A name that you instantly recognize is the name of this bass-player. Not only because of his career, but also because of the fact that Leo Lyons is an easy name to remember. As a producer, Lyons has worked with a number of musical acts, including UFO, Waysted, Motörhead, Richard and Linda Thompson, and many others.
No. 1 Bass guitarist Leo Lyons
By Roy Carr
LEO LYONS is not interested in dwelling on his past. He is far more interested in Ten Years After. Not only in terms of his ground, but also in the same period of time, which has elapsed since he took the decision at the age of 16, to become a professional musician. He has known no other than this precarious way of life.
Through the success he has now started to reap, he has managed to find a certain amount of personal contentment and fulfilment in a childhood dream of breeding horses.
On a newly acquired ranch, just outside Bedford at a place called Pavenham, he eventually hopes to breed sturdy American quarter-horses; the kind used by cowboys, but strictly for pleasure riding.
When confronted with his U.S. cavalry moustache, well shaped shoulder length hair, hide jacket, and tooled cowboy boots, Leo bears a modern day affinity to the familiar image of the old west.
As he sits conversing and quietly hand-rolling a never ending stream of licorice papered cigarettes, it becomes quite apparent that this image is not an affected one. More a natural progression, formulated from his life-long ambition and his numerous horse-riding expeditions undertaken during the group’s many stateside trips. Above all his is a likeable personality.
Besides living out of suitcases for a good part of each year, TYA have always managed to spend some free time on the West Coast of America, in order to follow their individual pursuits.
It was out there, that Leo realised to his satisfaction that people were now enjoying and appreciating the sheer physical pleasures of horse-riding. Rather than the outmoded social connotations previously associated with this pastime.
“Though in the States, there is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding and fear rife amongst all the sections of the community and age groups, the country itself is absolutely fantastic,” he revealed.
“Last September, I decided to see more of the natural beauty of the place, and so I went up into the Sierra Nevadas on horse-back with a few of my friends.”
Those solitary days that he enjoyed just relaxing and exploring the terrain had very alarming repercussions on him.
“During that time, I managed to get society in general right out of my system. When I finally got back to civilisation, I was so utterly disillusioned for about three whole weeks,” he sadly reflected.
“At first I just wanted to scream, it was that bad. Why, I asked myself, did people run around so much, or for that matter even want to make a name for themselves. But after those three weeks had passed, I found that I had been brainwashed again,” he frankly admitted.
“If I had to do it again? I’m quite sure that the same progression of mental reaction would repeat itself. When I went to see Antonioni’s `Zabriski Point,` it really mirrored just how I felt at that time. It was frightening.”
The pop world in general, be it the media of sound or vision is beset with symbolism and images. Unless you’ve got one, you’re as good as dead. Even a non-image, has been used more than once as a short term means-to-an-end.
Though perhaps, Alvin Lee has become the recognised face and virtuoso with TYA, the other three members are by no stretch of the imagination just back-up musicians.
In the early days of their acceptance in America, Leo was constantly singled out for special mention in all the reviews of their concerts.
Fast guitarists, they’d seen ’em before… but a dexterous bass player who appeared to be playing second lead with just as much speed… never.
However, success not only brought recognition, accolades and monetary rewards, but also the “knockers.” Most groups have to contend with them at one time in their career. With vitriolic fervour, they singled out TYA’s’ precision and fleetness for their mindless scrutiny.
“Sure, we’re always getting knocked, simply because it seems as though some people are getting quite hung-up on our technique and speed.
“But, this is just because we are affected by our environment and the very fast pace with which we all live. Ten Years After lead a very hectic life. Spending up to six months of each year touring the States.”
You could be excused for doubting Leo’s confessions of a jet-paced existence to the fact that he is very relaxed, thoughtful and articulate in his manner. Summing-up the occupational hazard of the “knocking-game,” he dismissed it by concluding.
“Sometimes, this can be upsetting, but it doesn’t really bother us. As a group we play what we want to play to the very best of our ability. The majority of people seem to enjoy it, as we never play to the point of self-indulgence.” A cardinal sin of which many acts are guilty.
“Indeed, we are now more dependant upon one another than before.” Referring to the knockers, he pointed out, “These people set you up and say that you are preaching to the people. Then if these same people don’t like what they hear, or think they hear, they knock you.
“What in fact we play, is really an expression of all the experiences we’ve encountered. It all comes out subconsciously in the music. Making for new ideas, I hope.”
Travel broadens the mind, or so they say, and it’s certainly made Leo one of the observers of life.
“My values are still the same. I admit that success has changed me, but only in that it has made me more aware of people.
“When you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, it gives you more time to concentrate on other matters. For I’ve experienced this.
“You know everyone without exception is guilty to some extent of not trying to see the other person’s point of view. Unfortunately, not everyone sees this.
“It’s the same when people, and in particular a group become an overnight success. They then have to try and figure out why their last disc was a hit. And most of the time they don’t know the answer, that’s when the paranoia sets in.
“Like a number of groups, Ten Years After had involuntary success. We came from what people term the underground. This doesn’t really exist any more, it’s now just a handy label for success which was originally intended for groups who were musically creative, but commercially unsuccessful.”
Almost apologetic Leo then took pains to stress, “The things what I play on bass are more truthful than what I’m inclined to say. For I have inhibitions as to what people may think.”
Frankly, I’d argue the point.
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