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BILL

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Bill Gilbert - Bass
 

Bill first picked up an acoustic guitar back in the 1950's, to jam with John Rooney, a school friend.  Along with their pal Des Ryan, they grew to popularity in the Midlands area with the 9-piece showband, The Plainsmen.  Bill moved on to travel the world with Second City Sound, a popular 'beat combo' during the 1960's, who were distinguishable by their unique sound.  Their keyboard player Ken Freeman had built an early version of what would become known as a synthesizer (you can still hear Ken's work most Saturday evenings, as he wrote & recorded the theme tune to the BBC drama series 'Casualty' – Ken went on to work with David Essex and Jeff Wayne, playing on the legendary War of the Worlds album).  Their drummer was Dave Walsh, who prior to joining Second City Sound, had been in a band called The Andicaps with Jeff Lynne, who later went on to play with The Move and ELO (Dave was last reported to be training pilots to fly commercial airliners in America!).  The band recorded an album called Love is Blue with Decca Records and released a number of singles.  Their most successful single was a catchy little ditty entitled 'Tchaikovsky One' (based unsurprisingly on Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto), which reached No. 22 in the national pop charts during 1966.  Bill even managed to get one of his songs, entitled 'Julie', onto vinyl as a 'b side' to one of the bands releases.  Bill and the band once travelled to the Granada studios in Manchester for a live TV appearance.  They duly set up, did all the sound checks and camera tests, but with just half an hour to go until transmission, The Indian Prime Minister, Lal Shastri died and their slot was cancelled.  Second City Sounds most successful period resulted in a six month residency at the El Casino in Freeport, Grand Bahamas and appearances on Opportunity Knocks which they won a record-breaking 6 times! 

When Second City Sound dissolved, a new band called Touch of Velvet, with many of the same members on board, was born.  Touch of Velvet also appeared just the once on Opportunity Knocks, but failed to win.  This was now the 1970's, all flashy stage costumes, long hair and glitzy smiles.  There was still much globe-trotting to be done, including a near disastrous voyage to Portugal on an ocean going liner which lost its capability to steer and nearly capsized in a force 8 gale.

For years, like many other musicians, Bill was recognisable by the guitar he used. His guitar was a cherry red semi-acoustic Guild Starfire bass with the addition of an extra pickup fitted by local luthier John Birch (who had an apprentice by the name of John Diggins - he who designed and built the famous Super Yob guitar for Dave Hill of Slade, which, incidentally, hung in the window of Birmingham's Musical Exchange for many years before being purchased by Marco Pirroni, guitarist with Adam & The Ants).  It was to John Diggins (designer of the famous Jaydee bass, popularised by Mark King of Level 42), that Bill would return after an unfortunate incident in Cradley Heath Working Mens Club.  During the bands break, the bingo caller had accidentally knocked his beloved bass over, splitting the neck, resulting in a costly return visit to John Diggins.

After a period of time playing in a social club trio with childhood pal Des Ryan, Bill got a call from an agent he knew back in the 1960's.  The result of that call found him touring again with the Keely Ford cabaret showband.  In order to cope with the demands of touring he invested in new equipment including a very 1980's headless bass guitar.  A dep gig with The Arthur Brown Jazz Band at The Black Cross in Bromsgrove re-energised his love of Jazz.  So much so that after the gig, Bill was proudly displaying his swollen left hand caused by a night of frenetic walking jazz bass lines.  Bill consolidated this style of playing by teaming up with some local jazz musicians in the Kidderminster area to form the Hot Tin Catz.  This blend of smooth lounge jazz was augmented by Andy Bennett on drums, John Bridger on guitar and Nicky Preece on saxophone and vocals.

In the late 1980's, Bill found himself recruited into a covers band with his son Andy on lead vocals and guitar (Andy was also one of the original members of the popular 70's Glam Rock showband 'Ballroom Glitz').  Together with drummer 'Too Tall' Paul Evans, they formed the nucleus of a collective known as Smiley & The Hedge.  This band still gets together today for impromptu (and under-rehearsed) gigs, along with Bill's daughter Nic on guitar and her husband Rav on keyboards. 

It was during his time with the Hot Tin Catz, that Bill was first introduced to the guitarist Elmer O'Shea, who would feature in many of the bands Bill would play in throughout the nineties and up to present day.  Bill had first met Elmer many years before in 1985, though proper introductions would come much later.  He had gone to support his son Andy's first band at a local Live Aid event in Bridgnorth where Elmers band Little Acre were playing on the same bill.  Also in the Little Acre line-up that day was Tina Tromans, who would later join Bill & Elmer in the band On The Rocks performing jazz and R’n’B covers all over the Midlands.

Bill soon got to know many local musicians, one of whom was Bob Wilmott.  Bill has provided bass guitar and harmony vocal duties for both Planet Bob & The Satellites and their latest venture Sweet Fanny Adams.   This band also features drummer John Trickett, who along with being another of the original members of Ballroom Glitz, also played in The Fortunes in the 1960's.

And so to Shark Attack.  Once again reunited with Elmer, Bill has helped choose many of the songs played by the band, and as well as being a willing harmony vocalist, he even gets to sing lead on a few.  Ever the perfectionist and always in search of great drummers to play alongside, Bill has given a big thumbs up to Bev and his rhythmic abilities.  Long may they rock!

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