"The Face Value Interview" - Anthony Hobkinson talks to Face Value members John Wilkinson, Wrex Thompson, Tony Cole & Will Smith at the Sheldon Marquee, Birmingham 21st October 2006. Photos by Stuart Barnes/TWR.
TWR: Face Value: Covers band or Tribute band?
WT: Ooh, Good question.
JW: Tribute band. The amount of work we put in and the amount of work we do to get the sounds right. You’ve got Wrex on his Roland V-Kit, who has spent hundreds of hours emulating kits and getting his stuff together, then you have Tony who goes out and buys the bloody keyboards that Tony Banks, used so I think we can safely be classed as a Tribute band.
WT: I think its ‘define’ tribute…. if its based on the love of what you do and then being Genesis freaks or fans, not me personally, I’m not a Genesis freak but certainly a Genesis fan; you either do it this way, or you do two Genesis songs in your set, and then a lot of Bon Jovi. So I think by definition it is a tribute act.
TWR: You started off by doing mostly Phil Collins material…
TWR: …then you got into more Genesis material. How did that evolution happen?
JW: It was purely due to the audience requesting more Genesis stuff, and when we first started, we only used to do a set of an hour and a half and it was things like Everyday, Do You Remember, Don’t Lose My Number and Hang In Long Enough. And then people would come up to us and say ‘don’t you do Mama?’ ‘No? Why not?’ ‘Why don’t you do No Son of Mine?’ and so on, so we just started adding them to the repertoire. To me it was a dog looking in the butchers shop really, because Genesis are my favourite band of all time, and everything that was suggested, we went ‘yeah, ok we will do it’ but all I had to do was learn to sing it properly really.
WT: It’s an on going task… (laugh)
JW: It is really…….. it’s a labour of love that hasn’t finished yet.
TWR: The earlier audiences you had with Collins stuff (Phil Collins material) you managed to keep those when you moved onto the Genesis side, some of those may not have heard the longer Genesis stuff that you now play…
WT: I think that’s why the question could be asked ‘Tribute Band or Covers Band?’ because it would be the easiest thing to say because we don’t play the pre 1978 catalogue, that there is this grey area where it shifts over to singles, and the truth of the matter is, we wouldn’t gig an eighth of what we do, if we stuck to the pre 1977 – 78 period. So by evolving the set to play a lot of the singles and the hits, by doing that, it means we work far greater than if we just played to Genesis fans and that’s it.
JW: The thing we do, the reason I am in Face Value, apart from the music, is because I love doing this…. getting out there and doing it, and I’m sure the others do.
WT: It’s a pre requisite, we worked out that between us we have something like 90 years of playing experience.
JW: Yeah, 80 in this little thing (Refers to WT ). We do love gigging, we love the buzz we get from the audience, we don’t love the driving and setting up, and the late nights and getting in at 6am in the morning and the setting off at 12 midday to get to the gigs, We love meeting people, the fans of Genesis and Phil Collins who come up and say thanks for that it was brilliant or they’ll say something else like why don’t you do Supper’s Ready, or something else. I don’t mind that, it doesn’t bother me. Now we have got Wrex, we are looking at tackling some of the classic live Genesis songs.
TWR: You’ve mentioned previously that you were thinking of recreating tours such as the Mama tour and Invisible Touch tour. Is that something that is likely to happen soon?
WT: I think that’s down to me really. Realistically I have only recently come into the band 22 gigs ago, So 22 gigs, it does take time to get settled with what your playing, so realistically it would be unfair to the lads to suddenly say “right we are going to kick out 50% of the set and then stick in a big section of another set of songs, and then, take out the Invisible Touch Tour”.
JW: I think it’s about a year and a bit down the line yet, we would love to do those shows maybe in bigger venues and we have that in mind.
TWR: How far will you take that? Do you plan on losing some hair (laughs?)
WT: Yeah I am actually thinking of shaving it all off. No I have another six months of hair loss to go (laughs).
JW: I don’t think the band look particularly like any of the members of Genesis, but we have concentrated on the visual side of it since we first started and more so since Wrex joined. It’s all our own equipment, we don’t hire any, we have to carry it all in and be our own roadies so not much time for wig and props.
WT: It’s almost £20,000 this year.
JW: Oh Stop reminding me! So buying all of that equipment, we do like to give a show, we always give a show. I think its alright playing it, but if your trying to invoke memories which I think any Tribute Band does, The Musical Box does it brilliantly.
TWR: You mention the other Tribute bands, there are over 60 looking on the official Genesis website, it’s a huge amount, is there a kind of a little network were you all keep in touch and where you can kind of compare notes?
JW: Not really, we tend to be a bit insular, I cannot speak for anyone else, but we certainly seem to be a bit insular because we are trying to get another lighting setup or trying to design posters etc.
WT: I know that Alec the lighting technician for Genesis In The Cage was doing some of the Convention lighting and there comes a point when you know you need to speak with this guy. Myself and Will went to see The Carpet Crawlers. I think unfortunately it’s very difficult to get solid friendships from that, purely because they are off doing things and we’re off doing ours and periodically our paths cross, so I know Alec. We’ve spoke a couple of times, so that’s one point, I don’t think there’s ever a chance to, unless you play a Convention.
JW: At the Astoria, as soon as we walked in, it was ‘Alright mate’ and it was Trevor from In The Cage. There is a lot of healthy respect from people, between all of those bands.
WT: And healthy competition!
JW: I will go and see all of the Genesis tributes with my Genesis head on, and the acid test for me is ‘Wow! did I think that was good?’ and I’ve not been disappointed yet.
WT: You’ve got to respect anybody who is prepared to do it. It has to be a love, it really does, we’re not trying to sounding too cliché about it, there has got to be something that drives the time and the effort that goes into it, it’s just huge I know we do it and I know other bands do it I know its not privvy to us.
TWR: You mentioned you were at the Convention. What was that like?
WT: Oh that’s a grey area, that. It was a big learning curve for me that night. We had set off at quarter to four that morning. It was go and do the gig, and come back home in one continuous period of time. Now, in our minds we did a very silly thing. We rely on our own monitoring system, and it’s like a lifeline and it has to be completely bang on, the only trouble with the Astoria, was that we took it no pun intended at face value, that their monitoring system would be what we needed, and it wasn’t, so it was a nightmare.
JW: It was terrible.
WT: It was a living nightmare, but at the end of the day, there were a few silly points, one was by a guy who obviously thought poor of me, and thought he could do a better job than ALL of the drummers there and I’m not afraid to say it, he might have been a great drummer, but the truth of the matter is, he was in the audience watching it. I wouldn’t of dreamed of slagging anyone off quite so vindictively.
JW: I think the reaction we got, and people knew we had technical problems, they stayed with us and it was lovely to see that.
JW: The reaction we got from the people at the end of the night was brilliant! We set off home and we were all really happy…….. until the fatigue kicked in.
WT: Yeah, it was 26 hours in total that gig.
JW: Yeah, it was a long, long day and unfortunately we didn’t get to see Genesis In The Cage because we had to get our gear out and off the stage and Tony’s Prophet 10 was sort of put on the stairs precariously, He does sort of turn into a raving homicidal manic with his keyboards.
WT: We never have a bad gig. You’re either enjoying it 100 % or your learning a huge amount, so that’s a great gig too. You either do those two things, enjoy it or learn from it. As a convention, yeah it was a good convention. I’m looking forward to the next.
TWR: You’re on the road all of the time, it seems you’re gigging virtually every week at the moment.
WT: Yeah, a lot of people say tours. We don’t say tours. We are semi-professional and we work really hard. It pans out that we do 40 or 50 gigs a year and I don’t think there’s many to touch that really. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say that we’re on tour and that the tour is on the European Leg. Realistically we wouldn’t dream of entering into that stuff. I would understand why some bands say that, but it isn’t palatable for us, because we know what we’re doing…..GIGS. And that’s the way it is….GIGS.
JW: We’re playing venues like this, which is a pub. Three of our favourite venue’s are pubs. Little pubs like this.
WT: They are crackers.
JW: You get two hundred people in and they’re all screaming their heads off and I love that closeness. We’ve done a couple of theatres and yeah, its ok but after you’ve done the song and there’s applause then there’s a sort of silence.
WT: Your waiting for a glass to chink.
JW: But if people are singing along, I love that, because we want everyone to enjoy it as much as we do when we are up there on stage, because that’s what we do. I was singing my head off when I went to see him (Collins). We do it because we love it.
WT: The night….. That’s the important thing. The short and long of it is, we could come along to a venue like this, and set the gear up, throw in a couple of speakers and a half a drum kit and we could say we’ve learnt a couple of songs so lump it! We don’t want to do that. The truth of the matter is it wouldn’t matter whether we were doing one gig a year or 500, it wouldn’t make any difference, we try and give whatever it is that we can give, on each individual night, and once that night is over, the first thing we do is, get on the phone on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to each other. Talking about the gig, or the good and bad bits what we need to sort out. So it’s a perpetual thing, its never this is what we do, great lets just sit down. Never!
JW: If you look at Tony, he has just invested £1300 in a Roland Fantom X6, because he wants to improve a couple of his keyboard sounds.
WT: He is trying to get hold of the Yamaha CP 80 sound (laughs).
JW: I think it’s very good.
WT: He’d sell his house for it
JW: Oh yeah, he would.
TWR: He’s got Eight keyboards with him tonight.
JW: What’s he left at home? He left the Emulator II and the Pro Soloist (laughs)
TWR: So what about the set list? Are there any arguments over the set list or do you agree as to what you’re going to play?
WT: We had asked the guy who owns the venue if we could do a three hour set, as there are a lot of people here tonight from the Phil Collins forum, and there have been people flying in from Germany and Ireland, and because there is a lot of people travelling here, we said ‘oh, what are we going to leave out?’ So we left one out. We we’re told 9:30pm to midnight, so I don’t think there is an argument. I think it’s whoever gives in the quickest.
JW: Yeah, we can stick with two longs, we might not do One More Night or a Groovy Kind of Love, probably not. But there’s other stuff we can do. Set list wise, we are looking at going back and doing some of the older more classic numbers. A few have been discussed we have been thinking that next year when we have a bit more time of getting some of these things under our belt mainly for us because we enjoy it really…
TC (enters): What you saying about me?
WT: That you’re an absolute w*nker (Laughs)
TC: As long as you get it right, that’s ok (Laughs)
TWR: We were just saying that you have brought all of your keyboards with you tonight
TC: I know (Laughs). Slumming it tonight.
TWR: Wrex, you joined around January this year?
WT: My first gig was in March.
TWR: Were does it go from here? Are you going to add a Bassist?
WT: There was slight trepidation when I joined because obviously from Tony’s point of view, we knew each other from other bands….. so it could have become a little bit difficult as it meant introducing another bloke into it all. And the three of them were a concept in their own right and they were doing very well thank you very much, but bringing someone else in would only succeed if I got on with John, Will or even with Dave on the lights. So realistically it was ‘do they like me?’ and ‘do I like them?’ so bringing someone else in? I don’t think it could just be anybody.
TC: It’s difficult really, if you look at the other five piece Genesis Tributes, none of them have the original members there’s a lot of leaving and disagreement. You always get that. Wrex and I have been in other five piece bands and its very difficult to keep those five same members for a long period. Face Value did it for six years with three and we hope to do it for another six with four but if we bring someone else in it’s possible that you’ll not have the same vision or prepared to put the same amount of effort in. If somebody doesn’t, then its difficult.
TWR: Tony, before you came in we were talking about the keyboards, and we were joking about the number of keyboards obviously its an expensive business, has it become an obsession all of this kit or is it something you do for the love of it?
TC: I’ve always had a decent job. I was a pro-musician for a few years in the past but since then I’ve always liked to have a real good keyboard rig. When I was 18-19 I had four or five keyboards when it was unusual then to have a band with a keyboard player, so I’ve always tried to keep up with what’s going on. When I we were in an ELO Tribute band I bought a Roland VP 330 Vocoder because that’s what I needed to make us sound like ELO. People used to say to us and refer to us as an ELO tribute band even though we we’re really a covers band but we could do their music really well. So I have always really tried to keep up with that side of it but it has become more obsessive with this outfit. I am absolutely determined to get the right sound and as much as I try to emulate Tony Banks it is very difficult to emulate some of the sounds that Tony Banks uses especially because its from things like Syncalviers and Arp Quadra trying to get the filters to work. They cannot be created on anything else. So I had a JX8P that I used to programme to death and John’s got it now, and the sounds on it are fabulous and anybody would say yeah it does sound like Mama or In the Air Tonight or that sounds like the organ out of Abacab but when you hear the real thing you think that’s sh*t. That’s the difference. Once you listen to the real thing you get obsessed with the sound and trying to get it. I’m sure you know I’m trying to get a Yamaha CP 80 sound…Well I bought a piece of kit which I think now will do the business. Its all about choice really at the end of the day what I cannot do is to take a CP70B on stage and be tuning it its just too much.
TWR: You wouldn’t have to tune a CP 70 much I’ve had one and carrying it is the worst thing it’s 100Kg…
WT: I gigged with one in another band and it caused two hernias!
TC: One of the problems we have got is, if you’re just carrying a few keyboards in cases that’s fine. keyboards like the Prophet 10 I had to flightcase and I become unbearable when people go near it now and I accept that as I don’t want anyone to nudge it or break it. It’s not really the price of it its really the availability of is a problem. If someone drops a mic stand on it where will we get another Prophet 10 from? It’s not like there are that many of them available and you don’t see them on eBay that often
WT: I’m going for 14 Drum kits next (Laughs). I’m going to buy 14 individual ones.
TC: Next time I’m going to come back as a guitarist or singer (laughs).
TWR: I don’t want to mention the ‘R’ word, but do you think a Genesis tour would be good or bad for business?
WT: I’m going to leave and then we’ll have a reunion (laughs). I see it in a positive way myself.
JW: I would imagine it will be the hottest ticket next year, so I’m not saying that we’re going to want to hear the stuff that they’re going to do, I know we are doing it.
TC: It will rekindle the interest again.
JW: Purely on a personal note, band stuff aside, I cannot wait the see them on stage again. I really miss going to see the guys.
WT: The real problem we have got is, we’ll probably have a gig that night (laughs). So it will be a real toughie this one, so what do you do? We’ve already has an argument about that one (laughs).
JW: Yeah I said cancel it (laughs)
TWR: Will’s not seen them live?
TC: He saw Phil Collins a couple of years ago.
JW: Can we not get onto the subject of seeing them live please!
WT: No (laughs).
JW: Don’t mention Knebworth 1978 (laughs). I’m gutted.
WT: It’s because I went to Knebworth and he (John) didn’t. He cant stand it and every party we have at his house he brings it up. We socialise as well, which is nice.
JW: Yeah we’re all best mates, that’s the thing. re: arguing about the set: we don’t because we know what works for us and we know what we want to do (laughs).
TC: We argue about it (laughs).
WT: Yeah, we argue about it and then Tony tells us what we are going to be playing (laughs).
TC: What I try to do is remind the guys what it is that attracts people to go and see Face Value and it isn’t, sorry, playing Keep it Dark or Paperlate. That’s not what is going to attract people so we want to go out…
WT: …50 times a year.
TC: …if we wanted to go out and do it as a little hobby and do it now and again and do obscure material, that’s marvellous, but the reality is if you want to be successful as a tribute band, you need to play the hits. Genesis as a successful band, where they wanted to make lots of money, they play the hits which they did with a bit of a medley in there to keep the diehards happy.
TWR: Have you thought of venturing further South than Birmingham?
TC: Well we have, but the difficulty is that if we we’re doing this half a dozen times a year we’d say to our families ‘we’ve got to be in London in a couple of days’, but when you’re doing it every week it becomes hard on family life.
JW: I feel the same with my daughter for example and I don’t like to stray too far from home. I don’t mind special occasions like this one tonight…
WT: I have a first child due so in March so it’s going to be a busy year I’ve actually booked that night off (laughs) so there might only be 49 gigs next year…
TWR: One question why the nickname Eej?
WT: Ah, now then how long is your recorder (laughs)? For 14 years I worked as a high tech demonstrator at a music company and I had the name Eej as a friendly name for me and it was given to me by a lady called Caron Oberg who is of Norwegian descent. There were four or five Ian’s (which is my actual name) in the company that I kept. There were nicknames given to the four Ian’s because it would cause a lot of confusion amongst us e.g. ‘Ian’s going to come and pick you up’ and ‘Ian’s said this’. So….. we were all given nicknames one night and mine stuck and it stuck really hard. I couldn’t get rid of it no matter how hard I tried. It’s had several spellings, at one point it was E A D G b E , which is the tuning on a guitar, because I used to sell guitars. At 31 or 32 years of age I said I’m too old for this so I tried to go back to my original name which failed flat on its arse, because all of my mates knew me as Eej so when that name was brought to this band, although there is a side to Face Value that is deadly serious there is also an enormous humour side to it and we don’t really take ourselves seriously.
WT: I mean we really, really don’t. It’s the easiest thing to get up your own arse in this game and we don’t do that. So I said, if we are going to have nicknames I want to be Wrexham Thompson because Wrexham is close to Chester (laughs), and then later on when I regretted saying that (laughs) I couldn’t get rid of my nickname AGAIN. So I have realised that the one thing I am bad at is changing things once I have made a decision (laughs) so that’s how Eej – Wrexham came into play, so its only a laugh.
TC: It’s the same with mine, you know that don’t you ? Well it was Tony Banks and Brad Cole, Phil Collins’s two keyboard players and I didn’t want to be called Brad Banks (laughs).
At this point, the interview with John, Wrex and Tony ended. Sadly, Will wasn’t available at the time, as he was busy setting up the lights. Actually, the others should have been doing that as well…..
We did manage to grab Will for a quick chat about 15 minutes before the show…
TWR: Sorry we didn’t catch up with you earlier, but getting set up for the gig is more important than an interview so hopefully we can make some amends now…
TWR: We got quite a lot out of the others about what they’ve done and what they do and how the band gets on but we can more or less concentrate on you and about you. Your set up…
TWR: You don’t have an amp on stage..?
WS: I don’t have an amp. I use the amp simulators and the effects units. For me its easier to use and it saves having to carry an amp. I’m getting too old now to lift the stuff! I’ve got the choice now of 32 amplifiers within my set up now at the moment, the VG 88 plus I’ve got the Boss GT 3. That helps.
TWR: You’ve been in the band since it formed?
WS: Yeah, since it formed.
TWR: But I gather you’re the only person in the band which hasn’t seen Genesis live?
WS: I’m the only person who hasn’t seen them live, yeah. It took me until 2004 to see Phil Collins (laughs).
TWR: Do you think that puts you at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the band?
WS: Yeah, I think it does, because you can only watch so much on DVD and video I have tried my best to scrutinise everything but I think nothing can compare to watching them live. They are just awesome musicians.
TWR: Were you less into Genesis, or more into Phil Collins when you started with the band?
WS: I was more into Rock Music, I am predominantly a Thin Lizzy Fan. I never even saw them either (laughs) How sad is that? I’ve seen Gary Moore which is close.
TWR: Were you more into Phil Collins at the start?
WS: I was probably more into Phil Collins. I had not heard very much of Genesis stuff, although round about 1983 I had a friend who got me into listening to Genesis and he played the Shapes album to death and I got into the Shapes album in a big way and then I got into Invisible Touch when that was released in 1986, but they were just albums that I listened to. They were never anything that I thought I would follow or anything like that.
TWR: So what was the transition like going from the Phil Collins stuff to the Genesis stuff that you didn’t really know at that point. Was it difficult?
WS: I think that the Phil Collins stuff is more intricate than the Genesis stuff. It was at first. I think Phil’s solo stuff is more produced than Genesis material. There’s a lot more going on and trying to emulate two Genesis guitarists, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford, and the live player Daryl Stuermer can be quite tricky to emulate the sounds, so I prefer the Genesis side now than the Phil Collins side by a long, long shot.
TWR: Why is that?
WS: I think the songs are better songs. I can get more into the songs than I can with Phil’s solo stuff. Phil’s solo stuff has great grooves musically, but Genesis you can understand how from a listening point of view how they write the material which is good, or at least it is a good point for me.
TWR: Talking to the band earlier there was some talk about getting a bassist? Is that something you’re looking forward to?
WS: Yeah, it would be nice.
TWR: Were have you developed your style of playing from?
WS: Ahh, I think its just developed over the years from when we first started.
TWR: With the Phil Collins stuff, the bits where Daryl S would go off and have kind of jazz exploration, you seem to have nailed that…
WS: Yeah, I think I have nailed it in my own way. It’s not note for note Daryl Stuermer, but trying to emulate Daryl is hard. The guy is a god. It’s just evolved over the years trying to emulate with a lot of input from Tony, who is like the driving force of the band really, he is like a musical director would be. He will tell you to listen to it again, and again and to listen to it again to listen for certain things eventually I pick up on other areas that maybe missing from songs.
TWR: Do you try to set up the same amps and speakers that Mike used, in your VG88 setup?
WS: I try to emulate it. Mike uses Roland JC120’s quite a lot and the most difficult one to emulate was I Cant Dance which is a very, very strange almost highly compressed sound to get the guitar, which is fantastic. I’ve read countless interviews were he said he used a Telecaster through a Vox AC30 to get that sound and I emulated a Telecaster through a Vox AC30 and I got a totally different sound (laughs), so it was just a matter of sitting down and learning and playing this and playing that and I found out that he was using a phaser it sounds like he is using a phaser to me, that’s as close that I can get it and it gives it that sort of strange little honk on the sound which is not on any other sound I have ever heard. So at the moment I am in the middle of programming the VG 88 with the new I Cant Dance sound and if we had had the time tonight we could have had a run through with it to check some volumes I think its virtually there now, its not far off.
TWR: What is the most challenging song for you?
WS: The most challenging song I think is, Follow you Follow me for years its been the bane of my life, if you know what I mean, trying to emulate that sound and to try and keep that sound going. The amount of delays and flange and all of the effects he has got going in the song and the timing, that’s probably the worst song. The VG88 has opened up the possibilities for open tuning so I can emulate Mike Rutherford a bit more than what I would be able to do in the past. I can change the tunings without having to change the guitar and it automatically does it from within the unit which is a godsend (laughs) so it saves me carrying forty guitars with me.
TWR: Is there anything you don’t play at the moment that you would like to have a go at?
WS: Probably Firth of Fifth, it probably is my favourite old Genesis song.
TWR: How much do you think you would have to bribe Tony to play it?
WS: Not much (laughs). I probably see us sometime in the future playing something like that whether its either that or something like Squonk. I’m getting more and more into the old stuff, little by little listening to stuff like A Trick Of The Tail and Wind and Wuthering. I like Entangled and Ripples are great songs.
TWR: We were talking to other guys earlier and they were saying that there is a plan possibly in a year’s time to go and out and recreate the later tours; Invisible touch, I presume that’s something you would be excited about?
WS: Yeah very. Very excited about it I’d like to recreate the We Cant Dance Tour because it looked a great tour and I think they got the mix right for the fans.
TWR: The scale of the show you do with the lights you’d only need Three Plasma TV’s upended and then you’ve got the screens at the back haven’t you?
WS: Very good, yeah (laughs) you could have Turn It On Again with the rolling road coming up at the bottom (laughs).
TWR: Good luck for tonight !!!
WS: Thank you very much.