Beggars Opera are one of the most intriguing of all the bands to emerge from the Progressive Rock era of the 1970s. Hailing from Scotland the group was and still remains built around the talents of guitarist Ricky Gardiner and his wife Virginia Scott, who sings, plays keyboards and composes lyrics.
Still active today, but now based in Wales, the pair have released such albums as ‘Close To My Heart’ (2007), a richly varied and dynamic set of performances that took ten years to bring to fruition. This was mainly due to the effects of a medical condition known as ‘electro sensitivity’ that has affected Ricky Gardner for many years. This is brought about by exposure to radiation from mobile phones and computers. Ricky and Virginia have based their latest album ‘Lose A Life’ (2011) on the theme. Sub-titled a ‘Nano Opera’ it is based on the story of his battle against ‘E.S.’.
Roderick ‘Ricky’ Gardiner’ was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1948. He has enjoyed a busy career, including working with David Bowie and Iggy Pop. But his first brush with fame came when Beggars Opera was formed in 1969. The original group was based in Glasgow and took its name from the ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ a play by the poet John Gay. Ricky began playing guitar in bands at the age of 14. Among his earliest groups were the Kingbees, Vostoks and the System. Beggars Opera first comprised Gardiner (guitar, vocals), Martin Griffiths (lead vocals), Alan Park (organ, piano), Gordon Sellar (bass, acoustic guitar, vocals) and Raymond Wilson (drums). Virginia Scott (Mellotron and vocals) joined later.
The group signed to Vertigo, alongside Black Sabbath, Colosseum and Manfred Mann’s Chapter Three. They released four albums over the next few years, including ‘Waters Of Change’ (1971) that introduced Virginia’s Mellotron. They broke up in 1974, but reformed to release ‘Sagittary’ and ‘Beggars Can’t Be Choosers’ the following year. The new line up was put together by Gardiner and Scott with Pete Scott vocals (ex-Savoy Brown). Some years later in 1981 Gordon Sellar reformed Beggars Opera with Alan Park and Linnie Paterson to record the Vertigo Germany album ‘Lifeline’.
Ricky Gardiner began his fruitful collaboration with David Bowie in 1976 when he recorded tracks for David’s ‘Low’ album. During these sessions he met Iggy Pop and in 1977 Ricky was invited to Berlin for rehearsals with Bowie and Iggy. He later toured America and the UK with Iggy Pop to promote ‘The Idiot’ and played on the Bowie-produced album Iggy Pop album ‘Lust for Life’.
In 1978 Gardiner set up a recording studio at his home in Wales and began using computers and writing music for meditation. In 1994 he formed Kumara with Virginia Scott and Trevor Stainsby and released an album of ambient music called ‘Confluence’. Then in the 1990s Gardiner started suffering from the chronic illness that kept his band out of ‘live’ performances. But work began on ‘Close to My Heart’ at Ricky’s studio with his son Tom on drums.
Ricky: “I live in a time warp and I can’t listen to any music and haven’t kept up with anything. Nothing from the last thirty years has pervaded my consciousness, and especially since 1995, when I first got this problem. I don’t watch TV – people might think that’s a loss, but I don’t see it that way. I think of myself as being preserved in aspic and protected from the modern world.”
His songs range from sombre themes and sensitive melodies to powerful rock riffs. The album climaxes with the ‘bagpipe’ fuelled ‘Here Comes Everybody’, another Beggars Opera song that will remain close to the heart.