Frank Mead


I was born in Southend-on-Sea, about 30 miles from London. I started playing the harmonica as a 10 year old – every Christmas Mum and Dad bought me a new harmonica! I was in my first group as a sixteen year old, which I put together with a friend. We were both interested in Blues music and were listening to players like, Muddy Waters, Mississippi Fred McDowell, John Lee Hooker, and Little Walter. I was also the singer in this band, which eventually got me fired because I can’t sing! I met a Southend R+B hero called Mickey Jupp and began playing local clubs with him as a harmonica player - even played a couple of London gigs. It was around 1974 that someone lent me a clarinet and I discovered that reed instruments were for me. I decided I’d better take some lessons and found myself a teacher. He was, of course, really a sax player who doubled on clarinet, which is how one day I found myself blowing his Alto sax. I managed to get one note out of it and it changed my life in an instant. From that moment on I was obsessed with saxophone, and still am.

My first saxophone was a 1957 Selmer Mk VI Alto. I just went out and bought the best saxophone money could buy – no questions. Then I enrolled at a local college, where I studied some music theory for a year. It wasn’t an easy year though as I’d started working in Mickey Jupp’s Big Band and was gigging from one end of the country to the other - learning how to play saxophone on the job!! - and was regularly travelling all night back to Southend, which meant late into college and pissed off teachers. It was an interesting year with Juppy though. 1974-75 were really golden years on the London pub rock scene. We came into contact with bands like Kilburn and the High Roads (Ian Dury’s band before The Blockheads), The Sex Pistols, The 101’ers (Joe Strummers band before The Clash). We knew Dr Feelgood really well as they were a local Southend band - actually they came from Canvey Island. So it was a hell of an introduction to British R+B.

I quit Music College after a year, as my being there was a complete waste of time with the exception of some music theory. I moved to London in about 1976. Getting breaks in the music business is about persistence and luck. I was lucky enough to meet Geoff Britton who was then the drummer with Paul McCartney’s band Wings. Geoff introduced me to a fantastic guitarist, the late, great Steve Waller, who was working with Manfred Mann’s Earthband. I started gigging regularly with Steve. 1979-80 I was getting seen and heard in London. It was through Mickey Jupp that I met an ex-Southend star named Gary Brooker (Procol Harum). He invited me to play a charity gig he was fronting with Mick Fleetwood on drums and Eric Clapton on guitar! Gary and I have been friends ever since.
In the early ‘80s I was playing the London pub circuit with various R+B bands, including the renowned British Blues artist Jo Ann Kelly. In about 1983 I joined a great R+B band called Juice on the Loose. I took over from Nick Pentelow the saxophonist from Roy Woods, Wizard. A great Irish musician, Ron Kavana, fronted the band. He gave me a taste for traditional Irish Music and is the reason I play penny whistle. The band featured Charlie Hart (ex-Kilburn and the High Roads) on bass. It also had Bam King on guitar and Fran Byrne on drums, both from the band Ace. I was moving between Steve Waller’s band and Juice on the Loose so I was playing Funk with one band and R+B with the other. Jazz is obviously part of the scenery if you play saxophone and I got caught between all three idioms, which is kind of where I am today.

I met Tim Cansfield, the featured guitarist on my new album, in the mid ‘80s and ended up playing with him for a few years in a brilliant little funk band called Hardlines. My connection with Gary Brooker meant that in the late ‘80s I was doing charity gigs with musicians like Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Dave Gilmore, Mark Knopfler and Andy Fairweather Low, to name but a few, which is how I met Gary Moore.

I put a horn section together for his Still Got the Blues album and tour and subsequently did another album with him.I still play with Nick Payn, the tenor saxophonist from Gary Moore’s Midnight Blues band, in
Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings.

The Gary Moore gig was a fantastic experience because I got to play with quite a few Blues legends like, Albert King, BB King, Albert Collins, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Rush. I also joined a band called The Big Town Playboys during the eighties. Mike Sanchez, who even then was a fantastic pianist and singer, fronted this outfit and today is helping front the Rhythm kings!

Throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s I was doing quite a lot of session work as well. I recorded with Manfred Mann, Maxi Priest, Gary Moore, Five Star, Dave Knopfler, Paul McCartney, Squeeze, Paul Young, Big Town Playboys, Bill Wyman, Go West and Beverley Craven. I also toured with Go West and Beverley Craven. In fact it was whilst I was the featured soloist in Beverley Craven’s band that I found myself on Maderia playing with the amazing Mike McDonald.

I also had a short return spell with the Playboys in the mid ‘90s.

I’ve always been lucky enough to play in outfits I really enjoy – even playing with Procul Harem and an orchestra one night. The Rhythm Kings remain as fantastic as ever, with players like the legendary Albert Lee on guitar.

The band members have included at one time or another stars like Georgie Fame, Gary Brooker, with whom I used to duet ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, Martin Taylor and Peter Frampton. The Rhythm Kings albums have seen guest appearances from players like Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Jeff Beck.

Well it certainly beats working for a living! Or as Martin Taylor used to say, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, it’s only a hobby!”