Peterborough Today OCTOBER 2, 2006 - by Duncan Hall


Thirty years ago, Lloyd Watson performed at the Reading Festival with some of the biggest names in '70s music. Three decades on and the guitarist still hasn't packed away his plectrum, as entertainments reporter Duncan Hall discovered when he paid him a visit.

Many young bedroom guitarists dream of playing with their musical heroes in front of an 80,000-strong crowd.

Exactly thirty years ago that dream became reality for former city-based musician Lloyd Watson as he lined up as part of '70s supergroup 801 to play at the Reading Rock Festival.

Later the same year the band's third and final performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was to be recorded for posterity on an album called 801 Live - now a highly-prized collector's item.

But it could all have been very different, as only a few months before, Lloyd's career had nearly come to an end.

During a 1976 gig at Peterborough's Golden Fleece alongside fellow blues musician Mick Davison, Lloyd nearly lost his thumb and finger through a freak accident.

Lloyd (57), who now lives in Pennyfield, Pinchbeck, near Spalding, said: "I had hold of my guitar and grabbed hold of the mic - and 240 volts of electricity went through me.

"Luckily, Mick pulled the mains out, but I had big burns on my thumb and finger where I had held the mic stand.

"When I went to hospital there was a chance I could have lost them. They stuck my finger on my left arm and my thumb underneath it, to save them.

"If Mick hadn't been there, it would have been the end of my career - I could have lost them both."

Lloyd still has the scars on his hand to show where the burns were, and the marks on his arm where the damaged fingers were stuck temporarily. Fortunately it only took seven weeks to get his fingers working again and playing in some of the biggest shows of his career.

Lloyd said: "Playing Reading Festival was brilliant. When I walked out on stage I heard someone shout 'Are you all right Lloyd?'

"It was obviously somebody from Peterborough who knew me, who had managed to get to the front."

The band that Lloyd was fronting was a true '70s supergroup, featuring Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno, Sky keyboard player Francis Monkman, Robert Wyatt's bassist Bill MacCormick and future Toto drummer Simon Phillips, with Lloyd taking vocal and guitar duties.

It was formed in 1976 after glam-rockers Roxy Music took a break. The sextet only performed three gigs and released one album before the members went back to their other projects.

801 Live featured versions of songs from Eno and Manzanera's solo back catalogue as well as covers of Kinks classic You Really Got Me and The Beatles' psychedelic experiment Tomorrow Never Knows, credited as TNK on the album.

Lloyd said: "The 801 Live album was the only time in my life where everything on the whole album was rehearsed from the first note to the last."

The band played a warm-up gig in West Runcton before hitting the stage at Reading and then recording the album at the London show. Already by that point Lloyd had been enjoying a long and varied career, having started out in 1963 with his first band The Pathfinders.

After a couple of years, Lloyd joined another outfit called the Soulmates alongside Little Stevie Wonder's cousin, who worked at RAF Alconbury.

Lloyd said: "I was with The Soulmates until 1967 or 1968 when I started getting noticed playing blues and soul music. "I got signed up by a record label called Blue Horizon."

He did his first recording sessions in 1967 at the age of 19 with guitarist Top Topham, whose career had started as the original guitarist for The Yardbirds - a place later taken up by legends such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

But the boost to his career which took him to playing with the big boys came in 1972 when he joined a trio called In The Beginning, who had decided to enter a folk rock contest organised by national music magazine Melody Maker.

Lloyd said: "Just before the concert the other two guys decided to go off and do something else - so I entered the solo section of the competition."

On June 10, 1972, readers of the weekly music magazine found nestled among the front page stories about Neil Young, John Lennon and Simon and Garfunkel a piece headlined "Listen - Lloyd's Won!" announcing that Lloyd had scooped the competition's top prize.

The achievement opened all sorts of doors for the guitarist, who appeared on the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test and was invited to tour with such '70s heavyweight rockers as King Crimson, David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust period, John Lee Hooker, Gerry Rafferty, Jethro Tull and Roxy Music.

Roxy Music were to have the biggest effect on the shaping of Lloyd's career, as he guested on members' solo albums, including Brian Eno's debut Here Come The Warm Jets, and sax player Andy Mackay's In Search Of Eddie Riff.

And it was from there that the idea of 801 came - and brought Lloyd possibly his biggest recognition to date.

Only a couple of years ago music magazine Uncut featured the band's version of Tomorrow Never Knows on a compilation of Beatles covers - gaining 801 more recognition.

Lloyd himself began to take a backseat from the mainstream music industry in the early '80s as he settled down and got married.

But that didn't stop him still playing locally, and today his gig diary is still filled well into 2007 with live shows, where he either plays solo with his beloved Fender Stratocaster, or alongside his band - made up of Rob Hackett on bass and Mark Forbear on drums.

Lloyd also gives guitar lessons to keep the money coming in and pass on some of his own skills on the slide guitar.

He said: "I have no regrets at all. It has been 40-odd years I have been playing and I still can't wait for the next gig."