Talking to Reg Guest one comes to realise that this is someone who has been caught in the pop maelstrom (we're talking in the region 3,000 recording sessions over the years) but is now experiencing the calm after the storm. He jokes about Hove being "boring" but goes on to say how much he likes being near the sea, the cricket ground and the race track. Although he insists that the music business is a "young man's game" he is enjoying music as much as ever and a few impromptu gigs in recent years have given him the bug for performing - so there may still be additions to an exceptional CV.
Unlike Scott Walker, Reg could hardly be described as 'aloof' or 'moody' but he's a quirky, self contained man ("People have often said that I'm in the clouds, all it is, is that I'm into my music; you can't come in and nobody can") not unlike the singular characters that used to inhabit Scott's biographers say, reg is "cheery and avuncular" and a pleasure to interview.
Cutting his teeth as a jazz pianist in the Big Band era, Reg at various times accompanied such showbiz giants as Sinattra, Sammy Davis Jnr and Mel Torme. When the rock 'n' roll craze swept Britain in the late 50's, many jazzers feared for their livelihood but Reg, ever adaptable, took it in his stride. Influenced by Elvis's keyboard man Floyd Cramer, he played on Billy Fury's legendary 'Sound of Fury' album, widely regarded as British rock 'n' rolls' finest, most authentic moment. As well as having his own top 30 rock 'n' roll hit 'Winklepicker Stomp', Reg would later find himself involved in sessions with Eddie Cochran and Little Richard, not to mention becoming musical director of the ground- breaking Six-Five Special TV show.
In the late 60s' working largely with Decca and Phillip's roster of stars (including Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield), Reg was MD or session man on around 200 top 50 hits. Those with even a passing knowledge of British pop will recognise titles such as 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me', 'Shout', 'As Tears Go By', 'The Crying Game' and 'Halfway to Paradise', all of which bear his mark. Having been there at British rock 'n' roll's inception, he was now in the thick of things during the Beat Boom. With his reputation established, Reg was soon to enter perhaps the most rewarding phase of his career - being The Walker Brothers' musical director. He was already familiar with their dramatic, orchestral sound, having played keyboards on their classic early singles 'Make It Easy On Yourself', 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore' and his stirring piano part on 'My Ship Is Coming In' undoubtedly helped make it one of pop's truly joyous moments. Scott Walker's appreciation of Guest's talent was unconcealed: "Reg is obviously brilliant and one of the most under-rated arrangers in the country", he enthused, "if only I could write music like that - he knows exactly what I'm thinking". The rapport between the two men lead to recordings that have, as Scott's biographers say: "retained their ageless quality like exotic, brightly coloured insects preserved in amber". One troubled genius let loose with a brilliant arranger and an orchestra could pack one hell of an emotional punch.
Whilst Reg is often dismissive of his past work ("At Decca we used to turn out corn by the shovelful if it was Dave Berry I couldn't bear to hear it now, it just sounds crap") he is proud of what he achieved with Scott: "This was special. I've thought about this recently and I always knew it was special and with respect it wasn't John or Gary (the other Walkers). I knew that Scott was a really creative artist but I also knew that he wasn't a chart performer. He was also to most people a bit weird I sippose reclusive. There was something very private about him but we were very friendly. I don't think I'm particularly unusual but I have the ability to understand artistic people. I just sensed his whole persona. He's been mistreated all along the line and they would rely on people like me to get through to him, which was dead simple. Once you sympathise with someone it's no problem. So with me he had the opportunity to go as far out as he wanted - and he did. He went his own imperious way and it got him into trouble but he's been proved right in the long run."
For Reg, the late 60's was an immensely creative time and he was on a perpetual high: "I did look back at one period and I suddenly realised that for about six months I'd been in total euphoria all the time. When else in life does this happen to you? Everything was right about my life. I was busy, I was creating, I was doing my music, I was getting the rewards - nice car, nice house. Doing good stuff, probably connected with working with Scott on good, meaty material. Going to the studio, being in control of things, getting recognition and being treated respectfully. I actually miss that. People were very respectful to you because you were doing big things. As soon as you get any kind of hit they were even more respectful and then you get the hangers on"
At this point Reg divulged some endearingly mild off - the - record titbits. Suffice to say that he enjoyed himself but remains a gentleman of the old school. Reflecting on these times he says "that part of pop music is absolutely unbelievable. It really happened to me and in the end it was all too much".
Although Reg's post Walkers career also brought him much work and chart success, especially on the continent (he composed a number one hit for French heart - throb Johnny Halliday) he is unperturbed that his work with Scott is singled out for attention: "I'm quite thrilled really. It's not nice to be forgotten and from my own angle I know what I've done and I'm very happy about that. It's really what keeps me a very happy man. I feel so fulfilled but It's lovely when it's recognised. There was a tendancy in the 60's particularly if you were doing well, to keep you down; 'Don't let him act big - headed, he'll want more money', that kind of attitude. The record companies and agents were really hard nuts and if anything, totally unmusical. The best you could expect from them was that if you did a great big pop hit record they would probably recognise that, but if you were doing something like Scott Walker was doing - and I was backing him for all I was worth - they wouldn't know what the hell you were doing. But then with Scott you're into the blood and guts"
Pop, of course, thrives on glamour and the veneer of style often overshadows misical substance. Consequently the session musicians and arrangers that have contributed so much to pop don't get the same respect and recognition as, say, their jazz counterparts. Reg shows no resentment but comments that "not quite all, but quite a few artists, don't recognise it and if they can dismiss it a little bit or not speak about it then they won't, because it's taking the glory away from them. But I've always known that if it's good, somehow people will find out. I've been chased, off and on, for some years now and I've slowly come to realise that this is an on - going thing. People are interested in the various eras of music and this is quality pop music."
"It's the fault of so many arrangers today that they profess to hate what they do in pop, but he believes in what he's doing", said Scott of Reg back in 66'. Thirty five years on and that belief (no small thanks to the wonders of CD) still shines through, warming the cockles of romantic hearts and securing a special place in the rich tapestry of pop.
Respect, as they say is due.
Reg Guest's work is featured on The Walker Brothers' 'After The Lights Go Out' and Scott Walker's 'Scott' and 'Scott 2'.
MANY THANKS TO BRIAN BELL FOR CONTRIBUTING THIS ARTICLE.
REG ON SCOTT'S 'RECLUSIVE' IMAGE
"He doesn't do it on purpose. I'm sure he hasn't done a damn thing to encourage it. Some people might invent that to get attention. He used to be embarrassed by the crowds outside the studio"
REG ON GETTING THE JOB AS SCOTT'S ARRANGER
"This was a great opportunity for me to make music. And I kind of sensed it back then. I just knew that this was good stuff. We could just sense the talent in each other - him to use me for his backings and me to be one of the few who could see just how good he really was. When he heard some of the sounds in the studio for the first time he used to be thrilled to bits. I thought 'good, I've got it right'".
REG ON 'MRS. MURPHY'
"It's very uncommercial for the time and it's courageous really when I think about it. Because they're paying me to make hit records and here are Scott and I doing this and the only cover I've got is that Scott likes it. That's why it is interesting, you could just go out on a limb a little bit. This is the quality he had of unusualness."
REG ON 'ARCHANGEL'
"That was fabulous. It's well over the top, I'll say that. For pop music we should get the V.C. for that! I think Scott was into Sibelius, he was always quoting symphonies to me: 'I want it like Sibelius' 7th symphony'. We used the organ in the Leicester Square Odeon. It was a hell of a writing job. I remember writing strings, brass section and giving it a thumping huge beat. I must admit I enjoyed that one."
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