CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): As we all know, Ollie didn't make a big noise about himself, or his talent, yet he surely must have been frustrated – at times – about not breaking through to a bigger audience, certainly beyond guitar circles. Did he ever talk about this with you? How did he view his position in the scheme of things, at the time?
ZANNA: Haha, I don’t think I know anybody who knew Ollie who would agree with the first part of the first sentence, then again it could be interpreted in different ways!!
Ollie was not a quiet person and he always demanded center stage, privately as well as onstage for better or worse! He was very skilled at stealing the show in all aspects!!!
For instance, if I or somebody else was on a roll with a solo or otherwise getting attention on stage, Ollie would immediately start a “duckwalk “ (and of course he did a great one!) or some other visual spectacle so that attention was taken away from the other musician!
On the other hand, once we played a gig with Kevin in some auditorium in Holland or Belgium and all the power went except for a few little guide lights onstage and in the hall.
We hoped for the power to return and started singing our loudest acoustic versions of “Henry the Eighth,” “Teddy Bears’ Picknick” and “The Hat Song” as well as a couple of Calypsos. Then Ollie took center stage and did a ten minute rendition of Lord Buckley’s “Jonah and the Whale”. You could have heard a pin drop and he received huge applause at the end!! Then it became clear that we wouldn’t get the power back so we invited everybody back the next day and that gig was a great one. So on that occasion I think Hassle saved the gig. :-)
He was quite envious of other people at times (he hated Alan Holdsworth with a vengeance) and was quick to put them down verbally or visually and so I believe that this is how he vented his frustration, but sadly he was a difficult person to work (and live) with – especially because he wouldn’t talk about these matters honestly from the heart, so it could never be sorted out!
I actually think this was the result of low self-esteem stemming from his childhood. He desperately needed reassurance even though he was well aware of his own skills and talents. He was like a child in so many ways, and though frustrating for us all who had to keep track of him I believe the secret behind his tremendous creativity was this great connection with – and I hesitate to use this phrase – his inner child, which was to be found in other areas of his life as well!
He spent a lot of time in another dimension and would walk away from you and disappear much like a two-year-old would, and it would be very stressful for us all, but leave him bedazzled as to why!
Kevin once said to me: “Zanna, you must be a complete saint, since you are able to handle life with Ollie!!”
He would also walk out of the tour bus with his eyes fixed on God knows what and walk straight into the reception, not having a clue what he was expected to do in there, leaving me to carry the suitcases. The same applied for everyday situations like food-shopping, he would never offer to carry bags – not due to laziness, simply because his mind was in some other dimension! As soon as I asked him for help, he would be quick to take over some weight though!
Once we arrived at a gig and he’d forgotten to bring his guitar, ha-ha. He was literally in his own little Lala Land.
CR: What did moving to Spain (well, Deja, right) accomplish for Ollie, in your opinion (other than the obvious: because Kevin lived there!)? What kind of scene did you encounter when you arrived? How did it differ from the UK?
ZANNA: First of all, I think his mind was opened by the language barrier, being forced to learn a new language since nobody spoke English in Spain at that time. I think it did him good to experience being an outsider in a bigger community. Learning Spanish didn’t come easy for him and he struggled quite a bit to get to grips with it. One of my favourite memories was when we were sitting at an outdoors café in Madrid and Ollie wanted some bread to feed the sparrows and he asked the waiter:
“Camarero por favour – un poco de pan por los pequenos aviones”!!! (“Waiter please – some bread for the little airplanes!!!” ) :-)
We first went to Deja in the spring of 1981 where Kevin lived and we were based there for a year. It is now often referred to as a “Hippy Paradise” during the late '70s early '80s.
The Deja year was very interesting, a small village in the mountains on the west coast of Mallorca, with only few houses having electricity. Gas for cooking had to be bought in canisters, and water was bought separately at a high price and brought in by a big water truck and filled in big water tanks in the ground, again not all houses had tanks and had to bring water manually. There was still a roadside open water place where some of the local women took their laundry and washed by hand, just like in the Biblical days!
Out of the 170 people who lived there approx 90 were native Mallorcines, the rest were Brittish, some French and German. All the foreigners were artists; painters, authors (Robert Graves being the really famous one), actors (like Robert Goulet and Michael Douglas) and musicians. The nature was breathtakingly beautiful and we both enjoyed skipping down the mountainside, though olive groves over streams and obstacles to get down to the Cala the little rocky bay where we went swimming!
Ollie also had a very down to earth approach in his dream world and he really loved this basic lifestyle! For a while I believe it worked wonders for his whole nervous system, and he was calmer and more at ease with himself than at any other time...
Everything was more laidback than in England, it was nice and relaxing and much wonderful food and wine. We wrote quite a bit of music at that time but I don’t know what happened to the majority of the recordings!
When we first got there Ollie took an instant dislike to Joan Biblioni who had been playing guitar with Kevin for a while and recorded some songs with him – this is also to be found on Youtube from the same TV show as John Cale and Andy Summers, though recorded at some different date and in Deja
When we weren’t rehearsing with Kevin, we rehearsed with The Sex Beatles and wrote some stuff with them, mainly front person Hamish McDonald. We also did that famous gig with the Sex Beatles at Selva Rock Festival when Ollie played a solo during sound check “so steaming Hot” that his amp actually caught fire, haha.
Ollie also joined the local Pa’amboli Band, together with Thomas Graves (son of Robert) and artist Dave Templeton! A fun quirky rock band doing fun versions of old goodies. :-)
The scene differed very much from the UK in that Spain just experienced its birth of free expression after Franco’s departure. Everybody was amazed at what they were allowed to and trying to achieve… There was a fairly hefty blossom period of many (inadvertently) funny artistic expressions as they were trying their footing on previously forbidden ground and untried territory. Everybody was reaching for a bit of assistance from the free world, I think!
CR: I enjoyed reading your recollections of Ollie in the studio (posted on the Ollie Halsall Archive)...apparently, Ollie made quite a name for himself in Spain as a producer and sessioneer.
ZANNA: Well, he was called on by Ramoncin, the first Spanish Punk artist, to produce an album! When we got to Madrid, Ramoncin needed songs as well and asked Ollie to contribute, but it wasn’t really Ollie’s thing so he played some of the songs I’d written for the Zanna band and in the end we both contributed with equal amount of songs. Ollie’s productions were always severely lacking in bottom for my liking.
He produced various albums for bands who admired his guitar playing but I didn’t like his productions, he made wonderfully heavy Rock bands sound like little pop bands, we always argued about this. Unfortunately, I can’t remember any names of these bands!
We both did lots of sessions with top ten bands like Azul y Negro and “our own” studio-produced band Cinemaspop, a band put together by the producer Julian Ruiz in the studio Audiofilm. This was a kind of '80s Techno Band and we also did an album for ARIOLA called Sal Gorda, which was a spoof.
We also both joined “Flamenco Rock” artist Manzanita, Ollie recorded with him; I just did the stage work!
Ollie also used to do loads of work for people in advertising who admired him, one of them Augustin something and another (Luis something) in a studio called Circo or Circus. Amongst other things he did a TV ad for Schweppes orange in Spanish to the Police song, “I’ll be watching you!” (Every Breath You Take”): Guitar and song!!! Fabulous!
We also did some sort of compilation cover of three Police songs introducing Ollie as String, haha. Sting himself loved it and asked us to get on their tour when Flock of Seagulls dropped out as support act the day before Madrid. That was just a short while after Bolle had left Madrid and we didn’t have a working version of the Zanna band. This was one hell of a missed opportunity which we both grieved over. – Otherwise Ollie never expressed anything like this!
CR: Can you give me two or three other relevant examples of a major contribution that he made to one of those Spanish bands, and/or projects? Are there some overlooked gems waiting to be rediscovered?
ZANNA: Well, like I’ve mentioned, he did produce the album “Corta” for Ramoncin, wrote half the songs (I wrote the other half) and played guitar and pulled in Boz Burrell on bass...but we weren’t allowed to mention his name due to contractual reasons (but the first single from the album, “Sal de Naja,” was the only hit song from the album and that was one of mine and I guess I feel a little need to blow my own horn here...because the music scene in Spain at the time was extremely chauvinistic and even though it was frequently stated that I was the first female to play keyboards in a rock band in the country, I was also frequently referred to as “Ollie’s woman on keyboards,” and I found that quite hurtful. I believe I was the stronger songwriter out of the two of us, and Ollie actually sold some songs off that we had co-written in his own name only! Sorry for ranting!) Ollie also contributed to the following two albums of Ramoncin.
He contributed (as we all did) a lot to the Cinemaspop albums, especially the second one, “Clockwork Orange,” where we wrote all tracks except for “Wild Thing”. Ollie did the first Spanish rap ever produced in Spain, called “Mucho Calor para un Ingles,” and that could possibly be described as a gem!
We had however nothing to do with the actual production in terms of the mixing of the trax. Julian Ruiz actually destroyed the songs by chopping them up and turning them into maxi mixes and we hated the end result. I have never listened back to these and we were never given copies of the original 3-4 min versions of the songs.
Nevertheless we had four hit songs (that we didn’t feel too proud of) with the band; “Zorba,” “We Love You Marilyn,” “Following The Blonde” and “Let’s Go To The Movies.” After I left Spain in 1985 to move to Hollywood, Ollie joined a successful group called Radio Futura and another one whose name I can’t remember but you should be able to find it somewhere in the Ollie Halsall Archive.
I don’t really know what he did with these bands but there ought to be recordings, so if you find out maybe you could share the knowledge with me. Well, that’s the best I can do at this time. I’m sorry for ranting on about myself at times without being asked to do so, but Ollie was a complex personality. He was on the one hand wonderful, sweet, funny and creative and he was also a completely unbearable ass. I believe this is typical for most people who classify as a Genius and I do feel he was one of those!
Ollie's favourite quote was Jerry Lee Lewis’ quote from the Bible: “Either be hot or cold – if lukewarm, the Lord shall spew you forthwith from his mouth!” And though much can be said about Ollie Halsall – Lukewarm he was certainly not!! (I really miss the old bastard!!!)
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