'A Strange Day' by Ben Matthews

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A while back someone asked me, via the website, what my connection with JJ Marsh was and reminded me that I had promised a piece for the Wit, Wisdom and Whiskey section of this site. The story is a part of a rather strange day I had at a festival in Holland (I’m sure I’m not the only person in History to have had a strange day at a festival in Holland); the story goes something like this.

It was a dull, grey morning and I had just got off our tour bus. I found myself backstage at the Arrow rock festival (2005) and I was hungry so I started looking for Catering.

Catering is the most popular place at any festival, a bit like the kitchen at parties. In fact if you ever ask the whereabouts of someone you’re looking for, the most likely answer you’ll receive is “Have you tried Catering?” This is not, as it would appear, career advice for, as the capital C denotes, Catering is a place and deserves proper noun status.

So there I was, standing backstage in a field, looking a little lost when I heard a voice behind me say, in a heavy Glaswegian accent, “Is that you Ben Matthews?” I turned round and standing in front of me was a real blast from my past; a guy called Mick Boyle.

Now I need to wind the clock back to the mid 1980s when I was a young lad working for the English office of a Swedish based record company known as Sonet Records. Sonet decided to buy their very own English recording studio, handed over the keys and told me to go and run it. Their reasoning was that I had been in a few studios as a youngster in various bands I had played in, this was hardly a qualification but hey! – I had my own studio to play with.

Here I met a chap who became one of my best friends – Kenny Denton; he is an engineer and producer and taught me everything I know. One of the first sessions I did with Kenny was a band known as Glasgow, they were from Glasgow and the album we did was entitled “041” which was the telephone area code for Glasgow at the time, you can see the theme here right?

These boys were a lot of fun and we had a great time making the album, unfortunately fame and fortune eluded the band and they broke up and went their separate ways. But now, here, standing in front of me in a field in darkest Holland was the singer of Glasgow – I hadn’t seen him in nearly twenty years. He now drives a big black truck for a rock and roll trucking company known as TransAm Trucking, I’m sure you’ve seen them parked outside music venues or on a motorway somewhere. He was driving a truck load of gear for the band Dream Theatre who were on the bill that day. We had a good chat about old times and agreed to stay in touch; he checked directions on his trucks satellite navigation system and showed me the way to catering.

“Can you spot anyone familiar playing on this album?”
(click to enlarge)

Not the most amazing coincidence in history of coincidences" I hear you cry; but the day continues:

As I was sitting in Catering later on that day, I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard someone say “Hey – Ben Matthews” this time in a Spanish accent. I looked up from my Dutch scrambled eggsh and baconsh and there was another ghost from my past, a Spanish journalist who actually lived across the road from and worked at Sonet twenty odd years ago. This was getting a little strange I thought to myself, what are the chances of meeting two people you haven’t seen for twenty years on the same day, in Holland? But there was more to come.

We played our set and came off stage to tremendous applause – I'd had a couple of beers by now, and as we walked into our dressing room, full of adrenalin and alcohol, I could hear people singing in the dressing room next door. They were singing “You Fool No One” which happens to be one of my favourite Deep Purple songs, I realised that this was Glenn Hughes and his band warming up as they were on next band on stage.

Not being a shy person after a beer or two I decided that I would go into their dressing room, listen to the song and wish them good luck, so off I trotted, opened the door and said “Hi – love that song, have a great show”, then to my surprise I heard for the third time that day “Hey, Ben Matthews”

This time it was an unmistakeable Swedish accent (bear in mind we can spot one a mile away because of Mickey Höglund our dear old friend and previous Thunder bass player from Sverige).

I looked round and there was another blast from the past – JJ Marsh

So let’s wind that clock back again to the very same period in the 80s. One of the first bands I ever worked with as an engineer and indeed got my first ever album credit for was a Swedish band called Spellbound. They were signed to Sonet on the Swedish label but wanted to come to England to record their album with the legendary Vic Maille. Vic was responsible for many a great album including Motorhead and Dr Feelgood and was great friends with Kenny Denton. I was to be the engineer for this particular project and was really looking forward to working with Vic. During the recording it came to my notice, being a guitar player myself, that the two young Swedish whippersnappers in this band were both very talented guitarists indeed, it also came to my notice that these guys ate nothing but McDonalds for six weeks during the album recording. The guitarists were called Al Strandberg and, of course you’ve guessed it by now – JJ Marsh.

“JJ is in the pink jacket – Al in black PVC bondage gear” (click to enlarge)

I had often wondered what became of the pair of them as they both really could play and talent has a tendency to stick around so it was a real great surprise to see this old friend about to take the stage with Glenn Hughes. I watched the set standing next to the Spanish journalist whilst Mick from Glasgow tooted the horn on his big truck and wondered if it was all some kind of sign, my past catching up with me… Nah, just a coincidence, but a nice one at that.

“The 80’s, a decade of questionable fasion” (click to enlarge)

JJ now plays guitar and co writes with Glenn Hughes’ band and for those of you that don’t know (shame on you – you know who you are); Glenn played bass and sang in both Trapeze and Deep Purple before embarking on a variety of projects collaborating with the likes of Pat Thrall, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chilli Peppers).

Click below to hear one of my favourite
JJ Spellbound solos

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