Monday, May 11, 2015

Pheaturing Phile Alum John Bentley

Hi there, welcome to the Phile for a Monday. Yesterday I don't know if I told you but I felt like shit. Eyes watering, nose running, and coughing like crazy and I ended up going to urgent care with a temperature of 102. But I'm alive, kids, just have a slight cough now. Okay, enough about me, what is going on in the world?  The song of the summer is here, and it's drawing from that bottomless pool of pop music inspiration: the systemic harassment and murder of (mostly) young (mostly) black (mostly) males within an unfair and often racist system of power and authority. Prince premiered his funky new chart-topper "Baltimore" dedicated to the memory of Freddie Gray, a young, black Baltimorean who recently died in police custody at a benefit concert called Rally 4 Peace over the weekend.  Academy Award winning actress Natalie Portman will be starring in the upcoming film On the Basis of Sex, in which she will play a manic pixie dream lawyer named Ruth Bader Ginsburg who overcomes countless obstacles to eventually becomes America's first Jewish female Supreme Court Justice and manages through persistence and whimsy to teach a cranky old judge named Antonin Scalia how to love again. (That last part might not be true.)  Conservative provocateur Glenn Beck announced on his Internet show that the recent riots that occurred in Baltimore were in fact set up by the U.S. government in order to give them an excuse for taking control of all the police agencies around the country. As though that news is not unsettling enough, Beck also revealed that he himself will almost certainly be assassinated by federal agents in the coming months to keep the public from having a strong leader. I'm really sorry to be the one to break all this to you. Looks like we have some tough times ahead. Glenn Beck thinks the Baltimore riots were fake, whereas I think Glenn Beck is a bunch of Teddy Ruxpins sewn into a big white tortilla.  Fox has announced that it is canceling its long running singing competition series "American Idol," roughly nine years after the last time you watched an episode and six years since you've known the name of any winner.  Using a collection of x-ray machines and microscopes powerful enough to measure objects on a scale of nanometers, scientists have finally figure out why chocolate gets chalky white after a while. Apparently, it's caused by fat migrating to the chocolate's surface. No word yet on when we'll have a cure for cancer.  Hey, sport fans, the New England Super Bowl rings just came out.

Haha. That's some funny shit right there.  Do you kids like that Thomas the Tank Engine? Well, something really bad happens to him in the new series.

Hey, I've been there, exit 243 in Pennsylvania.  Disney... the greatest company to work for ever is making some changes with some characters in the new Star Wars movie. Check out what they did with Han Solo.

They are always some diversified that company. They hired me after all.  Today's guest is from England like myself and there's some really weird places in England.

I wanna go there.  You know, the world is getting lazy. We went from full blown biographies to biographies made out of emoji's. Really.

Some of you are probably wondering who Robert Durst is.

Allow me to mangle Tolstoy for a minute, and say that each good comedy is good in its own way, but that all bad comedies are alike. There's variation, of course, but they all limp along on sad, weak legs and confused direction. They're airless. They're joyless. And they move with the same tired rhythms. Their biggest claim to Hollywood magic is that one diabolical trick where they take talented casts and convince you, for 90 interminable minutes, that those are the worst actors in the world. Well, Hot Pursuit, welcome to that garbage heap.  Uptight, by the book cop Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) has to transport wild, strong-willed, witness protection candidate Daniella (Sofia Vergara) from San Antonio to Dallas so that Daniella can testify against a drug lord. Men with guns get in the way of this, a few of them corrupt police officers themselves. In turn, the women must steal vehicles, walk through clouds of cocaine, shriek, fall down, wear animal costumes, get into scrapes while handcuffed to one another, and enact fake lesbian makeout sessions to outsmart and outrun their pursuers.  There's a lot of comic promise here. Witherspoon has demonstrated her ability to take the dangerous route in comedies like Election and the glorious cult film Freeway. And Vergara, the MVP of "Modern Family," has the tightrope ability to indulge in all the stereotypes she willfully embodies while winking at you the entire time.  The women are giving. Their timing is right. Their chemistry is visible. Their physical interaction... especially in a scene where they must drive a bus while handcuffed to each other is on point. They should, by rights, crackle in each other's company.  But it's a collapsing project from the start, thanks to a do-nothing script from "According to Jim" writer David Feeney (co-written with John Quaintance), and it stays down for the entire running time. Anne Fletcher's direction is on the side of making sure her stars bond with the camera and each other, but that bus-driving scene is the funny moment, and no amount of affectionate directorial attention can make up for that.  There is nothing here for these capable actors to do. And it'll be used as evidence against women in comedy, the way films like this always are. Of course, the only point it will prove is that scripts should have nerve and power and a pulse. Vergara, Witherspoon, and the audience, we all deserve more, and better. But what we all get this time around is the kind of film with a blooper reel over the closing credits, that tell-tale, last-ditch effort of a project struggling for life. We watch the actors giggle over their mistakes, and we half-smile, and we wish we had been allowed to laugh even half as much. From 1 to 10 Hot Pursuit gets a 4.

That's an easy one. If you spot the Mindphuck please let me know. Okay, so, I live here in Florida as you know and lots crazy shit happens in Florida. I mean SURPRISE! George Zimmerman was  involved in another shooting. Here's the pheature I call...

George Zimmerman, who you may remember shot and killed an unarmed teenager in 2013, got to experience what life (but not death) is like on the other side of the gun today. According to reports, Zimmerman received minor injuries to his face following a road rage incident in Lake Mary, Florida that involved some other gun-wielding hot head standing his ground and firing through Zimmerman's passenger side window (the bullet did not strike Zimmerman). This is the fourth run-in with the law (including three domestic violence incidents) for Zimmerman since he was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, which is probably why Lake Mary's police chief called him a "ticking time bomb." Most time bombs can be defused though.

The truck is listed as being in stable condition.

Today's guest is a Phile Alum who is perhaps best known as the bassist for the band Squeeze. He had a new solo CD out called "...Based On a True Story." Please welcome back to the Phile, the always entertaining... John Bentley!

Me: Hi there, John. Welcome back to the Phile. How have you been?

John: Hi, Jason! I've been okay, thanks.

Me: Okay, before we start to talk about your new solo CD I have to ask you about Squeeze. You are currently working on the new Squeeze album, am I right?

John: Well, I have contributed some bass parts on some of the songs. We'll have to wait till the album comes out to hear exactly which tracks of mine they decide to use. It'll all come out in the mix I suppose.

Me: Will the songs that you mentioned the last time you were here gonna be on the new album?

John: Sorry, I can't remember which songs I mentioned last time, but I can tell you that "From the Cradle to the Grave" will be on there.

Me: So, does the album have a name, John?

John: Yes, it's called "John Bentley is Gay!"   But seriously... not as yet... but I'm sure it will have eventually!!

Me: Squeeze is gonna be going out on a big U.K. tour... do you think you'll be touring over here with Squeeze?

John: I won't be touring with Squeeze as I have decided to knock it on the head, but I've no doubt the they will tour the States again (and again).

Me: Wait. You are leaving Squeeze? What happened? Did you decide to leave or did Glenn and Chris want you to leave?

John: I dunno what happened, man! All I know is that there was a total eclipse on March 20th 2015 and the very next day Squeeze and I went our separate ways!

Me: You've been back with them since '07, right? That must of been a hard decision for you to leave the band... with a new record coming out as well. Was it a hard decision?

John: It wasn't really a hard decision. It was a mutual decision... one that suited everybody... and yes, we were in the middle of recording a new album. I don't know what's happened to my bass lines. It'll be a shame if they get wiped cos they were right on the money, and nobody'll know what they're missing. Looking back... Glenn and Chris gave me some of the greatest experiences of my life... and they shared their brilliant music with me! And I gave them my dedication for over 12 years (on and off) and I guess they appreciate that too.

Me: So, I have to ask, and always wondered, is Glenn in charge or is Chris in charge?

John: I don't think it would be fair of me to divulge too much of what goes on behind the scenes as that would be betraying their trust... but I will say that Glenn generally makes the final decisions and is supported by Chris. Maybe I'll reveal all the gruesome details if I ever get round to writing my memoirs... if anybody's still interested?!

Me: I'd read that in a heartbeat and would pheature the book in the Phile's Book Club. Do you think you'll be back with them ever again?

John: Thats a good question. I haven't closed the door completely... when is a door not a door? When it's ajar.

Me: Haha. You do have a few last gigs with them this summer... will you be sad when you leave the stage with them for the last time or will it be more bittersweet?

John: I don't know how I'll feel exactly. I suppose it will be a bit emotional, but I don't expect to break down in a heap and weep uncontrollably... unless Chris Difford kicks me in the nuts! Ouch! As far as I'm concerned its just another gig... and as long as I do a professional performance I'll be happy.

Me: What and when was the gig like when you left the band the first time back in the day?

John: I didn't actually leave the band the first time. The group split up in 1983 after their last gig in Jamaica. Then a few years later they decided to re-form Squeeze after Chris and Glenn's attempt to set the world alight with their duo Difford and Tilbrook kinda fizzled out. Is that fair to say?

Me: I think so, yes.

John: Anyway... there was a gig somewhere in Catford (was it in 1988 or 87?) and it involved all 5 of the original members of the 1979 band... Lavis, Holland, Difford, Tilbrook and Bentley (that's me!) There were no rehearsals, and I do remember Jools struggling to remember some of the songs, as he occasionally stopped playing and looked over to me and shrugged his shoulders. I had spent some time re-learning all the material and thought I'd played a blinder! But despite that they went ahead and reformed Squeeze without me. I was gutted at the time... but in retrospect it did give me the opportunity to play with some amazing bands and musicians: Akasha (we played at Glastonbury), Big Jim Sullivan & Big Mart Winning (we headlined the Lugano Blues festival in Italy two years in a row), BJ Cole (we supported Tammy Wynette at Wembley Arena and backed Garth Brooks on TV!). Did some bass work with Wiz Jones & John Renbourn too... not bad really was it?! But would I have been better off playing with Squeeze during the late 80s? What do you think?

Me: No, I think you did pretty good. I wonder who is gonna be your replacement. Any ideas?

John: Harry Kakoulli would be the ideal choice wouldn't he? Nobody in the world deserves to play bass with Squeeze more than Harry. Arguably the best bass player they ever had... I mean just listen to "Cool for Cats"! In actual fact my replacement is Lucy Shaw from the Fluffers. Look 'em up on Google... Never mind the bollox... the brand Squeeze marches on... no matter who's on bass.

Me: For the readers that don't know, you were not the original bass player but have played on the three biggest Squeeze albums I think... "Argybargy," "East Side Story" and "Sweets From a Stranger." Out of those three which one is your favorite, John?

John: "Argy Bargy."

Me: You are a bass player we know, but do you play any other instruments?

John: Yes, I am proficient on the drums, keyboards, lead & rhythm guitar. In fact I just produced and recorded 90% of all the instruments on the new Gone Dead Train album.

Me: I am sure you were in bands before Squeeze. How many bands were you in and what was your first band?

John: One hundred and seventy three. My first band was called Flesh And I played rhythm guitar. The bass player was Trevor Boulder who went on to join the Spiders from Mars. Sadly he passed away quite recently.

Me: You played with someone that was supposed to be on the Phile but passed away before he could... Big Jim Sullivan. How was that playing with him and how did you get that gig?

John: I was at Big Jim's funeral. He was arguably the greatest and most successful session guitarists of all time. He played on over a thousand hit records, including over 30 number ones. I learnt a lot from playing with Jim. He taught me how to dynamically construct a solo, and he showed me some very useful techniques on the guitar which enabled me to play faster, and with more notes. l got the gig when my wife Sara got talking to Jim Sullivan's vocalist... a guy called Duncan McKenzie, and she suggested that he met up with me for a jam. We did, and the rest as they say was HisStory.

Me: Did he tell you any good stories?

John: Jim did have quite a few hilarious stories about his experiences on the road with Tom Jones. The funniest ones... or most shocking... are unrepeatable. However... Jim told me about the time he and Tom Jones were in Las Vegas and they ended up in Elvis's hotel suite. Jim was very proud that he had a jam with Elvis that day!! Another story that Jim told me was that quite often when he turned up to play a session in the studio, the artist was not at the session, as they were not needed to actually play on the backing track. So he actually didn't know who's record he had just played on. One example that he gave me was that he recognised a record he'd played on when he heard it on the radio one day. It was by David Bowie!

Me: For those that don't know, tell them who Big Jim was.

John: Please enlarge this font! Big Jim Sullivan was THE top session guitarist in the 60s and 70s, he was often accompanied by and played sessions along with jimmy Page. As before mentioned he played on 1000's of singles with a very diverse bunch of artists such as Dusty Springfield, David Bowie, Tom Jones, Mrs Mills, the Walker Brothers, Marty Wilde, Cliff Richards, Donavan, the Small Faces... the list goes on and on and on and on. Check out Big Jim's discography on line... its un believable!!

Me: Alright, now to talk about your music. "...Based on a True Story" is your third solo album, am I right?

John: You are completely right... as usual you are very well informed!

Me: Are the songs really based on a true story?

John: Yes, the majority of the tracks lyrics are based on life's experience.

Me: So, did you write all the songs yourself, John?

John: Yes, I wrote them all... apart from one track called "The Hangman" which is a collaboration with the aforementioned Duncan McKenzie.

Me: Difford and Tilbrook from Squeeze of course are a fantastic writing team. And I say are up there with those two guys from the Beatles. Haha. Did you learn anything in the years working and knowing those guys about songwriting?

John: Naa! Well, maybe one or two little tips here and there... like how to arrange a song to make it sound more interesting and original... and how to make the lyrics into a story... and how to write a hit song... apart from that nothing really!

Me: I have a music project out called Strawberry Blondes Forever where I wrote the lyrics to all the songs. I found coming up with songs and writing them is harder than I thought. My dad (Lonesome Dave) from Foghat wrote a shit load of songs but I don't know if he found that easy or hard. Anyway, does songwriting come easy for you?

John: So far so good. I occasionally get a writers block but that usually doesn't last long. I also have recorded hundreds of little riffs and chord sequences, so if l am feeling uninspired l can always recall one those ideas.

Me: I love the song and video "It's Giving me the Creeps." What is giving you the creeps, John?

John: You are! You old weirdo! "It's Giving me the Creeps" is about those people who like to watch horror films and get some kind of perverse satisfaction from being scared out of their wits. Personally I think real life is more scary than anything I've ever watched at the movies.

Me: That video looked like it was fun to do. How long did you have to sit under that table with your head through that hole?

John: I'm glad that it looked fun to do. However it was hard work being squashed up under that table for about two hours. I actually built that table myself, so if you know of anybody who needs some carpentry... don't ask me!

Me: Are those friends of yours in the video?

John: They were!

Me: So, who plays on the album with you, John?

John: Well, you know, its always a great honour to play with virtuoso musicians, but unfortunately I couldn't get any to play on the record, so instead I got.. Martin Winning to play saxophone on a couple of tracks, Frankie Dann to play drums on one track, Chaz Mcleod to play drums on one track, Bebe Bentley (my dawta), Lord Craig Dacey, Dr. Stephen Cass, Will Hall and Lucy Osbourne to do some backing vocals. I played on everything else you can hear, and somethings you can't.

Me: So you don't just play bass on it?

John: Apart from the aforementioned musicians... I play all the guitars, all the basses, all the keyboards, all the drums, all the percussion, and all the backing vocal's. Just think of all the money I've saved!

Me: Another song I have to ask you about is "Elvis & Me." Is that Elvis Costello or Presley you are talking about?

John: Costello.

Me: Which Elvis do you like best? I'm guessing Costello as you worked with him.

John: I love them both... but in different ways. E.C. was a friend and a working colleague. E.P. was just my lover!

Me: Anyway, your album is not only being released on CD but on vinyl. Is vinyl making a big comeback in England? It seems to be making a comeback over here in the States. I love my vinyl collection.

John: I love your vinyl collection too! My record "...Based On a True Story" is available exclusively on high quality vinyl. But it can be downloaded from Bandcamp and CD Baby etc, etc. There are no (as far as I am aware) CD's available. If you've seen one it must be a bootleg!

Me: Speaking of, I have a really cool picture disc 45 from "Sweets from a Stranger." It's "Elephant Girl." I believe. Do you have lots of Squeeze memorabilia?

John: I'm afraid so.

Me: You wrote a few songs for band called Gone Dead Train. Did they get the band name from the Randy Newman song?

John: I don't think they did... I'll have to find out...

Me: Are they an English band, John?

John: Well, the singer/writer Tony Smith is English... but the rest of the band are all French. I occasionally play with them myself though. Several of the tracks are being played on radio stations across Europe and in Canada. The band is signed to a label in Nashville called Decibel.

Me: You should see if they'd want to be interviewed for the Phile. How did you end up writing for them?

John: That's quite a long story. I'll try and shorten it. I used to give Tony Smith guitar lessons in the 70s. I had completely forgotten about this until he reminded me when I met him recently at a Squeeze gig in 2009. So we kept in touch. I visited him in France and he visited me here in the U.K. Eventually after some recording and collaborating on tunes he asked me to produce Gone Dead Trains second album, which is called "Where There's Blood." It appears to be doing rather well I'm pleased to say! I'll get Tony to contact you as I am sure that he will give you an interview and he is an ex journo himself so he will be interesting to interview.

Me: Oh, another song I should ask you about is called "Kristine." Who is that, John?

John: Ah now... you've picked the one song that isn't based on a true story. Kristine is a figment of my imagination. No! That's a boring answer. Kristine was a transexual who seduced me in the toilet at CBGB's. That sounds better but happily its pure fiction!

Me: Alright, as you might remember on the Phile I ask random questions thanks to Tabletopics. Ready? Man, this must be a kids version. What would you like to change about your school? Haha. Let's change school to band. So, what would you like you change about your band?

John: Well, if you're talking about Squeeze... if I had any influence over that group I'd probably still be in 'em!! As for what I would have changed... I would have suggested that Chris Difford sang lead vocals on more of their tracks. My band now is called the BoneShakers... and I wouldn't change anything about the group as I love them all as people and as musicians.

Me: John, please come back when the new Squeeze CD comes out. Thanks so much, sir. Take care.

John: Thanks, Jason. I'm always available for weddings birthdays and Bar Mitzvah's. Love ya, Jason. Bye.

That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to John for a great interview. The Phile will be back next Sunday with Justin Ross from The Bandicoots. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker

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