Frank Mead (born 1953) grew up in Southend-on-Sea, starting out as a harmonica player with local legend Mickey Jupp. Converting to reeds in 1974, he rubbed shoulders with many incipient legends of the London pub rock scene, later to become The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Blockheads. After playing with bands like Juice on the Loose and Hardlines, Frank came to arrange and record for Gary Moore, and joined The Big Town Playboys; by the late 80s he was doing session work with the likes of Manfred Mann, Maxi Priest, Dave Knopfler, Paul McCartney, Squeeze and Paul Young.
He came into Gary’s sphere back in 1979 when Mickey Jupp joined The Parrot sessions on guitar: Frank confesses that he was terrified on first realising that he was about to spend a night jamming with luminaries like Mick Fleetwood on drums, Darryl Way on violin, Chris Stainton on bass, to say nothing of Eric Clapton. But bandleader Brooker had the knack of making his players feel comfortable, however, and Frank came to realise that ‘Either you can play, or you can’t.’ Brooker now speaks of him as ‘a first-choice sax and harmonica player to the stars’, and the British Blues Connection voted him R&B saxophonist of the year, a worthy successor to Dick Heckstall-Smith.
Though much at home in the world of rock – he will be taking his tenor back on the road with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings later in the year – Frank’s prime music is jazz-funk, played on alto and soprano saxes in his own outfit, The Frank Mead Band: they will be heard on various German festival stages this summer. Frank is currently working on material for a second solo album; the first, Shout it Out, includes a harmonically radical version of A Whiter Shade of Pale as a soprano sax solo. As one critic put it, ‘Mead takes King Curtis’s famous Procol cover one step further – plus it’s in tune!’ Frank has performed Procol’s signature-tune in a Rhythm Kings setting with Gary Brooker, and has also played it on stage with Procol Harum at Guildford … their sole live concert with a saxophonist … when the ultra-rare four-verse version of this enigmatic masterpiece was heard (the Live at the Union Chapel DVD contains the only recording of the three-verse version).
Frank admits to being obsessed by music; when he is not onstage he is at home, ‘obsessively practising.’ His current project is learning the traditional Irish flute, and he looks forward to travelling to Galway in June to collect an instrument that is being made specially for him in African Blackwood. ‘It’s a life and death thing playing music,’ says Frank, whose convulsive style makes him the visual focus of any No Stiletto Shoes concert. ‘You have to be slightly deranged to spend your whole life baring your soul, night after night. But it beats working!’