Rod Stewart’s ex-band mates celebrate his music in Southampton

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The band is still just a few gigs to the good, but even before they’ve finished their set, the venues are rebooking them.

Hardly surprising when you consider that the band is Apart From Rod, three guitarists from the original Rod Stewart band delivering red-hot versions of all the Rod classics, fronted by vocalist Ben Mills.

Pagham’s Gary Grainger is reunited with his old Rod Stewart band mate Jim Cregan; completing the triumvirate is Robin (son of actor John) Le Mesurier - three great names from Rod’s rich history.

Jim stresses the band is still very much in its infancy, but the signs are great so far - not least at a recent gig at The Brook in Southampton, to which Gary and the boys are delighted to return on Saturday, November 12 (doors 8pm).

Archive material

Jim’s hope is that the band will break into the theatres circuit; the hope is that they will play to a backdrop of archive Rod footage. It’s just a question of spreading the word that the band is up and running.

Driving it all is the need to perform; from which point, the band more or less fell into place.

Gary performed with Rod from 1976-81 - years which included the landmark albums Blondes Have More Fun and Footloose And Fancy Free; Robin came in shortly before Gary left, the two coinciding only briefly; Jim, best man at Rod’s wedding and still close mates with him, was in Rod’s band from 1976-1994.

“I was wanting to start a new band, and it seemed ridiculous, here we were looking for something to do and yet we had this great catalogue of songs to draw on,” Jim said.

“I hadn’t even considered playing it, and then it was a conversation with Gary. We decided to give it a go. The other guys all came together. We knew within four bars that it was going to work.”

For Gary, it meant playing songs he hadn’t played for 30 years: “But you never forget. There may be one or two bits, but fundamentally we played together so much and for so long, it was stored at the back of my mind.”

Jim sees Gary’s guitar work as crucial: “One of Gary’s great strengths is the forcefulness and the deliberation with which he plays. There are very few guitar players that can hold the band together in the way that Gary does. Gary approaches rhythm very deliberately. But it is not just that he is steady. He is forceful and strong.”

In that sense, he and Jim complement each other, Jim seeing himself as very much the soloist - think those terrific breaks on I Was Only Joking and also, with Cockney Rebel, on Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me).

As Gary says, it was once observed that Jim is the butterfly to Gary’s bee.

Wild times

Certainly, between them, they’ve shared some great and pretty wild times: “I think at a certain point you realised that you just had to slow down,” concedes Jim. “Your body can’t take the abuse for hugely-extended periods of time. I just stopped.”

But it wasn’t necessarily a pressurised time. Far from it, as Jim recalls: “It was an endless party. Rod was a really really good guy to work with. I have worked with people who would have a post-mortem after a gig. I have known some band leaders make all the guys in the band listen to a recording of the show right after - and there is nothing more annoying. Every blunder is picked apart, and it becomes destructive.”

Not so Rod: “If you made a mistake, he would just laugh. If it was a big enough mistake, you would just roll around on the floor laughing. He was really good fun. He was really easy-going.”

From the word go, it was very much as a band that they played and were presented, says Gary who well remembers doing his share of interviews on behalf of the band.

“It was a little company,” says Jim, “of which we were all founder members. We wrote the songs and we made the records. That’s what a group does.”

“It was a fantastic incentive to do well,” recalls Gary.

And it was out of this that classics such as I Was Only Joking emerged, a Rod and Gary co-write. Gary well remembers reminiscing about shared experiences with Rod, remembering that last train home. “I was only joking” was a phrase Gary used - and Rod picked it up.

“That’s how titles come,” says Jim, who added the song’s distinctive lead break. “They just come up in conversation.”

Make Me Smile had been a year or two before: “It was a bit like let’s have another acoustic solo out of Jim!”

Inevitably it’s those shared experiences that now give the band an edge. Of course, they are not a tribute band, Jim is quick to stress. They are the real thing - and importantly, they come with Rod’s amusement, encouragement and support.

“I would dearly love to be able to play the theatres now. We take the music very seriously, but within that, it’s a party. Now we just want to get the word out.”