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SA Bassists With Martin Simpson: South Africa’s Premier Bass Family, the Askes

Meet Martin Simpson –

As the whole World’s eyes are on South Africa (due to the Soccer World Cup), during June and July, I thought I’d do something a little different for this particular ish, by Interviewing no less than FOUR bassists…….all from the Same Family!!!!!! The Askes family is probably South Africa’s Premier Bass family with Bert and younger brother Dave and Dave’s two sons, Quintin and Miles all living the Low-Ender life. I spoke to Dave briefly at the tail end of last year about my idea to interview the four of them and he was quite keen on the idea so I set about the task almost immediately. Bert was the first to take up bass, followed by Dave and then Quintin and Miles. This is what they told me.

Bert –  As you’re the oldest, I’ll let you tell the story of how everything happened. Tell us how long each of the guys have been playing and what their achievements are to date.

Firstly, I wouldn’t go so far as to say “Premier”, we are not virtuosos by any means but we all seem to have a knack, the right temperament and feel for the bass.

I can only really speak for myself, but I never took bass playing too seriously, I enjoy it and have a lot of fun but didn’t expect to actually earn a living from it. I have had to become more serious when at some stages of my life that’s all I could do for money!

Starting in 1976 my first gig was a private party in Kensington to the millennium concert at the Sun City Superbowl & hundreds of gigs in between, it’s been quite a ride.

Dave actually started out as a guitarist, but then saw the light when I did national service in 1980 he took over from me in the band and never looked back. He then did his service and managed to get into an army band where he took up the bass trombone.

Of course Quintin & Miles were exposed to music and bass all their lives, so one would think it would be quite natural that they too would want to play bass, but alas, they initially wanted to be guitarists! (Quintin even studied guitar at music school). Then they too saw the light….

We are all relatively shy, introverted guys who enjoy being at the back of the stage rather than the front & being the driving force in a band.

Dave is by far the most accomplished of us all, he can actually read music! (So can Quintin but he chooses not to…), Miles seems to lurk in the background picking up on whatever appeals to him. His approach is somewhat more experimental.

Dave – You and Bert have performed together at South African Bass Players Collective recitals on at least three occasions and you’ve had the audience eating out of your hand but your styles are very different. Could you tell us a bit about this.

Probably because of the fact that Bert learned to play bass in the 70’s, he learned to play in the rock styles of the time and became a well respected solid low ender (who could also pull off a mean solo if given the chance), I, on the other hand started playing bass in the 80’s and got quite involved in the fusion scene and was also fortunate enough to hook up with some jazz loving musicians so I went more into that style of playing, a lot of slapping, popping and speed riffs (to impress the chicks,…. but it never worked), so we do have a somewhat different approach to the bass.

Quintin  –  I suppose it was a natural choice to take up bass with both your Dad and your uncle both being such awesome players. Could you tell us a little bit about growing up surrounded by basses?

Well I always loved music as a kid and had many muso’s at our house a lot of the time, I didn’t start playing at an extremely early age I was around 12 or so and I picked up the guitar that my dad had stored in the roof for years ha ha. Then at the age of 16, high school was not really in my interest because all I wanted to do was play guitar, so I went to study music at C.O.P.A (Campus of Performing Arts). I did my first year as a guitarist and did pretty alright but somehow down the line I got hold of a bass in my second year and every one told me rather have bass as my major and got into a band playing bass and never looked back.

Miles –  You recently gave me a submission for my Why I Play Bass article and you mentioned that at the moment you’re not taking bassin’ too seriously because you’re still quite young but you obviously enjoy it quite a bit – I often see you at S.A.B.P.C. get togethers.

Back then when I wrote that I was still in school so it was a bit tough to practice a lot and to get into a band… but now that I am done with school, I have been concentrating on bass a lot more. And I have now also joined a band by the name Unseen Hero, and you can check us out on Facebook.

Dave –  Are you the only one so far to have also taken up the Double Bass? How are you finding it?

The Double Bass is quite a different monster to get around on but very rewarding when you do. I understand now why many teaching schools insist on bass students learning to play on the Double Bass, as it forces you back down to basics and the golden rule of KISS (Keep It Simple: Stupid) really applies, especially when you are starting out, obviously you can get crazy on the thing if you want to, but what is especially great is that huge ballsy tone the instrument gives you, especially when amplified, it really talks to your soul.

Bert – You still stick with four string bass guitars most of the time don’t you?

Hell no, I love the 5 string! I play 5 most of the time, only if the music requires do I pull out the beautiful but rarely played Fender 4 string, usually for traditional blues or rockabilly.

What are your preferences when it comes to equipment?

Dave: I have been fortunate enough to have purchased (just over a year ago) my dream bass, which is a Yamaha TRB 6 JP II (John Pattitucci Signature Series), I have an older Yamaha TRB 1006 which I have customized to a fretless bass so at least I can stay on 6 strings when playing both basses as it can become quite confusing changing to different stringed basses. I use a Radial Tonebone- Bassbone to split the 2 basses when I play live and I also use the Yamaha NE 1 (Nathan East) parametric EQ live and in the studio, it gives an awesome sound. I have a ’79 Fender Jazz bass as well that does get used from time to time but it is in need of re-fretting and some professional setting up, that I keep saying I want to do but just don’t seem to get to doing it. Another bass I bought quite recently is a fairly inexpensive acoustic/electric 5 string that has an unbelievable huge sound.

I am still struggling with finding good strings as there seem to be so many dud strings especially on the low B and E strings, but I have found that the Yamaha strings my bass came with were great, so I have imported a few sets as they are not available to purchase here, but I tend to have to wait a long time for them to arrive. Strings are very expensive here and we don’t have the luxury of a wide choice of brands, but we make do.

I am currently using a Trace Elliot amp rig that sounds great, I am however in the process of getting a Markbass rig that is great sounding and very light and portable. I also have a semi-endorsement deal with the wonderful guys at Hartke (Audiosure) and they allow me to use their big rig (LH 1000 amp and 8×10 HyDrive cab) for shows when I need it.

Bert: After many years I eventually acquired a bass that really surpasses anything I’ve ever played (±10 years ago!), the Lakland Skyline 5 string. It is an ideal all-round, versatile, great sounding bass. I have the Korean version (half the price of the American model) but still great & it seems to improve as it gets older!

I also believe that all bass players should own a Fender of some sort. I have a Fender Hotrod P bass (alder wood body) which is great, but I was bullied into buying it. Ideally, for me, I actually prefer the swamp ash version.

As far as amps go, it’s difficult to choose, I am totally sold on Ampeg, currently I use a really cumbersome & heavy 1000w Ampeg solid state B4 head with a single 15” cab. It always sounds great with minimal tweaking (perfect for me, I like to keep things simple).

I used to own a 300w Marshall combo 4 x 10 (which I’m still sorry I had to sell) – very cool amp!

Strings…. well, I find the best strings are the ones I get for free, but seriously I’ve tried many & still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I use D’Addario medium gauge Xtra long scale mainly because that’s what the shops usually keep. Stainless for bright, Nickel for warmth and I do boil them after a while to get the brightness back.

Quintin: It is great when I rock up to a gig and there is a 1kw bass rig for me, preferably Ampeg, and a good sound engineer. I would still like to get a Music Man Stingray 5 string or a Fender Jazz American Ash Deluxe 5, but I am using an Ibanez USA Custom 5 string which satisfies my needs for the time being. I currently have a sponsorship with a music shop and they supply me with GHS strings. I sometimes just use my Hartke Bass Attack pedal at gigs and go straight into the desk with a monitor, so I don’t always need an amp, but if I need an amp I use an SWR amp.

Miles: My preferred equipment would be pretty much what I have, I’ve got a Sandberg JM5 (alder body and maple neck … I think) not sure on the year of it but I really like its versatility and feel, When I play, it just speaks to me, otherwise I still sometimes use my dad’s Fender Jazz ‘79 four string, but it is no comparison to the Sandberg…

Strings, well as I would like to say I always use Elixer, I don’t, but that’s because I can’t afford to… I most often use D’addario strings on all the guitars I use, I always have and its always worked, so why fix something that’s not broken…

I also use a Yamaha NE 1 (Nathan East) parametric EQ, I feel that it just fills the gaps, especially with the fender, and I also use a Juggernaut BASS RAT for when I need to go to those distorted rock sounds…

In terms of amps I currently just use my dad’s, so it’s either the Trace Elliot or the SWR workingman’s 12 combo, but I would really love to get the Markbass Little Mark Tube 800 with the 104HR and 102HF cabs.

What recordings have you guys made with various bands over the years?

Dave: I love working in the studio but do not get the chance as often as I would like to, but in the last year I did record on an album with blues guitarist Larry Amos, I did quite a lot of work on an album for the band “Just Fred” but it seems it may not even be released, I also did an album with “Peter Hoven” (folk rock) that we should be promoting this year. I also recorded a few songs on “Garth Taylor’s” new album but my son (Quintin) recorded on most of them, and I did an album on Double Bass with Gerald Clark (Sweepslag) that was nominated for a SAMA award last year.

Bert: I haven’t done much recording, it’s been bits here & there, nothing of any consequence.

I’ve often found that when asked to put down a bass track it’s usually in the early stages of development & you are not quite sure what is required of you. Much time will be spent on mixing/ tweaking guitars, drums, vocals etc. not much thought is given to the bass.

Also I find we are often made to sit at the mixing desk going directly into the desk with an awful tone only to be told “Don’t worry we’ll fix it later in the mix”. That doesn’t do much for creativity I’m afraid.

Miles: I am currently working on recording an E.P with my band Unseen Hero.

Quintin: I have recorded a couple of EP’s with one of my main bands “Killing Pablo” and have recorded with “Warren Grey” and recently recorded on the new “Garth Taylor” album “Striped Down Soul’d Out”

What have you guys each been up to, musically, during the last five years?

Dave: As I work for the “South African Broadcasting Corporation” as a television sound engineer, I have to choose my gigs carefully as not to interfere with my work but I have managed to play with quite a few bands and artists in the last five years, namely: Hano Smit, Jacques Lagesse, Musiek Fabriek (from the TV show Noot vir Noot), Lize Beekman and Mathys Roets, Metro Groove (fusion jazz band), George Lee (R.I.P), Afrolia, Larry Amos, Dan Patlansky, Garth Taylor, RJ Benjamin, Julian Laxton, Drumthology, Natalie Chapman, Peter Hoven, Gerald Clark and Delta Blue, Groove Regulators, Soul Shake to name a few. I have done a few shows, like a rock ‘n roll show, a “Rolling Stones” show and my favorite show that we are still performing is an “Eric Clapton – slow hands Tribute show” that I especially enjoy as a lot of the material we worked from was performed by my all time favorite bass player “Nathan East”, so I sometimes just imagine myself standing in for him at the gig (if only!).

What is great with the musicians I have worked with is the whole diversity of different genres of music that I have been involved with, and all of them have helped me become a better player and musician.

Bert: I had much fun & gained a lot of experience doing Michael Canfield’s RSA Authenticity album. In a beautiful studio with a reasonable amount of time, it was great. It’s just a pity most of the bass tracks were distorted & badly tracked so I had to be re- done in someone’s garage later.

I was also involved in doing a Pink Floyd tribute show “Think Floyd” with the band Three Foot Thang, very enjoyable!

Oh yes! I did eventually get my 15 minutes of fame (actually 0.3 seconds) when I appeared on MTV playing Michael Canfield’s version of  Johnny Clegg’s ‘Spirit of the Great Heart’ featuring many big SA names for The Starfish Foundation.

Miles: In the last five years I have been quite calm on the music side of things, and have only been playing in church bands, and now recently joining the band Unseen Hero.

Quintin: I played for numerous artists and bands, such as Killing Pablo, Warren Grey, Steve Coles, I backed Loyiso Bala once for a gig, Garth Taylor, and played in Spain in 2008 and toured South Africa for Garths album at the end of 2009. Met a lot of interesting musicians along the way that I am very grateful for.

Do any of you have interests outside of the musical arena?

Dave: No! J , well I do enjoy doing (most of) my own gardening and handy man jobs around the house, but music is very soul satisfying so there is no need for much else.

Miles: I got a BIT of Interest in web design and development.

Bert: I still have a day job if that’s what you mean? I also enjoy graphics & mowing the lawn.

Quintin: I love Bass fishing, ironically, going away on adventures and chilling with my friends.


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