This episode of In the Head of the Artists is with Andy Maggot of Geek Maggot Bingo! NHC's resident guitar geek Martin McCann gets the lowdown on his set up and finds out what he has been using both in the studio and live recently.
WARNING - this article may be steeped in guitar geekiness, proceed with caution !!
I've shared a stage with and seen Geek Maggot Bingo a few times over the past few years, and as a trio they put out a big sound. It's swampy sleazy rock at its best - and one thing is for sure, they never disappoint!
Andy - can you tell us about GMB and a bit about how it came about. Also what got you started on guitar and a little about your music journeys this far?
I started Geek Maggot Bingo up in 2012 after I folded my previous band. That band had been going for 5 years and it got stale. I was looking to do something a little different and I’d already started writing songs that I felt needed to be played in a way that wasn’t going to happen with that lineup. I wanted something with more rhythm and blues, more soul, more rock ‘n’ roll but with grit and aggression. We played a final gig at the end of August 2012, which was a mistake – once you’ve decided a band’s over, you should just finish it there and then rather than trying to go out on something memorable. It never works.
I expected that I’d be waiting a while before I could get Geek Maggot Bingo sorted (I’d already decided on the name) but I got asked if I could get something together for a fundraiser for Pussy Riot so I managed to get a few musicians on board and we played our first gig less than a month after the other band finished. Those musicians left one by one to concentrate on their other bands, Johnny and Will joined and they played their first gig with Geek Maggot Bingo in March 2013, supporting The Bonnevilles. Over the intervening years, we’ve developed our sound to a point which is pretty much what I had in mind when I had the idea for the band.
As for what got me started on guitar, it just kind of happened.
I had no interest in playing music when I was a kid and my family had no musical background at all, unless you count my Grandad singing Danny Boy after a couple of pints or the fact that Elvis Costello’s Gran was my Gran’s cousin.
As far as I was concerned, music was something that people were born with, some magic skill that was passed down in families, much like art or acting. Definitely not something that people like me could do. Then, when I was about 13, a new kid started in my class at school and he lived near me so we became pals. He had an electric guitar and an amp (the guitar was a Kay Strat copy) and he showed me how to play power chords because, if I remember correctly, that was all he could play at the time.
We started a band, him on guitar and me on vocals, and just fannied about. We had a name (The Obnoxious) but we only had one full song (I’ve Got Hair Like Margaret Thatcher) and that was only about 45 seconds long.
I got a Kay Les Paul copy for xmas or birthday when I was about 14, learned the major chords, barre chords and blues scale, got an amp (a solid state 60Watt Sound City) about a year later and I was hooked!
I started a load of bands, or rather the same band but with a different name every month or two but we did nothing beyond thrashing out as much noise as possible in rehearsal rooms (Scout huts and cellars).
At one point Bill Steer (who went to my school), later of Napalm Death and Carcass, was nearly going to start a band with us but he was too good a guitarist for us so we never bothered going any further with it.
I ‘lost’ my Kay guitar when I was about 17 - the tories decided to stop housing benefits for anyone who stayed in the same area for a specific length of time (can’t really remember how long) so I couldn’t pay my rent and the landlord took all my stuff.
After that I didn’t really have much to do with bands or playing (stood in on bass for one gig in Spain when I lived over there and jammed with pals a couple of times at the end of the ‘80s) until I was given an old guitar (a Strat copy) in about 2006. That’s when I started to think about getting something together again and that led to this.
Tools of the trade - tell us about your favourite guitars, the one you go to first. What do you like about it above all others. And any close seconds, don't spare the details. And I'm sure there were some that got away, is there any you regret losing for whatever reason?
I don’t have a ‘favourite’ guitar as I’ve only got one that’s gig-worthy.
It’s a Modern Player Fender Tele+. I switched the stock bridge pickup for a Seymour Duncan Trembucker and it has all the bluesy aggression I could want while still sounding like a Telecaster.
I’ve never had an ‘expensive’ guitar (although they’ve all been expensive to me, except the ones I got for free!) but they’ve all had their own character and sound.
At the moment, apart from the Tele, I’ve still got the Strat copy which needs a lot of work done to it (it’d cost more than the guitar’s worth but if I got the money, I’d get it done anyway), a Teisco tulip, an Ibanez semi-acoustic and a little travel guitar which I found out by the bins near my flat.
There have been plenty of guitars that I’ve coveted but they’ve always been financially out of reach. I’ve got my eye on one now but I’m not going to tell you what it is as it’s a limited run and I don’t want it selling out before I can scrape the cash together. But if someone wants to give me £700, I’ll say ‘Thank you’ and then send them a photo of me playing it!
I do regret losing the Kay Les Paul copy. It was a much better guitar than the price tag or the reputation would suggest. I also had a Squier Strat stolen from me which was very annoying but I don’t really miss it.
These go to 11 - what's your choice for amplification and given the chance what would be your ideal rig for live shows or playing at home. Do you need a specific type (heads or combos) or can you make anything work for you? What's your thoughts on the latest amp modeling options - do you think it will retire the old classics? And as trio and specifically a singer/guitarist, do you use anything specific to maximise your sound?
I used to not give a shit what amp I used and I’d use whatever was in the venue or rehearsal place. I use pedals so I could get a workable sound with pretty much any amp. Or so I thought. Then, a couple of years ago, I bought a 12 Watt Fender Vaporizer and my ears were opened to the glory of valve amps.
I never believed it when people would say how much richer and just plain better valve amps sounded until I played through that amp. Safe to say, I had been wrong, they had been right and I’m now a valve amp snob.
Thankfully there are some great, cheap (as far as amplifiers go) valve amps that have been brought out in recent years and I now also have an 18 Watt Epiphone Century and15 Watt Yerasov GTA15, all combos. You may have noticed that they’re all relatively low output but that was my other discovery about valve amps (which I’d been told but didn’t believe – shame on me), that they’re much louder than solid state amps.
Also, small amps are so much lighter and easier to cart about, which my back thanks me for and it means I can take my own sound to gigs rather than having to mess around with some shitty-sounding house amp.
As for modelling amps, I can’t stand them. Every single one I’ve heard, no matter who’s playing through it, has sounded like crap to my ears. I don’t hear any life in them. But y’know, each to their own and all that.
I don’t use anything special to maximise my sound. In fact, as I said, I actually prefer using smaller amps. They stop me from going overboard with my pedals as I have less headroom to play with and so I get the sound of the guitar as well as the effect of the pedals coming through. The impression that we’re a loud band is just an aural illusion and it’s really just down to the way I play. As long as my guitar cuts through the drums and bass, I’m happy. Although, saying that, Johnny hits them drums hard so I have to hit my strings pretty hard too!
Effects and pedals - the fairy dust sprinkled on the top of most good guitar sounds. What are your current little boxes of tricks? Is there any effects that have survived on your board over the years? Do you struggle to keep guitars clear in the mix both live and in the studio?
My pedal board is pretty consistent although I am thinking of adding a reverb pedal (Boss Fender ’63 Reverb) which I got recently for recording with.
My guitar goes into a TU-3 tuner, a TS9 (always on, drive right the way down), a Big Muff (always on), a Mooer Pure boost (for lead bursts) and finally a Marshall Echohead (for a couple of songs). All powered by a Diago Powerstation on a Diago portable board (nice and small so I can’t go overboard with pedals).
The first effect pedals I ever bought when I was a teenager were a second hand TS9 and, a little later, a Big Muff which I used together, so my sound hasn’t changed too much over the years. I just have a little more self-control now!
Being a three-piece band, it’s pretty easy to keep the instruments separated without sounding like we’re playing in different rooms. We all have our own frequencies and we stick to them.
Bits and pieces - when on tour or playing local is there anything specific you can't do without? From picks to strings, cables and capos - the little things can mean a lot. Any pro tricks you've pick up along the way you'd like to share with us?
I like to always use one of my own amps as I know the settings to get my sound and I use Ibanez Grip Wizard plectrums (the ones with the sandpaper stuff on them) as my hands get pretty sweaty when I play and I don’t really want to have to go scrabbling for a dropped plectrum in the dark.
I always use Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings. They work for me so I’ve never felt tempted to try anything else.
The only ‘tricks’ I can suggest are to buy an amp you can transport to gigs without slipping a disc, learn the settings for your sound and always use it; if you use more than one pedal, get a pedal board; and always wipe your guitar strings down with a dry cloth after playing (but not on stage when the next band are waiting to set up) – they’ll last longer and sound fresher.
And finally, which guitarist has caught your ear recently. What inspires you to keep playing and who was your first guitar hero?
There are a couple of current guitarists who I rate highly – Andy from The Bonnevilles and Lew aka Thee Rag ‘N’ Bone Man (that’s THEE Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, not the big lad with the beard and the hit singles). Andy and Lew both play the blues with similar intention but quite different approaches. Check them out.
I guess what inspires me to keep playing is that I like making rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a way I can channel my aggression and say what I want to say and, believe me, I’ve got quite a lot of aggression to channel and a fair few things to say!
As for guitar heroes, I guess the first guitarist I became aware of was Angus Young. Up until I started listening to AC/DC (around the time Bon Scott died) I really didn’t pay any attention to who played what in bands. I was aware of who the vocalists were but who did what else didn’t interest me. I just took each song as one unified sound which is really how it should be.
Once I started playing guitar that all changed, of course, and I began to pay attention.
Now I take notice of every guitarist I hear whether I like them or not. Learning what you don’t want to do is as important (or maybe more important) as picking up ideas from the guitarists you admire.