Skin Tyson, guitarist with the likes of Cast and various line-ups with Robert Plant, speaks to Daniel Gumble about gear, music shops, contemporary guitarists and experimental tuning…
Daniel Gumble: Tell us about you background as a musician.
Skin Tyson: “I started playing guitar around six years of age, then played in a band of school friends from my early teens and was then asked to join a covers band with some guys who worked with my Dad, who was a Plasterer by trade. I then joined Pyramid dream, a Liverpool band who wrote and recorded their own material around 1986 -7. Then I joined Cast in 1993, whom I still play with. I also played with Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation and today still with Robert in the Sensational Space Shifters!”
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DG: Did you ever have any formal music education?
ST: “I had some recorder lessons as a kid, but I always learned the tune by ear, as I do on the guitar, so I never really learned to read music from the score. Although I did go to music collage for three months to do a light music and jazz course.”
DG: Growing up in Liverpool, how important were musical instrument shops to young musicians? Did you have places you regularly went to to try out gear and connect with other musicians?
ST: “My local shop was called Frets old and New and was run by a really cool guy called Dave Bresnen who would let me play guitar all day in his shop when I should have been at school! And he also sold me my first Gibson J45, which I paid for on the never never until Cast signed their first record deal and then I proudly paid the balance off in full and walked out with the guitar! It’s known as Snappy today, because the neck has snapped off a few times!”
DG: How vital is it that kids have bricks and mortar MI stores to visit?
ST: “I think it is very important to have a music store that you can walk into, hear the guitars or different instruments and actually play them and get to see other people playing at close quarters and say to yourself ‘I can do that too!’”
DG: Who were your biggest musical influences?
ST: “As a kid I grew up listening to Bert Weedon in my grandad’s house and then discovered my uncle’s albums, such as The Who, and they became a big influence on me at that time. Then I moved on to Pink Floyd and Zep, CSNY. Later in the 80s, I listened a lot to The Church and Matt Johnson. I also listened to a lot of acoustic players, such as the late Mike Hedges and Adrian Legg.”
DG: Which contemporary guitarists stand out to you in 2015, if any?
ST: “There are many great contemporary guitarists out there of many styles and varying skills, so there are too many to mention, but one guitarist who I met a few times on tour last year was Annie [Clark] from St Vincent. She had a great at ease style of singing and playing and also had a very modern sound and solo’d away in her own style.”
DG: Tell us about the gear that you’ve used throughout your career. How has your personal set-up evolved and what equipment have you come to rely on most?
ST: “My live gear set up, as always, is a Hi Watt 50 custom heads and 4x12 cabs. My gear runs through my rack system, Gloria, which controls various pedals and rack effects. I also have a smaller rig, which consists of a Fender Super 22 and a Hi Watt custom combo 50 and I run them in stereo through a TC G-System with a selection of drive pedals. Having Gloria has helped a lot over the years, as I have been able to pull out various pedals at any time to change to the albums or music we are touring at that time.
“I use quite a few Gibson acoustics live and also play electric Fenders and Gibsons. My favourite guitars are my 70s Les Paul Signature and Tele custom and Strat.”
DG: What is it you like about this particular setup?
ST: “This gear has plenty of head room for all the guitars I use, especially the acoustics, as I run them through the Hi Watts, too. I also have two Stone Deaf PDFs, which are at the end of my effect chain going straight into the amps and allow me to run all the gear with a bit of dirty edge to the sound. These are my most-used pedals, as I leave them on most of the time!”
DG: How did you come to work with Robert Plant?
ST: “I First met Robert and Jimi when Cast were recording their second album in Rack studios in London and they were recording there, too. I was staying in the studio on my own and got up early one morning and Robert walked in and said to me “do you have any nice guitars we could borrow!””
DG: How did it feel to team up with such an iconic figure? Did playing with him help you develop you musicianship further?
ST: “When I got the call to go and have a Jam with the guys I was a bit shocked, but as my mate said to me when we used to jam together, “Robert Plant will get you in his band one day don’t worry!” And he did!
“It has helped my playing immensely, as all the practice I did playing with different tunings could now be freely applied to the music we were playing in the band. You’re always encouraged by Robert to play how you feel it yourself! It’s also like a musical history lesson every day, so you can learn something new all the time!”
DG: Do you like to experiment with different tunings? I understand Robert Plant is into open D and G tunings?
ST: “I like playing in a lot of different tunings but my favourite is in Low C! Robert plays in Daddad a lot, but tunes his guitar to his own ear or flavour of that moment.”