Tony Glynn chats to the man responsible for iconic bass lines on The Magnificent Seven by The Clash and Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
BASSISTS are often the lesser-known entities in music, supplying the backbone for well-known songs yet often receiving less limelight than their peers.
Norman Watt-Roy, bassist for The Blockheads since they formed in the Seventies, has fallen in and out of this category over his career.
Now, at 62, he takes the mantle of frontman for the first time with album Faith And Grace and a nationwide tour of the same name. The content of each is both a showcase of Norman's favourite songs that he's played bass on – albeit reworked – and some brand-new compositions. On Friday he brings the show to Bideford Palladium.
"I didn't plan to make a solo album, I'm a bassist and always enjoyed just being in a band," said Norman. "I just wanted to lay a couple of tracks down.
"But Gilad, our sax player, said 'get some more down, why not make an album? – people know your stuff'. And my wife badgered me as well, so I thought 'why not?'."
Indeed Gilad (Atzmon, fellow Blockhead and producer of the album) was right, because Norman has collaborated on some of the UK's most famous hits, including Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (original bassline), The Magnificent Seven by The Clash and of course The Blockheads' Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.
But it's not just singular songs he's famous for leaving his mark on. Over the years he has been a regular partner for Wilko Johnson (Dr Feelgood) and Nick Cave, and collaborated with many more. The album, however, is his selection of personal favourites – given a fresh reworking.
"They're such strong songs, but a cross-section of everything I've been involved in," said Norman.
"I've done the songs in a different style so there's a bit of jazz in there, a bit of funk, R&B and whatever. But they're all songs that mean something to me."
One such song is the album's final track, a cover of Sinatra's My Foolish Heart. This has particular significance as a favourite of Norman's wife Pattie, who died not long after recording started. Another is Dr Feelgood's Roxette, which features the song's original guitarist Wilko Johnson on vocals. It has just been announced that Wilko is due to join him on stage at the Palladium. Despite working with him so often already, Norman cites Wilko as "the person I'd most like to play with".
Bizarrely, Norman is nervous about taking centre stage: "It's very scary in one way, because I've just turned up in the past and never had to worry about leading the show," he said. "But I'm excited too. There'll be so much for Blockhead fans, Wilko fans and anyone else. I can't wait."
Norman Watt-Roy: Faith And Grace is at The Palladium, Bideford on Friday November 1, 8pm. Tickets: £12. Box office: 01237 478860.