Artistes - Iain Collins

Iain Collins

I was born in Hanover, West Germany, on the 19th of September 1964. This was because of my dad serving with the Royal Engineers as a Technical Quartermaster [amongst other things]. So, until 1979, the British Army of the Rhine was essentially our family and our home.

By a miracle of cowardice I managed to avoid the armed forces; though I had assumed, until I was 16, that my career would inevitably involve being in the army. When I actually realised what secret agents do in real life, I bottled out. The other thing that happened when I was 16 was a particular birthday present from my mum, which would have an unprecedented effect on the future of my life. It was a Framus 335 copy, or in lay terms, a big red electric guitar. I loved it because it looked just like the one that Alvin Lee played at Woodstock. Unfortunately, the neck (which was plywood!) had an extremely unstable relationship with the body, which made it almost impossible to tune.

On a trip to Bavaria in 1980, Jez Quayle taught me the blues shuffle rhythm and the 12-bar blues, and that was it. I was hooked. Within a few months Jez and I were annoying shoppers in Bar Hill with covers of Rock 'n’ Roll classics from Chuck Berry & Eddy Cochran to David Bowie. Jez went on to form a band called “Surfin’ Druids” and I joined Big T~Total and the Half~cuts with my rented double bass. I soon met a real bass player called Chris Todd who, with the aid of Rod Norman on drums, formed “The Pedestrians” with me. My first job as a singer and frontman. Eventually, when Rod left, we found another drummer and a guitar player and formed “The Melting Men”, who were described in the local press as “a cross between the Pretenders and the Byrds”. While I was living in Bar Hill, I also spent over 2 years in vocal training, perfecting my technique and building my confidence as a performer.

Around 1987, I moved into Cambridge and took up playing and singing more or less exclusively. Around this time I met Gary Shepherd, who loved The Sisters and spent most of his time trying to out~goth Carl McCoy. Personally, I think he would have done better to give me the guitar job, instead of James Cupid. John Vary was the bass player in what turned out to be called “Hollowland” - named, oddly enough, after a song which I wrote for them. I did the vocal part on their first demo of the song, sounding as Eldritch (with a capital ‘E’) as I possibly could. After my brief flirtation with goth, Dave Goose and I set up what could perhaps loosely be described as a folk club, in the King St. Run, also known as the Horse and Groom. After about 2 years we had established a fairly stable line-up and decided that we were fed up of being called “Live Music”, so we called ourselves “Rugrats” ~ though we also recorded under the name of ‘Dr. Dave and the Tokers of Plenty’ ~ this was an abbreviated line-up featuring Stewart Lewis on Bodhran and Pennywhistle, besides Dave and myself. The complete line-up included; Julie Hatter (violin & accordion), Equator Goldstein (vocal & percussion), Maya Preece (vocals), Dave Goose (Guitar & vocals) and Ian Collins (Vocals, guitar, mandolin and harmonica.)

Besides two or three performances at the Cambridge Folk Festival, most of my time in the mid-80’s was taken up in pursuit of Girls or Weed, not necessarily in that order. Oh, and I wrote some reviews and some songs as well.

Sometime in the late 80’s, between travelling to and from Europe, the Southwest and various squats in London, Cambridge and Amsterdam, I met Juliette Angus.(a.k.a. ’Ziggy’) and was talked into joining the Ethnic Theatre Company. So, while the rest of the cast toured our nation’s prisons with a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, Huttie, Oli and me sat at home working out a score for W.B. Yeats’ “Death of Cucullain” and reading ‘the tain bo cualinge’.

It turned out to be a pretty peculiar venture. Whilst I was ostensibly the musical director, it turned out that I was also doomed to act the part of the ‘old man’ and the ‘street singer’ in the same costume and makeup. Anyway, we did make it all the way to Caernarfon castle in Gilly’s bus, just not all the way back again in time for our 2nd Strawberry Fair gig. Not in our entirety, anyway. Though I say it myself, E.T.C. did put in a great performance at Ely folk weekend in support of Dave Swarbrick. Since the 2nd Strawberry Fiasco, however, I’ve not heard from Ziggy, and I daresay the same goes for the rest of the company. It was fun while it lasted, though.

As it turns out, I wasn’t out of demand for very long. James Lord called me at the suggestion of John Vardy to ask if I could front his new band, and I said yes. “Perfect Circle” turned out to be a formidable, if short-lived, alliance. We were described by the music press as ‘Cambridge’s answer to R.E.M.’ Not in jest, either. (Scary!) After recording a Demo album and playing the rock competition twice, I was apparently too difficult to track down or deal with or something and Jim seemed to lose interest. That’s what you get for trying to merge 3 bands called “Nuke Your Parents”, “Infernal Death”, and “the priests of vengeance”. Some time before we left town, however, Mike Clifford did book me at the Cambridge Folk Club to support Isaac Guillory at the Man on The Moon. I had witnessed his mastery of music sometime before at the Folk Festival, but that night’s rendition of ‘Sixteen Tons’ was unforgettable. As was the man himself saying he “liked my guitar style”(!)

So, that just about brings us up to date. I should mention Kev Marley at this point, though. He and I played together briefly after I left Perfect Circle, and I can honestly say I’ve never met a more gifted, instinctive improviser. He’s simply a fabulous fiddle player. So, KEV ~ if you’re reading this ~ or even if you know where he is, then get him to CALL ME!

There’s probably a load of stuff I’ve missed out ~ Access to Music for one ~ and I guess Captain Black at Jurnet’s and Heather Wells go without saying, but I would definitely not be playing as much as I am now without the help and inspiration of Caroline Martin.

So, that’s it. I hope I’ll see you at the Music House, and I also hope Heather and I get it together to do another demo ~ soon.

Love, Peace and Bananas.

Ian Collins.