By Garry Corbett
I first became aware of Mike Gates through Nic Vipond at the much lamented Record Centre, a jazz record shop in Loveday Street, Birmingham. Mike had recorded his Scorched Earth album at Nic’s place and he was keen to promote it. At the time I was working in the record industry and The Record Centre was a favourite customer of mine. Later when Mike was the man behind Rehab Records he commissioned me in my role as photographer to shoot the cover images for Chris Bowden’s Tomorrow Band’s second album, 2 to Get Set.
For my portrait of Mike I chose to use a non-conventional portrait lens, a 24mm, something more usually associated with landscape or urban photography. I wanted to include my subject slightly smaller in the scene than usual and include the arc of the bandstand at Waterside on Birmingham’s canal system under which he is standing.
The following words are Mike’s:
I was eight or nine years old when I bought my first record. Even to this day it is still one of the most vivid memories I have… It was a Chuck Berry album. I’d seen him on the TV and thought Wow! Who is this guy? I don’t remember my family being particularly musical, apart from my Dad playing Sinatra endlessly into the night. I guess for me Chuck Berry was the beginning of a love affair, an obsession even, with music.
And so it had begun. Over the next couple of years I had discovered Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and the greatest in my mind: Jerry Lee Lewis.
It was in my early teens that the voyage of discovery really began. After brief flirtations with punk, ska, heavy rock, etc, it was with a close friend at school, led on by his dope-smoking errant uncle, that led us on to our next journey. By the age of 16 we were heavily into the UK and American folk/singer-songwriter scene. My vinyl collection was rapidly growing, my pockets rapidly emptying. Roy Harper, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Terry Callier, all becoming not just firm favourites, but an integral part of our lives. That’s what music does to us you see, it becomes a living, breathing part of us that no-one can ever take away. It was, perhaps inevitably, during this time that I first picked up a guitar and started to strum. I had found my freedom. This was my place to be. I began writing songs, performing live and recording… a love affair that still burns brightly, even if not so regularly, these days.
In my late teens I was introduced to this thing called jazz, by saxophonist Chris Bowden. And therein began a lifelong friendship and many new musical discoveries. Times may change and years come and go, but we still find plenty to enjoy and discuss when listening to great albums like 80/81 by Pat Metheny featuring Michael Brecker, Heavy Weather by Weather Report, or Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, to name but a few. Since I started reviewing for UK Vibe in January 2015, I have rediscovered the excitement of what it is to be surprised and invigorated by hearing something new and unexpected. And to listen properly again… To take it all in and enjoy it. Talking/writing about someone else’s music can be a challenging task, but ultimately, and surprisingly, I find it an enjoyable, rewarding experience.
These days I don’t get to gig or record as much, but new life has recently been injected into these bones and I can now be seen and heard performing live with my daughter, Kia. She has a bright future ahead of her, hopefully in the world of music. Over the years I’ve had many bands, possibly the most memorable being a nine piece folk/jazz outfit featuring Chris Bowden on saxes and Joe Murphy on violin. The spirit of this band continues today in the form of Scorched Earth, a kind of musical collective with which we’ve released two albums. I’m currently working on a new set of tunes with Chris Bowden and bassist Simon “Smudge” Smith, hopefully taking it out as a live working band in the coming months.
On a professional level I have just about paid for the daily bread by running, with my long-suffering and wonderful wife, Helena, Kingate Press, a Birmingham based printing company We now also operate a CD/DVD printing and manufacturing business.
This is a great outlet for local bands and musicians, it’s a bonus to be able to mix business and pleasure and help put CD and vinyl packages together for musicians. Forming Rehab Records, with Chris Bowden, a few years back, was a great experience, and having been his “go to” man for a few years now when his trio tours, we’ve had some wonderful, some slightly dubious, but always interesting and rewarding experiences along the way… most notably the thrill of being on tour when the trio supported E.S.T. throughout the UK.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the music… and always will be. Live it, breath it, love it!
Mike recommends the following 5-a-day:
Roy Harper: Flat, Baroque And Berserk – So many of my memories are entwined with Roy Harper’s music. This album also inspired me to pick up a guitar and start writing all those years ago.
Keith Jarrett: Belonging – Jarrett’s classic European Quartet featuring Garbarek, Danielson and Christensen. One of the first albums I discovered on my journey into jazz, and still one of the best.
Walter Tevis: Mockingbird – I love a good dystopian novel and this is great one.
“Golden Light” breathing meditation – Life is hard. This has always helped me declutter my mind and turn the negatives into positives.
Open D tuning on my battered old Tanglewood acoustic guitar – What a lovely sound. I have better guitars these days but this is my old faithful. A large part of my musical journey and life’s emotions live within this guitar.