Mitch Dalton’s session shenanigans
The studio guitarist’s guide to happiness and personal fulfilment. S is for Shadows.
There must exist an area of psychiatric study that deals with childhood influences and consequent life choices. In my case I refer not to the pathologically irrational and heartbreaking lure of Tottenham Hotspur FC. Or the uniquely challenging repercussions on my net worth that decades of season ticket renewals have engendered. However, this emotional scar is but an amuse bouche on the personal menu of mistakes if contrasted with the seismic aftershock that occurred during a family holiday to Bournemouth back in the mid-Jurassic era.
There was I, innocently vandalising the hotel’s one-armed bandit, when it happened. The adjacent juke box whirred into life. The room filled with a sound that might have emanated from Ursa Minor Seventh. What not-onEarth was this? The twangy guitar? The echo? The drums? Apache’. That’s what it was.
And that’s when I became a professional guitarist, in my juvenile head at least. I nagged my parents. I got guitar lessons. I spent all my pocket money on the works of Hank and the boys. I can confidently lay claim to ownership of one of the finest collections of memorabilia featuring the UK’s premier Instrumental Combo. Yep. There’s obsessive. There’s sad. And then there’s the 11-yearold me. All of which serves to preface the weirdness that occurred when childhood hero worship met grown-up reality.
It got off to a false start, to be fair. There I was, sitting at home between marriages, when out of a clear blue telephone came the stuff of comic strip fantasy. “Hello? Is that Mitch Dalton? It’s Bruce Welch here. Could you come and play on a record I’m producing?” Cue the feather and a technical knock-down. But would you Adam-And-Eve it? I couldn’t. How could it be possible that I was just too busy? Suitably crushed, I spent the following week thinking I had hallucinated the call.
But all was not lost. Fastforward a couple of years: “Hello? Is that Mitch Dalton? It’s Hank Marvin. Could you possibly come along and play on a record I’m producing?” “Er. Yes it is. And yes I can. Try stopping me this time!”
A few days later I found myself overdubbing in Hank B’s home studio, under the watchful ear of my childhood hero. Once the inconvenience of having to play the guitar was done with, I spent an unforgettable day talking instruments and band history. The great man fielded the questions from my outer eight-year-old with kindness, patience and no little humour. However, I noted that my new friend emigrated to Australia within a few short weeks of our meeting. Coincidence? You decide.
And then, some time later, came the enquiry “Hello. Is that Mitch Dalton? It’s Brian Bennett here. I wonder if you could play on a record I’m producing?”
Mr B is delightful man, a great drummer and a fine composer. The nostalgia fest was under way almost from the start, as I lapped up the display of framed music, platinum discs and programmes on The Shadowbilia strewn studio walls. It came as a shock that I had retained considerably more Shad-info than he, and could spout more trivia per square metre than the owner himself. But that’s fandom for you, I guess.
I bumped into Hank again while deputising for him on Surprise Surprise. Due to the clue contained in the title of Cilla’s TV show it was essential for Mr Wonderful Land to be hidden until the big moment. So I spent three reverb-drenched hours rehearsing FBI with the house band.
And I met Bruce while playing at Shadowmania, the annual fest for electronically tagged middleaged males at The Lakeside Club. Theme For Young Lovers. On a ’62 Strat. With the original drummer. Can it get better?
The last word must go to Brian, whom I have come to know well. “Mitch. I’ve had an incredible time. The band changed my career path and my life. But I don’t quite understand it all.” And as I replied, “Brian. You’d have to be eight years old to understand. And by the way – it didn’t just give you a job for life. It gave me one too.” Out Of The Shadows* indeed. (*Er. Second album. 13 tracks. Released in 1962. I need help).