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‘From Strings to Keys – Living the Dream’ – Guest article

Feb 18, 2021
4 min read

When faced by the news that your long-time keyboard player is leaving the band for a residency in sunny Spain, I had to make a conscious decision to jump ship from guitar to keyboard. Having convinced my wife-to-be, that we should invest the £500 we had saved for our wedding on the purchase of a Yamaha B10BR, the agreed deal was that I would be out gigging it in six months. So, consigned to making strange noises in the spare room every evening, I dutifully spent the next few weeks alone, transposing everything from six strings to 2×44 white and black keys and 13 bass pedals. However, the progress is a story for another time but with passion and perseverance, like riding a bike, the eureka moment happened one evening when I called my wife to demonstrate a discernible performance to confirm that my hands and feet were finally working in sync!

Playing the 70’s scene was a time of ‘Progressive Rock’ and ‘Rhythm & Blues’ and unless you had a mechanical tonewheel Hammond and a Leslie windmill, you were not in the groove. However, it was all the things that were wrong with the Hammond that made it sound just great, that beautiful sustained overdrive from the whirling mechanical tone wheels and the valve amplification, even now is still spine-tingling!

So, to give the punters what they wanted, a further investment in a Hammond T200 and a Leslie 147 was in order. I gigged this rig all around the UK in and out of the back of a van four times a night – load up at home, unload for the gig, reload after the gig, unload back home. With this level of physical activity three times a week, gym membership was not necessary! I was finally able to abandon the piano trolley when Hammond introduced the X5 portable and the wheel mounted Leslie 760, however both still required the physicality and retained fitness.

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Yamaha PSR-SX900
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Playing in a band is certainly rewarding but my ultimate goal was to develop a solo career. So, my next venture in 1984 was the game changer, a Technics Pro90 of which there were only 100 imported into the UK. I first heard the Pro90 at an Eric Delaney concert and was blown away with the brass sound. This was a real beast to transport so with my engineering skills I built a flight case from an old hospital trolley with a ramp into the back of the van.

However, 1990’s technology was advancing and the competition was between PCM and AWM sound generation. Having some vocal skills (school choir) and a determination to ultimately sound like a one-man orchestra, I witnessed a demo launch of the Yamaha EL90. Within minutes it was a must have and together with a Technics KN2000 via midi for the accompaniment, I was on my way. Again, I split the EL90 for gigging and I still have the design drawings on file for anyone interested.

Keyboard technology was fast developing and the last two decades has seen all the leading keyboard brands introducing arranger workstations. With such level of portability, the search for my dream machine was on and my progress from PSR8000 to Gem SK760/880 to Genesys, to Tyros and now Genos, I believe I have truly arrived!

My music, writing and arranging has been elevated with stunning sounds, studio vocal harmony, real accompaniments, a chord looper and an arpeggiator. The Genos is without doubt, the ultimate solo keyboard to thrill my theatrical audiences, who will be in awesome disbelief that such a big sound is being created from just one man and a keyboard.

I have to confess; Genos is really helping me live the dream!

Barry Nicholls

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