CM – Peter, I want to start by congratulating you on the release of ‘Good Day’, which I’ve been playing hard in the two days that I’ve had a copy.
I read that some of the songs on the new CD, which I know features original material, were written some time ago – what brought them back to your attention?

PW – As musicians we like to keep every idea – we’re like misers. I read that somewhere and it’s true. If you have an idea, what you think is a good idea, you may not use it at that time but you keep it around in case one day you don’t have any ideas.

I wrote a lot of these songs 10 or 15 years ago – there’s a song called ‘Ramon’s Revenge’. There never seemed a place for it on any of my albums, but last year I said ‘I’m going to record this song – I don’t care whether or not it gets played on the radio’. I don’t record songs to get played on the radio. I record them because I like them and because I’ve got fans out there who want to hear my stuff.

People kept saying to me ‘you’ve recorded enough cover songs – we want to hear your own songs’. So I thought ‘well, I’ve got a lot of those’.

CM – I was going to ask you about ‘Ramon’s Revenge’ because in the context of the rest of the album it does have a notable flamenco flavour and it’s kind of like a break away from a lot of what’s on the album. Is this something that you’re going to do more Peter?

– Oh I don’t know Chris, to me it’s not the style that matters. I just like songs – the style’s not that important. I like many different styles. People have said this is nouveau flamenco – I don’t see that at all.

To me it’s dance music with a disco beat and far more chords than you’ll ever find in any flamenco song. Flamenco is usually in one key, A minor, it contains very few chords and it’s for dancing. There is some strumming guitar in the background and that may confuse people into thinking it’s flamenco.

For me it’s disco song – dance and wave your arms in the air (laughs)

CM – For me it worked very well. And while we’re talking about waving your arms in the air, I’m a funk fan and I found ‘Temptation’ and ‘Mission 2 Mars’ had a funkier feel to them than I expected really.

PW – Well it’s good – I like that. I like to give people things they don’t expect. I smile to myself when people say ‘I expected this, I expected that’ and I think ‘great’. I like to think you expected this type of music or that type and I’ve ruined your expectations.

CM – Well, why not?

PW – I think the best way to experience anything is with no expectations. Whatever it is, music, movies…

CM – I can think of a great example. I watched a movie that my wife told me about and I knew nothing about it – by the end I was doubled up, it slayed me.

PW – Which movie was that?

CM - ‘Little Miss Sunshine’.

PW – Oh yes, well it rises above the genre. Think of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ – if you were to describe this movie, you’d say it’s a cowboy movie. But it isn’t, it’s so much more. To me, the fact that it’s a cowboy movie is almost irrelevant.

CM – I agree.

PW – The screenplay is so good, the acting is so good, the characters are so great. It transcends any genre. In the same way when people talk about smooth jazz, which by the way is a radio format, it’s not a term that musicians ever use, they know what the music is and they have an expectation.

Someone said to me at one of my shows the other day ‘well that’s not what we expected – we didn’t expect the show to be so lively and full of fun’.

CM – I was going to come to that too Peter, you probably guess from the email I sent the other day that I’ve been fortunate enough to see you play live more than once.

If I go back to expectations, I notice that you have Philippe Saisse on vibraphone on one song…

PW – Yes, Philippe Saisse is a brilliant keyboard player and he’s made many CD’s on his own and had many hits. I didn’t know him that well until I was invited to go to Seattle and sit in with him and his band. I did that and I still didn’t really know him. We sort of said ‘hey, how are you?’ and we played a bit and then after the show we signed CD’s and everyone went home and it was just me and him sitting at the bar. This is how you meet people (laughs at the bar).

We started talking and I really liked him. He’s French, I’m half French – my mother’s French. We got on well, we spoke a little French together and many years later I’m wondering who I can get to help me on this CD and Rick Braun suggested I call Philippe Saisse, who’s now moved to California.

I said ‘yes, I met Philippe once – I can call him’. So I called him and we ended up collaborating on this album and he plays all over it. I said on the title song I want vibraphone solo, a really jazzy sound. I’d never had a vibraphone solo on any album; I wanted to do something different. I always want to do something different. And he said ‘I play the vibes’. So we got a vibraphone into the studio and Philippe played his heart out – that’s how we finished the title track. About two minutes of vibraphone solo – I love it.

CM – I read a note about one of your other CD’s, ‘Caravan of Dreams’ I think, where you’d used the accordion.

PW (laughs) Well that’s another thing I like to surprise people with. I do actually play the accordion and this goes back to my days with Al Stewart. I joined him when I was 20 years old – I joined him as a keyboard player, because he didn’t know I could play the guitar.

This is an association that was to go on for almost 20 years. It’s so funny how it started because he needed a keyboard player and I always played keyboards as well as guitar. So I auditioned for the job and I got it and it was only later that they realised I could play guitar.

So I started playing guitar in the band and on his recordings a little bit. And then one day he said to me ‘can you play accordion? I really want to hear accordion on this one song’. And I said ‘yes, I can play the accordion’ and I really couldn’t. I kind of dabbled when I was a teenager, an old accordion that we had in the house. I didn’t really know how to play.

So I borrowed an accordion, learned how to play it so there you go, I started playing it in his shows and on his CD’s. And I’ve played it on most of my CD’s and on Basia’s CD’s and guest spots on other CD’s. There’s a song by 3rd Force called ‘Here Comes the Night’ and I play guitar on that but I also play the accordion, which you can hear towards the end of the song.

I brought it to the studio specifically to try it on that song and they thought I was joking. I said ‘I’ve got an accordion in the car’ and they said ‘come on, ha ha’ so I brought it in and tried it and they loved it, so they kept it on there. This is a very little known fact about me – that I play the accordion.

CM – I was happy to hear it because, on a personal note, my father is a musician and by chance I discovered that he is a Fellow of the Royal College of Accordionists – he’d almost forgotten. One of his friends died a couple of years ago and left him an accordion in his will so he still has one – and loves it.

PW – You know, a lot of people have an accordion story just like yours Chris. It strikes a chord with a lot of people because it’s not an instrument that’s widely played any more. But in our parents’ generation and our grandparents’ generation there was a lot of accordion playing going on.

CM - It’s a kind of very wistful, evocative, ‘European’ sound for me really.

PW – Yeah, I think my whole album has a European flavour to it because the three principal artists contributing to it. Me, Philippe Saisse and my co-producer DC, who’s from Croatia, are from Europe and it gives a whole European flavour to this album – which I love.

CM – You’d be surprised if I didn’t ask you, not who DC is but how you met DC, Peter.

PW – I met DC through working with Paul Brown. Paul Brown produced many of my CD’s and in the old days we recorded everything on tape, I’m sure you remember that…

CM – I remember that brown stuff, yeah…

PW – (laughs) and somewhere in the last 10 years, tape fell out of fashion and everyone started recording on computers. Paul is a brilliant producer but doesn’t understand how to use a computer so he had to hire someone to operate the computer for him so he could keep up with current trends and that person was DC.

And DC helped Paul to record his solo albums, he’s worked on some of my earlier albums with Paul and I always knew that the guy had brilliant ideas of his own and was very musical. So I asked if he wanted to help me on this album and he brought a lot to it, in a European sort of way.

There are a few people on this album who are American but it’s really ‘the revenge of the Europeans’ (laughs).

CM – I wanted to ask you how do you normally write the songs, bearing in mind what you’d said about being a guitar player and a keyboard player.

PW – There is no ‘normally’. There are many different ways that I write songs – many different ways that songs come. Very often I’ll sit there with the keyboard and start with the bassline. Then the drumbeat.

You mentioned the song ‘Temptation’ – that’s how that song came about. That song starts with the bass – it has these very weird sound effects at the beginning, which is DC. Anything that’s really weird, you can attribute to DC – that’s why I really love working with him. He’ll come up with stuff that I never would have thought of. The stuff that I come up with is usually melodic…

CM – very melodic yes…

PW … and I like to work with people who come from a different angle. They say ‘how about some grit in here – how about something off-the-wall, something unexpected’ and that’s what DC does. In a way, Philippe does as well. Philippe’s somewhere in the middle actually. So I worked with DC for the whole intro and then there’s the bassline and the whole song is built around the bassline and the two chords that play over it.

If you listen to the intro to any of my songs, it starts with the bassline – and the guitar comes later.

CM – I’m going to have to listen to that with a more analytical ear.

PW – If you like. That’s not why I made the music but that’s how I listen to music. I listen just to enjoy it but if there’s something I really like, then I start to analyse it – I can’t help it, I’m a musician. I think ‘why do I enjoy it – what is it about the song that’s different or makes it a little more original than most?’

I try to figure it out – just as an exercise. It doesn’t change the fact that I enjoy the music. It just adds another dimension.

CM – Exactly. You may not listen to the same song the same way two days running…

PW – You’re absolutely right there, depending on what mood you’re in.

CM – I was listening to a George Duke tune the other day and usually I dissect the bassline but that day I was dancing round the living room – I couldn’t help it.

PW – Some people swear to me that they don’t hear the bassline – they hear the melody and the beat but they don’t hear the bassline so they must hear it in a completely different way. That’s what makes life interesting isn’t it? Everybody’s different.

CM – Peter you mentioned earlier – and it’s well known among your fans – your association with Al Stewart and the fact that it goes back a long way. I noticed that at the end of October you’re doing two dates with him.

PW – Ah you noticed that! Every year or so, Al and I get back together and do some shows and usually they’re unannounced. Well I’m not usually announced; I’m usually announced as a surprise guest because there might be a contractual problem – maybe I’m doing another show in the same area.

In this case, this is very unusual because the shows are actually announced. The promoter of the show at the resort, which I think is called Steelville, specifically asked me to go with Al and do some of my own music and so I thought ‘ that’s very nice, why not? It will be fun to play with Al, play some of my songs and play to a different audience’.

CM – You talked about teaming up with him at the age of 20. I saw a clip yesterday from ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ (UK TV show) and I don’t know what year it was but you were playing keyboards, sitting near the back of the stage. The song was ‘Year of the Cat’.

PW – That was probably November of ’76 and Al had hired me to play keyboards. The album was released in September that year and it was only later that I started playing guitar in the show. That was recorded barely a year after I started playing with him and by that time he did know I played guitar because there were other songs that I did play guitar on.

CM – Reading about your influences, I know that you’re a big Beatles fan and they were a strong influence on you in your early playing days…

PW – And everybody mate!

CM – … but not everybody gets to record an album at Abbey Road studios.

PW – Well, can you imagine? Young boy grew up in Letchworth Garden City, listening to the Beatles on my gramophone with one elliptical speaker, or watching them on the TV, live at Shea Stadium – it changed my life that film. All the girls screaming, it was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen.

Then, all of a sudden, Al Stewart calls me and says we’re going to be recording at Abbey Road studios…

CM – What a blast.

PW - … with Alan Parsons. He was the producer. He started there as the tape operator and then he got to work with The Pink Floyd on ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ because back then that was a job, that’s what Alan did when he started out. So that’s where we recorded ‘The Year of the Cat’.

I was just flabbergasted because I was walking into the studio where The Beatles recorded pretty much all their albums.

CM – I can’t imagine how that must feel.

PW – Can you imagine walking into that room and looking around and seeing an upright piano and thinking ‘oh my God, that must be the piano they used on ‘Fixing a Hole’ from ‘Sergeant Pepper’’? Then I saw pictures later of The Beatles recording their first album and it was the same room and I could see where I’d been playing guitar, playing my heart out. The same place that The Beatles recorded – it was a trip.

It was surreal, totally surreal and one day, sure enough, I bumped into Paul McCartney in the corridor and I said ‘oh hello’ like you do when you see someone you know. He was very nice and talked to me for a moment and then came in the studio and listened to what we were doing. I was thrilled; it was probably one of the most exciting times of my life. In my early twenties, when I started with Al Stewart, touring the world and recording at Abbey Road studios. You can’t beat that.

CM – I know that on the rock side of things you like Eddie Van Halen and Angus Young’s music…

PW – They came along later, yes, but back to the 60’s it was Clapton, Hendrix and Jimmy Page that got me interested in rock music. The very first tour I ever did with Al, we landed in Los Angeles and walked into the hotel in Hollywood, the Continental Hyatt House – known infamously as ‘the riot house’ – because that’s where Led Zeppelin were staying.

Sure enough I’m standing in the lift and in walks Jimmy Page nonchalantly and the door closes and there I am holding my newly bought Gibson Les Paul, because I was a huge Jimmy Page fan and that’s what he played. What could I say? The guy was a god to me. I just said ‘you’re Jimmy Page’ and he said ‘yeah I am’. I’d listened to every Led Zeppelin album up to that point and he was my idol.

I’d love to meet him again in a different situation; a social setting would be nice.

CM – Is that type of rock influence the kind of thing that you’ve ever built into your own music or would think of building into it?

PW – When I’m on stage wailing away on my nylon-strung acoustic, I forget that it’s an acoustic guitar and I become the rock star that I always wanted to be. That’s the closest I’m ever going to get – the only difference is I’m playing an acoustic guitar.

If I were playing an electric guitar I don’t think people would recognise my sound as much. I think I have a much more recognisable sound on acoustic and that goes back to the Al Stewart days. When Al realised I could play guitar, he literally put one in my hand and said ‘I want you to play this song’. The song was called ‘On the Border’ from the ‘Year of the Cat’ album. He wanted a Spanish sound so what better than a Spanish guitar?

I didn’t even have a Spanish guitar at that time – he gave me one so I went home and practiced and came back into the studio – Abbey Road studio – and played my heart out and that’s what ended up on the album. That was my introduction to the world of Spanish guitar music and that became my sound. I would go out front in his show and play that song. And then I’d go back behind the keyboard and kind of disappear again.

After the show people would say ‘wow, I love the way you play the Spanish guitar’ – it was the only thing that people ever remembered that I did. And that stayed with me. People said ‘that’s your instrument, that’s your sound – you should go with that – you should make an album of music on that Spanish guitar’.

CM – They might have something there…

PW – You never know. One day when it came time for me to think about making my own album I thought ‘that’s the instrument I’m going to concentrate on’ because that’s the one that people respond to. Even though I play electric guitar, steel-strung guitar, accordion, recorder and I play piano but that one instrument, the nylon-strung acoustic guitar was the one that people mostly associated with me.

People say ‘why did you choose that instrument?’ I say that I didn’t choose it – it chose me.

CM – I know you love cats Peter. You don’t choose them, they choose you – maybe instruments are the same…

PW – It’s like everything in my life that’s happened. And the things in my career that happened, not because I chose it but because it just happened and I went with it.

I thought I’d just be a guy in a band – and I hoped that band would be Led Zeppelin (laughs) or AC/DC even. I love listening to those guys but I also love listening to quiet, contemplative music. I listen to them all the time but for me it’s a bit limiting to play just one kind of music.

CM – Peter, can I go back to something we touched on earlier? The two occasions I’ve seen you play live: the first one was the Capital JazzFest in 1999 and then you were playing at a venue in Cheshire, near where I live, the Cinnamon Club.

– I know I played there last year around Easter time, but I’ve played there a few times and I’m going back there again in May next year.

CM – Really?? The two venues are very different and the shows were very different and you talked about having fun with the audience, which I guess is easier if you’re physically closer to them but I wondered which of those types of venues gave you the more pleasure…

PW – I like them both Chris, for different reasons. At the Capital JazzFest you might be playing to 10,000 people – you’re reaching a whole lot of people and there’s a thrill that comes with playing for that many people. Obviously you can’t have the repartee that you have in a small club. You tend to talk slower and louder so that people can understand you on the back row.

You’ve got a much bigger stage and you have much more room to move around, which is fun. But then again you go to play a small club and you might be playing for 100 people – so you’ve gone from 10,000 people to 100 but the enjoyment I get from playing is the same.

Now I can talk to people who are right next to me and I don’t have such a big stage to work with but people can see you better because they’re much closer to you. So, there’s an enjoyment that comes with both the big audience and the small audiences.

CM – At the Cinnamon Club, I watched a couple absolutely entranced on the table which was closest to the stage because you picked up their video camera and started videoing them. I don’t think they knew what to do – I was laughing my head off.

PW – That sounds like me (laughs).

CM – You had Jaared in your band that night and he was creased up and I couldn’t stop laughing. It was fantastic.

You’re touring pretty hard at the moment and the Christmas tour is already lined up. Then you’re playing the Smooth Jazz Cruise in January 2010. I believe you’ve played one before. What are they like?

PW – They are great fun. It was originally the Wayman Tisdale Smooth Jazz Cruise and Wayman passed away earlier this year, much to our sadness. I was recording a song for him when he passed away and it was very descriptive of the way he was – I called the song ‘Bright’. To me he was Mr Bright, he was always happy, he was always up, he was always enthusiastic. You couldn’t help but be drawn up in his enthusiasm, for life and for music.

He really was very unwell and lost a lot of weight but was still very enthusiastic about the show and playing. I actually jumped up on stage when he was doing ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ and the whole audience were up on their feet, with their arms waving in the air. I thought ‘wow, this is a moment’. It was one of the best moments I’ve ever had on stage with anybody – playing that song with Wayman. I’ll never forget it. So I dedicated the song to him, which is on the new album. It reminds me of him and it also starts with a bassline.

CM – He was some bass player.

PW – It was just the way that he used to play. He used to play everything on the high strings because it cut through more. It was his melody string – he hit it very hard and the melody would just jump out. That’s how the song started – it was all accidental. I didn’t engineer it that way. After I thought about it, it seemed like that was very reminiscent of him – and his spirit.

CM – Wayman is one of many great musicians you’ve collaborated with – is there anyone you’d still like to work with live or on a recording?

PW – David Sanborn. I met him in 2006 on the Dave Koz Cruise but he had to leave the boat early, so I wonder if it will ever happen. Festivals really are where people meet – they meet backstage and then they decide to collaborate. For example, I met Mindi Abair in John Tesh’s band 15 years ago. I’ve now played over 200 shows with her.

CM - One last question – is there anything else in the pipeline you want to tell us about?

PW – There’s nothing in particular. The Christmas Tour with Dave Koz is something I’ve been doing since 1998. That kicks off in just a few weeks. It’s been a very busy year so far, so I’m just thinking about the cruise in January, some dates at the Pizza Express in Soho (London) and a potential date at the Cinnamon Club (Manchester) in May.

CM – Peter, as a long-time fan, this has been a real pleasure for me. I wish you every success for the new album and for your touring commitments.

PW – Thank you Chris.