Steve Bingham and Slim Chance: Life is Good on New Cross Road!

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The year was 1975 and I’d just returned from what would be the final Faces gig in Long Island, New York. Under the banner of Rod Stewart & The Faces – the performance was a decidedly over-the-top Roddish affair with almost the entire set list consisting of selections from the rooster haired rocker’s solo slabs, save for rollicking renditions of “Memphis,” “Miss Judy’s Farm” and “Stay with Me,” all from the classic 1971 Faces platter A Nod Is as Good as A Wink…  

 By this juncture, The Faces’ heart and soul and most gifted songwriter – Ronnie Lane – was long gone. Frustrated with the trappings of stardom, Ronnie went solo with a new band – aptly titled Slim Chance. In his place for that tour stood bassist Tetsu Yamauchi. A competent player, as his history with Free and other studio work proved, but no one could replace our beloved Plonk. And even Ronnie Wood had an understudy – Jessie Ed Davis – another great player, but not of the Faces musical ilk.

 No Ronnie Lane meant no “Stone,” “Richmond,” “You’re So Rude,” “Last Orders Please,” “Debris,” or “Glad and Sorry,” among others. Sacrilege!

 By then Ronnie’s solo slabs, Anymore for Anymore (1974) and Slim Chance (1975) were staples on my turntable. And they were hard discs to come by in the States, available only as imports at import prices at Bleecker Bob’s in gritty New York City. But a fan’s gotta do what a fan’s gotta do!

I’d say that a select few of us among the nearly sold-out show in the middle of suburbia would have preferred an intimate Slim Chance gig to the rock star showboating of Stewart and then-new Rolling Stone Woody. However there was slim chance of that happening, as Ronnie’s rootsy ensemble, though an artistic triumph, was not commercially viable in the burgeoning days of punk, prog, and rock music’s transformation from a niche artform to a bona fide segment of show-biz.  

 Fast forward to forty years or so to The Half Moon in Putney, London. Mark Preston, Derek Hanlon and I are filming Know Your Bass Player. I’m interviewing Slim Chance bassist Steve Bingham whose lines I’d learned as a teenager. With Lane singing lead and playing rhythm – Ronnie needed a bass player with character. Enter Bingham!

Mark Preston, Steve Bingham, Tom Semioli at The Half Moon Mark Preston, Steve Bingham, Tom Semioli at The Half Moon

Mark Preston, Steve Bingham, Tom Semioli at The Half Moon

In 2010, years after Lane’s passing, Slim Chance reformed. Their goal was “to create a show which celebrates the range of Ronnie’s later music: to take this show to people in village halls and clubs, festivals and theatres at home and abroad; and eventually, joined by numerous friends, to resurrect the Passing Show itself.” Mission accomplished.

 New Cross Road is the “newly reformed and unrepentant” Slim Chance’s third release on their own Fishpool imprint.  Once again the lads – bassist vocalist Steve Bingham; Charlie Hard on vocals, fiddle, accordion, and keys; Billy Nicholls on vocals, mandolin, acoustic guitar; drummer Brendan O’Neill; the always nattily attired Steve Simpson on vocals, guitar, mandolin, and fiddle; and Geraint Watkins on vocals and keys – render a few Ronnie Lane gems, along with newly composed songs, and a Who number “Squeeze Box.”

Check your album credits and concert memories and you’ll discover these local legends alongside Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, The Who, Ian Dury, Frankie Miller, Geno Washington, Carl Perkins, Van Morrison, Eric Bibb and Pete Brown, Colin Blunstone, to cite a few. More on that below!

As Steve Bingham is among my bass heroes, I put his name in the headline, and conversed with him about Slim Chance’s latest offering. I love talking to my record collection!

Slim Chance has been reformed and unrepentant for nearly a decade: how has the band evolved since Charlie and Steve Simpson decided to give Ronnie’s ensemble another shot?

Since Charlie Hart and Steve Simpson first decided to get Slim Chance back together nearly 10 years ago it has evolved in many ways. The core original members of Charlie and Steve together with myself and keyboard/vocal legend Geraint Watkins have remained the same but there have been quite a few changes of other personnel over the years. It’s a long story why various members have come and gone but the most important thing for us is that the band is now the best it’s ever been and very settled. Key factors are the addition of Brendan O’Neil on drums who spent 10 years working with the legendary Rory Gallagher and Billy Nicholls who spent many years as the Who’s director of music and is also a highly respected and hugely successful songwriter. 

Comment on the dynamic of Slim Chance in that no single member is the focal point – the lead vocals, solos, are all shared among the band! How do you thrive sans a sexy, strutting lead singer!

One of the main factors with Slim Chance is that there is no one member of the band who is the front man as we all take turns singing lead vocals and share backing vocals, solos etc. which at first prompted comments about us having no focal point but over the years people have come to respect us for what we do and it’s worked to our advantage as it makes us hugely flexible with loads of different options to suit every occasion! 

New Cross Road is self-produced with help from Pat Collier – how do six geezers agree on anything! Or was it a matter of whomever wrote the song takes control over the production?

Our latest album New Cross Road was produced by the band along with studio owner/engineer Pat Collier who is incredibly talented and had a huge impact on the recording. Of course it’s difficult with 6 different opinions sometimes ringing around the control room but we quickly realized that it was all sounding so good that the small details were not things to argue about and Pat’s sound advice always seemed to shine through making the whole process hugely enjoyable. 

Once again New Cross Road sounds like Slim Chance playing in my living room – were most of the tracks cut live? Certainly you worked them out on stage as the tracks swing and have a warm resonance. 

All of the tracks on New Cross Road were recorded live with us all in the studio having lots of fun! Most of them were first takes as we’d spent a few days in a rehearsal studio before the recording sessions and of course many of them had been played live several times so we were all really familiar with the songs and there was such a good atmosphere in the recording room that it was almost like playing a live gig! Many people have already commented on the fact that it sounds like a band having fun and really enjoying themselves and we’re all really pleased with the spirit and vibe of the album. 

I dig the unison lines on “Flossie Lane”- what horn part inspired that lick? Where is Flossie Lane? Does it really exist? What’s the story behind this song?

“Flossie Lane” is a song I wrote all about a pub landlady!! The pub in question is the Sun Inn in Leintwardine Shropshire and it’s one of only a handful of “Parlour Pubs” left in the UK. The landlady of the pub was Flossie Lane -no relation to Ronnie- and she was Britain’s oldest publican when she died aged 94. The pub has now been extended but originally you walked in and Flossie’s room was to the left with the drinking room to the right…basically her house!! Amazingly the new owners kept her room and the bar room exactly as it was when she died and they were kind enough to allow us to film a video of “Flossie Lane” there recently which will be released to social media soon! 

The main unison line which is played by everyone was composed on the bass over a number of months as I wanted a really good riff to hold the song together. I just had to write the song about Flossie after my wife and I visited the pub some years ago and I thought then what a wonderful story it would be for a song. It did take a few years to materialize but it’s been well worth it and to hear it with the video is amazing because all of a sudden the lyrics come to life in the very room where she lived. 

 Interesting that Slim Chance chose to render “Chicken Wired” and “Annie” from Rough Mix – what inspired the band to remake those two Lane gems?

“Chicken Wired” was a song that first appeared on Ronnie’s first solo album “Anymore for Anymore” which I played bass on and I also played it live with him many times in 1974 when I toured the country with RONNIE LANE’S PASSING SHOW. We tried in the set some years ago but for some reason it didn’t work. However, when Brendan joined on drums it became a barn-stormer so it had to go on the album! 

Billy Nichols does a fantastic job on “Annie” and sounds to my ears, a bit like Ronnie with his pitch and timbre – thoughts?

“Annie” is a lovely song sung beautifully by Billy Nicholls who was a good friend of Ronnie back in the day and he has a very similar voice with an incredible range so he was the perfect match! 

 Do you have any plans to play Daltrey and Townshend the Slim Chance version of “Squeezebox” – terrific rendition – it’s a real rave up – superior to the original to my ears!  What prompted this recording?

“Squeezebox” is a song we’ve played on and off live for a few years now and we chose to record it this time around as we wanted a bit more punch to the album and it really came out great with the very first take! Billy Nicholls played it to Pete Townshend who absolutely loves it and he’s said really nice things about the album as a whole.  

When I saw Slim Chance render “Debris” at The Half Moon – it brought the house down – how did you approach cutting a song that is such a classic? Let’s review the “Debris” bassline – Ronnie cut it on fretless with the Faces and it sounded like an upright – our man Bingham renders sweet upper-register counterpoint, and a grooves mightily in the pocket – talk about your approach to the bass track – very, very soulful! Did you cut that on the Mustang with flats?

“Debris” is a classic Ronnie Lane song and we’ve been playing it live for a few years now. It always goes down a storm and Geraint Watkins delivers a superb vocal performance along with a very soulful track which we are all very proud of. We approached it exactly as we would on a gig. The structure of the song is always the same but we all have total freedom in how we play it and it’s wonderful to play the bass on this one because I never play it the same way twice and the last few choruses are really wild! I often think of the great James Jamerson when I play this and there are definitely influences of his wonderful playing on what I do. I’d like to think he’s listening with approval somewhere!! The actual bass I used on all of the recordings was a 1961 Fender Precision owned by Charlie Hart. Heaven only knows how long the round wound strings have been on it but they still sound great! It’s prompted me to have my own 1963 Precision restored which I should get back in the summer! 

Ian McLagen and the Bump Band covered “Spiritual Babe” – tell us about the Slim Chance version.

“Spiritual Babe” is a lovely song written by Ronnie in Austin Texas when he was very ill. It’s a lesser known work but a beautiful song with heartfelt lyrics which we decided needed to be on the album. It’s one of those songs that you have to sit down and really listen to but if you’re prepared to get into it then you won’t be disappointed. The vocal was a first take which I only intended as a run through but the band and Pat Collier wouldn’t let me do it again as they all thought it was perfect and in hindsight I’m glad we left if how it is! 

Despite the fact that digital technology permeates every aspect of our lives, folks still yearn to hear real voices and acoustic instruments – why is the sound of Slim Chance more relevant in 2018 than it may have been back when Ronnie started the band in ’74?

One thing that has kept the band together and continues to be inspirational is the reception we get when playing live. We are not there to be pop stars or posers as our only aim is to play great live music with heartfelt soul and to give the people who come to see us something to smile about. Our gigs usually end with one big knees up and everyone is happy at the end of the show which is why we continue to do it! 

Explain the significance of the album title New Cross Road.

New Cross Road is a road that runs between the Elephant and Castle and New Cross in South East London and it’s where we rehearse!! We were all sitting on a hot summer’s afternoon debating what to call the album and nobody could agree on a title until somebody (I can’t remember who!) came up with the idea of calling it New Cross Road which we all immediately agreed on and the meeting was finished allowing us all to go to the pub! 

We had a great time making New Cross Road and it shows in the recordings. We laughed all the way through it and I think the years of playing the songs live make this album our best to date and we’re now looking forward to promoting the album on live gigs and doing what we do best which is enjoying the thrill of being in a fabulous live band. 

Tom Semioli interviews Steve Bingham for Know Your Bass Player Tom Semioli interviews Steve Bingham for Know Your Bass Player

Tom Semioli interviews Steve Bingham for Know Your Bass Player

New Cross Road is out now on Fishpool Records.

For all things Slim Chance check out:

 Watch Steve Bingham on Know Your Bass Player On Film:

Huffington Post: Tom Semioli Slim Chance: And the Band Plays On The Move (2016)

Huffington Post: Tom Semioli Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance Are Alive and Well (2014)

STEVE SIMPSON vocals, guitar, mandolin and fiddle, has worked with Frankie Miller, Eric Bibb, Roger Chapman, and played on Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, One for the Road and See Me.

CHARLIE HART vocals, fiddle, accordion and keys, has played with Pete Brown, Ian Dury, Eric Clapton and worked on Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, One for the Road, Rough Mix, See Me, Rockpalast.

STEVE BINGHAM vocals and bass, played with Geno Washington, the Foundations, Colin Blunstone, worked on Anymore for Anymore, played bass on The Poacher and toured with the Passing Show

GERAINT WATKINS vocals and keys has played with Carl Perkins, Nick Lowe, Van Morrison, released his own albums and joined Slim Chance for the 2004 Ronnie Lane Albert Hall concert.

BRENDAN O’NEILL, drums, has worked with Rory Gallagher, Nine Below Zero, Glen Tilbrook to mention a few. Brendan knew Steve Marriott and is highly respected for his all round musicianship.

BILLY NICHOLLS, vocals, mandolin and acoustic guitar, knew Ronnie well as he and the Small Faces played on each other’s records back in the Sixties. Since that time Billy has been a prolific and successful songwriter and singer and has also worked extensively with The Who.