Peter John 'Ollie' Halsall (14 March 1949 - 29 May 1992) was an English guitarist and vibraphone player, and is best known for his role in The Rutles, the bands Timebox, Patto and Boxer, and for his contribution to the music of Kevin Ayers. He is also notable as one of the few players of the vibraphone in rock music. He was known as Ollie because of his distinctive way of pronouncing his surname with a dropped 'h'. The Ollie Halsall Archive was established in 1985, with the aim of documenting and promoting the work of a unique musician.
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Ollie may not have been the best guitarist in the world, but he was certainly among the top two. John Halsey, 1997
Halsall (ex Pete and the Pawnees, The Gunslingers, The Music Students, all 1964, The Rhythm and Blues Incorporated, 1965), came to London in October 1966 to play vibraphone with the pop rock outfit Timebox (which included bassist Clive Griffiths and keyboardist 'Professor' Chris Holmes. Halsall took up guitar, they enlisted Mike Patto on vocals and drummer 'Admiral' John Halsey.
In 1970, following the departure of Holmes, Timebox evolved into the band Patto. They played a blend of progressive Jazz rock featuring Halsall's guitar work.
In 1973, Halsall left to join Jon Hiseman's Tempest. After less than a year, he quit and did numerous sessions, including a track for Kevin Ayers which led to a permanent position in Ayers' band The Soporifics. He was briefly considered as a possible replacement for Mick Taylor following his departure from the Rolling Stones.
In 1975, Patto staged a brief reunion comprising just three benefit gigs. The reuniting of Halsall and Patto sparked the formation of Boxer during 1975. Boxer never reached its true potential, as Mike Patto died in 1979 during the mid term of their contractual obligations to the Virgin record label and are best remembered for their debut album Below The Belt and its controversial sleeve design.
Somewhat ironically - since he was never fully credited - Halsall's most commercially successful recording is his work on the album The Rutles (1978), which reached the top 20 in the UK, on which he plays many of the instruments and provides lead and backing vocals - most notably on the tracks "Doubleback Alley", "With a Girl Like You" and "Get Up and Go". Eric Idle was cast in his place in the accompanying film and Halsall only featured in a very minor cameo role as Leppo, the fifth Rutle who became lost in Hamburg.
During 1976 Halsall had rejoined Ayers with whom he stayed for the next sixteen years. For much of that time he frequented the town of Deia in the north of the Spanish island of Mallorca, commuting to Madrid on the mainland to produce and play for numerous Spanish artistes. In the 1980s he was, together with vocalist Zanna Gregmar, part of a Spanish Techno Pop band created by producer Julian Ruiz called Cinemaspop. They released two albums - 'Cinemaspop' (1983), just a collection of Techno Pop covers of classical movie tunes, and 'A Clockwork Orange' (1984) which included some compositions by Halsall, as well as a bizarre electronic version of The Troggs' Wild Thing. In 1989, he replaced the ill Enrique Sierra in Radio Futura, another Spanish rock band.
A finished solo album, produced by Robert Fripp, remains unreleased.
Halsall died from a drug-induced heart attack on 29 May 1992 at 13 Calle de la Amargura, Madrid, Spain.
Halsall has been described as an influence by Alvin Lee, Allan Holdsworth and Cheap Trick's guitarist Rick Nielsen. XTC's Andy Partridge cites Halsall as one of his top three influences, saying "He made the guitar sound more like Albert Ayler or John Coltrane, more like a sort of fluid piano player."