SALT at the Marquee Club, London 1977. L-R Mick Clarke, Stuart McDonald, Alan Platt, Stevie Smith. Photo by David Cooper.
A brief history of SALT..
SALT was a great hard hitting rock blues band which was a big success in London and on the UK college circuit in the 70s. We played at the Reading Festival in 1977, opened for Muddy Waters in London and had long residencies at the top London clubs. It was a four piece lineup which featured singer /harp player Stevie Smith with Stuart (Mac) McDonald on bass.
The band came together around 1974 when I walked into the Two Brewers pub in Clapham and found the usual Wednesday night jam going on. It was, I think, Steve Waller on vocals/guitar, Mick Hawksworth on bass and Steve Smith on drums..that's Steve (Arthur Wilson) Smith so you're not confused.. Anyway, after a while Steve Smith the singer / harp player got up to play. I'd met him before briefly and got up to jam. We played "Going Down" and it was great! Steve, (in case you didn't know) is a great musician with a dynamic approach to the job. There was definitely something happening here.
So SALT was formed with Arthur (Steve Smith) Wilson on drums, Stevie, and my friend and Killing Floor man Stuart (Mac) McDonald on bass. Immediately every gig we played was an event and we started to attract a following. Before long we were approached by management (aaagggh!) and found ourselves with a professional booking agent. College gigs followed and we progressed to the bigger clubs around London town.
We played at London's Marquee Club on a regular basis and always had great nights there. We had a strong regular following and the Marquee gigs were always a buzz. We also played regularly at Dingwalls and at the Music Machine, which was a large converted theatre in Camden. We continued to play the pubs as well, and had a long residency at the famous Bridgehouse in Canning Town, appearing on the album "A Week at the Bridge".
Between club dates we travelled up and down the country playing at colleges and universities. Certain areas had stronger support than others..at Braintree or Farnborough Tech we could be assured of a packed house and a frenzied reception. In 1977, now with Alan Platt on drums, we secured the opening spot for Muddy Waters at his big London concert at the New Victoria. Playing to what we assumed would be a "purist" blues audience we were delighted with the enthusiastic response and ended by encoring with "Johnny B Goode!".
Lou Martin joined us on piano, and the gig received an excellent review in The Times newspaper.
The same year we appeared on the Reading Festival, at the time the biggest annual rock event in Britain. Headliners that night were Thin Lizzy. We played in the afternoon and got a tremendous reception. John Peel's review in SOUNDS confirmed this and noted that our music was "enlivening" and set his feet "most furiously to tapping". Bless him.
The following Marquee photos by David Cooper.
The one thing that SALT could not achieve was a decent record deal, despite the best efforts of our management. The A&R people would come and see us and report that they'd had their best night out for years, but no, they weren't interested in signing the band. Eventually we got an offer to record an E.P. (a four track vinyl single for you youngsters) with Raw Records. Raw Records were actually a punk label so I don't know how we ended up on it - confused times. The record was recorded at Pathway Studio, (where most of Elvis Costello's hits were recorded), with Colin "Slash" Nash on drums and Matt Irving guesting on piano on "Key to the Highway". The result was a raucous bit of rock blues which still sounds good today. However by the time the record was released most of the steam had gone out of SALT's short career.
It was punk time, and although SALT had more energy and was more exciting than most punk bands, we didn't fit the category. On one memorable night we played at the 100 Club in Oxford St with the Sex Pistols, who were booked as our support band. We played first to our audience of denim clad longhairs, and then a whole new audience of strangely attired punks took over for the Sex Pistols slot. It was an historic and symbolic evening as punk took over from bands such as ourselves. As one fan told Steve.."we really like SALT but we can't pogo to it!"
Around this time our friends Lou Martin and Rod DeAth finished their spell working with the Rory Gallagher Band, and were once again available. We decided to form up as RAMROD, with Steve, myself and Mac. The original plan was to take the band to the States but it didn't work out that way. RAMROD played some great gigs in and around London including a second appearance with Muddy, this time at The Rainbow. We also toured Ireland. Following a lot of hard work by Rod, where he flew all over America in a weekend to set up record company interest we had a major showcase at the Music Machine. It was a great night, but no deal was forthcoming - it was simply the wrong time.
Photo below: Rory Gallagher jams with Ramrod at the Bridgehouse, Canning Town. Rory, Rod DeAth, Gerry McAvoy, Dave Edwards and Lou Martin. Linda Cooper looks on (bottom right).
I decided to go to the States anyway, and ended up living in Los Angeles for the whole of 1979, while the band carried on with Dave Edwards on guitar before finally splitting. When I returned to England the following year I found that the music scene had changed considerably. Whereas in America I'd been listening to bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allmans, British radio and television was dominated by acts like Madness and the Police. It felt very strange.
However, Stevie was still around and after a while we decided to reform SALT with bass player Jeff Brown and Steve Sinclair on drums. Once again the gigs became events, and we soon had two regular residencies pulling in good crowds.. one at the Star in Croydon, the other at the Kings Head in Fulham. However the band never took off again in the way that it had, and eventually we drifted in to new ventures. The band, now with Len Davies on bass and Ron Berg on drums was finally over. (We thought).
Stevie Smith has had great success with the band Ruthless Blues, becoming one of the strongest acts on the UK and Scandinavian scene, while I've been busy with the Mick Clarke Band. Mac settled back in his native mid-Wales, currently plays with The Sultana Brothers, and is featured on the two new Killing Floor albums. SALT is stll remembered by many as one of the highlights of the London scene of the 70's.
Live photos from the Greyhound, Fulham, 1976 with Steve, Mick, Mac and Alan. Photos by courtesy of David Cooper.
Contact Stevie here or check his Facebook page at Stevie Smith Music
Postscript: SALT's long time roadie was one Chris Ranson.. originally an early fan of the band who began helping out after the gigs and soon became a skilled and valuable kingpin of the band's operations. Chris went on to tour the world and work with many bands including Status Quo, Yes, Gary Moore and Captain Beefheart, and is currently working with Deep Purple.
SALT's part time soundman Pete Murdoch shared his time between us and his other band.. a pub rock group from Deptford called Dire Straits. I last saw Pete at the Roxy in Hollywood as he escorted his band on their first world tour. Get in touch Pete!
And finally .. Alan Platt was SALT's drummer in our most productive period throughout 1977, playing at the Reading Festival and the Muddy Waters concert in London. Sadly we have recently learned that Alan died back in 2005 from a street accident leading to a coma. Alan was a great drummer and a great character, always a lot of fun to be with, and with a great love for good music and good times. Deeply missed by us all.
Over the years we've lost Lou Martin and Rod DeAth, both close friends. Matt Irving went on to work with Paul Young when he was at his zenith as a pop star, but sadly passed away from a long illness last year.
And then......... at a certain point in the twenty first century one Pete Feenstra, a promoter in the Parish of London, suggested a SALT re-union. Being in a position to do so, he laid on a few London gigs and lo and behold, SALT was reborn once again.
Drummer Chris Sharley was recruited, along with myself, Mac and Steve. The first date was in Bromley, Kent and there we all were. (I don't think there was a rehearsal). As I remember Steve turned up late, so there still wasn't a rehearsal, although we ran through a few things with me singing. After a while a crowd assembled including faces I remembered from many (many) years before.
And so we rocked through the set and it wasn't bad, although when we attempted "House of the Rising Sun" as a second encore the whole thing fell apart rather abruptly. Anyway, it was live rockin' blues and I enjoyed it.
SALT went on to play quite a few dates including a return to the Half Moon in Herne Hill, The Boom Boom Club in Sutton and other venues around town. We also played a one off "Blues Attic Revisited" date in Banbury, Oxfordfordshire with Shakey Vick, which was a lot of fun.
I decided that it was time that some of the old demos that I had saw the light of day, so spent some time remastering tracks which came out as "The Cobra's Melodies" and is still available on CD distributed through BGO Records, and is now back on Spotify, Apple Music etc. A possible live in date in Wales in 2014 had to be postponed, but I hope we can make it happen sometime. Mac and Stevie are alive and kicking.. I'm at least alive.. SALT rocks on..
Contact SALT at firstname.lastname@example.org
From the previous SALT re-union tours:
"Saw you last night in Whetstone. Thank you so much for a fantastic evening! I came with a couple of friends including my mate Pete who followed SALT all around London in 76-77 and raved about you, now I know why! I hope you guys enjoyed yourselves as much as I did and everybody else who was there. Thanks Again. Tour some more!"
John Anderson. London
"simply excellent; a great set full of Blues standards and some of Steve Smiths best one-liners.
Mick Clarke is a fine guitarist and he plays the Gibson like it was meant to be, hard and fast, reserving his Strat for slide work. Chris Sharley drums with remarkable finesse and original bassist Stuart Mac McDonald is every inch the classic Blues bassist, solid, unmoving and an absolute bedrock for the band.....Over an hour of brilliant hearty Blues with Stevie blowing his harp for all he was worth, normally the right one, and mixing it up with Micks guitar.
It really sounded as though they hadn't been apart for three decades. The banter was good and the band really looked and sounded like they were enjoying it all".
reviewer: Andy Snipper SALT Live @ All Saints Art Centre Whetstone
full review here
And Mick's contemporary tour blog here
SALT - the London based blues rock band from the 1970s has reformed for selected dates in 2011, with its original line-up of Stevie Smith (vocals / harp) Mick Clarke (guitar) Stuart Mac McDonald (bass) plus Chris Sharley (drums). The band was a big hit on the English club and college circuit in the 70s and played at the Reading Festival in 1977 as well as opening for Muddy Waters at his major London concert that year. The band played its first new dates in January 2011 in the London area.