Tony Ashton was born in Blackburn, Lancashire on March 1st. 1946 but spent his formative years in the seaside town of Blackpool.After playing with various Blackpool bands , he was invited to join the Liverpool group , the Remo Four as organist/vocalist. The group spent some time being the resident band at Hamburg's legendary Star club followed by a US tour accompanying the Beatles. They recorded some singles but their best work came in 1966 when they released their album "Smile" (see review ). Before their break-up in 1968, they backed George Harrison on his album "Wonderwall".
At that point , Ashton formed a new group with Remo drummer Roy Dyke and bass player Kim Gardner. They called themselves Ashton,Gardner & Dyke. They recorded 3 albums before splitting in 1972. Their 1971 single "Reserruction Shuffle" reached no. 3 in the British singles charts and that was the closest they came to achieving pop stardom. Their music, which was all composed by Ashton , was a unique fusion of R&B and jazz and very innovative and ahead of its time.Their last recording together was a collaboration with Jon Lord on the soundtrack for a b-movie called "The Last Rebel" starring former football star Joe Namath.In the meantime, Ashton had appeared on Jon Lord's first solo album "Gemeni Suite" in 1971.
In 1973, Ashton joined the group Family for their last album and tour. That same year , he and Coverdale and Hughes were guest vocalists on Jon Lord's second album "Windows".
In the summer of 1974, during a break in Purple's busy touring schedule , Tony Ashton and Jon Lord recorded their album "First of the Big Bands". Jon Lord was quoted as saying:"It was a matrix made in heaven. We were always destined to become good friends. The First of the Big Bands was just what we did on our holidays that year". Because of Jon Lord's schedule , the album could not be promoted with a tour and the only live performances were one night at the London Palladium and a live recording for the BBC (released as a CD in 1993).The album was not a commercial success. Ashton spent the next 3 years as a session musician, TV jingle writer,and producer for other artists.
When Purple split , Jon Lord and Ian Paice found themselves with a lot of free time on their hands and a need to steer away from the hard rock scene. and a need to steer away from the hard rock scene. The logical step to take was to call on their old friend Tony Ashton. The result was the formation of Paice,Ashton, Lord(P.A.L.), a band rooted in funk,jazz and rock. The line-up was completed by future Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden and bass player Paul Martinez. They recorded "Malice In Wonderland"in Munich and a nation-wide tour of the UK was set in motion. Unfortunately the tour was cancelled halfway because of big financial losses. The band broke up leaving Ashton without a record deal and not many future prospects.
After the break up of Paice Ashton Lord in 1977, he concentrated mainly on session work with artists like Chicken Shack and Wings in addition to writing music and jingles for TV and Radio. He continued to gig in the London area on a local club level. In the early 80's, he co-hosted a TV show with Rick Wakeman called GasTank. Every week, there would be guests ranging from Phil Lynott to Ian Paice who would sit in with the show's in-house band led by Ashton and Wakeman. In between performances, the guests would be interviewed by Wakeman. It was a very interesting TV show in that some of Britain's greatest musicians guested on it. The episodes were never reshown and would now make a great series if they were to be officially released on video.
In 1984, Ashton was given a very small budget to record an album for EMI in Switzerland where he has quite a following. The result was the album "Live In The Studio", not to be released in Britain until Repertoire reissued it on CD in 1994(REP 4509- WY). Recorded in less than three days, the album is nothing more than Ashton and a few friends having a ball in the studio. It is easy to find fault in this album if one was to criticize it the way the average studio album is. Today, Ashton looks back fondly on the album but hopes that the idea of it being merely a jam session comes across to the listener. After that, Ashton went through some very hard times due to ill health and lack of work. Although he continued to gig here and there, he did not release anything until 1988 when a single called "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" was put out by Trax Records. It didn't do very well and only resurfaced recently as a bonus track on the 1994 reissue of Live In The Studio.
By the early 90's, Tony Ashton had gotten back on his feet and began his career as an artist. He had always dabbled in art as a minor hobby but now he became very serious about it. Last month, I asked him how it came about that he got involved in art. He said: "About five years ago, my mother in-law, who owns an art gallery, said to me 'if you develop a bit more, I'll give you an exhibition at my gallery'. So I did that and I sold a few pieces. And then I went on to develop a bit more and now I'm selling a lot of paintings! It's a good income for me. When the music thing is a bit dried up, it's a good sideline. And I enjoy it too!" Apart from selling a lot of paintings(ink drawings and oil/acrylic), his work can be seen on the covers of various CDs. These include Ashton-Lord "BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert" (1993 Windsong WINCD 033), "Merry XMas and a Happy New Ear"(Dec.94 Repertoire REP 8014), "Wind in the Willows" by Eddie Hardin&Friends (INAK 9010 CD) and his own 1995 maxi-single "Mr. Ashton Sings Big Red & Other Love Songs".
His maxi-single "Mr. Ashton Sings Big Red & Other Love Songs" was released at the end of 1995 on Repertoire(REP 8018)(see review ). In 1996, Tony played in some gigs in Germany with Pete York's Superblues featuring Colin Hodgkinson on bass and Miller Anderson on guitar. In the summer of that same year he reunited with Bernie Marsden. The band, led by Bernie, featured Tony on keyboards and Snowy White on Guitar. They played an all-blues set billed as "tribute to Peter Green" at various European Blues Festivals(in Norway and the UK). This exact line-up performed in Norway as recently as Feb. 15 1997. 1996 also saw Tony doing several gigs at the Market Bar in Portobello Road in London playing the Hammond organ and singing and only accompanied by a drummer. His latest release was his single "The Big Freedom Dance". Released towards the end of 1996, the song is a tribute to John Lennon and is all about the Hamburg days.
In 1997, Tony Ashton continues to work hard on his painting with several successful exhibitions in various countries in Europe. In April, he went on tour with British bluesman Long John Baldry as a special guest as well as keyboard player. But after about 6 weeks, he dropped out of the tour citing artistic differences with Baldry. In September, he played some very successful gigs at the Hell Blues Festival in Norway both with his own trio and as part of the Hell All-Star Blues Band which featured Bernie Marsden on guitar.
One piece of information that will be interesting to Ashton, Gardner & Dyke fans is the following: Today, Roy Dyke is semi-professional. He lives in Germany and has a day job and only does the ocaissional gig. Kim Gardner on the other hand, owns and runs a very successfull pub/bar in Hollywood called The Cat & The Fiddle.
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