For so many years a keystone of the bands of Nick Lowe, Van Morrison, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, Dave Edmunds and countless more, Geraint Watkins is also a revered creator of his own sublime music.
Attempting to designate a musical category for Watkins is not without its challenges. The perspicacious Nick Lowe once observed that he could be filed as “the missing link between Paulo Conte and Howlin' Wolf”, while another beacon of taste - Bob Dylan – proclaimed himself a fan by playing two solo cuts on his Theme Time Radio Hour saying (without a hint of irony) that “Geraint Watkins is my favourite English piano player.”
Watkins left his native Wales to attend art college in Portsmouth where he befriended fellow student (and future Balham Alligator) Gary Rickard. Upon finishing college, he followed Rickard back to Cardiff where he was recruited by Tommy Riley into one of the hottest outfits of the time, Red Beans and Rice. The band were firm favourites on the London pub-rock scene in the ‘70s and Watkins soon found himself living in Balham, south London where he joined Juice on the Loose. Towards the end of the decade, he took off on the Be Stiff Route 78 tour as part of Micky Jupp’s band and shortly afterwards, Andy Fairweather Low produced Watkins’ first album “Geraint Watkins and The Dominators” for the Vertigo label. Session work for producer Stuart Coleman followed which led to a regular spot for Geraint in Shakin’ Stevens’ band for a few years. Throughout the years until the Covid pandemic lockdown, Watkins would go on to record and play live with Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Van Morrison, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler, Dr. Feelgood, Rory Gallagher, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Stray Cats, Carl Perkins, Tom Jones, John Martyn and countless others.
Sustained by this kind of work, in the 1980s Geraint, Robin McKidd, Gary Rickard, Arthur Kitchener and Kieron O’Connor formed the infamous Balham Alligators. With Watkins’ eye-popping vocals and accordion at the front, the nucleus of this pioneering outfit somehow held together for fifteen years between other commitments, keeping the music of Louisiana alive in London's pubs and setting the bar impossibly high for those in their wake.
After the release of Gateway to the South – which was the last of five albums by The Balham Alligators – he was encouraged to release his second solo album Watkins Bold as Love to draw attention to his outstanding songwriting and production talents. At the time, he was a key member of Nick Lowe’s touring and recording band The Impossible Birds, so Nick and drummer Bobby Irwin generously performed on the album.
Due to his talents being constantly in demand elsewhere, it was not until 2004 that a third album – Dial “W” For Watkins – was released. The only cover version on the record is Heroes and Villains which Watkins makes his own in typically unparalleled fashion.
Egged on by plenty of enthusiastic support for his own material, Watkins continued recording and released In a Bad Mood in 2008. Again, with a couple of exceptions, the songs on the record were all his own compositions. This time, it was Nick Lowe’s Heart of The City that enjoyed the Watkins twist along with a delightful version of At Last. The album caught the attention of many a tastemonger, leading to excellent reviews and an appearance on Later with Jools Holland.
With everyone’s calendars under pressure, it wasn’t until 2014 that his next record - Moustique - was ready for release and with Neil Brockbank’s studio relocated to Tooting, Geraint frequently had the chance to play in local venues with his band – The Mosquitoes.
Following the deaths of both Bobby Irwin and Neil Brockbank, Watkins returned to the idea of recording his own material having been encouraged by an unlikely collaborator in the form of Simon Ratcliffe of Basement Jaxx. Their superb effort, Rush of Blood, was released in 2019 just before the pandemic. The global lockdown snuffed out gigs and promotion, but despite the resultant poor album sales, by November 2022, the Watkins/Ratcliffe penned "Heaven Only Knows" had exceeded one million streaming hits.
With venues open again Geraint, backed by The Mosquitoes, is back out there with keyboards and accordion, playing his truly unique repertoire more frequently than ever. He varies the set list on each occasion to showcase many of his own compositions, but also includes a few of his classic cover versions in these memorable and unmissable performances.
A stunning retrospective and curated collection, entitled "Aide-mémoire" will be released by Last Music in March 2023.
Rush of Blood ~ Official Video