Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer going his own way

One of the founders of legendary rock group, Fleetwood Mac, Jeremy’s helping Janet Bamford and her husband Andy Oliver bid for the big time

New tune: ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer (right), performs with Janet Bamford
New tune: ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer (right), performs with Janet Bamford

The rock guitarist who turned his back in the most bizarre of circumstances on Fleetwood Mac before they became multi-millionaires is making music again in a new group featuring a Belfast woman and her English husband.

Jeremy Spencer, a Geordie now living in County Meath, is helping Janet Bamford and Andy Oliver with their bid to hit the big time that he spurned in 1971 when he walked out on Fleetwood Mac who are one of the most successful and enduring rock bands in the world.

Spencer's shock departure in Los Angeles has become part of rock and roll folklore.

On the morning of a Mac gig he went for a walk and never returned having joined the religious cult the Children of God following a chance encounter with one of their 'disciples' on Hollywood Boulevard.

In his absence and after the exit of their eccentric founder Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac re-grouped and set off in a new musical direction which catapulted them into superstardom with classic albums like Rumours which sold 40 million copies.

But Spencer has made his mark again in recent years, recording a number of solo projects.

But it was only a chance remark which led him to link up with Janet and hubby Andy who, like Jeremy, is also from Hartlepool.

Andy (35), says: "I was talking to my mother's neighbour who mentioned that Jeremy Spencer had lived beside her in Hartlepool when he was growing up. So I dropped him an email. He replied and we chatted about our hometown and eventually he asked me to send him some of my music which I did.

"He fully produced a track for me and one thing led to another."

The upshot of the collaboration was that Jeremy and Andy recorded an album. They toyed with the idea of calling themselves The Monkey Hangers, which comes from a name given to people from Hartlepool because of a story of how a monkey was hanged there as a spy during the Napoleonic Wars.

They decided against that however and went for the name Steetley, an area near their home place which had a famous colliery.

But by the end of making the album, Steetley were a trio.

Janet Bamford had been recruited to join Jeremy and Andy to play tin whistle and sing on a number of tracks and is now part of the Steetley set-up.

Janet and Andy met in London in 2001 when they were both actors. "We toured for six months in a play called Wild Girl and Wild Boy and four years later we got married."

The couple now live in Clitheroe, Lancashire, where Andy has a recording studio.

He swapped acting for music almost five years ago when he gave up drinking which had developed into a problem for him.

He says: "I was leaning on it too much and I was going out on benders which were going on too long.

"I feel so much better now but the only thing I miss is the Guinness. My grandmother was Irish and she always let me have a can of stout when I was young."

Andy has no idea where his grandmother was from. "We have tried to find out but we can't discover any of the family history. All we know is that their name was Judge."

There's no such mystery about Janet's roots. She says: "I was born in Belfast and though I went to Lancashire with my parents at a young age, I think I'm related to half the city. We've got McParlands, McFarlands, McShanes, Quinns and Johnstons in our family."

Her late father was from Randalstown and her mother came from Andersonstown in West Belfast where the family spent a few months every summer. "I've millions of cousins," says Janet who went to drama school in London at the age of 17.

Settling on an accent was tricky, especially at the height of the troubles. "I used to speak with a Belfast accent on visits back home for obvious reasons but in England I used to get beaten up in the playground for talking like that because all Irish people were supposed to be thick.

"And then at drama school they spent three years trying to get rid of both of my accents. And then most of my work in the early days in the theatre was in Irish roles!"

Janet has acted in TV programmes like Coronation Street; Emmerdale and Wire in the Blood. And she's starred in two recent films Dream On and Celluloid to which Andy contributed some of the music.

Even though acting is her career, music is Janet's passion. And especially Irish music which has always been in her family.

"My father Sam Bamford was a button accordion player who became the chairman of the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in England and my brothers also played music."

Janet's uncle Eamonn O'Carroll, who died earlier this year, played drums in one of Northern Ireland's most popular folk groups, Blackthorn.

Janet plays the whistle, flute, bodhran and piano accordion and tried but failed to master the uilleann pipes.

She is loving her involvement with Steetley but she has no intention of giving up on her acting.

She's also a teacher with the National Youth theatre in England where one of her main jobs is running audition workshops for students.

"I tell them the acting is the easy part – it's the working in bars and call centres between roles which is the hardest thing.

"That's why Steetley has been so important. It's fabulous to have an artistic outlet. It feeds your soul, you need it."

As for Jeremy Spencer, Andy and Janet still have to pinch themselves sometimes that they've been working with a musical legend.

Andy says: "People who know Jeremy's background always ask me if I was intimidated by him and his reputation as such a brilliant musician but he's not that sort of bloke. He has been extremely generous to us with his advice and support."

Jeremy says the tie-up with Andy and Janet has been stimulating. "It's refreshing to work with young talent like them, and I have especially been enjoying the song writing and arranging aspect of it.

"I am looking forward to continuing working together. Andy and I have so many ideas we don't know what to do with, and Janet is coming forward as a singer. There's something about the vulnerability in her voice."

He calls Steetley a trio not a band. "The band moniker raises preconceived expectations in the public's minds."

Fleetwood Mac, they're not.

As yet Steetley have no definite plans to play live but Jeremy, who's touring America next year, says: "I can see it happening in low-key, folk club style, intimate situations."

Jeremy is working on another home-grown recording project with a trio of French musicians called Font of Blue and he has only one major regret about quitting Fleetwood Mac – and that's the manner of his departure.

He believes he could have handled it better. But he adds: "Maybe if I hadn't done it that way, I would not have made that necessary move; I most likely would not be here today and Fleetwood Mac would not have gone on to the greater heights they deserved.

"It's possible that I could have fitted in with some of their musical direction during their Rumours period. I thought they had hit on something good, musically, and although it wasn't blues, it was a lot more in keeping with my musical taste than the dark, heavy rock road the band was heading in the late '60s."

But Jeremy doesn't miss the pampered lifestyle and adds: "Besides, I didn't want to live in California."

Jeremy says he keeps in touch with former band members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and recently went to see Fleetwood Mac in concert in Dublin.

He also spent the morning after the gig with Mick Fleetwood in pursuits which weren't exactly rock and roll. "We went to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College before we had lunch," he says.

Sadly Fleetwood Mac's plans for an Australian tour were abandoned after John McVie was diagnosed with cancer.

Jeremy also says he talks to Peter Green – who has become something of a recluse – on the telephone. Occasionally.

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