else would have them, afraid of being upstaged. This must have been where Viv's friendship with Jack Bruce started. Over the years many top musicians played back-up in sessions and shows, Steve Winwood, Dave Swarbrick, Danny Thompson, Ollie Halsall, John Halsey etc. Yet there is a view that he was tight with his money, sometimes not paying his backup musicians and you stepping in to resolve matters.
How did he manage to attract some top musicians with this reputation?

Different characters, Dave Swarbrick, Danny Thompson, John Kilpatrick, those type of people did it not totally out of love; they expected some money. You accepted Vivian because of what he was.
Because we were helping Vivian get back on his feet we all agreed to do it for £50 per night.
Jack said to Vivian that he’d do it for expenses and on the first night he whacked Vivian with a bill for £200 for the local Hilton or whatever, and Vivian went Bozo if you’ll excuse the pun.
Jack walked out, so on the second night I gave up what I was playing and ended up playing Bass to take over from Jack.
So it’s not always true that people did stick with it.
When I first knew Vivian he was absolutely broke, after the Bonzo’s and all the chaos.
But actually as the years went by and we worked together and whatever, he actually through various copyright things and PRS, a lot of doing these jingles and stuff that I did with him. He actually had some fair old money coming in and he was still quite as bad as he ever was, and it turned out that he had quite a few quid squirrelled away all over the place and he was always pleading poverty.
He was very very strange with money.

You were introduced to Vivian through Dennis Cowan's brother?

No, that's one of the inaccuracies in the Ginger Geezer book.
I went to Willesdon County Grammar School in north London, and in that school was Terry Cowan, who was Dennis’ younger brother who played Drums.
Dennis Cowan never went to that school, but he was a good Bass player and I knew him from the north London music scene in the sixties, where he was in a group called The Tribe, the guitarist was Frank Torpy, a good friend of mine to this day.
Frank went on to form Sweet, and Dennis and I knew each other anyway.
What happened was Dennis was in the Rocky Horror show, he was the first Bass player in that and he was also doing the Bonzo’s who he’d joined on Bass.
Dennis was very ill and had a terrible drug problem, in the end he died at the age of 28, which was very very sad.
I was propping him up in the Rocky Horror show, a lot of the time he couldn’t make it and I was doing more nights a week than he did in the end.
That’s where I met Nick Roley (another very good friend to this day), he was drafted into the Bonzo’s to play a bit of keyboards when Neil Innes left the Bonzo’s - right at the very end when it was all exploding/imploding whatever you want.
Dennis died and Vivian wanted to do a session with somebody playing Double Bass.
We did it on Tom Newman’s (who was the engineer on Tubular Bells) boat, which he had in Maida Vale, we wanted to do a version of ‘Trail of the Lonesome Pine’, and it was Nick Roley who actually got me into the situation with Vivian, and Vivian loved the fact that I could play all these different instruments and play Double Bass and stuff like that.
That’s how I got involved with Vivian, it wasn’t through Terry Cowan, as far as I know Terry never even met Vivian.

On the BBC Arena special Viv recalled fondly his early days in Shillingford, Oxfordshire. We have obtained a copy of his birth certificate showing he was born at the Radcliffe Maternity Home on Oxford, 21 March 1943 . When he was interviewed by a David Ackles November 1992, a fraught occasion, he was adamant he was born in Walthamstow, an East End boy from Grove Road. Did he ever talk about his childhood with you.
Why do you think he would be reticent about his birthplace?

All I know is that Vivian had this strange thing. Now I always considered myself working class. I was a grammar school boy, nowadays I suppose I slightly elevated to middle class, I hate to think it, and now I consider myself classless.
Vivian never sorted that one out in his head, because his father was absolutely working class and there was Irish in him somewhere as well, but he went into the RAF and saw a whole new world with the officer class, and from that moment he tried to emulate that officer class, upper-middle class that the Pilots were.
That’s where Vivian almost got a split personality thing, I mean he could talk like the absolute aristocratic Sir Henry and often did, that’s the way he carried on, he wanted to be the eccentric English gentleman.
But on the other side, given a different type of mood, in situations where we’ve been on the road he’s been an out and out yob from Southend, that’s where they moved and where he mixed with the local Teddy Boys.

You were known as his Sergeant Major, he respected you for both your musical ability and height. Can you remember when he first use this moniker?
When he used to write letters or postcards to me and my kids (he adored my kids) he always used to write to me as ‘Dear Father’.
I went round after his fathers death and he offered me a couple of pairs of his fathers shoes - in perfect condition, I was touched but I said with the greatest respect, you know I didn’t say ‘I don’t want to step into your fathers shoes as it were, I don’t want to become your father as such’, but I couldn’t wear them anyway because they weren’t my size.
He’d done this typical Viv thing where he’d had one of his fathers shoes very carefully sawn in half and mounted, and he had it in this frame. Almost like a Damien Hurst situation, only with his fathers shoe.
The world is a very sad place these days without these types of characters.
Possibly because I wasn’t in awe of Vivian, I appreciated his good bits more than others.
Because I wasn’t in awe of him when he did something good and something clever, it was very good and very clever and I respected that.
Vivian taught me through John Peel that things don’t have to be structured to be relevant or to work, and in a way I loved that, we used to fly by the seat of our pants on those John Peel sessions in Maida Vale.
I’d say it’s this and it’s A and it’s B, the structure of the thing laid out, and he’d suddenly start, so we’re just following him and disasters can come out of that, but shear moments of magic can also come out of that, and that’s the thing we did.

Yes on the Sir Henry album, on Darning Socks he quite obviously fluffs it, twice.

You’ve proven my point, we just carried on.
If I listen to it now and hear the ‘ooh, never mind I’ll start again’ I just start laughing, I think that’s Vivian - don’t change it.

What was it like recording the peel sessions and album of Rawlinson End?
These sessions were always chaotic, from normally chaotic to frighteningly chaotic.
Out of it of course came some wonderful stuff.
The working process for the John Peel sessions was Vivian used to phone me up ‘Hello Amigo, come down here’ and he used to thrash this stuff away on a Ukulele, I used to take a cassette tape of what he did and I’d write a rough chord chart there and then.
Then I’d take the Ukulele and play it, I’d say ‘Is that what you mean?’, if I got a rough yes I’d take that as ok.
Then I’d go home, did it much neater and photocopied it ten times so that everyone had the same geography of sorts to follow.
Most people used to turn up, we used to record the songs first, get them out of the way, the musicians would go home and then we’d start doing the dialogue from Vivian. Once he’d recorded all the dialogue we’d start mixing the stuff, they’d start splicing it together and cross-fading et cetera.
There was always a producer there to oversee it, because we weren’t employed by the BBC.
He was very clever with that, when he’d do Sir Henry having a conversation with Old Scrotum, he’d do Henry first and leave these strange gaps, then all of a sudden he’d do Scrotum and he was very clever, it all worked.

Someone once asked him ‘How do you describe what you do?’ and he said ‘I write songs that my Grandfather can whistle’.
He had a fascination with Music Hall and all that, that’s where a lot of the work he did came from.

What appealed to you about Rawlinson End?
When we first started Rawlinson End it was something John Walters had suggested doing, because he wanted Vivian to do something other than songs.
When he first went in to do Rawlinson End I honestly didn’t really understand what it was all about.
So we put the songs together and I listened to what we did, I thought ‘This is a bit weird’, who’s Hubert and this strange family.
But he told some great jokes in the narration.
One of my favourites was 'But that thing they’d made, a horrid hybrid cross between a gorilla and a parrot, and they’d let it loose in the maze. It was feathered, huge, and immensely strong, and would spring from the privet at odd moments and grasp one round the neck and ask ‘who’s a pretty boy then?’.  Still it kept the tramps off the premises.’, one of my favourites of all time.
I started laughing at this thing, I didn’t actually get into the Rawlinson End thing until about the second or third episode, nobody really knew what it was all about.
It’s one of these typical British things and those type of things don’t always hit straight away.
He was so into it from the writing point of view that he thought everybody knew where he was at that stage and of course they didn’t.
So sometimes it did get a little confusing.

Was Viv’s working method organised or chaotic?

Chaotic. Three members of my family and many others worked for him at various times, trying to condense all of these piles of paper into somethign coherent, Vivian was always working and writing and eighty percent of it wasn't rubbish, but was dispensible in many ways.

When I saw Mr S. at Burnley, many years ago, he amused the throng with
"Tales of Everyday Madness" which were selected news clippings.
I believe there was a suggestion that they were to be published.
Does Mr M know anything about that?

Lots of projects like this have fallen through, it pisses me off that there's not more published about Vivian, I'd not heard of this particular one.

 

Writing by Jonathan Street.

Part Two