Wednesday, March 14, 2012

10 Things I Remember About Ollie Halsall On His Birthday

1.  “Ollie may not have been the best guitarist in the world, but he was certainly among the top two."  --John Halsey, 1997

2.  Every time I hear a recording featuring Ollie playing that I haven’t heard before, I want to hear more “new” Ollie pieces.  Every time I hear Ollie playing, I want to listen to that piece of music over again and then again.

3.  Before we met Ollie, we knew Kevin Ayers, who spoke about him so often that we felt him as a known presence.  By the time we first knew Kevin, Ollie was an indispensible constituent ingredient in his music.  I don’t think Kevin had any regard for anyone’s musical opinion but Ollie’s.

4. When we finally met and spent time with Ollie, we anticipated his humor (which was hilarious and concentrated on deflating pretension), but were surprised by his courtesy, kindness, love of opera, and by his hypnotic effect on our cats, U and Santa.  Santa really loved him.

5.  Ollie’s modesty amazed me also.  I remember him dismissing some thrilling instrumental passages he played as merely “flypast” (the UK equivalent expression to “flyover” a la Blue Angels air shows) moments that were included as a matter of commercial necessity.  He was really about getting down to the heart and soul of emotional material and all about subtlety and “touch.”

6.  I remember once reading a quote from the normally frosty and fearsome Robert Fripp (who was attending an Ayers/Cale/Nico/Eno show) where he called Ollie “the Guv’nor.”  Ollie certainly deserved the traditional accolade, but I was unused to seeing Fripp so cuddly.

7.  Ollie’s enthusiasm for New York’s subway system (which we told him we hated) was fascinating and somewhat political. (Although he was an elite musician, he was definitely a man of the people.) 

8.  When we were negotiating Kevin’s recording terms with CBS Records, his only non-negotiable demand was that Ollie be included and flown over from London.  Business Affairs originally balked at the request but Paul Atkinson, the former Zombies guitarist who handled A&R, agreed immediately and without hesitation.


9.  I remember the New York City sessions very well and how the top local musicians who played on the date admired Ollie and hung around when they had finished their parts so that they could hear him record his solos.

10.   Although these were pre-internet days, I managed to learn about Ollie’s passing very quickly.  A friend of his, Neil, managed a liquor store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan near where we lived and, quite coincidentally,  I happened to walk into the store at a propitious moment.  The shock eventually passed, but I still feel the emptiness.  I think about Ollie every day – mostly remembering funny things he said, including one punch line: “Yes, I buy all my shirts there.”  (I won’t bore you by explaining the joke, but it was a good one.) 


  1. Very nice of you to say. This, as they say, hit me where I live. Best, Curtis

  2. Eloquent and heartwarming, Curtis. This from one who watched Timebox and Patto countless times and ended up playing with the Guv'nor on Neil Innes and John Otway sessions/gigs. Ollie once guided me round the Modern Art Museum in Amsterdam and I was surprised and moved by his knowledge and deep appreciation of art. 'Twas good to know the feller!

  3. Morgan, Hi and thanks. It's extremely kind of you to write. Like a lot of people, I think, I found myself extremely moved on the occasion of Ollie's birthday. My wife Caroline also. During a New York visit, Ollie parked his guitar in our apartment for a while and I was always amazed looking at it and perceiving the difference between the unplayed, inanimate object and how it became alive and thrilling in his hands. It was very, very good to know him. I have enjoyed your music and performances over the years. Hope all is well with you. Greetings from Philadelphia. Curtis