MORE ABOUT ROB.....
With a father in the Air Force, Rob's childhood was a series of new places, new homes, and new names to learn as the family moved from country to country and city to city. Marlborough Hill Junior School just outside Harrow on the Hill is one name Rob has never forgotten. It was at this school where Rob was introduced to the transformative power of music. Ironically, up to that point, Rob had no interest in music. Rob sang regularly at home for his mum — Edelweiss was a favourite that got plenty of airtime in the Oliphant household back in those early days — but found nothing of interest at school which only offered the recorder or drum (neither of which were adequate accompaniment to his emerging lyrical talents). And, despite his gift for singing to mum, Rob was denied a spot in the school choir.
Instead it was an old piano and a simple reel with a forgotten name that piqued Rob's interest. Rob was standing with a group of children around a tatty upright piano with the felt cover falling off the back through age and misuse by naughty kids. A fellow pupil, called Lawrence Fromberg, (now an accountant but happy nevertheless) was playing the simple reel. Singing along, Rob remembers noting for the first time the mesmerized look that washed over the faces of the other children as they watched their friend play. This observation turned out to be the catalyst for a relationship with music that has evolved over the years.
Following this early experience, Rob and his family moved away from the old piano and sing along sessions to a new school next to the old Whitefriars glass foundry. The foundry was a grey building with broken windows. It used to belch smoke every day, leaving a chewy sandy feel in the air. There were no more sing alongs at this school, but the concerts for mum continued in earnest. And, perhaps to cool the vocal chords or to clear away the grit from the smoky air, in those days Rob spent many time creeping down the stairs of his parents sweet shop to help himself to the biggest ice cream in the history of ice creams.
Skipping ahead to senior school, Rob started a household band with friends Nick Turner and Mick Smith (who died attempting flight on a motor cycle over an Alp about 25 years ago). The household aspect stemmed from various pieces of furniture the trio used while miming to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Nick was Keith Emerson on keyboards AKA ironing boar, Mick was Carl Palmer on drums AKA various pots pans and cushions, and Rob did his best Greg Lake using a large slide rule while standing on a Persian rug.
At Christmas they decided to take their success to the next level and agreed to buy themselves real instruments as Christmas presents. Rob went to a music shop to look at Bass Guitars. They all seemed very big and very ordinary when compared to the more flashy six string guitars with all kinds of buttons and tremolo arms. The latter looked like much more fun. In the end, Rob ended up buying a normal guitar with a tremolo arm figuring that if he couldnt tune it, at the very least he could fiddle around and have some fun making weird sounds.
When Emerson, Lake, and Palmer AKA Nick, Mick and Rob all met up after Christmas vacation, Rob was the only who carried through the instrument buying pact. As in the real world, the artistic differences furniture vs. the bass guitar with a tremolo arm — proved to be the end of the band and they parted ways.
Rob and his family then moved to the Northolt ‘Racecourse Estate,’ a concrete prison that was the result of a continued slide in family fortunes. While it was rock bottom in every sense, the one bright light in the new domicile was the neighbour across the hall. He was a crazy Scottish guy named Kieran Scannel (last heard of living in Holland selling and modelling underwear) who had a great interest in music. This marked the start of a musical relationship that produced many original songs and transcended many bands and styles.
Fortunes wheel turned again for the Oliphant family and they moved to a lovely new house (Council) in Sudbury Hill, which was the final resting place for both Robs parents. Highlights of those years in Sudbury Hill include a full catalogue of great songs, many dank and smelly rehearsal studios, and a band with no name and no chance for many reasons disorganized, lack of musical ability, and a lead guitar player who insisted on playing from inside a cupboard. The effort was loud and the only result was a partial loss of hearing for Rob.
Next up was The Nomads. Featured on drums was Bud who was the ex boyfriend of Robs then girlfriend, Jane Mason. Steve, who looked like an escape from the Grand Ole Oprey, was on bass guitar. Belinda — a long standing friend from junior school — on keyboards. A man called Keith Mason — the brother of Jane the girlfriend — had the unenviable task of sound engineer although he remained steadfast in that role through all the band years. And, Rob on guitar and backing vocals and Kieran as lead vocalist.
With a rock musical style and all original material, the Nomads achieved limited success including backing Richard Strange at Harrow Tech. There were many demos but the lack marketing knowledge prevented them from making more of their musical creativity. That said, many of the songs written by Kieran and Rob survive to this day with In the Army now a part of the Retros current set
After a great couple of years filled with song writing and playing music, Rob bought his first property and moved from his parents home. The property was an apartment in Ealing Common. Robs apartment in those days was empty apart from a fridge for beers, so there was plenty of space for a full band setup. This was convenient because at that time Rob and Kieran decided to foray into the brave new world of Techno Pop. Enter the band called Fred.
The band included Rob mostly on guitar with the occasional synthesizer on some tracks and backing vocals, Kieran on lead vocals; and, they had a new addition — Nanda Mayo, a colleague from IBM — who was a classically trained pianist and a very skilled music programmer. Rob learned to balance a demanding job with a demanding musical passion and managed to rehearse, write and record songs with Nanda daily.
Fred came on the scene at a time when synthesiser bands were rare as hens teeth. The music of Fred was very edgy synthesizer pop a la OMD with strong melody hooks set against drum machines and complex sequences for bass and effects. All tracks for Fred were written by Kieran, Nanda and Rob. Their strong but arty lyrics kept them out of mainstream pop but earned them plenty of gigs in many of the smarter chic places in London. The members of Fred would turn up painted faces, weird hair and clothes and play fast music accompanied by lots of post new romantic posturing.
Their success generated interest from CBS and several independent labels. And, eventually Fred released a single called All Rights Reserved on the Tiger label, which became a chart topper in Malta. Unfortunately, a lack of understanding about how record companies worked prevented Fred from enjoying any more success than that one hit.
Perhaps already thinking ahead to his career in underwear modelling, Kieran faded from the scene and eventually became more of a live performing member only. Shortly after that, Fred fell apart, Kieran moved on, and Rob and Nanda formed a new band called the Composers.
The Composers had various line ups and at one stage were playing live with a full brass section. Keith the sound man was still hanging in there and he remained as sound engineer throughout all different derivations of the band. With Kierans departure, Rob assumed the role of lead vocals. And, Rob and Nanda continued with their prolific writing and recording which includes several memorable recording sessions in Keiths loft as well as at several sound studios throughout London. The Composers ended with enough material for a three CDs of fully recorded songs with several hundred on the drawing board/cutting room floor.
The last performing band during those musical years was the Katoons. Rob was still on guitar and new additions included Andy Burt on bass, another colleague from IBM, and Steve Williams on drums. All three band members could sing, so the Katoons were a classic three-piece modelled on the Jam. Keith was still the long serving sound engineer and still remains one of Robs closest friends to this day although they are no longer involved in a musical capacity.
The Katoons performed all over London and generated a fair amount of interest from record companies. The musical style was very fast hard pop rock played at a frantic Ramones type of pace. And ultimately, the band was really more of a live act packed with energy and booze and Keith trying to keep them calmed down.
The waning of the Katoons marked a turning point for Rob. He had become disillusioned with the business of music, realising the business itself had nothing to do with music. It was merely an industry with little or no respect for its artists beyond the next album or tour; a vehicle for generating revenue and nothing more.
At the time Rob was working at IBM Richmond and it was there where he met Dave Viney (the other Retro) who was going through Sales School. Fortunately, this particular branch of IBM housed a number of enthusiastic, amateur musicians who got together every Christmas to play for charity. Taking a page out of the music industrys book, these musicians used their talents to generate revenue with the difference being that the money went to charities instead of corporate pockets; the Star and Garter being principle beneficiary. The musicians would gather together and play at all of the Christmas parties. They would also sell song sheets and were always fully booked over the holidays. And, on a side note, this new musical venture marked the first time where Rob had to learn how to read chord tabs.
The holiday band was called the Thorn Boys and the songs they played were a precursor to what the Retros currently play, with at least 20% of them included in todays set. The principle driver in the charity effort was a good friend and IBM colleague John Taylor (JBT), who played bass, with varying contributions from Rob on guitar and vocals, Dave on vocals, Gerry Bell on guitar, Mark Allworth who used to deafen everyone with bad trumpet playing, and loads of other singers. The Thorn Boys would play in pubs and bars and restaurants and wherever the Christmas lunches were happening in the good old days when there were Christmas celebrations.
It was playing these shows that gave Rob the idea for ‘the Self Righteous Brothers’ — a covers band that he formed with his ex brother-in-law Dave Paul (Little Dave). Also in the band was JBT on bass and Steve, a friend of Little Dave's, on lead guitar. The combination of talent from JBT and Steve, both amazing musicians, was a great supplement for the lack of drums and keyboards.
The Self Righteous Brothers enjoyed great success and earned a fair amount of money playing their own versions of covers. This marked a new high in music for Rob as his whole experience up to this point had been pay pay pay. The Self Righteous Brothers grew in popularity and were being offered gigs in London creating a problem of distance for Little Dave. Queue the birth of the Self Righteous Brothers London band featuring, yes, you guessed it: Dave Viney. From then on there was a Self Righteous Brothers South and Self Righteous Brothers North. South was Little Dave and north was Big Dave (well youve all seen the pictures, hes not standing on a box you know!)
Then Rob went off to Australia to live and work for 10 years. Whilst living in Melbourne he did many solo performances in bars to keep his hand in music. At the same time, he kept in touch with all the musicians back home in England. And, when he was visiting, the London set (Self Righteous Brothers North) got together for beers and the odd show (and they were odd).
Rob finally returned to England via Paris and was back in touch with Dave and JBT. There was a lot of discussion about reforming the Self Righteous Brothers North. The North group managed to play one proper gig for the wedding of Rob's sister. And then JBT contracted a liver virus which eventually lead to his death from liver cancer. This was the defining moment and the trigger that started the Retros. It provided the foundation for the band ethos which Rob and Dave believe is truly unique in todays society. A true charity effort focused on improvement of young peoples lives who are suffering from this terrible disease.
Today, Robs story comes full circle in a very personal way with him playing the piano while his teenage daughter sings that forgotten reel from days long gone. She has played a role in the West End Musical 'Oliver!', singing and dancing at the age of 9 and attends vocal lessons, working towards her grade 7 (of 8) She performs in various school concerts with the support of her family and friends. She also manages a school chamber choir where her and 6 other girls perform songs, using her own written harmonies. Rob's son, at the age of 10 is now, working towards his first grade on the clarinet, playing famous Acker Bilk songs (and most recently performing one in his memory, next to a flaming candle) whilst singing everywhere he goes, at school in the choir and in the car with the radio. He has also played the guitar and is seeming more and more interested in starting the piano. One has to wonder if another Oliphant is also finding their own introduction to the transformative power of music and entertainment. And, if so, we can expect many good years of music to come.