A series of Jim Reilly's interviews with players, fans, and the people
behind the scenes of the Chapman Stick. These interviews can be heard
regularly on CFBX radio, 92.5 FM in Kamloops, B.C. Canada.
December 8, 2001
Nick Beggs on tour|
with John Paul Jones
When Robert Fripp recommends you to John Paul Jones, you take the gig.
When John Paul Jones asks you to cover several dozen people's parts all
at the same time, you say 'sure,' then look for the nearest therapist's
Nick Beggs's musical career has been a wild ride. From a number one hit
with Kajagoogoo while still a kid, to his current work touring with
ex-Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. In between, Nick formed a
couple of his own bands, worked with countless musicians, taught at
the Guitar Institute in London England, and even had a brief stint as
an A & R manager with Phonogram Records.
You can check out his award winning web site:
www.nickbeggs.co.uk. It too
is a wild ride.
I caught up with Nick during the last days of the most recent John Paul
Jones tour and spoke with him from his hotel room in Boston.
Anyone who has seen "Nick on Stick" with JPJ will agree that watching
him play is as much a treat as listening. A commanding stage presence
and incredible musicianship merge to create the complete package.
Jim Reilly: All reports have the tour going really well. How
are things from the stage?
Nick Beggs: It's going great, we're having a blast. It's great
playing with John, as I'm sure you'll appreciate. Anyone who's been
into music, since their teenage years has been very influenced by Led
Zeppelin and the music that they created. The opportunity to play with
such a musical giant is really an honour.
JR: How does it compare to the last tour? Last time you where
the headliner, now you're supporting King Crimson. How does it differ
from the last time you where out with John?
NB: It's a bit like building blocks really. There's more people
because we have the amalgamation of the two fans bases, which in many
respects share a lot in common.
We're playing bigger auditoriums, and John has sold quite a lot of
records of his first album so there's more awareness of what the
project is about, that it actually exists. That John has embarked on
a solo career outside of Zeppelin.
JR: You didn't play on John's first album, Zooma. Were you
involved in the recording of the second one, The Thunderthief?
NB: Yes. I was approached about playing on the first record but
I wasn't able to do it.
JR: It seems like John was looking for a Stick player
specifically. Do you know what his thoughts were, why he gravitated
towards The Stick? What role he was trying to fill?
NB: Well, John's a person who thinks outside the square. He's
a very original minded musician. So he obviously was conceptualizing
the way the project would work and he saw it as a power trio.
For that reason, I think he wanted an instrument that was unusual. All
the instruments he plays on stage are custom instruments of very
unusual designs. So I think he wanted an instrument that would cover
lots of bases for him from synthesizers to bass guitar to lead guitar.
JR: Which is what you're doing.
NB: Um hum.
JR: You started out as a visual artist, a freelance designer.
How did you switch over to music? How did that change happen?
NB: I think it was just listening to that still, small voice.
Something that I think is very important for everybody in the world
really. I think we all are faced with that opportunity at varying
times in our lives, where we listen to what we think we should do or
we do what we feel we are being pressured to do by opinion.
I think I was 15 when I decided that I wanted to be a professional
musician. But it wasn't until I was 18 that I realized that I could
make decisions that would effect that and make that a reality.
There was a whole bunch of stuff that happened. Ostensibly, I had no
parents at that age, so I had the responsibilities of an adult but the
mind of somebody who was trying make decisions about the rest of their
life, in terms of their career.
JR: And so what happened at 18? What were the first steps in
putting that together?
NB: I dropped out of art college.
JR: And then put together Kajagoogoo?
NB: I actually formed the band while I was at art college.
Then, I knew there was a process that had to be embarked on to avoid
having my energy taken up by a career I didn't believe in. For me
personally, the design world didn't seem very enticing. So I knew I
had to leave art college, get a job doing something very menial so it
would enable me to work on songs and musicianship and playing live.
JR: The visual aspect still comes across though. Did you bring
some of that visual, artistic insight into the musical realm? Did some
of that cross over?
NB: Yea. I think I see music in terms of visual aspects. I hear
everything as shapes. When I'm actually creating my own particular
music, I'm always thinking of ways to present that in a visual way.
JR: Does that translate to The Stick itself? To the geometrical
balance of the instrument?
NB: Yes it really does. I think that's one of the reasons why
I became a Stick player.
JR: When did that happen? When did The Stick enter the picture?
NB: Very early on actually.
I saw Tony Levin playing with Peter Gabriel in England, at the
Knebworth Festival around 1977. And I said I was going to play that
instrument one day, I didn't know when.
When we were in Kajagoogoo, it was 1983, I had still not played the
instrument or even picked on up, or even touched one and the guys in
the band said, "Look if you be the lead singer of the band, we'll buy
you a Chapman Stick."
And I said "Yea, o.k."
JR: Were you working with it off the bat?
NB: Well actually, they called Emmett and said, "Look we're a
band from England, and we're doing an album. We'd like you to make a
Stick and we need it in a certain time frame. Just send us a standard
But he put something together really good for me.
It came over, came straight out of the crate, I put it on and started
playing it there. It was rudimentary but I was using it right off
because there seemed to be some kind of understanding about what was
going on. I can't really understand that myself. I think it was just
taking the experience learned being a bassist and percussionist and
then applying it to a new instrument.
JR: How soon did it become your main instrument?
NB: Well, it wasn't my main instrument in Kajagoogoo and it
wasn't my main instrument in the next band I had. I had a band called
Ellis, Beggs and Howard. We were writing the material and I keep on
getting The Stick out.
They said, "Put that away, stay down in the low end."
And I said "Look, if you want me to find a voice, I'm going to have to
use this instrument."
Finally, I came up with this riff and this progression which was the
middle eight of a single that hadn't been such a big hit for
Kajagoogoo. We worked it up into a song and it was a hit for Ellis,
Beggs and Howard. It was a hit in Europe. So from then on they said,
"No don't pick up the bass guitar, pick up The Chapman Stick."
JR: What was that tune?
NB: It was called "Big Bubbles, No troubles."
From then on it still wasn't my main instrument but it certainly
expanded my playing. I used it in another project called IONA. But
I used bass guitar still.
It was really John where everything shifted to, well, this is all I
need, this one instrument.
JR: What kind of gear are you running through?
NB: I'm running four synthesizers through the MIDI side of the
Chapman Stick, the top five melody strings. I'm using a Korg O5 RW,
a Korg Expander Rack TR Synth. The MIDI converter is the Roland GR-30.
I'm also running in parallel to that a VG-8, one of the early ones.
I find by using standard guitar sounds, the lead parts blended with
the Marshall distortion channels which are running live. You get a
nice blend between the two.
I've got a small TAO four-channel mixer, just to blend the synths
together. I'm running three back lines. I'm running a stack of SWR
Goliaths, that the bass side of the instrument goes through. And a
new triple Marshall head, valve amp with a four by twelve cab. For
the synths I use a Roland KC 500 four channel combo with an 18 inch
speaker and a tweeter; a full range cab for the synths because there
are a lot of variables in them.
JR: How did you go about coming up with the parts? Were you
coming up with something new or playing written music? How did you
approach covering all those bases with one instrument?
NB: John was very specific. He said, "I'm going to give you a
pad of written music. Some of it will be very dense and some of it will
be kind of simple. There'll be freedom for expression in solos."
He told me that he wanted me to play bass when he was playing lead,
lead when he was playing bass, cover the synth sounds and play the full
score to the London Symphony Orchestra on one instrument. Also, he said
I would have to play brass sections, Hammond organ solos and some of
Jimmy Page's solos. I need counseling afterwards.
JR: But yet it's come off? You've pulled it off, yes?
NB: Yea, I lost a lot of sleep though.
JR: Emmett calls your playing the "triple threat" that's what
he's referring to, the combination of all those things?
NB: Yea, that's right.
JR: Tell me about Stick Insects. Is it available yet, can we
get that over on this side of the Atlantic?
NB: Emmett's going to release it for me on his label. I have
been burning a few myself at home and selling them through my website
and at the shows. But I've been having problems with the quality of
CDs. People have been saying to me that a few of the tracks don't play
properly and I feel really bad. But I suppose that's what you get with
home burns. So I said to Emmett, is there any way we could do this
properly because I would like to have the record out there and he seems
to be thrilled with it.
JR: Tell me about it. What's it all about?
NB: It is a Stick record but it's not a Stick record in the
purest sense. Someone like Bob Culbertson would turn on a recorder,
play one performance and that would be it. It's not that sort of
I've tried to approach the instrument from my understanding of it. And
so I've overdubbed. Although they're all one pass pieces, there are
other sounds in there, samples and stuff. There're no drums in terms
of real drums, its programmed. Somebody played some bazouki on it for
me and somebody played some piano and keys on one track, but other than
that it's all Stick.
JR: And it's currently available?
NB: It is available. If you go to my website you can make an
order from there or you will be able to get it through Stick
Enterprises come the new year.
JR: What was the impetus behind a solo Stick album?
NB: When John approached me to do the tour, three years ago,
I had to make a big investment of finances, time and ideas. And then
during that tour I was approached by somebody from Finland who worked
for the cultural office.
She said, "Would you be interested in making an exhibition of your
paintings in Finland at the public library?"
And I said, "Yea, great."
She said, "Well if you do that, we could make an installation of your
work for a week or so and you could come over and make a solo
performance of your music."
And I said, "What music?"
"Your Chapman Stick music," she said.
And I said, "Well, I've got bits and pieces but I haven't got two
hours of music."
And she said, "Well, why don't you put something together?"
So I did.
After the performance, she said, "You should record this."
So I started to record it at home over the next 18 months. And that's
really the whole story with that.
JR: Any plans for future stuff? Is that an avenue you are
going to explore?
NB: I recorded 32 tracks for the record and there's 13 on the
final cut. Some of the pieces will get used, some of them won't. I've
also got a lot of other material which I never recorded that I had
written since I started playing Stick.
I also really, really want to get into soundtrack material for
commercials, television and films. I know a lot of the pieces will
work for that ilk. I'm just trying to find the opportunities, the
avenues. I'm talking to the BBC about something. They've got me on
hold for some projects.
I really want to move into that area. I suppose all things in their
JR: What about the NS Stick? I saw the review you did for
Guitarist magazine. Do you have an NS Stick? Is that something you are
going to add to your arsenal?
NB: No, I feel very completed by The Stick.
People keep saying to me, "I could make you this instrument," or "You
could hybridize The Stick," or "you could use an NS Stick or you could
use a Warr Guitar" or "What else do you need, how can we help you?"
And I just say, "I've really got everything I need with The Chapman
I think all these other instruments are really great and I see there's
a market for them and it's for each person to find their own voice on
whatever instrument they think is right. But I don't even find it
necessary to pick up a bass guitar anymore.
The Chapman Stick, for me, is a universe which needs to be explored
and I don't want to detract from my quest of finding life out there by
noodling around on other instruments that I feel would limit my search
in some way.
JR: You've said that The Chapman Stick will change your life if
you let it. What do mean by that? Is that what you are getting at there?
NB: Well The Chapman Stick has changed my life.
JR: How has it changed your life?
NB: It made me part of a very exclusive club firstly. It also
made me very focused and very detail oriented. But I suppose I always
was like that. I think if you are going to be a Stick player you have
to be one of those types of people. You have to be somebody who thinks
outside of the square, as I said before.
You need a method by which to facilitate that and The Stick does it.
The Stick will give you ideas and then make you run with them as far as
your capable of taking it. I suppose the things I do on Stick, only a
Stick player could do.
In terms of commerce and the industry it makes you a little bit more
desirable. I've got people calling me up asking me to come and play on
their records or "can you do this" or "what's your availability." You
wouldn't get that so much if you were a bass player because there're a
lot of bass players out there.
JR: The tour is wrapping up quickly. Any immediate future plans?
NB: When I get back, I have one day off then I'm going to
Holland for an orchestral tour. I get back on Christmas day. I've had
no rehearsals. I've been sent the music and CD so I've been writing
charts on my days off for the last four and a half weeks. When I get
back, I'm going straight to Holland to do that.
Also in the new year, John wants to tour to promote the release of
Thunderthief so that will kick in.
JR: Any plans for a live album with John?
NB: Well we have been recording all the shows. I guess John will
listen to the material when he gets home.
I have said to him, "You could use this stuff if any of it's half
decent." And I think he realizes that.
JR: Your spiritual beliefs have played a big role in you music.
How do you approach merging your spiritual side with the music?
NB: Well I suppose the closest amalgamation of the two was in
IONA. It was a very spiritually based five piece. In Kajagoogoo I had
written a few songs with that kind of undercurrent to it. I haven't
really made many songs or pieces along those lines since. On my album
Stick Insect the music has a spiritual side to it, but I don't think
its specific. I suppose I felt that I hadn't anything to say at that
JR: Can that come across without words? Without lyrics?
NB:Yea, I think so. You can emote a lot. Somebody sent me an
e-mail the other day that said, "I was listening to your album and it
made me cry." I thought, "Bloody, I must be really bad," and said,
"I'm sorry that I did that to you."
No, there's little footnotes for each of the pieces, as an explanation
as to the title and what's behind it and I think, hopefully, the actual
pieces speak in their tonality.
Jim Reilly can be reached at
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