By Martin Kinch

December 2009

Martin Kinch: First of all Mel, Many thanks for agreeing to do this interview for my website.

Melvyn Gale: No problem at all.

Martin: There isn't much about you on the internet and there hasn't really been much news about you since you left ELO, is that through choice

Melvyn: Not really, it's just that I have done a lot of other things that weren't under the same scrutiny as when I was in the band.

Martin: Before we talk about your time with ELO, can you give us a bit of history about yourself, where you grew up and went to school etc

Melvyn: Well I was born in London and I got my classical music education at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy Of Music where my peers included Dame Felicity Lott and Sir Simon Rattle, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. I graduated with an LRAM in 1973.

Martin: When you left the Royal Academy of Music, did you go straight into the music biz, or did you have any 'normal' jobs

Melvyn: No nothing "normal" I guess. My first job was deputizing for another cellist at the London Palladium for a couple of nights, which then became semi-permanent for a few months until I got too busy to do it anymore. Playing along to Frankie Howard in the annual pantomime was good fun but not what I really wanted long-term! Earlier, while I was still at school, I used to play piano for a Dance School at Blackheath on Saturday mornings, which was great for improving my improvisation (and pulling the older girls).....

I also played with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Bolshoi Ballet, Ballet Rambert, Sadlers Wells Opera, in shows like Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side Story and on many sessions including War of the Worlds and with The Carpenters.

Martin: People know of you as a Cello player, As a teenager, were you into pop music or did you prefer classical

Melvyn: Classical was and is my bedrock favourite music, but not to the exclusion of rock or anything else, I have very eclectic tastes. If it's good, it's good, whatever. I used to buy the Beatles piano music and play it in our lunch breaks at school in the music room and others would sing or play and join in. But the first record I bought was by the Stones.

Martin: Who were your favourite artists / composers

Melvyn: Composers....mainly the romantics like Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky etc but I liked a challenge as well, so add Shostakovich, Bartok and the like.

Artists....on cello Rostropovich (who had it all), Jacqueline Dupree (for her intensity) and too many others to list.

Martin: So when and how did you start to learn playing the cello

Melvyn: When I was about 13 I was told that the school orchestra needed another cellist and that I should get on and learn! So I did and picked it up quickly.

Martin: Do you play any other instruments

Melvyn: I've played piano from age 5 and passed grade 8 when I was about 14.

Martin: How did you get the job with ELO, was it advertised or did they come looking for you

Melvyn: Hugh and I were friends from when we were both about 18 and we sat together on the front desk of the cello section in the London Youth Symphony Orchestra (see photo).

We also both went to the Guildhall School of Music for a year. I think he stayed there and I moved on to the RAM when I left school.

Hugh called me one day in 1972 and asked if I would be interested in being in a rock band with him, but I was already so busy I said no, but that I knew Mike Edwards was looking for some more work, so they contacted him. Same thing happened again when Hugh left and I was asked again and I then suggested Colin Walker. On the third time I was asked in 1975, I was told that the band was doing a few English dates and a short Spanish tour and was then going round the States for 6 weeks. I'd never been to the US, so this time I said yes!

Martin: Had you heard of the band before you were asked to join

Melvyn: I really knew very little about the band or what to expect at all.

Martin: I take it you had to audition, Can you tell us a bit about it, where it was, Who was there, what you played etc

Melvyn: Well I don't know you could call it an audition. I just turned up at this scout hut in Birmingham where all the bands equipment was set up, told where to sit and we started playing some of Jeff's songs. No-one ever said "you'll do", I just got on with it. There is a picture of this in Bev's ELO book.

Martin: Once you were given the job, can you remember what you had to start work on, was it rehearsing for gigs or was it to record "Face the music"

Melvyn: No, it was rehearsing for the upcoming gigs. But before I went up to that hut, someone at Jet posted me some ELO LPs with certain tracks marked on them as being ones I should try to work out a part to play from. Hughie came down to my house in Lee, SE London and gave me some clue as to what would work between us.

I used one of my own cellos for this, but not for long. I had to go and buy a cello (as I wasn't going to keep using my own antique one for rock!) that I could then take to bits in my garage and reinvent as an electric cello. That was real suck it and see stuff. Adding kapok stuffing inside to deaden feedback, wooden strengtheners down its length to stop it breaking up when rammed into the stage floor. An electric bridge, volume control and jack plug socket. An extra long spike made from stainless steel appropriated from (I think) a drip stand from the local hospital.....(don't ask), and a can of silver paint from Woolworths.

Martin: You must have been really nervous turning up for that first rehearsal

Melvyn: Curious more like. Don't forget I had been turning up to do classical concerts and sessions etc, usually without knowing in advance what the programme was and usually with little rehearsal time for quite a long time, so I was used to it. But I wasn't really ready for the level of sound, it took some getting used to how loud it was.

Martin: Did you find everyone in the band easy to get on with when you first joined

Melvyn: I think so, I don't really remember, I was more preoccupied with sorting out the notes! Overall, the relationships during the five years I had with the band were pretty good, although we all had off days. Not surprising when you live in each others pockets for months at a time.

Martin: Did Jeff tell you exactly what he wanted you to play or were you able to make suggestions as to what you thought would sound good

Melvyn: Hugh and I had already worked out most of the awkward parts from the records but I think there were a few places where Jeff suggested something else and we changed things so they worked better.

Melvyn with Hugh McDowell

Martin: Was it easy to change from playing classical music to pop music

Melvyn: Most of what I actually played was the orchestral side of the music, so no real difference there for me. It was just when we played something like Mama-belle that it became a new way of playing, more raw and raunchy. Of course the exploding cello I inherited would never have happened anywhere else and it was fortunately soon consigned to the bin!

Martin: One of my favourite ELO songs is 10538 overture, there's quite a lot of cello in that one, Did you enjoy playing it

Melvyn: Yes, I always liked that one and the earlier album tracks in general, perhaps better than the later songs. I thought Eldorado was a brilliant album and Face the Music was pretty good too.

ELO - 10538 Overture / Do Ya

Martin: In the early years of ELO there were problems with getting the strings to sound good on stage, is that something that had been sorted out by the time you had joined.

Melvyn: It was always going to be difficult to get the string sound right. Our so-called electric cellos were pretty basic compared to what is available now. I could only hear what I was playing from the speakers behind me plus a basic mix of sounds from the monitors at the front of the stage. What the audience ended up hearing after it was all mixed together at the sound desk I have no idea.

Martin: How long was it from the time you started rehearsing to actually playing your first gig, and do you remember the first gig you played with the band - Where was it/ How did it go

Melvyn: Just a few days. I think (not sure) that the first gig was at the Newcastle Polytechnic Valentines Day concert and I remember thinking there were almost more people on stage than in the audience! The first 5-6 gigs were rehearsals really for the upcoming US tour, I'm not sure whether the audiences really got full value for money.

Martin: I was surprised to hear that you didn't join the band the first couple of times you were asked as most young lads dream of being in a group, once you started doing the gigs, Did you enjoy being a 'Pop Star'

Melvyn: That wasn't my dream at all and I never thought of myself as a pop star! Truth is that after the first short UK and Spanish tours I very nearly quit as I wasn't enjoying it much either musically or in the coaches and vans travelling between gigs. It was just the chance to go to the USA and also, that I had agreed at the start to do all three tours, that stopped me leaving and going back to classical music.

Martin: Did you start to get recognised in the street

Melvyn: No! Hardly ever. I sat in the audiences a few times during the warm-up acts and no-one sussed. The only time I got recognized was leaving gigs to go back to the hotel.

Martin: What did you family and friends think about it all.

Melvyn: My parents had no real idea what I was doing. They thought I was part of a backing orchestra for the group. It was only at the charity Wembley show in 1978 that they suddenly twigged. I arranged for a limo to collect them from Beckenham and take them up and back and I introduced my mum to Tony Curtis (she was a big fan of his), then it sank in. My friends thought it was great and came to some of the UK gigs.

Martin: When the band were recording the albums, were you in the studio with them all the time or only to go in and record your own parts

Melvyn: Mostly just to record our own parts. It would have been pretty boring sitting around the whole time with nothing to do.

Martin: Evil Woman would have been your first single - can you remember what the first TV show was that you did

Melvyn: No. Possibly Top of the Pops? I was in love with Cherry Gillespie from Pans People (she never knew of course!).

Martin: Did you do much live TV or was it mostly mimed

Melvyn: Mostly mimed to a backing track with some live vocals over the existing ones.

Martin: There's a great clip on Youtube of ELO doing 'Evil Woman' and Hugh is sitting right under a load of smoke and the band are all laughing, it almost looks deliberate, I'm surprised they didn't stop the recording - I think the programme was called Supersonic, Do you remember it.

Melvyn: How could I forget it. I think Mike Mansfield was the director and he always went overboard on effects and this particular time the dry ice smoke just got out of hand......but the show must go on, as they say.

ELO perform Evil Woman on ITVs Supersonic

Martin: You recorded three albums with ELO - Face The Music - A New World Record, and Out Of The Blue, which would you say is your favourite ELO album

Melvyn: Eldorado is my favourite, but of those three, I don't think I can pick one above another.

Martin: Do you have any particular favourite tracks from your time with the band (recording and playing live)

Melvyn: Now?...not really, except Wild West Hero, just because I got to play piano! It was a long time ago and it is all just a pleasant haze of memories....none bad, but some really great ones too.

Martin: ELO had become massive by the time of 'Out of the blue. When you joined the band did you ever think that they would become as big as they did

Melvyn: No, never! But the strange thing is that as the venues and crowds got bigger, from the stage, due to lights in your face, you mostly only saw the first 20-30 rows of people, no matter what the size. It was only before gigs or after when the lights went up that you saw this huge sea of faces. The size of the album sales brought us more & more gold records and media attention etc, but, except for Jeff & Bev, Don Arden made sure the rest of us didn't see a proportionate increase in money, that's for sure!

Mik Kaminski - Hugh McDowell - Melvyn Gale - Jeff Lynne - Richard Tandy - Kelly Groucutt - Bev Bevan

Martin: The Out of the blue spaceship tour must have been very exciting, You must have loads of memories but is there anything that sticks out in you mind about these shows

Melvyn: One of the nights at Wembley in 78, someone forgot to release the safety clamps on the risers that slowly lifted us up to stage level at the start of the show as the spaceship lifted off. So we were playing away, below ground so to speak, surrounded by smoke and ended up chucking the cellos up onto the stage and climbing up the scaffolding after them. Anyway, slowly everyone else appeared as the risers were hurriedly let loose, but we were halfway through the first song. Don't know if anyone noticed!

I also thought flying in and out of an open air festival by helicopter in the US over this huge expanse of crowd and tents was an eye-opener...fantastic. When we played Madison Square Gardens, our security was provided by a lot of guys in long black coats, friends of friends of (the) Don, I guess!

Martin: At the time I seem to remember ELO getting some stick for using backing tapes on this tour, but I think the tapes were meant to be for the band to hear but they got put up a bit too loud in the mix.

Melvyn: I think Jeff was frustrated that the live shows didn't sound like the studio recordings, which of course they never could, so he wanted to add back in that depth and complexity by using a mix of backing tapes. Just how much this worked or got over-cooked at gigs I couldn't tell though. It sparked plenty of discussion!

Martin: One of the Wembley night gigs was recently re released on DVD with the correct sound and it sounds great, Do you ever watch any of the old concerts or have a look and see what is on Youtube

Melvyn: I've got a DVD of the Wembley concert but I haven't watched it in years. But I have seen a few more of the videos on YouTube recently, some of which are great reminders.

ELO - Mr Blue Sky - Live at Wembley

Martin: Did you ever do your own solo spot in the live gigs - if so what was it

Melvyn: No I never did, that was always Hugh's thing since day one and I really wasn't fussed that it stayed that way.

Martin: There's a nice clip on Youtube of you in ELO performing 'Can't get it out of my head' from Eldorado it looks like a promo film for the single was that released after you joined, because it's Mike Edwards on the album isn't it

Melvyn: Yes, I just played it at shows and on this promo video, which again was at the Scout Hut where we rehearsed in my first week with the band.

ELO - Can't Get It Out Of My Head

Martin: By the time of the Discovery album the string players had disappeared from the credits although you are still featured on the promo videos, What was going on there

Melvyn: Jeff had said he didn't want to tour again for a couple of years and I guess the whole shape of the band was changing with that album but the new ELO image wasn't formed yet, so the old ELO did the promo videos. It was the last time we were all together.

Martin: So was there an actual time when you were told that you were not needed any more for recording and were only required for gigs and TV etc

Melvyn: After the Discovery promo recordings, I received a short formal letter by post in Jan '80 (?) informing me that my services were no longer required. No phone calls, nothing else.

Martin: How did you feel about that

Melvyn: After nearly five years of working together, I'd rather not comment.

Martin: Were you doing other work while you were in the band

Melvyn: Bits and pieces locally when I was in the UK, but nothing much.

Martin: Was it a shock to be looking for work again after the previous few years

Melvyn: It was hard to get back into my London freelance work as I had been away for so long. It was the beginning of the recession, so there was less work around and the people who had been doing it (while I hadn't) managed to hang on.

Martin: Did you still follow ELOs career once you had left

Melvyn: No, I always looked forwards, not back. I had a life to get back on track and ELO was no longer a part of it.

Martin: You actually recorded an album with Frank Wilson for Jet Records Did you start that while you were in the band or after you had left. Tell us you memories about working on that album

Melvyn: It was after I left and was looking for work that Sharon Arden called me in and said that Jet would put up the money for a solo album. I had been doing some stuff with Frank, so that was the obvious way to go. We used the money to record at Ramport in Battersea for six weeks and had enough left for Frank, myself and Will Reid-Dick (our engineer) to fly out and mix it in Crystal in L.A. I had a small rented apartment just off Sunset and we all stayed there for three weeks.

Martin: Did you enjoy recording that as much as recording with ELO

Melvyn: Much more, because it was our material, recorded our way (for better or worse) and we had total freedom.

Martin: And some of the tracks were written by yourself, something that band members weren't allowed to do when in ELO

Melvyn: Yes, the only writer for ELO was only ever going to be Jeff, it was his band.

Martin: Did you enjoy writing your own material, Is it an easy thing to do

Melvyn: I didn't find it particularly easy, although it was satisfying once you could hear the end result, but I had never done it before so just did what I thought worked.

Martin: There was a single released as well 'I Wanna stay' I don't really remember hearing it on the radio or TV, were you disappointed that it didn't chart - Mik had had success with Violinski and Clog Dance

Melvyn: It was Terry Wogan's record of the week (kiss of death really!) and we had an interview on Capital Radio, but that was about the extent of it. It wasn't a strong or catchy enough track to chart.

I Wanna Stay by Wilson Gale and Co

Martin: Did Wilson Gale do any live gigs at all

Melvyn: Nope, not as Wilson Gale and Co, but we did play some of the tracks with the Risky Zips boys down at the Green Man in the Old Kent Road.

Martin: Since all that finished, have you been in any other bands at all

Melvyn: No, that was it. I was a bit disillusioned, gave up playing and went into business instead. I got married and started a family and had to support them.

Martin: Is it true that you started you own record manufacturing plant or did it start off with you working for someone else

Melvyn: First I got a job as Sales Manager with the Pinnacle Entertainment Group working for Steve Mason, who had been selling ELO belt buckles and memorabilia at a stall at the Wembley concerts! He had done well since then and had a metal label called Music for Nations which was distributed by Pinnacle, which he then bought and I joined him.
After two years its turnover had increased from 2.5m pa to 12m pa and he offered me the job of running one of his other Group companies, a record pressing plant called Audio Services Ltd (ASL). I ran it for 19 years. I had 50 staff, turning out between 6 - 8 million records a year. Among others I worked with Tony Wilson at Factory Records (New Order, Joy Division, Happy Mondays etc).
At one point Pete Waterman bought a 50% stake in it, although I hardly ever saw him, so ASL pressed all the Kylie and Jason releases. Then Jive Zomba bought in (Backstreet Boys etc), then BMG, then Sony BMG etc! We went on to do cassettes, then CDs and print and packaging as well. Eventually we lost the lease on the factory building which was to be redeveloped and all the machinery was sold to Optimal Media in Germany. I joined them as director for their new UK operation, feeding work out to them in Germany.

Martin: Not quite as exciting as being in a supergroup, but was it something that you were interested in and enjoyed doing

Melvyn: I had a very varied and interesting time at ASL. I was my own boss so had a lot of freedom, I enjoyed the challenges and perks of the music business from a different perspective to being a player and got paid well. I have no regrets at all.

Martin: So is that what you have been doing ever since you left the band

Melvyn: Pretty much.

Martin: And is it true that your company actually pressed some ELO vinyl in 2006

Melvyn: Yes, we pressed a blue vinyl single of an unheard ELO song called "Surrender"

Martin: Do you still produce much vinyl now, Is there much demand

Melvyn: There is, but I don't. Due to the unfavourable change in the pound/euro exchange rate in 2008/9, it made optimal uncompetitive on price so we closed the UK operation in April this year. So I enjoyed this summer off feeding the chickens at our barn in Kent! I'm now buying and selling flats to make a crust and plan to start doing some cello & piano teaching in 2010.
I got divorced early in 2008, but have had my lovely new partner Sally since late 2006. Of course I still have my three children and two grandchildren as well.

Martin: Do you still have a cello and do you play it, or any other instrument.

Melvyn: I still have both my ELO cellos. The silver one is in a bit of a state and needs some TLC, the red/black one I converted back to being a normal acoustic cello (stripped and revarnished) although it doesn't play that well. I'm looking for a nice antique one to buy at the moment. Sally and I also bought a beautiful 1930's Bluthner baby grand recently and I play that a lot.

Mel with his piano and refurbished red and black 'ELO' Cello
Photo Sally

Martin: So what sort of music do you listen to these days

Melvyn: Everything and anything as ever, depending on my mood.

Martin: After ELO, Jeff went on to be a very successful producer for other artists such as George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and many others, even The Beatles. Were you surprised at how much he actually went on to do

Melvyn: No, he was a talented guy in the studio.

Martin: Then there was The Traveling Wilburys - Did you like them

Melvyn: Sure.

Martin: There's no denying that he is a fantastic musician/writer/producer, Would you call yourself a Jeff Lynne fan

Melvyn: I'm not a "fan" of any particular person, but I can appreciate talent.

Martin: Once a band splits up, some groups carry on without the lead singer What did you think about the idea of ELO Part 2 (Later to become The Orchestra) without Jeff Lynne

Melvyn: I thought it was a great idea that the people who had put so much into the band could carry on with what the fans wanted and make a living at it. I thought it was churlish of Jeff to stop them using the name, but that's life.

Martin: You actually went to see them didn't you

Melvyn: Twice, and I am so pleased that I had the chance to catch up with Mik and especially Kelly before he died. That was a real shock.

Martin: What did you think

Melvyn: They were superb and the audience agreed with me!

Martin: Did it make you wish you were up there with them. Would you have got involved if you'd have been asked

Melvyn: You feel a little tug that says you could do this still, but, and it's a big but, I wouldn't have swapped what I did since leaving the band.

Martin: It must have felt strange hearing some of those songs again but without Jeff Lynne singing

Melvyn: Not at all strange. Frankly the blend of Kelly and Phil's voices worked so well that I didn't even give that a thought.

Martin: How was it meeting up with Kelly and Mik again

Melvyn: Well I hadn't seen them since I left the band so it was great to catch up, but they were just the same characters as 30 years ago.....amazing. Mind you there were a few more wrinkles and less hair in Kelly's case!

Mel (left) with Mik, Kelly and Phil after an Orchestra gig at High Wycombe in 2008
Photo Sally

Martin: You mentioned that you were glad that you caught up with Kelly again before he died in 2009, was he a good mate of yours during your time in the band.

Melvyn: Yes, but we were a collection of mates, we had to all get on. I had some great times with him sailing in "Kelpie" off Newport Harbour and at Malibu Grand Prix (mini race cars) and just hanging out generally.

Martin: Any favourite stories, memories of him

Melvyn: He was always the joker and clown (in the best sense), nothing seemed to get him down and he helped make our sometimes gruelling tours more bearable.

Martin: What was the best thing about being in ELO

Melvyn: Travelling the world. I have been fortunate to see more parts of the world than most and loved all of that. I've continued to travel ever since when possible.

Martin: Anything you didn't like

Melvyn: I missed home cooking. I got to hate hotel and gig food so much that the last time I came home off tour I couldn't face going out to a restaurant for months when I knew I could have eaten at home!

Martin: Favourite memory

Melvyn: I'm going to cop-out on this one, there were so many great times that I just don't know, but Wembley has to be up near the top as all my friends and family were there.

Martin: A question that someone asked me to ask you - Are you and Hugh actually playing cello on the albums - I always assumed that you were, I know not all tracks feature cello but others had quite a lot didn't they, Can you remember what tracks you are on most and did you and Hugh have equal share of playing

Melvyn: Of course we are. We went and recorded in the studios in bits and pieces, but what found its' way through to the final blended mix is another matter I guess? I can certainly pick out sections on all the albums I was involved with.

Martin: Well many thanks Mel for doing this interview for me, I'm sure that there are many ELO fans all over the world that will enjoy finding out a bit more about you

Melvyn: It's been therapeutic. Cheers!!

This interview is Martin Kinch 2009 and may not be reproduced in whole or part without permission

Back to the Clinic

wordpress analytics