Name: FRED ROBERTS’ FAMILY
Mission: TO MAKE PEOPLE SMILE WHILE ENJOYING LIVE MUSIC
When I was at school there was a cafe that we liked to go to called MCDP. It was a great place to meet up with people and had a wonderful cosy atmosphere. It was here that I met Colin. The first time I saw him play was at the Mantra Tattoo Festival in 2005. I hadn’t really been exposed to a lot of live acoustic music at that point and seeing Colin play was a pretty magical experience. Thinking about it now, I guess he was one of the first musicians I ever really met outside of school.
Fred Roberts was Colin’s paternal granddad. He was a silent movie pianist, clown and strong arm man in the circus in New South Wales, Australia. He saw active service on the Western Front and in Egypt. He returned to the UK to follow a career as a musician and entertainer, playing piano, clowning and performing across Sussex, Kent and London between the wars. He entertained the troops as part of ENSA during WWII and in the 50s and 60s he toured cabaret acts around the pubs and clubs of the South East. A wonderful story teller, he became Head Guide of Hastings Smugglers Caves until retirement. His legacy lives on and following in his footsteps musically, Fred Robert’s Family provide quality live music.
There were always instruments in the house when Colin was growing up because his mother was a music teacher. “I started singing harmonies as a 6 year old and have always loved music”. However Colin has never had a music lesson for an instrument and was in fact thrown out of music classes at junior school and failed his music O level! It wasn’t until he was 15 that he started playing the guitar, “personally I was more influenced by singers; as I consider myself a singer before a guitarist. My favourite singers are Janis Joplin, Steve Marriot, Ronnie Van Zant, Alex Harvey, Bon Scott and, from when I was about 9 years old, Abba for their harmonies.” He became a bass player in a band at school in 1981 “we were called Less Than Angels and were a Goth band mainly influenced by Bauhaus, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Doors.”
After leaving school Colin didn’t ‘do’ music until he came to Cheltenham in 1991. Here he met a busking guitarist who he hitched across France with playing streets, bars, and anywhere in between. ” If anyone influenced my guitar playing it would have to be Andy Stewart, the non-famous guitarist but great player in the band. We called ourselves The Talking Cheeseburgers.”
After returning to the UK in 1992 Colin condensed the name to The Cheeseburgers and the band became fully electric playing gigs in the pubs and clubs of Cheltenham, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Bristol and Birmingham. “We were the first band to play at the newly opened Two Pigs after it changed from Copperfields.” The Cheeseburgers also played various Outlaws events, their pub The New Engineers in St Pauls, (Cheltenham), The Russell Arms, the Rotunda, Dobells, The Colosseum (supporting The Men They Couldn’t Hang, TV Smith and the UK Subs on three separate occasions) and were frequently at The Axiom.
Colin ran open mic nights at The Fish and Fiddle in Cheltenham from 1994 to 1997 and would often be asked on stage by other local bands to play the harmonica, sing harmonies or tootle on the tin whistle. When The Cheeseburgers split up in early 1997 he left Cheltenham to wander across South Western France, Italy and Spain. It was during this time that he started learning the guitar as an accompaniment to his singing. “I took a guitar and a rucksack, ended up working for Eurocamp and other holiday enterprises. I became a resident musician on the largest campsite in SW France, opening for the main shows as a solo artist, playing in front of up to 3000 people three times a week.” Returning in the winters to visit his sister in London they would busk the underground “with her on the fiddle or sometimes on my own, pre-licensing, risking arrest, though more often that would just result in being moved on. It was a great learning curve.”
In 2003 Colin returned to Cheltenham and later set up a musicians only open mic evening at the Sherbourne Arms. “The idea was to give musicians a place to play free from punters but with an audience made up of other musicians. The atmosphere was quiet and respectful and the folks playing were listened to by the ‘audience’ who also gave feedback, jammed together, set up bands together and generally stated a scene which would go to the other open mic nights.”
A year later Colin joined the Musicians’ Union and also did the New Deal for Musicians course for unemployed musicians and ended up getting a job with the Musicians’ Union. After sadly being made reduntant he started running a 40 band festival at The Swan in Cheltenham, open mic nights at The Fiery Angel and The Bell Inn.
Whilst running nights Colin still finds time to play live gigs as Fred Roberts’ Family both solo and sometimes with his son Jay who plays the guitar, sings, plays percussion and writes songs. “We play literally hundreds of up-tempo covers with passion, soul and confidence. From Van Morrison to The Rolling Stones, The Beatles to Blur, Nick Cave, Lynyrd Skynyrd and JJ Cale to name just a few! But we also play damned decent original songs (blues/folk/roots) that compliment the covers, or is it the other way around?”
Since June 2011 Colin has managed the Lansdown Rehearsal Studios in Cheltenham which has 4 rehearsal rooms used by about 60 bands. Over the last few years he has been recording his own songs using knowledge which he gained from live sound engineering. “I haven’t released anything properly yet, but I hope to have an album out for sale by April 2015 which is 100 years on from when my Grandfather came back to Europe”.
If you’re interested in booking the Fred Roberts’ Family or contacting Colin then please visit the Facebook page.