Mo Foster is a British session musician, playing primarily jazz, jazz-fusion and rock bass guitar. He is also a music producer and songwriter/composer. In over 40 years as a musician Foster has played on and produced countless albums, singles and film soundtracks. He is a published author and occasionally teaches at music seminars all over the UK.
Foster’s first dalliance as a musician in public was in primary school playing the recorder and violin. In secondary school he changed to a “much cooler” instrument and became the bass player (using a Dallas Tuxedo bass) in his school band, The Tradewinds.
Foster cites his interest in bass guitar as coming from hearing Duane Eddy’s song “Rebel Rouser” for the first time. “A school friend played the 78 on his parents’ big radiogram and it just filled the room with this powerful sound. It was one of those rare moments when your soul is touched and I realised that the deep sound behind Eddy’s guitar came from something called a bass guitar, though I didn’t see one until I watched Jet Harris on TV. So I bought an acoustic guitar for £2 and figured that I’d get that bass sound if I just tuned the strings down an octave, but of course it just made a pointless, flapping noise.”
Mo Foster studied physics and mathematics at the University of Sussex in the mid-1960s. During his student days he played both drums and bass in a wide variety of bands including the US Jazz Trio and The Baskervilles. Once he left university, a short spell as a laboratory research assistant convinced him that a career in music was preferable to a career as a scientist. During mid-1968 Foster, along with friends Lynton Naiff, Mike Jopp, Grant Serpell and Linda Hoyle, formed the progressive jazz/rock group Affinity, which was managed by the late Ronnie Scott. At the time they released one eponymously named album, though in the last few years archived tapes were discovered which enabled a further four Affinity related albums to be released.
After Affinity played their last gig in 1970 Foster decided that rather than being an over-educated but unemployed musician he needed to join another band. He placed a classified ad in Melody Maker magazine stating “Bass Guitarist: ex-name group, wishes to join established Family/Colosseum/Traffic type group”.[He expected no response, but a music producer called Christos Demetriou (i.e. Chris Demetriou) unexpectedly called and offered him a job with ex-Manfred Mann singer Mike d’Abo’s band. After touring with the band both in the US and in the UK, Foster’s name started to get around. In 1971 he was hired to do a studio session for a Russ Ballard song, “Can’t Let You Go” at Lansdowne Studios. “I knew nothing about sessions and turned up with a flask and sandwiches because I didn’t know how long I’d be there for. There was Clem Cattini on drums, Ray Cooper on percussion, Mike Moran on keyboards, Ray Fenwick on guitar, all fine players and nice guys who must have thought my naiveté was amusing! That was the beginning of a word of mouth situation which gradually mushroomed.” The European disco scene was growing and session work was increasing and Mo was hired to play on a lot of the popular hits of the time including Jimmy Helms’ “Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse”, Cerrone’s hit “Supernature”.
In his early days as a session player Foster, having been self-taught, could not read music and freely admits that he bluffed his way through a lot of sessions. Finally at a session at Abbey Road Studios, playing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, it got so difficult to follow the music by listening to the drummer and guitarist that he vowed to teach himself. This he then did.
As a session musician Foster has played on over 350 recordings including artists as varied as:
- Phil Collins
- Jeff Beck
- Gerry Rafferty
- Ringo Starr
- Frida (of ABBA)
- Gary Moore
- Peter Green
- Scott Walker
- Elkie Brooks
- Joan Armatrading
- Michael Schenker Group
- Olivia Newton-John
- Neil Innes
- Judie Tzuke
- Sheena Easton
- Meat Loaf
- Trevor Rabin
- Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
- Luka Bloom
- The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
- The London Symphony Orchestra
- Nigel Kennedy and Kroke
As a sideman Mo Foster has toured the world or played concerts with:
- Jeff Beck
- Phil Collins
- Joan Armatrading
- Gil Evans
- Mike d’Abo,
- Van Morrison
- Eric Clapton
- Maggie Bell
- Dusty Springfield
- The Manfreds
- George Martin
- Hank Marvin
(who wrote the foreword of the UK version of Mo’s book)
- Cliff Richard
- Véronique Sanson
- The London Symphony Orchestra
During his time as a session player Mo was asked to work on many film soundtrack sessions including:
In 1975 Foster pioneered the teaching of bass guitar in Britain by founding the first-ever course at Goldsmiths College, University of London As of mid-2007, along with guitarist Ray Russell and drummer Ralph Salmins, Foster is embarking on several music seminars at different educational establishments around the UK, the most recent (September 2007) being held at Leeds Metropolitan University. The trio have also been invited to give a similar seminar at the famous Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts music school which was started by Sir Paul McCartney. He has also contributed several articles to bass playing specialist magazines.
One of Foster’s most memorable bass lines was in the theme tune to the late-70s UK TV show “Minder” starring Dennis Waterman. The tune, “I Can Be So Good For You” started out life as a track on Waterman’s solo album, it was then re-jigged as the show’s theme tune. Mo achieved the atypical bass sound by using an unusual bass slap technique on an aluminium Kramer 650B bass guitar.
Foster has cited several well known bassists as being the inspirations to both his playing and his compositions, including Carol Kaye, Jet Harris, Jack Bruce and Stanley Clarke
In the mid to late 80s Foster was the ‘M‘ in the jazz/rock trio called RMS with fellow session musos, Ray Russell and Simon Phillips. They released (originally on Peter Van Hooke’s then at the time fledgling MMC record label) an album called Centennial Park which was remastered and re-released in 2002 on the Angel Air record label. This in turn prompted the release of a live album from 1982 that had never been heard publicly before RMS: Live at the Venue, 1982.
As a result of the success of these two CD releases, a DVD (which featured guests appearances by Gil Evans and Mark Isham) was released a year later. RMS: Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival, 1983. Both the CDs and DVD were produced by Mo and Ray Russell.
In the mid-80s Foster joined up with comedy writer/actor Mike Walling to form the core of the imaginary, but tragic RJ Wagsmith Band. Together they wrote a chart topping song for Roger Kitter (aka “The Brat”). They also penned what became one of the few one-hit wonders that never actually made it into the charts. “The Papadum Song” was about two losers who go into an Indian restaurant for a meal after a football match. The song got quite considerable airplay and Mike and Mo appeared together on the BBC children’s programmes “Blue Peter” and Granada TV’s “Get It Together”. Unfortunately there was an industrial dispute at Phonogram Records and no records actually got to the shops.
At the latter end of the 1980s Foster decided that he would like the freedom to perform, produce and record his own music rather than that of someone else. He was able to call on some of his many friends who happened to be some of the UK’s foremost session musicians to help him. Since 1987 he has released five solo albums.
- Bel Assis (1988) (featuring Gary Moore and drummer Simon Phillips)
- Southern Reunion (1991) (featuring Gary Moore, Gary Husband and Snail’s Pace Slim)
- Time To Think (2002)
- Live at Blues West 14 (2006)
- Belsize Lane: A Collection of Sketches (2007) (Limited Issue)
Apart from his five solo albums Foster has produced – or co-produced – albums for Deborah Bonham (The Old Hyde), Dr John (Such A Night), Maggie Bell (Live at the Rainbow), Affinity (Live Instrumentals 1969, 1971–72, Origins 1965–67, and Origins Baskervilles 1965), Survivors (Survivors), Maria Muldaur (Live in London), Adrian Legg (Fretmelt), RMS (Centennial Park, Live at the Venue 1982), RMS with Gil Evans (Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1983 DVD), The RJ Wagsmith Band (Make Tea Not War).
In addition Foster has composed and produced hundreds of titles for the major Production Music Libraries, co-wrote with Ray Russell the instrumental “So Far Away” for Gary Moore, co-wrote with Mike Walling the comedy hit single “Chalk Dust” for The Brat, co-wrote with Kim Goody the song “Sentimental Again” which reached the final in the Song for Europe Contest in 1990, and co-wrote with Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, and Kim Goody the main song “In My Car” from Ringo’s album Old Wave.
In 1997 Foster authored a semi-autobiographical and anecdotal book about the birth and rise of Rock guitar in the UK during the period 1955 – 1975.
The book’s title is Seventeen Watts?, the title having arisen from the school band member’s quandary of “do we really need that much power?” when a 17W Watkins Dominator Amplifier was acquired as a replacement for the ‘aging’ 5W amp they had previously been using. The US edition of the book was entitled Play Like Elvis and had a different foreword, this time written by Duane Eddy.
The first half of the book covers the emergence of a new breed of the rock guitarist. It features many anecdotes describing the efforts of now prominent guitarists to not only learn chords but to work out how to build their own guitar because they could not afford the ones in the music shop window. There are stories and quotes from guitarists such as Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, Joe Brown, Clem Cattini, Eric Clapton, Lonnie Donegan, Vic Flick, Herbie Flowers, Roger Glover, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Hank Marvin, Brian May, Gary Moore, Joe Moretti, Pino Palladino, Rick Parfitt, John Paul Jones, Francis Rossi, Gerry Rafferty, Mike Rutherford, Big Jim Sullivan, Andy Summers, Richard Thompson, Bert Weedon, Bruce Welch, and Muff Winwood.
The second half of Seventeen Watts? is devoted to the rise and eventual demise of the London studio session scene. Foster seeks to present an insider’s view of this creative world, and to convey a sense of the absurdist flavour of musicians’ humour.
Most recently Foster has worked as an archivist/interviewer on the recent UK Channel 4 series Live From Abbey Road, which involved interviewing musicians and bands who were performing live sets at EMI’s world-famous Abbey Road Studios.
Foster now concentrates on producing albums for others, composing music, session work (he recently played with Brian May and Brian Bennett on a 12-hour session at Abbey Road Studios for a re-make of Cliff Richard’s 1958 hit “Move It”), writing, researching and remastering his back catalogue (not only for his solo projects but also for other artists).
Foster has also resumed playing concerts with his band RMS, featuring Ray Russell, and Gary Husband – notably with Gary Moore at a recent charity concert Vibes From The Vines.
In April 2012 he performed at the Jet Harris Heritage Foundation tribute lunch with The Shadowers and Daniel Martin on Nivram and Diamonds
Although Foster has an interest in science it does not extend to the technology used in his instrumentation. He was once asked by a magazine journalist what type of pick-ups he used, he replied “Errr black ones?”
Over the years Foster has collected several different types of bass guitar including a custom-built Moon MBC fretless 5-string, an Overwater Progress 5-string and an Alembic Omega (since stolen). Invariably though, he uses his two main basses, his Fender Precision and particularly his Fender Jazz which he considers to be his “voice”.
The Fender Jazz bass guitar started out life as a standard 4-string bass, but in 1976, after being inspired by Jaco Pastorius’ fretless playing, he commissioned a symphony bass repairman by the name of Neville Whitehead to replace the standard neck with a fretless version. The replacement neck was a planed-down real ebony neck removed from a 100-year-old upright bass. For six months Foster struggled with the pure black neck as there were no indicators for finger positioning. Eventually giving up the fight, he employed luthier Dick Knight to mark fretlines on the neck. After going to this trouble he was surprised to learn that Pastorius achieved the same thing by merely pulling off the frets and filling the resulting holes with epoxy resin. Since the early 80s the bass guitar has undergone several component replacements including the bridge and the pick-ups.
Foster eschews complex amplifiers with equalisers and a multiplicity of functions, preferring ones that simply “have an on-off switch and a little light”. Despite this, on one occasion whilst touring with Jeff Beck, with Simon Phillips on drums. Phillips’ drums were amplified to such an extent that Foster could no longer hear his bass, so he was forced into having a system made up from two BGW power amps and a speaker rig consisting of Altec, Gauss and JBL drivers. It was so powerful it was called the “trouser lifter” as a person’s trousers flapped when passing it.
Foster has stated that his interests in the physical sciences have remained with him throughout his non-scientific career and he stays informed on scientific innovation by reading New Scientist magazine. He enjoys wordplay-based, non-PC and scatological humour, and enjoys radio shows such as “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” and “The Goon Show” on BBC Radio 4, as well as the comic Viz, particularly the “Roger’s Profanisaurus” section.
He currently lives with his film producer wife, Kay, in North London. He is vegetarian and loves Indian cuisine