Interviews from Roddy Cleere's Irish Music Show

Peter Green in Waterford

November 1999

It is a wonderful time to be a Peter Green fan. After many years of seclusion, Peter has returned, with just as much strength, musically, as the days of Fleetwood Mac so many years ago. The Splinter Group, Peter's new band, is now no longer an unsteady project, but a full-time band and enigma in itself. It's finally safe to say that Peter is back.

It has not, however, been a smooth ride. In 1970, he quit Fleetwood Mac, recorded an abstract solo album which was hated by critics, and quit music altogether. He resumed his career in 1977, only to retire again by 1984. On top of this, Peter was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the 80's, when millions of Fleetwood Mac fans were saying "When are Lindsey and Stevie going to get back together?", Peter Green was undergoing electroshock therapy and going in and out of psychiatric hospitals. He was planning never to touch a guitar again until an old buddy, Nigel Watson, convinced him to start playing for fun again. This was the start of this remarkable comeback.

Peter Green and The Splinter Group have now released two full albums, done several European tours, an American tour, and are hard at work on their third album. Peter is enjoying a remarkable Indian summer, and is only now receiving the credit he has been due for decades, as one of British blues' greatest pioneers.

Peter Greenbaum was born in the East End of London in 1946. He learnt guitar as a teenager. This was the era in England of the Shadows, and there is something of the reverb sound of Hank Marvin in Peter's playing, although other influences such as B.B. King and Otis Rush dominate. Into the sixties and Peter was playing with Peter B's Looners, a band featuring Peter Bardens on keyboards, and one Mick Fleetwood on drums. Peter started on bass, but soon graduated to lead guitar. By 1974, mental health problems had closed in on him, but by 1979, there was a slight return. Peter Vernon Kell got Peter to record In The Skies. This was an uneven but welcome return to a great guitarist. More albums followed, and some tentative live dates. Later albums would be lacklustre, and Peter was once more having problems. By 1984, he was again absent from the music scene, and I for one thought that we had seen the last of him. Years of illness, and drastic treatment followed, but that was not the end of the story. By 1995, interest in Peter was picking up again. Martin Celmins brought out a biography of Peter, and there was the Gary Moore 'tribute' album out. By 1996, Peter was reunited with old friend Nigel Watson, and the Splinter Group was born, with Peter having to relearn how to play from the start. Early dates were nervy affairs by all accounts, but now Peter is singing and playing better than at any time since the Fleetwood Mac days.

I was fortunate to secure an interview with Peter Green and Nigel Watson during his recent visit to Waterford as part of the successful Westend Live weekend. (thanks Kieran!)

Some time ago Peter and Nigel released the Robert Johnson Songbook. Was Robert Johnson a big influence on the career of Peter Green?

Peter Green: "Oh yes he was an influence. He was one of the 'brown men' that I could relate to and then play what I called the white man blues and I developed my own style from that."

Who was responsible for the idea to record the Robert Johnson Songbook?

Nigel Watson: "I suppose I will have to take the blame for that originally. The one thing Peter and I liked about it was the feel and that sort of Blues and that sort of man. It was the feel that made us do it."

What's the attraction of Robert Johnson?

Nigel: "He died around 1938 and he was unique. He had such a unique style of playing and singing and there are not many people that can touch that style and that includes us but we can get near and we can understand the feel and we work on that."

Peter, have you been enjoying being back in the limelight again after all the lost years?

Peter: "Yes I must admit I have been enjoying it very much."

I mentioned to Peter that I had seen a description of him on his website as 'the old master' of the blues. How does he react to that kind of accolade?

Peter: "Oh no, I don't have a blues heritage. Hmm, [laughs] to the Jews I suppose I would be the old master! [Peters' real surname is Greenbaum and is of Jewish decent]. No I don't see myself as an 'old master' of the blues."

Does Peter ever get the opportunity to meet and perhaps play with Mick Fleetwood or John McVie?

Peter: "Don't get to play with them no. I get to meet them yea. John does not want to play with me, I don't think he ever did! There again John didn't want to play with Eric Clapton either to tell you the truth. I don't think John ever knew who he wanted to play with! John prefers jazz musicians and I think he prefers jazz to blues. John Mayall as well, I think he prefers jazz also. That's why I left John Mayall. I do see Mick Fleetwood, we go out to dinner occasionally. The other members seem to be quite standoffish. They are friendly but working all the time. I wish they had helped me out with the fame a little more when I was in and out of mental hospitals. That might not be the reason of course. I saw John at the Hall of Fame awards recently."

Would Peter like to see Santana cover another Peter Green song?

Peter: "They are very cautious about getting another hit out of someones elses song, aren't they? I didn't like what they did with Black Magic Woman at first when I found out that I couldn't play it. I can play it but I'd like to play it with them especially the end part, which is theirs."

Does Peter get tired of playing the old songs or does he want to move on?

Peter: "I want to move on but I like to play the old songs if that is what people want to hear and everyone else in the band agrees to it."

How would Peter Green like to be remembered?

Peter: "[laughs] I don't think it would make much difference, would it? I did have a think about this not too long ago and do you know, I can't remember how! I've lost it now, maybe because of my visit to Ireland [laughs]. I did have this idea on how I would like to be remembered and if I remember I will tell you!!"

It's true to say that Peter Green is not the man he used to be and it is also true to say that at times on stage he was lost. But if you take into account what he has been through, it is very much a remarkable sight to see him play and when he was firing on all cylinders he was marvelous. His induction into the Music Hall of Fame was well deserved and long overdue. His many fans in Waterford will have different views on his recent visit here but all will surely agree that it is a breath of fresh air to see musicians of his caliber playing here.

If Peter plays here again, do yourself a favour, and see that rarest of things, a musician who still 'feels' his music!

Peter Green at the Open Directory Project

Roddy Cleere's Irish Music Show on WLRfm
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Last updated 29 April 2002

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Interviews from Roddy Cleere's Irish Music Show