ALLTHE SMALLS THINGS

AGE… IS JUST A NUM­BER. NUM­BER… IS JUST A WORD. AND WORD… IS JUST A THING. SPINAL TAP’S DEREK SMALLS STRAPS ON FOR AN AL­BUM ALL OF HIS OWN.

Australian Guitar - - Feature - BY EMILY SWAN­SON.

He was re­spon­si­ble for the low-end in one of Eng­land’s loud­est bands. The Tap might have been turned off, but that hasn’t stopped Derek Smalls from rolling into his 75th year with what he hopes will be a tri­umphant re­turn to “at least one of the ech­e­lons of the rock fir­ma­ment”. Thanks in part to a gen­er­ous grant from the Bri­tish Fund for Age­ing Rock­ers (“one of the few good things that came out of aus­ter­ity”), the former Spinal Tap bassist has been able to crank it up to 11 once more on Smalls

Change( Med­i­ta­tions Upon Age­ing ). We hopped on the phone with Smalls (who bears an un­canny re­sem­blance to comedic leg­end Harry Shearer) to share in his mus­ings on get­ting older and a time when men truly did rock.

When did you know it was the right time to go out on your own? Was there ever a push to get the Tap run­ning again?

When I looked around and saw that there was no­body with me, that was the uni­verse send­ing me that mes­sage. They both [David St. Hub­bins and Nigel Tufnel] seemed to have got­ten bored of mu­sic. They wouldn’t say so in so many words; it’d prob­a­bly take a lot more words for David in par­tic­u­lar to say it. Nigel, rather late in life, has found that he’s al­most ob­sessed with an­i­mal hus­bandry. His first project was breed­ing minia­ture horses, but then he dis­cov­ered that he couldn’t find jock­eys small enough to ride them. So he’s gone into minia­ture live­stock now, and he’s been – if any­thing – too suc­cess­ful, be­cause the goats have got­ten to a point where they’re too small to milk. I think he’s got his hands full, al­most lit­er­ally, with that. So I ended up be­ing the one still in­ter­ested in do­ing loud mu­sic, as it turns out. Who would have thought that old Derek would be the one still stand­ing and in­ter­ested in mak­ing some eardrums bleed, as we once said? It’s the sound of luke­warm wa­ter find­ing its own tem­per­a­ture.

Is there a track on the al­bum that res­onates with you more than any other?

I think they all do in their own way; they’re all like tun­ing forks to a dif­fer­ent fre­quency in me. But I think “When Men Did Rock”, strangely, be­cause it sum­mons up in a very grandiose – and al­most pre­ten­tiously heroic – way the era that we grew out of, which is this era when you would stand on th­ese mas­sive stages and play to th­ese mas­sive au­di­ences, and the sounds would echo off the woods or the hills in the dis­tance. It seemed al­most as if you were back in me­dieval times, ex­cept there were no serfs.

It was a sim­pler time.

Look­ing back at those days of yore, we thought they’d go on for­ever, and that there would be this end­less stream of young­sters pick­ing up gui­tars and bash­ing out a tune. But I think you’d have to have been a blind man with a deaf man at your side to ig­nore the fact that the great rock’n’roll era was com­ing to an in­evitable… If not a turn in the road or an end to the road, at least a patch where the road got much smaller and maybe rougher; maybe more peb­bled in its sur­fac­ing, and with­out the lane mark­ers any­more. Not a very good road, re­ally, when you stop to think about it.

You re­ally have whipped out an all-star lineup for your first solo ef­fort, with Don­ald Fa­gen, David Crosby, Peter Framp­ton, Joe Sa­tri­ani… How did all th­ese stel­lar mu­si­cians come to be in­volved?

Well, I’m not proud to say it, but I’m not not proud to say it… I think I de­tected, when we made the calls, a cer­tain com­mon emo­tional el­e­ment to their re­ac­tion. It was best summed up by one of them as a sort of pity f***.

But a f*** nonethe­less…

But a f*** nonethe­less! Ex­actly right! Ex­actly right. You don’t look a gift f*** in the mouth.

What do you credit your longevity to af­ter this many decades in ac­tion?

I at­tribute my longevity to the lack of death – that’s the key right there. You get an aw­ful lot of longevity by re­fus­ing or fail­ing to per­ish. Per­ish­ing is the great en­emy of longevity, and as long as I’m here, the ideas… To me, it’s a semi-mys­ti­cal process, very much like if you want the phone to ring, the best thing to do is get in the bath. It’s guar­an­teed to ring as soon as you get in. And it’s the same with song­writ­ing. You must out­wit them and be avail­able to them when they de­cide to come, not when they’ve said or when you’ve ex­pected them to come. It means stay­ing home a lot.

You’ve lived a lot of life in as many years. If you could, is there any­thing you’d go back and do dif­fer­ently?

I had a trip to Trinidad – it was in the years be­fore Tap, and I was play­ing with one of the two-tone bands in Lon­don called Skaface, and I ate some fish that I re­ally wish I’d never eaten. I would never do that again. I would ei­ther eat the fish, but not go to Trinidad, or go to Trinidad and not eat the fish. The com­bi­na­tion proved al­most deadly.

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