Kate Bush on John Giblin: “We’ve all lost a great man and an unmatchable musician”

John Giblin performing on stage at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert
(Image credit: Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images & Pete Still/Redferns)

John Giblin – a celebrated session bassist who worked with some of the most influential figures in contemporary music – died May 14, aged 71.

Born in Bellshill, Scotland in 1952, Giblin began his career in the 1970s, and soon became a first call bass player for the likes of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush – who first worked with Giblin on the Peter Gabriel song No Self Control, as well as her own hit single, Babooshka.

“Everyone loved John,” Bush wrote on her official website. “Everybody wanted to work with him because he was such a great talent. I loved working with him, not just because he was such an extraordinary musician, but because he was always huge amounts of fun. He loved to be pushed in a musical context, and it was really exciting to feel him cross that line and find incredibly gorgeous musical phrases that were only there for him.”

Babooshka would never have been the masterpiece that it is without the beautiful fretless parts that John imparted,” wrote Rob Mullarkey – Gibling’s son and bassist with Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier. 

“His style was rooted in soul and pop and he always had impeccable time and a real melodic ear. Taking influence from Eberhard Weber as much as Jamerson and Jaco, he achieved the holy grail of establishing a unique voice while nailing all the attributes of a tasteful and grounding bass role. Check out the way he used a delay pedal to bring on Ghostdancing with Simple Minds.”

As a session musician, Giblin also earned credits with the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Sting, Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox and Phil Collins, amassing countless recording appearances. 

“I think it was Phil Collins who first introduced us,” wrote Peter Gabriel. “My favourite bit of John’s work with me was also with Phil on drums, No Self-Control, but I have so many great memories of working with John. This wonderful and warm hearted musician contributed so much to so many great records. We will all miss you John.”  

“He was constantly tinkering and switching out components to achieve his unique tone,” remembers Mullarkey in a separate statement. “He was regarded very highly by producers for his ability to satisfy a song sonically while imparting his unique character from singing, melodic fretless bass lines.”

“Gutted to hear the terribly sad news about John Giblin,” wrote bassist Guy Pratt. “His playing on Peter Gabriel 3 alone is a landmark performance, let alone his amazing contribution to so many great artists. When Joan Armatrading toured Australia and NZ with Bryan Ferry back in 2007, John was an indispensable member of the gang, and many great times were had, which I shall always cherish. Sending best wishes and condolences to all his near and dear.”

Drummer with prog innovators King Crimson, Gavin Harrison, added, “Having John play bass guitar with you is a drummer's dream come true. It was a special experience because there was always some extra bit of magic involved. I can't quantify it – but I could feel his groove and soul so clearly inside of my playing. He made me sound good – and I didn't realise it until the next time I played without him. A truly incredible musician.”

John Giblin

(Image credit: petergabriel.com)

Giblin was initially admitted to hospital in late April with a vomiting bug, but later died from sepsis – he was not previously battling illness, as an earlier version of this article stated.

He is survived by his two daughters Emilia and Lucie, his son Robin and his four grandchildren. He is remembered by his daughters as a dedicated, generous and kind father and grandparent.

“As a night owl, we would fall asleep to low bass tones ringing throughout the house,” the family recall in their press statement. “It was as though he couldn’t sit down without a bass, they were an attachment of him.”

This article was updated on May 19, 2023 with new information from the family regarding the cause of Giblin's death and their memories of him at home and work. 

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.