“Brian is a writer of meticulously crafted songs with an air of wistful lyricism that places him firmly in the tradition of Paul McCartney, Ray Davies, Nick Drake and Elvis Costello. He also writes rock songs influenced by the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Genesis. He is a multi-instrumentalist with more than a half-century's experience of playing live, while his classical music education and comprehensive grasp of technology means he can arrange, perform and produce all his own recordings and videos.”
Brian T Parks
Played first gig in early 1965
Studied music composition at music college 1978-1981
Obtained music composition degree in 1981
Gigging continuously in (mostly covers-) bands from 1965-1973
and 1987-present day
Began seriously writing songs in 2015 with a lot of catching up to do!
Acoustic and electric guitars
Piano and synth
Violin and viola (very badly)
Brian T Parks - in interview with music journalist Tim Jenner - 2016
Tim Jenner: First things first. I understand you've been a gigging musician for over half a century, is that right?
Brian T Parks: Yes, I played bass guitar at my first gig in the spring of 1965. I think there’s a black and white pic of me around somewhere that was taken at the time. If I can find it I'll put it on my site. I played in a number of bands throughout the 60s and early 70s. We were just school mates having fun but looking back on the list of gigs we played, we were gigging near enough every weekend so it was an ideal training ground for us.
TJ: So that would have been in local pubs and clubs…
BTP: …working men’s clubs and British Legions mostly, yeah. There were far more places to play in those days than now. Then in 1972 we turned pro, went to Germany and played some residencies in clubs out there. When you read about the Beatles in Hamburg, that was exactly the way we were except we played in Kitzingen and Frankfurt ten years after them. Same conditions though. Playing eight hours a night for a month with a ten-minute break every hour. A schedule like that is guaranteed to turn any bunch of musicians into a tight band.
TJ: Were you performing your own material then?
BTP: Not really, no. We were exclusively a covers band. I did most of the arranging of the songs, though. working out the chords and the vocal harmonies. Then when we came back to the UK and did a year of touring, we split up, for a number of reasons. I eventually ended up at Music College where I got a degree in music composition - classical music composition. That was in the days before there were places like the Liverpool Institute where you could learn how to be a rock musician.
TJ: So, when did you start writing your own songs?
BTP: Very recently. I’d written a few songs down the years but never had any real confidence in them. Looking back on them now I guess it was because I didn’t really have anything to say – or at least I thought I didn’t.
TJ: And all that changed, when…?
BTP: Well… not so long back I went through a traumatic relationship split and that proved to be the catalyst I needed. At last I had something to write about. Also, now I’m single again, and retired from my teaching job, so I can afford to devote all my energies to song-writing, arranging and recording.
TJ: You mentioned vocal harmonies a little while back. That seems to be a common feature of your songs?
BTP: Yes, I’ve been able to sing harmonies ever since I can remember - mostly the third above the main melody. But now I’m discovering the power of singing under-harmonies – below the melody. Phil Collins did that a lot in Genesis. It's also nice when harmony parts move in opposite directions or one stays where it is while the other moves.
TJ: You clearly enjoy singing, don't you?
BTP: Very much so, yes. To be a successful singer-songwriter you need to be first and foremost a singer. That’s your instrument, so you have to learn how to play it. Know your strengths and play to them. Know your limitations and find creative ways to avoid them.
TJ: So who would you say are the chief influences on your song-writing, Brian?
BTP: [laughs] How long have you got? Seriously, just about everyone I’ve ever listened to has influenced me in some way or other, but I guess Paul McCartney has to be up there as my main influence. A phenomenal talent.
TJ: More so than John Lennon?
BTP: Yes… but I would never discount him as an influence either. John used chords in a way that cuts right across the classical tradition. It took me a long while to appreciate the beauty of something like “I’m So Tired” on the Double White Album or the chords he used in “I Am the Walrus” because my classical music education was getting in the way. But now I've used that same principle on “Caught in the Glare of the Headlights” where chords just follow each other with no classical logic. It can be quite liberating for someone like me who has been taught how to modulate from one key to another “properly”, to be able to say “Stuff that! I’ll just jump to the new key.”
TJ: So do you regret having had a formal musical education?
BTP: No. Definitely not. It's indispensible when it comes to writing vocal harmonies. And when I'm writing bass guitar lines it's the same principle as writing a cello part for a string sonata. And the bigger considerations of form apply to any style of music - classical, jazz, rock, folk, whatever.
TJ: Going back to Lennon and McCartney, I believe John was always envious of the way Paul could easily write melodies, wasn’t he?
BTP: Yes, and the reverse, too. Paul could never get anywhere near John’s ability at lyric writing. “Plasticene porters with looking glass ties.” That’s pure poetry.
TJ: “Semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower”!
BTP: [Laughing] Yeah!
TJ: Anyone else apart from John and Paul?
BP: [Pause]. Yes… James Taylor.
TJ: Ah yes! I can hear his influence in your “I Wish I Was”
BTP: That's right. He fingers his A and D chords back to front which means he can play patterns that you can’t do if you play those chords the regular way. Someone once said that he invented the sustain pedal for the guitar. It’s the way he changes gradually from one chord to another with notes hanging on through chords where they don’t really belong. It creates all sorts of harmonic tensions. I used that backwards D shape on “I Wish I Was”. I’m impressed that you noticed!
TJ: Great voice, too!
BTP: Oh, incredible. It seems to have got better over the years, too, which is something I can relate to. My upper register has strengthened in the last couple of years. That has a knock-on effect on the type of melodies I write.
TJ: Your “When the Rich Go To War” seems to polarise your fans into those who like it and those who… don’t.
BTP: I always knew that it wasn't going to be a popular track but it was one that I had to write. I saw the title [a quote from Jean Paul Sartre] on Facebook and liked it so much that I wrote the lyrics for the whole chorus there and then. I tried using a traditional English folk song to fit the words but I couldn't find one that worked. So I wrote one myself.
TJ: "Tell Them I'm Gone" has a bit of a McCartney vibe to it, hasn't it? I was reminded of that song he wrote as a tribute to John - "Here Today".
BTP: Yes I wrote that song in early 2016 just after George Martin died so it's a tribute to his genius, really. I've always admired the way he wrote for string orchestra. It's a very punchy rhythmic style.
TJ: Like in "Eleanor Rigby"?
BTP: Yes I've tried using that type of writing in the middle eight of "Tell Them I'm Gone" - the bit that goes "Oo, all the things that you said."
TJ: You know, that melody reminds me of something back in the 70s. Not quite sure what.
BTP: A friend told me a while back that he thought I'd pinched it from Genesis...
TJ: [pause] Got it... "Ripples" on "Trick of the Trail"!
BP: [laughs] That's the one. Pure coincidence really although I knew the track, of course,
TJ: So finally, Brian, where do you see yourself this time next year?
BTP: Well I hope by then to have got an album's worth of material together and to have amassed a substantial fanbase.
TJ: I'm confident you will! Thank you for your time, Brian, and good luck.