NHC MUSIC - In The Head Of The Artists Vol 8. - The Puzzlers!

This episode of In the Head of the Artists is with Jim Dorman and Jim McKellan of The Puzzlers!

Nhc's resident guitar geek Martin McCann gets the lowdown on their set ups and finds out what they have been using both in the studio and live.

WARNING - this article may be steeped in guitar geekiness, proceed with caution!

The twin guitar attack of The Puzzlers - tell us about your roles in the band, if you have any set ones that is and a little about the history of the puzzlers. Also what got you both started on guitar and a little about your music journeys this far.

JD - Hi Martin. good to talk to you again, I hope you're well pal.

I play guitar and provide vocals in The Puzzlers. The band started off after a chance meeting between Gordon Tosh (drums and percussion) and I when I was doing a DJ set at The Noizy Indie Social Club in 2010. Gordon and I used to play together in a band called Bigman in the mid 80s and we hadn't seen each other since the band broke up. It was a brilliant surprise to see him and we got talking about old times and we entertained some friends about the band's stories and escapades.

After some badgering from The Noizy's Brian Deanie, Gordon and I arranged to get together for a jam for 'old times sake'. Such was the success and enjoyment of that session, we agreed to get together to continue jamming over the coming weeks and we soon put together a set of nine or ten songs. About a month later, Gordon said one of his workmates Andy Morrison wanted to come along to hear what we were doing. After that session, Andy asked if he could be our bass player. Great news we thought, the only problem was Andy had never picked up a bass guitar in his life. Undaunted by this fact, it tickled Gordon and I's punk sensibility, I started to teach Andy some basslines on a bass I had lying about and he quickly learned the songs we had been rehearsing.

In early 2011, Brian Deanie came down to listen to one of our practices and immediately offered us our first gig which was to be the opening band for Isa & The Filthy Tongues. We nervously accepted Brian's offer but were hit with an immediate dilemma, we didn't have a band name. Over the next couple of weeks we amassed a list of 350 possible band names and we spent an afternoon googling every single one of them. Much to our dismay, every suggested name had been used, At a loss, Andy commented "this band naming thing is a bit of a puzzle", well that's the cleaned up version of what he actually said. Catching on that remark, I searched 'The Puzzlers' and lo and behold there was nothing listed, so we became The Puzzlers!

We knew our sound needed beefed up a bit by adding a second guitar and luckily enough after our first gig, one of my pals Rob Huggins (The Cry, The Puzzlers, Muttnik and loads more) came up to me and said "I want to play in The Puzzlers". Rob joined the band and was with us for about six months before he left to set up Muttnik. We then advertised for a new guitarist and within a week Jim McKellan joined us. I had seen Jim playing with his band 'The Liberty Club' and was really impressed with their songs and especially his guitar playing. Jim came into his first practice with us and blew us away as he'd learned most of our songs from what was available online at that time.

I got my first guitar from my Ma's catalogue when I was 15. It was a Kay acoustic and it was a nightmare to play, the action was sky high and I quickly lost interest. One day, my best pal Alan McNiven's Dad (who was a fantastic country and western player) encouraged me to bring over my guitar and somehow he got a tune out of this box of nightmares and I was once again enthused to learn how to play the guitar. I knew however it wouldn't be on that unforgiving finger shredder. So I saved up my pocket money and bought a cheap Les Paul copy from WD Forrest on the Gallowgate. Around the same time, I set up a mobile disco (Poptones) and threw my heart and soul into it. My mate Alan McNiven then set up a band called Phase 4 and then I got involved teching for them and then the legendary Itai Itai. During this time I got the bug to start my own band and me and my pal Pat McCluskey (Bigman, The Cry, The Dorries, DME and a few more) formed 'Bigman'. That's where Gordon came in.

Bigman split up and then I formed a band called 'The Hoax' in the late 80s with RIaymy Donnelly (Bigman, The Hoax, Mrs Ghandis Mushroom Party), Andy Tagg (Lost Chord, The Hoax, Emotional Blackmail) and Simon Stewart (Bigman, The Hoax, The Cry, Muttnik, Gimme Gimme Gimmies, plus much more no doubt). Once The Hoax split up I went on to work with Blackwood and Barky! Barky. After Barky! Barky, I gave up playing live and recorded some home demos occassionally with Alan McNiven.

JM - Alright Martin...I should've got in before JD, he's definitely the talker.

I play guitar and sing in The Puzzlers although my main role is to bring the average age down a bit, pretty sure it was the main reason they wanted me in the first place, basically eye candy.
Jimbob's covered up to the early puzzlers so here's how our paths came to cross.....
I played in a few bands when I was younger , started off as a singer but made a better guitar player, until I eventually drifted away from it and pretty much stopped playing. After a few years I started making electronic type music and enjoyed that until a good friend of mine pointed out that aye, it's all very good, but did I remember that I was a fucking guitar player?

So that was the end of that. I picked up the guitar again and started writing songs.
I worked with a guy called Alan Gold and it turned out he was like the love child of the Terminator and Gary Kasparov brought to life on the bass. After a false start or two The Liberty Club was born with Stewartie Robertson on drums and Graham Motherwell on vocals. I'm pretty much the guitar player I am today because of playing with these guys, i learned more from Alan in a few years than I'd learned up to that point. I'm generally a pretty lazy songwriter, just ask the puzzlers Mr Mo, but that was a good time for me. I still love a lot of the songs we did, there's still stuff on facebook and soundcloud if you want to check it out. Actually, the best review I ever had came from NHC's resident dark lord Meester Mainy....Sound great, look shit. He may have put it a little more eloquently though.
The Liberty Club was ending and the Puzzlers posted on their Facebook page they were looking for another guitar player, so I thought i'd give it a bash. It was either that or start a Texas tribute act.

I went to that first practice and they didn't really notice I was completely winging it from cheat sheets i'd cobbled together the night before. Result.

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?

JD - My 'go to' guitar is currently my Gretsch G6129T-1962 Silver Jet and I back it up for gigs with my alpine white Fender FSR Telecaster Deluxe and my black Fender American Standard Telecaster. I still have my Ibanez Roadstar ll from my Bigman/The Hoax days, I loved the sound I got from it but hated the locking nut system. For 'live' acoustic gigs I use a black Ovation Elite TX semi-acoustic but for writing and jamming in my house I always return to my trusty Washburn Tanglewood semi-acoustic guitar which I bought in 1985. My claim to fame for that guitar, Jim Brady (Barky! Barky, The Johnny 7, The Rezillos) used that guitar on Barky! Barky's recording of 'Present'. I also own a Mahalo telecaster shaped ukelele and a Westfield 12-string acoustic. I recently gifted my Antoria 6-string banjo to Jack Getty from The Vibe because he's my up and coming hero, watch out for them by the way.

JM - My main guitar and without a doubt the best guitar I've ever had is a Spear RD relic. i still can't believe it was only £150. It's an all mahogany body and neck, weighs a ton and plays like a dream. The hardware is solid on it and the p90 pickups are just amazing. I genuinely love this guitar, can't say enough good things about it.

I've got quite a few others. A Hofner Colorama that I use for backup at gigs, it's p90 loaded as well. A Lag Roxane RM200 with EMG-HZ split humbuckers, the range of tones off this one is great and a special mention to the Epiphone SG400, a guitar so good I bought it twice, the exact same one. I've never really been a gear snob, generally whatever guitar that's closet to hand is the best one.

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 modelling options - do you think it will retire the old classics?

JD - My amp of choice is my Fender Frontman 212r which has got great drive and tone. I still have my Peavey Bandit 65 amp which is currently lying in a cupboard. When we play live though, I'll usually take what's there and offer the best amp to our Jim. I hate the modelling amps for 'live' purposes but don't mind using them for recording. I hope the old models never retire, my favourite amp was the old VOX AC30.

JM - Playing live I've not really got a preference, generally what ever's there with a clean channel, I run my sound off my effects board. I've got a wee Fender 85 at home though and the sound from that is brilliant, there's nothing could persuade me to part with it. In an ideal world I'd be running a Marshall JCM2000 and a JCM800 in tandem through half stacks, if you've not tried it, go in to Berckley and give it a shot, it's fucking awesome!

Effects and pedals - the puzzlers have a fair bit of variety and texture in their songs. What are your current little boxes of tricks?? Is there any effects that have survived on your board over the years?

JD - Back in the day, I hooked up a Boss Super Overdrive and Stereo Chorus pedals but the chorus pedal got knocked at a Hoax gig. With The Puzzlers, I use a Boss ME-50 Guitar Multiple Effects unit and I tend to use the available overdrive, delay, flanger and phaser settings.

JM - Just now i use a Boss gt-6, mainly for delay, really the thing is wasted on me.

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 ??

JD - I like to change my strings before every gig and recording session. I always use Elixir 11's, but for our last gig supporting The Rezillos I tried Elixir's new Optiweb strings for the first time. I was a bit unsure of them as I tuned them up but was happy with them when I was amplified. They're recommended. My picks are Jim Dunlop's 0.88mm . One of my favourite toys is my ebow, currently I use it on one of The Puzzlers songs 'Take It Like A Man' but I'd use it much more if they'd let me. One of the joys is using my Line 6 Relay G30 Wireless Guitar System, it means my ankles don't get fankled in my leads. I tend to move about a bit when playing and wireless gives me the freedom I like witout falling on my backside. The other thing that I now depend on is an annual MOT for my guitars, I give my main guitars into Matt Morrow (Matt's Guitars) for an annual check up, it always feels like a new guitar every time I get them back from him. I thoroughly recommend Matt (Macfloyd, Cousti, Two Can Dan plus a million more!). I usually only use a capo when playing my acoustic with Viki Getty (Electric Fits, Amsterjam, Two Can Dan plus more).
JM - Gaffer tape.

And finally, which guitarist has caught your ear recently. What inspires you to keep playing and who was your first guitar hero?

JD - This might sound a bit cheesy but Jim McKellan delights me every time he picks up his guitar and it is an absolute joy to play alongside him. My other favourite guitarists are John Duncan, Jim and Johnny Brady but my all time hero is Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers), an underrated guitarist but the melodic lines he created were truly insirational for me.

JM - Since we're doing a bit of a love in I'm gonna give an honourable mention here to JD, we split the singing duties between us now and he's been able to explore the guitar a lot more, some of the lines have been sublime. I had a few guitar heroes, still do, RIck Parfitt was great, i'd just picked up a guitar and could play fifty songs but I loved Angus Young, Steve Cropper and Steve Jones along the way too.


Big thanks to The Puzzlers for the chat be sure to check them out here;