Watershed

Watershed were Plymouth’s finest exponents of reggae music in the late 80s and early 90s. There is a case to be argued that they were probably Europe’s finest exponents of reggae music at that time. Why on earth a major label didn’t pick them up and make everyone concerned zillionaires, and play their wonderful songs on radio stations around the world so everyone could enjoy them, is something we will never understand. Perhaps it was just too far from Camden to Plymouth for those lazy A&R guys back in the day.

To describe Watershed as simply a reggae band does not really cover their range of styles and moods. They had songs which were funk, or soul, or progressive rock, or pop, or jazz, or some combination of those things and more. Whatever the mood of the song, they nailed it beautifully with high levels of musicianship, great vocal harmonies and fun interactions with their frequent sell-out crowds. They were even good-looking enough to be on posters and poppy enough to be massive radio sensations.

The band underwent several changes of personnel during their long history. Their prolific writer, visionary and guitar player extraordinaire Al Shalliker, and vocalist and percussionist Jo Atkins were the mainstays of the musical ensemble. Each member of the band was a prestigious virtuoso in their own right. We remember them having Tony Gullis on drums, the late great master of the Fender Rhodes Dave Gregory on keys, Mark Flack (noted for his natty jumpers) on bass, Mike Baldwin on saxophones and Steve Smallwood on the desk, adding delays and dubbing it up in real time.

Steve’s membership of the band should in no way be under-estimated. He never appeared on stage with the ensemble, instead using his understanding of the gear and encyclopaedic knowledge of every Watershed song to orchestrate the performance. The band and Steve used some very clever communication techniques. Along with various stamps, waves, gesticulations and other non-verbal signs which would be unrecognisable and meaningless to non-band members, these cues enabled him to shape the sonic experience at each show to be quite unique. It was a glorious gestalt musical synergy.

We first came upon the music of Watershed when they sent in a demo in the hope of appearing at a massive all-day multi-band music festival at Exeter University in early 1989. The cassette cover was green and the title of the demo was Are YOU Normal?, which appealed to us straight away. Within the first few seconds of hearing the first track, Judgement Level, we knew we listening to something special. Watershed ended up headlining that festival and played a tremendous set that rocked the whole place. It was an “I was there when…” moment.

The most recent news we have of Watershed is when they reformed in 2013 to honour the memory of their eccentric virtuoso keyboard wizard, Dave Gregory. He was a fascinating and friendly character who we remember with fondness, and who, like many musicians tend to do, passed away much too young. Dave read a music degree at Bristol University as a young man and his educated fingers were equally at home on the violin. He was frequently seen in the underpasses and streets of Plymouth during the early 1990s, entertaining passers-by with his beautiful violin playing in the hope of earning a few coins, before making the journey up the hill to Elm Road in Mannamead, where Watershed based their operations.

We know that somewhere out there is a massive amount of Watershed material. The band would always record off the desk when they played live so they could analyze their performances and see how they could improve. Al kept dozens and dozens of these bootlegs in a box under his bed and perhaps these riches still exist, lurking in an attic or a drawer somewhere. A highly tantalising thought.

Besides Are YOU Normal?, which we believe was the band’s first studio recording, Watershed released three other cassette EPs by 1990 – Do It, In Niceness (songs that were rarely performed live due to the band feeling they were too… nice) and Life, Times and Dreams. We believe there may have been subsequent recordings as the band were active for a number of years after these releases.

Over a period of several years we have searched the internet many times for any sign of Watershed, and have a small amount of goodies to share with you here.

https://myspace.com/watershedplymouth
http://www.bandmine.com/watershedplymouth
http://plymouthlivemusic.yolasite.com/past-bands.php

Of course, if you have any more material or memories of Watershed, please email archive@wudrecords.co.uk as we’d love to hear from you.