Today we’ve met up with Aylesbury-based vocalist and songwriter, Mike Carroll.

Thanks for chatting to The New Roxette Mike…

So, please tell us a bit about yourself, what bands you’ve been in over the years and what first got you into music?

I grew up on the Elmhurst estate in Aylesbury but I’m now in Stoke Mandeville, married, lovely wife and two kids, and still obsessed with music. Like a lot of musicians - at least the ones I know - I’m a bit of an attention seeker and back in the mid to late 70’s thought playing in a band would ‘pull the birds’ (to use the language of the time), but then that’s when I was young, charming, handsome and politically incorrect! The first real band was ‘As It Is’ with some mates from the estate, including Pete Lumley who’s still drumming around the town, Dave Simpson on vocals (not sure if he’s still playing), the legendary, at least in his own mind, Richard Holmes, on guitar, and Geoff Hillyard on bass. We played such hot-spots as the Alfred Rose Community Centre Friday Night Disco, but eventually we went on as winners of the All England Boys Club band competition to support David Essex which was a great experience. By then I was getting into more serious music, especially West Coast type stuff, and formed ‘Cruise’ with the likes of Tony Bevan on sax, who’s up in north Bucks now and big into the free-form jazz scene, and we got so far as to record a demo at Abbey Road for Muff Winwood, which for some reason didn’t get picked up, possibly because that was when punk rock broke and we were doing a groove thing. After that came ‘Roadie’, then at the turn of the century, ‘Spike’, which is when I got together with Steve Hillier as a songwriter - he lived in Cannock Road on Elmhurst as well - at the posh end, he reckons - though he’s a little bit younger than me, so we didn’t know each other as kids. ‘Spike’ played quite a few gigs around Aylesbury in 2001, and we were band of the week on Mix 96 at some point; we had Pete Lumley on drums, Joel Newell on bass and Tony Bevan on sax, and we cut an album called ‘Passionfruit’ which sold at least a dozen copies through Record House. So that’s most of the bands I’ve been in up until now. 

What have been some of your biggest personal highlights so far?

One of the biggest kicks is playing music, especially original stuff, with your mates, so we’ve had plenty of great laughs over the years. One episode that springs to mind was recording the ‘Spike’ album up in Buckingham in 2000, turning up with a few crates of beer and grooving out with the band in the studio - who could fail to have a great time with the likes of Lumley on board! But playing in support at Friars in the early days was a highlight, and more recently doing an open-mic spot in LA was as big an adrenaline rush as anything I’ve done. 

What do you think of the current local (Aylesbury) music scene, and do you think it has a future? What do you think of the work Aylesbury Showcase and Jam Central have done for Aylesbury over the years?

Aylesbury’s always had a good scene for such a small town, and I guess each generation has produced its champions - Friars used to be a good influence on the scene, so it’s great that in the past couple of years we’ve seen gigs again at the Civic and in the parks in the summer, and of course the revived hobble on the cobbles. It takes someone to have the energy to promote all this stuff so Aylesbury Showcase and Jam Central seem to be doing a great job. As for bands on the scene right now, I like The Red Bullets, and John Zealey who does some great original stuff.

Are you a singer first and foremost, and then songwriter – or vice versa?

If I had to choose it would be singer, as that’s what I do most of, in fact these days as well as the originals band I’m trying to earn a few quid doing a solo vocalist act which is great fun and good for my voice. The song writing comes in fits and starts - when the muse strikes - or when Steve Hillier my song-writing partner puts me under pressure…

You’re one half of a songwriting duo called “Choonsmiffs. Tell us what this is all about and who you’ve written songs for so far?

After ‘Spike’ folded, myself and Steve - who played guitar in the band and had written some of the songs - decided to try and concentrate on song-writing for others and dubbed ourselves ‘ChoonSmiffs’ for no other reason than we needed a name. We complement each other in our writing styles - Steve’s got a great knowledge of chords and puts some interesting melodies and lyrics in, whereas I love the groove and feel of a song - the mixture usually works really well, but I guess I’m not the best judge. So far it’s proven difficult to break into the circuit but I’ve scored a couple of cuts in Belgium and Holland, and Steve has had some success with a long-running theme tune on the BBC. We’ve written songs for a few unsigned acts in the hope they’d break, but so far we’re yet to get the big hit - we’re still determined though, and the new band we’ve formed is another outlet for our material. 

So you’ve set up a brand new band? How has this come about and do you have any gigs lined up at the moment?

During 2007 myself and Steve went out performing our original songs at open mic nights around the area, and we got some great applause, so ever-hungry for praise we decided to get a band together, and I bumped into Ray Rowswell, who’d moth-balled his bass for a few years but was up for it - he used to be in bands in Aylesbury like ‘The Stowaways’ and ‘The Prowlers’. Then Steve brought in our mutual mate Nigel Beaumont on drums, so we had a great rhythm section. We were looking for a sax player, mainly for solos, but through Ray we met Joe Kelly who’d been playing in ‘Who’s Got the Dog’ as part of a horn section; he thought our stuff would sound great with horn arrangements so he marshalled a 4-piece together with some great players like Lee Buckingham on trumpet, Stormin’ Norman on tenor sax, and Bob Cronin on trombone. He got the parts all scored, and here we are today - it’s sounding great, in fact we’ve even persuaded Felix Ruiz to sit in with us from time to time on keyboard - he’s an amazing player.

We’ve called ourselves Mike Carroll’s ‘Groov8’ which is hopefully a bit memorable and signifies - there’s eight of us - and what we do - we play cool grooves! We’ve got a couple of gigs lined up - on Sat 2nd May at Jardines, and in August at the Hobble on the Cobbles, but it’s early days…

You have a couple of albums out already, the popular “Gravity”, and the earlier “Escape From The Rooftops”. Do you have a favourite, and in particular a favourite song from the albums?

I suppose it would have to be ‘Gravity’ as that’s the most recent, but I’m chuffed with both albums and the songs myself and Steve have written - they were brilliantly produced by my old mate Ed Poole - and the feedback I’ve had from loads of people who have now got a copy has been really positive. It’s murder trying to get listened to, especially with this type of music which is really for a more mature audience, and that’s another reason we’re doing the new band ‘Groov8’. As for a favourite song, that’s tricky, they’re all our babies, but I love the title track ‘Gravity’ itself, and ‘Ain’t The Same Thing’, and ‘What’s Goin’ On’, on the first album..

What else have you got coming up this year? 

I’m also working with my niece Jess, who’s carrying on the family tradition for attention seeking - and singing - she’s got a terrific voice and looks great, and she’s already cut some great material - plan is to go out as a duo doing covers, and also, if we get it together, to do a few songs with the new band. But the focus is getting the new band on the road - getting gigs for an originals band isn’t easy - there aren’t that many venues.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just thanks for letting me do the interview - I’ve really enjoyed it, and as a message to all your readers, please come along and see us, we need all the support we can get!   www.mikecarrollmusic.com

THE QUICK FIRE FIVE – please complete the sentence…

My main musical influences are: - Steely Dan, Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell

My ‘recommended One to watch’, is: - Jess Carroll

My biggest success so far is:  - yet to come!

My favourite ever gig is: - Rolling Stones, 1999 - and I’m not even a big fan

When I’m not singing, or writing songs, I’m: - enjoying family life


Many thanks Mike, we look forward to catching up with you and the band again very soon.