Pete Wareham - Saxophones

“I’ve got a group of German artists to blame for my being a professional musician,” says Wareham. “I was going to go Art school, but they persuaded me that music was more my thing.”
Wareham’s musical odyssey started on the flute. “Dad was a drummer and he encouraged me to take flute lessons from the age of six. My first flute was a Yamaha student kid’s thing. I’ve still got it–- it’s green. All the silver plating came off because I polished it too much because I was so bloody bored in school orchestra rehearsals! But my teacher was the nicest teacher I ever had, so as a result I got better at it than anything else.” Wareham also took piano lessons. “I did a few grades, but I didn’t really take them that seriously. The thing was, when I moved up to my next school, I had a piano teacher who put me under loads and loads of pressure. So I failed my grade five exam. I was freaking out – I couldn’t do anything at all! Also because my flute teacher never turned up, I stopped taking flute grades as well. It seemed everyone was so obsessed with exams and grades and everything. I think I just wanted to get into playing music and stop talking about bloody exams all the time!”

When Wareham was about 14, he started on the saxophone. “I basically just taught myself saxophone and gave up on the teachers.” He joined the school jazz band. “Do you know”, he laughs, “I was still winning music prizes on the flute.” Then when he was about 17, he put together a band playing gigs in the local pubs and clubs. “I also did some teaching”, says Wareham, “before going up to Leeds College of Music.” Wareham followed this with a ‘post grad’ at the Guildhall.

So where did the sax story start? “My first sax was a Boosey & Hawkes Lafleur,” says Wareham. “But that was ridiculous. Whenever I went to any gigs I had to take glue, sandpaper and a repair bag with me and repair it all the time. In the end I moved onto a Yamaha 92 Tenor with an Otto Link 7 star mouthpiece – that’s the instrument that I took up to Leeds. I stayed with that for a while. Then I met a guy who runs a sax shop in Leeds called All Brass and Woodwind and we became really good friends. He lent me a Selmer Super Action 80 which didn’t have any engraving on it – it was a weird one. And then when we got broken into and my Yamaha got stolen, I held on to the Selmer and bought it with the insurance money from the Yamaha.”

When Wareham moved down to London to study at the Guildhall, he remembers getting really bored with the Selmer. “It was really heavy, so my friend from Leeds gave me another Super Action 80 which was really lovely – it was a Mk 2 rather than a Mk 1. That was also the time when I changed to a vintage Otto Link mouthpiece which was a six star that had been enlarged to an eight.” At this point in his career, Wareham also owned a silver Martin Baritone with a gold plated bell. “Then I got into this Mk 6 thing.” Wareham’s clearly studied the Mk6 line. “I had this 1957-58 with a serial no. around 75, 000. That was OK, but the balance wasn’t too hot. Then I got offered this 1956 with a serial no. around 60, 000, which is generally considered to be the best you can buy. It had been re-lacqured in the 80s and the polyurethane lacquer had strangled it, so I took the lacquer off. That was a really amazing sax and I kept that for some time.” Wareham also knows his Super Balanced Actions. “Mark Taylor, the tenor player, was always telling me that the Selmer Super Balanced Actions were miles better than the Mk 6 and one day my friend from the Leeds shop just turned up at a gig and said: ‘have a go on this’. I played about three notes and said ‘oh my god that’s amazing’ and immediately traded in my Mk6 – ‘cause I’ve never been able to afford to have more than one Tenor at a time. The serial number on the ‘Super B’ is: 38,978 – it’s a 1947. I had the lacquer taken of this one as well, because it had also been re-lacquered and had this weird, strangled, unfocused sound – it’s sounded good ever since! I use a vintage Otto Link 8 star with it.” This is the sax that can be heard on the later Acoustic Ladyland albums and all the Polar Bear material.

And what about the baritones? “Whenever I got skint,” starts Wareham, “the baritone was always the first thing to go. After the Martin Bari’ I had a Yanigasawa and then I sold that. At the moment I have one on loan – a silver Conn crossbar. Which reminds me – I must pay for it! That’s absolutely fantastic. I still use the Berg Larsen ebonite 115 mouthpiece that I bought with the Martin.”

Wareham’s reed choice is simple. “With the Baritone I use Rico Royal 21/2 and on the Tenor I use Rico Jazz Select unfiled 4 soft.” He’s also owned a soprano – although the relationship didn’t last long. “At one point, I wasn’t getting on with the baritone, so I swapped it for a Yanigasawa soprano,” says Wareham. “I did a bit of work on the soprano and one evening I had a gig at the Trafalgar in Greenwich. There’s no stage there, so you’re literally playing in the corner. The soprano was on its stand and this drunk guy who was saying how much he was enjoying the music, stomped all over the horn on his way up to me. I’d only had it for about a week and it was completely flattened by him – thank god it wasn’t my Super B!”

Wareham is also known for his use of effect peddles, which include an Electro Harmonix ‘memory man’, a Vox Clyde McCoy Wah Wah pedal and a Boss Loop Station. He’s also found an ingenious way to get more power out of his instrument. “I use a standard SM58 vocal mike and stuff it down the bell of the sax”, he says. “It doesn’t feed back as much and it works really well – although it makes the sax seriously heavy.”

Interview – David Gallant

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