Bobby Valentino

Los Pistoleros Review - CMI November 2001

This all-star British Americana band are wonderful, whatever you call them, says Nick Dalton.

BOBBY VALENTINO, THE slickest, coolest fiddler in the biz’ is (cheerfully) bemoaning the fate of his all-star band Los Pistoleros.

“We are country and western, in the true sense of the term, but we daren’t use that expression because everyone just thinks of people in clubs wearing cowboy outfits and guns. So we’re Americana, even though we’re doing country music and we’re doing western-swing.”

But, no matter what you call them, the band are, quite simply, one of the most entertaining and musically wonderful acts you’re likely to see or hear - perhaps the only country (and western) group who play the Star Trek theme. A British superstar band, something that, he agrees, “hasn’t been done since the 70’s, although that brought us Emerson, Lake and Palmer”.

Los Pistoleros have been playing for 10 years but they’re all so busy with other projects that only now have they managed to release their debut album, Trigger Happy.

Bob, the Gone With The Wind Clark Gable lookalike, plays, sings (in his Crosby croon) and writes some of the best western-swing around today. If you think you know him but aren’t quite sure, he played the catchy fiddle bit on the Bluebells’ single Young At Heart, constantly appearing on Top Of The Pops during the song’s two chart stints, one at No.1.

He’s also been (not very country this) the face of TV ads for the likes of Colgate, the voice of a Vitalite ad, getting his golden tones around a version of The Israelites, managed a walk on one Christmas Day on a Bruce Forsyth/Ronnie Corbett special (a Gone With The Wind skit, naturally) and was recently seen alongside John Malkovich and Melanie Griffith in the movie RKO281.

That would be enough for a good evening out by itself, but then you’ve got the others. There’s BJ Cole, who’s been pushing forward the boundaries of pedal steel since his early 70’s band Cochise, and has been on everything from Paul Young hits, to touring with John Cale and backing the likes of David Allen Coe and Butch Hancock.

And there’s guitarist Martin Belmont, the pub rock veteran turned master of the lead six-string bass who started out in Ducks Deluxe, was in Graham Parker’s Rumour and Nick Lowe’s Cowboy Outfit, had the privilege to play on Johnny Cash’s version of Lowe’s Without Love (on 1980’s Rockabilly Blues) and came up with an excellent country-rocking solo album, Big Guitar (Demon), not so long ago.

Then there’s unassuming bassist Kevin Foster, long-time Hank Wangford sideman (alongside Belmont) whose one song on the album, the hummable One More Heartbreak, gets to feature in the new Billy Connoly/Sharon Stone movie Beautiful Joe.

For a long time, Bobby Irwin (Lowe, Carlene Carter, Bill Kirchen) was drummer, but life was too busy and now Jim Russell who’s played with Paul Young amongst others, completes the line-up.

The band is a victim of it’s own success constantly in demand by other artists. “It would be nice to do chunks of three months here and there, but it’s so difficult with everyone working with other people,” says Bob, himself having just enjoyed a promotional tour of the TV and radio stations (and nice restaurants) of Europe with Mark Knopfler. BJ has been flitting around the world with Richard Ashcroft who he’s worked with ever since the hitmaker drafted him into the Verve for their final tour. BJ also tries to fit in work with his own Transparent Music Ensemble, and only recently released a drum and bass album. Belmont and Foster are still part of Wangford’s band.

When they all get together, though, the music’s so tight, it hurts. “This started as our fun band” says Bob. “We’ve never had a rehearsal -if you can’t learn a song in a soundcheck it’s too complicated. Then we started selling out the 100 Club and places.”

Now, with the record they’re pushing to become more high profile. The album is a beautifully produced melee of, well, country and western - a sublime collection of mostly Valentino originals like Swinging With The Chickens and Break For The Border - in the best possible sense of the term.

Bob first hit the scene in the days of punk, playing in the twisted pop band the Fabulous Poodles (one of the final acts on Pye Records), and then almost made it big in the cajun pop outfit the Electric Bluebirds before himself having a stint in the Wangfords, appearing in the band’s Channel 4 TV series. A jazzy-country solo album, The Man Who Invented Jazz, came out a decade ago, he’s played live with everyone form Dylan to Big Country and has appeared on records by everyone from Tom Petty to the Style Council. Throw in oddball stuff like dub reggae sessions for the Mad Professor. Keeping it in the family, his sister Anne Dudley, an arranger who won an Oscar for her work on The Full Monty, did the strings on the reworking of the Webb Pierce hit Slowly.

“I said: I want Billy Sherill. And I think she succeeded. She doesn’t know who Billy Sherill is but she’s come up with classic Nashville strings.”

That classic country sound means a great deal to Bob, a fan of the songwriter’s art, whether it’s revitalising old swing tunes like Cow Cow Boogie or writing new word twisters like Engaged To Be Living In Sin.

“I’ve actually now written one called I Don’t Give A Damn” he says with a chuckle. “Well I had to ...”

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