Released back in July Polaris is the new album from singer-songwriter Dan Korn and classically-trained musician Joe Sharp. The two first worked together in 2010, collaborating on a number of releases. Polaris is their first release as a duo, although there have been hundreds of shows across the UK and Europe in recent years and a tour of the US. I caught up with Dan Korn recently to discuss the album, their work as a duo and next steps.
For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe Polaris and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?
Polaris is an album of ten new songs recorded live at Roedean Moira House Studios in Eastbourne. We see it as an intimate exploration of love and identity in the modern world.
We were keen to capture the raw energy of our live performances by recording the album live. We are the only two musicians on the album, though we play a number of acoustic instruments.
I have different favourite moments from time to time, but at the moment I am particularly fond of the track Idaho, which was conceived in a chilly tent in a campsite off an Idaho Highway. I toured in the US in the summer of 2016 and shivering in that tent was definitely a low point of the tour. It’s a hopeful song though, imagining a time in the future when my ex-girlfriend and I will be friends again and we’ll be able to sit on a park bench together and laugh at the past.
Another highlight for me is Joe’s song, The Promise, the final track on the album. It’s the only song I don’t play guitar on, which makes it both liberating and nerve-wracking to play live. It’s a beautiful song and a great way to finish the record.
This is your first release as a duo but you’ve worked together on a number of projects. How did you first begin working together?
We started working together back in 2010. I was going into the studio to record my debut EP, Dustbowl. We felt a couple of tracks would benefit from the addition of some brass. Joe was a friend of a friend and a trumpet player by trade, so we asked him to play trumpet and flugelhorn on the record. He did so with aplomb. We soon became firm friends and musical collaborators, though Joe has mostly played bass and supplied backing vocals since then.
And you’ve been performing live together as a duo for several years with hundreds of gigs behind you. Was it a conscious creative decision to wait for a while before releasing an album or was it just the way things turned out?
Our setup has evolved considerably over the years. In different configurations, we have recorded two EPs and one LP before this one. Between 2016 and 2018, I toured a lot my own and accumulated quite a few new songs. Joe had a couple of songs he wanted to record too. We were playing better together than ever, so it felt like the right time to enter the studio. For it to be a duo project felt like the most honest and authentic way to go about things at that time.
What have been some of your most memorable gigs?
In 2015, the full band went on a UK tour to promote the release of our Of The Sea LP. We were in Inverness, in a tiny venue with a miniature stage we were somehow all supposed to fit on with a drum-kit. It was a pretty rowdy audience. At one point during the set, we couldn’t help but notice a man’s glass eye fall out and roll across the floor in front of the stage. We watched him proceed to pick it up, blow on it and pop it back in!
The final concert of a tour often turns out to be a favourite. By this time, you’re in great nick because you’ve been playing so much. You’re tired of course, but there’s a feeling of throwing caution to the wind. You don’t have to get up and play again tomorrow, you can just enjoy it. In the days that follow, the post-tour blues will descend as you try to reintegrate yourself into humdrum life. The absence of the adrenaline you have grown accustomed to experiencing performing on stage can be quite difficult to deal with.
In recent years, we have loved playing house concerts, particularly in Germany, where there is a pretty well established scene. It can be a very intimate experience, where you can literally hear the audience breathing. You can’t get away with much. You have to be able to chat in between songs. It’s a really good way to develop your performance skills. I’d recommend it as a good avenue to explore for any singer-songwriter, learning his or her craft.
Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you.
At the moment, I’m really enjoying Cate Le Bon and Bill Callahan. I went to a Villagers gig in Rotterdam recently, which I found very inspiring.
Given the extremely positive reviews for Polaris when it was released in the summer what are your future plans now, both as a duo and as individual artists?
We’vebeen working on another full band album for the last couple of years. It’s being recorded by our guitarist Bob Turley at his Cosy Studios in Kent, where we recorded Of The Sea. We each live in different places and have a lot going on, so it’s a good thing we’re not in any great rush to release it. We’re getting together over Christmas to review things and to work out what our next steps should be. It will be quite different from anything we’ve released before. Watch this space!
Polaris was released on 19th July 2019 and is available via the duo’s website
This is a longer full-length version of an interview piece that was originally published by the Hastings Online Timeshere
Ahead of their gig at Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion on December 21st Darren Johnson talks to the Sweet’s Andy Scott who, along with Brian Connolly, Mick Tucker and Steve Priest, was part of the classic 1970s line-up and continues the band to this day.
DJ: The Sweet are well-known for their glam rock singles but there was always a hard rock albums side to the band’s persona as well. Will both of those elements be represented on this current tour?
AS: Yes – more so on this tour than the last one. We’ve had a slight revamp of the band. This revised line-up is certainly more akin to that. A couple of younger guys who are, shall we say, keeping us on our toes again. I would never, ever recommend changing two members of a band. I remember reading an interview with Mick Fleetwood who I got to know in the 70s just before they went to LA and he was saying they were going out there not knowing where the future lay. And he even said to me let’s see what happens. Then I saw what had gone on about two years later and heard, basically, they were looking for a replacement for Peter Green and they’ve got Christine McVie back in the band. They just haven’t got a guitar player who can sing. And it came with the two of them. Stevie Nicks as well (as Lindsey Buckingham). And just look at the way that burst open. So, in my head, I’m thinking Pete Lincoln left to pursue this outfit he’d been using shall we say as a back-up tool to Sweet with two other lead singers from other bands . And all of a sudden that’s taking off and I could see what’s on the horizon. There’s going to have to be a choice made here. And I knew which way he’d probably go because he’d been playing bass and singing with us. And he’s now doing this – because he’s a terrific guitar player and he’s now with a team of people where they’re all in at the starting point. And I thought – well we’re going to have to replace him. Now luckily we had Paul Manzi on the back-burner because he had depped – he’d come in and done a couple of gigs for us so he was an obvious choice.
And then Tony O’Hora at the end of August the bombshell was, “I’m leaving.” And Bruce (Bisland – Sweet’s drummer) and I, who’ve known him for years, were like – oh God, not again. Because we’d had this with him a couple of times, only this time I said there’s only so much you can cry wolf – you know. So I said – I’ll accept it but you’re gonna have to tell me what’s going on. And he didn’t. And then we were doing a couple of gigs in Poland and the Czech Republic and he just walked. So we ended up doing a couple of gigs with my guitar tech on bass and we managed to get Steve Mann who’d been playing with Michael Schenker to come out and finish the dates with us. It was a revelation to see Paul Manzi standing there with no guitar in his hand as a lead singer so the first thing I had to do when I got back – there was was one person on my list of people to call and that was Lee Small. I rang him and he jumped at the chance and so we now have Lee and Paul in the band. And on a temporary basis – but it could become permanent – we have Steve Mann back in the band as the second guitar/keyboard player. And it’s really, really gelling. And now we’ve done three shows in Denmark, one or two in Germany and four in England. We’ve only done nine gigs and my son who’s my sound engineer – I have to take his word because the sound he gets out is always remarkable – he said ‘It’s the best it’s been, Dad’.
Clearly, the line-up change has given the band a new energy but has it led to a change in the set-list, too?
Yes. The driving force for the acoustic part of the set last time we toured was basically me and Pete. And we felt like we ought to go for a bit more like it used to be in the 70s when we did a festival set. You’d get down to the nitty gritty. You play a couple of the heavier rock tunes that people want to hear so that’s what’s happening. It’s a work-in-progress. There will be a new Sweet album next year and we’ll see where we go from there.
And you’re coming to Bexhill on the 21st December which is the last night of the tour. Is that last night of a tour always a bit special or a bit of a relief – or both?
Well it depends who’s around – but I usually try and get some of my mates and anyone who wants to come to the gig and sing a bit or play or whatever. You just never know what happens on a night like this.
The other surviving member of the classic 70s line-up Steve Priest has his own version of the Sweet in America. I believe you tried to get him to join you on stage for the band’s 50th anniversary last year?
I mean look – we can all be angry young men and even grumpy old men. I just don’t like the idea that you can’t mellow in later life. I just don’t know what gets into Steve once in a while. We have contact – every time that I go over to LA, which I do on holiday these days because we don’t do anything in America – he has changed the dynamic of that. He doesn’t do a lot either – but having spoken to a couple of friends of mine who are promoters and stuff in America I said I don’t want to come back there unless it’s as organised as the gigs we do in Europe. And it seems you need specialist help over there. The country is so big you’re not going to end up using your own equipment. Friends of mine in Uriah Heep still go out there and Mick (Box) says you’ve got to get a different head on.
So you’re in touch with Steve Priest but no chance of you performing together?
Well I think the moment has passed. At the end of 2017 I remember I wished him a Merry Christmas and I then said if something’s going to happen it’s going to be next year isn’t it? You know, the fiftieth anniversary of the inception of the band. And then I never heard anything. Then I got a message from him at the beginning of 2018 saying “We are getting involved with a new agent who thinks it might be a good idea if you and I did something.” And my answer to him was sod your agent what do you think about it? If you fancy doing it then we’ve got a starting point but to just do it because your agent says “you should do this, Steve” is coming at it from the wrong angle, I think. I could see where that was going. I would say yes let’s do something but all of a sudden all the rules and regulations come out. And really, if we’re going to do stuff like this, if he’s coming to Europe we have a collaboration and he does it the European way. And I go out to America and I do it the American way – as long as somebody looks after me. But there has to be some kind of continuity within the band as well. And one of the funniest things was a friend of mine from Germany who contacted him said “Would you be willing to come and do a festival?” And the first thing he said was “As long as I can bring my guitar player.” And so we laughed about that. And that never went anywhere. So now I’d much rather be in touch with him saying “Hello, how are you? How are the knees?” you know. And him saying “How are you? How’s your health?”
Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (writers of many of the hit singles for Sweet) obviously left a huge, huge impact on the band and left you with a slew of songs that people will always link to Sweet. Do you keep in touch with either of them?
Well yeah, I’m in touch with Mike because Mike is still a little bit of a mentor for Suzi (Quatro) and whenever I’ve been in the producer’s chair I talk to Mike about various things. He’s written songs that were on Back To The Drive which was one of her albums. And I’m hoping, because we’ve got a new album that’s coming out, that Mike and I might sit down together. A few years ago he was angling, “Well that could have been a Sweet single.” And we might be able to revamp or maybe write a song together. There’s a man who’s mellowed a little bit and kind of enjoying life again. And I’ve heard he’s back in the UK so, you know, all is possible. I’ve not fallen out with anybody. Life’s too short!
I always thought that Sweet missed a major opportunity for a come-back ion the early to mid 80s? Slade were back in the charts again. Queen were huge. Glam metal was taking off the States but it was the one time in the past 50 years that Sweet were AWOL?
Well you can look at it from all sides. Timing was absolutely everything. We’d reached a point in 81/82 where Steve was now living in America. He didn’t want to be in England. He didn’t want to come back. He feels, so somebody’s told me – I haven’t read all of his book he never sent me a copy – but it’s in there. I remember Mick Tucker saying to me “I don’t know where he got half of his stuff from.” but I said “Look it’s his personal view, Mick. You’ve got to let everybody have that.” It’s almost as if he’s forced to come back to England to record the last album in a studio in West London and he was put up in a hotel that was like a student hostel in Chelsea. And I thought well he stayed with me a little bit of the time and, yes, he was in that hotel for a while because, you know, it was easier and Mick had his problems with his first marriage. And it was a time when, I guess because we were still living our lives in England – this is the way he probably views it, at weekends we would take some time for ourselves and he would be left to his own devices. And any normal guy would be out having dinner with some mates you hadn’t seen for years but I guess he got the feeling that he was just being abandoned. So from that point of view, when the tour finished at the end of 81 – I think it was Glasgow University – we never heard from Steve for ages. He came back to England and it was that next year when Mick had a tragedy. His first wife died. It was a misadventure where she died in the bath. I think she had a glass of wine and was on some medication and he got back to the house and found her there. Well you wouldn’t wish that on anybody, would you? And so he didn’t want to do anything. And I was still out there – producing and writing and playing on other people’s records. And I managed to get a solo deal – first of all with Virgin then it turned out to be Statik. The guy from Virgin had left to form his own label. So for a couple of years – 83/84 – I was releasing some solo singles. And then in 85 – well at the end of 84 – I bumped into our old agent and he was looking after us in 81. And he said, “Oh I’ve got a bone to pick with you. I keep getting loads of enquiries. Are you still working with the Sweet? I didn’t know where you were.” And it just so happened that his office was literally up the Harrow Road from where I was living in Maida Vale.
Then you did the Live at the Marquee album?
Exactly. I managed to get Mick out of retirement. Steve was even at least saying the right things but Mick said ‘He’s not coming back’ so luckily I rehearsed a bass player. The guy who ended up in Sweet actually Mal McNulty. We were using him to rehearse and I said he may not be coming and he said “you’re a mate of mine. I love this”. And, of course, we went to Australia with Mal and the rest is history. We had Paul Mario Day as singer and Phil Lanzon who’s now with Uriah Heep on keyboards.
And with changes of personnel the band has continued to this day.
Yeah. We’ve had a few people come and go but when you look back over thirty-odd, almost forty years of reformation when you say you’ve had six singers hat doesn’t sound too bad really does it?
Other bands have gone through far more haven’t they. Probably Sabbath have gone through far more.
[Laughs]. Well they had a little concept going didn’t they? A new lead singer for nearly every tour.
You’ve had a couple of major scares with prostrate cancer and you’ve been open about that and done a lot for awareness through Rock Against Cancer. How are things health-wise these days?
Pretty good. In fact, I’m due another PSA test so I’d better get that organised hadn’t I? And the other thing is Rock Against Cancer will be coming back next year. It’s coming back on the 12th and 13th of September in the same venue in Wiltshire at All Cannings near Devizes. So it’ll be Rock Against Cancer 8. And it might well be the last one. We’re looking at the moment to see who can come back from previous years and making a real bonanza of a gig you know.
The Sweet play Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion on Saturday 21st December 2019.
Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jake Aaron released his debut EP in 2016 to plaudits from folk and indie reviewers. His debut album Fag Ash and Beer was released in September 2019, again to favourable reviews. I caught up up with him recently to discuss the album, some of the musicians he’s worked with, his choice of cover artwork and his teenage love for Iron Maiden.
You have managed to pull together a great line-up of musicians for your debut album? How did they get involved?
I was very lucky! My first songs in 2015 were just on acoustic guitar, but I had an idea last year for a jazzy piece “Give Me Your Horse” which needed a great Hammond player and trumpeter. I made some inquires in the jazz world and the names that came back were Steve Lodder for Hammond and Steve Waterman for trumpet. I contacted them and they both seemed to like the piece – maybe it was the time signature – and luckily they both agreed. I found the bassist Davide Mantovani and drummer Marc Parnell through Steve L. When I was recording the album this year, I felt some tracks needed building up so I asked the musicians if they’d come back in. They’re brilliant players. A couple of the tracks on the album are live takes, “Elvis Has Left The Building” and “New Mexico”, and you can hear how good they are.
Have you been taken aback by the positive response to the album or did you always know you had something special on your hands as soon as you began putting it together?
I’m not sure the album has mainstream appeal, but it does seem to have found a niche in certain music circles which is nice. It’s had some play on BBC Jazz Nights as well as Genevieve Tudor’s Folk Show. My biggest uncertainty was how the album would all hang together as it’s quite a mix of ideas. I just hoped it would somehow. I’ve had a small audience since my EP who seem to like what I’m doing, and it was good they stuck with me, too.
And given the response how come you waited so long to make your first album?
It’s quite a task writing a whole album, and partly it just took a long time to finish the pieces once I’d started. I wrote some of the pieces quickly, whilst others were like watching paint dry, waiting for missing bits of music or words. A couple of the tracks were quite fiddly.
In terms of the album title it absolutely does what it says on the tin – but do talk us through that album cover!
I was working on a very different cover but didn’t feel it was working and was pretty fed up with the whole thing. An old friend then texted me a picture of us playing guitar in his folks’ kitchen when we were about sixteen, smoking and drinking and I thought that’ll do. It tied in with the track “Fag Ash and Beer” and the acoustic aspect of the music. On reflection it possibly wasn’t my greatest idea of all time, and I don’t think it helped promote the music at all. I’m not sure it’s up there with Physical Graffiti. Then again it had personal resonance for me.
Heavy metal clearly had a big impact on you when you were a teenager. That was what got me hooked on music, too, and I still love it alongside the more acoustic stuff. Are you still a fan?
I don’t put Run to the Hills on any more, but I still remember why I liked it. Maybe it’s a guitar thing and if I didn’t play guitar I possibly wouldn’t have got as much out of it as I did. Some of the guitarists are technical wizards. Eddie Van Halen was just mind boggling. Heavy metal aside I’ve always liked different styles of music, and I like a lot more styles than I dislike. A solitary bagpipe, African drums, a hillbilly picking a banjo … they can all do it for me as long as it’s got a groove.
Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you as a singer-songwriter.
There are lots of artists I love, but I am not sure which ones influenced me the most. Some of them are pretty inimitable. I also think it’s easier and more enjoyable trying to to play in your own way. I probably got bits and pieces from all over though, from every song and riff I learnt to play. You can’t play the intro to Hey Joe a thousand times and not be influenced a bit.
You have Guy Pratt contributing on one track on the album. How did that come about, and did he share any Pink Floyd tales with you?
No tales of Floyd, though I do know some of Guy’s great tales from my “My Bass and Other Animals”. I’ve known Guy for a long time through one of my best friends. I had an interesting cover for “Give Me Your Horse” of Pancho Villa and his gang holding instruments instead of rifles. The bass player looked particularly cool, like he was some legendary bassist, so Guy came to mind. I emailed him the piece, he liked it and quite remarkably he agreed. A massive honour.
What’s your favourite track on the album and tell us how it came about?
I’ve got a few but I think the instrumental “Elvis Has Left The Building” has a good vibe. It was originally an acoustic song but the band sounded so good I left it as is, like we were Elvis’s warm up band. After we recorded it, I was downstairs in the studio making a coffee and Kenny Jones, the engineer, and the others were playing it back upstairs. We had a busy schedule and when I heard it I thought “Why are they listening to that funk track on the radio? We should be getting on with my stuff!” I liked “New Mexico”, too. I was downstairs again when it was played back and Marc’s beat came pounding through the ceiling – it sounded like approaching Apaches. I was quite pleased lyrically with “Jonah Part 1”, too. It took a while to get it into a shape where it sounded colloquial without being too flip, and I could tell the story in a way I found engaging.
The single cover art for 'Give Me Your Horse'
And, finally, given the positive reaction to this have you got plans for a follow-up?
I think I’d keep plodding on regardless of the reaction, but it’s good that some people like the music too. I’ll possibly release singles or an EP next if another album is too daunting. I’m quite interested in music for film. A couple of reviewers thought the music was quite cinematic and would fit a Tarantino movie. Clearly if Quentin wants to use a piece that would not be a problem!
Fag Ash and Beer was independently released on 6th September 2019
Performing since the 1960s in folk rock, traditional Irish and covers bands as well solo performances as a folk singer, in recent years Tony Burt has shifted his focus to writing and performing his own songs. Earlier this year his album People Watching was released to favourable reviews. I caught up with Tony recently to discuss the album, his passion for music and his thoughts on the contemporary folk scene.
After decades in the folk/folk-rock scene performing traditional material and covers reinventing yourself as singer-songwriter came relatively late in life. Was there any particular catalyst for that switch?
I moved in 2005 from the Birmingham area to Bromyard in Herefordshire. I’d spent many enjoyable years trekking around the country with Irish folk band, Dempsey’s Lot, mainly as an instrumentalist. Moving to Bromyard added an hour’s travel each way to most gigs. So I left the band and took the chance to spend less ‘music miles’ whilst focusing on more contemporary songs whilst doing more singing.
For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe People Watching and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?
The title track ‘People Watching’ is key to many of the songs. It was written in the Kings Arms in Cleobury Mortimer, near Ludlow 2 years ago over a couple of sessions. I enjoy observing strangers and inventing imaginary lives for them. ‘Monica Is Taller Than Me’ was based on respectful and relatively lust-free admiration of an elegant waitress in a Scottish Borders hotel. ‘The Village’ pays homage to the ethnic Chinese guerrillas who fought behind Japanese lines in Malaya in World Word II. ‘JJ’s Bar’ celebrates a rock music club in Karnak, Egypt, which has to be one of the quirkiest venues on the planet. Other songs can be more cryptic and emotional but observation of human traits usually plays a part.
I wanted to stay clear, just this once, of an excess of guitar, bass and fiddle so we use less common instruments like harmonium, dulcetone, mellotron and marxophone. Most of the tunes are modal in structure but the overall sound in not entirely folky. I think we evolved a sound that was a bit rootsy and almost Prog in some ways. Boo and Chris added really interesting seasoning on many of the tracks.
How have you found the reaction to the album? You’ve had some nice reviews. I’m very taken with it. It felt like I was stumbling across a long lost classic that had completely escaped my attention until now.
I have been really happy with the reviews and radio plays I’ve received. Some have provided really helpful constructive criticism which I am genuinely taking on board. I love your “long lost classic” comment and I can’t think of anything more encouraging. Thank you!
Irish music has always been important to you although you were born and brought up in Birmingham. Do you feel that’s been an influence on your songwriting now?
The Birmingham district of Balsall Heath, where I grew up in the 50s was in those days predominantly an Irish area. So as I grew up I became very familiar with Irish tunes and songs. At 15 I met my lifelong friend, Tommy Dempsey who had soon dragged me in every cobwebbed den of folk iniquity in the Midlands. He is still going strong at 82 and has the quintessential Irish voice. Many of my melodies have a Celtic structure and Tommy’s singing influenced my timing and phrasing.
Tell us a bit more about the two musicians you work with on the album? Have you been long-time collaborators?
Boo Hewerdine has been a well known producer, singer, guitarist and songwriter for 30 years. Known for his work with The Bible, Eddi Reader, Kris Drever, Brooks Williams and many others. Chris Pepper is owner of Saltwell Studios near Huntingdon. His reputation is growing as a result of his well equipped facility, high skill level and great attitude.
I’ve spent 4 or 5 weeks with Boo over the past 5 years at songwriting workshops. Other collaborators, in addition to Boo, have included Christine Collister, Steve Tilston, Karine Polwart, Edwina Hayes and Darden Smith. It’s fantastic how these talented artists share their knowledge and experience so readily. When I decided to make People Watching I could think of no one better than Boo and Chris to help me. The artistic results were great and we had a really good time too!
Who are your all-time favourite artists?
OMG – what a question!
My earliest influence was, almost inevitably, Bob Dylan. At the same time, the Beatles and the Kinks; John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim. Early songwriters: Richard Thompson, Al Stewart, Bruce Cockburn, Sandy Denny. Out of several dozen more – Elvis Costello, Dick Gaughan, Gerry Rafferty, Ralph McTell.
Are you encouraged by the number of excellent young folk artists out there these days after some comparatively lean decades in the past? And have you any particular favourites?
There is some wonderful new young talent emerging and it seems many are being groomed for sustainable folk music careers with coaching on financial and marketing skills. I know some excellent artists of my generation have lived hand-to-mouth for decades and I hope these youngsters can have a more comfortable life. Granny’s Attic are the young band I know best and admire hugely. I’ve known them since they were about 12! Some of the photos and Videos stashed away could be worth a fortune when their success is complete. Especially Cohen at 13 in his school uniform with a short back and sides performing “The Ship (off the new album) on fiddle. Sorry buddy!
People Watching was released in January 2019 and is available via Tony’s website
This article was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here
Steeleye Span are celebrating 50 years with an anniversary tour. Ahead of their gig at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November, Darren Johnson talks to founder member Maddy Prior.
DJ: You start your winter tour very soon. What can we expect from this fiftieth anniversary tour?
MP: Well we started in the Spring – this is the second part of it. We do some songs from our new album which is called Established 1969 and some classic pieces which are part of our catalogue if you like, so it’s a sort of a mixture. We always do a mixture actually.
One of the things that I like about Steeleye Span is that you vary your set-list from tour to tour. There are old favourites in there but they tend to be a different set of old favourites each time.
We try to keep it varied. If you sing a song for a long time you want to leave it to ‘green up’ as it were. You leave it fallow for a year or two so it sort of greens up again and you have a fresh look at it. And quite often we do slight readjustments of the arrangements and things like that. Sometimes we completely re-arrange them.
You’re at St Mary in the Castle on 21 November. Steeleye Span has had quite a connection with Hastings over the years, hasn’t it?
Yes we do. There’s Liam (Genockey) our drummer – he’s been here forever. And also now there’s Roger Carey in the band as the bass player – so there’s quite a strong connection. And we’re rehearsing here at the moment in Hastings. And also, of course, Peter (Knight) was here for a long time as well. So, as you say, we’ve got strong connections here and we always come here regularly over the years. It’s strong on our map!
For the benefit of our readers who might not have kept up with who’s in the band these days, can you quickly talk us through who’s playing in Steeleye Span these days?
Well, we’ve got some new blood as it were. Violeta Barrena is on fiddle for this tour. She shares the fiddle slot with Jesse May Smart, but Jesse’s just had a baby so she’s taken a back seat for this tour. They’re both brilliant players and they’re both really good improvisers. We’ve got Roger Carey on the bass, Spud Sinclair on guitar and Liam Genockey on the drums. Julian Littman on guitar and Benji Kirkpatrick on various things – guitar, sitar, mandolin. Julian plays keyboards as well, so there’s quite a lot of variety instrumentally. I think that’s everybody – now we are seven!
Can you see Steeleye Span carrying on without you at some point in the future, or would that be like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger?
I don’t know. I’ve no idea. But I think Steeleye is mainly about the material. A lot of which came in with Bob Johnson. Peter Knight brought quite a lot in. Rick Kemp brought quite a lot in. This new band – we’ve done another album of traditional material very largely – which we play around with. We write new tunes and get tunes from all sorts of places. But it’s the material that I think is the point of the exercise really.
So that suggests that there could be some form of Steeleye Span continuing without Maddy Prior?
Are you trying to bump me off?? No, it is something that’s talked about. If you think about it as a small family firm that could go on forever. Just getting to know how the material works is the issue if you like, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t.
Have there been times when being Maddy Prior folk rock icon has got in the way of other musical projects you wanted to pursue or are you happy it’s never stopped you doing anything else you wanted to do?
I don’t think it’s stopped me doing anything I wanted to do. It’s usually helpful on the whole. There’s nothing I’ve missed out on. We were on Top Of The Pops. That was the biggest thing of the day. And we’ve done a lot of tours of big venues and we’ve worked with material that I dearly love.
There aren’t many people on the folk circuit who’ve done Top Of The Pops. Was that a bit of a culture shock?
We had done a lot of work by then. Sell-out tours and so on – it wasn’t out of nowhere. We were well-known by the time we had those songs and we were on the same week as Noddy Holder and Slade, so that was quite interesting.
When you look around at younger bands – and a number say they’ve been influenced by Steeleye Span – do you feel optimistic about the future of the UK folk scene?
Absolutely. There’s so many brilliant young players. They’ve got their chops together fantastically well and they’re interested in the music and there’s a big movement, so it will be interesting to see what happens and where it goes. But the music comes in and out of fashion and we have revivals every so often, but it never quite goes away. Folk music became extremely unfashionable but that’s all it is – fashion. I’ve been literally right outside of the curve and then it comes back to the middle a bit. It’s part of our heritage and it comes knocking on the door every so often.
Ahead of the tour and particularly ahead of the gig in Hastings, is there anything else you’d like to leave us with?
The band is really, really good at the moment. I had a look at us on Wikipedia and it was brilliant because every so often it said “They came back to form” and I thought that was a hell of a good way of putting it. Because over fifty years you’re not going to be perfect all the way through and it’s been like that. But we’ve been very largely led by the songs so if the songs are good we’ve tended to be better. But we found with different people coming in, they bring different energies and different musical styles and that’s what we’ve been like in Steeleye – things change!
Steeleye Span 50th Anniversary Tour Thursday 21 November, 7.30m. St Mary in the Castle, 7 Pelham Crescent, Hastings TN34 3AF. Tickets £26.95 including booking fee available from 01323 841414 and online.
On the day Burnt Out Wreck’s new album ‘This Is Hell’ is released I caught up with the band’s front-man and former Heavy Pettin’ drummer, Gary Moat.
So the new Burnt Out Wreck album is released today. Tell us about it.
Just carrying on in the same sort of style as ‘Swallow’ – the song itself, not particularly the whole album. More a straight-ahead kind of rock n roll. It’s a bit faster paced this album. We needed some of that to go live really. And we’re really looking forward to getting out there and doing it.
Did ‘Swallow’ kind of set the template for Burnt Out Wreck then?
Yes most certainly. It’s just my favourite style of music, you know. And that’s the way I write so I had to go down that path eventually in my life. So this is it. It’s just the best form, the most enjoyable form of rock I’ve ever heard in my life. So that’s why I had to do this.
On this album particularly because we’ve got all of the new band and obviously they’re playing on it live and yeah – it just sounds good because it’s not all come out of me this time.
Was the first album you bringing in different musicians then, before you created the permanent band?
I was doing it on my own and I said to Adrian (Dunn – guitarist) do you want to come in and have a go at this but it was just the two of us. I played drums. I played bass. I played rhythm guitar. But when you put a band together it becomes a different animal, you know. And it’s far better for it I must say.
Everyone obviously comments on the AC/DC influence when they see Burnt Out Wreck.
You know, everyone always goes on about Bon Scott and AC/DC and that’s obviously the first thing that comes to mind for them and I sing in that register. At 15/16 AC/DC were just the best thing in the world and Bon Scott was amazing. And so that’s why I sing like that, not because I wanted to copy what he was doing but just because that’s the way that my voice developed. And because I was listening to them my whole life, I suppose, I took it on in my head somewhere. There are other bands though. People forget about bands like Rose Tattoo and Krokus – Airbourne even. Some people try and have a little dig at you because your ‘copying AC/DC’ but you know all of these bands are copying AC/DC if you like. But they’re not really because they’re just blues rock bands. I keep going back to this but if you go back to bands that inspired AC/DC, you know the old blues players from America. You can’t distinguish who’s who. They’re all playing a twelve-bar blues and they all sing like each other. It was not that different in the modern era.
When did the desire to sing first emerge? Were you thinking about it back in the days you were drumming with Heavy Pettin’?
Yeah I get asked this a lot. It was there in me. I suppose it’s there in everyone to get up and have a sing. When I was becoming a teenager and started going to pubs and clubs I started getting up and singing with other bands, as well as being the drummer in the band I was in at the time. But when we started Heavy Pettin’ Hamie was obviously the choice for the frontman because I was a drummer. And I had no intention of being a singer. I didn’t want to do it. But the thing is myself and Gordon were the songwriters and Hamie was the singer so I was making the parts up… So I’ve always been singing and writing songs. But when Heavy Pettin’ split up I thought I’m going to do it myself this time. But it’s taken all these years to actually get in there and make my own style.
And, presumably, when you were writing the songs it started to feel more authentic to sing them yourself and express yourself in that way?
Oh yeah. It sounds better coming out of yourself. And people tell me that all the time, you know and that they appreciate it. They like it. And thanks very much to those people.
It was quite a gap between Heavy Pettin’ coming to an end in the late 80s and Burnt Out Wreck now – talk us through what you were doing in between.
I was writing songs, of course, and some of the songs that are on these two albums were written many years ago but not finished. Never finished until I was going to pick them up for the albums. Because you just scribble an idea down. You just get a guitar riff and put it on tape or whatever way back and you just leave it on the shelf. But I’d get around to them eventually. After the band split up way back in 1989 everybody went their separate ways and did whatever they did – got jobs, got married, had kids and just cracked on with life, you know. It took until 1992 for me and Gordon to put a band together called Mother’s Ruin and we played around for many years just on and off. We did gigs mainly around the Milton Keynes area. And then everyone went their separate ways again, going to uni and stuff. We had some younger guys in it. But some of the songs from that are on the first album. But they just sat there and eventually it got to a point where I thought I just hate these songs being left there and nobody’s heard them so I thought I’d put them out you know.
It must be nice to see those song titles finally being released.
Yes and with the first album we’ve had praise from all around the world. Everyone seems to love it and the second album looks as though it’s going to go the same way.
You’re supporting the Pete Way Band this autumn. And your old band was actually named after a UFO album. Did you know Pete from UFO days back then?
No. The only time I ever met Pete Way was 87/88 when we were recording the Big Bang album and Waysted were in the studio next door to us. I went to see UFO many times, of course. They were all big heroes and influences on all of us I suppose. He told me he really likes our stuff and obviously he’s looking forward to us playing. Yeah it’s just incredible that someone you think of as one of your old heroes thinks you’re good.
You obviously come across quite a few younger bands when you’re out gigging and doing festivals. Are you pleased to see this renaissance of classic rock and the so-called New Wave of Classic Rock? And are there any of the younger bands that you particularly admire?
We do a lot of these festivals and I’ve seen many people. I don’t actually listen to music. I just write my own stuff. I’m in my own little bubble and if I hear something then either instantly it’s good or instantly it’s oh never mind. There are some good bands. I especially like Scarlet Rebels who’ve supported us.
What can we expect from Burnt Out Wreck on this latest tour? Is it a mixture of songs from the two albums? Will there be any covers?
We usually play (Heavy Pettin’ song) ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’ but I don’t think we’ll be playing that any more. We’ve two albums worth now so we don’t need to be slapping that out now, even though it’s a big crowd pleaser and we’re certainly very good at playing it. But yeah we’re really excited and dying to get out to play live and to play some new material. Because we’ve been out on the road for three years, basically, and we’ve just been playing that one album. And we’ve been itching to get into the new one. We knew it was coming but I didn’t want to go out and play it until it was actually out. So we just waited and it will be a mixture. But more leaning towards the new album because er.. we just love it!
This interview was published by Get Ready to Rock here
It wasn’t that long ago that the only news we’d be reading about Pete Way was in connection with his various ongoing health battles. But now, following a well-publicised autobiography in 2017, he’s back on the road performing. A UK tour begins later this month and a new album ‘Walking On The Edge’ is due out at the end of January. Always a charismatic stage presence in his UFO days (the archetypal motionless bass-player mode was never one for him) one of rock’s most colourful characters and, improbably, one of the great survivors of to-the-limits rock ‘n’ roll excess is now back as front-man of his own Pete Way Band.
What can fans expect from the tour?
Wild rock – with a couple of ballads. For the shows there’s stuff from the album, stuff from The Plot – the album with Michael Schenker, there’s the Amphetamine album, I do a little bit from Waysted and I do the obvious songs, the ones that everyone remembers, from UFO. You know people buy a ticket and they want them. I was talking to Phil (Mogg) recently and he said the same: ‘you have to do them’.
Out of all the classics that you had a hand in for UFO which are the ones you are most proud of?
Oh that’s difficult to say really. We do ‘Shoot Shoot’. We do ‘Too Hot to Handle’, ‘Doctor Doctor’…
And so you’ve been getting a good response from audiences so far then?
Oh incredibly so, yes. I mean we go out of our way to do that. There’s no indulgent excess but people come along for a guitar show. I mean there’s a lot of lead guitar. Playing in UFO or Waysted there was also a lot of guitar. The thing is there’s nothing too egotistical. We just play the songs.
Do you play bass throughout the show or is it just certain songs?
Here and there. I could be 100% vocals or I could be 100% bass and get another singer in. But, you know, I wrote all the words when I wrote these songs. Apart from, obviously, the UFO songs where it was with Phil. You would have to give Phil a very precise melody and he would write the words as he saw it to fit – but I would give Phil the melody.
On the tour you have Burnt Out Wreck supporting you – another band with musician- turned-frontman in the form of former Heavy Pettin drummer, Gary Moat.
Yeah Gary is very talented. I mean, yes, I see the AC/DC influence but they write all their own songs. They compliment what we do. All my songs are about my experiences in life which is a bit like something from a Quentin Tarantino film. They balance that out with what they do.
You’re clearly still in touch with Phil. Could you imagine sharing a stage with UFO now?
Nah. My main focus now is on vocals. Everybody says to me you’ve got character in your voice and, you know, it seems to work so I’ve got to get on with it. My heroes are not the vocalists who sound like opera singers. They are people like Bon Scott and Bob Dylan.
Your autobiography ‘A Fast Ride Out of Here’ in many ways is that familiar tale of middle-class suburban kid becoming wild rock star. But the wildness started fairly early on didn’t it? You say in the book you first smoked heroin at 13, for example.
When I first met Phil I was, like, 15. The people we hung out with were the people who were older. It’s like David Bowie said – we did things that other people thought incongruous. But I felt comfortable in that role and in going into things with that attitude to life. But, of course, the icing on the cake was actually getting to America. Suddenly, we’d got money, you know. But we were professional in that we always gave a good show. Because if you’re in a shambles it’s always easy to mess up. But we were totally focused on the show and it was only afterwards when we’d get fucked up. It really was a journey. I could blow half a million in a year but, you know, we always gave a good show.
In your book Joe Elliott of Def Leppard is quoted as saying: “If you threw Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood in a bucket and mixed them up you’d end up with Pete.” Is that a fairly accurate description of you?
Oh, Joe and I go back a very long way. Myself and Ross Halfin are always having a bit of a laugh at Joe and, you know, he would say anything about people to go (adopts mock Yorkshire accent) ‘I’ll fucking get him back for that’.
After all the health battles you went through: addiction, cancer, heart attacks – there must have been times when you thought you wouldn’t be performing on stage again. What does it feel like to be out on the road again?
Great. It was three or four minor heart attacks but the prostrate cancer was the main thing. And you don’t know you’re ill until you find out from a professional. For me if I was feeling a bit under the weather I’d just have another drink or do another line or something but it gets to that point where you have to get checked out. It took me a long time to grow up. I still haven’t really grown up. And so it was a health battle of my own making. And now, ironically, I have to take medication because of all the drugs I used to take. But I’ve written some good songs and I’m looking forward to getting the album out there and getting out there with the show.
This interview was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here
I recently caught up with blues/Americana singer-songwriter Elles Bailey to talk about her newly-released album Road I Call Home, about the impact of her critically-acclaimed debut and about her current tour.
GRTR: Your debut album was fantastically well-received. At what point did you start to feel you had something really special on your hands? While you were writing? Or recording? Or mixing? Or not until you started to see the reactions and read the positive reviews?
EB: I guess it was when the critics and their fans got there hands on it and the reviews started to come in that I was like ‘hang on, I think folks are really liking this!’ I find it is really hard to be objective about your own music but I am really pleased that Wildfire got the reviews it did, across genres! That took me by surprise.
GRTR: You must have felt under quite a bit of pressure when it came to putting the second album together. What was your overall philosophy when it came to writing and recording Road I Call Home?
EB: Just be honest – I wanted to write an album that was honest, bare to the bones, not sugar-coating anything!
I guess there was a bit of pressure when it came to putting this album together but it was such a blur of a year I am not quite sure how it all happened! I’m currently sat in my managers office and looking at the vinyl…. And that’s weird, actually having it physically in my hand and thinking – ‘how the hell did this happen?
GRTR: What has the experience of co-writing with some of these iconic song-writers been like, compared to writing songs on your own?
EB: I love to collaborate when I write, its great being in a room with someone sparking off ideas and working with folks like Roger Cook, Bobby Wood and Dan Auerbach is kinda mind blowing. Every now and then I have to pinch myself just in case I am dreaming!!
GRTR: What’s been your most memorable live gig so far and how much are you looking forward to doing Ramblin’ Man in July?
EB: The album launch at The Lexington in London was totally off the chain. The album had been out a couple of days and had loads of people singing the words back to me! I felt like crying it was so emotional! I’ll never forget that gig!
Ramblin man….. I can’t wait and am so excited to finally see Beth Hart live!
GRTR: There’s a lot of different influences in your music – from blues to country to rock to soul. Name some of your favourite artists.
EB: Gosh I have so many but right now I am listening to Mavis Staples, Christ Stapleton, The Band, Larkin Poe, Hozier ( I love his new record) and Ida Mae to name a few.
Elles Bailey’s Road I Call home was released on March 8th. Review here
This article was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here
Interview by Darren Johnson
Next year iconic folk rockers Steeleye Span celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. 2019 will see a brand new album and associated tours as the ever-evolving band mark their half century. More immediately, however, there is the matter of an autumn tour. Lead guitarist, Julian Littman, takes time out of the band’s rehearsals to have a chat with me ahead of the first live dates next week.
“The band is in a really good place,” he enthuses. “It’s sounding great. And when it’s heavy it’s really heavy and when it’s light it’s nice and light, which is great. Because we do wander into prog a little bit as well so it’s a really good combination. The whole idea of the band is that we unite folk with rock. That’s what we try and do but never losing the folk tradition and all that stuff. So it’s in a really good place and we quite often do very old stuff from Steeleye and then, of course, brand new stuff. We do a couple from the Wintersmith project we did with Terry Pratchett so we go right across the board with it. And of course we’ve still got Maddy – thank god. And our latest addition is Benji Kirkpatrick who is a fantastic player – bouzouki, acoustic guitar and mandolin. And he’s the son of (former member) John Kirkpatrick. The tradition is going well. We’re now having people’s sons in the band you know. And it sounds fantastic because Benji keeps that acoustic thing going because we’ve got Spud Sinclair on electric guitar so it’s really good.”
Littman has now been with the band eight years and his creative input on recent albums ‘Wintersmith’ and ‘Dodgy Bastards’ has been widely praised. I ask him what it was like, not just being a newbie in a very established band, but a newbie who has actually gone on to put their own indelible stamp on the band, someone who has really made their mark on the sound and feel of Steeleye Span.
“Well, I like to think I have but at first it was really daunting. Really daunting – because I was following in the footsteps of Ken Nicol who is an amazing guitar player. But everyone’s different so the philosophy is like – you are different so therefore you are ok. But at first it was really difficult. Everyone was very welcoming but I used to get quite nervous really and think ‘oh god I hope I can do this’. And then gradually as I found my place you kind of find your feet. And then I started writing and now I sing a couple of lead vocals. And gradually the anxiety left and I could start to enjoy it and start to be relaxed – in that I wasn’t going to get fired and stuff like that. And it was a process. It probably took a couple of years to settle in and to find where I could contribute. So yes it was daunting to say the least when I first joined, but you do settle into these things and if people like you and they like what you do then gradually you get your confidence.”
The wonderfully prog-folky ‘Wintersmith’, the band’s acclaimed 2013 collaboration with the late author Terry Pratchett, deservedly received very positive reviews. For me, it stands up as not only one of the best Steeleye Span albums of recent years, but one of their best throughout their long career. I ask Littman if we are likely to see any similar literary collaborations in the future.
“Well obviously poor Terry – we have no more Terry. He loved the band, of course. I’m sure we will but not at the moment.”
Rather than seeing ‘Wintersmith’ as an entirely new way of working, however, Littman sees similarities with the way the band has always approached its material.
“In a way every song that Steeleye does is a literary collaboration because basically we take a lot of old ballads – as in tales of sorcery and witchcraft and incest and death and murder and all that – and we take them and it’s almost like collaborating with someone else anyway. Most of the songs are stories. Every song is a collaboration really because we rarely write things that are absolutely, completely original. For instance, in the new album we’re doing a John Masefield poem which is called Roadways. Because John Masefield was very fond of the sea and wrote a lot about the sea. So it’s about longing for sea. He’s saying my road, the right road for me, is the ocean. So that’s a collaboration.”
Littman clearly has a deep attachment to Steeleye Span and what it represents. I ask if he was always a fan of the band, prior to joining.
“Well I’ve sort of been by default almost. I’ve always listened to Steeleye over the years. I don’t think I bought an album, as such, but I was so aware of them. I hadn’t seen them live I have to say but friends had records and I used to hear them and so they are almost part of the DNA. If you like the folk rock thing Steeleye and Fairport are the two aren’t they.”
Of the Steeleye Span albums he doesn’t play on he singles out one from the mid 70s Mike Batt-produced era as his favourite.
“I would say I think it’s Rocket Cottage. They’ve done god knows how many albums and there’s something on every album that you go – ah I really like that one.”
Finally, before he gets back to rehearsals, I ask him what fans can expect from this latest tour.
“Well basically we’re not going to do any of our albums in their entirety because we did that last year. But we’re going to do three songs from the new album so there’ll be three completely new pieces that no-one’s ever heard. And then we delve back a bit. We’re going to do a couple of the epic ballads. We’re going to do some from the album Dodgy Bastards. And we’re going to do one we’ve never done before called Gulliver Gentle – verging on pop, probably the poppiest one. And we’re doing an a cappella piece written by Rose Kemp, Maddy’s daughter, and that’s called Reclaiming and it’s about reclaiming things for the future and ecology.”
As our chat draws to a close I tell him that one of the things I really like about Steeleye Span is that although they have a huge back catalogue every tour has a different theme and a different feel to it, whereas there are some bands of a similar vintage whose set-list changes very little from one tour to the next.
“We try and do that,” Littman agrees. “We always do try and keep it new and exciting and fresh or – play things that people haven’t heard for a long time. We always try and keep it going – keep it fresh, keep it exciting, keep it surprising sometimes.”
This interview was originally published by Get Ready To Rockhere
Jim Lea, the former Slade bass-player and one half of the mega-hit Holder-Lea song-writing duo, has a brand new six-track EP out: Lost In Space. I catch up with Jim to discuss the inspiration behind the title track and the other songs on the EP, to talk about his appearance at Wolverhampton’s Robin 2 venue last Autumn and, of course, to hear a few recollections from the old Slade days as well as the challenges that life throws up outside the world of music.
“Lost In Space was written deliberately as a pop song. Of all the songs I have come up with, this is one of my favourites. The ideas portrayed in the song are of someone spending their life living in an inner world, virtually oblivious to normal life. Some might say I have unwittingly written about myself,” states the press release accompanying the EP.
So often, introspection is portrayed as being sad and angst-ridden yet Lost In Space is a very uplifting song with a great catchy chorus. Jim has certainly lost none of his knack for writing catchy uplifting choruses. For such an upbeat song I put it to Jim whether there is a subtle inference here that being caught up in your own world can actually be a pretty happy place.
JL:“It is when you’re happy yeah but you have to find yourself first. You have to be happy with it. I think a lot of people do it to escape. It’s one of the autistic symptoms when people are being diagnosed. They don’t connect. I’ll tell you who came out and spoke about it – Chris Packham from Springwatch. Millions of people must have seen that programme about it. I’m sure I’ve got grains of autism in me but I’m nowhere near as bad as him. He just lives in a tiny little cottage in the middle of a wood with his animals. But to be quite honest for a big part of my life I was not a big communicator. I didn’t really do interviews at all. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I began to look at myself and went into psychotherapy and completely changed my personality. I almost changed my DNA.”
Is that partly why we are hearing more from Jim recently, I wonder. A new DVD, a live appearance at the Robin in Wolverhampton last Autumn and now a new EP. Are we seeing a new Jim?
JL:“Yes, yes. This is the new me. I’m obviously not bothered about talking to you at all. You seem quite a nice chap! I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. Whereas back in the day with the band for a long time I wasn’t. I was better off in the eighties and going into the nineties, but in the seventies I couldn’t cope with all that. If you look at the band there were two who wanted to get their face in the camera and two who didn’t. The idea of fame is very nice. You think that’s what you want but when it comes – well it took me all of a couple of weeks to think hang on I haven’t got a life here. You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t do anything. So a lot of people want that and they want that attention, whereas with me I wanted to go back to how I was before going on television.”
With that in mind I suppose when Slade were less in the spotlight in the late seventies that was OK for you, as long as the band were still gigging and recording?
JL:“That’s right. That was a good blueprint for me. That was great. And, of course, when we started having hits again in the eighties it was much easier to cope with because it wasn’t that mad teenage chasing-you-down-the-street type stuff.”
Lost In Space is a great catchy pop song. But the rest of the EP really rocks out. For me it seems to channel some of the spirit of Slade in the early 80s when the band had a comeback thanks in part to the heavy rock crowd post-Reading. Was it a conscious decision to go for a more rocky approach here compared to Therapy, your previous solo album?
JL:“No. The songs on this EP – I don’t know whether you know I had cancer – and these songs are from pre-cancer. They’re quite old. You can probably tell I’ve got a frog in my throat and I’ve never been able to get rid of that since I’ve had my cancer treatment. I’m not on the treatment any more but it just doesn’t go away. Luckily I’ve got some vocal tapes from god knows how many years ago that I just re-recorded quickly. Because my brother, who’s looking after me from the record point of view, says do you fancy doing an EP. He’d been talking to the record company. I said yes – four tracks? He said no, it’s six tracks for an EP these days. I said that’s half an album, when do you need it for? He said next Monday! But I did it because the songs were there. I had a vocal. I just slung everything at it and came up with what you hear.”
Live at the Robin
You took the stage at the Robin last November for a Q&A session to launch your new DVD (a live recording of his 2002 solo gig at that same venue) but at the end you surprise everyone when you come back on stage with your guitar to blast out some old Slade classics.
JL:“When I went off – we had a bit of a scam me and Paul Franks (radio presenter and interviewer that day) and he said Jim wanted to share something and he’s just going off. But when I got down there the people who are looking after the stage side of things they’re all chatting together. And I said what are you doing I need my guitar. Where’s my guitar? I was shouting at them and I was really in a bad mood and I said to the sound guy get out the front and get on the desk…. and it was at least three or four minutes before I came out. And there is some fan footage (and we are going to put that out) but just before I come on you can hear people saying ‘where’s he gone?’ Just coming over the microphones you know. And the audience I could hear what they’re saying. And this one female voice says (adopts exaggerated Yorkshire accent) ‘Do you think he’s gone for a lie down?’ Oh dear, it did crack me up that did. And to be quite honest that’s what I do a lot of these days. I have to go and have a sleep.”
It was his brother Frank who had encouraged Jim to do a few songs at the end of the Q&A.
JL:“You’d see these old singers like Frank Sinatra when they’re past it and their voice just cracks up and I said I can’t do that. And then I got this idea of knocking a few backing tracks up and I did some vocals to see what it sounded like. But I only did four tracks and then I thought hang on I could play along. And in this day and age that was my justification. I would have loved to have had the same line-up as the Robin in 2002 – just a drummer and bass player and really thrash it out. But that whole complicated thing with equipment for four songs meant we wouldn’t have even got the balance sorted out.”
Playing along to backing tapes it may have been but that didn’t dampen the outpouring of emotion from fans at the event, seeing Jim Lea playing on stage again, fifteen years after his one and only solo gig and some thirty-four years after Slade’s final UK tour. Jim only became aware of just how emotional the event had been for the audience, however, when his brother finally caught up with Jim and the rest of the family some time later that day.
JL:“All the family went for dinner and my brother was an hour late and we were all starving. Well he said he stayed ’til the end. Nobody wanted to go. People were crying. And the boss of the club came over and my brother asked him why is everybody crying? Why won’t they go? And as the boss was walking towards him he saw that he was crying as well!”
While he is thoroughly bemused at the emotional audience reaction it has clearly made him ponder on how much he enjoyed playing on stage.
JL:“I wish I could find some way of getting on stage again. That would be really good. But you know I was very tired when I played the Robin in November.”
Coz I Luv You
From recent ventures we then delve back into the early days. I mention that he was one of the first to bring the electric violin into a pop-rock setting. Given that this was around the same time the folk rock thing going on I ask if he was conscious of what people like Dave Swarbrick were doing with Fairport Convention around the same time as Jim was putting a violin solo on Coz I Luv You.
JL:“Well I used to play the violin on stage. Really it was the band trying to stand out and I think it was about the end of the sixties and you are quite right about Fairport Convention and Dave Swarbrick and there was East of Eden and Dave Arbus. And that guy played on The Who’s Baba O’Riley on the Who’s Next album. In the studio Pete Townsend came walking through. I was there messing about with my violin and he said here mate can I look at your violin. And I said I’m not giving it to you. You’ll smash it up. No mate that’s just stuff on stage. I don’t do any of that. Can I have a look? I want to play a violin. And the next thing I know it’s on Baba O’Riley with Dave Arbus playing. But with Coz I Luv You we’d had Get Down And Get With It as our first hit and it was about coming up with the next one. Because Get Down And Get With It was an everybody-join-in type thing I thought to write something like that is just going to be a cop-out. So I thought about bridging the fact that we were going to make a pop single with trying to make it a bit gritty as well. So I came up with (sings melody) and I got my acoustic guitar and I went over to Nod’s. I’d never written with Nod before and really it was like trying to get the singer on board so it’s kind of political in case it was a ‘well I don’t want to do anything with a violin’. That’s what could have happened but it didn’t. And we worked on the ‘I just like the things you do’ bit and obviously I knew that this was going to be really big. And it was and it got to number one within three weeks. And it’s only recently where people have said I saw Jim Lea from Slade with an electric violin playing on Top Of The Pops and that’s why I started playing violin. And you know it’s really edifying to think that you might have set some trail for something that happens in the future.”
While Jim is not exactly comfortable with his former band’s often outlandish image, there is clearly pride at what the four of them achieved together back in the day.
JL:“And the other thing with the band was because of our sort of wacky image which we kept going on with for too long. Well not we but Dave did. You know look at Quo back when they did Ice In The Sun and they changed the way they looked to do a different thing. Same as the Beatles changed but you know that never happened with us. But there was something from the wacky side of it and because we were having hit singles. Back then if you were having hit singles you were a pop band and we weren’t a pop band. I mean we could always blow off anybody we were playing with. OK there wasn’t the musical virtuosity in the band but it was a fantastic band. And together – you can forget the recording and all that because you can always mess around with that and try to make it sound a bit more sort of credible – but there was something about the four of us playing when we were on stage. And we went to that big studio at Olympic. Get Down And Get With It was the first thing we ever recorded in that studio. And we always went to that studio because it was like doing a gig and we were comfortable with that because we were really bloody good. And I look at people now and you know big names and so on and they all came out to watch us… But we were something special right from the first few notes we ever played.”
With so many insights we then get on to the topic of autobiographies. We’ve seen tomes from all the other three members of Slade but I put it to Jim that many Slade fans would say that the most fascinating and revealing of all would be a Jim Lea autobiography.
JL: (Laughs) “At times I thought about doing it. In fact, I was probably the first one to think about doing it. That was back in post-Reading days. But there seemed to be a reaction that I shouldn’t do that and that if there was going to be any book it should be a Slade book, not me. So I just left it and then Nod did one – which I’ve never looked at and Don did one which I’ve never read either but it’s supposed to be very good I’ve heard. The thing is I’d want to write it myself rather than sitting down with someone with a tape machine. You’d have to be able to taste it and smell it. If I’m talking about the smoke-filled rooms you’d have to be able to visualise from the words what that was like. The way it used to hang in the air in these grey layers.”
Jim also emphasises that his life hasn’t just been about music, particularly in the post-Slade years.
JL:“My musical career has been punctuated by having to look after my father to save my mother because he was driving my mother mad. He’d got dementia and then there were two or three years with my (older) brother the same thing happened and I was on care duty for both. So that’s six year’s gone and now my mum herself is housebound. I’ve just come from her now and I’ve always thought being of service to others is a big thing to do in life. It’s hard work because you have to give up your own wishes and your own life. You have to hand over what you want to do in order to help the person that needs the help. So being of service it’s a big thing. So with my mother as well it’s probably seven years gone. She became ill about a year ago and so put it all together you’ve got a whole chunk of life that’s nothing to do with music.”
For all of his musical legacy it’s clear that family is very important to Jim and you get the idea that there is no way he would not have been there for those who needed him most. But it’s also clear that Jim Lea still has something to contribute musically and is enthusiastic about his latest EP. He doesn’t even baulk at the round of promotional interviews that need to be done these days as long as, given his current health, there are not too many of them.
“I’m alright with you today, Darren, because I’ve only got you today – but the other day I had fifteen!”
Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld