Tell us about how you got into music.
“My brother is a rock guitarist and he was into Van Halen and AC-DC and all that. My other brother was a bit more refined in his taste, into The Police and Santana and so on. He used to padlock his room so I couldn’t get into to it. But I used to break in and listen to all his records. Stuff like Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, that was like a long break-in but I never got caught. So I broke into my brother’s room and listened to all his records. That was it really. Then, when I started school, my drum teacher was actually a jazz saxophonist called Jimmy Feighan. He got Carol Kidd started, she was the singer in his quartet. He played saxophone and was a really good sax player and he played vibes as well. He was also an amazing snare drummer and he was friends with Buddy Rich. He used to get on to me. I never, ever practised and he used to shout at me all the time. All I liked to do was play on my BMX and I never did any work.”
“At home I never really got encouraged. My brother was studying architecture so as soon as I started practising, he was going to kill me! I guess that kind of bottled it up until I tried to get into college and I never got in because I was rubbish. So I really started practising for one year and then I got into Salford Uni and it started from there.”
“As soon as I got in there I could go to the practice block and I just started practising like mad. I was well behind everybody as well. It was all guys like Mike Gorman, Neil Fairclough, who is now in Queen, Mike Outram and Ash Soan, who is now a session drummer. With guys like that around you, you have to get stuck in.”
“I didn’t really get started until I was nineteen. Mike Gorman is probably the most influential. I shared a house with him and he just gave me all his records and I would sit and listen to them all the time. And I really got into jazz. Steve Brown used to give me all his records. He was brilliant. He’s such a nice guy, and Steve Gilbert as well.”
What are you working on at the moment, in terms of who you’re playing with.
“I got back into playing with Full Circle again, with Joss Peach and Terry Pack. I’m playing with Eliza Skelton. She lives in Brighton and sings in every single style, and she’s got a jazz duo with Dan Burke and we’re both in a lot of bands together. We do a thing called the Rowan Trio. I’m also putting together a trio of my own, a guitar trio. I’m hoping to get that going next month. This is the first time I’ve really organised any music since my band that I had in Scotland. Maybe we’ll get a recording together and go out and get some gigs.”
How come you ended up moving to Brighton?
“Health reasons. In Scotland I was also working as a care worker/support worker in a nursing home. A home for the elderly with mental health issues. That was really hard work. And I was working night shift at the hospital as well. I ended up getting really sick myself from working too much. I got depression and packed it in. I thought ‘where’s the sunniest place?’ I had an ex-girlfriend who lived down here so I came down and I went to Gardner Street and I was like "That’s it. I’m moving here”. A month later I jacked my job in and moved down here. And then I was introduced to Joss Peach and I joined his band straight away.”
You do non-jazz stuff as well.
“I play in Eliza Skelton’s band, who I played with in the Spiegeltent on Monday. She’s with about five different ones. That time was with The Desperate Ones which is film noir type music. The only way to describe it is it’s like the soundtrack to Reservoir Dogs. Quite rocky but also cinematic, like Ennio Morricone. It’s great because I love rock music and it’s a mixture of all that.”
“Oddfellows Casino, I play in that band, which is Dave Bramwell’s band. Brighton-based. It’s all the same people. Dave Bramwell, Eliza, Dan Burke, Paul Simmons, a few others. I’ve been in that band for about three and a half years. We do about one gig a year with that band. They’re always good gigs, like abroad or somewhere. There’s still a lot of jazz in it.”
“I get to play in odd time signatures and a lot of it I play sort of Elvin Jones beats, playing very jazzy. I don’t really have to compromise. I do on certain things, on a couple of tracks. For a lot of it I get to do exactly what I want to do. I get to come up with things in a creative sense and I’m not pinned down so it’s good. Musically, it’s great to be in and I get to do backing vocals in the band as well which I really enjoy.”
Tell us about your teaching.
“I teach in a couple of prep schools. It has its high points and its not so high points. I love working with the staff in schools. The kids are great too. The staff are always good in prep schools, they’re not as strung out as many of the teachers in comprehensives. I also teach a few students privately, really talented young kids and young adults as well.”
Is there anything else you want to say?
“I do the singing and drumming thing as well. That got started when I was at Guildhall. I studied at Guildhall and it was all jazz, jazz, jazz and more jazz. It was driving me mad after a while. I mean I like so many other types of music. I grew up with rock music so I needed my rock fix. I felt like I was going to burst. For my own sanity I got a punk band together with a couple of guys at the Guildhall. I started singing, I wrote all the songs, and rehearsed at the jazz rooms at Guildhall. It must have sounded a bit mental. And then I got a demo together and sent it off to record companies. I never got picked up or anything but I got some great feedback.”
“I did a few gigs with that and then I just stopped doing it. I left London for health reasons and I didn’t play for quite a while. Then I came back to it. I started doing the same thing again but with different guys. I could already play piano quite well so with me playing chords on the piano I just started scatting over the top of it and then I started doing it on the drums as well.”
“Then I just started scatting and playing drums at the same time. I don’t really get much time to do it. I did a gig about six months ago with Terry Seabrook with him on the organ and me singing and scatting. It would be quite nice to do that sort of thing again. That’s a lot of fun. It’s well difficult. You have to be really relaxed to do it. I do enjoy it, it’s a real challenge. It keeps you on your toes. I don’t know if it’s good for your head, you end up with squirrels in your brain trying to get the coordination.”
Jim Whyte appears with Joss Peach and Terry Pack in Full Circle at The Verdict on Saturday 24th May, 2014.
(Interview conducted by Charlie Anderson for SJM)